I do not wonder that, instead of peace you have trouble, in all your “borders.” When a prisoner has escaped, the “hue and cry” is immediately raised. So long as he remained safe in the cell, there was quietness and peace in the prison; but if he have broken his fetters, and forced back bolts and locks, and got loose, the jailer will try to raise the country after him. The devil was your jailer, and he kept you a close prisoner: but one mightier than he has forced open your prison doors; and there were none present to say to the enraged fiend, as St. Paul to the distracted jailer, “Do thyself no harm; we are all here.” No, bless God, he is minus of one. One! Hallelujah! Hundreds have vacated their cells lately, as if an earthquake had shaken hell’s prison; and they are free from his hellish grasp, at least, for the present. And it will be their own fault if they are ever again within the grasp of his power.
Your case bears no small resemblance to that of the Israelites. When they toiled at the brick-kilns of Egypt, and bowed their necks uncomplainingly to the yoke of Pharaoh, it was well. They endured the hardships of a degrading slavery, but Pharaoh thought very well of them. The Lord God, at length, broke from off them the yoke of that tyrant, and with a strong hand, brought them forth from a cruel bondage. But Pharaoh pursued them with “horsemen and chariots of war,” intending to slay, or terrify them back again into bondage.
And thus it was with you. When in the devil’s service, he gave you plenty of work, hard work, hushed your guilty fears, and thus rendered you a willing captive. No sooner, however, did you begin to struggle for liberty, than he changed his voice concerning you. The Lord came down with an outstretched arm and a strong hand, and bade the oppressed go free. The tyrannical and galling yoke of Satan was rent off from your soul, and you left his service and territories in triumph. The old tyrant, the devil, it seems, is aroused; — all hell’s legions are out in pursuit! “And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? — Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” Exod. 16:15. Go forward, my dear friend; and that God who interposed his power so miraculously in behalf of the Israelites at the Red Sea will surely overthrow your spiritual enemies. Your present conflicts are severe, but you should consider them rather as tokens of the safety of your state. I was once highly pleased and profited by the following sentiments of an old divine. May they prove a blessing to you! — “The less peace you have from the devil, the more pleasure you may take in the reflection that you have escaped out of his clutches. The more restlessly he follows you with the fury of many temptations, the more sweetly and securely, if you give way to the counsel of the prophets and the work of faith, may you repose your wearied soul upon the comfortable assurance of being certainly a child of God.” Bradford, the martyr, you may remember, considered his sufferings only as so many evidences that he was in the right way. A good man, many years ago, foiled the devil with the following weapon: “I am now, in Christ, a new creature; and that is what troubles thee, Satan. I might have continued in my sins long enough ere thou wouldst have been vexed at it; but now I see thou dost envy me the grace of my Saviour.” The tempter, finding himself “discovered and resisted, retreated from the field.
As to your fear of backsliding, I can only say to you as did an aged Christian to one troubled with a similar apprehension: ‘So long as you fear, and are humbly dependent upon God, you shall never fall, but certainly prevail.’ The individual, I believe, till the end of life, realized the truth of the remark. Satan is a shrewd and crafty antagonist. He has encountered many a Christian, and has even “measured swords” with Jesus Christ himself. Whatever the weapons are you chose to fight with, he will never fail to try what metal they are made of. I well remember, at a particular and somewhat trying period of my Christian life, one who had more faith and courage than myself said: “The glorious splendor of the Christian armor in the sixth chapter of Ephesians is able, my brother, to dazzle the devil’s eyes, daunt his courage, and drive him from the field.”
I replied, mournfully, “Perhaps so; but I think the devil is determined to examine mine pretty closely, as if to try of what sort of metal it is made.”
That advice of the apostle is particularly applicable to you just now: “Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Neither fret nor murmur; quietly wait upon God, and endure to the end of this trial, and those graces of the Spirit which are as yet imperfect shall be brought unto a state of complete perfection.
