Philadelphia, Pa., Oct. 24, 1903.
Dear Editor: – For over three years I have had in my possession two letters written me by Elder John McConnell. Several times I have read them over, and each time have been instructed and edified. Just a few days ago I got them out and read them again, and feel that now I must share them with all the spiritual household. They need to be read and reread, and that very carefully, if one would derive the full benefit of their contents, for there is a great deal more in them than will appear from a mere casual reading. I leave them to your better judgment.
Wishing you at all times the enjoyment of divine presence in your labors for us, I am, I hope, your brother in gospel fellowship,
HORACE H. LEFFERTS.
NEW YORK, N. Y., April 26, 1902.
Dear Brother Horace H. Lefferts: – Your welcome letter of the 23rd inst. is at hand. Your acceptance of an appointment here for next second Sunday will be gratifying to all the members and friends, and I can promise you a hearty welcome from them all. I am glad you are so fearful of making a failure; as long us you feel that way you and can keep step along the way, and I hope you will never grow more confident of your sufficiency. Lack of confidence in self is always the accompaniment of true liberty, where the Spirit of the Lord is, and I am sure you will live to know that a door of utterance is opened for you, in the power of the gospel, when you have thought your speaking was a failure. I do not like to make failures any more than you do, but I have had assurances that the Lord gave me a word of comfort to some when I was under the impression I had made a miserable failure. I have sat down more than once, humiliated and crushed with shame, and I expect it will occur again. I am sorry I cannot be here with you, that time is my appointment at Warwick. I will write you later concerning the arrangements for coming; it is so convenient to come from Philadelphia that your business affairs need not be interfered with.
In reading over your letter I could not but compare you with myself, and envy your experience. In a year you have been taught and learned what has taken me so many long and weary years to attain to. My understanding is very limited yet, and it seems such a pity that so long a time should he required to understand the A, B, C, of the gospel. I often wonder why all should not be taught in the same way. I hear brethren preach, no two alike, and I envy their ability; how happy I would be if I could only dwell in the top of the mountain as some of them do: how delightful it would be to have my heart and voice attuned to the singing of birds; but there is little of (hat with me: very few high and lofty notes in my song. A ministering brother once said to me that in speaking I was inclined to take my hearers down into the dark places and leave them there, and I ought to try and overcome that disposition. Unfortunately for me, the low places are where I dwell most of the time, and no one wants company more than I do, and if I can find any one to travel with me there, I have attained to the greatest height of happiness I know of. If I have attained to any understanding at all in the doctrine of God our Savior, it has been through suffering. All the joy and comfort I have ever known have come in that experience, so naturally I cannot talk about anything but the way that comfort has been ministered. I often covet the aptness of some to comprehend and appropriate truth when they hear it preached. I will agree that it is the truth, but my feeling of belief that it is the truth does not satisfy me, I want to know it for myself in an experience, and the only way a satisfying, comforting hope has ever been given me has been in suffering.
When I lived in Philadelphia I talked very glibly about God’s sovereignty, predestination and election. I was credited with being quite wise, but O how little I knew the truth of them then. I know little of it now, but that little is of far more comfort than all theory and notion could afford. In these days I delighted in the meetings, loved to hear preaching, and it was happiness to associate with the brethren, but there was little exercise of mind concerning my title to an inheritance with the saints. I talked about trials and temptations as necessary evils in the christian’s travel, but I knew little about it; at least I did not know Satan when he appeared, for he always was clothed as an angel of light. But the time came when my weakness and frailty were made known to me, and in a temptation so deceitful and reasonable that I was overcome; Satan showed me great things and promised me a “time salvation” if I would but serve him; it came about in this way: As a realization of weakness increased upon me I began to question and doubt the goodness of my hope, instead of getting better and stronger as I had expected to, I found the contrary my experience; this was wrong I felt, and I wanted to know the cause. Reason suggested that my ills were only such as are common to all men, wicked and righteous alike, as discomforts inseparable from the nature of man, and that I ought to be resigned to the inevitable. Resignation then appeared to me as a virtue that could and should be cultivated. The conclusion I arrived at was, that while it was decreed man could not avoid the evils which his nature was heir to, yet it was his duty to do the best he could, and in the consciousness of doing so his sorrows would be lightened. It did not then occur to me that God absolutely controlled all things, not only the visitation, but also the endurance, and that I was trying to live a doctrine of “time salvation.” I did not realize that to limit God in any degree was to deny his sovereignty; I forgot that he numbers the very hairs of our head, and that not a sparrow falls to the ground without him. There was no acknowledgment of his sovereignty in my heart, saying, “Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.” But the time came when I hope the Lord made me to see that everything I experienced was at his hand: that my thoughts were not my own: that my questions were told me: that my heaviness of spirit, sorrow of heart and all my temptations were ministered unto me in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Then I thanked God I was not able to practice resignation, and that no condition of obedience would alleviate suffering; but that sorrow would increase with increasing strength and knowledge, that it was given me in the behalf of Christ to suffer for his sake.
