A PRACTICAL DIRECTORY FOR YOUNG CHRISTIAN FEMALES; BEING A SERIES OF LETTERS FROM A BROTHER TO A YOUNGER SISTER.
BY HARVEY NEWCOMB.
WRITTEN FOR THE MASSACHUSETTS SABBATH SCHOOL SOCIETY, AND APPROVED BY THE COMMITTEE OF PUBLICATION.
BOSTON: MASSACHUSETTS SABBATH SCHOOL SOCIETY Depository, No. 13 Cornhill.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1833, by CHRISTOPHER C. DEAN, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.
Stereotyped by HOBART & ROBBINS; NEW ENGLAND TYPE AND STEREOTYPE FOUNDRY, BOSTON.
The following Letters were truly, as they profess to have been, written to a younger sister of the author. By the death of her parents, she was left, in a measure, dependent upon him, at an early age. She had been the subject of many prayers, and endeared by many ties. His house, as he humbly trusts, was the place of her second birth. As she was about to leave his roof, for a residence among strangers, the idea occurred to him of imbodying his fraternal counsel in such a form that it might be a friendly monitor to her, in the midst of those dangers and difficulties which beset the path of inexperienced youth. In prosecuting this design, it appeared hardly proper to bestow so much time upon the interests of one individual. Hence the writer concluded to commit these Letters to the press, with the hope that they might be the means of doing some good. This work is intended not merely to be read and laid aside; but, as its title imports, to be kept as a kind of practical directory for daily living. This edition has been revised with great care, and much new matter added.
The Christian's Mark, 17
Introduction, 17 A Great Mistake, 17 The Grace of God a Growing Principle, 18 The Spring that never dries nor freezes, 19 Growth in Grace, 20 The Glory of God, how manifested, 21 The true Standard of Holiness, 21 Paul's desire for Higher Attainments, 22 How Eminent Holiness is attained, 23 Examples of Eminent Persons, 23 Mrs. Edwards, 24 Earnestness in Religion, 25 Religion the great Business of Life, 25
Importance of a thorough Knowledge of the Doctrines of Christianity; Means of obtaining it, 26
Connection of Doctrine and Practice, 26 Religion compared to a Building, 27 The Holy Spirit operates through the Truth, 28 Genuine and Spurious Religious Affections distinguished, 28 Office of the Truth in Sanctification, 29 Doctrinal Knowledge without Practice, 29
1. Becomes a Little Child, 30 The Starting Point of Error, 31 2. Avoid a Controversial Spirit, 31 An Error of Young Persons, 31 3. Use Helps, 32 Writings of Men, why studied, 32 Bible the Text Book, 32 4. Seek the Aid of the Holy Spirit, 32
True Religion a Work of Grace in the Heart, but must be carried out in the Conduct, 33
Inconstancy of False Religion, 34 Fruitfulness of True Piety, 34 Fruits of the True and False Professor contrasted, 35 Fruit-bearing the test of Christian Character, 36 The Fruits of the Spirit, 36 Love, as in the Experience of David, 37 Manifested in willing Obedience, 38 Love of the Brethren, 38 Spiritual Joy. Peace, 39 Peace of Mind; its Manifestations, 40 Meekness the Twin Sister of Peace, 41 Long-suffering, Gentleness, 41 Goodness, 42 Faith, a Common Principle of Action, 42 An Operative Principle, 43 Power of Faith. Temperance, 43
Reading and Study of the, Bible, 44
Search the Scriptures, 45 We must set our Hearts to it, 45
1. Read the Bible in your Closet, 46 2. Preparation of the Heart, 47 3. Seek the Aid of the Holy Spirit, 47 4. Read with Self-application, 47 5. Read the Scriptures regularly, 48 6. Study the Bible systematically, 48 Variety and Harmony of the Bible, 49 Things to be observed, 49 Wisdom of Divine Inspiration, 49 How to remove Difficulties, 50 Commentaries. Tasks, 50 Read in Course, 51 Close Study of the Bible, 51 Constant Subjects of Inquiry, 52 The Bible a History of the Church, 52 Periods of the History of the Church, 52 Take notice what Period you are reading, 53 Inquire what Doctrine or Principle is taught, recognized, illustrated, or enforced, 53 Note the Promises and Predictions, 53 Take Notes, 53 Read the Gospel to study the Character of Christ, 53 Things to be observed in Sacred History and Biography, 54 Poetic and Didactic Parts of the Bible, 55 The Prophecies, 55
Prayer and Fasting, 57
Duty of Prayer, 57 Prayer defined, 58 Examples, 59 The Lord's Prayer; its Use, 59 The Power of Prayer, 60 The Promises, 61 The Promises exemplified, 61 The Arians. Francke. Dr. West, 63 The Slave liberated by Prayer, 64 Asking amiss, 64 We must desire the Things we ask, for the Glory of God, 65
We must ask,—
For Things agreeable to the Will of God, 65 In Faith, 66 With Humble Submission, 67
Practical Hints, 67
1. Maintain a Constant Spirit of Prayer, 67 2. Observe Stated and Regular Seasons of Prayer, 68 3. Observe Special Seasons of Prayer, 71 Fasting, 72 4. Preparation of Heart, 74 5. Persevere in Prayer, 74
Existence of the Devil, 76 His Character, 76 1. He is Powerful, 77 His Power limited, 77 Why he is permitted to exercise Power, 77 2. He has much Knowledge, 78 3. He is Wicked, 78 4. He is Crafty, Deceitful, and Treacherous, 78 5. He is a Liar, 78 6. He is Malicious, 79 The Devices of Satan, 79 He suits his Temptations to our Circumstances, 80 Impulses to be tried by the Word of God, 81 Subtlety of Satan, 82 Temptations from the World, 82 From our own Hearts, 82 The Heart a Castle, 83 We must set a Watch, 83 The Double Watch, 83 Watch unto Prayer, 83 Watch in Prayer, 84 Watch on the Mount, 84 Watch in Despondency, 84 Watch when Cheerful, 84 Watch in Prosperity, 85 Watch in Adversity, 85 Watch over the Tongue, 85 Watch when doing Good, 85 Watch against Besetting Sins, 85 Watch over the Imagination, 85
Nature and Consequences of Selfishness, 87 The Selfish Principle surrendered, 87 Self-Denial defined and applied, 89 Essential to Christian Character, 89 Christ's Example, 89 A Caution, 90
Public and Social Worship, and Sabbath Employments, 90
Duty of Public Worship, 91 Example of "Holy Men of Old," 91 Of Christ and the Apostles, 91 Public Worship an Imperative Duty, 93 Sin and Danger of neglecting it, 94 Attend the stated Ministry of your Pastor, 95 Be Punctual at Church, 96 Go with Preparation of Heart, 96 Deportment in the House of God, 97 Singing. Prayer. Wandering Thoughts, 97 Take heed how you hear, 98 Ambassadors. The Check Book, 98 The Noble Bereans, 99 Fault-Finding, 99 Self-Application, 100 Hearing for Others, 100 Hear with a Prayerful Frame, 100 Remember and Practise what you hear, 100 Meetings for Social Prayer, 100 Be governed by Principle, 101 Female Prayer Meetings, 101 The Sabbath-school, 102 Three Requisites, 102 Hints on Sabbath-school Instruction, 103 Skill in Teaching, 103 Study the Juvenile Mind, 104 Use Helps, 104 Aim at drawing out the Minds of Children, 104 Catechising, 105 Dependence, 105 Let your own Heart be affected, 105 Personal Application, 105 Earnestly seek God's Blessing, 106 Private Sabbath Duties, 106 Spend much Time in your Closet, 107 Spend none in seeking Ease or Pleasure, 107 Watch over your Thoughts, 107 Set a Guard over your Lips, 108
1. Its Importance, 109 2. Time and Manner of, 109 3. Subjects of Meditation, 111
SUBJECTS PROPOSED AND ARRANGED.
