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CHRISTIAN OBSERVER FOR 1833,
BEING THE THIRTY THIRD VOLUME.
RELIGIOUS & MISCELLANEOUS COMMUNICATIONS.
DR. MALAN'S TRACT ENTITLED “ THE TRUE CROSS."
(Concluded from page 741.)
To believe in Grace requires Humility. I HAVE been deceived, then, exclaimed the old man, with an expres
sion of surprise and grief. Yes, I was mistaken as to my motives, when I imagined I was doing every thing from love to God. Ah! I see that interest was the spring of every thing I did. What a mournful discovery!
I replied, thoughtfully : Why do you thus term a signal mercy which the Lord vouchsafes to you? For, which do you prefer,—to persevere in your dangerous error, or to be made sensible of it and renounce it?
That is true, he replied, shaking his venerable head; but I have lost the whole of my life.
And if the Son of God, I replied, gives you his in the place of yours, will you lose by such an exchange ?
The old man looked at me for some moments, and said in a low voice, Pray repeat what you have just said. I ask you, repeated I, which you prefer,—to retain your own works, or to abandon them and receive in their place those of the Lord Jesus ? for either yours or His must accompany your soul to the throne of God's justice. Will you, then, be rich from your own resources, or trust solely in the merits of the Redeemer ?
Oh, how soon this choice would be made, if man loved his God! How easy and delightful would it then be to the creature to become nothing before his Maker, and to receive all from him! With what eagerness and gratitude would the sinner reject all confidence in himself, to receive, seize, and embrace the grace and righteousness of his Lord, if He were dearer to him than his own pride! Oh how eagerly would that compassionate and glorious Saviour, who came from the bosom of the Father, be received, if the mercy of God was more lovely in the eyes of man than the sins which he commits, or the glory which he covets! But man prefers himself to God; and that which he is the least willing to yield to the Lord, is that He should be the first in the work of salvation.
Thus did the old man cavil with the grace of God. And take care, reader, that your heart does not commit the same fault, and does not in like manner seek to rob God of the glory due to him. Am I, then, demanded the old man, somewhat piqued, to be put on a Carist. Obs. App.
level with profane wretches who scoff at all religion and morality? Does God make no account of integrity, and of conduct ...at least honourable ?
I replied, gravely, You are either pure and without spot in his sight, or a sinner in some respect
But who is not a sinner? interrupted he warmly. Well, and who is not condemned ? I replied with firmness. Let us not deceive ourselves on this point: either we have done all that is just, and then we are just, and have no need of pardon; or we have done evil—some evil at least—and are therefore guilty, and cannot stand before God but as He purifies us. Now consider what you think respecting this as applied to yourself. As for me, sir, I confess before you, as well as in the presence of God, that if God had not himself washed and cleansed me from my offences, at this very hour I should be under his wrath. I say then, unreservedly, that if I am pardoned, it is not because of any thing I have done ; and I further add, that however upright and honourable I may have been before my fellow-creatures, yet I only stand before God because he has given me precisely the same grace which he gave to the thief who hung on the cross by the side of the Redeemer.
These last words were followed by a long silence.
The old man was agitated; he spoke to himself; and I saw clearly that truth was struggling in his soul with ancient errors, or rather with unbelief, which had formed and nourished them.
The gift of eternal life, then, proceeds from grace, he at length said, sighing, and as if talking to himself. It is a pure gift of the mercy of the Highest. If then it reaches me, I must humble myself, with my face to the earth, and must confess in my conscience, that, far from having merited it, I have on the contrary obtained it only because I was unworthy of it. Oh, how man's pride is here abased, and how false and contemptible he becomes before this dispensation of the sovereign mercy of the Almighty!
Thus it must be, added he, clasping his hands. Yes, salvation must descend entirely from the throne of God's mercy: it is very unlikely that it should ascend from the criminal to his Judge. What an error! what darkness! continued he, looking at me. Oh, sir, what have I done with my understanding up to this day! How could I obstinately have imagined and persuaded myself that I could cleanse my own soul, and thus pretend to do what could only be effected by the grace of God ? I have thrown away my life, he repeated, shaking his head and sighing. Alas! I have done still worse; for, whilst seeking to save myself, I have disregarded the mercy of God.
But God has not disregarded you, replied I, gently. No; He has not rejected you. He has seen you in your error, and has delivered you from it; since to day, even at this hour, he speaks to you by his truth, and tells you that the pardon of sin and the gift of eternal life is entirely in Him; that is, in his holy Son Jesus, who did not shed his blood in vain upon this cross, nor suffer in vain in his soul the condemnation of an accursed one.
I understand, replied the old man, with more freedom : Jesus himself bore the curse from which he delivered man; and this, I believe, is the point which I have not comprehended until this moment.
What has your belief been, then, on this point ? demanded I.
