Whence doth arise that exercise of mind and heart which we call a christian experience, or an experience of grace in the heart! How are we to distinguish it from the daily experiences of people in the world whose course in life is moulded and directed by the circumstances and events which environ them? We hear utterances from many precious brethren of doubt as to whether their hope is based upon a true experience of grace or not. They are unable to distinguish between the exercise of the Spirit of grace, and the work of the flesh in themselves; while in those of like precious faith they can discern very clearly the fruit of the Spirit. These are vital questions with each one of us. I hope I am not foolish enough to think I can explain away these mists and cobwebs which have been a component part of the life of every heaven-born child from Abel down to the present generation, but if I can say a few things to encourage you and strengthen your hope, I shall feel my letter has not been unfruitful. “We are saved by hope.” And it is this wondrous mystery of godliness that keeps the spark of hope alive within us, and by it we go on and on until “we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” He (Christ) is the perfect man. We are imperfect, and our hope leads us on to aspire to that perfect standard. Our faith (which is the gift of God) points to the object of all our spiritual desires: the man Christ Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant which embraceth us. This is a view of holiness, the essence of the perfect man, the garniture of righteousness with which we are clothed. But we turn our eyes within, and what a contrast. How dark the scene. All we behold is dark and vain and wild; unbelief and sin with all its wretched train. Job said, “But now mine eye seeth thee [Jesus] wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” What is the matter with Job now! Why did he not abhor himself before! He was not a young man, he had attained unto years of discretion long before in a natural way. Did the sight of Jesus change him from a man of uprightness to a something to be abhorred? Yes, it did in his own eyes. To behold Jesus is to attain unto knowledge, and knowledge is experience, through the trials which bring us to the foot of the cross of Christ. To know Jesus is to be crucified with him, by which crucifixion we learn all the depravity of our heart. Therefore as did Job, so do we, abhor ourself and repent in dust and ashes. This same knowledge shows us Jesus the perfect man, and our advocate from the Father, and ourself corrupt from foot to head. In this view of faith we see clearly, for the revelation of Jesus Christ has come to us from above. But like the fleeting cloud persued and goaded by a stormy wind, it is soon gone from our vision, and doubts arise because of the sleepless activity of our fleshly lusts, and we are tossed to and fro upon the waves of despair, and say within ourselves, Surely I have been deceived. It was but a phantasy of the mind, and now it is gone, and I am stranded. Am I left as I was, before this experience? No indeed. Have the fiery trials and days of darkness and suffering on account of sin left no trace! Yes indeed. And now although doubts and fears assail me, yet hope has planted her banner within my soul, and notwithstanding my fears and doubts I press forward, eagerly catching at every straw of evidence, running the race set before me with humble boldness, holding in view always that perfect One who pleadeth for me before the throne of my Father’s glory. Shall we ask then, whence ariseth this experience which causeth us to moan and groan in uncertainty and unrest? Does not the Spirit take of the things of Jesus and show them unto us? while all other objects pale before their transcendent glory. The revelation of Jesus then is the source of all our christian experience. That revelation also produces the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. Enmity to God, hatred of righteousness, and opposition to holiness, in the flesh, is the outgrowth of that principle of unbelief in every human heart. The effect of the love of God in the hearts of his creatures, which is light in the Lord, is to drive back the black clouds of unbelief, which has held the palace and the goods in peace until the invasion by the Captain of our salvation and his glorious army. What an experience this is, when we confront Sinai’s mountain of blackness and darkness, the uncompromising law which demands the death of him who has transgressed. But in this conflict our Captain leads us no more to the law, but to us he becomes “the end of the law for righteousness.” He brings us “unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels.” This is experience, and experience is always real, it is never imaginary. The things we experience we know of a truth, and it is in this way we handle and taste and rejoice in the word of God. If in any of us “there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,” then we may be assured they have been obtained through the school of experience in the same things which Christ suffered for us in the flesh. It was our sins for which he suffered. He drank the cap to its very dregs, we drink according to the measure of the gift of Christ. These are blessed characters which suffer for Christ’s, sake. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst,” &c. Do not you know, dear children of the light, that you never did hunger and thirst after righteousness until you had passed through an experience of suffering because of indwelling sin? When the light of the knowledge which God gives, enters the soul, then suffering begins. Jesus is revealed as righteous and holy. We are directly opposite to that, we are all unrighteousness, and altogether unholy. But now Jesus is revealed, we desire him above our chiefest joy, we long for righteousness, and crave holiness. Is it any wonder then we suffer, when we find ourselves shut out from all purity, with the sword of justice turning every way about us to fulfill the law with our death? And then how blessed we feel to be, when that same knowledge of a revealed Savior shows us the law fulfilled in him, and we, lawful captives set free. Do you remember how the apostle John closes his beautiful gospel? Which gospel deals with what is to be wrought out in the hearts of the children of God. He says, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” And John meant what he said to be understood literally. Just think of all the “things which Jesus did” in you and for you since you entered the pilgrim journey, and consider, should you write them all in a book, what a volume it would make. And then try to think of the innumerable company (as the stars of heaven for multitude) each one, whose life is filled with the many things which Jesus did, and you will wonder (as did John) if the world could contain the books, if all were written out. How wonderful is the christian experience, how mysterious and yet how full of precious fruit.
May we all abide in the garden of the Lord, and eat his precious fruits.
B. F. COULTER.
Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 18, 1902.
Signs Of The Times
Volume70., No. 4.
FEBRUARY 15, 1902.