I. Character and Attributes of God, 112
1. Self Existence, 112 2. Eternity and Immortality, 112 3. Omnipresence and Omniscience, 113 4. Omnipotence and Independence, 113 5. Benevolence, 114 6. Justice, 114 7. Truth, 115 8. Mercy, 116 9. Wisdom, 116
II. Doctrines, 117
1. Decrees of God, 117 2. Sovereignty of God, 118 3. Human Depravity, 118 4. Regeneration, 119 5. Condition of Fallen Man, 119 6. Plan of Redemption, 119 7. Justification, 119 8. Adoption, 120 9. Sanctification, 120 10. Death, 120 11. Heaven, 121 12. The Resurrection, 121 13. The Judgment, 121 14. The World of Woe, 122
III. Character of Christ, 122
IV. Names and Offices of Christ, 124
1. Saviour, 124 2. Redeemer, 124 3. Prophet, 124 4. Priest, 124 5. King, 124 6. Mediator, 125 7. Advocate, and Intercessor, 125 8. Friend, 126 9. Elder Brother, 126 10. Husband, 126
V. The Christian Graces, 126
1. Faith, 126 2. Hope, 126 3. Charity or Love, 127 4. Joy, 127 5. Peace, 127 6. Brotherly Kindness, 127 7. Humility, 127 8. Patience, 127 9. Long-suffering, 128 10. A Forgiving Temper, 128 11. Meekness, 128 12. Gentleness, 128 13. Temperance, 128 14. Virtue or Moral Courage, 128
The Preservation of Health, 129
Connection of Health and Usefulness, 129 Duty of Preserving Health, 130 Physiology. Habits, 131 Influence of Ladies, 131
Rules for Preserving Health, 131
1. Make Conscience of it, 131 2. Be Cheerful, 132 3. Be Regular in your Habits, 133 4. Exercise, 134 Delicate Training of Young Ladies, 135 5. Practise frequent Ablutions, 135 6. Pay Attention to the Quantity and Quality of Food, 136 Effects of bad or excessive Diet, 137 How to glorify God in Eating and Drinking, 138 7. Taking Medicine, 139
Mental Cultivation. Reading, 141
Object of Education, 141 Written Exercises, 142 Discipline. Perseverance, 143 Reading, 144 Hints on Reading History, 144 Biography, 147 Doctrinal and Miscellaneous Reading, 148 Newspapers and Periodicals, 148 Light Reading. English Classics, 150
Improvement of Time. Present Obligation, 151
Value of Moments, 151 How to redeem Time, 152 Systematic Arrangements, 153 Motives for being Systematic, 153 Nature of Obligation, 154
Christian Activity, 156
Female Influence, 156 May be felt in the Bible Society, 156 In the Tract Society, 158 Monthly Tract Distribution, 158 The Missionary Cause, 159 Influence in Behalf of the Poor, 160 A Plea for the Poor, 161 Example of Christ, 162 Temperance, 163 Interest of Females in the Subject, 163 Conversation, 164 Influence in bringing People under the Sound of the Gospel, 164 Influence directly on the Impenitent, 164
The Duty enjoined, 164
1. By the Example of Christ, 165 2. By Love to God, 165 3. By Love to our Neighbor, 165 4. By the Injunctions of Scripture, 166 Facts, 168 Wonderful Influence exerted by one Woman, 169
1. Avoid Ostentation, 172 2. Prudence and Discretion, 172 3. Be Resolute and Persevering, 173 4. Be much in Prayer, 173
Design of Dress, 174 Things to be observed, 175 1. All you have is the Lord's, 175 2. Your Time is the Lord's, 176 3. Personal Appearance, 177 Influence of Christianity, 177 4. Regard to Health, 178 Compression of the Chest, 178 5. Do not make too much of it, 179
Social and Relative Duties, 180
The Family Relation, 180 Household Law, 181
1. In Relation to the Family, 183 2. To the Church, 184 3. To Society in general, 186 4. Visiting, 187 5. Worldly Society, 188 6. Conversation, 188 7. Discussion of Absent Characters, 189 8. Speaking of one's self, 191 9. A Suspicious Disposition, 191 10. Intimate Friendships, 192 11. Before going into Company, visit your Closet, 192
General Description of, 193 Long Suffering, 194 Kindness, 194 Envy, 196 Self-Conceit, 197 Description of a Self-conceited Person, 197 Self-conceited Confidence not Independence of Mind, 198 Unseemliness, 199 Forwardness, 199 Impertinence, 200 Taking the Lead in Conversation, 200 Fierce Contention for Rights, 201 Rudeness, Grossness, 201 Disinterestedness, 201 Selfishness, 201 Churlishness, 203 Good Nature, 203 Jealousy, 204 Fault Finding, 205 Telling others their Faults, 206 Christian Watch not Espionage, 206 Effects of Ruminating upon the Faults of Others, 206 Sours the Temper and leads to Misanthropy, 206 Charitable Joy, 206 Censoriousness, a Mark of an Impenitent Heart, 207 Apostates, before their Fall, noted far Censoriousness, 208 Humble Christians not Censorious, 209 Duty of Rejoicing in the Goodness of Others, 210 Charity, positively, 211 Charity beareth all Things, 211 Believeth all Things, 212 Endureth all Things, 212
Harmony of Christian Character, 214
Harmony of Sounds, Colors, and Proportions, delights the Senses, 214 Harmonious Development of the Christian Graces, 215 Effects of the Disproportionate Development of Character, 217 How Young Christiana fall into this Error, 218
Marriage Desirable, 220 Marriage not Indispensable, 221
Qualifications Indispensable in a Companion for Life, 222
1. Piety, 222 2. An Amiable Disposition, 224 3. A Well-cultivated Mind, 224 4. Congeniality of Sentiment and of Feeling, 225 5. Energy of Character, 225 6. Suitableness of Age, 226
Qualifications Desirable, 226
1. A Sound Body, 226 2. Refinement of Manners, 226 3. A Sound Judgment, 227 4. Prudence, 227 5. Similarity of Religious Sentiment and Profession, 227 Treatment of Gentlemen, 228 A Peculiar Affection necessary, 229 Social Intercourse with Gentlemen, 229 General Remarks, 230
The Hand of God in all Things, 233 Comforting Considerations, 235 Supply of Temporal Wants, 236 Duty of Contentment, 237
Danger of Neglecting it, 238 Assurance Attainable, 239 Witness of the Spirit, 239
1. To discover Sin, 241 Questions for Saturday Evening, 243 " for Sabbath Evening, 244 Questions for every Evening,—(several sets,) 245 (1.) When Time is limited, 245 (2.) For Ordinary Occasions, 246 (3.) Dr. Doddridge's Questions, 247 (4.) When you have more Time than usual, 248 2. To ascertain why Prayer is not answered, 251 3. As to the Cause of Afflictions, 253 4. Whether we are Christians, 253
Am I a Christian?—Questions, 255
(1.) As to Views of Sin, 255 (2.) Of the Government of God, 256 (3.) Faith in Christ, 257 (4.) Love to God, 258 (5.) Christian Character in General, 260 5. Preparation for the Lord's Table, 262 Questions, 262
A Course of Reading, 267 I. Sacred History, 267 Profane History, 267 II. Christian Doctrine, 268 III. Biography, 268 IV. Miscellaneous, 268
The Christian's Mark.
"Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."—PHIL. 3:13, 14.
MY DEAR SISTER,
Ever since the death of our dear mother, I have felt a deep interest in your welfare. And your being left, while young, in a measure dependent upon me, has increased my affection for you. You have now left my roof, to sojourn among strangers. You have little knowledge of the world, and your religious experience has been short. I trust, therefore, you will cordially receive a few hints from one whose fraternal affection has been strengthened by many peculiar circumstances, and who, for many years, has not ceased to remember you in his prayers.
Young Christians, when they first obtain peace and comfort in Christ, are prone to think the struggle over, the victory won. But nothing can be farther from the truth. They have but just enlisted under the banner of the great Captain of their salvation, in a warfare which will never cease till they shall have obtained the final victory over sin and death, and entered into the joy of their Lord. This mistake often leads them to be satisfied with what they have already experienced, and to cease that constant inward strife and earnestness, which they exercised while under conviction, before they found "joy and peace in believing." They see such a heavenly sweetness in divine things, that they think it impossible they should "lose the relish all their days." This begets self-confidence, and they trust in their own strength to keep where they are, instead of eagerly pressing forward, in the strength of Christ, after higher attainments. The consequence is, they soon lose their lively sense of divine things, backslide from God, and become cold and barren in their religious affections. A little child, when it first begins to walk, is safe while it keeps hold of the hand of its mother, or faithful nurse. But, when it begins to feel confident of its own strength, and lets go its hold, it soon totters and falls. So with the Christian. He is safe while he keeps a firm hold of Christ's hand. But the moment he attempts to walk alone, he stumbles and falls.
The Scriptures represent the grace of God in the heart, as a growing principle. It is compared to a mustard-seed, which is the least of all seeds. But, when it springs up, it rises and spreads its branches, till it becomes the greatest of all herbs. The beauty and appropriateness of this figure will not be appreciated, unless we take into consideration the luxuriant growth of plants in Eastern countries. The Jews have a fable of a mustard-tree whose branches were so extensive as to cover a tent. There are two things that no one would expect to see, in the growth of such a plant: (1.) To spring at once into full maturity. (2.) To become stationary in its growth, before it arrives at maturity. If it ceases to grow, it must wither away and die.
