LAWTON CHURCH OF GOD, LAWTON OKLAHOMA

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DISCOURSE VIII.  

 

THE DIVINE TEACHER.

 

“Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face 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.”—2 Corinthians 3:17–18.

 

IN the verses preceding, the apostle speaks of the veil that was over the mind of the Jew, in the reading of the Scriptures, and which prevented his understanding their true import. In the text he speaks of the privileges which Christians enjoy through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;” i.e., there is a full and direct aspect of truth, and a full experience of its renovating power. “But we all, with open face, 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.” Every real Christian can call to mind seasons when he had such views of truth as are here referred to—views which melted his whole soul into love and tenderness, and brought all the powers of his being into sweet subjection to the will of God. Could these visions be rendered perpetual in the mind of the Christian, his heart would never wax cold or unfeeling; nor would there ever be any rival to Christ in his heart, to dispute with him the empire of the soul. In the absence of such views, darkness enters and spreads itself over the mind, and temptations to sin have a sovereign power. Now, to impart these visions of truth, to render them perpetual, and thus preserve the mind under the uninterrupted influence of the love of Christ, and give to that love the highest possible efficacy over the heart, is the appropriate office of the Holy Spirit. This is the part which he now acts in the plan of redemption. Christ is of God made unto us “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” The office of the Holy Spirit is to present Christ to our minds in such a manner that all these objects shall be fully accomplished in us.

The attention of the reader is now invited to a few general observations, designed to illustrate the office of the Holy Spirit in the work of redemption, as above presented. To accomplish this object, I remark,—

I. The Holy Spirit enlightens the intellect, and carries on the work of sanctification in the heart, by the presentation of truth to the mind; and the truth presented does not respect himself, but Jesus Christ. “The sword of the Spirit is the word of God.” “Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak; and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” The Holy Spirit sustains to Christ the same relation that a teacher does to the particular science which he teaches. His object is not to present himself to the pupil, but the science. So the Spirit shows not himself, but Christ, to our minds. We feel and recognise the presence of the Spirit, only as Christ is presented to our minds, and thus the “love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us.”

II. In thus accomplishing the work of redemption, the Holy Spirit sustains to Christians and sinners entirely different relations. To the latter, he sustains the exclusive relation of a reprover of sin, his object being conviction, for the purpose of leading the sinner, humbled and penitent, to Christ. “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”

To the Christian, on the other hand,—the Christian, I mean, in a state of love and obedience to God,—he sustains the relation of a teacher, a comforter, an indwelling light in which the glory and love of Christ are continually reflected upon the eye of the mind. “He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you.” “He shall testify of me.” “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” “He dwelleth in you, and shall be in you.”

III. The Holy Spirit, in the relation last described, is given to Christians after they believe in Christ, and in consequence of their faith in him. Acts 2:38 , “Then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Ephesians 1:13 ,—“In whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Proverbs 1:23 ,—“Turn you at my reproof; behold, I will pour out my Spirit upon you; I will make known my words unto you.” As these passages respect all Christians alike, they refer, not to the miraculous, but common influences of the Spirit, as an indwelling light in the hearts of God’s people.

IV. The design of God, in the gift of his Spirit, is that he be to Christians, not as a “stranger or a sojourner, that turneth aside to tarry but for a night,” but as the perpetual light of their souls, of whose illumination they are never to be destitute. John 14:15 –17,—“If ye love me, keep my commandments; and I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” Hence it is said of Christians, that their “bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost,” and that they themselves are “the temples of the living God.” As the visible manifestation of the Divine glory never departed from the Holy of Holies in the ancient temple, so God designs that the light of his Spirit shall never depart from the more sacred temple of the heart, and nothing but sin can quench his Divine illuminations there. To enjoy these perpetual Divine illuminations, Christian, to have those full and unceasing visions of the glory of Christ, by which you may be able to “comprehend the breadth, and depth, and length, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge,” is your high privilege and most sacred duty.

V. We will now consider the state of those who thus enjoy the perpetual illumination of the Holy Spirit.

1. They have all those full, and direct, and perpetual visions of the love of Christ, which are necessary to their highest purity and blessedness. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” “But we all, with open face 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.” “He that is spiritual”—i.e., taught by the Spirit—“judgeth all things,” has a distinct perception of all truth which it concerns him to understand. “He shall guide you into all truth.”

