The Chequered Life of A Christian – Chapter 3
Let us now come to the next general head, and that is, our loving God; “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God; to them who are the called according to His purpose.” We are sure of this, that when man came out of his Maker’s hands he loved God; hence you read, “God made man upright.” And the same penman says in the Song, “The upright love Thee.”
But “man being in honour (says David) abideth not, but became like the beasts that perish.” Thus man lost the image of God in the fall, and received the image of Satan; so that he is now not only an enemy to God, but enmity itself to God, and to His Holy Law; and this is the state and case of every individual of mankind by nature, elect or reprobate. Here we all are, “By nature, children of wrath, even as others”; but God having chosen to Himself a peculiar people before the world was made, and set His eternal affection on them in Christ Jesus, entered into covenant with His coequal and coeternal Son in their behalf. Thus His goings forth were from of old, from everlasting; and in this covenant, God the Father gave these chosen ones to His Son, “Thine they were, and Thou gayest them Me”; and the Lord Jesus undertook to magnify the Law, and make it honorable, and to suffer, bleed, and die for them; He engaged all the hosts of hell, and completely finished the whole work of man’s redemption.
“I have finished the work Thou gayest Me to do”; this is the new and living way which He has consecrated through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and therefore, in consequence of the Father’s choice, and Christ’s incarnation, the Holy Spirit is sent down into the hearts of these chosen vessels, to open their blind eyes, and to quicken their dead souls: and now they see all at once, or by degrees (just as God in a sovereign way pleases), and feel that the carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to His Law, neither indeed can be-and that they are carnal, sold under sin. And this teaching will go on more or less all their days; they now know that the Law is spiritual; and all this is only a preparatory work done by God’s Spirit in us, to bring about a real love in our hearts to that God, which by nature we hate. Our text says, “To them that love God”; but John says, “Not that we (by nature) loved God”; no.
But, say you, seeing man is in such a dreadful state as this, what will bring him to love God?
I answer six things.
1. Then being in this dreadful plight, sensible of his lost, ruined, and undone estate, the Holy Spirit puts a cry in his heart to the Lord for mercy, which at times will be attended with great fervor and earnestness, against sore temptations and strong oppositions: and though such are full of doubtings and fears, yet they cannot altogether give it up, but come after Him in chains-with supplications and bitter weeping He leads them. At times, they, under temptation, are on the verge of giving all up, but they go at it again (though they may restrain prayer before God) and the whole cause of it is this-they are the elect of God, and therefore the Blessed Spirit helps their infirmities. Now when God is pleased to hear and answer the groanings of their burdened hearts, this will be attended with a love to God; hence David says, “I love the Lord because He hath heard the voice of my supplication, because He hath inclined His ear; therefore will I call upon Him as long as I live.”
2. All the time a man labors under the weight and burden of his sin, he cannot love God, it is impossible; but he will feel hard thoughts of God, slavish fear, terror, and enmity, for God appears to such in terrible majesty, as a consuming fire; but when the Holy Spirit is pleased to testify of Jesus as an able, willing, and all-sufficient Saviour to us, and works faith in our hearts to lay hold on Him, as a sacrifice for our sins, so that we feel a hope arise in our hearts, this draws forth love to God; and the stronger this confidence gets in the atonement of Christ for us, the more we shall feel this love; hence Christ told Mary Magdalen that “her sins that were many were all forgiven her”; and declared at the same time that she loved much. Thus, then, if God hears our prayer, and answers it-and if He pardons all our sins, and we feel it-these things will bring us to love God.
3. This love is to be experimentally known by a full persuasion in our souls of our election, and of God’s choice of us in Christ Jesus. You may feel a little love to God in hoping this is the case; but when you are quite sure of this, then love to Him will flow out, as John expressly says, “We love Him, because He first loved us.” This is a grand and glorious truth, which I have sweetly felt and enjoyed.
4. If you love God, you will at times be concerned about the honor and glory of His name; and you cannot connive at errors, either in principle or practice; you will hate yourself, because of this corrupt nature working within; and you will hate a form of godliness, destitute of the power-that is, you will hate pretenders to these things. You will also hate false doctrines, as soon as ever you are led to discover them; and God will make you fight hard in defense of the truth, “Contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.” Yes, at certain seasons you could as soon part with your life as with one truth essential to salvation; and therefore Christ says, “If any man love Me, he will keep My Word” – “Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” – “Buy the truth, and sell it not” – “Ye that love the Lord, hate evil.”
5. If you love God, you will love His children. But here take notice, it is not everyone in the same profession that holds sound truth in the head only, or that hears a real minister of Christ, that I am bound to love. Again, it is not the old man in a believer that loves God’s children. Do not forget these two things. Therefore Satan will often accuse you for these two things; but it is when I can discern the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, and when I am under the same influence which I can at that time discover: when these two meet, it is then we love Zion; and if I thus love Zion in heart, surely it will at times discover itself in actions. But what is the cause of this? I answer, or rather Paul, “Concerning brotherly love ye have no need that I write unto you, for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another”; and say you, does this prove that we love God? Yes, “He that loveth Him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of Him.” “But if any man say he loves God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar,” etc.
Lastly, If you love God, you must have an experimental knowledge of Him (not only in the Law, for this will never of itself bring you to love God) no; but you must experimentally know Him as a covenant God in Christ Jesus. You may set up idols, and call them God, or you may have an imaginary saviour, and call that Jesus Christ, as the Arminians do; but this is not the true God. It is the true God that we are to love, if “all things work together for our good, and we are the called according to His purpose.” There are two ways of knowing God: first, in the Law; and second, in Christ Jesus. In the Law we are brought to know Him as a just, holy, righteous, immutable God, arrayed in terrible majesty: but this teaching will never bring a man to love God, no; for it discovers to us that we are quite opposite to Him. It discovers all our sins, and stirs up the enmity of the heart. But second, there is a knowledge of God in Christ Jesus; and here God appears well pleased with us, accepts us in Him, places His righteousness to our account, pardons our sins, gives us peace, rest, quietness; and having loved us with an everlasting love, with lovingkindness He draws us to Jesus; and the Good Spirit reveals Him to our hearts the hope of glory; leads us up to the ancient settlements of old; shows us that our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and sheds abroad in our hearts the love of God, which casts out all fear and torment; bears His witness with our spirits that we are the children of God, and enables us to cry, Abba, Father.
Now this and much more will bring us to love God. Hence John says, “He that loveth, is born of God, and knows God.” But we must, sooner or later, have both these teachings; the one is to humble us, to teach us our true state, that we may know our proper distance, and tremble, fearing our just deserts; and the other is to raise us up out of the dust, and from the dunghill; and such can sing both of mercy and of judgment. Now such really love God:
(1) in that He hears their prayers;
(2) having received the atonement;
(3) knowing their election;
(4) in hating evil;
(5) in a love to His family;
(6) in a saving knowledge of Him in Christ Jesus, which includes all the rest.
(1) If I prevail with God, it must be through Him, the Mediator;
(2) it is His blood which cleanseth from all sin;
(3) if I know my election, I was chosen in Him;
(4) if I hate evil, it is having His Spirit, and grace from His fullness;
(5) if I love His family, it is having Christ’s image and likeness. Thus as I said before, a knowledge of God in Christ Jesus takes in all the rest.
But I will now proceed to the next particular, which is to show that all things work together for the good of such. I am therefore to treat largely of these “all things working together for good.” As the subject is however so copious, it is not to be supposed that I can do justice to the text; because all things, includes every circumstance that possibly can take place, which cannot be done; and if not done, how can it be all things-so that we must keep within some bounds. Here we will begin where God begins with His people. He finds them dead in trespasses and sins; and He quickens them or gives them life; He also enlightens them, so that here is light and life, and with these every other grace. Now it is that such discover their lost estate, their sinful hearts and lives, “That the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint; and that from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head, they are full of wounds, bruises, and putrifying sores.” And do you go and tell such a one that this is one of the all things, and that it in time, yea, is now working for his good; he will not, nor he cannot believe it; no, says he, God is going to destroy me, and make me a public example to the whole world; but it is not so, for this teaching is to bring us manifestly into or under the commission of the Lord Jesus Christ, for “His blood cleanseth from all sin.” So that seeing and feeling of sin, and receiving the atonement of Jesus Christ, these things work together for good. And be as highly favored of God as ever you may, you will never lose the sight nor feeling sense of these two things. First, clearer and clearer discoveries of your sinful nature; and second, clearer and clearer discoveries of your interest in His precious blood. Nothing more painful than the one, and nothing more precious than the other. And this will go on till death (for that is what I mean by never). “All things work together for good,” etc.
2. Another thing that I will mention, is the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ-it is placed to our account when we feel ourselves (through this light and life) ungodly, which, in a word, is opposite to God in every sense of the word. Hence Paul tells us, that God “justifieth the ungodly.” This silences every accuser; it is attended with peace, quietness, and assurance; much joy and the witness of God’s Spirit; Satan is rebuked, and everything is clear and straight; for “it is God that justifieth.” And now, say you, we shall have fair wind and weather; so that we shall sail comfortably to heaven, but I say no; for there are things connected with all this, and they are things very unpleasant to flesh and blood: and what are they, say you? Or how can it be? Is not the man a righteous man? Yes; is he not acquitted at God’s bar, and in his own conscience? Yes. Then how can it be? Why take it from God’s Word-“Many are the afflictions of the righteous”; which takes in bodily, family, soul, and circumstances, and also much more; for afflictions may come in all these, as was Job’s case. Again, “Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness sake.” Here is persecution, and that is by no means pleasing to our nature; and depend upon this as a grand truth, that though you are a justified person, and have had the sentence of it in your own conscience, you never will enjoy this no more than you will the pardon of sin, but by a manifest union with the Lord Jesus Christ; and when this is not enjoyed, you will soon find your enemies are yet alive-condemnation from sin, Satan, Law, conscience, etc., which will be painful work; for these will tread on our heels, and follow us up, except when we are manifestly in union with Christ; nevertheless these are among the all things, and they work together; yes, and for good too; for these things going on will keep Christ’s righteousness high in our estimation, and we shall highly prize it, after feeling so much of the opposite: therefore they work together. But you will say, does not Paul tell us, that there is “no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus?” Yes; but Paul means (I believe), as I have said, “manifestly,” and the experience of every child of God agrees with this; for if I say there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus by election, it is true, as it respects condemnation from God, there is none finally. But, alas! What a deal we feel. Whereas we feel none when we sensibly are in union with Him.
