A FAITHFUL WORD
As you in your letter manifest a great deal of candor and openness of mind, I, in making a reply, will use great plainness of speech, and will, at the same time, hope that the Lord may seal instruction on your heart. It may be you are all that you say you are, and a great deal more. You may also perform all that you say you do, and yet fall vastly short of being a Christian in heart. You may, as it seems you are, be a member of a church; be in high esteem among professors of religion, concerning which you speak with emphasis; be thought well of by your minister, which you appear to glory in; be much applauded for your zeal and diligence, which seems a sweet morsel to you; possess a good talent for exhortation, respecting which you throw out some broad hints.
But alas! know you not, my good Sir, that all of the above things may be true, and yet you remain a total stranger to the power of God and to a radical change of heart. Believe me when I say that you may attend public service constantly, pray frequently, and read continually, and yet, as to spiritual things, be as blind as a bat and as dead as a stone. Real religion, Sir, and vital godliness, are something more than all this; and I am sorry to find your letter savors so much of the former and nothing of the latter. You seem to make a great bustle and noise, but what does it all amount to, when properly dissected and squared by the Word of God? Why, to me it appears like a puff of empty air.
I do not write these lines, Sir, to discourage you, but to correct you wherein I conceive you miss the mark in matters of the highest importance. I hope I shall not be thought to trespass when I say, if you have not had the fountain of sin in your heart broken up; if you have not discovered and felt the wrath of God in His holy Law going out against you as a sinner; if you have not found yourself under the arrests of Divine justice, and thereby exposed to eternal ruin; if you have not had that sound sense of your lost condition which has made you flee from the wrath to come; if you have not had the knowledge of salvation, by the forgiveness of your sins, communicated by the Holy Spirit; if Christ has not been formed in your heart the hope of glory; if you have not laid hold on eternal life; if you have not hungered and thirsted after Divine instruction, under a feeling sense of gross darkness upon you, and be desirous of knowing more of Christ Jesus by the Spirit's testimony of Him, whom to know is life eternal; if you have not been made, in some degree, sick of sin, sick of self, sick of this world, and willing to part with and leave all for Christ; if these things, I say, have not in some measure taken place and been experimentally known by you, your hope is fallacious, your peace is a false peace, your faith is fantastical, your joy is delusive, your knowledge is speculative, your love of God is feigned, your fear is servile, your change of heart is mere notion, your religion is vain, and you are yet in your sins, notwithstanding all the great outcry you are now making about religion.
Real Christianity, Sir, consists in something more than mere notion or whim. It is not what a man may think he is, but what God has actually made him to be, by an act of sovereign mercy and grace, which constitutes him a true disciple of Christ. Not a few in this our day are, it is to be feared, setting themselves down satisfied, as I fear you are, under an impression that all is right between God and their souls, merely because they are well enough thought of to be taken into church fellowship, and some other external things, such, I mean, as you lay so much stress upon in your letter. O sad mistake! A most awful delusion is this, which a day that is quickly coming will disclose and make known, and then how grievously will they be surprised and astonished who have made lies their refuge, falsehood their covering, and an arm of flesh their support.
I wish that you, dear Sir, may not prove to be one of this sort. I shall, however, have just cause to fear it until you can give a better account of yourself than you have hitherto done. Your state, Sir, in the sight of God, is not bettered by you joining a church, though you fondly imagine it is. Permit me to say, that if your heart is not right in the sight of God, which it cannot be unless God Himself sets it right, it matters not what outward show you may make, or what people may think or say of you; it is Christ in the heart, "the hope of glory," that constitutes a real Christian; whereas, the name of Christ in a mere notion of Him will avail nothing at all in the day of judgment. Many have known enough of Christ, of themselves, of the Law of God and the Gospel of His Son, of the plan of salvation and of the stability of the covenant of gracein the theoryto get themselves a great name among men, and a high station in a church for many years; and yet, when they have been summoned to appear in another world, have found themselves totally destitute of that which alone can make a dying bed easy.
There was but one leper out of ten that returned to give glory to God, and he was a stranger, a poor Samaritan (Luke 17:18). And so it often happens among the great crowd who make a profession of religion and become members of churches; it is only now and then a poor stranger that comes in for the blessings of the Gospel, and he is generally looked upon by graceless professors as a Samaritan, and as one in nowise friendly to them. When the Lord singles out one for Himself from the company of graceless professors, and opens his ears to discipline, opens his heart to receive the Truth, opens his eyes to see wondrous things out of His Law, and opens his mouth to show forth His praise; such a one will speak of what he has known, felt, handled, and tasted of the Word of Life; and as he can very generally tell a hypocrite from a real saint, he will take the liberty of pointing him out; and as he also knows truth from error, he will receive the former, and reject the latter, though the latter proceed from a clergyman. But as such proceedings will be sure to prove very offensive to those who have only a name to live, his name will soon be cast out as evil, and he will be viewed as a pestilent fellow, and as one who is trying to turn their churches upside down, whereas he is only endeavoring to undeceive those who are deceiving themselves and others.
