The following letter was written in private correspondence with one of the trembling lambs of our Redeemer, who seems to be earnestly inquiring the way to Zion. Believing that what would be applicable to her, will also apply to thousands who may read it, we venture to insert it in our columns, hoping that it may afford comfort and assurance to such as are tried and tempted.
Madam: - In fulfillment of my promise I embrace this first opportunity to write you on the all important subject of salvation, and on the evidences which the Scriptures warrant us to rely upon as demonstrating to us that we are personally, certainly, and savingly interested in that salvation which from God proceeds, and which leads to God again. In your letter to me, which I answered, and in my conversation with you at your house, you told me of the deep exercises of your mind, the sense you had felt of your lost and helpless condition as a sinner, together with an abiding feeling of unworthiness, to mingle with the people of God. You inquired how it could be that you should have so great a love for the Old School Baptists while you felt so utterly unworthy to be numbered with them. All these exercises, as I tried to tell you, and as I now repeat, are marks of a work of the Spirit of God in your heart. It is the Spirit’s work to convince a poor sinner of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come. We may indeed have some vague idea that we are sinners in a common or general sense, without any other than the light of nature; our conscience may accuse us, and our natural judgment may be convinced that this is so; but such natural conviction will give us but very little trouble or anxiety; for if it be but a natural conviction, we invariably feel satisfied that we can at any time repent, reform, and obtain forgiveness; and this we intend at some convenient time to attend to; and in this delusion we rest, and dismiss all unpleasant thoughts on the subject. These natural convictions never destroy in us our relish for sin, though they make us, at times, afraid of punishment. Nor do they ever produce in us a particle of love to God, to his people, to his word, or to his holiness. With all such convictions we would choose to continue in sin, if we could feel sure the indulgence would not subject us to the wrath of God. Millions of our fallen race are now under this delusion, and regard these spasmodic excitements of their human passions as true religion.
But the work of the Spirit of God in all who are saved is: first, to quicken the sinner from a state of death, for we are by nature dead in sins. The first evidence we can have that we are quickened by the Spirit is that we are made to feel the weight and guilt of sin as a crushing burden on our heart, and to loathe it with perfect abhorrence. The perfections of God and the holiness of his law are made to appear to us as they never appeared before. A solemn sense of God’s goodness in sparing our lives, and of our vile ingratitude to him, makes us wonder that he has not sent us down to perdition. In this condition a quickened sinner feels inclined to make amends for past transgressions by reformation. He says in his mind, I will commit no more sin against that good, just and merciful God who has spared me so long. He is resolved to seek for salvation by praying, and by obedience to the divine law, and by using what he has been told are means of grace. To do this work he applies himself with strong resolutions, and in vain hope that he shall succeed; his fears are all allayed perhaps for a time, and sometimes he thinks he is progressing encouragingly. He fancies that he has got to be almost a saint, and is much better than some who profess Christianity. But, if he is really a quickened sinner, this fatal delusion will soon explode. Soon he will be made to see and feel that his case is far more desperate than he had supposed. His prayers are lifeless and formal, and he begins to fear that he is presumptuous in calling on God, even for mercy. He cannot say, “Our Father,” for he has no evidence that he is a child of God. Now, instead of growing better, he feels worse than ever.
Afraid to pray, and unable to suppress the outflowing aspirations of his heart, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” he smites upon his breast, and groans in agony of spirit. The passions of his wicked heart over which he thought he had gained the mastery, now show themselves to be unsubdued. Vain and wicked thoughts arise, and an unslain relish for the pleasures of sin is seen and felt, and a fountain of all that is unholy, he finds in his very nature. Alarmed now, and despairing, he concludes that his case is different, and more hopeless than that of any others. Instead of taking refuge in what he has been doing, to secure his peace with God, he reviews all that he has done with fearful alarm. He fears that he has provoked God’s wrath and committed the unpardonable sin in having taken the sacred name of God in prayer on his polluted lips. Thus he is led to try all his own works, until he sees them all fail, and he is thoroughly convinced that if his salvation depends on his doing one good deed, he cannot do it; or on his thinking one holy thought, he cannot think it. By this time he has such a discovery of the purity of God and the sinfulness of himself, he is constrained to acknowledge the justice of God in sending him to hell. He cannot now see how God can maintain his justice and truth in saving so vile a sinner.
These are some of the first exercises of all who are quickened by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this is not so vividly felt by all, but much more so by some, before the evidence is brought home with joy and comfort, that their sins were washed away by the dear Redeemer, and that Redeemer presented to them as their Prince and Savior, exalted at God’s right hand to give repentance and remission of sins.
This deliverance may come gradually and so imperceptibly that they can never tell the exact time when their burden left them; or it may come so suddenly and powerfully that they can never forget the time and place; but in either case IT COMES, and the final result is precisely the same. That is, the Savior is revealed, the burden is taken away, the love of God is sweetly shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost, and a calm, serene, confiding trust in God is felt, joy and gladness springs up in them, and their joyful tongue breaks forth in songs of praise to God and the Lamb.
