The Work of God in the Soul: Part 3

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Before entering upon the second division of our subject, we feel constrained to put a pointed question or two to the reader. We trust he will bear with us in so doing. We are aware that some persons do not like close, personal dealing. They prefer the simple unfolding of truth and leaving it to do its own work. Well, we, too, value the unfolding of divine truth; and we know that the Holy Ghost alone can apply the truth, in saving or edifying power, to the heart and conscience of the reader or the hearer.
But, on the other hand, we believe it to be the bounden duty of the writer or speaker to do his very utmost, in the way of appeal, exhortation, and pointed inquiry, to affect the heart, reach the conscience, and enlighten the understanding of his reader or hearer. We must remember that we have a double duty to perform; we have to unfold truth; and we have to deal with the soul. All preachers, teachers, and writers should ever keep this in the remembrance of the thoughts of then hearts. If a man occupies himself only with abstract truth, his ministry is apt to prove unpractical and unfruitful. If he occupies himself only with the souls, his ministry will prove unfurnished and uninteresting. If he occupies himself duly with both, he will prove " a good minister of Jesus Christ."
Hence, therefore, beloved reader, we feel that we should be leaving one half of our work undone, did we not, from time to time, turn from our subject, in order to make an earnest appeal to thee; and we would, now, earnestly entreat of thee, as in the immediate presence of Him with whom we have to do, to give thy undivided attention to the following question. Be honest with thyself—be earnest—be real, and rest assured that God will bless thee.
Hast thou, then, dear friend, been led to feel thy need? Has the Spirit of God wrought hi thy heart to produce a sense of guilt, a dread of judgment, or a consciousness of the utter vanity of all under the sun? Canst thou say from thy very heart, " Woo is me! for I am undone"—"Behold, I am vile"—"I am black"—"I am a sinful man?'' All these are distinct utterances of men like thyself—men of like passions—but of men under the quickening visitation of the Holy Ghost, and the convicting action of the truth of God. Be assured of it, they are good words, the fruit of most precious exercises in the soul—such exercises as we delight to sec. It is a grand thing to see the soul thoroughly broken down before God, thoroughly sensible of its lost and ruined condition, of its deep guilt, and of its exposure to the just judgment and wrath of a holy, sin-hating God. It was no mere surface work with Job, Isaiah, or Peter, when they gave utterance to the words which we have just transcribed. The plowshare had entered the very depths of the soul. The whole moral being was permeated by the light of divine holiness. The arrow of conviction had pierced to the very center of the heart. It was real work. Not one of those beloved saints of God could have rested in the flippant wordy confession of the fact that "we are all sinners." No mere empty generalities would do for them. All was deep, real, and personal. They were hi the presence of God, and this is always a real and a solemn matter.
Now we would here distinctly state, once for all, that the exercises of the soul have nothing to do with the ground of salvation or peace. We cannot possibly be too simple and clear as to this. Job did not rest in his own utterance "Behold, I am vile;" but in God's declaration, "I have found a ransom." Isaiah did not build upon a " Woe is mc!" but upon " Tins hath touched, thy lips." Peter did not find relief in Ms own exclamation, "I am a sinful man;" but upon those two sweet and soothing words of Jesus, " Fear not."
All this is most true. Far from us be the thought of lead-mg any soul to build upon its exercises, how deep, real, and spiritual soever such exercises may be. No, we must build only and altogether on Christ. " Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay hi Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, ft precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste." (Isa. 28:1010For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: (Isaiah 28:10).) This " stone" is not an exercise of any sort. It is not even the work of the Holy Ghost, essential as that is. It is not even the Holy Ghost Himself. It is the One to which the Holy Ghost ever delights to bear witness, even Christ who is the "tried," the "precious," the "sure foundation," who died for our sins, according to the scriptures, and rose Again for our justification, according to the scriptures.
Still, while we not only fully admit, but earnestly and constantly insist upon all this, we must, nevertheless, be allowed to give expression to our deep and ever deepening sense of the value of a profound work of the Spirit of God in the soul. We fear there is an appalling amount of unbroken material to be found in the ranks of christian profession; a quantity of truth floating about, as so much unpractical and uninfluential theory, in the region of the intellect; a large amount of mental traffic in unfelt truth; a great deal of what is awfully unreal. We question if, in very many cases—alas! alas! how many!—the head is not far in advance of the heart—the mind more at work than the conscience. This is the secret of much of the unreality, the hollowness, and the inconsistency so grievous to contemplate. We are convinced of this; and hence it is that we so earnestly desire to deal faithfully with the heart and conscience of the reader. He need not be the least afraid to look this weighty matter straight in the face. Let him not be afraid of the knife. Let him beware of mere intellectualism, which, we feel persuaded, is doing more than we are aware of to bring about the temporary reign of superstition and infidelity.
We shall now proceed, in the second place, to consider for a few moments
And, inasmuch as pointed reference has already been made to Isaiah and Peter—a prophet of the Old Testament times, and an apostle of the New, we can hardly do better than to look at the mode in which our thesis is illustrated in the history of these two remarkable men. And, first, let us contemplate the case of Isaiah the prophet. We have seen, in his case, how the need was created; let us now consider how the object was revealed.
No sooner had the convicted soul given utterance to the cry, " Woe is me! for I am undone," than the angelic messenger was dispatched, with all the earnestness and energy of divine love, from the very throne of the eternal thrice holy Jehovah. "Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in Ins hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, tins hath touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged." Isa. 6:6, 76Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: 7And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. (Isaiah 6:6‑7).
