[The following remarks were made on a particularly solemn instance, where a young sister (converted in 1853) fell into the snare of accepting an offer of marriage made by a worldly man. This she had contrived to conceal from the assembly of Christians where she lived; but a delay, which arose out of seemingly accidental circumstances, gave occasion to a brother’s discovering her intentions, and warning her solemnly. She owned the wrong, but persisted; left for a relative’s, where she sickened of a violent fever, which from the first she owned to be the chastening of the Lord; and died after three days, His word having penetrated and brought her, not only to entire self-judgment, but to fulness of joy. The details, for various reasons, are omitted.]
The preceding history relates, in all Christian simplicity, facts which shew how God can interfere in discipline to deliver His children from the sad spiritual consequences which flow from a want of faithfulness. A young Christian allowed herself to be drawn into accepting an offer of marriage with an unconverted man. Her conscience plainly shewed her that she was acting against the will of God. But she did not know how to stop at the first step, and, not having at once rejected, as unfaithfulness and sin, the thought of that which was offered to her, she had not afterwards the strength to give it up; and God was forced to take her away from this world to keep her from a sin which she did not desire to commit, but which she had not the strength to resist. Oh how difficult it is to stop when once we have set out on such a road!
Any one who has closely observed the walk of Christians, and who has cared for souls with a heart in any little measure zealous for the glory of the Lord and desirous of the spiritual welfare of the dear children of God, will not have failed to perceive the fatal influence that the world exercises over them when it gains entrance into their hearts. God only knows, and the one who has suffered from it, by what subtle means, and under what an amiable guise the world often invades the heart of the Christian. But the manifestation of Christ to the soul, and the power of His presence, are never ways by which the world insinuates itself into the heart. Those, therefore, who are found, by grace, near Christ, are shielded from the influence of such feelings, and can judge them and everything which tends to make a way for the world within the heart, or for desires which are connected with the world.
Here we are in warfare with the enemy. He seeks to surprise us when we are not upon our guard; and, in order to accomplish this, he knows even how to transform himself into an angel of light. If we are not near to Christ and are not clothed with the whole armour of God, it is impossible to resist his devices. To resist the power of Satan is not the principal difficulty, for Christ has conquered for us this terrible enemy, but it is to discover the snares which he lays for us, and, above all, to discern that it is himself who is at work. In our combats with the enemy, it becomes a question of knowing the state of our own hearts. The single eye (that is to say, the heart filled with Christ) discerns the wile, and the soul has recourse to the Saviour for deliverance; or even, its affections being fixed upon Christ, the heart presents no prize for the efforts of the enemy. A heart that is simple and occupied with the Lord escapes many things which trouble the peace of those who are not near Him. Thanks be to God, the troubled and tormented soul finds a resource and complete restoration in the grace of the One whom it has so foolishly forgotten; but it enjoys the fruits of grace through many sorrows and exercises of heart. Yet let it take courage. He knows how to deliver as well as to have compassion.
Now these are the two principles which regulate the ways of God with regard to us. On the one hand, God keeps the heart to cause it to discern His own purpose; and, on the other, Christ intercedes for us with respect to all that may be called infirmity. There are real difficulties along the way, and there is weakness in us, and alas! a will which does not like to be bridled, and which betrays itself in a thousand forms of thought and deed. Our weaknesses, like our will, tend to hinder us from reaching the end of our journey; but there is a great difference in the way in which God acts with regard to our weaknesses, and with regard to our will and the thoughts which flow from it. “The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” God judges our thoughts and intentions by His word. Nothing escapes Him; He is faithful towards us. His word is in the heart like an eye from which nothing is concealed; “all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Do you hear that, foolish soul that would desire to feed upon the illusions that you love? Nothing is hidden; not one of your thoughts or intentions is hidden from the eyes of Him with whom you have to do. Nor is that all. His word is simple, plain, and clear; it speaks in your conscience: do you hear it? Do you know that when God speaks, you have to do with Him who speaks, as well as with what He says? Will you resist Him who speaks and provoke Him to jealousy? You cannot escape from Him: He has already a hold over your conscience, and He will never give it up.
