The Backslider Encouraged

I am not at all surprised that your feelings are so much changed for the better. The cause is plain; your views of your Heavenly Father are materially improved. Had you continued to entertain those wrong thoughts of God, your soul would still have been involved in clouds and darkness. I perceive, how ever, that the state of your mind is yet “the spirit of bondage again to fear.” You are more encouraged than happy. You have some light, but no heat, no love; I think you have the daylight of religion, but not the sunshine. Day-break, you know, is often cold and cheerless. Sometimes there is quite an uncertainty as to the indications of the heavens, as well as to the aspect and identity of surrounding objects; but when the sun ascends the horizon, uncertainties vanish; the appearances of things have changed wonderfully; a flood of day comes forth from the east; the heavens and the earth are showered with rays; a sunny glow spreads itself over all nature; a new creation appears everywhere to the admiring eyes; all is soft and glowing variety; light, heat, animation, bustle, and surrounding joy, render a doubt of day impossible. Thus it is with the soul. There is a promise which runs thus: “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise, with healing in his wings.” Until this takes place, the sky of the mind, and the surface of the heart, shall be, like the heaven and earth on a winter’s day-break, black and cheerless. At such a time it is not surprising if the unhappy sinner is compelled, by his wretchedness and dread uncertainty, to say, with Arbuthnot,

“Almighty power, by whose most wise command,
Helpless, forlorn, uncertain, here I stand;
Take this faint glimmering of thyself away
Or break into my soul with perfect day.”

Light may have come, and faith have recognized it too, but unbelief is not asleep; the voice of the demon will be heard from the murky shades of the soul. Unbelief will say to glimmering faith, as Zebul to Gaal, when he reported at such an hour, “Behold, there come people down from the top of the mountains.” “Thou seest the shadow of the mountains as if they were men. Increasing light may silence unbelief on this point, but the comfortless state of the soul shall invite it to others just as annoying. Light may encourage, but it is only love which can render the soul happy. “There is no fear in love,” says St. John. Love is the sunshine of religion. God’s love towards us produces love in us. What but love can beget love? “We love him, because he first loved us,” says the same apostle. Confidence is the daughter of love. A poet might well term it “love-born confidence.” But this can never take place till the command is applicable to the soul: “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” Then shall the “Sun of Righteousness” arise upon the soul “with healing in his wings.” All then shall be real, conscious sunshine. God’s lovely countenance beams friendship upon the irradiated mind; the soul, through all her powers, feels the glowing influence; or, in the language of the apostle St. Paul, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”

How expressive is this language of the apostle! And yet some will tell us that a converted person cannot enjoy thus in such a measure as to remove all doubt whether he be a child of God. But what is that to thee or me, seeing that it is written: “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself”? As in nature it is not long from the break of day till sunrise, so I trust the period is not far distant when you shall sing with a glad heart and free,

“The Sun of Righteousness on me
Hath rose, with healing in his wings;
Withered my nature’s strength, from thee
My soul its life and succor brings;
My help is all laid up above;
Thy Nature and thy Name is Love.”

As you wish me to enlarge a little upon a subject which appears to have afforded you “much light, and some comfort,” — that is, that we should honor the Father even as we honor the Son, — I shall offer you a few additional thoughts upon the subject. I do this the more willingly, because I do believe your faith is yet quite defective upon this point. It is not to be wondered at that your mind is continually lapsing into “the spirit of bondage again to fear,” when there is such a frequent recurrence of the unhappy sentiment, that God the Father stands at such an infinite remove from reconciliation. When your weak faith, or rather unbelief, represents the Trinity as divided, and disagreeing in their desires to save and bless, your soul cannot but be confused, as well as unhappy. Were it even possible for you to honor the Son of God with love in return for love, your chilling and alienating views of the everlasting Father would speedily destroy the affection. Love would soon give place to fear. The probable impotency of Jesus to bring the Father to a reconciliation would very soon displace the pleasurable sensation; and others, such as distrust, disquietude, perplexity, and despair, would, ere long, succeed, and sway their scepter over a heart in which a single tender emotion could not be found. Allow me, therefore, to correct the evil by carrying your mind forward to a set of just and scriptural notions upon this important subject. When Christ had made the atonement, the point was not really then to be settled whether the Father was on reconcilable terms with the world; but whether the world would accept the terms of reconciliation, and be reconciled to him. Every particular connected with the incarnation of Jesus Christ implied that God was desirous of a reconciliation between himself and the creatures who had revolted from him. Observe further; the whole phraseology of the New Testament goes to show that the very first overtures for a reconciliation were made by the Father; and that these proposals were offered under circumstances, and from affections, which should forever enthrone the Almighty Father in the grateful hearts of his redeemed creatures. I might quote a variety of passages from the word of God, to illustrate and prove this point, — passages which shall be everlasting witnesses between God and us, whether we are finally saved or damned. Perhaps two or three may, in this letter, be as good as many. Consider the following: “But God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”

