This reflection has come into my mind; now, here I see many keeping up the form of family prayer, and many acquainting themselves with the blessed Scriptures, and yet making no progress towards the knowledge of salvation. How is this? I ask myself. Ah! I can only resolve it into this, that is, God's sovereignty. I, as stupid as a beast, and as ignorant as a tree, began to seek after God; got into many wrong ways, wanted to get wrong through the ignorance or false wisdom that was in me; yet God would not let me go. For, I trust, I have at times attained to the knowledge of my own salvation. And yet, how many, it seems, with every outward advantage, in the way of an outward knowledge of truth, get wrong. And so it is to be. Strangers in the land of Egypt; the sons of the idolater, as Naaman, and Candace' treasurer, (Acts 8:27) the strange Ethiopian, shall be brought to worship God; while many, familiar with the truth outwardly, from childhood, shall be cast out as refuse. Those from afar shall come; those that are seemingly near, "the light that is in them is darkness." What a distant, dark, and ignorant neighborhood, as regards God's truth, was I born in! and, though I have endeavored, over and over again, to lose myself in the pathless forest of ignorance and sin toward God, yet the Lord seemingly forbade it; and made the light of His fear to chase me out of all my wild haunts.
Yes, the mighty orator, and the famous, and the wise, shall all know one day, that it is "not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord." The ever-blessed God shall touch a poor boy with the spirit of prayer and supplication, and that boy shall win the prize of celestial wisdom, over the heads of many that might have seemed promising, or sure to outstrip him in the race. "God seeth not as man seeth." All the wisdom I have, I think I have in answer to prayer.
Again. When I see those running well, and over a rosy path of freedom from great tribulation, I have beat my hands together as it were, and said, "O, that I had never sinned, but walked as orderly as you!" Then, on the other hand, I see they have no experience.
What innumerable thoughts come into the mind of one that fears God and has the gift of all meditation, under the unctuous light of the lamp of heaven in his soul! I have found that many things which man called little have the most important consequences hung on them. So that, unstead of turning off matters by saying, O, such and such things are of no consequence, I am obliged to feel that God can turn a very little matter into very important consequences, now or in the future. So that a divine man has to see, from painful experience, that God can magnify the most trifling incident, as men would say, into a mountainous chain of events. Thus, for instance, David knew music, and that was one reason, under God, of his immediate introduction and companionship to Saul. (I Sam. 16:16, etc.) I knew a woman going to take tea with a neighbour, but as soon as she stepped out of doors to go, she fell down and broke her leg, which perhaps was the last thing in her calculations previously.
Again. I have observed, whatever Antinomians may say to the contrary, that sin dampens my religion. The more loyalty I am enabled to have to the King of heaven, the more liberty of soul I feel, the more holy and righteous in thought, word, and deed, the more the lamp of heaven shines within. Thus, though the righteousness of Christ imputed is my all in all; yet I am obliged to pray and strive, that I may keep a good conscience toward God as well as man. "Thou settest a print on my footsteps; if I be wicked, (presumptuously or maliciously) woe be unto me." (Job 10:15)
Again. The imputed righteousness of Christ will do no man a morsel or atom of good, unless the man is made to know, from God's own lips, that righteousness is imputed to him.
But there is nothing astonishes my poor mind scarcely more than what the apostle Paul terms the "demonstration of power," and the demonstration of the Spirit. Thus I can see the greatest orators, who preach much truth, to be as insipid as the white of an egg to me. Poor creatures! they think they preach and write bravely; but if they could see and read their efforts and productions as I, though unworthy, they might advertise their chapels to be sold, and send their fine writings to a friendly neighbour, to wrap up tea and bacon in to be sold to his customers. For, depend upon it, the demonstration of power - and that, the power of God - must be something superlatively great. I am persuaded that there are but few who have it, notwithstanding the great show of Calvinistic profession.
"There are many devices in a man's heart." I have tried to bring about certain events, but could not; yes, I have in bygone times thought, and the fear of God in my soul, how I would accomplish such an event, and how this would turn up, and how another thing might fall out; but, alas! I was supposing wrong. God turned everything contrary to another way. All my fine wisdom stained as folly. Any one that knows anything, there are many things hid underneath he has not come to as yet. That good (sic) man is not far wrong that says, "It requires twenty years to teach a man that he is a fool." And something on the contrary, which was truly desirable, has fallen into my hands, without any trouble at all on my part, in the least, comparatively, to obtain it. "It is not of him that willeth."
The light of heaven appears to me to be twofold; namely, faith, and a good conscience. But this, though most own, how few know by divine gift and divine practice, and are acquainted, experimentally, with the various lights and shadows thereof.
Two great difficulties in prayer I daily feel, namely, first as to the unction of the Holy Ghost, secondly as to what God has predestinated to give me. "I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding." A great deal of prayer I have heard seems to me to be very little else or better than chattering.
A man may err by carelessness; a man may err by over-carefulness. A man may "will and run", and err. A man may tempt God by heedlessness, or rashness, or indolence; "The foolishness of man perverteth his way; and his heart fretteth against the Lord." (Prov. 19:3) O the narrow way!
"By the word of God, and by prayer," by which, to the elect, the temporal and providential gifts of God are sanctified, is meant, not merely the letter of the word of Holy Scripture, but the hidden grace, sensibly experienced power, and felt value of the incarnate Word, in the soul, through the energy of the ever-blessed Holy Spirit. Unregenerate Calvinists, and Arminians, and such like, forget this, or rather, never knew it. Nor shall they ever know it, except through a work of divine grace on their souls, to their regeneration and conversion from the error of their ways.
I have sometimes felt one look with my eye to put all my sensibly felt religion away instantly. O the difficulty of being enabled to please God!
A godly person has, not only like the Canaanitish woman, (Matt. 15:22) to call himself a dog, but also a fiend, in the greatness of his humility, fear of God, self-abasement, sense of sin, and terrors of God! "Jesus was asleep in the hinder part of the ship." A sense of this, when the winds and waves are high, threatening destruction, or a sense of God as a consuming fire; these things in the soul, make a vessel of mercy shriek out in his soul, "Lord, I am a dog and a fiend."
The gift of divine and spiritual humility is one of God's greatest gifts to the ransomed soul, in the predestinated conformity to Christ Jesus' image. Then the God-Man "riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself. After that He poured water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded." (John 13:4,5) "The Lord resisteth the proud." (James 4:6) Yes, and He ever will resist their pride, too! blessed be His name for it! And let such see how much good their pride will do them in the battle, with the Lord God Almighty for their Antagonist. "Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty," (Psa. 131:1) said David, in some degree weaned from his viperous pride.
What a shoal of brisk arrows there is shot off in opposition to the man who is enabled, experimentally and spiritually, to wish to find Christ, the Saviour of the elect, in his own heart! Pride, selfsufficiency, sin, self, the devil, and God Himself will try that man. "The Lord trieth the righteous." "Two are better than one. Woe be unto the man that standeth alone in battle. Be Thou my strong refuge, O Lord."
I do solemnly believe, and feel to be enabled to experimentally win the felt prize of God Almighty's electing love in one's poor soul, that, well nigh actually,
"Tis more than thought can e'er conceive
Or hope expect, or faith believe." - Hart.
The Gospel Standard,
By John Kay, 1838