The earnest appeal of our correspondent for our judgment and advice in regard to her case is substantially the same as that to which we replied in the 18th number of our last volume; and her queries concerning doubts, glimmering hopes, distressing fears, and deep anxiety for instruction, are the expression of what is pent-up in the secret recesses of many hearts. How many with burdened hearts and contrite spirits are in the same strain, breathing their prayers to the Great Shepherd of Israel, in the language of the spouse in Song 1:7? “Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turnest aside by the flocks of thy companions?” And failing to receive a satisfactory answer, some of them have appealed to us, as did the restless spouse to the watchmen, saying, “Saw ye him whom my soul loveth (Song 3:3)?”
We have not time to answer all the inquiries of our correspondents by private epistles; nor do we deem it necessary to do so; as in answering one through our columns we answer many. Of course, we do not assume to be able to do more than give such light and counsel as with our limited ability we may be able to do; and it will ever be found as stated in the Song, the inquiries must go beyond the watchmen for light and comfort. But when appealed to, as in the present case, in the childlike spirit of our correspondent, who regarding us as a father in Israel, presuming that our long experience has qualified us in some measure for feeding the lambs of the flock; although conscious of our lack of paternal wisdom, we do not feel willing to withhold from them such light as we trust the Lord has given us for them. But we would at the same time remind them of the divine direction, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him (James 1:5).” It may however be given through those gifts which God has bestowed on his church for the profit of all her members. But to attend to the letter of “A Stranger”:
It is written as a strictly private or confidential letter; but as it is anonymously signed, the real name and place of the writer is only known to us; and it will, we think, not be regarded as a breach of confidence in us to publish the letter with our reply.
The exercises of the children of God should not be regarded as the private property of any one. Whatever may be the measure of the Spirit received, it is given “to profit with all.” That is, with all who are spiritual; but as the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit, and cannot know them, they cannot be profited by them. But spiritual gifts and spiritual exercises may be profitable to all who are born of and taught by the Spirit of God. Our correspondent would no doubt be greatly profited if she were informed of the same exercises of which she speaks, as they are felt and experienced by thousands; and thousands, all of whom may think their own secret exercises peculiar to themselves, and all such will probably be profited by a perusal of what she has written of hers. It is consoling to the tempted and troubled ones to know that those in whom they have great confidence are tried and tempted just as they themselves are; and it is still more cheering to know that the Great High Priest of our profession was also tempted in all points as his people are, and that he knows the feelings of our infirmities, and knows how to succor the tempted.
From early childhood you have seen a beauty in Christianity, and, at times, earnestly desired an evidence of your election in Christ Jesus. This part of your experience is just like our own; for as far back in childhood as we can remember anything, our own mind was exercised in the same way; and at the first time we remember of feeling a melting, confiding emotion, which came with such relief to our mind, and enabled us to confidently rest that, vile as we saw and felt ourself to be, there would come a day before leaving this mortal state that God would for Jesus’ sake pardon our sins and make us a Christian. Although unable to regard this relief as an evidence of a new birth; from that hour we saw a beauty in Christianity, and a desire to be an humble Christian; and waited anxiously, and prayed fervently for the time to come when we might feel that pungent conviction for sin, and distress of soul, which we heard others speaking of. For some three or four years we continued in this condition. Unable to realize that we had passed from death unto life, we were equally unable to bring back upon ourself the terrors of the law, or the fear of hell which we had before felt. We have met with very many who have been exercised in the same way, and who for many years have been unable to rejoice in hope, or quite despair through fear. It is not infrequently the case with the heaven-born children who by the light of life and truth, and the love of holiness which God has implanted within them, to see so much depravity in themselves, and such as they suppose Christians do not feel or have, that they are led to doubt and discredit all the evidences of a new and spiritual birth that they have ever had. And others, because they cannot tell the time when, place where, and manner how they were first convicted, and delivered, or fully to rely on such other evidences as they have, like Rachel, refuse to be comforted. It would be well for all such to examine the manner of evidence the Scriptures warrant them to rely upon. “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself (I John 5:10).” Observe, he is not himself the witness; but he hath the witness in himself. The Spirit of life, by which he loves God, loves holiness, loves the people, the laws and ordinances of the house of God, and desires to dwell in them; these bear witness with his spirit that he is born of God. This witness he hath; he has not to go back to look for it in past experience; nor to find it in comparing himself with what he supposes others are, nor yet is he to rely upon himself as a competent witness to himself. His own testimony would be as fickle and vacillating as are his frames and feelings. A witness that contradicts his own testimony would be ruled out of court. Christians are not their own witnesses, for they cannot safely rely upon their own testimony: therefore those who “measure themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise (II Corinthians 10:12).” But while we are not to depend on our own testimony, our judgment, or frames, we may implicitly rely on the witness which we have within, if we believe on the Son of God. That Spirit which beareth witness with our spirit is the witness; and it is the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot receive; and its testimony is true. Its dwelling in us is evidence that we are born of God and are not of the world; because the world cannot receive it. And wherever it dwells, its fruits are the same; they are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,” etc. These are not the fruits of the Christian’s fleshly nature; but the fruits of the indwelling Spirit which is given him, and of which he is born again, while that which is born of the flesh, even in the Christian, is flesh; and the flesh will always war against the Spirit.