2. All the wisdom that is necessary, that they, as the servants of Christ, may in every sphere and condition in life, glorify him in the most effectual manner. This is implied in the promise,—“he shall lead you into all truth.” It is also included in the promise, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth unto men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.”

3. They have such views of Christ as impart to them full and unfailing consolation in every affliction. In special reference to this part of his office, he is called the “Comforter.”

4. Such a full and perpetual fruition of the presence and love of Christ as constitutes the richest foretaste of future blessedness. The gift of the Spirit, for this reason, is called the “earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession.”

5. The Spirit is given to such, as Heaven’s signet; as God’s seal to their title to the eternal inheritance which Christ has purchased for them. “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” “Ye are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.”

Such are your privileges, Christian, in the gift of the Holy Spirit. All truth is perfectly known to him. “The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” Every truth that you need to understand, he is able to present to your mind, in such a manner, that, from it, you shall receive the highest possible influence. He is equally able to present those truths, and those aspects of truth, which are perfectly adapted to your necessities in every condition in life. To you he is given as the last and richest gift of your God and Saviour, to be in you as a perpetually indwelling light, through which you are to be “filled with all the fulness of God.” Christ has promised, that “whosoever believeth in him shall not walk in darkness; but shall have the light of life.” By availing yourself of the illumination of the Holy Spirit, this promise may be fully accomplished in your own blessed experience. Remember this, also, that without this Divine illumination, you will and you must walk in darkness. Those life-giving aspects of truth, presented to the mind by the Spirit, you can obtain from no other source whatever. “Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” “The natural man,” the man that trusts to his own wisdom, without the aid of Divine illumination, “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither CAN HE KNOW THEM, because they are spiritually discerned.”

VI. We will now consider the conditions on which we can enjoy the perpetual illumination of the Holy Spirit.”

1. His perpetual presence and illumination must be sought by prayer and “faith on the Son of God.” “How much more shall your Father, which is in heaven, give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him!” 2. Your motives in seeking his illumination must be identical with those of the Spirit as your teacher. His appropriate office is, to “take of the things of Christ and show them unto you;” to impart to you that knowledge which is necessary to your highest holiness, blessedness, and usefulness, as a Christian. When you ask of God for the indwelling light of his Holy Spirit, ask it for this exclusive purpose, that you may know Christ, and fully experience the renovating power of his love upon your heart, that you may “know the things which are freely given you of God,” and understand, as the servants of Christ, all the responsibilities devolving upon you, in every relation and condition in life.

3. Seek the illumination of the Holy Spirit, with a full consciousness and acknowledgement of your own blindness and ignorance, and entire dependence upon his teaching. “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” “If any man would be wise among you, let him become a fool, that he may be wise;” that is, let him acknowledge his total darkness and ignorance in himself, and seek for Divine illumination as the only source of true wisdom.

4. Seek the illumination of the Spirit in the diligent use of all appropriate means—the study of the Scriptures, attendance upon the instructions and ordinances of God’s house, and in social converse and prayer with such as are themselves spiritually taught. In the use of such means, with such a Spirit and object, your cup will be always full. It will overflow for ever.  

 

REMARKS.  

 

I. In the light of this discourse, a few important passages of Scripture admit of a ready explanation. For example, Luke 10:21 ,—“In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” “The wise and prudent” are those who proudly depend upon their own wisdom, and are regarded as wise by the world around them. “Babes” are such as acknowledge their blindness and ignorance, and look to Christ as the Divine illumination. How appropriate the joy and gratitude of Christ, that the former were left in darkness, and the latter Divinely illumined. John 9:41 ,—“Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin;” that is, if you would acknowledge your blindness, and come to me for Divine illumination, your sins would be wholly removed from you: but now ye say: “We see; therefore your sin remaineth;” that is, you deny your ignorance and dependence upon me; therefore your character remains unchanged, and your sins rest upon you. 1 Corinthians 2:9 ,—“But, as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” This passage is very commonly considered as applicable only to the condition of saints in heaven. The context shows, however, that it is applied exclusively to the condition of Christians on earth. “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.” Such are your privileges now, Christian, through the love of Christ reflected upon your heart by the Holy Spirit, which is given unto you.

