SUCH was the Pilgrim's Progress of the |Friends of God| -- a book which seems to have been written and re-written in yet earlier days than those of Rulman Merswin, but sent forth afresh by him, with additions and alterations of his own, under the direction of Nicholas of Basle.
To us it comes with an awakening voice, as well as with a call for thankfulness, that in our times the way of God has been made known more perfectly. For it is as though Rulman and the other Friends of God beheld the glorious tree of the Lord's planting, with its blossoms, and its fruit, and its fragrance, but did not see, as we have seen, how deep were its roots in the grace of the Lord, and that it is in Him, not in ourselves, that we have the joy and gladness, and the place of the Beloved, in the heart of the Father.
Yet they knew and owned that through His death alone this blessing came to them. And they saw also that it was by grace only that a man could be on the rock where the Face of God was seen. What was it that was wanting in their faith and knowledge?
May we not say as before, that in the first place, they allowed one great truth to take the place of another, which therefore they overlooked and lost? They knew and believed that the joy and blessedness of conscious communion with God, is dependent on the practical abiding in Christ, keeping His commandments, and reckoning self as dead. But they did not appear to be aware that this abiding in Him, this obedience, and this power of walking as those who are alive from the dead, are dependent upon the faith which looks continually at Him, and Him only.
Therefore they were constantly hindering themselves, by the very earnestness of their desire to conform themselves to the image of Christ, for they looked at themselves, to see if they were like Him, rather than at Him; whereas it is by beholding Him we are changed into His image. They were like any amongst the Israelites who pressed forward, filled with faith in God's promises, to take possession of the goodly land, but who had not seen, as Joshua had seen, the captain of the Lord's Host going before them to victory.
And secondly, we can remark in looking back to their anxiety, beautiful and touching as it was, to do the will of God rather than their own, that the continual and watchful care with which they tried their ways, left their hearts less free to delight in Christ Himself, and to behold His glory apart from His relation to themselves.
Therefore we find that the delight of God in His Son, that fellowship with the Father, which it is given to us to enjoy, was but little known to them. A |Friend of God| could say with deepest love and adoration, |He loved me, and gave Himself for me;| but the delight in Him as He is in Himself, seems seldom to have been theirs.
And the love wherewith the Father loves Him, which is through grace shed abroad in our hearts, was to them more or less lost sight of, because the love wherewith the saved soul loves Him was to them more real, because it was more a matter of experience. And experience, with them, was the measure of blessing.
To us it is shown that the measure must not be looked for in ourselves at all, but in the delight of God in His beloved Son. And that we are but called upon to believe, and realise, the great gift of the unsearchable riches which we possess in Christ -- His life ours, His glory ours, the love wherewith the Father loves Him, ours also.
The |Friends of God| desired to attain to the state of being dead to sin and alive to God, and they did not know that being dead already, and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord, they were freed from sin, and already brought, except as regards the mortal body, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.
They did not know that these things are facts revealed to us, not attainments to be reached by our prayers and efforts.
But on the other hand, is there not still a message for us, in the midst of our light and knowledge, in the words of these beloved saints, who were groping with so marvellous an earnestness after that which we know that we possess, and which we, alas, so lightly esteem?
We are told much and often, of all the spiritual blessings in heavenly places laid up for us in Christ. But do we very commonly enjoy them as truly as did the |Friends of God,| who felt and experienced in their inmost hearts, that which we know as truths, and perhaps feel the less, because it is as truths that we have learnt these things, and not as the blessed answer of the heart of God to the longing desire of His ignorant children? The Lord Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, had no other blessedness to give to His saints in the old times, than that which He gives to us -- for the blessedness is Himself. And if we know better than they did, how such blessedness can be ours, let us own in abasement before Him that the joy and gladness, the devotedness and the love, should be all the deeper in these our days. And let us ask ourselves if it is so, and if the sight of the fallen Church so grieves and humbles us, as it grieved and humbled Rulman Merswin.
For ten who know how to point out the faults in this or that section of the great professing Church, is there one who humbles himself before God on account of it, or who mourns over it with the sorrow which belongs to love?
And if our eyes have been opened to see that the true and living Church consists not of this denomination or that, but of all everywhere who have a living faith in the Blood of Christ, do we in consequence own all such as His, and sorrow deeply to see the people of the Lord scattered on the mountains, and lost in miry sloughs, led astray by evil teaching, and beclouded by the darkness of centuries of ignorance and unbelief?
And do we mourn deeply and truly over our own share in the fall and ruin of the professing Church of God, over our lukewarmness, our prayerlessness, our ignorance, our self-indulgence, our weak faith, and love that has waxed cold?
Or do we, on the other hand, either spurn and despise the erring and the ignorant, or regard as of small importance errors in belief, and carelessness in practice, for the sake of being on good and easy terms with all alike?
Rather let us grieve with Rulman Merswin to see so few upon the rock that rises into the height of heaven, and desire for ourselves, and for all the people of God, the constant sense of that Presence wherein is the fulness of joy, the place of honour at His right hand where are pleasures for evermore.