BELOVED KINDRED IN CHRIST JESUS: – My heart is drawn toward you because of the grace of God that is in you. Your hope and joy is in the truth as it is in Jesus; and as I am given to witness this I cannot but love you for the truth’s sake, which I humbly believe has been implanted by the Holy Ghost in my heart, and which we are assured by the inspired testimony shall be with us forever. It is a wonder of Jehovah’s sovereign grace that such mortals as we are have been called to know the kindness and love of God our Savior.
We are, I am sure, ready to confess that there were no good works of ours to induce the bestowment upon us of the tender compassion of the love and mercy that our guilty souls have tasted has flowed unto us according to the good pleasure of the God of our salvation, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Since the time that my heart was first exercised about eternal things I have been a wanderer. Often times I have felt it was in “a solitary way”; that I was isolated and alone; that there could be none of the dear children of God just like me. Then also I have found quiet resting places that the Lord our Shepherd has provided for even a poor sinner like me. Most sweet and refreshing have these resting places been. The precious promises of God, the blood and righteousness of our Redeemer, the blessed covenant of Grace, have been the sanctuary of my wayward soul. In these precious retreats which the Holy Spirit leads the ransomed flock into, my poor, tried soul has been indulged to find moments of sweet and reviving repose. The Comforter has taken the things of Christ, and spread a table for me, and I have feasted upon the exceeding riches of God’s grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
O how gracious the Holy Ghost has been! Thus nourished and my strength recruited, I have again been called forth to pursue my way; and now after some years in the house of my pilgrimage I confess with Abraham that I am “a pilgrim and a stranger in the earth”.
David speaks for all Israel before the Lord, “We are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers, our days on earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding”.
In my wanderings I have come upon some strange scenes, full of instructions; and yet for all these I find I am a learner yet, unskillful, and apt to go astray.
A short time ago as I roamed abroad pondering upon the ways of God as manifested in the vicissitudes that my soul has undergone, I came suddenly upon a scene that attracted my attention. As I drew near my heart became the more interested. It was a field with a fence about it. Finding a gap in the hedge I cautiously and prayerfully entered. Here I have been roaming, and exploring, and pondering, and my cogitations have much troubled and grieved my spirit. As I am yet stayed upon this spot, and the vision of it all is impressed upon my heart, I will un-bosom to you, dear children of God, the burden of my meditations.
That I may not keep you in farther suspense you will find a record of this place in Isaiah 1:8: “The daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city”. As I have been musing over this picture I have felt that in my own life there has been verified that which is here represented. Then again I have looked abroad upon the church of Christ, and have seen that there are times with her that may in truth be said, “The daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard”. Had you looked upon this spot some time ago quite a different scene would have met your gaze. Then the prospect was delightful, but now desolation and loneliness is spread over all.
Ah, as I look upon the forsaken cottage, I mourn in my complaint and make a noise, and my weary heart is sighing, “O that I were as in months past and in the days when God preserved me”.
You are interested to know some of the particulars of the history of this vineyard with its deserted cottage. I should like to tell you the story, but feel I cannot tell you all, much of it is past telling. O! could you have visited this vineyard in months past, how glad your hearts had been. Then the charming, inspiring voice of our beloved Savior was heard therein, the vines flourished, and their tender grapes gave forth a delightful fragrance, while this poor cottage was made cheerful with the gracious presence of the Keeper of the vineyard.
I told you awhile ago that as I was contemplating this scene I felt that in the Lord’s dealings with my soul there is reflected both this cottage and the vineyard. From the neglected appearance of everything I need scarcely tell you that “my own vineyard have I not kept”. O! I have made a wretched husbandman in all my attempts to keep my own vineyard. Ah, I now see to my soul’s grief that the misery, wreck and ruin everywhere staring me in the face is of my own procuring.
As from afar there comes to me a voice that I know, saying, “Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee: this is thy wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reacheth unto thine heart” (Jer. 4:18). O Lord, have pity upon a poor sinful worm. I have heard thy speech, and am afraid. O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known, in wrath remember mercy. Come then, ye afflicted and poor daughters of Zion, and wend your steps with me amidst the vines of my vineyard, and I will tell you my story. Let me rehearse to you a little of the early history of this vineyard. These vines, as you see, are planted in a very fruitful hill (Isaiah 5:1), called in the song of Moses “The mountain of thine inheritance, the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, the sanctuary O Lord, which thy hands have established” (Exod. 15:17). O could there be a better spot than this sanctuary for poor sinners to live and flourish?
“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King, God is known in her palaces for a refuge.” In this hill of the Lord, Jehovah’s palace, his temple is founded. Every whit of it speaks forth his glory. The Lord has commanded the blessing here, even life forever more. In this very fruitful hill the grace and truth of God is revealed, flowing in living streams to the poor and needy, through the righteousness and atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. This very fruitful hill is nothing less than the good pleasure of Jehovah’s will, the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephs. 1:5, 3:11). Yes, this very fruitful hill is the eternal love of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. O how fruitful is this hill! The eternal purpose and love of the everlasting Jehovah was fruitful in electing his people in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, blessing them with all spiritual blessings in him: that they should be holy and without blame before him.
“In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved: in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him; in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will; that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ” (Ephes. 1:3-12). Ah, before the Holy Spirit brought me vitally, experimentally to this sacred place I was as a root out of a dry ground, a miserable, vile wretch, for whom I feared there could be no mercy from the High and Holy One that inhabiteth eternity. The Lord taught me to feel that I was a vile worthless brand fit only to be burned up in the fire of the wrath of the Almighty God.