The spiritual reign of Christ in the heart is also compared to a little leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. It was so little at first that it was said to be hid. It could not be seen. So grace, when first implanted in the heart, is often so little in degree, and so much buried up in remaining corruption, that it can scarcely be discovered at all. But the moment the leaven begins to work, it increases without ceasing, till the whole is leavened.
Again; Christ says, "the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life." When these words were uttered, our Lord was sitting upon a deep well, in conversation with the woman of Samaria. As his custom was, he drew instruction from the objects around him. He directed her attention away from the water which can only quench animal thirst, to that living water which refreshes the soul. But she, not understanding him, wished to know how he could obtain living water from a deep well, without anything to draw with. In order to show the superiority of the water of life, he told her that those who drank it should have it in them, constantly springing up of itself, as if the waters of the well should rise up and overflow, without being drawn. The very idea of a living spring seems to cut off the hope of backsliders. You remember the cold spring that used to flow from the rock, before our father's door. The severest drought never affected it, and in the coldest season of a northern winter it was never frozen. Oft, as I rose in the morning, when the chilling blasts whistled around our dwelling, and everything seemed sealed up with perpetual frost, the ice and snow would be smoking around the spring. Thus, like a steady stream, let your graces flow, unaffected by the drought or barrenness of others, melting the icy hearts around you.
This "living water," in the soul, is intended to represent the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In the new birth, there is formed a holy union between the Spirit of God and the faculties of the soul, so that every correct feeling, with every good act, is produced by the Holy Spirit acting in unison with those faculties. Hence, our bodies are called the temple of the Holy Ghost, and he is said to dwell in us. What a solemn truth! What holy fear and carefulness ought we to feel continually; and how softly should we walk before the Lord of Hosts!
"The righteous," says David, "shall flourish like a palm-tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon." But if the cedar should cease to grow as soon as it springs up, it would never become a tree. It must wither and die.—Again; it is said, "Ye shall go forth and grow up as calves of the stall." A healthy calf, that is fed in the stall, cannot but grow and thrive. And surely the Lord has furnished us, in his holy word, abundant food for our spiritual growth and nourishment. If the calf is diseased, or if he refuses to eat, he will pine away and die; and so with us. The apostle Paul speaks of growing up into Christ, in all things; and of increasing in the knowledge of God. By this he evidently means, that experimental knowledge of God in our hearts, by which we are changed into his image. The apostle Peter exhorts us to "grow in the grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." Again, he directs us to feed upon the sincere and simple truths of the gospel, as the infant is nourished by its mother's milk, and to grow thereby. As conversion is called being "born again," the young convert is very properly compared to a "new-born babe." As a babe is least when first born, so the Christian, when first converted, has the least grace; unless, indeed, he becomes diseased, and pines away, like a sickly infant. And such is truly the deplorable case of the backslider.
The motives which urge us to seek and maintain an elevated standard of piety are the highest that can be presented to our minds. The glory of God requires it. This is the greatest possible good. It is the manifestation of the divine perfections to his intelligent creatures. This manifestation is made by discovering to them his works of creation, providence, and grace, and by impressing his moral image upon their hearts. In this their happiness consists. In promoting his own glory, therefore, God exercises the highest degree of disinterested benevolence. Nothing can add to his happiness; nothing can diminish it. If the whole creation were blotted out, and God were the only Being in the universe, he would still be perfectly glorious and happy in himself. There can be, therefore, no selfishness in his desiring his own glory. It is the good of the creature alone that is promoted by it. A desire to glorify God must, then, be the ruling principle of all your conduct, the moving spring of all your actions. But how is the glory of God promoted by your growth in grace?
1. It is manifested to yourself, by impressing his image upon your heart; and by giving you a spiritual discovery of the excellence, purity and loveliness, of his moral character.
2. It is manifested to others, so far as you maintain a holy life and conversation; for thereby the moral image of Christ is exhibited. The glory of Christ is manifested by the holy walk of his people, just as the glory of the sun appears by the reflected light of the moon.
3. The glory of God is promoted by making others acquainted with the exhaustless riches of free grace, and bringing them to Christ; for, by that means, they receive spiritual light to behold the beauty and glory of the divine perfections, and his image is stamped upon their souls. But your usefulness in this respect depends mainly upon the measure of grace you have in your own heart. The reason why many Christians do so little good in the world is, that they have so little piety. If you would be eminently useful, you must be eminently holy.
But, you may ask, "What is the standard at which I must aim?" I answer: The law of God is the only true standard of moral excellence; and you have the pattern of that law carried out in action, in the perfect life of our blessed Lord and Master. No standard short of this will answer the requirements of the word of God. "He that abideth in him, ought himself also so to walk, EVEN AS HE WALKED." All that we fall short of this is sin. There is no want of ability in the case, but what arises from our own voluntary wickedness of heart. Christ says that he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it. "We are not released from the obligation of perfect obedience; though grace has taken away the necessity of such obedience as the ground of our acceptance with God." The law is not made void, but established, by grace. We cannot be saved by our obedience; because we have already broken the law, and we cannot mend it. But, while we trust alone in Christ, independent of anything in ourselves, for justification before God, the signs or evidences of our faith must be found within us. There must be a new and holy principle in our hearts; and just as far as this principle prevails, so far it will show itself in obedience to the law of God. There is no resting-place, in the agonizing conflict, till we are "holy as God is holy." I do not say that Christians ever do become perfectly holy in this life. The contrary appears, from the testimony both of Scripture and experience, to be the universal fact. But this is the measure of obligation, and we should strive after it with all the earnestness of which we are capable.
We must not settle down contented with our attainments, while one sin remains unsubdued in our hearts. The Scriptures are full of this doctrine. The apostle Paul expresses far more earnestness of desire after higher attainments in the divine life than is ever felt by such Christians as have only a feeble and glimmering hope of entering the abodes of the blessed. "If by any means," says he, "I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead;" or that state of perfect holiness which the saints will have attained at the resurrection. And the kind of effort which he put forth to obtain the object of his desires is most forcibly described in the passage quoted at the beginning of this letter. In view of this standard, you will be able to see, in some measure, the exceeding sinfulness of sin; and it will drive you more entirely out of yourself to the cross of Christ. You will see the necessity of daily renewing your repentance, submission, and faith.
You see, from what the apostle says of his own experience, that high spiritual attainments are not to be expected without great labor and strife. True piety is indeed the work of the Holy Spirit; but the fact that God works in us to will and to do of his good pleasure, is made the ground of Paul's exhortation to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.
The attainments of eminent saints are too generally looked upon as out of the reach of common Christians. They seem to think God is not willing to give all his children the same measure of grace. But he could not have said more than he has in his holy word, to convince them to the contrary. "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." Our Lord repeatedly assures us that God is more willing to give good things to those that ask him, than earthly parents are to give good gifts to their children. And whoever will read the lives of such eminent Christians as Edwards, Whitefield, Brainerd, Martyn, Payson, Mrs. Edwards, Mrs. Anthony, Mrs. Huntington, James B. Taylor, and many others which might be mentioned,—and take notice of the means which they used, will not be surprised at their attainments. The Bible represents the Christian as in the constant exercise of holy affections; and we should never rest with anything short of this. Some of the persons I have mentioned did arrive at such a state of feeling. President Edwards enjoyed, for many years, the constant light of God's countenance, and habitual communion with him. And so did Mrs. Edwards, James B. Taylor, and many others.
She, for a long time, enjoyed, as she said, "THE RICHES OF FULL ASSURANCE." She felt "an uninterrupted and entire resignation to God, with respect to health or sickness, ease or pain, life or death; and an entire resignation of the lives of her nearest earthly friends." She also felt a "sweet peace and serenity of soul, without a cloud to interrupt it; a continual rejoicing in all the works of nature and Providence; a wonderful access to God by prayer, sensibly conversing with him, as much as if God were here on earth; frequent, plain, sensible, and immediate answers to prayer; all tears wiped away; all former troubles and sorrows of life forgotten, except sorrow for sin; doing everything for God's glory, with a continual and uninterrupted cheerfulness, peace, and joy." At the same time, she engaged in the common duties of life with great diligence, considering them as a part of the service of God; and, when done from this motive, she said they were as delightful as prayer itself. She also showed an "extreme anxiety to avoid every sin, and to discharge every moral obligation; she was most exemplary in the performance of every social and relative duty; exhibited great inoffensiveness of life and conversation; great meekness, benevolence, and gentleness of spirit; and avoided, with remarkable conscientiousness, all those things which she regarded as failings in her own character."