“Patient wait in sore temptation,
Let no murmuring thought arise;
Firm in deepest tribulation,
Breathe thy wishes to the skies;
When afflictions all surround thee,
Calm attend thy Maker’s will;
Pain nor death shall e’er confound thee,
Only know Him and be still.”
If faithful, you will lose nothing, but be an infinite gainer by these trials. If they drive you to seek purity of heart, all shall be well; you will then be safer than now, because not so liable to depart from God, nor so easily corrupted by the devil. Indwelling sin is his faithful ally, but a most treacherous and dangerous foe to the soul. “A holy Christian,” said a good man, “is like gold. Now, cast gold into the fire, or into the water; cast it upon the dunghill, or into the pleasant garden; cast it among the poor, or among the rich, — among the religious, or among the licentious; yet still it is gold, — still it retains its purity and its excellency. Holiness is conservative; it is the preserver of the soul. It was holiness that enabled St. Austin to thank God that his heart and the temptation did not meet together. “As things are in their nature and principles,” says Flavel, “so they are in their operations and effects; fire and water are of contrary qualities, and when they meet, they effectually oppose each other. Sin and holiness are so opposite, that if sin should cease to oppose holiness, it would cease to be sin; and if holiness should not oppose sin, it would cease to be holiness.” When holiness has charge of the soul, every bad thought injected by the devil is repulsed with a holy indignation. There is a great difference in the effects of a spark falling upon a marble floor, clean and white, and a floor, sprinkled with gunpowder. Nevertheless, my dear friend, if you are faithful to God, though you have to contend with indwelling sin, and “various temptations,” God will never forsake you, so long as you maintain the contention. The Tyrians bound their idol gods with chains, lest, in the time of danger, they should desert their old friends; but our God has bound himself with the chains of his promises, that he will not leave nor forsake us.
Consider the following comforting promise: “For he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Heb. 13:5 An old writer comments upon the above passage thus: “The Greek has five negatives, and may thus be rendered: ‘I will not, not leave thee, neither will I not, not forsake thee.’ The precious promise, you will perceive, is renewed five times, that we might have strong consolation and vigorous confidence.” The words were originally spoken to Joshua: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.” A blessed promise this; and it may be righteously claimed by every spiritual warrior in the army of Jesus Christ. It was afterward quoted by David, for the encouragement of his son Solomon: “Be strong and of good courage, and do it; fear not, nor be dismayed: for the Lord God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the Lord.” 1 Chron. 28:20 It is repeated again in the book of Psalms “My loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.”
Any one reading the Greek of Heb. 13:5 cannot fail to see the truth of the old divine’s criticism, with regard to the negatives. The promise was concluded by the apostles in additional strength of language, that it might harmonize more fully with the superiority of Gospel privileges, when compared with the Jewish. The promise had passed the cross of Christ, hence the propriety of its peculiar strength. It is impossible to conceive how words could be better arranged to express the unchangeable friendship of God toward those who put their trust in him. Dr. Doddridge renders it: “I will not, I will not leave thee; I will never, never, never forsake thee.” O! my friend! all hell cannot prevent the virtue of this promise from wielding an influence upon your present and eternal well-being, so long as you are faithful. Has he not also assured you, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee”?
Many times have I joined the American Christians in singing the following beautiful lines, which will serve as a sort of comment upon the above passages. Often, very often, have we rejoiced with joy unspeakable while we sang:-
“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith, in his excellent word!
What more could he say than to you he has said,
You who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?
“In every condition, in sickness and health,
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth,
At home or abroad, on the land on the sea,
As thy day may demand, shall thy strength ever be.
“Fear not, I am with you; oh, be not dismayed, -I,
I am thy God, and will still give you aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify thee thy deepest distress.
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace all-sufficient shall be thy supply;
The flames shall not hurt thee, — I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
“Even down to old age, all my people shall prove
My faithful, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs do their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still on my bosom be borne.
“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, — no, never, — no, never forsake!”
