July 17: Turn Back

“I acknowledged my sin unto you, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Psalm 32:5

This is just what God loves—an open, ingenuous confession of sin. Searching and knowing, though He does, all hearts, He yet delights in the honest and minute acknowledgment of sin from His backsliding child. Language cannot be too humiliating; the detail cannot be too minute. Mark the stress He has laid upon this duty, and the blessing He has annexed to it. Thus He spoke to the children of Israel, that wandering, backsliding, rebellious people—”If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me; and that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity; then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.”

Truly may we exclaim, “Who is a God like unto You, that pardons iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage! He retains not His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.” And how did the heart of God melt with pity and compassion when He heard the audible relentings of His Ephraim! “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus: You have chastised me and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn me, and I shall be turned; for You are the Lord my God.” And what was the answer of God? “Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spoke against him, I do earnestly remember him still; therefore my affections are troubled for him: I will surely have mercy upon him, says the Lord.” Nor is the promise of pardon annexed to confession of sin unfolded with less clearness and consolatoriness in the New Testament writings. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” How full, then, the blessing, how rich the consolation connected with an honest, heart-broken confession of sin! How easy, and how simple too, this method of return to God! “Only acknowledge your iniquity.”

It is but a confession of sin over the head of Jesus, the great sacrifice for sin. Oh, what is this that God says? “Only acknowledge your iniquity!” Is this all He requires of His poor wandering child? This is all! “Then,” may the poor soul exclaim, “Lord, I come to You. I am a backslider, a wanderer, a prodigal. I have strayed from You like a lost sheep. My love has waxed cold, my steps have slackened in the path of holy obedience, my mind has yielded to the corrupting, deadening influence of the world, and my affections have wandered in quest of other and earthly objects of delight. But, behold, I come unto You. Do You invite me? Do You stretch out Your hand? Do You bid me approach You? Do You say, ‘Only acknowledge your iniquity?’ Then, Lord, I come; in the name of Your dear Son, I come; restore unto me the joy of your salvation.'”

Thus confessing sin over the head of Jesus, until the heart has nothing more to confess but the sin of its confession—for, beloved reader, our very confession of sin needs to be confessed over, our very tears need to be wept over, and our very prayers need to be prayed over, so defaced with sin is all that we do—the soul, thus emptied and unburdened, is prepared to receive anew the seal of a Father’s forgiving love.

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July 16: Your First Love

“Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love.” Revelation 2:4

Should the humiliating truth force itself upon you, my dear reader—”I am not as I once was; my soul has lost ground—my spirituality of mind has decayed—I have lost the fervor of my first love—I have slackened in the heavenly race—Jesus is not as He once was, the joy of my day, the song of my night—and my walk with God is no longer so tender, loving, and filial, as it was,”—then honestly and humbly confess it before God. To be humbled as we should be, we must know ourselves; there must be no disguising of our true condition from ourselves, nor from God; there must be no framing of excuses for our declensions: the wound must be probed, the disease must be known, and its most aggravating symptoms brought to view.

Ascertain, then, the true state of your affection towards God; bring your love to Him to the touchstone of truth; see how far it has declined, and thus you will be prepared to trace out and to crucify the cause of your declension in love. Where love declines, there must be a cause; and, when ascertained, it must be immediately removed. Love to God is a tender flower; it is a sensitive plant, soon and easily crushed; perpetual vigilance is needed to preserve it in a healthy, growing state. The world’s heat will wither it, the coldness of formal profession will often nip it: a thousand influences, all foreign to its nature and hostile to its growth, are leagued against it; the soil in which it is placed is not genial to it. “In the flesh there dwells no good thing;” whatever of holiness is in the believer, whatever breathing after Divine conformity, whatever soaring of the affections towards God, is from God himself, and is there as the result of sovereign grace. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

What sleepless vigilance, then, and what perpetual culture are needed, to preserve the bloom and the fragrance, and to nourish the growth, of this celestial plant. Search out and remove the cause of the decay of this precious grace of the Spirit; rest not until it is discovered and brought to light: should it prove to be the world, come out from it, and be you separate, and touch not the unclean thing; or the power of indwelling sin, seek its immediate crucifixion by the cross of Jesus. Does the creature steal your heart from Christ, and deaden your love to God?—resign it at God’s bidding; He asks the surrender of your heart, and has promised to be better to you than all creature love. All the tenderness, the deep affection, the acute sympathy, the true fidelity, that you ever did find or enjoy in the creature, dwells in God, your covenant God and Father, in an infinite degree. He makes the creature all it is to you. Possessing God in Christ, you can desire no more—you can have no more. If He asks the surrender of the creature, cheerfully resign it; and let God be all in all to you.