II. We may now understand one, at least, of the ways in which the “Spirit beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” When, for example, the Christian asks for wisdom from above, or for Divine illumination in respect to any question of truth or duty, and receives from the Spirit an answer to his request; in that answer, the Spirit of God bears witness with his Spirit that he is a child of God. Such is the testimony that he is perpetually bearing in the heart of all who are humble and contrite in spirit, and tremble at God’s word. Reader, do you know what it is to have the witness of the Spirit in your own heart?

III. We are also fully prepared to answer the question, In what consists the grand secret of holy living? It is an indwelling Christ, whose image is perpetually reflected upon the eye of the mind, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Reader, is your piety of such a character as this?

IV. In what sense only is the Holy Spirit a sanctifier? “Christ is of God made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” The Spirit sanctifies by presenting Christ to the mind in such a manner, that we are transformed into his image. The common error of Christians, in respect to this subject, seems to be this—looking away from Christ to the Holy Spirit for sanctification, instead of looking for the Spirit to render Christ their sanctification.

V. For not having Christ perpetually dwelling in your heart, reader, as your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, you are without excuse. For this special purpose, the Holy Spirit is given to you. In his light it is your blessed privilege perpetually to walk. “How much more shall your Father which is in heaven give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” “Ask, and it shall be given you.” “For every one that asketh receiveth.”

VI. We see, in the light of this subject, the true ground of the expectation, that, in our efforts after holiness, we may attain to a state of entire consecration to Christ. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his own good pleasure.” Our hope of attaining to this state rests not at all upon a view of our own natural powers as moral agents, but upon the provisions of Divine grace for our “redemption from all iniquity,” and our perfect “completeness in all the will of God,” together with the Divine aid that is promised to succeed all sincere efforts made in simple faith in Christ, for the attainment of that state. In the redemption of Christ, as we have seen in former discourses, full provision is made for the entire sanctification of every believer. The Holy Spirit is given for the express purpose of so presenting the Lord Jesus Christ to our minds, that we may experience in our hearts the full power of his redemption. The Spirit, it should be remembered, has a perfect understanding of all truth pertaining to our salvation. He has, at all times, direct access to our hearts, and is perfectly able to present the image of Christ to our minds in such a manner, that it shall exert upon us the highest possible transforming power. He is always in us, a perpetually indwelling light, whose highest illuminations we can always enjoy, by opening our hearts with simple faith and prayer to receive it. With such provisions and such a helper, to what state ought we to expect to attain? Who is strongest, Christian, let me put the question again,—“he that is in you, or he that is in the world?” Which has the greatest power, the Spirit of the living God, together with an indwelling Christ, or your fleshly lusts and propensities? Shall the followers of Christ proclaim the fact, that the Spirit and grace of Christ are less strong in their hearts, than the “world, the flesh, and the devil?” that that grace which changed an enemy into a friend, is not adequate to render that friend “perfect and complete in all the will of God?” “Tell it not in Gath ! publish it not in the streets of Askelon! lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph!”

VII. We are now prepared, in the light of this and of the preceding discourse, to understand the great and fundamental errors of the Perfectionists, a sect which rose some years ago in the state of New York, and subsequently spread to a small extent over various parts of the country. The following are some of the tenets of this sect:—They maintained, 1. That in the Gospel there is a total abrogation of the moral law as a rule of action, and that Christians are for ever freed from all obligation to God, or any other being. 2. That, by one act of faith, the Christian is brought into such a state, that it is absolutely impossible that he should ever afterwards commit sin. 3. That the Spirit now communicates truth to Christians by direct revelation; and hence the study of the Scriptures, the ministry of reconciliation, prayer, the Sabbath, and all the ordinances, and the Church itself, they wholly dispensed with. 4. For the teachings of the Spirit they substituted impressions and impulses, maintaining that every existing desire or impulse is produced by the direct agency of the Spirit, and therefore to be gratified. Hence, 5. Many of them maintained the abrogation of marriage, even, and became the advocates of gross licentiousness from principle, and all this under the profession of absolute perfection in holiness. The reader will at once perceive, that no system could possibly be devised, which placed the subject more perfectly under the power of the great enemy, than this. The sect, containing in itself the principle of disunion and disorganisation, very soon burst asunder, and now lie in scattered fragments in various parts of the country. Its entire history has been the perfect opposite of that union which Christ prayed might exist among believers, and which perfect love must and will produce. In the rise and subsequent disorganisation of the sect, however, the great enemy has gained one important object. Whenever the true doctrine of holiness is urged upon Christians, and Christ held up as a sanctifying Saviour, he can raise the cry of Perfectionism, and thus prevent many from receiving the substance, because a few have grasped a shadow. If, in this attempt, reader, you permit him to gain an advantage over you; if, because you have turned the grace of God into lasciviousness, you will reject that grace itself,—you foolishly jeopardise your immortal interests.