Now, there are two things, in the foregoing quotation, demanding our attention, namely, first, the substance, and, secondly, the style of the action recorded. The substance is the thing that was done; the style is the way of doing it. The prophet had been led to see himself in the light which emanated from the throne of God. This was a serious moment. It could not possibly be otherwise. It is deeply solemn to be brought to the discovery of what we are, as in the presence of God. When so brought, nothing but divine provision can meet our need—nothing but a divine object can satisfy the heart. Had Isaiah seen only the throne, his condition would have been hopeless. But there was the altar as well, and here lay the secret of life and salvation for him as for every other convicted and self-destroyed sinner. If the throne had its claims, the altar had its provision. The one stood over against the other—two prominent figures in this most sublime vision—two grand realities in the glorious economy of divine grace. The light of the throne revealed the sinner's guilt; the grace of the altar removed it.
And, most assuredly, nothing else could have done for Isaiah—nothing else for the reader. It must be this in every case. The measure may vary; but the great fact is the same always. "Woe is me!" and " This hath touched thy lips," must go together. The former is the effect of the throne; the latter, the fruit of the altar. That is the need created; this, the object revealed. Nothing can be more simple, nothing more blessed. It is only the One who creates the need that can unfold the object to meet it; the former He does by the action of truth; the latter, by the provision of grace.
" This hath touched thy lips." Mark the words, reader! Note them carefully. See that you understand their force, their meaning, and their application to thyself. "This"—what is it? It is the provision—the rich, ample, perfect provision of divine grace. It has wrapped up in its comprehensive folds all that a poor guilty, hell-deserving, broken-hearted sinner can need to meet his guilt and ruin. It is not anything from within, but something from without. It is not a process—it is not an exercise—it is not a feeling; it is a divine provision to meet the sinner's deepest need, to remove his guilt, to hush his fears, to save his soul. All was contained in that mysterious "live coal from off the altar."
We may have occasion to recur to this scene again, in connection with the last point in our subject, namely, the soul's taking hold of the object. We shall, here, just refer, for a moment, to the style of that wonderful action which spoke peace to the troubled soul of Isaiah. There is no one who is not conscious of the immense power of style over the heart. Indeed, we may almost say that the style of an action is more influential than the substance. And is it not most blessed to know that our God has His own peculiar style? Truly so. Adored forever be His holy Name, He not only meets our need, but He does it in such a way as to let us know, without a shadow of a doubt, that " His whole heart and his whole soul" are in the act. He not only pardons our sins, but does it after such a fashion as to convince our souls that it is His own richest joy to do it.
Now, it seems to us that the style of the divine action, in Isa. 6 shines forth in that little word 'flew." It is as though God was in haste to apply the divine balm to a wounded spirit. Not a moment was to be lost. That bitter cry, " Woe is me!" coming forth, as it did, from the very depths of a sinner's broken heart, had gone straight up to the very ear and the very heart of God; and, with the intense rapidity of a seraph's wing, must a divine response be sent from the sanctuary of God to purge the convicted conscience and tranquillize the troubled heart.
Such is the way of our God—such the manner of His love—such the style of His grace. He not only saves us, but He does it in such a way as to assure our hearts that it makes Him far happier to save us than it makes us to he saved. The poor legal, doubting, reasoning heart may oft times be full of fear as to how God will deal with us. Spite of all the precious assurances of His love, all the proofs of His mercy and goodness, all the pledges of His readiness to save and bless, still the heart doubts and hangs back; still it refuses to listen to that voice of love uttering itself in ten thousand touching and eloquent strains; still it proves its readiness to lend a willing ear to the dark suggestions of the arch enemy—to its own wretched reasonings—to anything and everything, in short, but the whispers of divine love. In vain does a Savior God stand before the sinner, beseeching him to come; in vain does He open His very heart to the sinner's view, " showing his thoughts how kind they be;" in vain He points to the sacrifice of His own providing—the Lamb of His free giving—the Son of His bosom—still the heart will harbor its dark and depressing suspicions—it will not give God credit for love so full so free—it will not admit that God delights to save, delights to bless, delights to make us happy.
Oh! beloved reader, say, art thou a doubter? Dost thou still hang back? Dost thou still continue to wrong and wound that deep, tender, marvelous love of God that stopped not short of giving His only begotten Son from His bosom, and bruising Him on Calvary's cursed tree? Why, oh why, dost thou hesitate? What art thou waiting for? What more dost thou want? Say not, we beseech thee, "I cannot believe. I would if I could; but I cannot. I am waiting for power." Hear these words, " If we receive the testimony of man, the testimony of God is greater." Hast thou not, many a time, received the testimony, the record, the witness of man? If thou wert to tell a fellow mortal that thou couldst not believe him, what would he say to thee? Would he not tell thee thou wert giving him the lie? Wilt they make God a liar? Thou hast done it long enough. Do it no longer, we beseech thee; but come now, just as thou art, and behold the manner of the love of God—its substance and its style. Come now, with all your guilt, all your wretchedness, all your misery, all your need, and thou wilt find, in that object which God unfolds in His word, all you can need for time and eternity; and not only so, but you will receive a welcome as hearty as the God of all grace can give—Do come!
(To he concluded in our next, if the Lord will.)