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THE WAY OF MAN; NOT IN HIMSELF.

Greene Co., N.Y., April 21, 1856.

DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - The following testimony of the prophet Jeremiah has been much upon my mind of late. “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” It is as true now as it was when spoken by the prophet; and I believe there are those now on earth who have a realizing sense of its truth. Graceless men, of course, do not understandingly know and believe its full import. If God has a people now under his special teaching, they have to acknowledge that the prophet was correct in his testimony. Our way, naturally, is perverse and contrary to the holy perfections of God’s character. The service of sin and Satan is our element and choice. God’s government is absolute and omnipotent. Earth and hell and all the powers of darkness are held by his Almighty hand. Mankind, considered in their fallen state, are voluntary in their sin and rebellion. But they are chained, if I may so speak, and it is a blessed thing that it is so. If God’s government over his creatures, and over all things, was attended with any weakness on his part, dreadful would be the consequences. There is no lack of a disposition, or heart’s desire, on the part of earth and hell to sin and rebel, but there is a lack of power. As men resist his sovereign will and government, it is only as he suffers it so to be. And for what purpose? Is he not able to prevent it? Yes. Then he has purposed it for his declarative glory, and for the exhibition of his wrath on the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. Adam, as he came from the hand of his Creator in his formation and manifestation, was a natural man – sinless, and very good. He sinned, and all the human family sinned in him and with him. Our name is Adam. We are all sinners. Can it be there were any contingent circumstances transpired with Jehovah after the creation of the world and of man? No. Or, in other words, did anything take place whereby Jehovah had to revise his plan, or change his purpose? Certainly not! For centuries God suffered all nations {Acts 14:16} to walk in their own ways, yet he bestowed upon them providential mercies. Were they voluntary in their wickedness? Yes. Were the bounds of their habitation set? Certainly. Is man an accountable being? Of course; otherwise he would not be considered criminal for his sin and transgression. Christ said to the Jews, when they took him, “but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” Were they guilty and criminal in their course? Yes. Notwithstanding they by wicked hands crucified the Son of God, yet it was according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Men naturally suppose they love God; so did those wicked Jews. They ignorantly worship God, trusting in a righteousness of their own. The prophet said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it.” A solemn truth, an affecting consideration. A violation of the laws of our natural existence as creatures, such as intemperance, licentiousness, and every form of outward wickedness, is attended with all the concomitant injuries and calamities arising therefrom. If there was no God of providence, as well as of grace, there would be no God of judgment and mercy to render to every man according to his works. The universal government of the eternal God over all worlds, visible and invisible, and over all things, is clearly set forth in the Scriptures of truth. The prophets and the apostles had a view of his supreme government, and expressed themselves accordingly. It is well for the church of God that it is so. The spirit of wickedness existing in the heart of man is irresistible to everything but the irresistible power of Almighty God. Nothing short of irresistible grace and love can kill the sinner to a love of sin and Satan; and when quickened to spiritual life, he feels to be in a state of death. His cry is to God for mercy, and his own life and conduct, and his sinful heart, looks very bad to him. So it is with every penitent sinner; he is silenced and confounded through the multitude of his sins and transgressions. He knows and feels, experimentally and vitally, what is absolutely true in relation to all of the human family – the justice of God in his condemnation and destruction. Upon the principle of God’s unchangeable purpose of love and mercy, he is made, like every other subject of grace, to experience the forgiveness of his sins, and receives the spirit of adoption as a child of God. All of the heirs of promise are born of God, and hence possess a holy nature as the sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty. They are not little gods, but are the children of God, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with our Lord Jesus Christ. Their everlasting Father is holy, so also are the children; hence they are called the holy people. They live, and are supported by their heavenly Father; they subsist upon heavenly food, and cannot be satisfied with anything short of eternal uncreated things. Christ is their life, and their life is hid with Christ in God; and when Christ, who is their life, shall appear, they also shall appear with him in glory. What a blessed consideration.

But the church of God in time are called to wrestle, not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Formidable opposition. They have to wrestle against all of the powers of darkness, of earth and hell. What would become of the family of God, if the government of God could be overthrown? Dreadful thought! They have no sympathy from the world, the flesh and the devil, and their depraved nature is perverse, and opposed to all that is good. Is it not a soul-comforting reflection that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth? Most certainly it is to all those who love God, and rejoice in his government. He affords timely assistance to all his saints in all their trials and afflictions. He keepeth the feet of his saints, for they have not sufficient wisdom of their own to direct their steps. Truly, their way is not in themselves, for Christ is the way, the truth and the life. In his providence they cannot control their own course and destiny, and upon his grace they are altogether dependent. They learn much of their own folly and weakness, and desire to be reconciled to the will of their Creator. They are a happy people, notwithstanding the opposition they encounter. It is true the flesh sometimes predominates and they are in trouble. I will quote the language of a christian brother of my acquaintance, which is somewhat expressive. “I have been whittled down some in my feelings; I have been plunged and vexed a great many times. I have had my pride awfully mortified more than once in my pilgrimage. More than once have I arraigned Jehovah to my bar because his works were not congenial with my devilish notions. If I had the handling of things, I would have a nice, pretty and orderly church. But the word says, here and there a traveler; and they that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Because God’s ways are not as our ways, therefore we are often in difficulty. We like to have our own ways naturally, for God’s ways are equal, while ours are unequal. We have to be chastened with the rod till we are sufficiently humbled. But when the glorious promise is applied and Jesus is revealed, and the darkness and distress pass away, how pleasant it does appear. Our fears are removed, comfort flows into the soul, the mind is at rest, and the peace of God reigns within. We rejoice in spirit, and regret to think we were so unwise as to mistrust his goodness. The gospel, in its proclamation, is a joyful sound, in that season that we walk in the light of His countenance.