I do not write thus, Sir, with a view of discouraging you from attending to that which is good, but to caution you against wolves in sheep's clothing, and against trusting in a name to live, while, it may be you are dead. Man is naturally prone to fly to a false refuge, and to content himself with a false peace; this is like Zoar, "near to flee to"; and it is one of the hardest things in the world to persuade a man that his hope is delusive. And yet I am convinced if God should stir up his wrath against a man who is in a delusion, however confident he may be of the safety of his state, it would cause his beauty to fade like a leaf.
O Sir, try to think how astonished you would stand in case your present certainty of salvation were overturned and brought to nothing, and your confidence rejected! It is surprising to think, and impossible to tell, how the burning wrath of God revealed in a broken law, and sent home with full force to the conscience, does scorch, wither, consume, and burn up a man's false faith, false hope, false joy, and false peace. It is evident from the oracles of God that none will be able to stand with peace and composure in the Day of the Lord's wrath, but those who have their anchorage in Christ Jesus, having fled for refuge to lay hold of that blessed hope set before us in the Gospel. All false props, Sir, will in that day totter, sink and fall under the man who leans upon them, and the guilty soul thus left will be exposed to all the curses contained in the Book of the Law. A mere form of religion, an outward show in the flesh, will then put off its flattering charms, and appear in its true garb. O if men were duly sensible of this, they would not dream of taking rest in such external things as they now do.
Believe me, dear sir, it is not an outward profession of religionbut an inward possession of the grace of God, which constitutes a Christian; not knowledge in the headbut the root of the matter in the soul, which ensures eternal life to us; not what a man saysbut what he feels, which proves that he has got Divine life in his inward part; not what he does for Godbut what God has done for him, which makes him fit for Heaven. It is not fancy, but faith, which purifies the heart. It is not a vain confidence, but a good hope through grace, which keeps and bears up the soul in the day of evil. It is not the esteem of men, but the approbation of God, which brings peace to the troubled conscience. It is not being united to a church here below, but being one with Christ, the true and living Vine, which makes our standing eternally secure. It is not the natural passions stirred up, but the oil of joy poured into the soul, which makes a man forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more. It is not partaking of bread and wine at the Lord's table, but feeding on Christ by faith, which makes him thrive and grow. It is not a blind zeal, but a zeal according to knowledge derived from the Spirit's teaching and testimony of Christ in a man's understanding and conscience, which makes him approved of God. It is not what we may be thought of by those around us, but what God's thoughts toward us are, which will be the turning point, and decide our case when death comes.
These things, it may be, will greatly astonish you, but as sure as there is a God, they are the things on which eternal salvation hangs. Look to it, therefore, and do not trifle with, or think lightly of, things of such vast consequence; for if you do, it may prove to your cost in eternity. If our names are not found written among the living in the spiritual Jerusalem, we shall be cast out as withered branches, let us attain to what place of honor and greatness we may in the church below. As to your being in good standing among professors, that is but a small matter when compared with some other things; and how a man of your sense and reading can be so exalted and enthusiastically carried away with such little things, I cannot account for in any other way than by this rule: "The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14).
Should God be pleased, in the multitude of His tender mercies, to open your eyes and bring you to see things as they really are, you will look back on your present state with amazement and horror, seeing it to be as perilous as I now conceive it to be.
Dear Sir, do turn these things over in your mind, and search closely into your standing before the Lord, and be not deceived, for God is not mocked. I would advise you to read the Bible very attentively, and earnestly to beg of God to set you right if you are wrong, as it is greatly to be feared you are. Pay less regard to the good opinion that men may have of you, as they will not be your judges in the great day of final accounting. Remember, God will be the righteous Judge at that day, and that by His decision you will stand or fall. Consider also how many have been deceived in the end about the business of salvation and the goodness of their state, though they seem to before possess an unshaken confidence of their being right. Examine well the ground of your present hope, the foundation of your faith, and what authority you have to draw a determined conclusion that your heart is right in the sight of God.
Bear with me while I once more say that I stand in doubt of you, and that I can see no just reason on the face of your letter for you to conclude, as you now do, that your condition in the sight of God is good. This, however, I know, God is able to do great things for you, and I know not but He will, and perhaps He is at work with you now. If this should be the case, the work will go on and be brought to perfection, and you will have cause to admire His grace, and to be thankful for His unspeakable mercy. Seek for these things, my dear Sir, with all diligence, and God grant you a successful outcome.
With regard to myself, I must needs say, that the esteem and good will of men, even of spiritual men, have but little weight with me; yes, no weight at all in reference to my standing before God. I am constrained to look to a much higher source for a foundation on which to venture my immortal part. Nothing short of a believing view of Christ as crucified for me, and the witness of the Holy Spirit with my spirit that I am a child of God, will carry me ascendant over fears and doubts whether all is right or not. And inasmuch as nothing short of these things will satisfy my own soulI must still doubt the safety of those who are contenting themselves with such things of so trifling a nature as you appear to do. It may be that my great plainness will give offence, but I must risk that. Write again, Sir, whenever you think proper. Adieu.
J. Osbourne, 1843.