Although, then, you are in heaviness through manifold temptation, that the trial of your faith may be more precious than gold, you see what a groundwork there is for confidence and spiritual joy.
I have frequently had the perception you speak of, — of the presence of angels. But I have told to very few my own experience with regard to such manifestations. Few, except those who walk very closely with God, would understand. It is written, the angel of “the Lord encampeth round about those that fear him,” to succor or to deliver. I was reading the other day, an account of one of the primitive Christians, who suffered for Christ the extremest tortures; — a young man, if I remember aright. When doing their utmost to torment him on the rack, he seemed very happy; and so overpowering were the comforts of the Holy Ghost, he declared that he himself was unconscious of the sufferings of his body, — that his pleasures were unutterable! Tired, at length, of tormenting him, they took him down from the rack, — at which he complained, saying, now they were doing him wrong. “For,” said he, “all the while I was on the rack, and you were venting your malice against me, I thought there was a young man in white, — an angel that stood by me, who wiped off the sweat; and I found a great deal of sweetness in my sufferings, which now I have lost.” Nor need we wonder at this, seeing that the word of God expressly declares that they are “all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.” Heb. 1:14. We may not, indeed, be at all times sensible of their presence; but they are always near us, and, in a greater or less degree, as the case may require, exert their influence for our comfort in or deliverance from temptation. You will do well however, to meditate much upon that fine promise: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” The “way of escape” you must leave to him. Perhaps, you may yet have to sing, –
“Thine arm hath safely brought us
A way no more expected
Than when thy sheep passed through the deep,
By crystal walls protected.”
Before long, God will bruise Satan under your feet. Is it not written, “For he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye”? “And,” said a good man once, “And whosoever is bold enough to touch the apple of God’s eye, shall dearly smart for it.” Was it not upon this principle Christ declared, in reference to any who should dare to offend one of these little ones who believe in him, that rather than be guilty of such an offense, and the hazard which attends it, it would be better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea? If the displeasure of the Lord is so severe against a human persecutor, how much more against a knowing and malignant devil. The devil hazards more than we are aware of, when he attacks the saints, -especially a new convert.
The value of the prize, and some great and infernal principles involved in the matter, overbalance the risk, possibly, in the estimation of the prince of darkness. We shall know more about these things hereafter. It is sufficient for us to know that, if we resist the devil, he will flee from us. James 4:7. If we parley, he will bid defiance to heaven, and pursue our track, as the shark the wandering and fated ship. When in the city of Cork, Ireland, I was conversing with an old Irish class-leader, on the severe mental conflicts with which some good people are particularly harassed. He said, he sometimes told the tempted ones in his class that the devil is just like a dog; — the dog will stay with you, and lie under the table, if you will only give him bones to gnaw; and when he does obtain them, he will keep snarling and grumbling still. Doubts, fears, evil reasonings, and surmises, are such bones as the devil loves to pick, and they are never sweeter than when given by a human hand; the more of these you give him, the closer he will press upon you, and the more steadily will he pursue you, and wait upon you in all your resting-places. The more bones you throw him, the louder he will snarl, and the more annoying will he become. Let him have no more bones. Starve the devil, and he will leave you; he will go elsewhere; he is the last being in the universe that will spend his short time to no purpose. The illustration is homely, but it unfolds a great and solemn truth.
But I must hasten to a conclusion. Forget not that you save a Mediator in heaven: “We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.” The devil may accuse, but you cannot be overthrown while you commit your cause into the hands of such an Advocate. Heavy were the accusations against Aeschylus, in the old story, and some of them, indeed, were too true; but his brother, who had received many wounds in the battles of the Commonwealth, moved the magistrates in his favor. Every scar was an argument, — an advocate! Come, my friend enter now into your closet, kneel down, and sing that fine verse:
“Entered the holy place above,
Covered with meritorious scars,
The tokens of his dying love,
Our great High Priest in glory bears;
He pleads his passion on the tree,
He shows himself to God for me.”
