“By his knowledge the depths are broken up,
and the clouds drop down the dew.”
When the Lord said, “Let there be light,” instantly there was light. So when the Lord says, “Let the earth open,” the heart immediately opens, the conscience is made tender, and the soul hears and receives what God speaks. And what follows this opening? The heart receives the dews and showers of God’s grace that fall into it; and these dews and showers of God’s grace communicate to it softness, fertility, and productiveness. O how we have to learn this by painful experience! Is not our heart as hard sometimes as the nether millstone; and to our feelings, utterly destitute of light, life and power, without one grain of brokenness, contrition, godly sorrow, spiritual desire, or fervent breathing after the Lord? This painful experience the Lord’s people have to pass through perpetually, that they may know that “in them, that is, in their flesh dwelleth no good thing,” and that” power belongeth unto God.”
Could I make my own heart soft, should I want the Lord to do it for me? Could I communicate fertility to my own soul, should I ever pant after the dews and showers of the Holy Ghost? Could I bring pardon and peace into my own conscience, should I need the Lord himself to speak with power? Could I believe, hope, rejoice, and have at my own command every gracious and blessed feeling that I desire to experience, there would be no pleading the Lord’s own promises, no wrestling in importunate prayer, no taking the kingdom of God by violence, no longing and panting for the Lord to appear in our souls.
The Lord therefore sees fit that we should walk in these paths, that we may know, “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”
“That he would grant unto us, that we
being delivered out of the hand of our enemies
might serve him without fear, in holiness
and righteousness before him,
all the days of our life.”
Luke 1:74, 75
Holiness consists mainly of two points:
1. being made a partaker of the spirit of holiness whereby, as born of God, we are made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; set our affections on things above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God; have our conversation in heaven; put on the new man which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him which created him; live a life of faith in the Son of God, and beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
To be thus spiritually-minded, to be thus brought near unto God through his dear Son, to walk before him in the light of his countenance, and to know something of spiritual communion with the Lord of life and glory as sitting on his mercy- seat in the fulness of his risen power, and in the heights, depths, lengths, and breadths of his dying love—this to taste, to handle, to experience, and to enjoy is to be made a partaker of true holiness, and to be sanctified by the Spirit of God as an indwelling Teacher, Guide, Advocate, and Comforter. And if we know nothing of these things, at least in some small measure, or are not looking after and longing for them to be brought into our heart by a divine power, we give but little evidence that the grace of God has reached our heart and renewed us in the spirit of our mind.
2. The second branch of holiness is a life, conduct, and conversation agreeable to the precepts of the gospel; and the one springs out of the other. “Make the tree good,” said our blessed Lord, “and his fruit good, for the tree is known by his fruit.” Gospel fruit must grow upon a gospel tree, and thus the fruits of a holy and godly life must spring out of those divine operations of the Holy Ghost upon the heart of which we have just spoken. Thus to speak, live, and act is to be “holy in all manner of conversation,” that is in our daily walk; and is a fulfilling of the precept which God gave of old to his typical people Israel, and quoted in the New Testament to shew that it is spiritually fulfilled in that peculiar people whom he calls by his distinguishing grace under the gospel.
“The Lord knoweth how to deliver
the godly out of temptations.”
2 Peter 2:9
Few will sincerely and spiritually go to the Lord, and cry from their hearts to be delivered from the power of a temptation, until it presses so weightily upon their conscience, and lies so heavy a burden upon their soul, that none but God can remove it. But when we really feel the burden of a temptation; when, though our flesh may love it, our spirit hates it; when, though there may be in our carnal mind a cleaving to it, our conscience bleeds under it, and we are brought spiritually to loathe it and to loathe ourselves for it; when we are enabled to go to the Lord in real sincerity of soul and honesty of heart, beseeching him to deliver us from it, I believe, that the Lord will, sooner or later, either remove that temptation entirely in his providence or by his grace, or so weaken its power that it shall cease to be what it was before, drawing our feet into paths of darkness and evil.
As long, however, as we are in that state of which the prophet speaks, “Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty” (Hosea 10:2); as long as we are in that carnal, wavering mind, which James describes, “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways;” as long as we are hankering after the temptation, casting longing, lingering side glances after it, rolling it as a sweet morsel under our tongue, and though conscience may testify against it, yet not willing to have it taken away, there is no hearty cry, nor sigh, nor spiritual breathing of our soul, that God would remove it from us.
