Letters on Profession and the Work of Grace

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My Dear Brother, In my reply to your last letter, I omitted to point out the application of the truth of God's work, or the "work of grace," as I called it, to the saints in former days. It is not so readily seen as in its application to us Christians, because there is not anything like the same fullness of Scripture revelation about it, "life and incorruptibility" having been "brought to light by the gospel." Nevertheless, the Lord shows us that in principle what is true now was true then; and although there was no revelation about the life which saints had, so that they could not have used the language of full assurance which belongs to us, yet it was a divine necessity that a man "must be born again;" and so the Lord spoke of the truth, " Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God " (John 3:55Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)), as among the " earthly things " which, as a master or teacher in Israel, Nicodemus should have known. This shows plainly the character of the work by which life was, and is always, communicated to a sinner, and shows, too, that it is divine life, and quite different in nature from all that man is or was. " That which is born of the flesh is flesh, but that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit."
Psa. 16; 19:7, 8; 21:1-6; 32:1-6; 40:1-5; 51:103, &c.; Ezek. 20:44; 36:25-38; 37:1-1444And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have wrought with you for my name's sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord God. (Ezekiel 20:44)
25Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. 26A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. 28And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29I will also save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you. 30And I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that ye shall receive no more reproach of famine among the heathen. 31Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations. 32Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel. 33Thus saith the Lord God; In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded. 34And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by. 35And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited. 36Then the heathen that are left round about you shall know that I the Lord build the ruined places, and plant that that was desolate: I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it. 37Thus saith the Lord God; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock. 38As the holy flock, as the flock of Jerusalem in her solemn feasts; so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of men: and they shall know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 36:25‑38)
1The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, 2And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. 3And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. 4Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: 6And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. 7So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. 8And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. 9Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. 10So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. 11Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. 12Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, 14And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord. (Ezekiel 37:1‑14)
, &c., are among the many Old Testament Scriptures which show that man needed life as a divine gift in order to have part with God, and that it was there for faith. But I do not believe that any soul had the consciousness that it possessed eternal life, because the character of the life was not then revealed, and, moreover, certain earthly blessings were then connected with that life, and to these the attention of God's people was directed, because as to their ways on the earth they were directly subject to God's government exercised in the earth, and this uses earthly blessings and curses as rewards and chastisements.
Rom. 3:2525Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (Romans 3:25) shows how the death of Christ, to which God then looked forward, was the foundation upon which He thus dealt with any sinner then, passing over his sins and giving him life, though justly deserving death; and in due time, by the death of Christ accomplished, God was declared righteous His past dealings. So that we see the application of both sides of the work of grace to sinners in other days as well as in our own.
There is a great difference, of course, between a man merely professing to love and serve God, and this work of God in a soul. The one will not last nor stand the test of trial; but the other is indestructible; while, of course, it leads everyone who is the subject of it into that character of life which pleases God.
F. J. R.