3. There is nothing more precious than charity, or the love of God; it casteth out all slavish fear and torment-proves a spiritual birth-delights in God, His people, His ways, and His truth-it never faileth; and with this charity we are without blame before God. But is this to go by itself? Is the happy recipient of it to have nothing but the sweet and blessed enjoyment of this love? Oh, no; charity is to suffer long; there are many waters to come, and though they cannot quench it, yet they are to try; and because iniquity will abound, this love in the enjoyment of it will wax cold. Now all this is painful to us. We shall often feel enmity rise high when the cross comes heavy, against God and His family, and then we shall feel cold to His ways, and backward in contending for truth: indeed at such times we shall be ashamed of our profession before the ungodly world. But still our text will stand good, for these things work together; and it is good even this, for it keeps us sensible how weak we are, and that we should soon deny Christ, if left to ourselves; and when we feel this love warm our hearts again, oh, what blessed work this is! And by these things we get established-that “neither life, nor death, angels, principalities, nor powers, things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature (though they may try), shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”; “For all things work together for good,” etc.
4. In every Christian there are two natures: flesh and spirit-the new man and the old-sin and grace-death and life; “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” Some people will tell us that there is a progressive holiness, and that the old man is made better and better; but I believe that I am a partaker of grace, and I feel no alteration in the old man, for I find it worse and worse, stronger and stronger, working in all directions, so that I am in continual fear of bringing a disgrace on the blessed cause of Christ.
There are seven things belonging to the flesh, which will till death oppose seven things belonging to the Spirit; and I feel this opposition strong even now. The Lord knows I find it hard work.
(1) Then there is the wisdom of the flesh, as Paul says, “Not with fleshly wisdom”; and how hard this will work, and oppose that wisdom which James says “is from above, which is pure, peaceable, gentle, without partiality,” etc.
(2) There is the judgment of the flesh, “Ye judge after the flesh”; and this opposes that blessed work within. Hence it is called a “spirit of judgment,” etc. So that while under the judgment of the flesh we judge partially.
(3) Fleshly lusts; “Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” See David, Solomon, Samson, and the incestuous person, all of which for a time were carried away by these. Now the opposite to this is having our affections set on things above, loving God with all our hearts.
(4) There is the mind of the flesh; “They that are after the flesh, do mind the things of the flesh.” Now how this fleshly mind will work so strong, and the cares of this world will perplex us, under the Word preached, that the sermon is all lost to us; the same in prayer, reading, and Christian conversation, with every other branch of religious worship. Now this is opposed by the mind of the Spirit. Hence we are renewed again and again in the spirit of our mind, for “we have the mind of Christ.”
(5) There is the service of the flesh; “I, with the flesh, serve the law of sin”; and there is a serving God in newness of spirit.
(6) There is the life of the flesh; “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die”; and the opposite is living in the Spirit, and walking in the Spirit. Lastly, there is the “desires of the flesh,” etc. (Ephesians 2:3). And there is the desires of the Spirit, “With my soul have I desired Thee in the night” – “The desire of the righteous shall be granted.” I have only hinted at these things. But here it is that we are ever fighting, and though these things are so opposite, yet they do work together for our good, for they keep us from a self-righteous spirit, often make us loath, hate, and abhor ourselves; and many a hearty petition goes up to God to fulfill His promise, in that He would subdue our iniquities, “That sin might not have dominion, but that grace might reign, and that He would keep us by His almighty power.” “All things work together for good.”
5. Faith is a most precious grace, “It works by love” – mixes with the Word preached-overcomes the world-is attended with the Spirit’s witness-it makes Christ precious-there is joy and peace in believing-it puts on Christ’s righteousnessapplies the atonement, and triumphs in the glorious victories of His death. Yes, say you, and I know some of this sort who have got to such an establishment, that they have one fixed confidence, always comfortable, always happy, and they have been so for many years without a single doubt: yes, and God’s Word calls such hypocrites, that you call established believers. No, no; they have no changes, they fear not God. Ahithophel was one of these, and their end is awful; for there must be the trial of faith, which is to work, as well as the triumph of it. And here it is that every believer finds out in time that his faith is genuine. How am I to know that my faith will stand fast in a storm, if I never get in one? It is impossible. Job had strong faith, “I know that my Redeemer liveth”; and did it stand fast in a storm? Yes, read his Book; lost all his children, his property, his friends, the devil let loose, smote with sore boils from head to foot, wife turns atheist, the ungodly all against him, God appears angry, he is tempted to blaspheme Him, and yet he says, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” – “The root of the matter is found in me.” At last God turned the captivity of Job. Again, see Abraham, “Strong in faith, giving glory to God”; communing with God, and pleading in behalf of Sodom: but this faith was sorely tried in the delay of his promised son Isaac; and when he had him, and felt a strong affection for him, then he was to offer him up as a burnt offering. Hezekiah also, what sore work he had after enjoying a strong confidence, telling those about him not to fear their enemies, “With them is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us, and fight our battles for us.” From all which, without enlarging, you may see that faith must be tried: “For it is not only given in our behalf to believe (that is sweet work), but also to suffer for His name sake.” “All things work together for good”; and I will tell you how this is. Take it as follows: a child of God shall have been in these furnaces of affliction again and again, more or less. Now at times when his feet stand in an even place, he will consider thus. Well, I have been sorely exercised with many things for years together; I have felt all the corruptions of my heart worked up so strong that I have often concluded I had no grace; I have felt God angry with me for my base abominations, and His Word has cut me to the quick, both when preached and in meditation; Satan has suggested a thousand times that I was only a hypocrite, a deceiver, an impostor; God’s hand has gone out against me in providence, that I have really expected to be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth; and yet for all this, and much more, with the opposition of the world and hypocrites, yet here I am, in the possession of the same grace, mercy, truth, and peace, and have lost nothing but what could well be spared, namely, my dross and tin; so that all things have worked together for my good. Now this is the way I have gone, and no small satisfaction arises from this quarter, when we can believe that we are in the footsteps of the flock.
6. The presence of God to His people is beyond everything that can be named. When we enjoy this, we are at home let us be wherever we may, and nothing is felt but misery when we lose this, as Dr. Watts says
‘Tis paradise if Thou art here,
If Thou depart ’tis hell.
I will mention six things which we feel when we enjoy His comfortable presence.
(1) Then we rest in the Lord from the weight and burden of sin, from a guilty conscience, from all legal labor to please God and conscience, from the fear of death, wrath and ruin, satisfied that we are interested in Christ Jesus, and that we are the objects of God’s everlasting love; and if we go to see a friend, or go a journey on business, or move from one habitation to another, we try to find this rest, because it proves to us that we have done right in what we are doing; and if we do not find it, we question whether God approves of our proceedings or not. Hence Moses says, “If Thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence.” God answers him, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.”
(2) We feel delivered from all slavish and servile fear, etc. Sometimes we are afraid of everything, of our own hearts, of Satan, death, man, and judgment; but these all fly when we are in the sensible presence of God. David was often surrounded with these fears, and says, “I shall one day fall by the hand of Saul”; there was the fear of man; “Fearfulness and trembling hath taken hold of me, I am afraid of Thy judgments”; there was the fear of judgment; “The enemy bath smitten my life down to the ground, he bath made me to dwell in darkness as those that be long dead”; and fears of death as well as Satan, the grand enemy-“Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, nor let the pit shut her mouth upon me”; but he sought the Lord, and He heard him, and delivered him from all his fears, and this come with God’s presence. Hence he says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (no evil if there was ten thousand); but what is to prevent it? Why, he adds, “Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.”
(3) We sometimes feel much joy; and what, say you, do you rejoice in? Why, we rejoice that we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ; that we can see God’s work clear in our souls; “When ye see this, your hearts shall rejoice,” etc., that our names are written in heaven, and that we have now received the atonement. “In Thy presence there is fullness of joy.”
(4) We can feel satisfied with the provision God has made; He feeds us with knowledge and understanding; we are fed with the bread of life; we are fed with the promises and with God’s providence, in watching His hand and handy works; and all this food is Christ Jesus. He is knowledge and understanding, see Proverbs 8. He is the bread of life, the passover and the fatted calf. The promises are yea and amen in Him; one of which is, “I will feed you, 0 poor of the flock.” And if we speak of God’s providence, He is the heir of all things; so that it is impossible for the children of the bride chamber to fast while the bridegroom is with them; and thus you see His presence is our food, and we are satisfied.
(5) There is life comfortably enjoyed in His presence; if we hear the Word, and feel His presence, life and immortality are brought to light by the Gospel, and we feel it. If we converse with God’s saints we feel lively, and can tell them what He has done for our souls. If we meditate, read, pray, or let it be what it will, we feel we are all on the stretch for heaven. This is the eyes seeing, the ears hearing, and the hands handling the Word of Life; and Solomon says, “In the light of the king’s countenance (which is His presence) is life, and his favor is as a cloud of the latter rain,” which is the water of life.
