Advice to an Inquirer

You are really ingenious in ferreting out difficulties in the way of giving your heart to God. The poor heart is “divided and subdivided” upon many things, and subjected, too, to so many “anatomical dissections,” and agitated by such a variety of “contraries,” that the owner of it is at her wit’s end, not knowing what to do. Now it is hard, — again it is deceitful; it is willing now, -then again unwilling; at one time upon the point of yielding, and at another there is a reserve that is insurmountable; it must be subdued first, and pride cast out, and a thousand good properties infused, before it is fit to be offered wholly to the Lord. And so discouragements crowd upon the soul, and difficulties tread upon the heels of difficulties, and what will become of my friend, for she is quite incapacitated to make the surrender? God asks the whole heart, and requires her to bring it to him in true simplicity. But poor Martha is careful and cumbered about many things; but one thing is needful — to offer her hard, tossed, troubled heart to Him who asks it, just now, even to God her Saviour. Lord, help her! O woman why tarriest thou? See, thy Lord is just now ready to help thee, and to receive thy offering, and pronounce a blessing upon thee, although the heart which is offered be only worth two mites, which make a farthing. Only say, as you offer it, –

“Small as it is, ’tis all my store
More shouldst thou have, if I had more.”

“The Master is come, and calleth for thee.” Arise! Thy Lord is just now ready to help thee. His hands are full of blessings; his heart is full of love. In him all fullness dwells, enough, surely, for thee, to fill thy heart with all good things. He sends the rich empty away. My friend is poor, having nothing to pay; but is she not proud also? She is unwilling to come as a poor nothing, pressed down with poverty, deep poverty of spirit, and buy wine and milk, all the rich blessings of the Gospel, without money and without price; only that she just offers her heart, which she has pronounced to be “worthless,” and which, on that account, she is ashamed to offer.

Still, she cannot but offer it; “deep necessity” impels; but then she desires to offer it in the best manner, and in as good a state as is possible, so that it may be somewhat worthy of her Lord’s acceptance. And so she is cumbered with much serving; and so the heart is not offered at all, or in an improper spirit. She forgets that Jesus is to do all. Her work is simply to present the gift, the heart; his work is to accept, to qualify, and to bless. The man who brought his son to Christ did not first endeavor of himself to cast out the devil, but he brought him as he was. Satan raged, threw the lad down and tare him; nevertheless Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the child, and delivered him to his father. Luke 9:42. My friend wants to do the Lord’s work, and her own also. Her Lord is, therefore, displeased; perhaps chides, and, it may be, chastises her. At any rate, he suffers her to be corrected by her own “evil reasonings;” he does not bless her, and so she is unhappy. May my God bless Martha! Make her a little child. When turning over my papers, the other day, I lighted upon a few verses which I extracted, several years ago, from the pages of an old poet. They are now lying on my table. Surely, I thought. when taking my pen to indite this letter, that ingenious production may assist my friend to obey the injunction of her Lord: “Give me thine heart.” Prov. 23:26 I shall send it her. There are a simplicity and sincerity in the sentiments, which I really wish she would endeavor to imitate.


“Give thee mine heart? Lord, so I would,
And there’s great reason that I should,
If it were worth the having;
Yet sure thou wilt esteem that good,
Which thou hast purchased with thy blood,
And thought it worth the craving.

“Give thee mine heart? Lord, so I will,
If thou wilt first impart the skill
Of bringing it to thee:
But should I trust myself to give
Mine heart, as sure as I do live,
I should deceived be.

“Should I withhold my heart from thee,
The fountain of felicity,
Before whose presence is
Fullness of joy, at whose right hand
All pleasures in perfection stand,
And everlasting bliss?

“Lord, had I hearts a million,
And myriads in every one,
Of choicest loves and fears,
They were too little to bestow
On thee, to whom I all things owe;
I should be in arrears.

“Yet, since my heart’s the most I have,
And that which thou dost chiefly crave,
Thou shalt not of it miss:
Although I cannot give it so
As I should do, I’ll offer it, though:
Lord, take it, — Here it is!”

In answer to your “queries,” I would just say:– There are three offices which belong to the Holy Spirit, and which are exercised most frequently among men, — to convince, to reprove and to comfort. The first two are performed chiefly in impenitent sinners, and tardy impenitents, — He reproves the world of sin, righteousness, and of judgment. John 16:8-11. But even in a certain class of believers these offices are exerted with considerable energy. He convinces of indwelling sin, reproves for its continuance, as well as for tardiness in approaching that fountain which was opened for sin and for uncleanness. There is a third office to be accounted for, — to comfort. To many he comes with some of his consolations, but only “as a wayfaring man who tarrieth but for a night;” he is soon sinned against, and grieved away. Besides, in my opinion, it is not the desire of the Spirit to render that heart too comfortable and happy, in which sin is allowed to exist. It is in the holy heart only where the Holy Ghost is the abiding Comforter. John 14:16, 17-26. The Holy Spirit enters the temple of an unholy heart, I have frequently thought, as Jesus Christ did into the temple at Jerusalem; he enters with “a scourge of small cords,” overturns the tables of the money-changers, and begins to drive out the buyers and sellers.