I felt to be already in that fire; but his own gracious and powerful hand plucked me as a brand from the burning and brought me to this “very fruitful hill” (Isaiah 5:1). The Holy Spirit brought me to Jesus, the Savior of sinners; thus by a miracle of grace he planted me in this enclosure, and caused even a poor, vile sinner like me to flourish and to rejoice in salvation, in the sure mercies of David. My vines then brought forth tender grapes, and gave a good smell; love and joy, and praises to the Lord were brought forth by the Spirit in my soul. Ah then I believed that the Keeper of the vineyard delighted in me, and that he himself accepted and did eat my pleasant fruits brought forth beneath the smiles of his face, and under his own merciful and heavenly husbandry. In those days of my first love I used to sing without a faltering note, “My Beloved is mine and I am his”.
From me He never will remove;
He’s mine by faith, I’m His by love;
By oath and vow our hearts conjoin;
Thus I am His and He is mine.
I am His guest, and He’s my food.
I’m His by price, He’s mine by blood;
He’s my strong elm, and I’m His vine
Thus I am His and He is mine.
O is not Christ our Redeemer the chiefest among ten thousand, the altogether lovely One? Precious Jesus!
While we are held in Thy embrace,
There’s not a thought attempts to rove;
Each smile upon Thy beauteous face
Fixes and charms and fires our love.
Ah, ye dear ones that listen to my story, even now as I think upon those delightsome days of my spiritual youth, and of my espousals to the Lamb of God, I mourn over my degenerate estate, and in my heart’s yearnings I cry, “Return I beseech thee, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and visit this vine”.
This story of this cottage and the vineyard is a divine mystery, yea, such a mystery, it will ever remain hidden from the world of the ungodly. And while I have contemplated the former and present estate, and the times that have passed over me, my cogitations have much troubled my heart (Dan 7:28). Ah, though I can not now see the fair countenance of my Savior, the owner and husbandman of the vineyard, and have sometimes feared he would never cause his face to shine upon me again, and that he had given this vineyard over to perpetual desolations; yet I think at times (though he hideth himself that I can not behold him), he can not be afar off. Perhaps, “He hideth behind our wall” (Song 2:9), and will in due time appear and have compassion upon his heritage, against whom he hath had indignation so long a time. His voice has entered the solitude of my wanderings, saying, “Yet I planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed; how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” (Jer. 2:21). His words have cut me to the heart, and have brought all my foolishness to remembrance. I blush and am filled with shame over the sad plight of the vineyard. Yes, those words, “How then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?”, have stirred my poor soul to its depths. I am a desolate wilderness, and mourn unto my God (Jer. 12:11). “I planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed.” In my flesh I know there is nothing noble, nothing right. As I look back to the rock whence I was hewn, and to the hole in the pit whence I was digged, I feel I have nothing in the flesh whereof to glory before the Lord. I acknowledge I am a vile sinner, that I was dead in trespasses and sins, a child of wrath, even as others. “An Assyrian ready to perish (Deut. 26:5), was Abraham, the father of us all; and I was ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and an outcast in the land of Egypt (Isaiah 27:13). While in this low estate the almighty and gracious hand of Jehovah took hold of me.
“How sovereign, wonderful and free
Is all His love to sinful me!
He plucked me as a brand from hell;
My Jesus hath done all things well.”
“Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt “ (Psalm 80:8). But you are enquiring, How is it that the Lord saith it was “a noble vine, wholly a right seed?” I do not marvel at your questioning me thus when you witness the ignoble and degenerate condition of the vines in this vineyard.
It is a divinely wondrous mystery, and in my present languishing circumstances how unequal I feel to set it forth in truth. Ah, for a long time the clouds have rained no rain upon me, and in the night seasons of my soul I have felt no dew to distill upon my branch (Job 29:19). My heart is smitten and withered like grass under the chastenings of the Lord. How can I tell you that I was a noble vine, wholly a right seed? I should be dumb, and never more mention it, only that his voice, that my soul knoweth, saith, “I planted thee a noble vine”. O! there is a little hope in my heart that his seed remaineth in me, and that he will yet return and visit this vine.
That which constitutes a noble vine is a sinner called by grace, one in whom is the Spirit of Christ, who is a partaker of the divine nature. Such favored sinners are Jehovah’s excellent ones, in whom is his delight. Yes, these are heaven’s nobility, yet the world knoweth them not, for it knew not our Redeemer, the Prince of Glory.
The Lord says, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more”. These are the children of promise and are accounted Christ’s seed. They are born again, not of blood, nor of the will of the fresh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lieveth and abideth forever.
These vines then that are “wholly a right seed” are the seed of Christ; and in him, the true and living Vine, they are the seed which the Lord hath from eternity blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, according as the Father hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.
The chosen people were of old pure in Jehovah’s sight,
And never did He then behold but with a vast delight;
O with what pleasure He surveyed the highly favored train,
Saw Jesus and His honored bride in perfect splendor shine.
Though I have touched upon this divine and melodious strain, I feel as I cast my eyes upon my present degenerate state that such notes are too high for me to sing. O! it is a strange and bitter story to relate to you the answer to that heart-searching question of the Lord our God, “How art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” How can you have fellowship for me if I tell you of my shame and folly that has brought my vineyard into such a woeful plight? But I can not refrain, for it seems I might find some relief to my sad, sad heart if some one would but listen to me.
FREDERICK W. KEENE,
Raleigh, N. C.,
THE LONE PILGRIM,
Volume 3, No. 33