VIII. The reader will now clearly perceive that the sentiments maintained in these discourses have no alliance whatever with Perfectionism. The two systems, in their essential features and elements, are the direct opposites of each other. An individual holding the sentiments here maintained, cannot become a Perfectionist, without a full and total renunciation of all the principles which he previously held. This every one will perceive who candidly examines the two systems.

IX. There is one error of the Perfectionists, into which Christians not unfrequently fall; against which I wish, in a special manner, to guard the reader. It is this: considering impulses and impressions as the teachings of the Spirit. An individual has upon his mind an undefined impression, that he ought, for example, to speak in meeting, or to pursue some particular course of conduct. In following that impression, he conceives himself to be following the leadings of the Spirit. In refusing to follow it, he supposes him self to grieve or quench the Spirit. Now, the principle that I maintain is this—that such impressions are of no authority whatever. The man who is led by the Spirit, is filled, not with impressions and impulses, but with light. He will always be able to give such reasons for his conduct as will commend themselves to his own and the conscience of every other man. Suppose, reader, that you should come to me for instruction or advice in respect to any question of truth or duty; what you would expect of me would be, that I should present such considerations to your mind, as would enable you to form an intelligent judgment in respect to the question before you. Much more should you expect the same thing, when you pray for Divine teaching. Remember that it is when, and only when, you are led by such considerations, that you are led by the Spirit of God. The individual who turns away from the Spirit, as a teacher and guide, and gives himself up to the control of impulses and impressions, regarding these as the teachings of the Spirit, will very soon find himself in the “snare of the devil.”

X. We may also understand, in the light of this discourse, the nature of spiritual-mindedness. It is a mind, all of whose powers and susceptibilities are under the sweet, and perpetual, and all-pervading influence of the “things of the Spirit,” the truths revealed and presented by the Spirit. All such persons are “led by the Spirit of God,” and “they are the sons of God.”

XI. You may now, reader, answer the question, whether you are really spiritually-minded or not. Do you, in your own experience, reap the blissful fruits of the Spirit? “The fruit of the Spirit,” remember, “is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth.” Again, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law.” Is this the character of your religion? Is this the fruit of the Spirit that dwells in you? “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his;” and of the Spirit of Christ, these are the appropriate and invariable fruits.

XII. We see when and how it is that Christians “quench” and “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, whereby they are sealed unto the day of redemption.” It is when they turn away from the glory and love of Christ, upon which the Spirit is endeavouring to fix their supreme affection and regard, and give their hearts to other and inferior objects. When you do this, reader, you not only grieve the Holy Spirit of God, but you put out the light of your own soul.

XIII. Finally. We are now prepared to look once more at the question, whether the great doctrine maintained in these discourses accords with the mind of the Spirit, by whose inspiration the Scriptures were written. Here permit me to present a few considerations, bearing upon this question, in addition to those already presented, and which naturally suggest themselves from the train of thought which we have pursued.

1. The first that I notice is a fact which can hardly have failed to impress the mind of the attentive reader of these discourses. It is this: Whenever I have had occasion to give a full and definite expression of my sentiments upon this subject, no phraseology conceivable has been found to be so perfectly adapted to that object, as the simple, unadorned, and most frequent phraseology of the Holy Spirit, as found in the sacred Scriptures. Can it be, reader, as asked in a former discourse, that the Holy Spirit has dictated a phraseology so perfectly adapted to convey one sentiment, and only one, when his design was to convey precisely the opposite sentiment?