If this Spirit dwells not in us, it is not possible that we should really love God, or holiness, or hate sin; for love is of God, and he that loveth is born of God. If then we love the saints, love the truth, and love the order and ordinances of the Church of God, God himself testifies in us by his Spirit, that we are born of him. “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.” This is not speculative, it is the word and testimony of God that cannot lie.
“Rest, doubting saint, assured of this,
For God has pledged his holiness.”
When a child of God arraigns his hope before the bar of carnal reason, it is impossible from such a court to obtain a true decision; for human reason is incompetent to know or appreciate the testimony in the case. All the evidence a Christian can have that is reliable must be spiritual testimony; and what can reason know of spiritual things? God’s Spirit witnesses with our spirit, not with our reason or natural intellect. The revelation of spiritual things is only made to the faith which is the fruit of the Spirit, and is consequently spiritual; and whenever so revealed, it is invariably resisted by all our carnal powers; and every inch of the ground of our spiritual evidence is disputed by the law of our members which wars against the law of our mind. The carnal, or fleshly, mind is enmity against God: but the spiritual mind of the Christian is the mind of Christ. How can they possibly agree?
Let us suppose Peter and John, submitting the question of the validity of their hope, is to be decided by reason. The same objections are urged which are brought to bear against the hope of many at this day. Peter and John may say, We were thoughtless and unconcerned when Jesus came and bid us follow him. We felt an irresistible attraction, and left our fishing boat, and our father Zebedee, and followed Jesus because we could not help it. We were satisfied that Jesus had called us until we heard how Saul of Tarsus was called, and then we began to compare our experience with his, and were greatly alarmed because on careful investigation we failed to find that we had ever heard a voice from heaven as Saul did, neither were we smitten down to the ground, nor did we see a light brighter than the sun, nor were we made blind, nor were our eyes so enlightened at any time as though scales had fallen from them. Human reason would decide against Peter and John and in favor of Paul.
But Paul is led in turn to compare his evidences with those of Peter and John. Alas! For me! I am not worthy to be reckoned with them, or to be called an apostle. I am as one born out of due time, and am the least of the apostles, for I persecuted the church of God; and am even less than the least of all saints.
We do not mean to represent the apostles as reasoning thus, but merely to show that if they had conferred with flesh and blood, or yielded to carnal reasoning, they could have found as much ground for doubts and fears as any of the saints of the present day have.
Our correspondent reasons, because her parents were devout Christians, her father a faithful minister of the Lord Jesus, and her surroundings from infancy such as were calculated to inspire her with a feeling of veneration for religion, and especially as she has heard of some who were suddenly arrested, and more deeply alarmed and terrified, and more suddenly delivered than herself; might she not attribute all the religious exercises she has had to natural cases? It is thus the unbelief of all the children of God, which in the flesh will at times assail their faith and hope, and urge them to deny to themselves the comfort, and to God the glory of what he has done for them.
While we readily admit all the force and influence that can properly be claimed for tradition, and association with relatives and earthly friends whom we regard as devout and sincere Christians, we cannot believe that any such influence can produce in any unquickened child, either a hatred of sin or love of holiness. It cannot implant the fear of the Lord in any heart, nor cause one to feel and know his lost and helpless condition, or to see the justice of God in the penalties of his holy law, or really to desire to be associated with the people of God.