July 15: Put To Grief

“Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief: when you shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” Isaiah 53:10

In the person and work of Christ the holiness of God is revealed with equal power and luster. It is only through this medium that we possess the most clear and perfect demonstration of this divine and awful perfection. Where was there ever such a demonstration of God’s infinite hatred of sin, and His fixed and solemn determination to punish it, as is seen in the cross of Christ? Put your shoes from off your feet; draw near, and contemplate this “great sight.” Who was the sufferer? God’s only-begotten and well-beloved Son! His own Son!

In addition to the infinitely tender love of the Father, there was the clear knowledge of the truth, that He, who was enduring the severest infliction of His wrath, was innocent, guiltless, righteous—that He, Himself, had never broken His law, had never opposed His authority, had never run counter to His will; but had always done those things which pleased Him. At whose hands did He suffer? From devils? from men? They were but the agents; the moving cause was God Himself. “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.” His own Father unsheathed the sword: He inflicted the blow: He kindled the fierce flame: He prepared the bitter cup. “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, says the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd.” “The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And what were the nature and degree of His sufferings? Imagine, if we can, what must have been the outpouring of God’s wrath upon the whole church for all the sins of that church, through eternity! Can you compute the amount of her transgressions? can you conceive the degree of her punishment? can you measure the duration of her woe? Impossible!

Then, who can tell what Jesus endured, when standing in the place and as the Surety of His church, in the solemn hour of atonement, and in the day of God’s fierce anger? Never had God so manifested before, and never will He so manifest again, His essential holiness—His spotless purity—the inconceivable heinousness of sin—His utter hatred of it—and His solemn purpose to punish it with the severest inflictions of His wrath; never did this glorious perfection of His being blaze out in such overwhelming glory, as on that dark day, and in the cross of the incarnate God. Had He emptied the vials of His wrath full upon the world, sweeping it before the fury of His anger, and consigning it to deserved and eternal punishment, it would not have presented to the universe so vivid, so impressive, and so awful a demonstration of the nature and glory of His holiness, of His infinite abhorrence of sin, and the necessity why He should punish it, as He has presented in the humiliation, sufferings, and death of His beloved Son. What new and ineffably transcendent views of infinite holiness must have sprung up in the pure minds even of the spirits in glory, as, bending from their thrones, they fixed their astonished gaze upon the cross of the suffering Son of God!

July 12: His Revealed Love

“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10

It is a self-evident truth, that as God only knows, so He only can reveal His own love. It is a hidden love, veiled deep within the recesses of His infinite heart; yes, it seems to compose His very essence, for, “God is love,”—not merely lovely and loving, but love itself, essential love. Who, then, can reveal it but Himself? How dim are the brightest views, and how low the loftiest conceptions, of the love of God, as possessed by men of mere natural and speculative knowledge of divine things! They read of God’s goodness, even in nature, with a half-closed eye, and spell it in providence with a stammering tongue. Of His essential love—His redeeming love—of the great and glorious manifestation of His love in Jesus, they know nothing. The eyes of their understanding have not been opened; and “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness,” has not as yet “shined into their hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

But God has declared His own love—Jesus is its glorious revelation. “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” Oh, what an infinite sea of love now broke in upon our guilty and rebellious world, wafting in upon its rolling tide God’s only begotten Son! That must have been great love—love infinite, love unsearchable, love passing all thought—which could constrain the Father to give Jesus to die for us, “while we were yet sinners.” It is the great loss of the believer that faith eyes with so dim a vision this amazing love of God in the gift of Jesus. We have transactions so seldom and so unbelievingly with the cross, that we have need perpetually to recur to the apostle’s cheering words, written as if kindly and condescendingly to meet this infirmity of our faith—”He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things!”