“He is come “cried a martyr, clapping his hands, on the way to the stake. But he had been greatly dejected before, and had suffered much from that cause. “He is come! He is come!” told that the presence of Jesus had banished all his sadness, and turned his sorrow into joy. My prayer is, that you may be enabled to exclaim, “He is come! He is come!” before you arise from your knees.
That was a fine saying of Augustine, when reproached by his persecutors for his past wicked life, — “The more desperate my case was, the more I admire my physician.” This sword has two edges: you may wield it against the devil when he assails you with those weapons which your past life has furnished him; and, should your mourning be turned into joy, you may lay about you with the other edge. “The more desperate my case was, the more I admire my physician!” Let Jesus, and him crucified, be your only plea. Trust simply and singly in the merits of his blood. Resolve to do this in life, in death, and forever. This, too, is a mighty weapon. It was wielded, a few years ago, with great effect by one of our local preachers in America, when dying: “I die,” said he, “wrapped in the merits of Jesus; and I shall lie down in the grave wrapped in the merits of Jesus; and I shall rise in the morning of the resurrection wrapped in the merits of Jesus!” The devil trembled and fled before it, and the saint entered into his rest with glorious joy.
An old writer says: “As corn is beholden to the flail to thresh off its husks, or as the iron is beholden to the file to brighten it, so necessary are temptations and afflictions to the people of God.” An hour of affliction, or a day of sore temptation, has often been more beneficial to my soul than many days of sunny prosperity. There are herbs, you know, whose virtue consists chiefly in their fragrance, but some of them are quite scentless and uninteresting till bruised; then they shed their perfume all around. Thus it is with many a Christian. The fragrance of his piety is never diffused abroad until he is well bruised; — till
“Hell has won its will,
To wring his soul with agony.”
“Our prayers and meditations,” said a good man, “like hot spices, are most fragrant when our hearts are bruised in God’s mortar, and broken with afflictions and troubles.” When such a one, after day or week of trial, speaks in a class or a love-feast, an influence from heaven descends upon all around. I have frequently observed this, and have felt, with the poet,
“‘Tis even as if an angel shook his wings, -Immortal
fragrance fills the circuit wide!”
Such mental trials are thus overruled, usually, for the good of a privileged few, but the influence often extends to many. Like his Lord and Master, the tempted one may terminate his forty days of trial in the wilderness, and then return in the power of the Spirit into Galilee; and, if God ordain it for his glory, the fame of the humble and zealous man may spread through all the region round about. Luke 4:14. Miracles of grace and mercy may result from such an instrumentality. But a dispensation like this is as great a mystery to some carnal professors as was Samson’s riddle to the Philistines: “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.” Judges 14:14. Who could ever have imagined that the carcass of a lion should have become a bee-hive?” What is stronger than a lion? What is sweeter than honey?” Samson had a tremendous conflict, no doubt, with the lion. When he came out with a roar against him, it is not unlikely he apprehended peril; but, when the Spirit came mightily upon him, he rent the furious animal as it had been a kid, and leaving him dead, went on his way rejoicing. Sometime afterward, when passing that way, he turned aside to see the carcass of his old antagonist, when “lo and behold,” he found therein a swarm of bees, with plenty of honey! So he took thereof in his hands, and went on eating, till he met his father and mother; and he gave them, and they did eat.
You can apply the above to your own case, and carry the idea, if you please further than time will permit me. I am persuaded, however, the Lord will overrule for your good, so long as you are faithful to his grace, every temptation which may assail you. A poet has given that interesting circumstance recorded in 1 Kings 17:6 an ingenious turn:-
“Thus Satan, that raven unclean,
Who croaks in the ears of his saints,
Compelled by a power unseen,
Administers oft to their wants.
God teaches them oft to find food,
From all the temptations they feed;
This raven, who thirsts for their blood,
Has helped them to many a meal!”
