Be careful of not making a Savior of faith. There is a danger – and it cannot be too vigilantly guarded against – of substituting the work of the Spirit for the work of Christ; this mistake it is that leads so many of God’s saints to look within, instead of without, themselves for the evidences of their calling and acceptance; and thus, too, so many are kept all their spiritual course walking in a state of bondage and fear, the great question never fully and fairly settled, or, in other words, never quite sure of their sonship. The work of Christ is a great and finished work; it is so glorious that it can admit of no comparison, so complete that it can allow of no addition, and so essential that it can give place to no substitution. Precious as is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, and essential as it is to the salvation of the soul, yet he who places it where the work of Jesus ought only to be, deranges the order of the covenant, closes up the legitimate source of evidence, and will assuredly bring distress and uncertainty into his soul. ” Righteousness, peace, and joy,” are the fruit of a full belief in the Lord Jesus Christ; and he who looks for them away from the cross, will meet with disappointment: but they are found in Jesus. He who looks away from himself, from his vileness, guiltiness, emptiness, and poverty, fully and believingly unto Jesus, shall know what the forgiveness of sin is, and shall experience the love of God shed abroad in his heart.
If, then, your faith is feeble and tried, be not cast down; faith does not save you. Though it be an instrument of salvation, and as such, is of vast importance, it is but the instrument; the finished work of Immanuel is the ground of your salvation, yes, it is your salvation itself. Then make not a Savior of your faith; despise it not if it is feeble, exult not in it if it is strong, trample not on it if it is small, deify it not if it is great; such are the extremes to which every believer is exposed. If your faith is feeble and sharply tried, it is no evidence that you are not a believer; but the evidence of your acceptance in the Beloved, is to arise from Jesus alone; then let your constant motto be, “looking unto Jesus”; looking to him just as you are; looking unto him when faith is feeble; looking unto him when faith is tried; looking unto him when faith is declining, yes, looking unto him when you fear you have no faith. Look up, tried and tempted soul! Jesus is the Author, the Sustainer, and he will become the Finisher of your faith. All you want is in him. One glimpse, dim though it be, of his cross, – one touch, trembling though it be, of his garment, – will lift you from your lowest depths, lighten your heaviest burden, gild your darkest prospect, and when you arrive at Jordan’s brink, will bear you safely through its swellings, and land you on the sunny and verdant shores of Canaan. Let this be your prayer, urged unceasingly at the throne of grace until it is answered – “Lord, increase my faith “; and then, with holy Paul, you too shall be enabled with humble assurance to exclaim, ” I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day!”
is it as lively, vigorous, and active, as it was when you first believed?
Has it undergone no declension?
Is the Object of faith as glorious in your eye as he then was?
Are you not now looking at second causes in God’s dealings with you, instead of lifting your eye and fixing it on him alone?
What is your faith in prayer?
- do you come boldly to the throne of grace, asking, nothing doubting?
Do you take all your trials, your wants, your infirmities, to God!
What is your realization of eternal things, – is faith here in constant, holy exercise?
Are you living as a pilgrim and a sojourner, “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God,” than float along on the summer-sea of this world’s enjoyments?
What is the crucifying power of your faith?
- does it deaden you to sin, and wean you from the world, and constrain you to walk humbly with God and near to Jesus?
And when the Lord brings the cross, and says, “Bear this for me,” does your faith promptly and cheerfully acquiesce, “any cross, any suffering, any sacrifice for you, dear Lord?”
Thus may you try the nature and the degree of your faith; bring it to the touchstone of God’s truth, and ascertain what its character is, and how far it has suffered declension.
Permit us to adduce a few causes to which a feeble and declining faith may frequently be traced. When a believer’s visits to his closet grow less frequent and spiritual, faith will assuredly decline. Prayer is the channel that supplies faith with its nourishment and vigor. As well might we cut off all the rills and streams which flow down the mountain’s side, and expect that the valleys beneath will present their enameled and verdant aspect, as to close up the channel of prayer, and then look for a healthy, vigorous, and growing faith. There is a beautiful connection between faith and prayer, – their influence is reciprocal: constant and ardent prayer strengthens faith, and faith, brought into exercise, stimulates to prayer. A praying man will be a believing man, and a man of faith will be a man of prayer.
Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension
Why is it that you have been kept to the present moment? You have seen many a tall cedar bowed to the earth; many who did appear to “run well,” but who, in the hour of temptation, when worldly power, and wealth, and distinction increased, made shipwreck of their fancied faith, and fell into diverse lusts and snares which drowned their souls. Why have you been kept? your vessel weathering the storm, your feet yet upon the rock? Because “you stands by faith,” – the “faith of God’s elect” has kept you; and though you are deeply conscious of many and great departures, – sins, it may be, which if known to an ungodly, ignorant world, would bring upon you the laugh of scorn, – yet you have never been left quite to unhinge your soul from Jesus; you have discovered your sins, and mourned over and confessed them, and sought their forgiveness through a fresh application of the atoning blood, – and still, “you stands by faith.” Ah! if faith had not kept you, where would you now have been? where would that temptation have driven you? into what consequences would that sin have involved you? But O, that brokenness, that contrition, that mourning, that going afresh to the open fountain, does prove that there was that in you which would not let you quite depart! The cedar may have been bowed to the earth, but it has risen again; the vessel may have been tossed in the tempest, and even may have been worsted by the storm, yet it has found its port: the “faith of God’s elect” has kept you. “Be not high-minded, but fear.” Your own vigilance, and power, and wisdom, had been but poor safeguards, but for the indwelling of that faith that can never die. – Octavius Winslow
The Holy Spirit speaks of but “one faith (Eph 4:5),” and that faith the “faith of God’s elect (Tit 1:1).” And still the question recurs, What is faith? Briefly and simply, it is that act of the understanding and the heart by which a repenting sinner – a sinner under the mighty operation of the Eternal Spirit, convicting him of sin, and working in him true contrition – closes in with God’s free proclamation of pardon through a crucified Savior: he believes, he receives, he welcomes the promise of eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus “sets to his seal that God is true.” Personal Declension
“We love him, because he first loved us:” he took the first step, and made the first advance, – “He first loved us.”
The love of God to us when yet we were sinners, who can unfold it? what mortal tongue can describe it? Before we had any being, and when er were enemies, he sent his Son to die for us; and when we were far off by wicked works, he sent his Spirit to bring us to him in the cloudy and dark day. All his dealings with us since then – his patience, restoring mercies, tender, loving, faithful care, yes, the very strokes of his rod, have but unfolded the depths of his love towards his people: this is the love we desire you to be filled with. “The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God.” Draw largely from this river; why should you deny yourselves? There is enough love in God to overflow the hearts of all his saints through all eternity; then why not be filled? “The LORD direct your hearts into the love of God;” stand not upon the brink of the fountain, linger not upon the margin of this river, – enter into it – plunge into it; it is for you, – poor, worthless, unworthy, vile as you feel yourself to be, – this river of love is yet for you! Seek to be filled with it, that you may know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, and that your heart in return may ascend in a flame of love to God. – Octavius Winslow
“This enemy of your soul will steal upon you by silent and insidious encroachment. It has its disguises many. It will present itself masked in a proper regard for business, in a diligence in lawful callings, a prudent yielding to domestic claims, and will even quote scriptural precept and example, and assume the form of an angel of light; but suspect it, guard against it. Remember what is recorded by the apostle of a primitive professor: “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” Be not a modern Demas: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world; if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” No Christian man can maintain his spirituality unimpaired, his love uninjured, his robe unspotted, his walk irreproachable, who secretly admits the world to his heart. How can he exemplify the life of a pilgrim and a sojourner; how can his heart rise in a constant flame of love to God? What attraction can the throne of grace have, what zest in spiritual duties, what delight in the communion of saints, while his heart goes out after covetousness, and worldly ambition, love of place, and human applause are the rival passions of his soul? Let it, then, be solemnly remembered, that an inordinate, uncrucified attachment to the world, must be parted with, if the precious grace of love to God is to enthrone itself in the affections of the believer.” – Octavius Winslow
He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: in his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. Acts 8:32, 33
In the person of the Son of God, the two extremes of being—the infinite and the finite—meet in strange and mysterious, but close and eternal union. The Divine came down to the human—Deity humbled itself to humanity. This was humiliation indeed! It was not the creature descending in the scale of creation, but it was the Creator stooping to the creature. “God was manifest in the flesh.” “He humbled Himself.” Oh, it is an amazing truth! So infinitely great was He, He could thus stoop without compromising His dignity, or lessening His glory.