But when we are brought, as in the presence of a heart-searching God, to hate the evil to which we are tempted, and cry to him that he would, for his honour and for our soul’s good, take the temptation away, or dull and deaden its power; sooner or later the Lord will hear the cry of those who groan to be delivered from those temptations, which are so powerfully pressing them down to the dust.
“Underneath are the everlasting arms.”
The “everlasting arms” of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the divine Jehovah, are “underneath” every one of his people, and, being underneath them, they can neither fall through them nor out of them; but they are borne, and supported, and carried along by them until they are brought to the eternal enjoyment of a Three-One God. Now, if these “everlasting arms” were not underneath a man, so deceitful is his heart, so desperately wicked is his corrupt nature, such awful stratagems does Satan lay for his feet, and such numerous perils encompass every step, that he must infallibly perish.
But what we want to feel is, that these arms are underneath us. What good will the doctrine do us? The doctrine of the “everlasting arms” being underneath us will not satisfy our souls, if we feel that we are sinking fathoms. If we keep sinking, sinking, sinking, and are afraid, at times, that we shall sink at last into hell, the bare doctrine that the “everlasting arms” are underneath God’s people will not satisfy us; but we want to feel them under us, so that we can rest upon them, and enjoy a blessed support in them and coming out of them.
How secure the babe lies in its mother’s arms as long as it can feel the arms touching and supporting its body; but let the mother withdraw the arm, the babe is in fear; it cries out in alarm; but so long as it feels the pressure of the mother’s arms, it sleeps on calm and secure. So with living souls; if they cannot find the “everlasting arms” underneath them, they cannot rest in the mere doctrine of God’s upholding the Church; but when they can feel a support given; when in trouble, in affliction, in sorrow, in temptation, there is a sensible leaning upon the everlasting arms, and a sensible support communicated by them, then they can rest calmly and contentedly upon them.
“And he led them forth by the right way,
that they might go to a city of habitation.”
“He led them forth.” Forth out of the world—forth out of sin—forth out of a profession— forth out of a name to live—forth out of everything hateful to his holy and pure eyes. “To go to a city of habitation.” They had no city to dwell in here below; but they were journeying to a city of habitation above, whose walls and bulwarks are salvation, and whose gates are praise; where there are eternal realities to be enjoyed by the soul; where there is something stable and eternal; something to satisfy all the wants of a capacious and immortal spirit, and give it that rest which it never could find while wandering here below. If we have a city here, we want no city above; and if we have a city above, we want no city here.
This then must be our state and case; either to be pilgrims, journeying onwards, through troubles, to things above, or taking up our abode below; seeking heaven here, or heaven hereafter; resting upon the world, or resting upon the Lord; panting after the things of time, or panting after the things of eternity; satisfied in self, or satisfied only in Christ. One of the two must be our state and case. The Lord decide it clearly in the hearts of his people that they are on his side; and give us to know and feel that our very restlessness and inability to find food and shelter in the things of time and sense, are leading us more earnestly and believingly to seek after the things that have reality in them; that finding no city to dwell in here below, we may press forward to be manifestly enjoying testimonies of being citizens of that city which is above, “which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God!”
“Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them.
Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them out of their distresses.”
Psalm 107:5, 6
Until they wandered in the wilderness—until they felt it to be a solitary way, until they found no city to dwell in, until hungry and thirsty their soul fainted in them—there was no cry. There might have been prayer, a desire, a feeble wish, and now and then a sigh or a groan. But this was not enough. Something more was wanted to draw forth lovingkindness out of the bosom of the compassionate Head of the Church. A cry was wanted,—a cry of distress, a cry of soul trouble, a cry forced out of their hearts by heavy burdens. And a cry implies necessity, urgent want, a perishing without an answer to the cry. It is the breath of a soul bent upon having eternal realities brought into the conscience, or perishing without them. It is this solemn feeling in the heart that there is no other refuge but God.
The Lord brings all his people here—to have no other refuge but himself. Friends, counsellors, acquaintance—these may sympathise, but they cannot afford relief. There is no refuge, nor shelter, nor harbour, nor home into which they can fly, except the Lord. Thus troubles bring us to deal with God in a personal manner. They chase away that halfhearted religion of which we have so much; and they drive out that notional experience and dry profession that we are so often satisfied with. They chase them away as a strong north wind chases away the mists; and they bring a man to this solemn spot that he must have communications from God to support him under, and bring him out of his trouble; and if a man is not brought to this point by his troubles, they have done him no good. But what a mercy it is when there is a cry! and when the Lord sends a cry in the trouble, he is sure in his own time and way to send deliverance out of it.
