Backsliders Must Take Right Views of God

Your state of soul surprises me. I feel persuaded the hindrance must be in yourself. I verily believe God has no exceptions against you. He is as willing to bless you as the scores of immortal souls who are now finding pardon in this city. Broken-hearted penitents are obtaining mercy every night. God is the same everywhere; and he is able and willing to bless you in _____, surely he is. I could, it is true, wish you were with us in this powerful revival; but as this cannot be, it need not be a bar. O, no! I do think you may adopt the language of a verse in our hymn-book:

“In me is all the bar,
Which thou wouldst fain remove.”

That bar may be unbelief, or impatience, or indistinct and confused, perhaps erroneous, notions of faith. There may be an unwillingness to venture fully on the merits of the atonement, in the absence of peace and joy; not knowing that these always follow faith, but never precede it. You must first believe; that is, venture freely and fully upon the merits of Christ’s blood for pardon and acceptance with God now. When you thus repose upon the merits of Christ’s death, by faith, for the present and everlasting salvation of your soul, saying,

“This all my hope and all my plea,
For me the Saviour died,” –

hold here. Remain fixed on this ground. It cannot fail you. Now, look up; honor the Father, as you honor the Son. Perhaps you ask, “What do you mean by this?” By what? “You tell me to honor the Father as I honor the Son.” I will explain it. You could not trust in the blood of Christ, unless you believed that his blood was an atonement for your sins. Further, is it not the belief that Jesus loves you and makes you welcome to trust in his blood for salvation, which encourages you to come to him, confiding in the merits of that blood? But is it not a fact, that, as often as you have ventured thus upon that atonement, you have felt that if there were no other hindrance than Jesus you would soon be happy? At such seasons you think of Jesus as the only person in the adorable Trinity who has any kindly feeling for you. Your unhappy mind cannot think of “the everlasting Father,” without the idea being associated that “he is a consuming fire:” and Jesus is considered as a rampart of defense between you and him. This must be the state of your mind surely, or you would not refer to that verse in the Wesleyan hymn-book:

“I trust in Him who stands between
The Father’s wrath and me;
Jesus, thou great eternal Mean,
I look for all from thee.”

The sentiment of the verse is correct, when applied to the state of sinners out of Christ. It is written, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness of men.” Another passage teaches us the solemn lesson, “God is angry with the wicked every day.” It is also written, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, for our God is a consuming fire.” And the reason why this wrath is not inflicted with fury, — the reason why this “consuming fire” does not break forth in scorching flames upon a world of sinners, — is, that we have an “Advocate with the Father,” and “he ever liveth to make intercession.” Jesus Christ is “the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” The word propitiate means to render favorable; to conciliate an offended person, so as to lead him to be propitious, merciful, and kind to the offender. The offended Creator in then,

“The indulgent God,
Swift to relieve, unwilling to destroy.”

The wicked provoke the wrath of God, but Christ is the Mediator. Our Lord illustrates this in the parable of the barren fig tree. As long as men continue to sin against God, there is wrath. Christ intercedes, and sinners are “saved from wrath through him.” But when the wicked continue to do wickedly, and the divine forbearance becomes exhausted, then the wrath of God breaks forth, as it is written, “They mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets; until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy.” Strictly speaking, however, the sentiment of the first two lines of the above verse is not applicable to a soul which fully trusts in the blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The moment any penitent sinner rests upon the atonement, as I have been describing, God is that moment reconciled; wrath does not then exist. God is then love, nothing but love; and when the mind believes this, the love of God is immediately shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost.

In order, therefore, to receive the benefit of believing in Christ, this must be believed, also; that is, that God is reconciled. It is only when we believe that God loves us, that we can love him in return. If so, the mind must recognize priority of love in the bosom of God, before it can reciprocate, and offer love for love. The following beautiful passage from the writings of St. John is constructed upon reciprocal love, — love mutual, — love in return for love; but, that love existing previously in God the Father:– “We love him, because he hath first loved us.” God’s love, therefore, kindles ours. There are certain glasses which concentrate in a focus the rays of the sun, so that substances are kindled into a flame; and thus blaze back again the heat which the orb of day originated. “He that cometh unto God must believe that he is.” Belief is faith. Faith reflects God upon the mind. A poet says,

“Faith lends its realizing light,
The clouds disperse, the shadows fly;
The invisible appears in sight,
And God is seen by mortal eye .”