How did these persons arrive at this eminence in the Christian life? Although by free sovereign grace, yet it was by no miracle. If you will use the same means, you may attain the same end. In the early part of his Christian life, President Edwards says,—"I felt a burning desire to be, in everything, a complete Christian, and conformed to the blessed image of Christ. I had an eager thirsting after progress in these things, which put me upon pursuing and pressing after them. It was my continual strife, day and night, and constant inquiry, how I should be more holy, and live more holily, and more becoming a child of God, and a disciple of Christ. I now sought an increase of grace and holiness, and a holy life, with much more earnestness than ever I sought grace before I had it. I used to be continually examining myself, and studying and contriving for likely ways and means, how I should live holily, with far greater diligence and earnestness than ever I pursued anything in my life; yet, with too great a dependence on my own strength—which afterwards proved a great damage to me." "Mrs. Edwards had been long in an uncommon manner growing in grace, and rising, by very sensible degrees, to higher love to God, weanedness to the world, and mastery over sin and temptation, through great trials and conflicts, and long-continued struggling and fighting with sin, and earnest and constant prayer and labor in religion, and engagedness of mind in the use of all means. This growth had been attended, not only with a great increase of religious affections, but with a most visible alteration of outward behavior; particularly in living above the world, and in a greater degree of steadfastness and strength in the way of duty and self-denial; maintaining the Christian conflict under temptations, and conquering, from time to time, under great trials; persisting in an unmoved, untouched calm and rest, under the changes and accidents of time, such as seasons of extreme pain and apparent hazard of immediate death."
You will find accounts of similar trials and struggles in the lives of all eminent saints. This is what we may expect. It agrees with the Christian life, as described in God's word. It is "through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of heaven." This is the way in which you must go, if you would ever enter there. You must make religion the great business of your life, to which everything else must give place. You must engage with your whole soul in the work, looking to the cross of Christ for strength against your spiritual enemies; and you will come off "conqueror at last," through him that hath loved us, and given himself for us.
Your affectionate Brother.
The Importance of a thorough Knowledge of the Doctrines of Christianity—means of obtaining it.
"Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth."—John 17:17.
MY DEAR SISTER,
Some people are frightened at the idea of Doctrine, as though it were a mere abstraction, which has nothing to do with practical life. This notion is founded on a misapprehension not only of the meaning of the term, but of the connection of actions with established principles of the mind. The general signification of the word doctrine is, the principles upon which any system is founded. As applied to Christianity, it means divine truth; for this is the foundation upon which the Christian religion rests. Although the truths of God's Word are not reduced to a regular system in the Bible, yet, when brought together, they make the most beautiful and perfect of all systems. It is proper, therefore, that we should contemplate them in a body, as they appear with the most perfect symmetry, in the plan of God's moral government. There is a disposition, at the present day, to undervalue doctrinal knowledge. Many people think it of little consequence what they believe, if they are only sincere, and manifest much feeling on the subject of religion. But this is a ruinous mistake. There is a most intimate connection between faith and practice. Those principles which are believed and received into the heart govern and control our actions. The doctrines which God has revealed in his Word are the principles of his moral government. As we are the subjects of that government, it cannot be a matter of small moment for us to understand, so far as we are capable, the principles upon which it is administered. If we mistake these principles, we may be found in open rebellion, while we think we are doing God service. For example: God commands us not to steal. But, if we do not believe that he has given this commandment, we shall feel under no obligation to obey it. And every truth which God has revealed is as intimately connected with practice as this, although the duty enjoined be, in itself considered, of less consequence. Christianity is called a spiritual building. "Ye are built up a spiritual house." "Whose house are we?" "We are God's building." Now the foundation and frame-work of this building are the doctrines or truths of the Bible. Some of these doctrines are called fundamental or essential, because they lie at the foundation of the whole building; and are so essential to it, that, if taken away, the whole would fall to the ground. These are, The Existence of God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; the Fall, and consequent Depravity of Man; the Atonement of Christ; Justification by faith in him alone, and the Office of the Holy Spirit in the work of Regeneration. If any one of these were taken away, it would overturn the whole building. These may, therefore, well be called the foundation. But you see there are other very important parts of a frame besides the foundation. So there are many other very important truths of Christianity, besides its essential doctrines. But some of these are of more consequence than others. If a post or a beam is taken away, the building is greatly marred and in danger of falling; yet, if well covered, it may still be a comfortable dwelling. Again, although a brace or a pin is of service to strengthen the building, yet either may be taken away without very serious injury. But a frame may be complete in all its parts, and yet be no building. Without a covering, it will not answer a single design of a house; and just in proportion as it is well covered, will it be a comfortable residence. Just so with Christianity. The covering of the house is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, producing gracious affections, which manifest themselves in a holy life. But the covering of a house cannot exist without some kind of frame-work. So experimental and practical piety cannot exist without a belief of the principal doctrines of the gospel. The Holy Spirit operates upon the heart through the truth. He gives it a personal application; brings it home to the heart and conscience, and makes it effectual in changing the heart and life. "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." "Of his own will begat he us, with the word of truth." "Seeing ye have purified your souls, in obeying the truth through the Spirit." "Being born again by the word of God." Thus, the agency of the Spirit is always acknowledged in connection with the truth. Any religious feeling or experience, therefore, which is not produced by the truth made effectual by the Holy Spirit, is not genuine. There is a kind of indefinite religious feeling, which many mistake for Christian experience. They feel, and perhaps deeply; but they know not why they feel. Such religious feeling is to be suspected as spurious. It may be the delusion of the devil. By persuading people to rest upon this spurious religious feeling, he accomplishes his purpose as well as if he had kept them in carnal security. And the clearer our views of truth, the more spiritual and holy will be our religious affections. Thus, godly sorrow arises from a sight of our own depravity, with a sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, as committed against a holy God, and against great light and mercy. Faith is produced by a spiritual view of the atonement of Christ, and of his infinite fulness as a complete and perfect Saviour. Love is excited by a discovery of the excellence of God's moral perfections. Holy fear and reverence arise from a sight of the majesty and glory of his natural attributes, and a sense of his presence. Joy may come from a sense of the infinite rectitude of his moral government; from the sight of the glory of God, in his works of providence and grace; or from a general view of the beauty and excellence of divine truth. Comfort may be derived from evidence of the divine favor; and confidence, from an appropriation of God's promises to ourselves. And in many other ways, also, the Holy Spirit produces spiritual feelings through the instrumentality of the truth. But all religious feeling, produced by impulse, without any rational view of the truth, is to be suspected. It may be the work of Satan, who is very busy in counterfeiting religious experiences for those he wishes to deceive. Every religious affection has its counterfeit. Thus, sorrow may be produced by the fear of hell, without any sense of the evil of sin; a presumption of our own good estate may be mistaken for faith, and this will produce joy; we may exercise a carnal or selfish love to God, because we think he loves us, and has made us the objects of his special favor; and the promises of God, so far as they concern the personal good of the believer, may administer as much comfort to the hypocrite as to the real saint.
How exceedingly important is it, then, that you should not only exercise a general belief of the great doctrines of the gospel, but that you should have a right apprehension of them. The truth is so necessary in the Christian warfare, that it is called the sword of the Spirit. But of what benefit is the sword to the soldier who knows not how to use it? The sword is used as much to ward off the blows of the enemy, as to attack him. But the novice, who should engage an enemy, without knowing the use of his weapon, would be thrust through in the first onset. Hence, the peculiar force of the prayer of our Lord, "Sanctify them through thy truth." It is by the use of the truth, as the "sword of the Spirit," in the Christian warfare, that the work of satisfaction is carried on.
But, as the frame-work of a building, though complete in all its parts, would be no house without a covering; so we may have a perfect knowledge of the abstract doctrines of the Christian religion, and be no Christians. It is the practical and experimental application of these doctrines to our own hearts and lives, that makes the building complete. Regard yourself as a subject of God's moral government, and the doctrines of the Bible as the laws of his kingdom; and you will feel such a personal interest in them, that you cannot rest in abstract speculation. Study these doctrines, that you may know how to live to the glory of God.
I will now give you a few simple directions for obtaining a correct knowledge of the doctrines of the Bible.