Lastly, we often feel refreshed in the use of God’s appointed means; and therefore as dew and rain refresh the earth, and the sun at the back of this makes it fruitful, so is the Lord Jesus Christ to His people. Hence He says, “I will be as the dew unto Israel; they shall revive as the corn, grow as the vine, and spread forth their roots as Lebanon”; and David says, “He shall come down as rain upon the mown grass, and as showers that water the earth.” By grass spiritually, I understand people, “Surely the people are grass.” By mown grass, I understand those that are cut down by the power of God under the Word. The Person that comes down, is the Lord Jesus Christ, who is every way suitable to such; and it is the Spirit that testifies of Him, and takes of the things of Jesus, and shows them to us. But again, He is called the sun; “Unto you that fear My name, shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.” Such go forth out of bondage into liberty, out of self into Christ, and they grow up, for the Blessed Spirit draws forth the graces which are already implanted in the soul, into lively act and exercise. Such bring forth the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. Thus the Lord Jesus Christ is the dew, the rain, and the sun, and this is refreshing of us, and our souls are as a watered garden; but all this comes from the presence of God. Hence Peter says that “the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” Did you never feel these things, poor, tried, tempted, bowed down, and afflicted soul, in no degree, when you have gone dried up, parched, thirsty, hardened, etc., under the Word? How very different you have come away. Or sometimes in reading a good book, when your case has been pointed out, or in conversing with experimental Christians, or in meditation, confession to God, and prayer; truly you cannot deny but you have. Now these things are sweet. But there are many unpleasant things which must go with these precious things, and constitute the all things which work together for good; and therefore God hides His face, “Verily Thou art a God that hideth Thyself, 0 God of Israel, the Saviour!” And if He hides Himself, then who can behold Him? Then you will feel every corruption work up in your heart; sin that you felt gone, appears again; idols that were dethroned, are set up; uncleanness works, the flesh is all alive, the world appears to you happy and comfortable, and you feel lost and outcast, despised and set at nought. You now conclude that you were deceived; and Satan says, drop it altogether, for it is a delusion; and everything which before you felt appears to be gone; things are turned upside down. Now all this, and much more, you will find in Job 29 and 30-read them carefully, and you will find it true: and these are the all things working together for good. Into these things I have been, and come out; gone in again, and come out; and I assure you it is the old beaten path. Instead of rest from God’s presence, no rest in your bones because of your sin; instead of being delivered from all slavish fear, you are now full of it, terrified and frightened at everything, as Job was, “I am afraid of all my sorrows; I know Thou wilt not hold me innocent” – “Even when I remember I am afraid, and trembling taketh hold of my flesh.” Instead of rejoicing in God, now mourning, and full of sorrow, saying, “Oh, that it were with me as in days and months that are past!” Instead of feeding upon Jesus Christ, the fatted calf, the bread of life, you say, with David, “Tears have been my meat,” etc., or with Job, “The things that my soul refused to taste, are become my sorrowful meat.” And if you at intervals have a little of the bread of life, like Ruth, you are forced to dip your morsel in the vinegar. I remember a time when I fed continually upon Jesus Christ, and there appeared to me to be no limitation. But, alas! This is not to continue. But there are to be mealtimes, and that is after much desertion; then there is a keen appetite, and you know that nothing is better for mealtime than a keen appetite literally, and so it is spiritually. Hence Boaz tells Ruth, “At mealtime come thou hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel.” Take notice of the word “morsel” in the vinegar. But again, instead of being lively in the ways of God, and with His people, you now feel dead, barren, and fruitless; fast asleep under the Word, and skulking down a street out of your road, to shun a lively saint; at prayer so contracted that the words freeze upon your lips; and as for praise there is none in your heart, but hard thoughts of God, His family, and His ways. Oh, how the scene has changed; and therefore you go and come like the door on its hinges; no refreshing as formerly, all appears gone together. Is it so, or is it not? I say these things are true. I have traveled these paths myself. Now “all things work together for good”; for how could you prove that you was in the footsteps of the flock if you had no changes? And therefore “what God hath joined together, cannot be put asunder.” You must never while in this world expect God’s delivering hand, or the fulfillment of His promises, to exclude the path of tribulation, for the Scriptures cannot be broken.
7. God’s blessing. There are blessings of a temporal nature, which God bestows on all the human race in a greater or lesser degree; such as food, raiment, habitation, health, strength, preservation, riches, and honors; just as He in a sovereign way is pleased. But this is only in this life; and where there is no grace given, such blessings are sure to be abused, and no gratitude can arise from the heart to the donor of all good. Such never can thank Him, only with the lip, which is vain worship; “They honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” But there are other blessings which are peculiar to God’s elect, and to none else.
First, Then what a blessing it is for a man to experience the forgiveness of all his sin. What can come up to this? Say you, that is a thing that I have long wished to know, and nothing will satisfy me short of this. Well, now, there are four plain things that I will lay down, and may God make it a blessing to your soul.
1. Then destruction and misery are in all the sinner’s ways, and the way of peace they have not known; “There is no peace (saith my God) to the wicked.” Now before pardon comes to you, you will see and feel yourself in this state; you will be like the troubled sea that cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. But when pardon comes home, all this is washed away, and you will feel a solid peace; “Son, thy sins are forgiven thee; go in peace.”
2. Before this comes, you will feel the heavens iron over your head, and the earth brass beneath your feet; but when pardon comes, you will find access to God; “Ye who sometime were far off by wicked works, are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
3. Before it comes, you will feel sin an intolerable burden, too heavy for you; and your sins will stare you in the face: but when this pardon comes home, the weight will be removed from your conscience, and you will then lift up your head; hence God says, “I have blotted out thy sins as a cloud, and thy transgressions as a thick cloud.” David felt this, when he said, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgres sions from us.” Micah says, “He hath cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
4. Before this comes, you will feel your heart shut up; there will be no gratitude in you to God for any mercy; but when this comes, you will say with David, “Bless the Lord, 0 my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name; who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases,” etc. Now you see what chequer work there is in all this, and yet does not all these things work together for good, both what goes before, and what follows after? And this is one of God’s special blessings; “Blessed is the man whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sin is covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”
Second, Another blessing is the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ wrought this righteousness out. The Holy Spirit makes us feel that we are destitute of all righteousness and He testifies of Jesus; takes of the things of Jesus, and shows them to us; and God the Father accepts us, as He did the prodigal in this best robe. Now this also is God’s blessing, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth righteousness without works.”
Third, Another blessing is life, I mean an eternal life with God in glory forevermore; which life is known in time by a keen appetite for the benefits of Christ’s death, and also by a feeding upon Him as a sacrifice for our sins. Oh, this is sweet work! “The meek shall eat, and he satisfied” – “He that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me” – “As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion, for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore.”
I might mention many more blessings, which are so very precious and comfortable, but as they are all included in these three, let these suffice-pardon, justification, and life eternal. And now I will mention three more blessings which in themselves are very uncomfortable, but you must have both; for our text says, “All things work together for good.”
First, Then “Blessed is the man whom Thou chasteneth, 0 Lord,” etc. Say you, I do not like the rod; no, nor I neither; the flesh shrinks at this; but we shall have it. It is not left to you and me whether we like it or not-have it we shall-“Iniquity is bound in our hearts, and the rod of correction shall drive it out.” This chastening is done various ways. Sometimes God does it by the Word preached, “Is not My Word like a hammer to break the rock in pieces?” Hence God smote Ephraim for his covetousness. Sometimes by ungodly men, and the venom of their tongue, “The wicked are a rod in Thine hand.” Sometimes by God’s own children, “Let the righteous smite me,” etc. Sometimes in providence, see Naomi, who declares that God afflicted her, and testified against her. Sometimes by His Holy Law; “I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of His wrath”; and the Law worketh wrath. But, say you, what is all this for? I answer, it is for two things: first, for sin; and second, for the trial of faith: and, God requires of His children these four things.
1. A humble acknowledgment of our sin and abominations. It is of no use to attempt, as the church service book says, to cloke our sins before the face of Almighty God, for He knows us better than we know ourselves, and there is no going from His Spirit, nor fleeing from His presence; there is no place where the workers of iniquity can hide themselves from Him: “Only acknowledge thy transgressions!”
2. He requires honest confession: such as this, Lord, I believe that Thy ways are equal, and mine unequal; “That from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head, I am full of wounds, bruises, and putrefying sores-that I was born in sin, shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me-that out of my heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies, and these are the things that defile me.” Now when these confessions come from our hearts, and we really feel what we say, we heartily agree with God’s testimony of the fall of man, and know “that every imagination of our hearts are evil, only evil, and that continually; deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; and that all flesh hath corrupted his way.” Have you ever come here? I can say with truth that I have again and again, and God says, “He that confesseth and forsaketh his sin, shall find mercy”; and this mercy is cleansing us from all sin.
3. God requires us to plead His own promises made to such characters as these; hence He says, “Put Me in remembrance, let us plead together, declare thou that thou mayest be justified” – “Come, now, and let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool”; and here it is best to pick out those promises that are the most suitable to our case, and always to ask in the name and for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, and for His sake alone, and He will in His own time hear, and answer our petitions.
4. He requires us to watch and wait; “Blessed is the man that heareth Me, watching daily at My gates, waiting at the posts of the door”: and such a one has been well humbled and brought down, willing to put his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope. He is last in his own eyes, and esteems others better than himself. And do you know that there is such a thing as choosing affliction; yes, and God will bring His children here, you may depend upon it: and I can tell you, from my own experience, how this has been brought about in me. Then observe, God at times has been pleased highly to favor me with His presence beyond many that I know, and at such times things have been very clear in my soul. I have also found liberty of soul, liberty of speech, and light shining on the Word, and could tell others clearly what God had done for me. But, alas! Soon after this I have found this frame wither away, and not finding any particular weight or trouble, if I have worked with people that were civil and free speaking, I have mixed with them, and talked away too much, joking and speaking things to make them laugh, and thus I have felt a light trifling spirit. Well, in my mealtimes I have called on the Lord to subdue this; confessing how wrong it was, and that His Word condemned it, saying, “Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which is not convenient,” and I have felt humble and broken before the Lord, hoping I should after this be kept. But, alas! Ten minutes after, when with those people again, I have been drawn away, and so I have gone on perhaps for days. Well after this, a light has shone upon my present life, and in this light I could see the danger of this light spirit, and the awful lengths I should be sure to go after all, if the reins were put on my own neck. This then has been so managed of God that I have justified Him in all His righteous dealings with me, and could clearly see and heartily approve of all the afflictions, trials, temptations, cross providences, etc., that I have been exercised with, and have told the Lord that He dealt very gently with me, and prayed Him at that time never to leave me without chastisement; and oh, how precious have I found it after this! For God has showed His approbation of it, and highly favored me with His presence, which has removed all the shame of sin that I felt before. Now this is real truth. Moses chose affliction with God’s people. David says, “In faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me.” No wonder at our choosing and delighting in peace, rest, comfort, pardon, etc., but to take pleasure in infirmities, reproaches, persecutions, distresses, necessities, etc., surely there must be a wonderful display of God’s power in such. Then do not all things work together for good? And God requires praise for all these mercies; hence He says,
“Call upon Me in the day of trouble,
and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.”