The process of being weaned from the world and from hankering after the vanities which are bought and sold in the great city which is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, requires considerable crucifixion of the flesh, with its affections and lusts. And to have our old man crucified produces a severe conflict within; still we learn that it is profitable to us. We are made to “glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” It remains the incontrovertible truth of the eternal “I AM” that “salvation is of the Lord.”

I have penned the foregoing thoughts as they arose in my mind. They are either true or false. If true, unquestionably they will stand. Not simply as thoughts, but as the truth of God; and as the truth of God it cannot be overthrown. But if it is not true, then it is nothing but the conjuration of a depraved mind; I have no hope, no encouragement to believe, no trust, no view by faith of anything which causes my soul to rejoice, I am, I know not where. If Jesus is mine and I am his, I can say, “My Lord, and my God.” But if there be no Jesus, no God, no eternal happiness, we are left at loose ends – everything is uncertain; we are in a chance world, or something worse. God is either a sovereign in his providence and in his grace, or else there is no God. The fool hath said in his heart there is no God. There can be no middle ground between the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of Jehovah and downright avowed atheism. They cannot both be true. If we acknowledge the truth of the Bible, we must believe the first; if not we are infidels – or in other words atheists or deists. We may acknowledge a Deity, but yet deny divine revelation; if so, we are deists. Some of the greatest features of atheism now manifest, is in a formal acknowledgement of the truth of the Bible, and a virtual denial of its principles. For instance, there are those who say they believe the Bible, and with the Bible in their hands hold forth and pretend to say that sinners cannot be saved unless we use the means – something must be done by us, and others, to help or assist in the salvation of sinners. Money must be used, and much effort brought into requisition to save sinners, as though salvation was a partnership or joint concern between God and men. God does a part and the creature does a part, and if the creature does his part God will save him. These are the prevailing sentiments of the present age. Many suppose it is true, and never once question the incorrectness of it. And actually, there are so many at the present day that are so in the habit of sitting under the preaching of such unsound and rotten doctrines, that when they hear the gospel preached in its pristine purity they are greatly astonished. I have often thought of the following scriptures, which laid with weight on my mind several years ago, and which I have not forgotten. “Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit; after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” I have no doubt some of the Lord’s children are thus spoiled and their minds are confused, their vision is marred, and they are weak and sickly. I have been there myself; I have seen it, I have felt it to my sorrow. I can say to the praise of God’s grace; however, that notwithstanding all of my troubles and sorrow in former days, I did not suffer more than has been for my good, and I trust for the glory of God. I partook of the wormwood and the gall, and I have not forgotten it. My soul is humbled within me when I call it to remembrance, therefore have I hope.

Heaven and hell are greatly at antipodes, so is truth and error. They that are not for us are against us, and they that gather not with us scatter abroad. There are absolutely but two classes of people on the earth – the righteous and the wicked. They all love God or hate him. While they are all alike by nature, yet regenerating grace produces a radical change in them that are born again. A separation takes place; they are delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son; they are made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Can those who are born of God, absolutely, be happy only, in the presence of God? No. Why? Because they love God, and cannot be happy only as they enjoy his presence. They possess a heavenly nature, adapted to a heavenly state of existence. Why are they unhappy sometimes? Because they have a rebellious, fallen nature, which wars against that which is holy and heavenly, and they become carnally minded. Can graceless men, absolutely, be happy in the presence of God? No. Why? Because they do not love God, neither do they possess a nature {if it is proper so to speak} that is adapted to the enjoyment of his presence; they are enemies to him by wicked works. I use the word nature, here, to define the difference between the flesh and the spirit – between the new man and the old man – the image of the heavenly and of the earthly. They are opposite in their nature and character; and to define the difference between the righteous and the wicked – the one loves God, the other does not love him. Hence in nature and in principle they are at antipodes. If there is a union to God and to Christ, there is a union to his people. Christ said to his disciples, “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth Him that sent me.” This is vital gospel union, from first to last. If I hear a man preach the gospel in its pristine purity, and I have a union to it, I can receive him for Christ’s sake; I love him for the sake of the truth he preaches. Upon any other principle it would be a selfish love. The question arises in my mind, Do I love God? Do I love Jesus? Do I love his people? Do I love his commandments? Sometimes I can say I know that I do, and that I feel a union thereto. But then, what am I? What sort of a place do I inhabit? I am constrained to acknowledge God’s truth, that I am carnal, sold under sin. My habitation is in the dust, and I am a worm of the dust. And yet love God? Yes; for I can say with Paul, {if not deceived,} “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man; but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O, wretched man that I am; who shall deliver me from the body of this death. I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”

I have written more than I intended when I commenced. My thoughts have run, and my pen too, but I have expressed some of the sentiments and feelings of my soul. I once hated the doctrine which I try now to advocate; and no other than God himself ever caused me to love it and cleave to it, or caused it to cleave to me. I rejoice in it, and it is heavenly food to my soul and living water to satisfy my thirst. I love to speak and write in relation to it, as the excellent things of the kingdom of our God.

Yesterday it snowed throughout the day; yet I, with a few of the brethren and friends assembled at the meeting house, and I preached from Col. 1:13. I realized, in some degree, that it was more profitable than to remain at home. Still, the Lord does bless his people, at home or abroad, as it pleaseth him. The prophet Ezekiel is describing a certain city, in the last verse of his description of it, said, “and the name of the city, from that day, shall be, The Lord is there.” His presence is life, and his loving kindness is better than life. “The Lord is there.”

Yours affectionately,
Joseph L. Purington.