1. Approach the subject with the spirit of a little child. "As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word." "Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." A little child is always satisfied of the truth of what his father tells him. "My father says so," is reason enough for him. He does not say, "I will not believe it, because I cannot understand it." So it should be your first object to ascertain what the Bible teaches, and then submit to it with the confidence of a little child. You cannot expect fully to comprehend the ways of an infinite Being. You can see but a very small part of the system of his moral government. It cannot be strange, then, if you are unable to discover the reasonableness of every truth which he has revealed. Do not try to carry out difficult points beyond what is plainly taught in the Scriptures. God has revealed all that is necessary for us to know in this life. He knows best where to leave these subjects. If there were no difficulties in the truths revealed, there would be no trial of our faith. It is necessary that we should take some things upon trust. There are also some truths taught which we find it difficult to reconcile with others as plainly revealed. Be content to believe both, on the authority of God's word. He will reconcile them hereafter. "What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter." Let this consideration always satisfy you: "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight." I am the more particular on this point, as it is the place where error always begins. The setting up of feeble reason in opposition to the word of God, has been the foundation of all mistakes in religion. And, if we determine to be satisfied of the reasonableness of the truth before we believe it, and carry out the principle, we shall land in downright atheism. By this, I do not mean that any truth is unreasonable. It is not so. Divine truth is the perfection of reason. But there are some truths which may appear unreasonable, because we cannot see the whole of them. Thus, a fly, on the corner of a splendid edifice, cannot see the beauty and symmetry of the building. So far as his eye extends, it may appear to be sadly lacking in its proportions. Yet this is but a faint representation of the narrow views we have of God's moral government. There is, however, no truth which he has revealed, in relation to that government, that is more difficult to understand, than many things that philosophy has discovered in the natural world. Yet, even infidels do not think of disputing facts conclusively proved by philosophy, because they cannot understand them. It becomes us, then, with the deepest humility and self-abasement, to submit our reason to the word of God.
2. Avoid a controversial spirit. Do not study for the sake of finding arguments to support your own opinions. Take the place of a sincere inquirer after truth, with a determination to embrace whatever you find supported by the word of God, however contrary it may be to your favorite notions. But when objections arise in your mind against any doctrine, do not suppose you have made some new discovery, and therefore reject it without farther inquiry. The same objections have perhaps occurred to the mind of every inquirer, on the same subject; and very probably they have often been satisfactorily answered by able writers. This is a common error of young inquirers. They are apt to think others take things upon trust, and that they are the only persons who have thought of the difficulties which start up in their minds. But, when their reading becomes more extensive, they learn, with shame, that what appeared to them to be original thought, was only following an old, beaten track.
3. Use such helps as you can obtain. Read carefully selected and judicious authors, on doctrinal subjects.[A] The advantages arising from the perusal of other books than the Scriptures, to obtain doctrinal knowledge, are these: 1. You may profit by the experience of others. You see how the difficulties which arise in your own mind appeared to them, and how they solved them. 2. Much light may be thrown upon many difficult passages of Scripture, by an intimate acquaintance with the times and circumstances under which they were written; and men who undertake to write on these subjects generally search deeply into these things. 3. God has been pleased, in every age, to raise up men "mighty in the Scriptures." By the extraordinary powers of mind which he has given them, they may have clearer perceptions of divine truth than you are able to obtain by the exertion of your own faculties alone. You may also employ the sermons which you hear, for an increase of doctrinal knowledge, as well as an excitement to the performance of duty. But all these things you must invariably bring to the test of God's word. We are commanded to "try the spirits, whether they be of God." Do not take the opinions of men upon trust. Compare them diligently with the word of God, and do not receive them till you are fully convinced that they agree with this unerring standard. Make this your text-book; and only use others to assist you in coming to a right understanding of this.
4. In all your researches after doctrinal knowledge, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Make it a subject of daily prayer, that God would enable you to understand his word, that you may be "rooted and grounded in the faith." The influences of the Holy Spirit are two-fold. He enlightens the understanding, to lead it into a correct knowledge of the truth; and he applies the truth to the sanctification of the heart. Pray diligently that you may have both. If you persevere in the proper observance of this direction, you cannot fail to profit by the others. But, if you neglect this, your pursuit of doctrinal knowledge will serve only as food to your pride, self-confidence and vain-glory, and exert a blighting influence upon your soul.
Your affectionate Brother.
[Footnote A: The reader will find a list of suitable books in the Appendix.]
True Religion a Work of Grace in the Heart; but it must be carried out in all our Conduct.
"And he (the righteous) shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season: his leaf shall not wither."—PS. 1:3.
"Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is; for he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit."—JER. 17:7, 8.
MY DEAR SISTER,
In my first letter I spoke of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as represented by our Lord under the similitude of a living spring. In my last I endeavored to show that the operation of the Spirit of God upon the heart is inseparably connected with the truth. My present object will be to show the effects produced by both these agents acting together. This is most beautifully described in the passages quoted above. Here the Christian is represented under the similitude of a tree planted by the rivers of water. The grace of God, or the Holy Spirit acting in unison with the word, to carry on the great work of regeneration and sanctification in the soul, is represented by the constant flowing of rivers of water. This shows the abundance of the provision. But a tree may stand so near a river as to be watered when it overflows its banks; and yet, if its roots only spread over the surface of the ground, and do not reach the bed of the river, it will wither in a time of drought. This aptly represents the professor of religion who appears engaged and in earnest only during remarkable outpourings of the Spirit. He is all alive and full of zeal when the river overflows, but when it returns to its ordinary channel, his leaf withers; and if a long season of spiritual drought follows, he becomes dry and barren, so that no appearance of spiritual life remains. But, mark how different the description of the true child of God. "He shall be as a tree planted by the rivers of water." This figure appears to have been taken from the practice of cultivating trees. They are removed from the wild state in which they spring up, and their roots firmly fixed in a spot of ground cultivated and prepared, to facilitate their growth. This planting well represents the fixed state of the renewed soul, as it settles down in entire dependence upon the word and Spirit of God, for nourishment and growth in grace. But the figure is carried out still farther,—"and spreadeth out her roots by the river." When the roots of the tree are spread out along the bed of the river, it will always be supplied with water, even when the river is low. This steadiness of Christian character is elsewhere spoken of under a similar figure. "The root of the righteous shall not be moved." "He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root." "Being rooted and grounded in love." Hence the prophet adds, that the heat and the drought shall not affect it; but its leaf shall be green, always growing; and it shall not cease to bring forth fruit. And throughout the Scriptures, the righteous are represented as bringing forth fruit. "And the remnant that is escaped out of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward." Here is first a taking deep root downward, or the sanctification of the faculties of the soul, by which new principles of action are adopted; and a bearing fruit upward, or the exercise of those principles, in holy affections and corresponding outward conduct. Again, "Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit." The bud and blossom represent, in a very striking manner, the first exercises of Christian experience. However, this may be easily counterfeited. Every tree bears a multitude of false blossoms, which, by the superficial observer, may not be distinguished from the true. They may for a time appear even more gay and beautiful. As it appears in full bloom, it would be impossible for the keenest eye to discover them. But as soon as the season arrives for the fruit to begin to grow, these fair blossoms are withered and gone, and nothing remains but a dry and wilted stem. But the real children of God shall not only bud and blossom, but they shall "fill the face of the world with fruit." In the Song of Solomon, the church is compared to "an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits." This is a beautiful figure. The pomegranate is a kind of apple. The tree is low, but spreads its branches, so that its breadth is greater than its height. So the true Christian is humble and lowly; while his good works spread all around him. The blossoms of this tree are large and beautiful, forming a cup like a bell. But when the flowers are double, no fruit follows. So the double-minded hypocrite brings forth no fruit. The pomegranate apple is exceedingly beautiful and delicious; and so the real fruits of Christianity are full of beauty and loveliness. Again, the church is said to lay up for Christ all manner of pleasant fruit, new and old. But, backsliding Israel is called an empty vine, bringing forth fruit unto himself. Here we may distinguish between the apparent good fruits of the hypocrite and those of the real Christian. The latter does everything for Christ. He really desires the glory of God, and the advancement of Christ's Kingdom; and this is his ruling motive in all his conduct. But the former, though he may do many things good in themselves, yet does them all with selfish motives. His ruling desire is to gratify himself, and to promote his own honor and interest, either in this world, or in that which is to come.
The fruit which his people bring forth is that on which Christ chiefly insists, as a test of Christian character. "Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit." He compares himself to a vine, and his followers to branches; and informs them that every branch which beareth not fruit shall be taken away. In the passage quoted from the first Psalm, the righteous is said to bring forth fruit in his season. And in the 92d Psalm and 14th verse, it is said, "They shall still bring forth fruit in their old age; they shall be fat and flourishing;" thus exhibiting a constancy of fruit-bearing, and an uninterrupted growth, even down to old age.