I have often thought of that sentiment written by a young lady in America to a friend of hers: “I believe both our souls would wither, did not the rough wind sometimes arise to blow away the dust from our branches.” Had not that terrible tempest overtaken the disciples on the lake, they would not have been the admiring witnesses of that stupendous miracle which humbled into silence the winds and the waves. Their terror was great, when they cried: “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” “The ship was covered with the waves; but he was asleep.” But how great was their joy and confidence, when they exclaimed one to another, “What manner of man is this? for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him.”
It is your duty, at this time, to look for divine interference; if not for entire deliverance, yet for more abundant comfort and joy in the Holy Ghost. “When,” said a good man once, “When should the torch be lighted, but in the dark night? When should the fire be made, but when the weather is cold? And when should the cordial be given, but when the patient is weak?” A poor man, in a certain place, was heard to say, that he was once rich, and had learned something of God, and then he prayed continually for a closer walk with God. “But, at first,” he continued, “when God began to answer my prayers, I thought he was going to destroy me; he deprived me of everything I had, but he gave me what was of infinitely more value, even to know more of himself and Jesus.”
How often, when standing on the sea-shore, “while the wind laid on the sea its continuous blast, and myriads of billows whitened in its track, and wave rolled on wave in emulous confusion,” have I watched the motions of the buoy! Again and again would the waves pass over it; — bury it for a moment, but only for a moment; again it appeared riding upon the tops of crested billows, — maintaining its position steadily amidst the restless and frowning elements, nor departing an inch beyond the prescribed limits, because attached to a rock which could not be moved. And I have seen the Christian also, encompassed with warring temptations; as if the strength of hell had been mustered to overthrow him. And one wave of trouble has followed upon the track of another, yet he has remained firmly stationed amidst it all; because anchored upon the Rock of Ages. He could smile at the tempest, and laugh at the waves; — his heart was fixed, trusting in the Lord. Thus circumstanced, I have heard him repeat the following lines, and with an energy that might make a devil tremble:
“Led by God, I brave the ocean;
Led by Him, the storms defy;
Calm amidst tremendous motion,
Knowing that the Lord is nigh.
Waves obey him,
And the storms before him fly.”
And, after the storm was over, I have seen the same individual “emparadised in joy,” and not a cloud upon his sky, nor a single ripple of the late commotions passing over his composed breast, and remembering his troubles only as waters gone by. Gifts and graces from above have I known to descend upon such an one, with an unction which enabled him to carry everything before him among the ranks of sinners, while to the saints of God it was “as if an angel shook his wings.”
These varieties in our spiritual pilgrimage, like the various changes which occur in nature, are, though painful, best for us doubtless; else our Heavenly Father would not permit them. They are overruled for good, and why should we complain? –
“Perpetual sunshine wastes the lovely green,
And spreads disaster o’er the wide terrene;
Perpetual storm impedes the tender growth,
And robs the fields of comeliness and worth.
By frequent changes yon extensive plain
Is made to yield its golden stacks of grain;
To scenes unvaried nature stands opposed,
By clashing processes are her charms disclosed.”
The heathens themselves had some perception, of the benefits arising from such adverse changes. Hence that memorable paradox, that, “None is so unhappy as he who has never known adversity.”
Salvation is of the Lord. Trust in him at all times. Rather die than sin. Rest fully, firmly, constantly, upon the merits of Christ.
A poet has truly said, “Our life is but a pilgrimage of blasts.” The sentiment is quite as applicable now, in the nineteenth century, as it was in the seventeenth, when it was written. Your temptations are, I confess, very severe. They somewhat resemble those which led a pious lady mournfully to complain, — “Mine is a growing sorrow. Like other streams, it widens as it proceeds.” St. Peter denominates such trials “manifold temptations.” They are “varied,” says Mr. Wesley, “a thousand ways, by the change and addition of numberless circumstances.” They may be fitly compared to those Alpine difficulties of which the poet speaks:
“But, these attained, we tremble to survey
The growing labors of the lengthened way;
The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes,
Hills peep o’er hills, and Alps o’er Alps arise.