But, behold God’s love! See how He has inscribed this glorious perfection of His nature in letters of blood drawn from the heart of Jesus. His love was so great, that nothing short of the surrender to the death of His beloved Son could give an adequate expression of its immensity. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” Here was the greatest miracle of love—here was its most stupendous achievement—here its most brilliant victory—and here its most costly and precious offering. Seeing us fallen, obnoxious to the law’s curse, exposed to its dreadful penalty, guilty of innumerable sins, and deserving of as many deaths, yet how did it yearn to save us! How did it heave, and pant, and strive, and pause not, until it revealed a way infinitely safe for God and man; securing glory to every Divine attribute in the highest degree, and happiness to the creature, immense, unspeakable, and eternal.

July 11: That We Would Bear Fruit

“I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; You have chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn you me, and I shall be turned; for you are the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yes, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth.” Jeremiah 31:18, 19

The divine life in the soul of man is indestructible—it cannot perish; the seed that grace has implanted in the heart is incorruptible—it cannot be corrupted. So far from trials, and conflicts, and storms, and tempests impairing the principle of holiness in the soul, they do but deepen and strengthen it, and tend greatly to its growth. We look at Job; who of mere man was ever more keenly tried?—and yet, so far from destroying or even weakening the divine life within him, the severe discipline of the covenant, through which he passed, did but deepen and expand the root, bringing forth in richer clusters the blessed fruits of holiness. Do you think, dear reader, the divine life in his soul had undergone any change for the worse, when, as the result of God’s covenant dealings with him, he exclaimed—”I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye sees You: why I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes?” No, the pruning of the fruitful branch impairs not, but rather strengthens and renders more fruitful the principle of holiness in the soul.

It is the will of God that His people should be a fruitful people. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification,”—the sanctification of a believer including all fruitfulness. He will bring out His own work in the heart of His child; and never does He take His child in hand with a view of dealing with him according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, but that dealing results in a greater degree of spiritual fruitfulness. Now, when the Lord afflicts, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies the affliction of the believer, is not this again among the costly fruit of that discipline, that self has become more hateful? This God declared should be the result of His dealings with His, ancient people Israel, for their idolatry—”They shall loathe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations.” And again—”Then shall you remember your ways, and all your doings wherein you have been defiled; and you shall loathe yourselves in your own sight, for all your evils that you have committed.”

To loathe self on account of its sinfulness, to mortify it in all its forms, and to bring it entirely into subjection to the spirit of holiness, is, indeed, no small triumph of Divine grace in the soul, and no mean effect of the sanctified use of the Lord’s dispensations. That must ever be considered a costly mean that accomplished this blessed end. Beloved reader, is your covenant God and Father dealing with you now? Pray that this may be one blessed result, the abasement of self within you, the discovering of it to you in all its deformity, and its entire subjection to the cross of Jesus.

We Are But God’s Debtors

But no sophistical reasoning, no fine-drawn infidelity, can contravene the fact or release him from the truth that, the creature must be the absolute and sole property of the Creator; that this involves his responsibility; and that as a responsible being “every one of us must give account of himself to God.” Such is the natural debt you owe to God, my reader. You owe to Him as your Maker every member of your body, every faculty of your mind, every power of your soul. To Him you must give account of your body, how you have used it; of your talents, how you have employed them; of your soul, how you have cared for it; of your rank, wealth, influence, time, how you have laid out all for God. Do you acknowledge the debt? Do you recognize the claim by a holy, cheerful, unreserved surrender? God has power to assert His claim, and He will assert it for time and for eternity.

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Snares Of Temptation

The place of Christ’s temptation was “the wilderness.” Our Lord was already upon the border of the wilderness of Judea: but it was necessary that He should be led deeper into its remoteness and solitude-a depth so profound and desolate, that one of the Evangelists records the fact that He was “with the wild beasts,” far removed from the abode and intercourse of man. The Son of God herding, as it were, with the brute creation-the companion of the untamed denizens of the forest!-O Thou glorious tempted One! to what abasement did Thou not submit, that, thus trained in the school of temptation, Thou might be one with Thy saints in theirs!