2. It was just as easy for Christ to make such provisions, and to give the Holy Spirit to Christians in such measures, as to render their perfect as practicable as partial holiness. Of what conceivable use can sin be as an element of Christian character, that Christ should have left it as an inseparable element of that character?

3. That Christ should have made provision for the entire sanctification of believers, and given his Spirit in such measure to them as to render that state attainable, best accords with his infinite love, and the absolute perfection of all his other attributes and works. Why should he leave this, the last and greatest of all his works, thus imperfect?

4. This view of the subject best accords with the relations which Christians sustain to Christ and the world around them.

They are Christ’s witnesses, to testify to the world, from their own experience, to the truth of the “exceeding great and precious promises” of Divine grace; promises, many of which are, as we have seen, conditioned upon a state of entire consecration to Christ. How infinitely absurd, as shown in a former discourse, is the supposition that Christ has so arranged the dispensations of his grace and Spirit, that he shall never have a witness upon earth, who can bear full testimony to the truth of his promises!

Christians are also constituted of Christ “the light of the world,” by reflecting upon it his image. “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ.” Who can believe that Christ has definitely arranged the dispensations of his grace and Spirit, so that his own image, as reflected through the character of his own people, shall always be presented to the world in a deep and dark eclipse?

Again, Christians are Christ’s representatives—his ambassadors— labourers together with God in the great work of saving lost men. Who can conceive a greater absurdity than this, that God has so arranged his dispensations toward his people, that all who are co-operating with him in this work, shall be but partially devoted to the duties of their sacred calling.

Once more, Christians are the “members of Christ’s body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” Reader, can you believe that Christ has made no provision, but that the members of his own body shall be in a state of disease and moral death? Dare you cast such an imputation upon the Lord Jesus Christ?

5. This doctrine leads the soul directly to Christ as a certain remedy for sin, and for all temptations to sin, and tends to induce the most vigorous efforts after pure and perfect holiness. The opposite doctrine tends directly to weaken confidence in Christ as a Saviour from sin, and to paralyze efforts after holiness.

6. This doctrine meets perfectly a changeless demand of our being, a state of perfect moral rectitude, and tends to inspire the mind with life and peace. The opposite doctrine fails to meet that demand, and thereby covers the mind, that is hungering and thirsting after righteousness, with thick gloom. What can be more gloomy to such a mind than the thought that he is to be perpetually wounding his Saviour, in the house of his friends?

7. Finally, this doctrine has all the internal evidence in its favour, that the Bible itself, or any doctrine of the Bible, that can be named, has. What higher internal evidence can be adduced, in favour of any doctrine, than this—that it tends directly to moral virtue, and meets fully the changeless laws of our being; while the tendency of the contrary doctrine is precisely the opposite in both the respects above named? Say the opposers of this doctrine, If it is untrue, its tendency must be bad. The same might, with equal propriety, be said of the Bible, and of every doctrine of the Bible. When we speak of the tendency of a doctrine, we then look away from the question whether it is true or false, to what is intrinsic in the doctrine itself. When we try the doctrine under consideration by this principle, we find it to have all the evidence in its favour, that any Divine truth can have.

No, reader; in embracing this doctrine, we have not “followed cunningly devised fables.” We have followed the plainest teachings of the Spirit and Word of God. In taking our stand upon this doctrine, we are standing upon the “foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” In looking with humble faith to “the very God of peace,” that he may “sanctify us wholly, and preserve our whole spirit, and soul, and body, blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” we only look to him for a fulfilment of one of his own “exceeding great and precious promises,”—“Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”

Reader, “believest thou this?” And will you now come to Christ, to have this promise, in all its fulness, accomplished in your own blessed experience? “Now the just shall live by faith, but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” “Wherefore, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  

 

CONCLUSION.  