Yours are “fiery trials;” and they are the more severe on account of their being principally mental. The pains of the mind are much more afflictive, and harder, I believe, to be borne, than those of the body. I remember an apologue, which came over to us some years ago, from Persia, illustrative of this fact. A king and his ministers of state, by some means, were drawn into a discussion, whether mental or corporeal sufferings are the severest. The dispute lasted some time, and resulted in a difference of opinion. One of the ministers proposed an experiment, which was agreed to. He took a lamb from the flock, broke its leg, shut it up, and placed plenty of food before it; he then seized another lamb, and shut it up with a tiger. The tiger was bound by a strong chain, so that the beast could spring near the lamb without the possibility of touching it. In the morning the king was carried to see the result. The lamb with the broken leg had eaten all its food, but the other lay dead through fright. You can make the application.
While I was in Leeds, a brother told me of the case of a sister who had suffered severely from mental conflicts. One said, “Fear not, my sister; the devil is a chained enemy!” With a sorrowful voice, she replied, “But I have sometimes thought his chain is very long.”
There are certain kinds of temptation which are termed “The depths of Satan;” which will apply to these “blasphemous thoughts” of which you speak. “The heavens for height, and the earth for depth;” but how very far is it, often, to the bottom of the depths of Satan’s malice, and cunning working! To the heights of the understanding will he aspire, and to the depths of the heart will he descend. To either of these he will carry his secret and infernal counsels and plots, and with inconceivable energy.
I have met with the remark somewhere, in the course of my reading, that the Christian should be influenced by a retrospective and a prospective view of his history, and derive therefrom experience and comfort. But Satan may render both a source of annoyance to the mind. It is right you should be humbled in the view of the past; but it is wrong to allow your spirit to be depressed, — “stung and tormented,” — because of it. If your sins are forgiven through the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, you should rejoice and he grateful, — not sad and unthankful. Nor should you, for a moment, suppose the present trials which assail you “are acts of a retributive justice.” That was a correct saying of St. Augustine: “Our sufferings are no argument against our righteousness, nor even for our righteousness, but our righteousness may be an ornament to our sufferings.” Look at unhappy Benjamin! Joseph loved him more than any of the rest, but he suffered most severely, for “the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.” Nor should you be amazed at this, seeing that it is written: “For unto you it is given,” as a token of special favor and honor, “in the behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake.”
You have a skillful and malignant enemy to contend with and this is his hour, and he is making the most of it; the why and the wherefore, you shall know hereafter. Satan knows you well; and a mechanic never understood his tools better than does your enemy. He knows what will most affect you, and the instrument most suitable to wound or impress you. Your mind is sore, and it has a leaning just now to melancholy; and the mind, like a tree, is easily bent in the direction to which it leans. Satan knows this, and his entire weight, or, at least, as much as God permits, is thrown upon the leaning side. Do you understand me?
I was amused, the other day, with the quaint remark of a good man. Speaking of the devil, he remarked: “The fiend might well be called Beelzebub, which signifies master fly; because, as a fly, he quickly returns to the part from which he was but now beaten.”
A tender conscience is an unspeakable blessing, as it may save the soul from unutterable woes, both in this world and the next. But a scrupulous conscience is not a blessing; “rather,” says Mr. Wesley, “it is a sore evil.” It is upon this a malicious tempter likes to alight. Again and again, he will come down upon this sore place, — this diseased faculty of the mind, — and will irritate and perpetuate the uneasiness arising from that conscientious scruple. I know a person who has suffered severely, in past years, from the same cause. I have heard him say. “The melancholy eye of my soul could look for months at a case of conscience, without winking. Although my reason sees the path of duty, and my judgment decides against the cause of my uneasiness, yet all the decisions of the higher powers of my mind are insufficient to remove the secret annoyance, or to satisfy the unreasonable scruples entertained by my weak conscience.”