In my early efforts to be resigned to suffering I tried to console myself with thoughts of future joy and blessedness for’ all my suffering here. In a certain sense there may be comfort in such anticipation, but alone it can never be perfect consolation; to be perfect it needs a solid foundation. A promise of future happiness is of no value to me if the one who promises it gives no proof of his power and good will in this present life. As Almighty, nothing can prevent or cause our God to forego this manifestation, lie makes known his judgments here, and if we are not given to know them now, our hope of future blessedness is unsafely founded. If sin is not already the ruin of Adam’s race, then there exists no hell, and if salvation docs not accompany righteousness already here, then there exists no heaven. The future is not the beginning. God is not inactive, and he never will attain to a better will or greater power than now. He is from beginning to end the living God, and not a god who only rises to power when this life has ended. A god who has any more work to do, who has anything to make good again, is no god at all. His just recompense of reward for evil as well as good is the everlasting song of the redeemed, and Jesus himself, in describing the blessedness of these who renounce all for his sake, begins with the present life. These views may not suit everybody, but I love the doctrine of a present salvation in an experience of the power of Christ resting upon us in our weakness: that Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God: that this suffering is the knowledge that Christ is come in the flesh, and in his appearing our salvation is manifest, this is knowing Jesus, seeing him for ourself, and being like him. The best of it all is, there is no condition attached to all this; we have nothing but what is given us. It is appointed that we shall fall into temptation; sometimes strong delusions are sent us, and frequently we try to walk in the light of the sparks of the Are we have kindled in an effort to escape from darkness; but all these things the Lord hath commanded, that we may know he alone is God; that we are insufficient of ourselves in everything. Our lying down in sorrow is an ascription of highest power to him; in causing us to be ashamed for all our ways he shows us his covenant; we are in possession of the hidden treasures of darkness, which he promises his people, when we are enduring temptation, and in this experience we are manifestly receiving eternal life. In this trial of our faith Jesus appears crowned with honor and glory.
When I commenced writing I meant a short letter: one page, not five. I hope I have said nothing you cannot fellowship, for I love this doctrine. I desire to know nothing save Christ crucified: no reigning with him except we suffer with him. I want to believe, and I think I do, that all things, of whatsoever nature they may be, in our life, work together for our good: that the life which we now live in the flesh we live by the faith of the Son of God, and whatever transpires in this life which we now live in the flesh is according to the pleasure and will of God, and will result to his honor, praise and glory.
Affectionately your brother in gospel bonds,
NEW YORK, N. Y., Aug., 1902.
Dear Brother Horace Lefferts: – Expecting to see you last Sunday in Philadelphia I have delayed writing you longer than I otherwise would have done. I trust your visit at Hopewell was comforting to you and others. Your appointment here for the second Sunday in August has been published for several Sundays past, and the brethren and friends are anticipating much pleasure in meeting you again. Your last appointment here was profitable and comforting to the church, and the desire is general for you to visit us often. If I know my own heart the gospel you preach is what I want to be found diligently proclaiming.
Of late years there have arisen among our people some preachers who are inclined to mix works with the doctrine of grace; we hear too much about man’s power to obey, and less of God’s sovereignty.
I like to hear, in no uncertain way, that there is no power in man by nature, in and of himself, to hear, much less obey the commandments of God, or the exhortations contained in Scripture. To contend that we have any power in ourselves to think a good thought, or do the least thing as we ought, or to believe or obey the gospel savingly in the slightest degree, is to overthrow the gospel and the faith of God’s elect in all ages. Not long ago I read in a so-called Old School Baptist paper that it would be unrighteous in God to require obedience of us if there was in us no power to obey; and that it would be unjust to eternally condemn one for this inability. The writer was intent on upholding the doctrine of “conditional time salvation.” But Scripture does not assert anywhere that man’s destruction is due to weakness or disability; on the contrary, it states positively that condemnation is due to willful sin. Man’s destruction is but the fruit of his own ways. Jesus said, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” There is a free and positive act of their will in disobedience, and they but act out the nature of the children of disobedience.
I would not for the world refrain from exhorting the brethren as to what manner of men we ought to be, yet I know that in myself, and in them, there is no power to do the things we would. It is not for me to accommodate the commands of God to man’s ability, but to declare in no uncertain Sound that without holiness shall no man see God. I find no authority in holy writ to exhort others concerning what they can do, but I do find warrant to exhort as to what we ought to do. To preach that we are of ourselves able to do the things we ought to do is to utterly ignore the grace of God, or at least to give grace glory only for partial assistance. The truth is that obedience is the first fruit of the new creation, the saints are possessed of life which is “of God.” The fullness of that life dwells in Christ, and of his fullness have we received, for he communicates it unto us by his Spirit. Without him, without that life, we can do nothing; that life precedes every vital act. There is no obedience but such as is the manifestation of it. “I live; yet not I, but. Christ liveth in me.” He is the life, and without him we can do nothing.