 

In drawing my remarks to a close, I will, in conformity with the desires of my own mind, and the suggestions of some brethren, in whose judgment I place much confidence, give the reader a short account of the manner in which I was led, by the Spirit of God, as I believe, to adopt the sentiments maintained in these discourses. In regard to my early experience as a Christian, I would say, that that experience had two prominent characteristics,—a desire, inexpressibly strong, to be freed from all sin in every form, and to be entirely consecrated to the love and service of God, in all the powers and susceptibilities of my being. Nor can any one conceive the gloom and horror that covered my mind, when older Christians assured me, and, as I supposed, with truth, that that was a state to which I should never, in this life, attain; that my lusts would not be perfectly subdued or subjected to the will of Christ, and that one of the brightest evidences of my conversion and growth in grace was new discoveries of the deep and fixed corruptions of my heart,—corruptions from which I was never to be cleansed till death should deliver me from my bondage. Notwithstanding all the impediments thrown in the way of my progress in holiness, I continued to press forward for a succession of years, till I could say, in the language of another,—“I do know that I love holiness for holiness’ sake.”

In this state, I commenced my studies as a student in college. Here I fell, and fell, by not aiming singly at the “prize of the high calling,” but at the prize of college honours. I subsequently entered a theological seminary, with the hope of there finding myself in such an atmosphere, that my first love would be revived. In this expectation, I grieve to say, I was most sadly disappointed. I found the piety of my brethren apparently as low as my own. I here say it, with sorrow of heart, that my mind does not recur to a single individual connected with the “school of the prophets,” when I was there, who appeared to me to enjoy daily communion and peace with God.

After completing my course under such circumstances, I entered the ministry, proud of my intellectual attainments, and armed, as I supposed, at every point, with the weapons of theological warfare, but with the soul of piety chilled and expiring within me. Blessed be God, the remembrance of what I had been remained, and constantly aroused me to a consciousness of what I was. I looked into myself, and over the Church, and was shocked at what I felt and what I saw. Two facts in the aspect of the Church and the ministry, struck my mind with gloomy interest. Scarcely an individual, within the circle of my knowledge, seemed to know the Gospel as a sanctifying or peace-giving Gospel. In illustration of this remark, let me state a fact which I met with in the year 1831 or 1832. I then met a company of my ministerial brethren, who had come together from one of the most favoured portions of the country. They sat down together, and gave to each other an undisguised disclosure of the state of their hearts; and they all, with one exception—and the experience of that individual I did not hear—acknowledged that they had not daily communion and peace with God. Over these facts they wept, but neither knew how to direct the others out of the thick and impenetrable gloom which covered them; and I was in the same ignorance as my brethren.

I state these facts as a fair example of the state of the Churches, and of the ministry, as far as my observation has extended; and that has been very extensive. I here affirm that the great mass of Christians do not know the Gospel, in their daily experience, as a life-giving and peace-giving Gospel. When my mind became fully conscious of this fact, I was led to compare my own, and the experience of the Church around me, with that of the apostles and primitive Christians, and with the “path of the just,” as portrayed in the sacred Scriptures. I found the two in direct contrast with each other. Hence the great inquiry arose in my mind, What is the grand secret of holy living? How shall I attain to that perpetual fulness and peace in Christ, which, for example, Paul enjoyed. Till this secret was fully disclosed to my mind, I felt that I was, and must be, disqualified, in one fundamental respect, to “feed the flock of God.” While the Gospel was not life and peace to me, how could I present it in such a manner that it would be life and peace to others. I must myself be led by the Great Shepherd into the “green pastures and beside the still waters,” before I could lead the flock of God into the same blissful regions. For years, this one inquiry pressed upon my thoughts; and often as I have looked over a company of inquiring sinners have I said within myself, I would gladly take my place among those inquirers, if any individual would show me how to come into possession of the “riches of the glory of Christ’s inheritance of the saints.” But clouds and darkness covered my mind in respect to this, the most momentous of all subjects.