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July 2: The True Temple Restored

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” Romans 11:33

Behold this wisdom, as it shines in the recovery of lost and ruined man by Christ. Here is a manifestation infinitely transcending in greatness and glory the first creation of man in holiness. In the first creation, God had nothing to undo; no dilapidated temple to take down, no occupant to dispossess, no ruin to repair, no rubbish to remove, no enemy to oppose. But in the re-creation of man, how vastly different! The beautiful temple is a ruin—dilapidated and fallen. God is ejected; another and an antagonist occupant dwells in it, and enmity to its Creator is written in letters of darkness upon every part and over every inlet. In rebuilding this structure, all things were to be created anew. “Behold,” says God, “I create a new thing in the earth.”

It was a new and profounder thought of infinite wisdom, unheard, unseen before. Fallen man was to be raised—lost man was to be recovered—sin was to be pardoned—the sinner saved, and God eternally glorified. Now were the treasures of wisdom, which for ages had been hid in Christ, brought forth. Infinite wisdom had never developed such vast wealth, had never appeared clothed in such glory, had never shone forth so majestic, so peerless, and Divine. Oh, how must angels and archangels have wondered, admired, and loved, as this brighter discovery of God burst in glory upon their astonished vision—as this new temple of man rose in loveliness before their view!

The greatest display of infinite wisdom was in the construction of the model upon which the new temple, regenerated man, was to be formed. This model was nothing less than the mysteriously constituted person of the Son of God. In this, its highest sense, is “Christ the wisdom of God.” Here it shone forth in full-orbed majesty. Gaze upon the living picture! Look at Immanuel, God with us—God in our nature—God in our accursed nature—God in our tried nature—God in our sorrowful nature—God in our suffering nature—God in our tempted nature—yet untouched, untainted by sin. Is not this a fathomless depth of Divine wisdom? To have transcended it, would seem to have transcended Deity itself.

The next step in the unfolding of this Divine wisdom is the spiritual restoration of man to a state corresponding in its moral lineaments to this Divine and perfect model. This is accomplished solely by “Christ crucified, the wisdom of God.” And here, again, does the glory of God’s wisdom shine in the person and work of Jesus. Every step in the development of this grand expedient establishes His character as the “only wise God,” whose “understanding is infinite;” while it augments our knowledge, and exalts our views of the Lord Jesus, as making known the Father. Here was a way of salvation for perishing sinners, harmonizing with every perfection of Jehovah, sustaining the highest honor of His government; bringing to Him the richest glory, and securing to its subjects, as the rich bequest of grace, happiness eternal, and inconceivably great.

Oh, how truly did God here “work all things after the counsel of His own will”! How has He “abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence”! In Jesus’ sacrificial obedience and death we see sin fully punished, and the sinner fully saved—we see the law perfectly honored, and the transgressor completely justified—we see justice entirely satisfied, and mercy glorified to its highest extent—we see death inflicted according to the extreme tenor of the curse, and so vindicating to the utmost the truth and holiness of God; and yet life, present and eternal life, given to all whom it is the purpose and grace of the Father to save. Tell us, is not Jesus the great glory of the Divine wisdom?

June 5: Broken Cisterns

“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” Rom. 10:3

WHAT is man’s own righteousness, the best that he ever made, but the hewing out of a created cistern, in the place of the infinite fountain? His obedience, at best, must be but a partial and an imperfect one; and, failing in a single point, entails eternal despair. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”