Second, Another blessing is enduring temptation. Hence James says, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation.” It is God’s way always to put His own work (and sometimes also, the pretended work of men) into the fire, that His children may see what this good work will cope with, and yet never give up altogether, as I have already showed you in Job and others.
Various temptations in this furnace work are sure to come on: in providence there may be very great trials; and many snares and traps God has suffered men to lay to try to make His children forsake Him, and give up all their religion for a portion in this life; and it is no small trial to be so kept forsaking all for Christ, even in the dark, when such have hardly a glimpse of hope that they have any part or lot in the matter; sometimes it shall go so hard that they really will expect to deny Him altogether. Again, there are temptations from cruel treatment which arises from the ungodly which we work with, jeering, laughing, mocking, traducing our characters, and speaking hard speeches, taking every advantage of us, etc., and under all this, God appearing angry, no assurance of our life, fearing we are volunteers in religion, and that now as the sun of persecution waxes hot, we shall in this time of temptation fall away.
Again, we are tempted by Satan. He suggests that we are hypocrites, and sets before us every hypocrite, and their dreadful end in God’s Word, brings text after text against us, tempts us to blaspheme God, to speak against His children and ministers, so that we are daily expecting to take an offense, and oppose all that before we were valiant for, and this is sore work; and he will tempt us to laugh at Scripture-yes, and bring it in our mind on every foolish occasion, which terrifies us. He will tempt us to the great transgression, and we shall feel as if the next step would bring us into it. Oh, I never can describe my fears upon this head; hence you read-of the condemnation of the devil, the reproach of the devil, of the enemy coming in like a flood, of the snare of the fowler, of his being the accuser of the brethren, of his fiery darts, of his being a roaring lion, of Satan’s sieve, etc., all of which shows the power he has. But it is all limited, and that is our mercy.
Now all these things work together for good, and in this way; for these things make us cry to the Lord Jesus. What should you and I know about the sufferings of the Saviour experimentally, if we were never tempted, when He was tempted in all points, yet without sin? Again, He has promised to succor such; but if not tempted, we need not succor. Again, the Blessed Spirit is to lift up Christ as a standard against him; but if not tempted, I do not need it, by no means. If not accused, I need not Christ as an advocate to plead my cause. Again, I am to overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb, and by the Word of my testimony. But if he never was against me, how can I find that faith in Christ will overcome him? And these temptations often follow upon the back of glorious visits or manifestations to the soul.
We may see it in the Saviour. “This is My beloved Son,” said the Father; “Then was Jesus led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil”; and as we are to follow His steps, so it is in a measure with us. Hence after God declared that Job was a perfect and upright man, etc., then he is left for a while in Satan’s hands. Peter also declares that Christ is the Son of the living God, which Christ says, was a revelation of the Father; and at the back of this, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have thee, that he may sift thee as wheat,” etc. Say you, it is hard work; true, it is. But let us see in these two men if it did not work for their good. Then observe, in Job what a glorious deliverance he got in soul, and twice as much in providence as before; and as for Peter what a blessed experience he found of godly sorrow and repentance, when the Lord looked on him. Truly, my fellow traveler, all things work together for good, and “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation,” etc.
Lastly, Another blessing is this, “Blessed are ye when men shall persecute you, and speak all manner of evil against you falsely for My name sake.” Now this is hard work at times. It is true, that when the Lord is with us, it is very light; but when in darkness of soul it will try us to the very quick. I assure you I have many a time feared I should turn back in the day of battle, and I am sure I should long ago had I not been kept by an invisible power. But, say you, how is it possible that this can work for our good? I answer, it keeps us from the spirit of the world, separate from them, their spirit and practices we hate, and it makes us cleave to the Lord’s family; hence the apostles, when they got out of prison, went to their own company, etc., and we can see that we have the same experience as Bible saints; see David, Paul, and others. And seeing there is in this day in which we live such fightings amongst real saints, I should not wonder if it does not bring on open persecution. May God prevent it, if consistent with His will; but things look very dark. Thus all things work together for our good.
Another thing that I shall mention, and may the Lord keep you and me from it, and that is, backsliding both in heart and openly; this is amongst the all things that really work together for good. And here before I begin, let me caution the presumptuous Antinomian; I am not writing to you to encourage you in your abominations, God forbid. Paul tells you, that your damnation is just; but still the children’s bread is not to be kept back, because dogs will make a meal. Woe to you! If you pervert my meaning. But here let me speak to those that have backslidden; perhaps some may be ready to deny this, but I am sure they must deny God’s Word, for does not that say, “My people are bent to backslide, and the backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.” Yes, and openly too; as you may see in David, Peter, Lot, and the incestuous person; all of which openly backslided. Then, say you, this gives us a license. God forbid. Now if you deny this, you cannot say that all things work together for good-but all things, except backsliding-whereas Paul makes no exception whatever. But now, how is it that this works for good? To this, I answer, as follows:
1. By asking what is backsliding? Why backsliding in heart is falling in with the workings of the old man-this is backsliding in heart. Now backsliding openly is publicly practicing what I first felt working within. Now we are sure that all this is far from good in and of itself; but God is pleased sometimes to let His children fall, to teach them their own weakness, and to strip them of fleshly confidence; it pulls down the great I; “Though all should forsake Thee, yet will not I.” Again, it brings people off from a self-righteous spirit, and keeps them from bearing too hard upon others. Again, they learn that the devil would drive them to destruction altogether, if he could. And lastly, they discover the depths of sovereign mercy that ever should look upon such base abominable wretches, as they see and feel they have been, and that all their labor has been to damn their own souls. And the further a man is left to backslide openly, and after all reclaimed, the greater does he discover the love of Father, Son, and Spirit superabounding over all his sin and misery, and raising him from the mouth of hell up to the very heights of everlasting glory above. But such still shall surely smart for it, and find that it is an evil and bitter thing to sin against God; yet they never shall (as the elect of God) sink into black despair, for grace shall fetch them up. Again, God will grant them true repentance, and their repentance will be as public as their crime. Oh, how they will loath, hate, and abhor themselves; repenting in dust and ashes. How they will caution others from such proceedings! And wonder that God did not send them to hell at once; and never can they forget nor forgive themselves; see Mr. Hart, and read those precious hymns he wrote.
Thus I have wrote the truth, let what will be said; and if my reader has been preserved from falling openly, God has been his keeper and not himself, so that he has nothing to boast of; and if he has been kept from open backsliding, I am sure he does not stand acquitted from backsliding in heart, for this we all feel to our grief; then give God the glory; and do not forget this prayer, “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe”; for it entirely depends upon God and Him alone. Now as we are told to sow to the Spirit, it will not be amiss to exhort my brother or sister that may read this book to the following things, which are all to be found in God’s Book, and under God are preventatives against this backsliding.
1. Love to God’s children, and uniting with them. Now if Satan can, he will try to separate; yes, he will labor hard at this by evil surmisings, which when looked into are without a foundation. I am no stranger to this, and a little will do it; hence Christ says, “Love one another”; and John tells us, “That he that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him”; but the contrary conduct is (I believe) one of the first steps to backsliding.
2. It is good to search the Scriptures. Christ commands it, “Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they that testify of Me.” This furnishes the mind for meditation, and will sometimes keep out vanity; “In Thy Law will I meditate day and night”; and “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way, by taking heed according to Thy Word.” Now David tells us, that this is a preventative to evil, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.”
3. Constant prayer. Paul says, “Pray without ceasing.” And seeing that God alone can keep us from backsliding, He is the only one to seek to, “Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling” – “The Lord is thy keeper,” etc. Jabez prayed to be kept from evil, and God answered his prayer; and David, as before observed, says, “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.” Peter says, “We are kept by the mighty power of God,” etc.
4. It is good for us to be well exercised though so painful to bear, because it mortifies the old man, and cuts the pride of our hearts, which if not done continually by afflictions will grow upon us, and we shall be lifted up in one way or another; hence Peter says, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God”; but if not, “A haughty spirit goes before a fall.”
5. Sowing to the Spirit, and observing His leadings. Jonah going from the presence of God was going contrary to this, and therefore David in Psalm 139 calls God’s Spirit His presence; not that we can go from His presence into a place He does not fill-no, for He fills all space; but it means going contrary to His will; so that we shall not find His comfortable presence and approbation in such a path; hence Jonah says, “They that observe lying vanities, forsake their own mercies”; and we are told not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.” This certainly is a preventative to evil; “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.”
6. Constantly attending on the preaching of the Word as much as possible. See how Thomas’ unbelief gained ground through being away, and it is by faith we stand. We are told not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together; faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word preached. This Satan will tempt us to-telling us that we know as much as the preacher; but this is a self-sufficient spirit, and a prelude to backsliding. Now you may call all this legal; but what says Paul, “I beseech you, brethren, suffer the Word of exhortation”; and if you despise it, let me tell you that you are high-minded; “Be not highminded, but fear, for by faith you stand.” It is God’s Word, and he that despiseth the Word shall be destroyed. All these things work together for good; and so you shall find it, if you are one that obeys the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus, then, it is plain, that these backslidings are so managed of God to work for good-that we may learn well our weakness, not lord it over others-learn our dependence on Him who has promised to water us every moment, and keep us night and day-walk more cautiously in future-not be above exhortation-and lastly, that we may bless Him for His superabounding grace in not taking an advantage of our folly, and that He should still say, “Return, ye backsliding children, I am married to you.”
7. Every grace in our heart has got a corruption to oppose it; this every believer will find out sooner or later; and yet all this is very needful, and they work together for our good.
(1) Then we have faith, and we have also unbelief-see Zechariah and Thomas.
(2) We have light, and we have darkness-see Jeremiah and David.
(3) We have hope, and we also have despondency-see Job and Hezekiah.
(4) We have love, and we also have enmity-see Jonah.
(5) We have life, and we also have a body of death-see Paul.