But, if possible, a step lower did He seem to descend. Thus in prophetic language did he announce it: “I am a worm and no man.” What astounding words are these! Here was the God-man sinking, as it were, in the depths of abasement and humiliation below the human. “I am a worm, and no man!” In the lowliness which marked His external appearance, in the estimation in which He was held by men, in the contemptuous treatment which He received from His enemies, the trampling of His glory in the dust, and the crushing of His person on the cross, would seem in His own view to have robbed Him, not only of His glory as God, but even to have divested Him of His dignity as man! “I am a worm, and no man!” Oh, here is glory—glory surpassing all imagination, all thought, all power of utterance! He who bent His footsteps along this flinty path, He who sunk thus low, was Jehovah, the “mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Wonder, O heavens, and be astonished, O earth! Lowliness and majesty, humiliation and glory, how strangely were they blended in You, O incarnate God!
The assumption of our nature, in its depressed and bruised condition, constituted no small feature in the abasement of the Son of God. That, in the strong language of the Holy Spirit, He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners,” is a truth we cannot too distinctly affirm, or too earnestly maintain. The least misgiving touching the perfect sinlessness of the human nature of our Lord tends to weaken the confidence of faith in the atonement, and so to enshroud in darkness the hope of the soul. As a single leak must have sunk the ark beneath the waves, so the existence of the slightest taint of sin in Jesus would have opened an inlet through which the dark billows of Divine wrath would have rolled, plunging both Himself and the church He sustained in eternal woe. But that “holy thing” that was begotten of the Holy Spirit knew not the least moral taint. He “knew no sin,” He was the sacrificial “Lamb without spot.” And because He presented to the Divine requirement a holy, unblemished, and perfect obedience and satisfaction, we who believe are “made the righteousness of God in Him.”
But His taking up into subsistence with His own our nature in its fallen condition, comprehends the sinless infirmities and weaknesses with which it was identified and encompassed. When I see my Lord and Master bowed with grief and enduring privation, when I behold Him making the needs and sorrows and sufferings of others His own, what do I learn but that He was truly a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”? Is there any spectacle more affecting, than thus to behold the Incarnate God entering personally and sympathetically into all the humiliations of my poor, bruised, vile nature, and yet remaining untouched, untainted by its sin?—taking my weaknesses, bearing my sicknesses, sorrowing when I sorrow, weeping when I weep, touched with the feeling of my infirmities, in all points tempted like as I am. – Octavius Winslow
As a system of ‘consolation’ Christianity has no equal. No other religion in the wide world touches the hidden springs of the soul, or reaches the lowest depths of human sorrow, but the religion of Christ.
When your hearts have been overwhelmed, when adversity has wrapped you within its gloomy pall, when the broken billows of grief have swollen and surged around your soul, how have you fled to the Scriptures of truth for succor and support, for guidance and comfort! Nor have you repaired to them in vain. “The God of all comfort” is He who speaks in this Word, and there is no word of comfort like that which He speaks.
The adaptation of His truth to the varied, the peculiar and personal trials and sorrows of His Church, is one of the strongest proofs of its divinity. Take to the Word of God whatever sorrow you may, go with whatever mental beclouding, with whatever spirit sadness, with whatever heart grief; whatever be its character, its complexion, its depth unsurpassed in the history of human sorrow, there is consolation and support in the Word of God for your mind.