Faith sits upon the soul, and realizes the glory of the Almighty. God shines on faith. Faith discovers that God in Christ is love, — love beyond degree. Faith becomes the burning-glass to the soul. It collects, as in a focus, the rays of love issuing from God. This kindles our hearts into a flame, and our souls blaze back again the holy flame which God’s love originated. Then we can say, as one said upon a different occasion,

“Hanc animem im flammis offero, Christo tibi.”
(In flames of fire, I offer this soul of mine to thee, oh Christ.”)

Until you thus realize that the moment you thus trust in the merits of Christ you are loved of the Father, and with a love as ardent as that which is felt by the Son, you never can honor the Father even as you honor the Son; and, in that case, you cannot be converted to God. The bar, therefore, is all in yourself. God would willingly remove it. O, permit him to do so, by thinking rightly of him.

You say, “I do not consider God as a consuming fire, when I trust in Christ. This is not my difficulty. It is this: when I thus trust, I am unable to view God in any other position than as removed to an immense distance from me. I feel I have a days-man with the Father; and, that infinite as the distance is between me and God, yet he lays his hand upon both to effect a reconciliation; but I cannot consider the Father in any other state than cold and repulsive, and unwilling to be reconciled. Though I endeavor to trust in the merits of Jesus, conscious that I can do no more, I am unable to think otherwise than that my Mediator has hard work to persuade the great God to look with compassion upon me.” How insulting to God is this cursed unbelief! How it wrongs him! How injurious also to the soul! With such thoughts you never can be happy nor accepted. Were your views of God the same as noticed in my last, “that God is a consuming fire to the approaching penitent, although venturing to trust in Christ,” then I should consider you as standing in dread before “the God of all grace.” It may be well said of the soul, when realizing such elements of terror, that peace must be as absent from the heart as love. But if a notion so erroneous as the above does not fill you with fear, it must certainly chill your soul into alienation and distrust; both of which are positive enemies to that warm and confiding love which is so essential to a religion which makes the soul happy. In the above sentiment you honor the Son, but you dishonor the Father. As long as you do this, your mind will be overcast with the gloomiest clouds, and its abiding state “the spirit of bondage again to fear.” Perhaps you anxiously inquire,” What shall I do? How can I change those views which seem to be the very element of my mind? I may wish these perceptions of God banished, if they are wrong; but I cannot, by dint of resolution, drive them from me.” No, probably not. The mind cannot, perhaps, act in this case without motives. It may be powerless to expel wrong ideas without assistance; but what your mind may be unable to do under certain circumstances, it may accomplish under others. I recollect, some years ago, reading a sermon, the title of which was the “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Now, may there not be an expulsive power in a new class of ideas? If those are usurpers with which I have been finding fault, may they not be forced to abdicate in favor of those whose right it is to wield the scepter of the mind? If the former are but visionary, is it likely they shall long contend with realities? Do you inquire, “What are the ideas you wish me to entertain? Let me know them, and I will give them as welcome a reception as those which have hitherto swayed my soul.” The first passage I shall quote wherein is a leading idea, is John 5:23, — “That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.” This passage proves that Jesus Christ is a proper Person of the Holy Trinity, upon an equality with the Father, and to be honored equally with Him. This is the evident claim. Now, this claim of our blessed Lord was not only designed to guard his own right to divine honors, but the of the Father also. It is just as evident that he does not claim more honor than is given to the Father, as it is that he does not admit of any less. The passage, therefore, is calculated to impress this sentiment upon the mind, that the Father is not to be honored less than the Son; this is just as clear as that the Son is not to receive any less honor than the Father. But is there not an infringement upon this rule when, under certain circumstances, you suppose the Father loves you less than the Son?