(6) We have repentance, and we also have hardness; hence some say, Thou hast hardened our hearts from Thy fear.
(7) We have humility, and we also have pride; hence Hezekiah’s heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord.
(8) We are made willing and obedient, and we also are stubborn and disobedient-see Jonah again. And thus I might go on, but let this suffice.
8. But how can all these wretched things work together for our good? Why, in various ways.
(1) It keeps us sensible of Adam’s fall, so that we do not forget our base original.
(2) We are living witnesses of the truth of God’s Word, for what He says in that Word of our corrupt nature we feel daily.
(3) We can give the lie to and detect every Arminian and free will monger that talks about sinless perfection.
(4) These corruptions make us highly prize the grace of God, hate ourselves and this world, and long for that blessed time when the Canaanite shall not be in the house of the Lord forever.
(5) They keep us from presuming on the mercy of God. Such can never make light of sin; sin is a bitter thing to them; and they often walk in jeopardy, fearing that it certainly has or will have the dominion, which occasions close examination at times, honest confessions to God, and their fear is, lest they should be left to put in practice what they feel within, and so make shipwreck of faith.
(6) Feeling these evils often is a means of sharpening our appetite for the preaching of the Word, so that we hate the world and love Zion, saying, with David, “Woe is me! That I dwell in Meshech”; and on the other hand, “How amiable are Thy tabernacles, 0 Lord of hosts.” “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Then does not our text stand good, that “all things work together for good.”
There is such a thing (and all God’s elect experience it) as being in Christ not only by election, but by a manifest union, and this will be attended with many sufferings. But you will ask how shall I know that I am in Christ Jesus? To this I answer in ten particulars.
1. Then we are in Him by having His fear put in our hearts which we have not by nature, for “There is no fear of God before our eyes,” and “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” But where this fear is, and when it is in exercise, we view ourselves under His narrow inspection, we hate evil and shun the ungodly. Now such are in Christ Jesus; hence Solomon says, “My son, be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long.” But will this meet with opposition? Does it not make a man a good neighbor, a good husband, a good father, etc.? Does it not make him act upright in his dealings? And under its influence, does he not fear to take an advantage? Yes, it certainly does. But yet all this, and much more, will not keep him from the spite and malice of men; hence Solomon says, “For a good work a man is envied of his neighbor”; and Peter says, “Because you run not with them to the same excess of riot, they will speak evil of you”; and this, at times, is painful work; for a man may be under the influence of this fear, walking in darkness, and having no light or no comfort: such suffer for conscience sake. But really these things work together for good, for such can see that this fear is the same as Nehemiah had and Joseph; so that it proves they have the experience of Bible saints, and that they are hated the same as these good men were. Such can see how God has made them to differ.
2. We are said to be in Christ by faith. But faith is no easy thing, and therefore very many trials attend it. You read of the trial of faith; it is tried with conscience, Law, sin, Satan, the ungodly hypocrite, cross providences, and by the Lord Himself. But yet faith will work through all trials, because it is of Divine origin. It is born of God, and therefore it will lay hold again and again of the Lord Jesus and of His finished work, applying it all to the conscience. But oh, how this faith is hated; hence the apostles are called “men that turned the world upside down.” But God says, “Behold ye despisers, and wonder and perish, for I work a work in your days, which you shall in no wise believe though a man declare it unto you.” Now this work is faith, which they despise, and so Paul calls it, “God fulfill in you the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power.” (They cannot comprehend these things with their carnal reason, and therefore they hate it, and them that profess it.) Such are in Christ Jesus. “Martha, he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and he that liveth and believeth in Me, shall never die,” etc. And it works together for good, inasmuch as we know (after it has been in the furnace, and come out again) that it will not give way in a storm. But this is a work of time; many ups and downs do we experience before we come to an establishment in this truth.
3. We are said to be in Christ Jesus, by having what Peter calls “the Divine nature.” Paul calls it “the inner man.” It is produced in the soul by the Holy Ghost. You have it in these words, “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit”; and where this is, there is nothing removed away as it respects the old man; but it is subdued and kept down, so that it cannot reign: and we are called ever after-not by the former, but by the latter namesuch as believers, righteous, holy people, saints, etc., taking our name from the new man in which we shall shine to all eternity. And it is no small part of real wisdom for a child of God to be enabled to distinguish and find out that he has this new man. How many of God’s family, through legal teachers, are puzzled upon this head; they hear them cry up holiness continually, and set the Law of Moses before them; but say nothing about the old man and his wretched workings, which every child of God groans under. And, say you, what is the cause of it? I answer, such have only head knowledge, but no experience; so that they feel no such warfare. This is the real truth; such it is that rule over them, and make them to howl; but God says, “My people shall know in that day that it is I that do speak; behold it is I.” Now this proves that we are in Christ, for “If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature.”
4. We are to know that we are in Him by the forgiveness of our sins. This pardon is wholly owing to the sufferings and death of the Lord Jesus Christ; hence God the Father says, “My name is in Him.” Gracious, merciful, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, upon honorable terms, and not at the expense of Divine justice; and therefore “Mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace kissed each other” in Him. And God pardons the sinner-past, present, and to come, all at once, which by the Prophet Isaiah is called “abundantly pardoning”; and this every soul believes, that has come to any establishment. There are five things enjoyed where this pardon comes.
(1) Salvation; for we believe that we are saved from the reigning power and dominion of sin, from every enemy we have, and from the wrath to come. And this is the knowledge of salvation, by the forgiveness of sin; and this brings in another blessing, and that is joy; as Hannah says, “I rejoice in Thy salvation.” After David had backslidden from God, he prays, “Restore unto me the joys of Thy salvation.” “We joy in God (says Paul) through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.”
(2) We enjoy, and can feed upon the Lord Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for our sins, for we believe that all the victories He obtained upon the Cross is ours, and this enables us to triumph over every foe. It is then that the desire of every living thing is satisfied.
(3) There is an appetite.
(4) This appetite is satisfied. “For he that drinketh My blood, hath everlasting life.”
(5) We now serve God in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. Such are not drove to the house of God by the lashes of conscience, for the blood of Christ has purged their consciences from dead works to serve the living God. Oh, with what delight have I gone years ago to hear Mr. Huntington when I believed that I was in a pardoned state. Lastly, you will find rest from that legal spirit of working to please conscience; and rest from the load which before you felt. David says, “There is no soundness in my flesh because of Thine anger, nor rest in my bones because of my sin.” But when sin (the whole cause of this restlessness) is removed by pardon, then David says, “Return to thy rest, 0 my soul, for the Lord bath dealt bountifully with thee.”
“Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Now this pardon or covenant name is in Christ Jesus; hence Paul says, “In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” But this will meet with great opposition from the ungodly, and therefore we are to he hated of all men for His name sake; yes, say you, but many of them speak very fair-that may be. But this hatred lays under all their fair speech, and they hide it with a lying tongue; hence Solomon says, “When he speaketh fair, believe him not; for there are seven abominations in his heart.” But these things work together for good; for here I learn that grace discriminates me from them, and makes me shun their company. But you must take this hatred with the pardon of sin, for they work together; and does not Christ say, “The servant is not greater than his lord; marvel not if the world hate you, it hated Me before it hated you; but all these things will they do unto you for My name sake.” And is it not a comfort to you that you are hated as the Lord Jesus was; then they work together for good.
5. We know that we are in Him by the light of His countenance. This light is the beginning of everlasting day. It is this that discovers sin at first, and makes us so black as we are in our own eyes; and that God is privy to all we think and do. Hence David says (when pardoned), “Thou hast cast all our sins behind Thy back”; but before this, he says, “Our secret sins are in the light of Thy countenance.” But this is only a preparatory work to bring us to the sweet enjoyment of His countenance or His favor; and when this is the case, the storm blows over, and God no longer contends; for as Mr. Huntington in writing to me, said, “He will kill thee with kindness,” etc., and His love will superabound over all; so that, as David says, we shall “be crowned with lovingkindness and tender mercies.” Aaron and his sons was ordered of God by Moses to bless the children of Israel in the following way: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; the Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” Now it is worth your notice and mine, that if you take away the Lord Jesus Christ, all this falls to the ground; for He is the sum and substance of the whole of it.
(1) If we are blessed, it is with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.
(2) If we are kept, it is through that faith which He is the Author and Finisher of; hence Peter says, “Who are kept by the mighty power of God, through faith unto salvation.”
(3) He it is that causes the Father’s face to shine, “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ.”
(4) If He is gracious, grace comes from Christ’s fullness. And if He gives us peace, He made this peace by the blood of His Cross. From all which you may see how it is, that ever the countenance of God can he towards us; there is much life and joy felt when this is the case. Such feel the living water which Christ spake of to the woman at the well, for it will spring up. “In the light of the king’s countenance is life, and his favor is like a cloud of the latter rain.” This I know by experience; blessed be God! And there also is much joy, which is the overflowings of that love which casts out all fear and torment; hence David says, “My cup runneth over.” “Thou hast made me full of joy with the light of Thy countenance.” And can all this be hated by the seed of Satan? Yes, it certainly is; see Stephen that was full of this joy, with the light of the Lord’s countenance: how desperate his enemies were at hearing him-they gnashed on him with their teeth, and stoned him to death. All of which worked for his good, for he left this miserable world to enjoy the presence of Him that he had been a witness for, in the face of such great opposition. But all this is union with Christ; “Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound; they shall walk, 0 Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.”