Here you will observe the circumstances as well as affections referred to, and brought forward in a very condensed form. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” “We,” our whole race, are represented as in the attitude of hostility, — direct and glaring rebellion against God; the omniscient eye of Jehovah in this state, throughout the entire of our generations, to the end of time. At the same time, he himself is the insulted monarch. And while nothing was heard but the cry of rebellion against his eternal throne, — nothing seen but the polluted exhalation of our various abominations, coming up before him like the smoke of the bottomless pit, if I may use the expression, — the heart of God warmed into love for our race; and this, too, when as yet there were no signs of returning loyalty, or softening penitency, on the part of a rebel world. St. John might well say, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Love is not an inactive passion in human beings; neither was it in our Almighty Father. Love prompted the effort to save, and wisdom contrived the means of saving us. Hence it is said, “He hath abounded towards us in all wisdom;” and again, “The manifold wisdom of God.” Christ, in another place, is called the “wisdom of God.” The plan was devised, that the Son of God should die in our stead, and thus make an atonement for the sins of the whole world. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” If our world had suddenly become penitent; had the cry ascended from millions of weeping supplicants, and the burden of that cry, “Mercy mercy!” as it happened at the conclusion of a certain civil commotion, when a considerable number of young men were about to suffer for their insurrectionary crimes; but they had cast away their weapons, and approaching the throne of their highly offended monarch, ‘Mercy! mercy!” was the one and universal cry. Hearing their imploring voices, he was moved out of his indignation, and, melting into compassion, exclaimed, “Take them away, — I cannot bear it!” — that is, show them mercy. Ah, had such a scene as this taken place before the costly plan of our reconciliation was laid, we never could have had such an exhibition of the unmerited love of the Father! This, however, was not the case. And, at the period in the history of our globe when the standard of rebellion was proudly waving under the whole heaven, — when the nations of the earth had, as if by common consent, ceased to fight with each other, that they might have the more time to carry on the war against the laws and government of God, — it was now that God loved us. When rebellion was at its climax, God’s love was in its noonday splendor. I speak after the manner of men, When the fullness of time was come, and the measure of our iniquities was full to overflowing, the love of the Father was a boundless ocean. When our transgressions had reached into hell, and mounted as high as heaven, God’s love became so immeasurably great, so inexpressible, so inconceivable, that description was an impossibility. Human or angelic minds could not grasp it, nor language declare it. Christ himself did not attempt it, but just said: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” It will require eternal ages to fathom the meaning of that little word “so.” Now, had it been said, the Father loved us, but refused any token of his love, then there might have been much room for doubt; but when he gave such a demonstration of it as to part with his own Son, delivering him up for us all, that he might taste death for every man, and in a manner with which you are perfectly familiar, then, I will assert, there is no room for a single doubt of his love; and not the least foundation for such views as have infested your unhappy mind. If the Almighty Father had made us a free donation of heaven, and all its unutterable glories, it could not have been such a convincing demonstration of his love as that which he has afforded us in the gift of his own Son. It might well be said, “God commendeth his love;” — manifests it, and sets it forth in the highest possible manner “to us.” Our salvation was dearer to him than the life of his Son. And has God ever repented of this redeeming act? Never! It was, indeed, said on the eve of the deluge, that it repented him that he had made man; but nowhere can you find it written that it has repented him to have redeemed man. Can you fail, therefore, to be convicted of this great truth, that the point to be gained by the Gospel ministry is to bring about the reconciliation of sinners to God? Has it ever occurred to you that there is not a word in the New Testament about the reconciling of God to us? I know not that the word is used in this sense in any part of the New Testament.