Our trembling friend has longed for a sudden arrest by divine power, that she might know that she had such convictions as others have had; but cannot perceive that these very convictions, such as others have had, have followed her from early childhood. And such convictions too as clearly demonstrate that she has passed from death unto life. It is not possible that any one should see, and feel, and mourn their vileness, and see a beauty in Christianity, love the people of God, love his word, his ordinances, and his cause, if they have not passed from death unto life.
Much comfort is lost to many of the children of God by an unwarranted research after the manner and circumstances of first entering into life. In all the examples given in the Scriptures, we do not find a single instance recorded of the primitive saints going back to their first experience for the present evidence that they were born of God; nor were they ever required, in order to gain the fellowship of the people of God, to the when, and where, and how, they were first arrested, how deep were their convictions, or how suddenly they were delivered. Jeremiah speaks of the time of wormwood and of gall, which his soul still remembered, which inspired hope; but the hope so inspired was that as God had delivered him from bitter trials before, he would not now forsake him in his deep distress. Paul on several occasions related the remarkable circumstances of his conversion from a persecuting Saul, breathing slaughter against the saints, to an apostle of the Lamb; but never as a reason of a present hope for life and salvation, nor as the ground on which he claimed the fellowship of the saints. These relations in every instance were made when standing before carnal rulers and judges, on trial as a prisoner. Those who came to John’s baptism were required to exhibit fruits meet for repentance. Those on the day of Pentecost gladly received the gospel; gave evidence that they were born again by their joyful reception of the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship. The Eunuch was required to declare his faith in the Lord Jesus; and thus in every case we shall find the evidence of being in a quickened state was required to be an evidence in them at the time. It was not said, “If thou hast believed; if thou feelest worthy;” but, “if thou believest with all thy heart.” No matter how long thou hast believed. “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Observe our Lord does not say, If thou hast loved, and canst tell how long thou hast loved, or how thou was brought from hating to love; nor if thou art worthy; but “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” And then leave all the rest to him. If we love him, it is proof incontestable that he has first loved us; and all whom he loves, he loves to the end.
In the absence of that deep distress which others have felt, you knew you were a sinner, yes, “a great sinner.” Pray, how did you find that out? What made you so restless? Why, if you were not thirsty, did you long for that pure water of life? Has not Jesus called unto him, “Every one that thirsteth?” By the prophet, saying, “Ho! Every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.” And in the last day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink,” etc. And it is also written, “And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” But, say you, I don’t know how I became thirsty, nor how long I have been thirsty. Nor is it necessary that you should know. He who has caused you to thirst knows all about it; he bids you drink. But again a doubt arises. I fear that I do not thirst aright. Let then your thirst be tested. If it be a spiritual thirst, nothing but the water of life will satisfy it. The springs of nature will fail, no water from your own cistern can allay it. Only the pure water of life which flows from the throne of God and the Lamb, clear as crystal, can satisfy you. If your thirst be natural, the streams of nature will suffice; but if it be spiritual, none but the living water of life and salvation will do you any good.
You have been made acquainted with the plague and pollution of your own heart. Ah, poor child! That is a lesson none but God can teach. For the heart of man is so deceitful and desperately wicked that none can know it except by revelation. God alone can know our hearts, and only he can make us know them. And this is taught by his Spirit, whose instructions are only given to those who are quickened and made spiritual. You acknowledge that the emotions of your heart are no better than the most depraved. What is this but conviction? You confess this just as any criminal would confess. True, but would any criminal confess guiltiness of which he was unconscious? It is by the law you have this knowledge of sin; the commandment came, sin revived and you died. That is, your hope for justification before God by your own purity or righteousness expired. You have no right to say nor conclude that your knowledge of your sinful state is not by the Spirit. None but the Spirit can convince us of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. You have felt that your prayers were shut out from the Lord, and you could envy those who could sensibly feel that God was angry with them. We do not understand you to desire that God should be angry with you; but you covet a kind of conviction that will be sensibly felt; something that will arouse your passions and terrify your mind. That seems to be your trouble. You have marked out in your mind a way in which you desire to be led. But God has a way of his own, and will “Lead the blind in a way which they know not, and in paths which they have not known.” Our passions, or the senses of our nature, are not capable of comprehending the ways or works of God. Having ourself been in the same condition for some three years, waiting for a conviction and contrition of spirit which we supposed must come before we had a right to indulge a hope in God, we did also covet the anguish of soul which we saw in others; but at last were taught to rely upon what God had wrought in us years before. When a living child throws away the evidence which God has given him in order to try to obtain a better or a brighter one, he has at last to fall back on what he had before, and trust himself in the hands of his God and Savior. These rebellious feelings of our nature are not to be gratified. The light of life which God has caused to shine in us, the darkness of our natural reasoning faculties comprehendeth not. If we could walk by sight we would need no faith; and hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for; but if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. (See Romans 8:24,25.)
