Substance of a Letter to a Friend

 •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
You ask me to say something regarding your duty as a Christian. But before we tell about duty the first thing is to be thoroughly established in the grace of God-for I gather that it is here you are wanting. You are mourning over failure, so should we all, but I do not think you look at it in the right light. It is right to feel our ingratitude and unworthiness, and as the soul grows in its apprehension of the marvelous grace and love of God, it will feel this the more. But there is something very far wrong when your letter says that you have only " intervals of happiness," and that you lack power to keep you steady. Why are there so many ups and downs in your spiritual history? Because you have not apprehended fully what God has done for you-where He has placed you, and what His thoughts are about you. In short you are deficient in the knowledge of His grace.
There is a verse in the 6th of Romans which bears me out in this, " Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under law but under grace." That is, if the soul apprehends what grace is, he has got hold of something which gives him power to overcome sin, so that it ceases to have dominion over him; but if the soul is in the least degree under " law' " in the same measure will it find itself the servant of sin. Why? "Law"-(not merely "the law" which we usually apply to the ten commandments, but) the principle of law-keeping, which brings you in responsible, and which requires you to do something, and is of far wider application. It recognizes and addresses man in the flesh, i. e., in his sinful condition; and discovers it. Grace, on the other hand, _takes man up where law leaves him, viz., when he can do nothing. It requires nothing, and expects nothing from him; but does everything for him. If you view yourself as connected with law at all you immediately find that you are weak, and sin is strong. This is why the law was given, "that the offense might abound." "The strength of sin is the law." But if you see yourself, as God has taken you up, purely on the ground of grace, you find that He looks upon you as one that cannot do anything at all; that you are absolutely "without strength." Hence, instead of mourning over your weakness, and the sinfulness of "the flesh" you should learn God's thoughts about it, and "reckon" it " dead;" while, on the other hand, you go forward in the power and energy of a new and endless life-the life which you possess in Christ Himself, made good in you by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Again, you would have no difficulty, which you have now, about the eternal safety and final perseverance, as it is called, of every one who believes. And this brings us back again to the old question. Will you bear with me while I set a few of the scriptures bearing on the subject again before you. This matter is, indeed, of so great importance that your "whole Christian course is influenced by it. If you were only clean off the ground of law in every shape and form (except of course as "under the law to Christ" which is a very different thing), you would think very differently than you do. So important did Paul hold this question of law to be that, when the Galatians sought to bring in a little of it, he actually said, " I stand in doubt of you." " O, senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched you." He feared they had got off the ground of Christianity altogether.
But, you ask, how am I on the ground of law in regard to this question of final perseverance?" Well, you are supposing that man has the ability to hold fast to the end, and, in fact, that he must do so in order to be saved. Now, that is just the law again, and all it can do is to prove that he cannot do this, or anything else. Grace, as we have seen, coming in at this point, does everything for you. Instead of telling you (as law would do, and as you are maintaining), that you must hold on to God in order to be saved, grace tells you that it is God that has laid hold on you in your utter helplessness, and the whole thing lies here. Moreover, if to endure to the end is a condition of salvation, then is it not clear that those who do endure to the end are saved partly because they have endured, that is, partly on the ground of their doing; which entirely excludes grace!
If, then, it is true that God has made salvation sure to every one who believes, do you suppose that He will lose one single soul He has ever taken hold of? His "gifts and calling are without repentance." (Rom. 11) It is written, " I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. My Father who gave them me is greater than all, and none is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." (John 10) Now, do not try to qualify, or modify these statements by introducing an " if," and saying " they are true," if we do this thing or the other. They stand in all their naked, absolute, unconditional strength, and I do beseech you to honor God by believing what He says. There are many more passages equally strong, but we cannot consider them now. Suffice it to say, that they all set forth this same precious soul-comforting truth that the believer, once in Christ, can never be lost. Oh see that you are not robbing yourself of any portion of what God, in His marvelous grace, has given you. May He deliver us from our narrow, unjust thoughts of Himself, and enable us to enter into all the magnificence of His grace! To think that a child of God can ever cease to be a child is the dishonoring thought of poor human hearts towards a God who cannot lie; and who are forced to explain away passages which state the truth with undeniable clearness to support the thought. Even nature teaches that a child can never get out of the relationship it holds to its father. A son may behave unworthily towards a kind father, or he may be a dutiful, obedient son, but he never can cease to be a son. And God has taken up this natural relationship in order to express how, in His matchless grace, He has linked up every believer with Himself. "Ye are all the children of God by faith of Jesus Christ," and by the spirit of His Son, giving us to cry, Abba Father.
Allow me to say that these views on the question of perseverance are most dishonoring to God, because they limit and obscure His grace. Their effect, too, on the soul is very serious. They prevent it enjoying that profound undisturbed peace and, joy which God designs it should have; they mar and hinder its progress in the knowledge of God; produce leanness, barrenness, and unsteadiness in the practical walk; instead of rising superior to earthly things, and enjoying, day by day, the calmness of a heavenly atmosphere occupied with Christ Himself. The soul is ever troubled about itself, sometimes happy, often unhappy, groaning and burdened, which is surely not the normal condition of a Christian.
Be assured, too, that scripture never contradicts itself. The enemy often uses passages which are clear enough when rightly understood, to disturb a soul previous to being fully established in the full grace of God. When you have bowed to the grace of God, and are settled simply on this firm footing, you will find out the mind of God as to those passages which seem to you to speak otherwise; you will find they form a harmonious whole; not one line or thought interfering with another from end to end. Yours, &c., C.