“They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way;
they found no city to dwell in.”
“They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way;”—a way not tracked; a path in which each has to walk alone; a road where no company cheers him, and without landmarks to direct his course. This is a mark peculiar to the child of God—that the path by which he travels is, in his own feelings, a solitary way. This much increases his exercises, that they appear peculiar to himself. His perplexities are such as he cannot believe any living soul is exercised with; the fiery darts which are cast into his mind by the wicked one are such as he thinks no child of God has ever experienced; the darkness of his soul, the unbelief and infidelity of his heart, and the workings of his powerful corruptions, are such as he supposes none ever knew but himself. To be without any comfort except what God gives, without any guidance but what the Lord affords, without any support but what springs from the everlasting arms laid underneath; in a word, to be in that state where the Lord alone must appear, and where he alone can deliver, is very painful.
But it is the very painful nature of the path that makes it so profitable. We need to be cut off from resting upon an arm of flesh; to be completely divorced from all props to support our souls, except that Almighty prop which cannot fail. And the Lord will take care that his people shall deal only with himself; that they shall have no real comfort but that which springs from his presence, and no solid testimonies but those which are breathed into their conscience from his own lips. His object is to draw us away from the creature; to take us off from leaning on human pity and compassion; and to bring us to trust implicitly on himself, “whose compassions fail not,”—to lean wholly and solely upon him, who is “very pitiful, and of tender mercy.”
“But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot,
and she returned unto him into the ark.”
What a restless being is a tempted child of God! How unable he often is even to rest locally, to take his chair, and sit quietly by his fire-side! Like Noah’s dove, he can find no rest for the sole of his foot on the floating carcases of a ruined world. It is recorded of the prisoners, who in the first French revolution were awaiting in their dungeons the summons to the dread tribunal of blood, that some passed nearly the whole of their time in walking up and down their cells. So sometimes under trials and temptations, we pace up and down the room as if we sought to dissipate the exercise of our minds by the exercise of our bodies; or rush into the streets and fields to pour the heart out in sighs and groans, the restless mind acting and reacting upon the body.
And as an exercised child of God often cannot rest locally, so cannot he rest spiritually. He cannot rest in his own righteousness, nor in a sound creed, nor in a form of godliness, nor in the opinions of men, nor in anything that springs from or centres in the creature. There is always something uneasy, either in himself or in the ground on which he would repose. Sometimes it is strewed with thorns and briers; sometimes beset with sharp and rugged rocks. And yet, but for these restless, uneasy feelings, how many even of the Lord’s own family would settle down short of gospel rest! Some would settle down in false religion; others in the world; some would make a god of their own righteousness; and others, like the foolish virgins, would securely sleep whilst their lamp was burning out.
But there is that restless, painful exercise where the life and grace of God are, that the soul cannot, if it would, settle down in any rest but that of God’s own providing. “There remaineth, therefore, a rest to the people of God.” That rest is Christ; the blood, righteousness, love, and grace of the Lamb of God.
“And he said unto them, Unto you it is given
to know the mystery of the kingdom of God;
but unto them that are without,
all these things are done in parables.”
By “the kingdom of God” is meant the same thing as “the kingdom of heaven,” that is, the internal kingdom set up in the heart by the power of the Spirit—that kingdom which shall stand for ever and ever, and last when time shall be no more. This the Lord calls a mystery. And if it is a mystery, it will have these three marks—
it will be beyond nature, sense, and reason,
will be hidden from the wise and prudent,
and will be revealed unto babes.
Let us see if we can find these marks belonging to the kingdom of heaven set up in the heart. It certainly is above nature, sense, and reason, that God should dwell in a man’s heart, as the Apostle says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory;” and again, “Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them” (2 Cor. 6:16). That God should take up his abode in a man’s heart; that Christ should be in a man; and the Holy Ghost should make the body of his saints his temple; how can nature, sense, and reason understand such a mystery as this? When one of the ancient martyrs, I think it was Polycarp, was brought before Trajan, when the Emperor asked him his name, he answered, “I am Polycarp, the God-bearer, for I carry God in me!” At this answer the Emperor laughed, and said, “Let him be thrown to the wild beasts.” That was the only answer a persecuting tyrant could give. That a man frail and feeble, whom a lion could tear to pieces in a few moments, carried God in his bosom!—how could the wise and prudent Trajan believe a thing so unheard of? Yet it is a mystery revealed to babes; for they receive it in the love of it under divine teaching, as one of the mysteries that God the Spirit makes known in the heart. .