God will not leave you in trouble, but will sustain you in it, will bring you out of, and sanctify you by it, to the endless glory and praise of His great and precious name!
Christian mourner, let me once more direct your eye too dimmed perhaps by tears to behold this divine source of true, unfailing comfort. God’s Word is the book of the afflicted. Written to unfold the wondrous history of the “Man of Sorrows,” it would seem to have been equally written for you, 0 child of grief! God speaks to your sad and sorrowing heart from every page of this sacred volume, with words of comfort, loving, gentle, and persuasive as a mother’s. “As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you.”
The Bible is the opening of the heart of God. It is God’s heart unveiled, each throb inviting the mourner, the poor in spirit, the widow, the fatherless, the bereaved, the persecuted, the sufferer, yes, every child of affliction and grief to the asylum and sympathy, the protection and soothing of His heart. Oh, thank God for the comfort and consolation of the Scripture! Open it with what sorrow and burden and perplexity you may, be it the guilt of sin, the pressure of trial, or the corrodings of sorrow, it speaks to the heart such words of comfort as God only could speak.
Have you ever borne your grief to God’s Word, especially to the experimental Psalms of David, and not felt that it was written for that particular sorrow? You have found your grief more accurately portrayed, your state of mind more truly described, and your case more exactly and fully met, probably in a single history, chapter, or verse, than in all the human treatises that the pen of man ever wrote.
Fly to the Word of God, then, in every sorrow! You will know more of the mind and heart of God than you, perhaps, ever learned in all the schools before. Draw, then, O child of sorrow, your consolation from God’s Word. Oh, clasp this precious Word of comfort to your sorrowful heart, and exclaim, “It is mine! The Jesus of whom it speaks is mine, the salvation it reveals is mine, the promises it contains are mine, the heaven it unveils is mine, and all the consolation, comfort, and sympathy which wells up from these hidden springs, is MINE.”
Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Isaiah 28:16
Jesus is fitly compared to a “stone” for strength and durability. He is a “Savior, and a great one”–”mighty to save.” “I have laid help upon one that is mighty.” If it were probable that the fact of His Deity should be announced in a voice of thunder from the eternal throne, can we suppose it would be uttered in terms more decided and explicit than those which fell upon the ear of the exiled evangelist from the lips of Christ Himself? “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, says the Lord, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” And what a needed truth is this! None but an almighty ransom could have saved from going down to the pit. Jesus is our ransom, and Jesus is the Almighty.
The Redeemer is not only a stone, but a “tried stone.” The grand experiment has been made–the great test has been applied, and to answer all the ends for which the Lord God laid it in Zion, it has proved completely adequate. Never was a foundation tried as this. In the eternal purpose of redemption, Omnipotence tried it. In the Divine mind there existed no lurking suspicion, no embarrassing uncertainty as to the result. The Father knew all that this foundation was to sustain, and well He knew, too, that it was capable of sustaining all. Stupendous were the consequences. His own glory and the honor of His government were involved; the salvation of His elect was to be secured; death, with all its horrors, was to be abolished; life, with all its immortal, untold glories, was to be revealed; hell was to be closed, and heaven opened to all believers. With such momentous realities pending, with such mighty and glorious results at stake, the Eternal mind, in its purpose of grace and glory, would lay for a foundation a “tried stone.” Blessed Emmanuel! how effulgently does Your glory beam from beneath Your prophetical veil! You are that “tried stone,”–tried by the Father, when He laid upon You all His people’s sins and transgressions, bruised You, and put You to grief. Tried by the law, when it exacted and received from You Your utmost obedience to its precepts. Tried by Divine justice, when it kindled around You its fiercest flame, yet consumed You not. Tried by the Church, built upon You so securely that the gates of hell shall never prevail against her. Tried by poor sinners, who have brought their burdens of guilt to Your blood, and have found pardon and peace. Tried by believers, who have taken their trials to Your sympathy, their sorrows to Your love, their wounds to Your healing, their weakness to Your strength, their emptiness to Your fullness, their petitions to Your ear, and have never, never been disappointed. Oh yes, You are that “tried stone” to whom I would come moment by moment.