This, dear friend, is the cause of your loving the Old School Baptists, and this is why you love their doctrine and order, and why you desire to walk in the ordinances of the house of God. It is not possible that the love of which you speak result from any other cause. God, by his apostle, has declared, “Love is of God.” I John 4:7. And he also says, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” I John 3:14. The most reliable and infallible evidence we can have that we are born of God is that we love God, love holiness, and love the brethren, and at the same time feel our own unworthiness of his love. To hunger and thirst after righteousness, and to feel and mourn over the vileness and depravity of our own carnal nature, to see a beauty in the lovely ordinances of the gospels and long to feel assured that we have a right to walk in them, are evidences which transcend all other evidences. Indeed, without this evidence, all others are empty and vain. Paul says, “Though I speak with the tongue of men and of angels, and have not charity [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” I Corinthians 13:1-3. So we see that divine inspiration attributes to the love of God in the hearts and actions of the saints an importance far surpassing all other gifts. Without it no one can have evidence that he is born of God; for it is very emphatically declared, “Love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” I John 4:7. “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”
Another very important evidence that we are born of God and led by his Spirit is a desire to honor and obey him; for these desires are inspired in us by the power of that love of which we have spoken. This love and these desires are only found in those who have passed from death unto life, and in whose hearts the law of Christ is written, and over whom he reigns.
Now you know that you love the people of God and delight to be in their company, and you esteem them as the excellent ones of the earth; therefore you have the most important and conclusive of all evidences that you are a child of God and an heir of immortal glory. It is true you feel very unworthy, and so do all who have this love. Cut off from all confidence in yourself, or in your own works, from necessity you have to look to and rely alone upon Christ, “Who of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.” If you could feel any more worthy than you do, you would be deceived. The same light which shines in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of our dear Redeemer, also makes us see the vileness of our own sinful nature. But, how blessed is the thought, all that we lack or need to make us holy and happy is richly treasured up in Christ for all who love him. The immortal crown of righteousness which was laid up for Paul, the righteous Judge shall also give to all them who love his appearing. II Timothy 4:8. You have labored hard and long to suppress and keep back vain thoughts, carnal passions, and unholy desires from rising; and because you cannot succeed in this, you write bitter things against yourself. You think, if you were born of God, you would be more pure and holy; but, poor child, you have a nature which is born of the flesh, and which is flesh, in which dwelleth no good thing; that fleshly nature is impure and unholy; but that life in you which is born of God is pure and holy. If this were not the case, you would not know anything about the Christian warfare, in which the flesh warreth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. You think that real Christians do not feel as you feel, are not captivated and led astray as you are; but Paul was a Christian and an apostle, and even he found a law (or governing power) in his members, warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin which was in his members. Do you feel very wretched in such a state? So did he. He cried, “O wretched man that I am; who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Do you find that to will is present with you, but how to perform that which is good you find not? So did he. He said he could not do the things which he would. Are you willing to be like Paul, poor, helpless, and in yourself unworthy, and altogether dependent on the Lord Jesus Christ for all that pertains to life and salvation? Or would you prefer to be like the Pharisee, who stood and prayed, telling the Lord how good he felt himself to be, and how many good things he had done? No, no, your reply will be,
“Dear Savior, let me never be,
Joined with the boasting Pharisee;
I have no merit of my own,
But plead the merits of thy Son.”
If you hunger and thirst after righteousness, then you are already blessed, and Jesus says you shall be filled. If you were already filled, you would no longer hunger and thirst; for they who are filled do not hunger, and they who have drank all they desire, do not thirst. So if we could in ourselves have all the righteousness we desire, we would no longer pant for the living God, as the hart panteth for the water brooks.
We may be greatly at loss to know when we began to love God, and to love his dear people; but the important point is to know we do love him and them. We have great reason to rejoice that our evidences do not rest conditionally on our being able to tell when, where, and how we were first exercised in regard to these things; for such conditions would cut off the hope of thousands of God’s dear children. Present rather than past evidences are what we need. No amount of former evidence can shield us from doubts and fears which in subsequent life we have to encounter. The gospel feast is spread for all who hunger and thirst for gospel food. If you are hungry, that is an evidence that it is your privilege to eat. If you have an ear to hear, then it is yours to hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. If you love the Lord, then keep his commandments. If he has enabled you to see his footsteps, then walk in them. If you lack wisdom, ask it of God, who giveth liberally and upbraideth not. If you feel unworthy of the least of all the mercies of the Lord, thank God that he has made you to feel so, and regard it as a family mark common to all who belong to the household of God; and look unto Jesus, not to yourself, for fitness. He is himself the righteousness of all his people, all they have, or ever will have. “Their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.”
“Trust in the Lord, forever trust,
And banish all your fears;
Strength in the Lord Jehovah dwells,
Eternal as his years.”
November 15, 1869.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 511 – 516