Never scarce in all my life did I under God the Spirit, labour under a doctrine of Scripture more than the one just below. If you observe, therein is included all that is or ever was known of experienced Christianity since the creation of the world. Therein you will observe lukewarmness, and rebellion, and all manner of things, good and bad, equally cut at or supported. The text is this "Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God." (Col. 412)
From this text I gather what has stunned me many a time, namely, that God has a will. And that Will also embraces the minutest circumstance of our lives, both of bitters and sweets, joys and sorrows. If five sparrows are sold for two farthings, and, as we are assured, are not forgotten by the Heavenly Father; if the very secret thought is taken into account; I gather from this that the Infinite God is no careless Looker-on, observing and regulating the affairs of the sons of men.
The stature is fixed; the number of our days is appointed, also the boundaries of our habitations,--our days of sorrow and joy, our sinkings and risings, our pleasures and pains. And are all these, even to the least, the smallest circumstances, appointed executively or permissively of God, even to the most exact and nice degree? Is it all weighed out unalterably by Him by whom "actions (not notions) are weighed?" O tremendous "deep!"
I have been long convinced of the folly of striving against God. I believe I pass a good part of my time in communion with God, the Appointer of all things executively or permissively? And how do I pass that time in communion? In dictating? No. I know God has a will, as Epaphras says. My employment in the communion with God is, to find out by the Holy Spirit's goings experimentally in my soul, what that will is! Thus, Enoch, Abraham, and Noah "walked" with God. People walking always together are likely to know a good deal of one another. How certain I am that I shall have all the trouble I am to have! How this makes me cleave with purpose of heart to God! "I have stuck unto thy testimonies." Epaphras labours fervently for all the will of God to be done in us. o the terrible deep!
I have known the time when I have been brim-full of trouble, my heart almost fit to break. And yet I durst not lift up my little finger to alter anything without God. And I have found that God can alter things better than I can. How he can speak to men (and to me too) out of the whirlwind, or melt them sweetly in the sunshine, to mould them to his secret will!
O how my soul trembles with adoration before Him! Now those who tremble at his threatenings, and those who tremble with delight at his consolations; those who tremble at their own ignorance and a sense of God's superior wisdom, at their own infinitely less than littleness, (for we are five hundred or ten thousand talents terribly in debt!) and at God's unsearchable greatness; those tremblers thus, these are the man, that living so near God get acquainted by secret revelation (in accordance with Scripture) as to what God's will is.
Epaphras laboured fervently to this end in his prayers. As Hart says, "Accomplish in me all thy will."
But it may be objected, if none besides we are elected, bought with a price, and redeemed thus in particular redemption, that it is a needs-be we must fall into all the sin we are redeemed from. But does that encourage me in sin? Just the reverse. I know I shall have the rod for my sin. I know it killed the Beloved Redeemer. Thus love and fear make me watch, fight, groan, wrestle and struggle unto blood against sin, and die, in Christ, to it, in evangelical crucifixion and mortification thereto; insomuch so, that Arminians who trust less or more to their own righteousness, and bitterly reject Christ's righteousness imputed by gift as the only possible foundation and salvation; these Arminians, I have long perceived, with their wretched self-righteousness, have not a fiftieth part of the tenderness of conscience that I feel.
Epaphras's fervent labouring certainly embraces both the sorrows and joys we are predestinated to go through, before we launch out of time into the next world.
Epaphras's fervent labouring in his prayers embraces all things that the elect have to go through, and must go through, in the time-state of this present world. And who is sufficient for these things? Excruciating bitters and insupportable sweets; "Stay me with flagons; comfort me with apples; for I am sick of love;" and "rivers of tears running down one's eyes" spiritually, because of insupportable troubles: every-day comfort more or less; which quickened souls must go through, in their being God's "workmanship." All, all the wondrous catalogue is included in the wondrous grasp of Epaphras's ample prayer!
And who, I ask again, is sufficient for these things? God "will spue" (vulgar word for our refined hypocrisy!) lukewarm Christians out of his mouth (Rev. 3:16). He will fill backsliders with their own ways. He will keep rebels in a dry land. He will let foolish virgins and wise ones slumber together in professedly experimental churches, for some deep purpose. He will maul the head of pride. He will work contrition, poorness, and trembling, into the souls of his people.
And herein let me make a remark or two. Contrition, poverty, and trembling, which spiritually our first Adam's nature huffs at, are in the sight of God of great price. God will "look" at them. When, alas! the brightest mere knowledge shall pass away as of not the slightest account with God, like the idle noise of a jingling bell or a sounding cymbal.
O the glories, beauties, and grace of ripening to stand complete and perfect in all (the whole of) the will of God! O the labours, continuing, and fervency of this wonderful end! The text says, Epaphras was "always" at it, at this prayer. "Thy will be done" is the A and Z of the alphabet. All his modes, etc., in "prayers" he was thus enabled to drive to this end. And O the immortal sweetness of success and triumph herein, in which severity and comliness shine! He himself was winning the prize, and travailing for it for others of the elect.
Now, any one "saluting" saints with this doctrine is not well received by many. Here were no perversive loopholes for rebellion, carnality, worldliness, free-will, self-righteousness, or antinomianism. Here, like racers running a race, as Paul says, we are reminded that many run in a race who are never to win. Here a saint is cautioned to cleanse his way by taking heed thereto according to God's word. Here the noble Epaphras cautions any one to see whether any part at all of God's word is against him. "All the will of God." Crucifixion, and making dead, or mortifying, to the world and the flesh, as well as salvation by grace without works ("the body is of Christ,") and keeping ourselves from idols, and being crucified to the flesh and the world, thus in a victory and triumph over inordinate affections, etc; these and such like are the glorious effects. Glorious! For destitute of oil, the foolish virgins, (sound in every thing but the secret life of God in Christ within,) I say these foolish virgins have neither the body actual nor the effects, and it is to be feared they are among us in rightly constituted experimental churches. What is to become of the brains of the notional Calvinist? the false fire of the Arminian? in all their shades, splits, divisions, and denominations? But I must leave them as ripening for the knife of final slaughter, and drop a few words more to those who are planted and ripening as really elect in God's garden.
You may see by Epaphras's prayer that God intends to realize in you the drift of what is written in Scripture. Now I ask you plainly, can you see your character as in a looking-glass in Scripture, as there written of the saints, by the hand of God himself I shall conclude with this, that "God is not mocked." And, ask your conscience, reader. And the beginning, middle, and end of religion shall be gradually and finally fulfilled in the elect of God, as Epaphras prayed for, and as Scripture sets forth; while all prating fools, as Solomon calls them, and notional, and stony-ground, and thorny-ground hearers, as the Lord calls them; yes, those even who are thus possessed of, even as Dr. Goodwin justly calls it, the shallow enlightenings of the Holy Ghost, (short of the exceeding greatness of his power, which latter is confined to the elect alone;) all those, I say, mentioned in Hebrews 6:5,6, and 10:26, are not included at all in Epaphras's prayer as above; for it would have been better for those not to have known the way of Christ in the shallow enlightenings of the Spirit, who have lamps burning with outward apparent consistency, and who never get at all in wars, changes, and victories, to the marrow hinted at in Epaphras's prayer.
I. K., Abingdon 1842
July – August 1989