But not only is it shallow and contracted, it is also a “broken cistern.” It can hold no water of life or of peace, of consolation for of joy. In vain his spirit, tormented with guilt and agitated with fear, repairs to it for satisfaction and repose—it supplies it not. Let a man, for example, who is thus seeking salvation by the law, take the holiest day in the calendar of his life; let it be as free as it is possible for a fallen creature to make it from sin; let it be filled up with religious duties and services—it closes, and the curtains of night have drawn around him. Reposing on his pillow, he throws forward a glance into the eternal world—he thinks of the holy God, of the righteous law, of the solemn judgment, and the question, “What if this night I should be summoned to stand before my Judge!—what if to-morrow’s sun should rise upon my corpse, and I, a departed spirit, should be mingling with the dread realities of an unseen world?”—and he trembles and turns pale. What! has not his best obedience, his holiest day, his strictest observance, brought peace to his conscience and quietness to his soul? What! does no bright hope of glory play around his pillow, and no loving, peaceful view of God cradle him to rest? Ah, no! He has “forsaken the fountain of living waters, and has hewed him out a cistern, a broken cistern, that can hold no water,” and his night closes in upon him with the drapery of hopeless gloom.

To you, reader, is this solemn word now sent. Ah! while your eye has been scanning this page, has there not been in your heart the secret conviction of its truth? You have forsaken the righteousness of God, and for years have you been digging into the law, hoping thus to find in its strictest observance some well-spring of life and peace to your soul. But all your toil has been in vain, and all your time misspent. And why? because “by the works of the law should no man living be justified.” As true peace only flows through the channel of justification by faith, turning your back upon that channel, there is, there can be, no peace for your soul. Oh that this voice, now sounding in faithfulness on your ear, might awaken you to a sense of your delusion and your folly, and win you to the “good and the right way.” Oh that you might be persuaded to abandon the implements of a self-wrought righteousness, with which you have so long fruitlessly labored, and just as you are—poor, guilty, vile, helpless, and hopeless—betake yourself to the “righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ.” The law is a “broken cistern;” it holds no sweet waters of salvation, it gives out no streams of peace. But the Lord Jesus is a living fountain. He is the “end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes.” He has brought in a new and an “everlasting righteousness,” for the full justification of poor sinners, such as you.

Abandon at once and forever the broken cistern of a creature-righteousness—too long has it allured but to deceive you—and repair to the fountain of a Divine righteousness, which never has and never will deceive a believing sinner. Drink, oh drink, from this life-giving fountain. Here are peace, joy, confidence, and hope. Clothed in this righteousness, you can look your sins in the face, and death in the face, and fear nothing.

April 16: Our Present Wilderness Labyrinths

For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart fails me. Psalm 40:12

IN the more advanced stages of the Christian life, we find much into the experience of which the believer is brought, tending to cast down the people of God. Without minutely describing the many causes of soul-disquietude which exist, we may group together in one view those, the most fruitful, which conspire to this abasement of the spirit. We may mention, as among the most powerful, the clinging body of sin, to which his renewed spirit is enchained, from which it sighs to be delivered, but from which death only frees it; consequently, there is the daily battle with a heart of unbelief, incessantly departing from God.

Then there are the labyrinths of the desert, the straitness of the narrow way, the fears within, and the fightings without, the trials of faith, the chastisements of love, the offence of the cross, the intricacies of truth, the woundings of the world, the unkindnesses of the saints, and the varied difficulties and afflictions of the wilderness—all these create oftentimes great disquietude and despondency of soul. When to these are added the yet more painful and humbling remembrance of his sins since conversion, his stumblings and falls, his unkind requitals of God’s love, the base returns which he has made, and the deep ingratitude which he has felt for all the Divine goodness, with the consequent hidings of God’s face, and the withdrawments of Christ’s presence, he exclaims in the bitterness of his spirit, “My soul is cast down within me;” “my heart fails me.”

Ah! there is no humiliation like that which a sight and sense of sin produces, the heart laid open and the soul laid low before God. The world’s bitter scorn, the creature’s cold neglect, are nothing in comparison. In the one case, the heart is only mortified; in the other, it is truly humbled. The one is a feeling that has to do with man only—the other is an emotion that has to do with God. And when once the believer is solemnly conscious of acting beneath the eye of God, the gaze of other eyes affects him but slightly.

Oh how little do some professors deport themselves as though they had to do only with God! How imperfectly do they look upon sin as God looks upon it! But did they live more as setting the Lord always before them, how superior would they rise to the poor opinion of their fellow-sinners! To them it would then appear a very little matter to be judged of man’s judgment.