Conditionalists make great play on the word “duty.” It is a word that is much misunderstood. Spiritually defined it is very unlike the natural understanding of it. In life naturally, duty calls us often to do things we have distaste for, but not so spiritually. We do not enter into the kingdom of God’s dear Son by duty, by obedience, or by any other act whatsoever. The very principle of life spiritually is hatred of evil and love of righteousness. Salvation itself is the manifestation of God’s choosing us that we should be holy and without blame before him in love. When we say, “I would do good,” it is not our will naturally that says so, so much as it is the will of God that speaks. That will is written in our heart, and “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” and this experience is obedience unto the will of God. Obedience to the will of God is always and solely due to the effectual working of his grace in us to will and to do. We receive no life or salvation for doing these things, but in doing them there is great reward.’ Our calling and election are not simply to a future of everlasting bliss and felicity, but is now manifest in the subjects of grace as chosen to be holy; called not to uncleanness, but to holiness; and I have noticed that these who say the preaching of man’s impotency tends to excuse an evil life are not much affected by the plague of their own heart. Establishment in the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, election, predestination, and the total depravity of man, has a very different effect. I have also noticed that the least infringement on this doctrine by the judgment of man manifests a conditionalist. To limit in the least degree the predestination of God is to deny him power, wisdom and every attribute he possesses. I believe and love the truth of predestination. I cannot limit it in any degree without denying my hope in the mercy of God. To me it means that the will, purpose, counsel and decree of God embrace? all things; that whatsoever cometh to pass, the Lord commanded; that all things, of whatsoever nature they may be, glorify him and exalt his wisdom. I firmly believe in the predestination of all things, not simply of all good things, but also of what I may judge to be evil things. God willed the existence of sin, that he might communicate himself to us in a manner inconceivable to the natural mind. He willed it as an occasion to bring forth the mystery of the incarnation and suffering of his Son, our Savior. His holiness forbids his willing its existence as an end; but in regard to his wisdom he willed it as an occasion to draw good out of things which in their own nature are contrary to good. How wonderful such wisdom is!
The greatest blessing the world was ever blessed with, was ushered in by the lust of man. The first promise of a Savior (Gen. iii. 15,) came by the sin of Adam. The sufferings of the dear Redeemer were occasioned by the rage and malice of these he came to save. From the very sin of man and the malice of Satan has been erected to the everlasting glory of God a new creation of all things by Jesus Christ. Lust inspired man to seek his own gratification in the death of Christ, yet the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God ordered it thus to accomplish his own design of redemption. By the occasion of man’s fall a way was opened to raise him to a more excellent condition: in the loss of an earthly paradise the way was opened for the finding a heavenly place. The violation of the old covenant introduced a better; the loss of our own righteousness ushered in a more enduring righteousness, everlasting. Had not the wisdom of God predestinated the entrance of sin in the world some attributes of God would never be experimentally known: grace would be unknown to us. Our love to him could not be so strong had we no enemy to hate for his sake. Humility would have no growth, and godly sorrow no fuel. Even our falling into temptation is predestinated to our good. When we remember his covenant we are ashamed for all our ways, and flee for refuge to the throne of grace. The pleasures of sin do not entice; we remember the time of our first love and say, “I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now.” – Hosea ii. 7. When we trust and have confidence in our own strength, God lets loose corruption to show us and make us sensible of our weakness, and where our sufficiency is. We would never remember we have an Advocate without some sensible, necessity. God orders the hostile acts of sin to increase our hatred of it, for the deeper our humiliation the greater our abhorrence of it. We find by our calamity that the enemy has more strength against us than we suspected, and it causes us to watch and pray the more earnestly that we enter not into temptation.
How incomprehensible is the wisdom of God in the management of evil! How wonderfully he brings forth beauty and discovery of himself out of the greatest contrarieties, making evil serve to show us his glory. If evil were not in the world, we could not know what good is; as without night we could not know the beauty of the day.
God is not the author of sin, because of his holiness, yet in his wisdom he predestinates sin and accomplishes his own purposes by the iniquities of his enemies. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” Growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is growing in a sense of infirmity and weakness, and God is glorified in his saints. They are made to say, Of myself I can do nothing: all our works are wrought in us. Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. “Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God forever and ever Amen.”
The few minutes I intended to write have overrun two hours, but I will not often try your patience thus. I wish you could be here for to-morrow and relieve me of the heaviness I feel in anticipating the two services before me. My mind is destitute of anything that can be profitable to the people, and it is also destitute of any hope that my discernment will be any better tomorrow. I wish I could look forward to my appointments eagerly as some do, but I cannot, their approach is a burden and grief to me, for of all that speak in the name of the Lord I am the least profitable servant, if one at all. I love to meet the brethren, but to serve them I am not worthy. I want your fellowship in everything except the realization of an unprofitable ministry.
In love and fellowship I am, I hope, your brother in gospel bonds,
Signs Of The Times
Volume 78., No. 24.
DECEMBER 15, 1905.