Everything, therefore, necessary to a perfect reconciliation, has been prepared by God the Father; and nothing is wanting but a believing acceptance upon our part. Can anything be more encouraging to a penitent sinner? How unjust, therefore, have been your past conclusions! St. Paul, in 2 Corinthians, 5:18, calls the Gospel ministry “The ministry of reconciliation:” and again, that the “word of reconciliation” is committed to the preachers of the Gospel; and in verse 19, he fixes upon the very point for which I have been contending, that the sum and substance of the Gospel is, that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them:” “not imputing,” that is, not exacting the penalty due to our sins; because the penalty has already been suffered in the person of Jesus Christ for us. That the suspicions and the jealousies so closely connected with guilt may depart from your soul, together with the enmity of your heart toward your reconciling and Almighty Father, is the sincere prayer of your affectionate brother.

It is singular that you have so long overlooked that remarkable expression of the apostle, respecting the part the Father has sustained, and does sustain, in our redemption by Jesus Christ: “All things are of God.” 2 Cor. 5:18. That is, he is the Author and the efficient Cause of the plan of our salvation. Nothing can be plainer than the Scriptures upon this point, together with the unity of the Trinity in the redemption of our lost race. The plan of redemption is imputed to the boundless love of the Father, the working out of it to the boundless love of the Son, and its success among men to the efficient agency and love of the Holy Ghost. Thus, there is an unbroken harmony among the Persons of the Eternal Godhead in the work of saving our lost world. If it is written, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,” it is also stated in another place, “Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.” And again, as if to render the harmony of the holy Trinity complete, the apostle, in the last chapter but one of the Romans, secures the same to the Holy Spirit; “the love of the Spirit.” I deem it unnecessary to multiply passages; but how surprisingly has our gracious God provided for our faith upon such an important subject; that if there are three Persons brought before our faith in the unity of the Godhead, to whom we are accountable, that the assurance should be so full and convincing, we are equally loved by each! How delightful to reflect that we owe our salvation to their equal and united love! That if there was a unity in the plan, there was a unity in the love which accomplished it. How sweet to reflect that this love is this moment united in one undivided flame toward all who approach the throne of grace, through the alone merits of Him who poured out his soul unto the death for us! It seems to me that you are this moment ready to sing, with an overflowing heart, what our congregations in this city often unite in singing, when it has been announced that some poor sinner has just been born of God:-

“To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Who sweetly all agree
To save a world of sinners lost,
Eternal glory be.”

Come, then; but as you approach the mercy-seat, be boldly confident of a welcome to the bosom of your heavenly Father.

“If any man serve me,” says Jesus, “him will my Father honor.” Now, to serve is to obey. But the penitent obeys Jesus when he obeys that blessed command, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden; take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” When this is sincerely done, we honor Jesus. But is the Father, then, a cold and distant spectator? No, but “him shall my Father honor.” But how can he honor the obedient and believing penitent better than to accept, pardon, and love him? Hear what Jesus says, in John 14:21, — “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father: and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” So, then, if we love Jesus, by obeying him, we are immediately loved by the Father; and when the Father loves us, Jesus Christ loves us also. Does this show a coldness and an unwillingness on the part of the Father? Behold, then, how visionary and unjust have been your views! If anything can be required to strengthen all that has been said, it is with delight I refer you to a passage to which one of the class-leaders in this city has just turned my attention, when conversing upon this subject (John 16): “At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you.” As much as to say, this shall be a matter of course, in virtue of my Mediatorship; this you need not doubt; this you cannot doubt; the many proofs of my love to you forbid it. But the Father shall require no entreaty: “For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.”

These are beautiful and touching expressions. I hope in God that faith may soon realize their blessed import, and that the time is at hand when you shall be enabled to rejoice in the Lord, “with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”