But, it becomes a matter of serious inquiry to know what is meant by bringing forth fruit in his season. The apostle Paul says, "The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth." Hence, we conclude, that bringing forth fruit in season must be carrying out the principles of the gospel into every part of our conduct. In another place, the same apostle informs us more particularly what are the fruits of the Spirit: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." Let us, then, carry out these principles, and see what influence they will have upon the Christian character. Love is something that can be felt. It is an outgoing of heart towards the object loved, and a feeling of union with it. When we have a strong affection for a friend, it is because we see in him something that is lovely. We love his society, and delight to think of him when he is absent. Our minds are continually upon the lovely traits of his character. So ought we to love God. The ground of this love should be the infinite purity, excellence, and beauty of his moral perfections, independent of our relations to him. He is infinite loveliness in himself. There is such a thing as feeling this love in exercise. In the Song of Solomon, love is said to be "strong as death." Surely, this is no faint imagery. Is it possible for a person to exercise a feeling "as strong as death," and yet not be sensible of it? Love takes hold of every faculty of soul and body. It must, then, be no very dull feeling. Again; the warmth and the settled and abiding nature of love are represented by such strong language as this: "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it." Surely this can be no fitful feeling, which comes and goes at extraordinary seasons. It must be a settled and abiding principle of the soul; though it may not always be accompanied with strong emotions. We may sometimes be destitute of emotion towards the friends we love most. But, the settled principle of esteem and preference is abiding; and our attention needs only to be called to the lovely traits in our friend's character, to call forth emotion.
David, under the influence of this feeling, breaks forth in such expressions as these: "My soul thirsteth for thee; my flesh longeth for thee:" "As the hart panteth for the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God: My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God:" "My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God:" "My soul breaketh for the longing it hath unto thy judgments at all times." Surely there is no dulness, no coldness, in such feelings as these. They accord with the spirit of the command, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." And this was not, with the Psalmist, an occasional lively frame. This soul-breaking longing was the habitual feeling of his heart; for he exercised it "at all times" And what was it that called forth these ardent longings? Was it the personal benefits which he had received or expected to receive from God? By no means. After expressing an earnest desire to dwell in the house of the Lord, all the days of his life, he tells us why he wished to be there: "to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple." The object of his love was "the beauty of the Lord;" doubtless meaning his moral perfections. Intimately connected with this was his desire to know the will of the Lord. For this he wished to "inquire in his temple." And whenever the love of God is genuine, it will call forth the same desire. The apostle John, whose very breath is love, says, "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." The child that loves his parents will delight in doing everything he can to please them. But the child that cares for his parents only as he expects to be benefited by them, will always do as little as possible for them, and that little unwillingly. So, in our relations with God. The hypocrite may have a kind of love to him, because he thinks himself a peculiar object of divine favor, and because he still expects greater blessings. But this does not lead him to delight in the commands of God. He rather esteems them as a task. His heart is not in the doing of them; and he is willing to make them as light as possible. But, the real Christian delights in the law of God; and the chief source of his grief is, that he falls so far short of keeping it.
Again, if we love God, we shall love the image of God, wherever we find it. "Every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him." Our love to Christians, if genuine, must arise from the resemblance which they bear to Christ; and not from the comfort which we enjoy in their society, nor because they appear friendly to us. This hypocrites also feel. If we really exercise that love, we shall be willing to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of our Christian brethren. We are directed to love one another as Christ loved us. And how did Christ love us? So strong was his love that he laid down his life for us? And the apostle John says, we ought, in imitation of him, "to lay down our lives for the brethren;" that is, if occasion require it. Such is the strength of that love which we are required to exercise for our Christian brethren. But, how can this exist in the heart, when we feel unwilling to make the least sacrifice of our own feelings or interests for their benefit?
Again; there is another kind of love required of us. This is the love of compassion, which may be exercised even towards wicked men. And what must be the extent of this love? There can be but one standard. We have the example of our Lord before us. So intense was his love, that it led him to make every personal sacrifice of ease, comfort, and worldly good, for the benefit of the bodies and souls of men; yea, he laid down his life for them. This is the kind of love which is required of us, and which was exercised by the apostles and early Christians.
Another fruit of the Spirit is JOY. We are commanded to rejoice in the Lord at all times. If we have a proper sense of the holiness of God's moral character; of the majesty and glory of his power; of the infinite wisdom which shines through all his works; the infinite rectitude of his moral government; and especially of that amazing display of his love, in the work of redemption—it will fill our hearts with "JOY UNSPEAKABLE AND FULL OF GLORY." Nor is rejoicing in God at all inconsistent with mourning for sin. On the contrary, the more we see of the divine character, the more deeply shall we be abased and humbled before him. Says Job, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." It was a sight of God which brought this holy man so low before him.
Another fruit of the Spirit is PEACE. This is of two kinds; peace with God, and peace with man. The impenitent are at war with God; there is therefore no peace for them. God is angry with them, and they are contending with him. But the Christian becomes reconciled to God through Christ. He finds peace in believing in him. The Lord is no longer a God of terror to him, but a "God of peace." Hence the gospel is called the "way of peace;" and Christ the "Prince of Peace." Jesus, in his parting interview with his beloved disciples, says, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you." Righteousness, or justice and peace, are said to have met together and kissed each other. "We have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." The Bible is full of this subject, but I cannot dwell upon it. I wish you to look out the following passages; read and compare them diligently, and meditate upon the blessed truth which they contain Ps. 37:37; 85:8; 119:165. Prov. 16:7. Isa. 20:3; 57:19. Lu. 2:14. John 16:33. Rom. 8:6; 14:17. 1 Cor. 7:15. Eph. 2:11, 15. Phil. 4:7. Col. 3:15.
I know not how to speak of this exercise of the mind. It is better felt than described. It is a calm and holy reconciliation with God and his government; a settled feeling of complacency towards everything but sin. It begets a serene and peaceful temper and disposition of the heart. But this gracious work of the Holy Spirit does not stop with these exercises of the mind. However we may seem to feel, in our moments of retirement and meditation, if this peaceful disposition is not carried out in our intercourse with others, and our feelings towards them, we have reason to suspect ourselves of hypocrisy. Whatever is in our hearts will manifest itself in our conduct. If we exercise a morose, sour, and jealous disposition towards others; if we indulge a censorious spirit, not easily overlooking their faults; if we are easily provoked, and irritated with the slightest offence; if we indulge in petty strifes and backbiting—surely the peace of God does not rule in our hearts. So much does Christ esteem this peaceful spirit, that he says peacemakers shall be called the children of God. Again, he tells his disciples to "have peace one with another." The apostle Paul, also, gives frequent exhortations to the exercise of this grace. "Be at peace among yourselves." "Follow peace with all men." "If it be possible, live peaceably with all men." "That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life."
MEEKNESS is a twin-sister of Peace. It is a temper of mind not easily provoked to resentment. The word used in the original signifies easiness of mind. The cultivation of this grace resembles the taming of wild animals. It is the bringing of all our wild and ungovernable passions under control. It is an eminent work of the Spirit; and we may judge of our spiritual attainments by the degree of it which we possess. The Scriptures abound with exhortations to the cultivation of it. It is preeminently lovely in the female character. Hence, the apostle Peter exhorts women to adorn themselves with the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is, in the sight of God, of great price.
LONG-SUFFERING and GENTLENESS are twin-daughters of Meekness. The latter is the disposition of the heart. The former are the actions which flow out from that disposition, in our intercourse with others. Long-suffering is godlike. It is an imitation of the forbearance of God towards his rebellious creatures. He is long-suffering, and slow to anger. He does not let his anger burn hot against sinners, till all means of bringing them to repentance have failed. O, how should this shame us, who cannot bear the least appearance of insult or injury from our fellow-sinners, without resentment! But, if we would be the children of our Father in heaven, we must learn to bear ill treatment with a meek and quiet and forgiving temper. Gentleness is one of the most lovely of all the graces of the Spirit. It is a "softness or mildness of disposition and behavior, and stands opposed to harshness and severity, pride and arrogance." "It corrects whatever is offensive in our manner, and, by a constant train of humane attentions, studies to alleviate the burden of common misery;" the constant exercise of this spirit is of the greatest importance to the Christian who would glorify God in his life, and do good to his fellow-creatures.
GOODNESS is another fruit of the Spirit. I suppose the apostle here means the same that he expresses in another place by "bowels of mercies and kindness." It is doing good both to the bodies and souls of others, as we have opportunity. "Be kindly affectioned one to another." "Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted." This is a distinguishing trait in the Christian character. It shone forth in all its loveliness in our divine Redeemer. He went about doing good. So ought we to imitate his example. It should be our chief aim and study to make ourselves useful to others; for we thereby glorify God. If we have the Spirit of Christ, this will be the great business of our lives.