Old Man. I have always thought (for so are we instructed) that the Son of God by his death upon the cross took away the curse which hangs over the whole race of Adam, and that he thus opened a way for us whereby to obtain a salvation to which otherwise we should never have had access.
Traveller. Such was also my persuasion when I walked alone, far from the word of God and according to the instruction which I had received from men like myself. At that time I thought that the Saviour had taken away the obstacles which surrounded the mountain of salvation; but that it was for me to climb it, and to raise myself in some way by the help of my own works to the height of pardon and glory. I was ignorant then what the Saviour was ; and I only regarded him as a help, most useful to a being already holy in himself, but entirely useless to a creature dead in trespasses and sins, to use the language of Scripture. (Eph. ii. 1, &c.) Then also, sir, persuaded as I was that my salvation must be my own work, I gave myself much trouble to attain it. I added work to work; I watched my inclinations; multiplied my devotions and prayers ; gave alms; imposed penances upon myself ; fatigued my body by mortifications ; and debarred myself from every kind of enjoyment or recreation. I thus heaped up stones, ill hewn, and without mortar, upon the moving sand of my presumption. At every new fault my wall crumbled; and then in my folly I again endeavoured to raise and consolidate it by fresh tears and more solemn vows. God himself shewed me my error; and, as he does always, by his word. I read the Holy Bible at first with prejudice and distrust (for you well know how little we have been habituated to its perusal); then with attention and interest; and it was thus that by degrees I attained to see this truth,—that man, left to himself, is lost ; and that salvation, from its first commencement to its completion, is the free gift of God in Jesus Christ.
I believed this truth-or, rather, God made me capable, by his Holy Spirit, of understanding and believing it;—and now I have peace of mind; for I am persuaded, according to the testimony of God himself in his word, that my sins are freely pardoned, and that I have always, and in every place, the freest access to the Throne of Grace, upon which is seated, as respects me, no longer a Judge, but a Father. I approach it then“ with boldness," conducted as I am by my Advocate, that same Great High Priest who upon the cross washed my soul in his blood. Such is now my persuasion, and such is the assured peace which I enjoy (Heb. x. 19—23).
Old Man, with emotion. What would not I give, sir, to experience it also ! Will you, then, be patient with me, and tell me how you have obtained this unspeakable blessing ?
CHAPTER VII. The Traveller explains the Reason of his Hope. I obtained this peace, I replied, on the very day on which I understood and believed what God has revealed to us respecting the sacrifice of his Son upon the cross. I had often both heard and read these words : I had repeated them also a thousand times; but I had never conceived either their sense or fulness. One day, as I was reading the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews, I was remarkably struck by certain passages, which declare that the Son of God has by Himself purged the sins of his people; and that by one offering he hath perfected for ever those whom the Father has given him. (Heb. i. 3; ii. 17; x. 10-14; &c.) I reflected seriously upon them, and came to this conclusion,—that since the Son of God has thus saved his people, it is acting in opposition to this truth to do any thing with a view thereby to obtain salvation. This first reflection, which entirely satisfied my mind, and which gave to Jesus his true character-namely, that of a perfect Saviour—was followed by another, which greatly troubled me; that, since Jesus has saved for ever those for whom he was offered, it is plain that he was not offered for those who will eventually be lost : for if he had been offered for them, they would have been washed from their sins, even from their unbelief and obstinacy, and would not consequently have perished. This led me anxiously to inquire, “ Am I, or am I not, one of those sinners whom the Son of God rendered perfect in himself by his bloody sacrifice ?"
Old Man, very earnestly. Pray tell me how you could ascertain whether you were one of those souls ?
Traveller. Ah! I had much difficulty in allowing it, and it was not without resistance that I consented to know it.
Old Man. I entreat you to explain what you mean. Is constraint ne. cessary in order to learn and receive such a certainty as this?
Traveller. It is a certainty which overthrows our pride and tramples it under foot, and mine did not easily submit. But God was the strongest, and at length his truth made me free.
The Old Man, with the same earnestness. But how did God effect this?
Traveller. By granting me grace to imitate the faith of Abraham (Gal. iii.), that is, to believe simply and sincerely the word of God, and thus to lay hold of what he declares and promises. But I will explain myself more fully. From the moment that I understood that the Lord Jesus has for ever saved those for whom he gave himself upon the cross, I concluded, as I have told you, that it behoved me to be sure that I was one of those sinners. But here I committed a great fault; for I imagined, that, in order to be certain of this, I must find in myself that obedience and holiness which characterise the true disciples of the Saviour.
Old Man. But was not that very just reasoning? If I have not the character of a believer, can I persuade myself that I am one ?
