Dear Brother In The LORD:
“How sweet to my soul is communion with saints!” In the perusal of your letter I felt something of this communion, and I felt it must arise from that union in the gospel of Christ that most blessedly binds together the saints of God. Our fellowship in the gospel is not always in the bright and happy aspects of our inheritance, but we are called upon to be very companions, one with another in tribulation.
“We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear,
And often for each other
Flows the sympathizing tear.”
Those two disciples as they were journeying from Jerusalem to Emmaus “communed together and reasoned” and were “sad.” And we also read, “Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another” (Mal. 3:16). The “then” was a time of darkness and distress in Israel. One of the prophets exclaims, “O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save! Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention,” (Hab. 1:2-3). But, to find in ourselves all iniquity, to learn by humiliating experience that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” – this is bitter indeed. Let me repeat a few lines of one who knew the plague of his own heart (1 Kings 8:38).
“Lord, when thy Spirit descends
To show the badness of our hearts,
Astonished at the amazing view,
The soul with horror starts.
The dungeon, opening foul as hell,
Its loathsome stench emits;
And brooding in each secret cell,
Some hideous monster sits.
Swarms of ill thoughts their bane diffuse,
Proud, envious, false, unclean;
And, every ransacked corner shows
Some unsuspected sin.
Our staggering faith gives way to doubt;
Our courage yields to fear;
Shocked at the sight, we straight cry out,
Can ever God dwell here?”
It has been the humiliation and sorrow of my soul to find that I continue to be a sinful creature. I hunger and thirst after righteousness; I turn from transgression (Isa. 59:20); but, go where I may, I have to encounter iniquity (my own inward iniquity) in all its increasing hideousness. Ah, I am ‘shocked at the sight,” and sometimes I feel my heart ready to break with its sighings over that heart sinfulness which no eye sees but the eye of God. There is but one place to which I can look with any comfort and see iniquity meeting with its deserts, and that is, the cross of Christ. Here our old man is crucified that the body of sin should be destroyed; but even here, as I contemplate the destruction of our sins, and the atonement in the sufferings and blood of the Lamb, I find “love and grief my heart dividing;” yes, as one who is, I hope, a redeemed sinner, I glory in the cross of Christ; but I know what it is, not only to love him, but to mourn over him in compassionate anguish of heart (Zech. 12:10). Look at the sight –
“With thorns his temples gored and gashed,
Send streams of blood from every part;
His back with knotted scourges lashed,
But sharper scourges tear his heart.
Nailed naked to the accursed wood,
Exposed to earth and heaven above,
A spectacle of wounds and blood,
A prodigy of injured love.
Ye that assume his sacred name,
Now tell me, what could all this mean?
What was it bruised God’s harmless Lamb?
What was it pierced his soul – but sin?”
0, sin is no trifling thing; this is very evident when we look into Gethsemane, and view the spectacle of the Crucified One on Mount Calvary. There the Father made his soul an offering for sin, and Jesus poured out his soul unto death.
That portrait of your soul’s distresses because of sin, hard heartedness, rebellions, and blasphemies, and the surmisings, doubts and fears beneath the hidings of God’s face, as I looked upon it, I could see in myself a likeness of it all (Prov. 27:19). It is a discouraging picture, and if our coming forth to the light depends upon ourselves, then utter despair must drink up our spirit. But our God is he who brings up his people from “the depths of the sea;” he takes them out of “the low dungeons”, and though he shows his people hard things and gives them tears in great measure to drink, though he shows us great and sore troubles, he will quicken us again, and bring us up out of all our miseries from the depths of the earth. He hath said, “Mercy shall be built up for ever,” and such a gracious sin-pardoning God becomes such vile and worthless ones, as with sighs and sorrow of heart we confess ourselves to be. What shall the outcome be of all this distress, temptations, conflicts, tribulation? Will the Lord abhor us? My heart cries out, “Do not” (Jer. 14:21). Will he cast us utterly away? and I still say, “Let it not be,” (Psa. 51:11).