A few months ago, when I landed in Dublin, I had some gold, went to the bank of Ireland, and had it changed into current coin. There was one piece I retained, — an American half-eagle in gold, given me by my aunt for a “pocket-piece,” before I sailed. I had also bills upon a bank in London, by order from America, payable sixty days after sight. Intending soon to leave Dublin for England, and apprehending some difficulty unless I visited London, I concluded to retain them till then. Being detained longer in Dublin than I expected, my ready funds were exhausted to one penny; I was too busy in the work of God to make inquiries, but was several times in mortifying straits for the want of a little “pocket-money.” Often was I driven to the point of changing my favorite coin; and had aunt been near me, she would have said, in a moment, “Cash it.”

A friend at length told me I need not be without money a single day, and cashed one of my bills immediately. Ignorance in spiritual matters may, in like manner, subject us to much trouble, and many unnecessary and evil reasonings.

The fruits of the Spirit are every one given to us freely of God, and made known and sustained by the Holy Spirit. I Cor. 2:12 But for what purpose? To be kept to look at? or to be expended as the necessities of the soul demand? The latter, most certainly. It is not essential that you should be able to realize or analyze in your heart all the fruits of the Spirit in the same hour. You should remember that, as one piece of gold contains several pieces of silver, so it may be also with one of the “distinct fruits of the Spirit.” Circumstances may absolutely demand that he who has a golden coin should have it changed into silver. So it may be with the Christian, in reference to one or more of those graces or “fruits of the Spirit,” recorded in Galatians 5:22, 23. By this important passage examine your heart. Suppose you enjoy peace, but this implies faith. Love, but faith is included in love. Only be faithful, and that sweet peace or confiding love may be “changed” into conquering faith in the time of trial. Joy in God may spring out of peace, or faith, or love; but when your heart is thrilling with delight, your exulting soul is far above such nice distinctions. This is proper. Who but a simpleton would refuse the pleasure of sunshine and a pleasant walk, until he had first, to his own satisfaction, analyzed a sunbeam? Enjoy the sunny hour while you have it. Love, peace, and faith are surely there in this triumph of the soul, but joy carries the palm. When a great hero returns victorious, all eyes are fixed on him, and the subordinate officers who contributed to the victory, though present, are overlooked; but when an account of the battle comes before the public, these officers appear very conspicuous in the engagement. You have love, but this is a piece of gold and it may in time of necessity be discounted into “long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, temperance.”

You desire my views as to what use we are to make of our past experience. Very little indeed, unless our souls are in safe and happy state now. We may employ it for purposes of repentance, or humiliation; but if we have backslidden from God, we must not entertain hopes of heaven on that ground; no, not at our peril. Ezek. 33:13

One day last winter, while in Limerick, I called at the house of an aged man. His daughter was present. I asked her whether she enjoyed religion. The old man remained silent for a few moments, to give her time to reply, for he knew it was not with her as formerly. There was no answer. “Sir,” he said, “when I was a boy, I lived with my uncle, and I had plenty, — good breakfasts, good dinners, and suppers, — but,” pointing to some potato-cakes which were over the fire, preparing for their humble meal, he added, “these cakes are better to me now.”

This was a homely, but a striking illustration. We can no more subsist upon grace received years or months ago, than that man could live upon the meals he received when a boy, at his rich uncle’s table. A few potato-cakes were of more importance to him in his old age. I would not, however, advise you to write your experience upon the sand. We are not to throw away the past dealings of God with our souls, as we do our almanacs when they are out of date.

As these calendars are of use to the end of the year, so is the record of our past religious feelings to the end of life. Who would cast away his almanac when only the half of the year has expired?

The calculations laid down in the moment of the “new birth” are in force all the days of our life, if the grace be retained, — from the first hour of our second birth to the last hour of our connection with the body.

If ever God pardon a sinner, there is a last moment when his sins are unpardoned, and a first, in which, for the sake of Christ, they are all forgiven him. It is a matter of no small consequence that he should be able to distinguish such a period in his past history.