6. We know that we are in Him by the strength which we have equal to our day. Only look back, if you have been anytime in God’s ways, and see the difficulties you have surmounted. Has it not astonished you? It has me. The temptations, afflictions in soul, circumstances, and in family, etc., how is it that you and I have not given all up? I answer, with Paul, “We can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us”; and the weaker you feel yourself the better, for His strength is made perfect in our weakness. It is the weak are to say, I am strong. So that these things do work together, and fit very well; for what is more suitable than strength to a person that has none. Then, says Paul, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” But, say you, it is painful work to feel our own weakness so; and to be always, more or less, tottering and fearing. I know it is, for I feel it continually. But have you not found strength equal to your day? Yes, say you; but I have not always felt it; true. Say you, I should like to feel strong; yesbut this is not always to be. But strength shall secretly be communicated to you, though imperceptible by you, and this is to hide pride from you. Then all things work together for good; and really we are so exercised and tried that we prove the truth of these things. Only let the Lord withdraw, and lay no particular cross upon us, and we soon get light and trifling, joking, jesting, can mix with the world, take an advantage, overreach, set up idols, and our corrupt affections will run after every object that takes the eye, and such an uncommon inordinate affection will work, dressed up in a religious garb-a covetous, selfish spirit also-shut up against the Lord’s family, as well as others. Pretend to what you may, this is the real truth; and all this, with much more, calls for the rod-for God will take vengeance of our inventions. But we need strength to hold us up under His chastening hand, or we certainly should sink in black despair; for when the Lord shows us our sins, the sight is terrible, and we fear His judgments; and Satan suggests that our spot is not the spot of God’s children. In short, everything appears against us, and we never expect to lift up our heads more; and I know that when we get so entangled, we never should, without the strength of Christ-no, never; depend on it. But His Spirit helps our infirmities again, and this is increasing our strength. When we therefore feel this small gleam of hope arise, we wonder at it; and then we begin to examine our base hearts and lives, and honest confessions go out. Then we intreat and plead hard the promises; and the Good Spirit will bring them to the mind one after another-such as this, “From all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you”; and again, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin”; with various others. Now when we find the Lord incline to or attend to our cry, and answer us, this breaks the heart, “A soft word (says Solomon) breaks the bone.” Then godly sorrow, repentance, and self-loathing takes place; we wonder at His long-suffering mercy toward us, and creep into nothing, taking the lowest room, and sitting in it with our mouths shut. “I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it.” This is true humility before God, and honor comes after; for when we are thus humbled He lifts us up again, and restores to us the joys of His salvation, and the joy of the Lord is our strength. In all this you may see how things work together for good. But again, if the Lord favors us very much with His presence, so that we rise high above many of our friends, and we stand in this liberty some time-He gives us a door of utterance, and enables us to write as well as speak. Oh, what aspiring thoughts! What pride! What self-sufficiency, consequence, and high-mindedness there is! Which generally is succeeded with terrible work; and then we are led to look at the attainments of hypocrites-that a man may have all knowledge, etc., and yet be nothing-that a gift is not grace-that we only have got the one talent after all our talk, and that a prating fool shall fall, etc. But is not the strength of Christ needed under all this? Surely it is. How many under dreadful convictions have destroyed themselves-but the Lord keeps us from laying violent hands on ourselves; thus He give us strength, and when He brings us out it leaves such an impression, that we do not easily forget, and are not so soon puffed up. Thus all things work together for good.
7. We know that we are in Him by righteousness. Now if you have got this righteousness on, you will hate your own as the church did, and call it filthy rags. Yes, and when you are under this influence, an Arminian with all his fleshly righteousness, will stink in your nostrils.
(2) Wherever this righteousness is, it is attended with peace, “For the work of righteousness is peace,” which rules in the heart.
(3) You will find the Spirit’s witness; for “By faith Abel obtained witness that he was righteous.”
(4) You will feel joy, the oil of joy; “My soul shall be joyful in my God, for He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.” But my reader may say, you soar too high. Well, then, I will come a little lower, and ask you a few questions. Then, are you condemned in your conscience for want of righteousness, and also by the Word of God? Does the threatening part of Scripture come home to you, and do you tremble at it? Yes, say you (at times), I feel this. Very good. But again, do you not find in hearing or reading the Word at times a keen appetite for the righteousness of Christ? Do you not wish you could say, as some do, that He is the Lord your righteousness? Yes, say you, and I keep going to hear the Word, hoping that this or that time I shall be thus favored; and I have done this for years, but seem as far off as ever. I do not doubt this, I know the path. But keep on, fellow traveler, for the promise is to such as you and none else. God declares they shall not be ashamed that wait for Him, and “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Take notice, you are already blessed, though you are not filled; and He is a faithful God: He is first letting you feel your deplorable state and condition, with the rest of mankind in the fall, and the life He has given you makes you feel it. The appetite which you have after Christ is the Spirit’s work. Your being so long in this state is, that it may be well engraven on your soul; and you will find all these other things in His time (which is the best) that I have mentioned; for faithful is He that hath promised, who also will do it: and our unbelief shall not make the promise of God of none effect. Now in the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory, saying, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.” But there are numberless straits and difficulties before you get to such a fixed establishment; everything you put your hand to there will be bitterness in; in the family everything will appear to be turned upside down-the wife against the husband, and the husband against the wife; and if both fear God, yet Satan will often stir up one against the other; the children will give you many an aching heart. Where you work also for the bread that perisheth, every advantage shall be taken of you, and you shall be despised; in your heart every corruption more or less will work, enmity to God and His saints, hardness of heart, pride, uncleanness, etc. And you will live daily in expectation of turning your back upon Jesus; and when you survey your life, and compare it, conduct and all, with a carnal professor, he, in outward things, will shine in your eyes like an angel; for he can (as you think) attend to all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But you (in your own eyes) will really appear to be an Antinomian; for though your heart is fixed to act perfectly consistent in all things, you cannot do it if your salvation depended on it; and for this reason “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other, so that you cannot do the things which you would.” You wish from your soul to keep family prayer up, but weariness of body, and the old man, with the disturbance of unruly disobedient children, will force you again and again to neglect this. You wish constantly to hear the Word; hard labor, a weak body, the old man, and temporal poverty, prevents this very often. You wish to feel a love to God’s tried family, so as to assist them in temporals, but poverty or a covetous spirit will oppose you, that you will feel your heart like a stone. You wish to meet with them at their houses at times, to talk about God’s work; but this is often prevented, for Satan suggests to you that you are a mumping hypocrite, and only like them for what you can get: this keeps you away for fear it should be a snare; God appears angry at it, while Satan laughs at you. Now all this, and much more, are the straits that attend a child of God. Nevertheless, says our Lord, “Strive to enter in at the strait (or difficult) gate.” And where there are none of these straits, such (though they may appear in the way) are only like formality and hypocrisy in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, whom Christian saw tumbling over the wall, and could not produce a certificate. Now the gate is Christ Jesus, “I am the door, by Me if any man enter, he shall be saved”; and this righteousness is the garment of salvation, “Open to me the gates of righteousness,” that gate into which the righteous enter. But it is no easy thing, “For strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” But when you get in it will make up for all, and you will then say, truly my path has been a rough path; but bless the Lord it is scriptural, and the experience of all Bible saints. I would not have come any other way for all this world; and though I have waded through such scenes of misery, and often expected to fall quite away, yet here I am to the present moment, in the sweet enjoyment of pardon, peace, rest, and quietness, clothed in the perfect and spotless righteousness of the Son of God, my Surety, that wrought it out and discharged my infinite debt. To Him with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all the glory and praise of my salvation, forever and ever. And I believe that I shall shine like the sun in the glory of my Father’s kingdom forever and ever. “Thou shalt call thy walls salvation, and thy gates praise.” Now really, say you, all things work together for my good. The bitter must come before the sweet, and that makes the sweet the sweeter. Little did I think that I was an heir of righteousness, which is by faith, but thought that I should be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth. But God’s thoughts were not my thoughts, nor His ways my ways; for He says, “I know the thoughts that I think towards you, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
8. We know that we are in Him, by the sweet uninterrupted peace which we now enjoy, and which before we were strang ers to. For before this we were like the rest of the world, “Destruction and misery was in all our ways, and the way of peace we knew not.” “The wicked are like the troubled sea, that cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt-there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” This peace is not being insensible, nor is it carnal security; neither does it, in the smallest measure, arise from outward things, such as health, strength, good friends, rich relations, prosperity in business, good connections, etc. No, I repeat it again, these things have nothing to do with it, they neither can add, nor the want of them cannot in the smallest measure diminish it, if God is pleased to favor me with the rich enjoyment of it; hence Elihu tells Job, “When He giveth quietness, who then can make trouble,” etc. (Job 34:29). Now this peace proves to us that we are in the possession of ten things.
(1) That we are in a pardoned state; “Son, thy sins are forgiven thee; go in peace.”
(2) That the righteousness of Christ is placed to our account; “The work of righteousness is peace.”
(3) That we are translated out of the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God’s dear Son; “The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy, in the Holy Ghost.”
(4) That we are partakers of the Spirit of God, and shall be fruitful to God; “The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, and peace.”
(5) That we are in union with God’s children; “Keep the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace.”
(6) That we are reconciled to God by the death of Jesus; “He made peace by the blood of His Cross.”
(7) That we are of those blessed ones whose delight is in the Law of the Lord; for “great peace have they that love Thy Law,” etc.
(8) That we are sons of f Ad, by predestination, adopted into His family, “Into whatsoever house you enter, say, peace be to this house; and if the son of peace be there, your peace shall come upon it,” etc.
(9) That the Gospel of Christ has been attended with power to us as vessels of mercy; hence it is called, “The Gospel of Peace”; and lastly, that all these things we enjoy by virtue of a living union with Christ; “In the world you shall have tribulation, but in Me you shall have peace.”