“Will he now his grace deny,
Lay his wonted kindness by?
Will he, can he, say ‘Depart’,
To the humble contrite heart?
No, our Christ is still the same,
Endless blessings on his name.”
“Thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens” (Psa. 89:2). His covenant is everlasting, ordered in all things and sure, and surely he will not forget us; he will not forsake the work of his own hands. As I pen these words, my brother, I find my heart saying, “Oh, increase my faith in thee; let me confide in thee.”
“Did Jesus once upon me shine?
Then Jesus is forever mine.”
The immutability of his counsel is the rock of our confidence. What we are in all our vileness, deep, dense depravities, barrenness and unworthiness, the Lord knows, and he knows that without his almighty grace we are unequal for the conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Is not his grace sufficient for us? We acknowledge it is, if he would only grant it to us. Then so kindly our Lord Jesus speaks, “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint”. And I say, Oh let me believe thee; give me a heart to pray; let me cleave to thee; and have pity upon me a poor, tempted sin-harassed, helpless worm. It is recorded that our God can cause a worm to thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and make the hills as chaff (Isa. 41:14-15). Such worms I trust we are, beloved of God, our Redeemer; and though now we may be compassed with manifold temptations, our enlargement and deliverance are in his hand; and in due season we shall rejoice in the Lord, and glory in the Holy One of Israel.
I confess with you, my brother, that His providences are beyond our fathoming. Why this? and why that? and the unreconcilableness found within us to his dispensations gives us, and many a child of God, sore disquietude. That untutored, carnal mind within us; that unsubmissive Adamic nature of ours, causes much disturbance between us and God. When our circumstances are prosperous and pleasing, we may rather pride ourselves, thinking we are not murmurers, especially if we witness the fretfulness of some other one over, what we judge to be, some trifling affair. But when our gourds are blasted (Jonah 4:7), where then is our acquiescence to the will of the Lord? Without constant supplies of reconciling grace from the Lord we shall find the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, moving us to fretfulness, to hard thoughts of him who we would like to hope is our Father in heaven.
Well what shall become of us, who have to confess that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags? How will it all terminate? What shall be the destination of such vile (Job 40:4) dust and ashes? (Gen. 18:27). The only hope for such is the everlasting covenant of God’s grace, the mediatorship of Christ, the blood and righteousness of the Lamb, the immutable love and mercy of the Lord. He will carry us through all adversities, through all the floods and flames. He will sustain us, and though we are weak, sinful, unprofitable, and destitute of all fruitfulness without him (John 15:5), he will never leave us nor forsake us. He will nourish and cherish us at all seasons (Eph. 5:29), so that we shall love him, believe him, pray to him, and worship him, and we shall be more than conquerors, for he hath loved us with an everlasting love, and will not give us up a prey to sin, temptations and hell. “They shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” Oh, may grace empower my heart to say, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterwards (at the end of the journey) receive me to glory!”
Who is this one that hopes to attain to eternal glory? It is one who says, “so foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee. Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand” (Psa. 73:22-23).
That conclusion you have come to, that you have given utterance to in your letter, “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” is good; and does it not show, even though we are beneath the sore chastenings of the Lord, there is a power within us moving us with all affection to himself, that lifts up our heads above the waves of sin, temptations, unbelief, and darkness that would engulf us, and like Jonah our hearts cry out, “Yet will I look again toward thy holy temple.”
That life here below which we poor sinners are living, – in things pertaining to God, and in which we are so exercised, – is a divine mystery. Though we should attempt to explain it to the world dead in trespasses and sins, they could never understand it.
“Boast not, ye sons of earth,
Nor look with scornful eyes;
Above your highest mirth,
Our saddest hours we prize;
For though our cup seems filled with gall,
There’s something secret sweetens all.”
May the Lord bless you and prosper you, dear brother, in body and soul, according to his own good pleasure.
I am, I hope, your brother and companion in the gospel.
Elder FREDERICK W. KEEENE,
North Berwick, Maine.