Another fruit of the Spirit is FAITH. Although this is mentioned last but two in the catalogue, yet it is by no means the least important. Indeed, it may be called the father of all the rest. The proper definition of faith is, a belief of the truth. Faith is a very common principle of action, by which is transacted all the business of this life. People universally act according to their faith. If a person is fully convinced that his house is on fire, he will make haste to escape. If a man really believes a bank-note is good, he will receive it for its professed value. If the merchant believes that his customer is able to pay for them, he will give him goods upon credit. If a child really believes his parent will punish him for doing mischief, he will keep out of it. And so, in everything else, we act according to our belief. No person ever fully believes a truth which concerns himself, without acting accordingly. That faith which is the fruit of the Spirit is a hearty belief of all the truths of God's word. And in proportion as we believe these truths, in their application to ourselves, we shall act according to them. The reason why the sinner does not repent and turn to God, is that he does not fully believe the word of God, as it applies to himself. He may believe some of the abstract truths of the Scriptures, but he does not really believe himself to be in the dreadful danger which they represent him. The reason why Christians live so far from the standard of God's word is that their belief in the truths contained in it is so weak and faint. We all profess to believe that God is everywhere present. Yet, Christians often complain that they have no lively sense of his presence. The reason is, that they do not fully and heartily believe this truth. So strong and vivid is the impression when this solemn truth takes full possession of the soul, that the apostle compares it to "seeing him that is invisible." Now, but for our unbelief, we should always have such a view of the divine presence. O, with what holy awe and reverence would this inspire us! On examination, we shall find that all the graces of the Spirit arise from faith, and all our sins and short-comings from unbelief. It is a belief of the moral excellence of God's character which inspires love. It is a belief of our own depravity, and the exceeding sinfulness of sin, which creates godly sorrow. It is a strong and particular belief of all the overwhelming truths of the Bible, which overcomes the world. "This is the victory; even our faith." It is a firm and unshaken belief in these truths, presenting the glories of heaven just in view, which supports the Christian in the dark and trying hour of death. It is the same belief which makes him "as bold as a lion" in the performance of his duty. This is what supported the martyrs, and enabled them cheerfully to lay down their lives for Christ's sake. It is this which must support you in the Christian warfare. And in proportion to your faith will be your progress. I would be glad to say more on this subject. It is large enough to fill a volume.
TEMPERANCE is another fruit of the Spirit. This consists in the proper control of all our desires, appetites, and passions. The exercise of this grace is of vital importance, not only as it concerns the glory of God, but our own health and happiness.
I have felt much straitened in giving a description of the fruits of the Spirit in a single letter. I have not pretended to do justice to the subject. My principal object has been to show the beautiful symmetry of the Christian character, as it extends from the heart to all our actions, in every relation of life. And this will serve as an introduction to the more particular consideration of the various Christian duties.
Your affectionate Brother.
On the Reading and Study of the Holy Scriptures
"Search the Scriptures."—JOHN 5:39.
MY DEAR SISTER,
I feel persuaded that you will take a deep interest in the subject of this letter; for, to a true child of God, nothing is so precious as the volume of inspiration. It is like rubies in a case of gold. That which is most valuable for practical use lies on the surface; while every examination discovers new gems of surpassing beauty.
There is this difference between the devotional reading and the thorough study of the Holy Scriptures,—that the object of the former is to affect the heart, while that of the latter is chiefly to inform the understanding. Although this blessed book should never be used without practical application, yet, when all the powers of the mind are taxed to ascertain the critical meaning of the text, there is less opportunity for the exercise of the affections of the heart than when the mind is suffered simply to dwell upon obvious truth. For the systematic study of the Bible, portions of time should be set apart, if possible, separate from our regular seasons of devotion; or, perhaps, immediately after. For the former, a small portion should be selected from the more practical and devotional parts of the Bible.
We are commanded to search the Scriptures. Searching is a difficult and laborious work. To induce us to engage in it, we must have a strong desire for something valuable. Here is a treasure of sufficient value to call forth this desire. This blessed book contains the revealed will of God. All who love God will be anxious to know his will. They will make it the rule of their conduct. "Thy word," says the Psalmist, "is a lamp, unto my feet, and a light unto my path." The will of God, as made known in his word, is like a lantern, which sheds a light on our path, and directs the steps of our feet. The sincere Christian will search after a knowledge of God's will, with more eagerness than he would search for hidden treasures of gold and silver. He will set his heart to the work. This is what God commands. After Moses had given the law of God to the children of Israel, he said unto them, "Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day." This is a very strong expression. To set our hearts to any work, is to go about it in earnest, with all the energies of our souls. Again; when we make great search for anything we very much desire and highly prize, and find it, we are very apt to keep it. Hence David says, "Thy word have I hid in my heart." But mark the reason of his conduct. Why did he hide God's word in his heart? He explains his motive: "That I might not sin against thee." His object, in hiding God's word in his heart, was to know how to regulate his conduct so as not to sin against him. You must feel a personal interest in the truth. You must study it as the directory of your life. When you open this blessed book, let this always be the sincere inquiry of your heart: "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Come to it with this childlike spirit of obedience, and you will not fail to learn the will of God. But when you have learned your duty in God's word, do it without delay. Here are two very important points of Christian character, quite too much overlooked. (1.) An earnest desire to know present duty. (2.) A steadfast and settled determination to do it as soon as it is known. Here lies the grand secret of high spiritual attainments. A person who acts from these principles may make greater progress in a single day than a tardy, procrastinating spirit in a long life. The pressure of obligation rests upon the present moment. Remember, when you have ascertained present duty, the delay of a single moment is sin. With these remarks, I submit a few practical directions for the profitable reading and study of the Holy Scriptures.
1. Read the Bible in your closet, or under circumstances which will secure you from interruption, either by the conversation of others, or the attractions of other objects. Do not attempt to fill up little broken intervals of time with the reading of God's word. Leave these seasons for lighter reading. Remember, the reading of the Scriptures is nothing less than conversing with God. When any one pays so little attention to your conversation as not to understand what you say, you consider it a great breach of politeness. God speaks to you whenever you read his holy word. His all-seeing eye rests upon your heart; and he knows whether you are engaged in solemn trifling. If you read his word so carelessly as not to understand its meaning and drink in its spirit, you treat him as you would disdain to be treated by an earthly friend. O the forbearance of God, who suffers such indignity from those who call themselves his children! Never approach the word of God but with feelings of reverence and godly fear.
2. Come to the work with a preparation of heart. If you were going to visit some person of great consequence, whose favor and esteem you wished to secure, you would take care to have everything about your person adjusted in the most becoming manner. So let it be with your mind, when you come to converse with God. Shut out all worldly thoughts. Strive to bring yourself into a tranquil, holy, and tender frame, so that the truths you contemplate may make their proper impression upon your heart.
3. Seek the aid of the Holy Spirit. Christ promised his disciples that, when the Holy Spirit should come, he would "guide them into all truth." Without his enlightening influences, we cannot understand the word of God; and without his gracious influences upon the heart, we shall not be disposed to obey it. We have the most abundant encouragement to seek the aid of this Divine Instructor. Christ assures us that God is more willing to give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him, than earthly parents are to give good gifts to their children. Before opening God's word, pray that he would show you the truth, the rule of your duty, and incline your heart to obey it. As you proceed, keep your heart silently lifted up to God for the same object.
4. Read with self-application. Whenever you have discovered any truth, ask what bearing it has upon your present duty. If it relates to spiritual feelings, compare it with the exercises of your own heart. If they do not correspond, you have work for repentance. Go immediately to the cross of Christ; give yourself away to him anew, and seek for pardon and needed grace. This you may do instantly, either in a silent or an audible prayer. If it relates to the spirit and temper of Christians, in their intercourse with one another, or with the world, compare it with your own conduct. If you find yourself condemned, you have the same course to pursue, with a steadfast determination to exhibit more of the spirit of Christ. If it relates to some positive duty, inquire whether you have done it. If not, you have to go through the same work of repentance and application to the blood of Christ. But do not stop here. Do your duty immediately.
5. Read the Scriptures regularly. To sustain these frail bodies, a daily supply of nourishment is required. Equally necessary is daily food for the soul. The word of God is the bread of eternal life. Take, then, your regular supplies of spiritual food, that your soul may not famish. Choose for this purpose those seasons when you are least liable to interruption; when you can retire and shut out the world; when you can best command the energies of your mind. There is no time more fit and suitable for this than the morning. Then the mind is clear, vigorous, unincumbered, and prepared to receive an impression. There is also a propriety in consulting God's word at the close of the day. But this depends much upon the state of bodily feeling. If you become exhausted and dull, after the labors of the day, I would rather recommend taking the whole time in the morning. But by no means confine yourself to these stated seasons. Whenever the nature of your pursuits will admit of your seclusion for a sufficient length of time to fix your mind upon the truth, you may freely drink from this never-failing fountain of the water of life.