In this state of mind, I became connected with the Institution at Oberlin, and continued to press my inquiries with increasing interest upon this one subject, till the fall of 1836. At that time, during a series of religious meetings held in the Institution, a large number of the members of the Church arose and informed us that they were fully convinced that they had been deceived in respect to their character as Christians, and that they were now without hope, and appeared as inquirers, to know “what they should do to be saved.” At the same time, the great mass of the remainder disclosed to us the cheerless bondage in which they had long been groaning, and asked us if we could tell them how to obtain deliverance. I now felt myself, as one of the “leaders of the flock of God,” pressed with the great inquiry above referred to, with greater interest than ever before. I set my heart, by prayer and supplication to God, to find the light after which I had been so long seeking.

In this state I visited one of my associates in the Institution, and disclosed to him the burden which had weighed down my mind for so many years. I asked him if he could tell me the secret of the piety of Paul, and tell me the reason of the strange contrast between the apostle’s experience and my own. In labouring for the salvation of men, I observed, that my feelings often remained unmoved and unaffected, while Paul was constantly constrained by the love of Christ. Our conversation then turned upon the passage, “The love of Christ constraineth us,” &c. While thus employed, my heart leaped up in ecstasy indescribable, with the exclamation, “I have found it.” I have now, by the grace of God, discovered the secret after which I have been searching these many years. I understood the secret of the piety of Paul, and knew how to attain to that blissful state myself. Paul’s piety all arose from one source exclusively—a sympathy with the heart of Christ in his love for lost man. To attain to that state myself, I had only to acquaint myself with the love of Christ, and yield my whole being up to its sweet control.

Immediately after this, I came before the Church, and disclosed to them what I then saw to be the grand defect in my ministry:—1. Christ had been but as one chapter in my system of theology, when he should have been the sun and centre of the system. 2. When I thought of my guilt, and need of justification, I had looked to Christ exclusively, as I ought to have done; for sanctification, on the other hand, to overcome the “world, the flesh, and the devil,” I had depended mainly on my own resolutions. Here was the grand mistake, and the source of all my bondage under sin. I ought to have looked to Christ for sanctification, as much as for justification, and for the same reason. The great object of my being now was to know Christ, and in knowing him to be changed into his image. Here was the “victory which overcometh the world.” Here was the “death of the body of sin.” Here was “redemption from all iniquity,” into the “glorious liberty of the children of God.” At this time, the appropriate office of the Holy Spirit presented itself to my mind with a distinctness and interest never understood nor felt before. To know Christ was the life of the soul. To “take of the things of Christ and show them unto us;” to open our hearts to understand the Scriptures; to strengthen us with might in the inner man, that we might comprehend the “breadth and depth, and length and height, and know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge,” and thus be “filled with the fulness of God,”—is the appropriate office of the Spirit. The highway of holiness was now for the first time, rendered perfectly distinct to my mind. The discovery of it was to my mind as “life from the dead.” The disclosure of that path had the same effect upon others who had been, like myself, “weary, tossed with tempest, and not comforted.” As my supreme attention was thus fixed upon Christ; as it became the great object of my being to know him, and be transformed into his likeness; and as I was perpetually seeking that Divine illumination by which I might apprehend him,—an era occurred in my experience, which I have no doubt will ever be one of the most memorable in my entire past existence. In a moment of deep and solemn thought, the veil seemed to be lifted, and I had a vision of the infinite glory and love of Christ, as manifested in the mysteries of redemption. I will not attempt to describe the effect of that vision upon my mind. All that I would say is, that, in view of it, my heart melted, and flowed out like water. The heart of stone was taken away, and a heart of love and tenderness assumed its place. From that time I have desired to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.” I have literally “esteemed all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord;” and the knowledge of Christ has been eternal life begun in my heart.