Some writer compares a tender conscience to the eye; the least dust that blows into it will make it smart, and this not from soreness, but from quickness of sense. Now, this quickness of sense is the preserver of that delicate organ; — indeed, it may be the safe-guard of the entire body. “The light of the body is the eye.” Solomon says, “The wise man’s eyes are in his head;” his ornament and his defense. The eye, when used figuratively in Scripture; generally denotes the right use of reason. A poet illustrates the idea thus:
“The wise are circumspect, maturely weigh
The consequence of what they undertake,
Good ends propose, and fittest means apply
To accomplish their designs.”
“The eye is to the body,” says one, “what the sun is to the universe in the day-time, or a lamp or a candle to a house at night.” The conscience, however may be fitly compared to the eye, and its quick sensibilities may be the means of great and continued blessings to the soul. It was this quality in King Josiah that secured to him the favor of God, at a time when the aspect of providence was lowering and threatening: “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, as touching the words which thou hast heard; because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation, and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the Lord.”
But there is a difference between the sensibilities of a healthy eye, and those which arise from disease, — as inflammation, for instance. It is so with the conscience; that quickness of sense which belongs to it in a healthy state may occasion a smart when in contact with real evil, and alarm the soul into a sense of danger; but a diseased conscience, like an inflamed eye, will create pain, when there is no sin to occasion it. A long continuation of sore and perplexing temptation is apt to bring on such a state of conscience as friction will do, when continued for any length of time upon the surface of the flesh; — it will produce irritation and inflammation of the part.
I have conversed with many persons exactly in this state of mind, and, usually, have found their trouble amounting to this. An impression is made upon the conscience that some things are duties which the judgment contradicts; or, that some past or present actions with regard to business, habits, conversation dress, &c., are sinful, while reason rejects such a conclusion; but a dissatisfied conscience maintains the matter in a state of uncertainty. In nine cases out of ten, it is an effort of the devil to raise a storm where there should be a calm.
I could name a few devices of the enemy, in which, if he succeed, he gains a fearful advantage over a person thus circumstanced:
1. By inducing the tempted one to persist in concealing the trouble within his own bosom. The snare, possibly, might be readily broken, were the case divulged to a faithful and intelligent friend. This, to a delicate and sensitive mind is not, in some cases, an easy matter, unless it find another heart “in union, mutually disclosed,” and in which may be reposed undoubting confidence. Not to have such a friend is an evil; and, such is the deceptive nature of friendship, in this world of ours, that most people, before they arrive at twenty years of age, have learned to act upon that advice of the Scotch poet:
“Aye free, aff hand, your story tell,
When wi’ a bosom crony;
But still keep something to yoursel,
Ye scarcely tell to ony.
Conceal yoursel as weel’s ye can
Frae critical dissection;
But keek through every other man,
Wi’ sharpened sly inspection.”
It is a pity, however, when the case is of such a nature as might be divulged, even to a “common friend,” without risk, that the perplexed conscience should be left to struggle with it in secret and alone. The advantage, in such a case, is all on the devil’s side.
2. By restraining prayer. God in Christ is our friend. In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving,” says the apostle, “let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God, which passeth understanding, shall keep your heart and minds, through Christ Jesus.” To this friend you may tell all that is in your heart, without fear of being betrayed. The apostle says, “unto God,” because there may be cases which it would be, perhaps, improper to divulge to a fellow-creature. By prayer we may obtain light, strength, or direction, while we engage God in our behalf; — just as we gain a true friend to espouse our cause, when we make him our confidant. Prayer is the devil’s plague. He cares not a straw for your reasoning, if you will but keep your cause from God.