6. Study the Scriptures systematically. If you read at random, here a little and there a little, your views of divine truth will be partial and limited. This method may indeed be pursued in regard to reading strictly devotional; but only when other time is taken for obtaining a connected view and a critical understanding of the whole Bible. The Bible is like a dish of savory meats. There is almost every variety of style and matter. There is History, Biography, Argumentative and Didactic Essays, and Poetry. Although these various kinds of writing are contained in a great number of books, written by various authors, at different times, without concert, yet a remarkable unity of design runs through the whole. They all aim at the development of the plan of God's moral government; and a most striking harmony of sentiment prevails throughout. We find everything, from the very beginning, pointing to the glorious plan of redemption revealed in the Gospel. Although we may, at first view, feel the want of a regular system of divinity, yet, a careful attention to the subject will convince us that God's plan is best. We have here the principles of his government exhibited in living examples; which give us a clearer view, and more vivid impression of them, than we could obtain from the study of an abstract system. There are several things to be observed, in the systematic and thorough study of the Bible, some of which I shall mention.
(1.) Always keep distinctly before you the grand design of the Scriptures; which is, to convince mankind of their lost and ruined condition, make known the way of salvation, and persuade them to embrace it.
(2.) Make it your constant aim to ascertain what is the plain and obvious meaning of the writer; for this is the mind of the Spirit. To aid you in this, observe the following particulars: 1. Endeavor to become acquainted with the peculiarity of each writer's style. Although the matter and words of Scripture were dictated by the Holy Spirit, yet it was so done that each writer employed a style and manner peculiar to himself. This does not invalidate the evidence of their divine origin. On the contrary, it shows the wisdom of the Spirit. For, if the whole Bible had been written in a uniform style, it would have given opposers a strong argument against its authenticity; while the want of that uniformity furnishes conclusive evidence that it could not have been the work of a single impostor. Again; a continued sameness of style would make the reading of so large a book as the Bible tedious and unpleasant; but the rich variety presented by the various authors of this blessed book, helps our infirmities, and makes the reading of it pleasing and delightful. 2. "Inquire into the character, situation, and office of the writer; the time, place, and occasion of his writing; and the people for whose immediate use he intended his work." This will enable you to understand his allusions to particular circumstances and customs, and to see the practical application of the principles he advances. 3. Consider the principal scope or aim of the book; or, what was the author's object, design, or intention, in writing it. Notice also the general plan or method which he has pursued. This will enable you to discover his leading ideas, if it be an argumentative work; or the particular instructions of God's providence, if it be historical. 4. Where the language is difficult to be understood, pay strict attention to the context, and you will generally find the author's meaning explained. But, if you do not, consider whether the difficult phrase is a peculiarity of the writer's style. If so, look out the place where he has used it in a different connection, and see what meaning is attached to it there. But, if this does not satisfy you, examine the passages, in other parts of the Scriptures, which relate to the same subject, and compare them with the one under consideration. This will generally clear up the darkest passages. But, if you still feel in doubt, you may find assistance from consulting commentators, who have made themselves thoroughly acquainted with all the particulars I have mentioned; which, with a knowledge of the language in which the book was originally written, may have enabled them to remove the difficulty. But, do not trust the opinions of commentators any farther than you see they agree with the general system of revealed truth; and, above all, do not follow them in any scheme of fanciful interpretation or visionary speculation.
(3.) Do not task yourself with a certain quantity of reading at the regular seasons devoted to the study of the Bible. This may lead you to hurry over it, without ascertaining its meaning, or drinking in its spirit. You had better study one verse thoroughly, than to read half a dozen chapters carelessly. The nourishment received from food depends less on the quantity than on its being perfectly digested. So with the mind; one clear idea is better than a dozen confused ones; and there is such a thing as overloading the mind with undigested knowledge. Ponder upon every portion you read, until you get a full and clear view of the truth it contains. Fix your mind and heart upon it, as the bee lights upon the flower; and do not leave it till you have extracted all the honey it contains.
(4.) Read in course. By studying the whole Bible in connection, you will obtain a more enlarged view of the plan of God's moral government. And you will see how it all centres in the Lord Jesus Christ. But I would not have you confine yourself entirely to the regular reading of the whole Bible in course. Some portions of the historical part do not require so much study as that which is more argumentative and doctrinal; and some parts of the word of God are more devotional than others, and therefore better fitted for daily practical use. A very good plan is, to read the Old and New Testaments in course, a portion in each, every day. If you begin at Genesis, Job, and Matthew, and read a chapter every day, at each place, omitting the first, and reading three Psalms, on the Sabbath, you will read the whole Bible in a year, while on every day you will have a suitable variety. Besides this, the more devotional and practical books should be read frequently. The Psalms furnish a great variety of Christian experience, and may be resorted to with great profit and comfort, under all circumstances. This is the only book in the Bible which does not require to be read in course. The Psalms are detached from each other, having no necessary connection. The other books were originally written like a sermon or a letter. They have, for convenience, since been divided into chapters and verses. If you read a single chapter by itself, you lose the connection; as, if you should take up a sermon and read a page or two, you would not get a full view of the author's subject. I would therefore recommend that, in addition to your daily reading in the Old and New Testaments, you have also some one of those books which require most study, in a course of reading, to take up whenever you have an occasional season of leisure to devote to the study of the Bible. But, when you have commenced one book, finish it before you begin another. You will find great advantage from the use of a reference Bible and concordance. By looking out the parallel passages, as you proceed, you will see how one part of the Scriptures explains another, and how beautifully they all harmonize. This will also give you a better view of the whole Scriptures than you can obtain in any other way. But if you are a Sabbath-school teacher or scholar, your regular lesson will furnish as much study of this description as you will be able thoroughly to accomplish.
(5.) In reading the Scriptures, there are some subjects of inquiry which you should carry along with you constantly: 1. What do I find here which points to Christ? Unless you keep this before your mind, you will lose half the interest of many parts of the Old Testament. Indeed, much of it will otherwise be almost without meaning. It is full of types and prophecies relating to Christ, which, by themselves, appear dry, but, when understood, most beautiful and full of instruction. 2. Remember that the Bible contains a history of the church. Endeavor, then, to learn the state of the church at the time of which you are reading. For the sake of convenience, and a clearer view of the subject, you may divide the history of the church into six periods: (1.) From the fall of Adam to the flood. (2.) From Noah to the giving of the law. (3.) From that time to David and the prophets. (4.) From David to the Babylonish captivity. (5.) From that time till the coming of Christ. (6.) From Christ to the end of time, which is called the gospel dispensation. From the commencement you will see a gradual development of God's designs of mercy, and a continually increasing light. Take notice of what period of the church you are reading; and from this you may judge of the degree of obligation of its members; for this has been increasing with the increase of light, from the fall of Adam to the present day; and it will continue to increase to the end of time. Note, also, the various declensions and revivals of religion which have occurred in every period of the church, and endeavor to learn their causes and consequences. By this, you will become familiar with God's method of dealing with his people; from which you may draw practical lessons of caution and encouragement for yourself. 3. Inquire what doctrinal truth is either taught, illustrated, or enforced, in the passage you are reading; and also, what principle is recognized. Great and important principles of the divine government and of practical duty are often implied in a passage of history which relates to a comparatively unimportant event. Let it be your business to draw out these principles, and apply them to practice. Thus, you will be daily increasing your knowledge of the great system of divine truth, the necessity of which I need not urge. 4. Note every promise and every prediction; and observe God's faithfulness in keeping his promises and fulfilling his prophecies. This will tend to strengthen your confidence in him. You will find it profitable, as you proceed, to take notes of these several matters, particularly; and, at the close of every book, review your notes, and sum them up under different heads.
(6.) Read the gospels with great care, for the particular purpose of studying the character of the blessed Jesus. Dwell upon every action of his life, and inquire after his motives. By this course you will be surprised to find the Godhead shining through the manhood, in little incidents which you have often read without interest. Look upon him at all times in his true character, as Mediator between God and man. Observe his several offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. See in which of these characters he is acting at different times; and inquire what bearing the particular action you are considering has upon his mediatorial character. Observe, also, the particular traits of character which appear conspicuous in particular actions; as power, energy, manly hardihood, dignity, condescension, humility, love, meekness, pity, compassion, tenderness, forgiveness, &c. Take notes; and when you have finished the course, draw from them, in writing, a minute and particular description of his character. This will be of great service to you as a pattern. You will also, by this means, see a peculiar beauty and fitness in Christ for the office he has undertaken, which you would not otherwise have discovered. But, do not stop with going through this course once. Repeat it as often as you can consistently with your plan of a systematic study of the Holy Scriptures. You will always find something new; and upon every fresh discovery, you can revise your old notes.