Now at times we enjoy these things (longer or shorter) uninterrupted. But, alas! The scene changes; and, like Hezekiah, “For peace (or upon my peace) came great bitterness”; and now, instead of peace-Oh, what misery! How wretched! Full of confusion, restless, uneasy, and everything wrong-instead of pardon, we feel guilt-instead of righteousness, condemnation-instead of the kingdom of God, we feel as if we were led captive by devils-instead of the fruits of the Spirit, we feel the carnal lusts of the flesh working strong, and unbelief at the head of them-instead of union with God’s children, hard thoughts and enmity, with evil surmisings-instead of reconciliation, we feel as if we were at war with God, and He with us-instead of delighting in His Law, we feel a dislike to it above all good books, for we see not our signs as formerly-instead of being sons, we fear we are vessels of wrath-instead of the Gospel coming with power, we go and come shut up; and really conclude, that God hath commanded these clouds of witnesses to rain no rain upon us-and instead of feeling a union with Christ, we feel so cold to Him and His cause, that we expect to be the first to deny Him, and that this will soon take place. Now you may see this change take place, if you read Isaiah 3:16 to the end-it is spoken to the daughters of Zion, read it carefully. “And it shall come to pass that instead of a sweet smell”-which is a savor of the knowledge of Christ, as Paul says, “Now thanks be to God which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of the knowledge of Him (experimentally) in every place”: this is a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savor. But, alas! The scene changes-and there “is a stink”; for the corruptions of the heart work up, and they stink in our nostrils; hence David says, “My wounds stink and are corrupt.” Instead of a girdle, or our having our loins girt about with truth, a rent. God is pleased to rend the caul of the heart; so that we discover the dreadful evils of it. Instead of well-set hair, by which we may understand witnesses, or Gilead (Song of Solomon 4:1), which was a great ornament to us-such as the witness of God’s Spirit, our conscience, God’s Word, and the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11, being of our side-we now feel baldness: and these all appear against us. Instead of a stomacher, or the breastplate of righteousness, a girding of sackcloth; for we now discover our own ragged righteousness; and burning, or the lusts of the flesh all stirred up. Instead of beauty, for our feet do not appear now beautiful with shoes, neither have we the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit; nor do we feel ourselves in the enjoyment of these very beautiful garments, which the Prophet Isaiah speaks of, “Put on thy beautiful garments,” etc. No, nor do we rejoice in God’s salvation, which He has promised to beautify the meek with. So that you see things appear turned upside down, and our harp is on the willows: what, for good, and all? No, blessed be God! We shall find all right again, after we have been well humbled, mortified, made heart sick of ourselves, brought to honest confession, etc. Then the Lord will visit us again, and we shall have a sweet smell, a girdle, well-set hair, a stomacher, and beauty-“For all things work together for good”; and we lose under this teaching much fleshly confidence, self-righteousness, spiritual pride, vain glory, and selfconceit; so that these changes are needful, that we may remember our base original. Yes, this is the path, as I can well witness; and be as highly favored as you may, sooner or later, this will come on. “All thy garments smell of myrrh (that is, sweet) and aloes,” that is, very bitter. The paschal lamb is to be eaten with bitter herbs. “All things work together for good.”
9. We know that we are in Him by salvation. But who is it that needs this? I answer, the lost. Well are not all men lost in the fall? Yes; and did Jesus Christ come to save all? No. Who then did He come to save? His elect. What, and none else? No. How is this to be proved? By God’s Words. “I lay down My life for My sheep.” But some are called vipers, goats, serpents, etc., from all which the Gospel in the power of it is hid; hence Paul says, “If our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are (irrecoverably) lost.” But lost in Scripture has another meaning; hence the Saviour came “to seek and to save them that are lost” (sensibly so). How are they brought to know this? I answer, by the teaching of God’s Spirit, in consequence of their election. It is a preparatory work to make them feel their true state in the fall, and to bring them manifestly under the commission of the Lord Jesus Christ. The prodigal was one of these, “This my son was dead, but is alive again; he was lost, but is found.” But, say you, what are the feelings of such when they are effectually convinced? Why, they really do take to themselves all the threatening part of God’s Word; for it comes home to them, as Nathan did to David, saying, “Thou art the man!” And such tremble at God’s Word; for they now believe it with an application, and expect the execution of the sentence; they no longer read or hear for others, but for themselves, saying, with the jailor, “What must I do to be saved?” Or with the publican, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” They cannot now put far away the evil day, but distant things are brought near-their guilty polluted state, God’s righteousness in the Law, a naked soul exposed to the wrath and vengeance of heaven. This is the storm, the tempest, all false hopes give way here, and the soul keeps sinking, sinking, as it were, into black despair, but God holds them up, and at times secretly gives them a little respite, so that a small gleam of hope arises, but this soon goes, and before long they sink again. This is the life hanging in doubt; and thus they go up and down in the balances of the sanctuary, with no assurance of their life. Oh, it is dreadful work, and that my soul knoweth right wellmany dreadful passages of Scripture will come, and appear to cut them clean off, and sometimes the trouble will go off, and a light spirit come on, which when the trouble comes again will add to it. Satan will suggest these terrors and horrors are common to hypocrites, when God is making them manifest; and this will appear clear to us at such times, because we often slip into many things-secret besetting sins which we indulge, and stick close to us-neither can we alter ourselves in the least; then it will come “though wickedness be sweet in his mouth, though he hide it under his tongue, though he spare it, and forsake it not, but keep it still within his mouth, yet his meat in his bowels is turned; it is the gall of asps within him.” Oh, how often does the soul slip, and fall into these constitutional sins; and when he attempts to come to the light, he feels terror, horror, and his hope giving way; yes, and though he knows the end of such things is death; and though he has suffered again and again for nibbling at these things; yet so very powerful is lust that it will drive him on against all his light and knowledge; yes, I believe that at such a time, if the soul was sure that he should perish for doing it, he could not in the least resist; many a sorrowful hour, day, month, and year, more or less, is felt on this account: he may resolve every time and secretly think it shall be the last, but let the temptation come, and it will carry him away. I am not writing about open sins-the man in this may be undeniably a good character, and yet be every day falling into these besetting sins.
Now all this, and much more, is teaching such that they are lost. And they have four lessons to learn, and it will take them all their life long to be well established in these truths.
(1) That of all sinners they are the chief.
(2) That they are altogether destitute of the least power.
(3) That Jesus Christ is the only Saviour for soul and body.
And lastly, (and that is the hardest of all) that He is their only able, willing, and all-sufficient Saviour, and has saved them. I say, it is no easy thing to hold fast and to be well-grounded in these truths experimentally, for all other knowledge will give up the ghost in a storm, whether natural or acquired. It may well be called the strait gate, because of the great opposition and hard fighting which such have to encounter; hence it is called a resisting the devil, a wrestling with principalities and powers. Every ungodly man is an enemy, whether professor or profane, and will soon discover it when they get in power; yes, and our old man also will fight against our new man, and the new man of grace in another; so that there is plenty of war. But really all this is very needful, and does work together for our good. Here we learn the worth of our souls, and the real value of the salvation of Jesus, the worth of a good hope, the dreadful plight we are in, and what Satan would do if God gave us up, “For he goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” We find out here also much pretended friendship, and also that real friends could do us no good, if God gave us up; and when we are brought manifestly into Christ, so as to rejoice in His salvation, we often shall find things of a similar nature in the hour of temptation, to try faith, and to keep down our proud hearts. “Israel (therefore) shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation; they shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.” Now this salvation you may take in these four particulars.
(1) From the guilt and reigning power of sin; but not from the inbeing of it, nor from fighting against it all our days till death.
(2) From the curse of a broken Law; but not from feeling the bondage of the Law-this at times we often feel.
(3) From every enemy; so that finally they cannot have dominion over us, though they will often cast us down and disturb our peace.
(4) From hell, when death comes; this we never can go into, being blessed of the Father; so that the end of faith will be the salvation of the soul; and that, as before observed, is an everlasting salvation. Then is not our text true, “That all things work together for good,” etc.
Lastly, This union with Christ takes in a temporal supply for our poor bodies in this world. Some of God’s family are so particularly tried this way, and compelled to watch the Lord’s hand-it is so sanctified, that they really discover, that they are in Him, even this way. I know that some will be ready to raise an objection against this; and say, that no man knoweth love or hatred by all that is before him, and also of the providence of God that followed the Israelites for forty years together, and yet they were not (the greatest part of them) in Christ Jesus. All this I will readily admit abstractedly. I say, that it is impossible for any one living that never experienced anything but God’s providence to find out by that only that they are in Christ Jesus; but God has made over to His children, the promise of the life that now is and that which is to come; and so great is His love to us, that with His dear Son He will freely give us all things. But it shall be a life of faith, which is opposed to sense; sense must see how to go on, but faith often ventures on a naked promise. I really remember one time being out of work, and greatly tried we were for temporals, and I came out not knowing which road to steer; and yet so comfortable in the belief of the truth that I once heard Mr. Huntington, now in glory, say, and that was, “That faith would bake bread, boil the pot, and pay debts,” and God’s Word proves all this; and I soon saw His delivering hand.
But we have this faith by virtue of union with Him, for “He is the Author and Finisher of it”; and though it appears at times so hard to the flesh, yet really it is sweet work too: yes, even when you have had one meal not to know where the next is to come from, but only under the influence of patience, meekness, and a laying passive in God’s hand, believing that you have the better treasure, and that all will go on right as God is the whole and sole manager of both of your spiritual and temporal concerns; and depend on it, that if you are never tried in providence, you know but little of God as your temporal Provider; but in this respect you will savor much of the flesh, even though you are a partaker of grace.
Now there are six uses that these trials are of to God’s family, and they never can properly know these six things without going into adverse circumstances.
1. Then they learn that God is the universal Provider for all the human race, and that promotion cometh not from the east, nor from the west-that God sets up one, and puts down another-that He maketh poor, and He maketh rich-that it is He that giveth power to get wealth-that the silver and gold are His, and the cattle upon a thousand hills; but though a good man may agree to all this, yet it can only be in judgment, if he never was tried.
2. Having learned that all his efforts can never alter this, he learns to cry to the Lord for help, not that this makes him careless in a proper use of means-no; but he knows the truth of this text, “Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?” And as God has declared that He will be enquired of by the house of Israel to do these things, such as multiplying the corn, wheat, etc., and that our Heavenly Father knows that we need what the Gentiles seek after; such being brought down to nothing, are compelled to cry to the Lord for what they sorely need in providence; and every temporal supply to the elect is secured in Christ Jesus, for He is heir of all things-all things are under Him, whether it be sheep or oxen, the fowls of heaven, the fishes of the sea, or whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea-and the (new) covenant is ordered in all things and sure.