Traveller. No, certainly : but we must observe, that as those visible characteristics—such as love, joy, peace, patience, and all the other works of holiness—are the fruits of the Holy Spirit, it is indispensably necessary that I should receive the Holy Spirit before I can even begin to produce those fruits. Now as the Holy Spirit is not given, as an unction of joy and holiness, until after the soul has believed the promise of God, it is clear that I must first believe the promise ; and that, therefore, as long as I continued in unbelief it was in vain to seek in myself those evidences of holiness which could not appear until after my faith in this promise.
Old Man. I must confess my ignorance, for I own I do not well understand this distinction.
Traveller. As you believe the Bible, you know that God has given to his church several commandments to observe.
Old Man. Has not God given his laws to all men.
Traveller. The law of God is binding upon every one who hears it; and he who, knowing it, does not put it in practice, is confessedly a sinner. But what the father of a family requires from his children by the mouth of their elder brother, is only addressed to his family. It is therefore a great error to impose on a stranger the same duty as on a son ; that is to say, to expect from a man who is still in unbelief the same obedience which can only be rendered by a heart which has received the faith. The unbeliever is conducted by a worldly spirit; the believer is conducted by the Spirit of God: how, then, can we expect the same effect from two such opposite causes? How can we say to him who fears the condemnation and wrath of God,“ Act as a child well-beloved by the Lord ?”
Old Man. Yes, this is the distinction which was not clear to me. I understand it now: the commands of God are addressed to the whole human race, as a law of obligation and restraint; but it is only to the children of God, to the family of the redeemed, that they are addressed as a pater. nal requisition.
Traveller. Nothing is clearer. For since it is the work of the Holy Spirit to cause these commands to be known, loved, and followed, the Holy
Spirit must be in the soul before they can be known, loved, and followed. But that Spirit, which the world—that is to say, the whole human racehas not, is only given as a seal to believers : I must believe, therefore, beforel can know, love, and follow the commands of my Father. I shall torment then myself in vain, if I persist in finding or in producing within me love for the law of God, and the submission of my will to the Lord's, before that by faith I have acquired the certainty that God has made me his child, and that thus he is my tender Father in Jesus (Eph. i. 13; Gal. v. 22).
Old Man. I quite understand, sir; and I see what you did to assure yourself that you belonged to Jesus: you wisheddid you not?—to find in yourself obedience; and to conclude from that, that you were one of the redeemed ?
Traveller. Precisely so. I was tormented a long time by this error. But God at length dissipated it, as I have told you, by leading me to believe as Abraham did ; that is, not only without having any evidence of holiness in myself, but against contrary evidences which I found within me. I was reading one day the history of that nobleman who, having with much earnestness supplicated the Lord Jesus to come and heal his son, believed the word of the Lord when he said to him, “Go thy way; thy son liveth” (John iv. 46–53). It gave rise to the following reflection; This man had no proof, no outward testimony, of the truth of the fact; he had only the word, the assertion, of the Lord Jesus; and yet, as soon as he had heard that word he went away, without asking the Saviour further to come to his sick son. The certainty that he had of his son's deliverance was, then, entirely founded upon the word of Jesus. He placed all his confidence in it. “ The Lord has said it, therefore it is so :” such was his reasoning.
This example led me to that of Abraham, who likewise believed God, though he had in himself and Sarah every thing opposed to the promise which God made him. Abraham did not doubt that the thing would come to pass which the Lord had announced, notwithstanding that, humanly speaking, it appeared to be impossible. (Rom. iv. 18–25; Gal. üi.) The faith of this believer, I said to myself, is proposed to us as an example. I must then imitate it, by simply and implicitly believing all that God affirms : and, first, if He declares that he who believes is justified, I may be sure that it is thus with me; that is, that I am justified if I truly believe. Hereupon I considered how the nobleman and Abraham were sure that they believed ; and I saw that neither of these believers had any other proof of his belief than the belief itself which existed in his heart. I then attentively examined myself, according to the Apostle's command (2 Cor. xii. 5), and inquired what was my persuasion as to the Lord Jesus. I knew that I believed in him, since I felt that I knew him in my soul; and that I believed all that God had said and testified of his Son; and that, therefore, I could say before God, from my heart, “I believe that Thou hast so loved the world that thou hast sent thine only begotten Son into the world. Yes, I truly believe that Jesus came from Thee, and that Thou didst send him. I also sincerely believe that it is in Him, and in Him only, that thou hast given unto us eternal life ; and I am sure that I adore Jesus Christ, although I have never seen him, or heard his voice." (John iïi. 15— 18; xvii. 8: 1 John v. 11, 12; 1 Pet. i. 8.)
Old Man. But how did this belief give you peace of mind ?
CHAPTER VIII. The true Meaning of the Promise of God in Christ. I replied to the old man: God also enabled me to believe the promise, addressed to all those who sincerely believe in Jesus, that “he who be