The sentiment that Jesus is all love, when you endeavor to trust in the merits of his death, but that the Father is cold and distant, with respect to you, is dishonoring to the Father. You are then unquestionably withholding from him an honor which is justly his due. It is quite plain to me that you and the Socinians are in opposite extremes. The Socinians give Godhead honors to the Father, but offer to the Son an honor infinitely less, because they consider him a mere creature, though a created being of the highest order; yet what proportion can magnitude, however great, if only finite, bear to that which is infinite; seeing that

“A million
Is full as far from infinite as one!”

In the estimation of the Socinians, he is a creature still; and that places him at a distance infinite from God. Thus they refuse to obey the requirement of our Lord Jesus Christ. You go to the other extreme. Christ stands forth to your faith as the Second Person in the adorable Trinity. You adore him as God. This is right. In the merits of his blood you feel it to be your duty to trust, singly and alone, for salvation; and your faith anticipates Christ as full of compassion and tender love towards you. Now, this is perfectly scriptural, so far as Jesus Christ is concerned; but your faith is sadly defective upon another point of vital importance, — that the Father is cold and repulsive, and that, were you to cast yourself fully upon the atonement, he would frown you away from his presence. Hence, you asperse his character by impeaching him with affections which he has never felt towards any penitent sinner who has renounced every other plea for mercy, and trusted sincerely in the merits of Christ’s death for pardon and acceptance. The Socinians dishonor the Son by denying him the honors of the Eternal Godhead, and that on an equality with the Father; you dishonor the Father by refusing him the honors of redemption, and that on an equality with the Son; as if the Father had no part in the wonderful scheme, but as if Christ alone planned it, as well as became incarnate and died for our race, without the approbation or consent of the Father; or if anything like a consent was given, yet that in the sight of all heaven it was “icy, cold, unwilling.” The Socinians refuse to believe that the following declaration of John proves that Jesus Christ made the world, and is, therefore, God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.”

But you refuse to believe the declaration of Jesus Christ himself, a declaration which equally proves that love in the bosom of the Father was the procuring cause of the “unspeakable gift,” the incarnation of his own Son: “For God so LOVED the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Do you not, therefore, wrong and dishonor the Father? Was there love in him in the bestowing of the gift; and shall there be no love in the acceptance of it? Can you assign any reason for such a reserve? Shall we impute it to the believing act of the penitent sinner, or tax the Everlasting Father with capriciousness or inconstancy? Strange, that the doings of the penitent should fan the flame of love in the bosom of the Son, and at the same time extinguish it in the bosom of the Father! Strange, that he of whom it is said, “In whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning,” should beseech the sinner to be reconciled to him; and also continue his entreaties during the many years of his rebellion; and now, when the sinner is reconciled, and entreating pardon on the part of God, fulfilling at the same time the conditions of reconciliation, that he should, all at once, refuse to be propitious! Surely such views of God cannot be right!

Consider: was not the plan of reconciliation laid by the holy Trinity in heaven, and carried into effect when the whole world was in a state of rebellion? Reflect upon the declaration of the apostle: “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son;” and is it possible, when the sinner casts away his weapons, and accepts of the terms of reconciliation, that God will then put on an altered look, and be less willing to be reconciled to the penitent sinner, now that he is supplicating for mercy at his feet, than when he was an enemy? Is it not evident to yourself that the ideas you have entertained, as stated at the beginning of this letter, are visionary and unjust? Do not those which I have suggested appear scriptural and rational? Certain I am, that if you give them a place in your belief, those imaginary phantoms shall, as a dream in the night, vanish away before the light of God’s reconciling countenance.

Say not a word respecting any trouble you may imagine me to be at writing “so many letters to one so unworthy.” You are worthy of all this, and a thousand times more. True, my sins are forgiven, my soul is cleansed; but then I owe the more unto my Lord, and to the precious souls for whom he died. I shall feel myself abundantly compensated, when I learn that God has visited your soul with his pardoning love, — when I learn that,

“The winged hopes, which glanced and sang
In joy’s melodious atmosphere, returned have,
To welcome back the gladness of the soul.”