3. He is led to watch God’s hand after he has prayed, and if he feels a confidence in his heart that God has heard him, he then commits his way to God, and goes out begging the Lord to direct his every step for that day, that he may not go too fast nor too slow; and now he is on the lookout to see what this faith will do for him, and he is not without sore temptations and great fears at times, for every step he takes, unless faith is in exercise, appears wrong, so that he proceeds cautiously. Such a one hates a mumping life of ease, living upon other people, he is not lazy, nor does he wish (though often compelled) to eat other men’s bread for nought; this he so detests that he often walks the streets hungry, though he might have food given him, for fear of giving occasion to them that desire occasion; and God often appears for such, and raises up a friend here and a friend there in the very nick of time, but still he is always reluctant to this way, and Satan tells him that he is walking in a snare. Oh, how such would rejoice to get their bread only by their labor, and for their hands to be sufficient for them; but they are crossed in all they do, nothing appears to prosper; and Satan suggests that they only follow Christ for the loaves and fishes.
4. Every token for good received by them (being well humbled and kept so) is not very easily forgotten, and therefore many tributes of praise go up to the Lord for His tender care in providing for them; and they often pray that God would abundantly bless the instruments that He raises up, both in soul and in body, and that they may never be the poorer.
5. They learn to feel for God’s tried family in providence, for formerly they had hard thoughts of them, thinking it was a good deal their own faults; and if they cannot assist them any other way they commit them to the Lord, doing as the Apostle Paul exhorts, “Helping together by their prayers”; and, indeed, God’s children that are very poor, may be instrumental of much good to others in providence, even in this way.
Lastly, It is of use to tie up the body mystically together. We are all naturally fond of an independent spirit; we should like much experience and plenty in providence; but this is not God’s general way, “For He has chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith”; and declares, “That He will leave in the midst of the land an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord.” What name? Why “I am that I am; this is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.” Do we want bread? I am that. Water? I am that. And so on for every needful supply. Besides, the hand is not to say to the foot, I have no need of thee; why, I answer, to unite them together. Now it is sometimes the case, and has been known, that there shall be a very poor tried child of God in temporals, and he has gained much experience by being so sharply tried on all hands. Now God shall be pleased to begin a good work also in one that is pretty well off in these temporal things; but it is very shallow, and he walks in much darkness; and by some means, as God sees fit, these two are brought in company together. God opens the poor man’s mouth, and the rich man feels the good; a light shines on the good work which unites him to this poor man; then God opens the heart of the rich one, and he gives him a little now, and a little then; and this may go on for some time, till at last the poor man leans on the other, not looking through him to his God, and he finds that he has been hewing out cisterns, yea, broken cisterns that can hold no water; and he wonders what is the cause of such shyness as his friend shows; why, the truth is, thou art making an idol god of thy friend, and the Lord is displeased at it; and when thou art well humbled, and brought to confession at His feet, thy friend may come around, or God will raise up another. But, say you, these things lay a poor saint under great obligations to man; yes, they think so themselves, and Satan tells them so; but God’s Word does not. Hence Paul says, “If ye are partakers of our spiritual things, is it a great thing that we should partake of your carnal things”; no-it certainly is not. Yet such should and will under the influence of grace feel thankful for the kindness they receive.
Now two branches of pride are crippled under this teaching. It mortifies the rich man that he should find little or no comfort, or a light on his path, except it be in the company of this poor man-flesh and blood does not like this, but so it is; and spiritual pride is crippled in the poor man to be forced to be under such obligations. Thus God stains the pride of all human glory; “That he that glorieth, might glory in the Lord.” Now does not all things work together for good to us, inasmuch as we learn all these lessons, and know that God alone is our Provider? I assure you, that the work of God in the souls of His children flourishes much in this soil, namely, in afflictive providences.
I feel my heart full of grief and sorrow at this time while writing, for everything has come on fit to crush me to pieces, and Satan has been let loose upon me, that I have been on the brink of apostasy, nor could I believe that in reality I ever loved God’s children; such hardness of heart, such rebellion, such hatred to it all, and dreadful fears, as if I should break through all bounds, and fall into the great transgression. Indeed, my brother or sister, that may read this, I tell you but little of what I feel, but indeed I tell you the truth. And oh, at such times to feel the very smallest measure of meekness, brokenness of spirit, godly sorrows, and relentings, how highly it is prized, for indeed we appear to be given up of God. These are deep waters; and these afflictions in providence are so managed of God, that with them we are led in a small measure into the sufferings of the Lord Jesus; hence Peter says, “He has left us an example that we should follow His steps”, and of which I hope to treat a little of in the last particular-which is this, the knowledge we have of it; “We know that all things work together,” etc.
This I shall take up three ways.
(1) We know it by experience.
(2) We know it by God’s Word.
(3) We know it by observation. Of these three I shall briefly treat, and so conclude the subject.
1. And here it is that a field is open-there is much ground to go on; but as I already have in writing upon the all things, showed something of this knowledge, I intend here to confine myself to that particular part, and the highest branch of knowledge, namely, the sufferings of Jesus. This was what our great Apostle aimed at, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, and be made conformable to His death.” It is a very easy thing to say I could part with all for Christ, but it is no easy thing to put it in practice; saying is one thing, and doing is another. 0 my friend! When the trial comes, and much darkness is felt, it is hard work-it is the trial that makes manifest-and the more you and I are called to part with, and the more we do part with for His sake, the more we enter into His sufferings. He suffered hunger, “And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungered,” etc. We suffered weariness and thirst, when He was wearied with His journey, and asked the woman water to drink; He was whole nights in the mountain praying to His Heavenly Father; He had not where to lay His head; He worked a miracle to pay the tribute money; they ministered to Him of their substance, so that our blessed Lord lived on alms; He was tempted in all points; despised and rejected of men, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with griefs; yea, He was abhorred by whole nations, “To Him whom the nations abhorred”; and without the least murmuring and repining He bore all our sins, the contradiction of sinners, and the malice and cruelty both of men and devils-the vindictive wrath of God due to us-the curse of God’s righteous Law, etc. This is a very faint description of what He suffered; and He told the two brethren, “Ye shall indeed drink of the cup which I drink of”; and at last He was crucified between two thieves. Oh, who can tell what He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto deathNow is My soul troubled-I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished-Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.”
Now, fellow traveler, whose face is turned Zionward, do not expect a smooth path, for more or less these things will overtake you; you are to drink of His cup, tread in His steps, and partake of His sufferings; and when you get in this path (though very painful), yet here it is at certain seasons you will have sweet fellowship with the Lord Jesus; we must go into deep waters to find these things out, I assure you.
I hope this little work may be useful to the tried and tempted, and I really believe it will, for Satan has strove hard at me in writing it. Now then you find it is to be a suffering path. Oh, the multiplicity of straits and difficulties that you and I are called to! To describe them is impossible; “But if we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him”; and if we are partakers of the sufferings of Christ, so we shall also of the consolations; and this is a little of this knowledge, and the way we are led to find it out. For after a long experience we can see that we are in the path, and that it is a chequered life, which at one time we did not expect; and therefore, says Paul, “We know that all things work together for good.” For these afflictions yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby; and if we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together. Such have their senses exercised to discern between good and evil.
2. We know it by God’s Word; hence it was that everyone of which there is an account of in that Book traveled this path more or less. It was no small trial for Abraham to wait so long for Isaac; and then to offer him up to God for a burnt offering must have been sharp work; and yet in this fire he was brought to see and feel something of fellowship with Christ in His sufferings-that Jesus was to be the Lamb of God that should take away the sins of the world-that God the Father gave Him up; “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.” “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day,” etc.
Isaiah saw Him with all our sins upon Him, bearing our grief, and carrying our sorrow; and says, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities,” etc. Then saw Him glorified, “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied,” etc. “These things, said Esaias, when he saw His glory, and spake of Him.”
Job had these sufferings to endure, and he declares, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”
Paul tells us, “That for His sake we are killed all the day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” But, says he, “I am ready to die at Jerusalem, for the sake of the Lord Jesus.”
David saw them “piercing His hands and His feet, and parting His garments amongst them”; and therefore we are compassed about with a whole cloud of witnesses; and Paul calls all our sufferings light, and declares they are at best, only for a moment: read Hebrews 11, and remember this one thing, and that is this, that glory follows upon these sufferings; hence, as before observed, “If we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together”; and the Spirit of Jesus in all the prophets testified beforehand of His sufferings, and the glory that should follow. And how can we escape these sufferings and follow His steps? It is impossible. “The servant is not greater than his lord”-no; therefore, says He, “You shall be brought before rulers and kings for My sake.” Again, “He that will save his life shall lose it, and he that will lose his life for My sake and the Gospel shall find it.” Now are you in the path of tribulation; and do you find it hard work day after day to stand; and have you ever felt a fellowship with Jesus; and are you brought by these afflictions to know (at certain seasons) that they work together for good?
3. We know it by observation; and therefore in the circle of our acquaintance we find them to be the most savory and unctuous, and know the most of Jesus that are the most tried; and this is said to be exalting or magnifying man. “What is man, that Thou shouldest magnify him, and set Thine heart upon him; that Thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment!” Oh, how sweet it is to hear a saint tell of his sore trials, and how the Lord did appear in the last moment, when heart and flesh failed.
But, say you, I feel it impossible that I can endure, for the trials crowd in upon me so fast, and I feel weaker and weaker; so that I expect that in one trial or another God will leave me to practice what I daily feel, and that I shall turn back in the day of battle. You cannot have more fears than I have of this sort, and have had for years, insomuch that I have trembled and expected some judgment, and I am sure that if it depended upon me, it would take place; but it depends wholly on the faithfulness of God; “God is faithful, that will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation make a way for your escape”; and if you watch, you will find your path shine brighter and brighter after these sore afflictions. I have found this myself. I can see it in the Word, and I have watched it going on in others; and that is a false faith, that is of long-standing, and yet never went into the fire. It does not matter how strong such may appear to be; they are like the king that Solomon speaks of, that walks boldly, against whom there is no rising up; corruption never rises up, Satan never rises up, neither does the world rise up; and there is no promise made to such for they do not need it: the promises are to the poor, needy, destitute, weak, fatherless, lost, helpless, thirsty, dry and parched. Press on then, fellow sufferer, and remember that they that are casting their crowns now at His feet, are those that came through great tribulation; but now they are singing “Salvation to God and the Lamb!” And in a little time you and I shall join them that are gone before, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
And thus I have gone through the subject, and shall finish with the words of our text:
“Now we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”