Before bed last night I picked up Personal Declension (again) by Octavius Winslow. The work deals with backsliding. He, like J.C. Philpot, offer the church experimental help in understanding the spiritual life of the Christian.
A few selections from chapter one follow:
When a professing man can proceed with his accustomed religious duties, strictly, regularly, formally, and yet experience no enjoyment of God in them, no filial nearness, no brokenness and tenderness, and no consciousness of sweet return, he may suspect that his soul is in a state of secret and incipient backsliding from God. Satisfying and feeding his soul – if feeding it may be called – with a lifeless form; what stronger symptom needs he of his real state? A healthy, growing state of religion in the soul demands more for its nourishment and support than this. A believer panting for God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, grace thriving, the heart deeply engaged in spiritual duties, lively, prayerful, humble, and tender, ascending in its frame and desires, – a state marked by these features cannot be tied down to a lifeless, spiritless form of religious duties. These were but husks to a healthy state of the life of God in the soul. It wants more. It will hunger and thirst, and this spiritual longing must be met. And nothing can satisfy and satiate it but living upon Christ, the bread and the water of life. “I am the bread of life.” “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” “My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” The professing man that goes all his days without this nourishment, thus starving his soul, may well exclaim, “My leanness, my leanness!” Oh, how solemn to such are the words of our Lord, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you (Jn 6:53).”
Essentially connected with the discovery and the confession, there must be the entire mortification and abandonment of the cause of the soul’s secret declension. Apart from this, there can be no true revival of the work of Divine grace in the heart. The true spiritual mortification of indwelling sin, and the entire forsaking of the known cause, whatever it is found to be, of the heart’s declension, constitute the true elements of a believer’s restoration to the joys of God’s salvation. And when we speak of the mortification of sin, let not the nature of this sacred work be misunderstood. It has been in the case of many, why may it not in yours? There may exist all the surface-marks of mortification, and still the heart remain a stranger to the work. An awakening sermon, an alarming providence, or a startling truth, may for a moment arrest and agitate the backsliding soul. There may be an opening of the eyelid, a convulsive movement of the spiritual frame, which, to a superficial observer, may wear the appearance of a real return to consciousness, of a true waking up to new life and vigour of the slumbering soul, and yet these may be but the transient and fitful impulses of a sickly and a drowsy spirit. The means of grace, too, may be returned to – the secret declension felt, deplored and acknowledged, but the hidden cause remaining unmortified and unremoved, all appearance of recovery quickly and painfully subsides. It was but a transient, momentary shock, and all was still; the heavy eyelid but feebly opened, and closed again; the “goodness” that promised so fair, was but as the morning cloud and the early dew. And the reason is found in the fact, that there was no true mortification of sin. And so I may repair to a plant withering and drooping in my garden; I may employ every external means for its revival; I may loosen the earth about it, water, and place it in the warm sunbeam; but if the while I had not discovered and removed the hidden cause of its decay – if I had not know that a worm was secretly feeding at the root, and, in ignorance of this, had proceeded with my surface-work of restoration, what marvel, though the morning sunbeam, and the evening dew, and the loosened earth, had produced a momentary freshness and life, that yet my plant had ceased to exist, had withered and died? Thus may it be with a declining believer. The external means of revival may be sedulously employed, means of grace diligently used and even multiplied, but all to no real and permanent effect, while a worm secretly feeds at the root; and until the hidden cause of decay be mortified, removed, and utterly extirpated, the surface revival does but end in a profounder sleep, and a more fearful deception of the soul.
Commence at the beginning; go as a sinner to Jesus; seek the quickening, healing, sanctifying influence of the Spirit; and let this be your prayer, presented, and urged until answered, at the footstool of mercy: “O Lord, revive thy work! Quicken me, O Lord! Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation!” In answer to thy petition, “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth;” and thy song shall be that of the church, “My Beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. The fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”