3. By neglecting the Scriptures. If prayer is our method of opening our mind to our heavenly Father, the Bible is his method of opening his mind to us. “Therefore,” said the psalmist, “I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right. I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold.” The word of God is “the sword of the Spirit.” And “if you fetch this sword out of God’s armory;” said a good man to another, “the devil will run, like a coward.” The Leviathan, his name-sake, is more afraid of the sword-fish, I have heard, than of all the fish of the ocean. Jesus Christ gave him such a wound with that sword, — “It is written,” — that he feels it to this day. Nepotian, whose heart Jerome named Bibliothecam Christi, Christ’s Library, because so well stored with Scripture, had a great and manifest advantage over Satan, when compared with less favored minds. It was on this principle that Robert, king of Sicily, said: “The Holy Books are dearer to me than my kingdom; and, were I under any necessity of quitting one, it should be my diadem.” And it is on this principle the devil will try every method to keep the scrupulous conscience from obtaining a knowledge of those particular Scriptures which would set it right, if applied by the Holy Ghost, in a few moments.
4. By adopting hasty and unjustifiable measures for deliverance. Such as, 1st. imprudent vows. These afford Satan a fearful advantage. 2nd. Yielding to sin. I have known persons strongly tempted to commit sin, supposing positive condemnation to be more tolerable than the harassing effects of uncertainty. This is a dreadful alternative, and an abominable device of Satan, from which the sincere soul should recoil with horror. Better say,
“Rather I would in darkness mourn
The absence of thy peace,
Than e’er by light irreverence turn
Thy grace to wantonness;
Rather I would, in painful awe,
Beneath thine anger move,
Than sin against the Gospel law
Of liberty and love.”
5. By indulging a fretting and repining Spirit. This weakens the soul, and grieves the Spirit of God. John Bunyan tells us, that, yielding to impatience, he tempted God to grant him a sign of the truth of his omniscience; that, if all things were, indeed, known to him, with the very secrets of the human heart, he would prove it, by removing that particular thing that afflicted his mind. It was removed suddenly, but a worse temptation arrived immediately in its place. He confesses that, in his anxiety to get clear of one trouble, he did not deprecate or pray against that which might possibly follow. He does not tell us the nature of this second messenger of Satan; only, that it left a sting in his conscience, with intolerable bodily anguish; and that he considered it a punishment for his presumption. Perhaps he suffered for his impatience more than for anything else.
6. By reasoning and contending with the devil, and a weak conscience, with a DEARTH both of faith and love in the heart. This places the soul in circumstances most disadvantageous. A baptism of love would go far to silence the devil; it certainly would heal the soul, and procure its triumph. Satan can bear anything better than to see a Christian, against whom he is waging war, rejoicing with joy unspeakable, in the midst of his fiercest assaults. When such an event takes place, he usually leaves the field. The sooner, therefore, my friend, you obtain such a baptism, the better. Nothing but this can ever heal your diseased conscience, or raise you above the particular troubles which have so painfully annoyed you. “Make haste, make haste to love,” said a good man in Spain, to one of a scrupulous conscience, “Make haste to love; and the scruples will fall away, which rise but from a fearful heart; ‘for perfect love casts out fear.'” I have always admired that saying of John Newton: “Love and fear are like the sun and moon, seldom seen together.” Love is what you want, then, — perfect love. This will not only “cast out all fear that has torment” (1 John 4:18), but it will impart a power to the soul, by which it will be enabled to render a cheerful obedience to the precepts of this royal Gospel law, as well as to the dictates of a sound and enlightened conscience:
“Inflame our hearts with perfect love;
In us the work of faith fulfill;
So not heaven’s host shall swifter move
Than we on earth to do thy will.”
It is Archbishop Leighton, I think, who defines the labor of love to be the labor of rest; -rest even in the motion it communicates, because such motion is so natural and sweet to the soul that loves. True love to God, he says, loves the labor of love, as it is a service to him that is loved. Love has its motions, but they are heavenly and circular; — still his God, beginning and ending in him; — yet not ending, but moving still without weariness. He compares the motions and labor of love to the revolution of the heavens, which is motion in rest, changing not place though running still.