Now, when the Lord Jesus Christ was thus held up among us, by myself and others, a brother in the ministry arose in one of our meetings, and remarked that there was one question to which he desired that a definite answer might be given. It is this: “When we look to Christ for sanctification, what degree of sanctification may we expect from him? May we look to him to be sanctified wholly, or not?” I do not recollect that I was ever so shocked and confounded at any question, before or since. I felt, for the moment, that the work of Christ among us would be marred, and the mass of minds around us rush into Perfectionism. Still the question was before us; and to it we were bound, as pupils of the Holy Spirit, to give a scriptural answer. We did not attempt to give a definite answer to it during that time. With that question before us, Brother Finney and myself came to New York , and spent most of the winter together in prayer and the study of the Bible. The great inquiry with us was, What degree of holiness may we ourselves expect from Christ, when we exercise faith in him, and in what light shall we present him to others as a Saviour from sin? We looked, for example, at such passages as this—passages of which the Bible is full,—“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God, your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it?” We looked at such passages, I say, and asked ourselves this question—Suppose an honest inquirer after holiness comes to us, and asks of us—What degree of holiness is here promised to the believer? May I expect, in view of this prayer and promise, that God will sanctify me wholly, and preserve me in that state till the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ? What answer shall we give him? Shall we tell him that merely partial, and not perfect holiness is here promised, and that the former, and not the latter, he is here authorised to expect? After looking prayerfully at the testimony of Scripture, in respect to the provisions and promises of Divine grace, we were constrained to admit, that but one answer to the above question could be given from the Bible; and the greatest wonder with me is, that I have been so long a “master of Israel, and have never before known these things.” Since that time we have never ceased to proclaim the redemption of Christ as a full redemption. Nor do we expect to cease proclaiming it as a full and finished redemption, till Christ shall call us home. For myself, I am willing to proclaim it to the world, that I now look to the very God of peace to sanctify me wholly, and preserve my whole spirit, and soul, and body, blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. I put up this prayer with the expectation that the very things prayed for will be granted. Reader, is that confidence misplaced? In expecting that blessing, am I leaning upon a broken reed, or upon the broad promise of God?

There is one circumstance connected with my recent experience, to which I desire to turn the special attention of the reader. I would here say, that I have for ever given up all idea of resisting temptation, subduing any lust, appetite, or propensity, or of acceptably performing any service for Christ, by the mere force of my own resolutions. If my propensities, which lead to sin, are crucified, I know that it must be done by an indwelling Christ. If I overcome the world, this is to be the victory, “even our faith.” If the great enemy is to be overcome, it is to be done “by the blood of the Lamb.”

Believing, as I now do, that the Lord Jesus Christ has provided special grace for the entire sanctification of every individual, for the subjection of all his propensities, for a perfect victory over every temptation and incentive to sin, and for rendering us, in every sphere and condition of life, all that he requires us to be; the first inquiry with me is, In what particular respects do I need the grace of Christ? What is there, for example, in my temper that needs correcting? Wherein am I in bondage to appetite, or to any of my propensities? What are the particular responsibilities, temptations, &c., incident to each particular sphere and condition in life in which the providence of God has called me to act? What is the temper that I ought there to manifest, so that I may everywhere, and under all circumstances, reflect the image of Christ?

Thus, having discovered my special necessity, in any one of the particulars above referred to, my next object is, to take some promise applicable to the particular exigency before me, and go directly to Christ for the supply of that particular necessity. By having the eye of faith perpetually fixed upon Christ in this manner; by always looking to him for special grace in every special exigency; yes, for “grace to help in every time of need,”—how easy it is to realise in our own blessed experience the truth of all the “exceeding great and precious promises” of Divine grace! How easy it is to have the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, “keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” “Our peace is then as a river, and our righteousness as the waves of the sea.” The mind seems to be borne upward and onward, as upon an ocean of light, peace, and blessedness, which knows no bounds.  

 

“O glorious change! ‘tis all of grace,

By bleeding love bestowed

On outcasts of our fallen race,

To bring them home to God;

Infinite grace to vileness given,

The sons of earth made heirs of heaven.”  

 

And now, reader, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God” for you is, that you may know this full redemption. If you will cease from all efforts of your own, and bring your sins, and sorrows, and cares, and propensities which lead into sin, to Christ, and cast them all upon him; if, with implicit faith, you will hang your whole being upon him, and make it the great object of life to know him, for the purpose of receiving and reflecting his image—you will find that all the “exceeding great and precious promises” of his Word are, in your own blissful experience, a living reality. The waters that Christ shall give you “shall be in you a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” You shall have a perpetual and joyful victory over “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” Everywhere, and under all circumstances, your peace in Christ shall be as a “river, and your righteousness as the waves of the sea.” “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” “There is no want to them that fear him.” And, reader, when your cup is once filled with the love of Christ, you will then say with truth, “The half has not been told me.” “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”