A Christian has great advantage in all his conflicts, when he can confidently refer to the precise time and place of his conversion. The sea-captain is much assisted and encouraged, though tossed and driven by winds and waves, by a reference to the “reckoning” he has kept since land disappeared from his sight. Allow that he has lost his reckoning, or never had a correct one; it is no matter how well the ship is managed, he has no assurance he shall ever reach the port of his destination; nor will he have any comfort till, by some means or other, he shall obtain his exact latitude and longitude. But the hour the matter is settled is that from which he reckons. The illustration shows the state of that man who has lost the grace of the second birth, or who seriously doubts whether the mighty change has been accomplished in the history of his mind.

I told the congregation, the other night, of a good man in Dutchess county New York, who said, “I know the time and place of my conversion. It was in the corner of a certain field where God had mercy upon my soul; and there I drove down a stake. The devil often assaults me; and when he does so with violence, I walk down to the spot, and I have thought the devil fool enough to accompany me. I point to the stake, and say, ‘Now, devil, do you see that post? Well, there, at such a time God converted my soul; and I enjoy the evidence yet.’ This is an argument Satan has never been able to stand, and he gives the matter up as a lost case.”

But we have something more substantial than such a dead corruptible witness. Please read Romans 5:15, 16; Galatians 4:6. When such a cry as is mentioned in the last passage comes into the heart, it is loud enough for the soul to hear; nor shall it ever be forgotten.

Has the intelligent friend for whom you desire these remarks read the works of Dr. Paley? If so, she will recognize the following striking sentiments. His “Evidences of Christianity,” and “Moral and Political Economy,” are in high repute in all places of learning, and secure him from the imputation of being an “enthusiast or a fanatic.” “I do not,” says this great writer, “in the smallest degree, mean to undervalue or speak lightly of such changes, whenever or in whomsoever they take place. Nor to deny that they may be sudden, yet lasting. Nay, I am rather inclined to think, that it is in this manner they frequently take place. Nor to dispute what is upon good testimony alleged concerning conversion being brought about by affecting incidents of life, striking passages of Scripture; by impressive discourses from the pulpit; by what we meet with in books, or even by single touching sentences in such discourses or books. I am not disposed to question such relations unnecessarily, but rather to bless God for such instances, when I hear of them, and to regard them as merciful ordinations of his providence. Now, of the persons in our congregations, to whom we not only may, but must preach the doctrine of conversion plainly and directly, are there, who, with the name indeed, of Christians, have hitherto passed their lives without any internal religion whatever. These are no more Christians, as to any actual benefit of Christianity to their souls, than the most hardened Jew or the most profligate Gentile was in the [first] age of the Gospel. As to any difference in the two cases, it is all against them. These must be converted before they can be saved. The course of their thoughts must be changed; the very principles upon which they act must be changed. Considerations which never, or hardly ever, entered into their minds, must deeply and perpetually engage them. Views and motives which did not influence them at all must become the views and motives which they regularly consult, and by which they are guided; that is to say, there must be a revolution of principle. The visible conduct will change, but there must be a revolution within. A change so entire, so deep, so important as this, I do allow to be conversion; and no one who is in the situation above described can be saved, without undergoing it; and he must necessarily both be sensible of it at the time, and remember it all his life afterwards. It is too momentous an event ever to be forgotten; a man might as easily cease to recollect his escape from shipwreck. Whether it was sudden, or whether it was gradual, if it were effected (and the fruits will prove that), it was true conversion, and every such person may justly both believe and say for himself that he was converted at a particular assignable time. It may not be necessary to speak of his conversion, but he will always think of it with unbounded thankfulness to the Giver of all grace, the Author of all mercies.

“The next description of persons to whom we must preach conversion, properly so called, are those who allow themselves in the course of any known sin. The allowed prevalence of any one known sin is sufficient to exclude us from the character of God’s children; and we must be converted from sin, in order to become such. Here, then, we must preach conversion.

“In these two cases, therefore, men must be converted, or remain unconverted and die; and the time of conversion can be ascertained. There must that pass within them, at some particular assignable time, which is properly conversion, and will all their lives be remembered as such. This description, without all doubt, comprehends great numbers, and it is each person’s business to settle it with himself whether he be not of the number; — if he be, he sees what is to be done.”

But, to refer more immediately to your own experience. It is your duty to keep in memory God’s gracious dealings with your soul in times past. The Israelites were commanded, by the Lord, Exod. 16:32-33, — to fill a pot with manna, and lay it up before the testimony as a — memorial of the bread rained down from heaven when God brought his people out of the land of Egypt. The stone which the prophet Samuel raised between Mizpeh and Sher was a remembrancer. He named it Ebenezer saying, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us!”


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