That slavish fear that God will withdraw his protection, and that you will finally be lost is the legitimate consequence of your slowness to believe and trust in God. The Israelites could not enter into the promised land of rest because of unbelief, and it is just so with the spiritual, anti-typical Israelites, when nursing and cherishing our doubts and fears. If all that God has done for you in giving you eyes to see your lost condition and utter helplessness, and in enabling you at times to hope in him, is to be under rated and rejected because you have such an experience as it has pleased him to give you, and not such as your judgment would accept, how can you expect to rest? If you were not quickened and made alive by his Spirit, you would have no such trouble; for none but such as the Lord loves does he chasten. Hypocrites and false professors have no such trouble; they will tell you they have all the religion they work for; if they wanted more they would work harder. But God has in wisdom ordained that his children shall live and walk by faith, and not by sight. If we can really trust all that we have and all we are to God, that confidence will relieve us from all trouble about a future state. If we are redeemed from death and hell by the precious blood of Christ, we are not our own, we are bought with a price. Our life is secure with Christ in God, and our blessed Savior has assumed all the care and responsibility of our final and immortal happiness. It is not our business henceforth what will become of us. Our Surety has pledged his word that he will raise us up at the last day; and as he lives, so shall all his people live with him. The care and safety of our eternal inheritance God will not trust to us. He careth for us. His charge to us is to trust in the name of the Lord and stay upon our God. The sympathies of your nature, stirred up by the death of a godly father, could have nothing to do in quickening or making your spiritually alive. Such sympathies are common to all men; they arouse our tenderest passions, and make us resolve to serve the Lord; but leave us to feel as though we were not mortal. Such excitements are quite unreliable. But faith looks away from self to God, to Christ, and sometimes heeds not whether we are in or out of the body. And it is a truth that the more we enjoy the presence of God and feel an assurance of faith, the less we shall think about ourselves. Having committed the keeping of our souls to God, as to a faithful Creator, we at once should relinquish that charge to him and pursue the course of obedience to his commands which he has enjoined on all who love him.
Again, your trouble arose from fearing that you were not of the elect. What have you to do with that matter? You can only make your calling and election sure so far as the development of it is manifested in evidence, by working out that salvation which God has wrought in you with fear and trembling. Our happiness and rest lies not in questioning what God has the entire charge of; but rather in gazing, wondering and admiring the wonderful works of God, especially his works of salvation. Our greatest troubles arise from worrying about what God has settled for us in the ancients of eternity, while our sweetest comforts flow from confidently trusting all our eternal interests to his faithful care.
In that sweet moment, when returning from a visit to your father’s grave, your cup was filled to its brim, and you had to acknowledge that you were a subject of grace, a child of God, a Christian. Then you tasted how sweet it is to believe; then believing, you entered into rest, and as long as you believed, your joy was full; but how soon the tempter came to dash your cup of happiness by unbelief. You had not been exercised like others. What of that? Neither are all others exercised in these respects as you were. It is not essential that all should be exercised alike in regard to circumstances, but there are thousands who will read your relation who can testify that substantially they have been exercised as you have. Seven years you have been held between hope and despair. Abuse, quarrel with, and dispute your hope as you may, you cannot annul it. It came not at your bidding; it will not depart by your command. When, by severe discipline, you shall learn to look more to your Redeemer and less to yourself, you will more sweetly appreciate its blessedness, and rejoice in it as an anchor of your soul, both sure and steadfast, entering into that within the vail.
In conclusion, suffer the word of exhortation. Acknowledge with gratitude what God has done for you. Bow your neck to the yoke of Jesus; learn of him who is meek and lowly, and you shall find rest to your soul.
“Let not doubtings make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him;
This he gives you: this he gives you;
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.”
We have made this reply very lengthy, and perhaps too much so to be interesting to all our readers, but in the hope that what we have written may be of some service to many of that large class of trembling and bewildered pilgrims, who feel like our correspondent, that they are strangers, we submit it.
January 15, 1868.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 121 – 131