Will you kick against the pricks? But think rather of the end that God has in view. He might have left you to yourself; He might have left you to fall into things which, if His grace interfere not, may render the whole of the wilderness journey sad and humiliating for you. He might have said to you what He said to His beloved Israel, “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone,” Hosea 4:17. Terrible punishment! Harder than the most severe outward chastening I But our God will not deprive us of the light of His countenance and the sweetness of His communion. For God does not chasten willingly: it is a strange work for Him, as He says; Isa. 28:21. But sin is always sin in His eyes, and He cannot allow it. How, then, does God work in our poor hearts? He reaches them by His word, in order that our conscience may see everything as He sees it Himself. His eye is upon us, upon our heart, and the eye of our conscience is enlightened as to what is passing in the heart by that word which reveals God to it. Is that which you find in your heart the thought of a pilgrim, the thought of one who loves God? Is it a thought in accordance with the will of God—a thought suitable to one whom Christ has so loved as to humble Himself even to death for him? Stop, poor soul, and ask yourself if you are allowing the thought which occupies you because it is agreeable to Christ, to the Christ who gave Himself for you to save you? He has your salvation at heart; He loves you; He knows what tends to ruin you, to make you fall in the wilderness. He will govern by no principles except His own—those of holiness— those which are the delight of the new man—those which belong to the divine nature. He cannot deny Himself; 2 Tim. 2:13. He desires that you should not incur the terrible discipline which awaits the soul that has wandered. He desires that you should not suffer the losses into which your folly will drag you, if you allow yourself to follow your own will. He desires that you should not lose the enjoyment of His communion, and that the proofs of His love towards you should not be suspended or weakened in your heart. He speaks to you in His word, He judges the thoughts and the intentions of your heart. Would you rather hear Him judge you, that ask Him to deliver you from what is too mighty for you? Or will you say, like Israel, “I have loved strangers and after them will I go,” Jer. 2:25? You know that this thought does not come from Christ; you have not consulted Him, although you may perhaps have dared to ask Him to bless your intentions and to direct you. You know that the word judges what you are still keeping in your heart and what has power over you; you are the slave and not the master of your thought. No, that thought is not from Christ, and, while you allow it, you are neglecting God and His word. Well, you are bringing upon you the chastening of God. God is full of mercy and has compassion on us and on our weaknesses. He is tender and pitiful in His ways; but if we are determined to follow our own will, He knows how to break it. He governs everything, and He governs His children in particular. He is not mocked, and what a man sows he will reap later on; Gal. 6:7. The worst of all chastenings is that He should leave us to follow our own ways.
The second point that I wish to lead you to notice is the government that God exercises with regard to His children. He warns them by His word, and if they do not listen, He interferes in His power to stop them in order that He may be able to bless them. See Job 36:5-14; chap. 33:14-30. In the dealings of God salvation is not brought into question. He looks upon His children, and chastens those whom He loves. The persons of whom the Holy Ghost is speaking in Job are called “the just.” God does not withdraw His eyes from them, and He says also to Israel by the prophet Amos, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities,” Amos 3:2.
In the Epistle to the Corinthians we see that, when the Christians turned the Lord’s supper into a scene of dissoluteness, God laid His hand upon them. Some of them were sick and others had even fallen asleep (that is, had died); and the apostle in calling attention to it adds, “If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” Solemn thought! We are under the hand of the Lord who punishes sin wherever He finds it. He is a consuming fire, and, when the moment is come, judgment begins at His house. What a difference between such relations with God, and the joy of His love and communion when one has not grieved His Spirit, and when one is walking under His eye and in the light of His countenance! I do not doubt that a large part of the sickness and trials of Christians are chastenings sent by God on account of things that are evil in His sight, which the conscience ought to have paid heed to, but which it neglected. God has been forced to produce in us the effect which self-judgment ought to have produced before Him. It would, however, be untrue to suppose that all afflictions are chastenings. Though they are so sometimes, they are not always sent because of sin. There are things in the soul connected with the natural character, and which need to be corrected in order that we may live more in communion with God and glorify Him in all the details of life. What we do not know how to do with regard to these things, God does for us; but there are many children of God who commit faults which their conscience ought to feel, and which they would discover if their soul were in the presence of God.
Jacob had to fight all his life against himself, because God had known his ways; and, in order to bless him, God must wrestle with him too, and on this account also He was not pleased to reveal His name to him. It is totally different in the history of Abraham. A thorn in the flesh was given to Paul to hinder evil; for in his case the danger did not arise from his carelessness, but from the abundance of the revelations which he had had.
Where there is a real affection which acknowledges God and all the relations in which He has placed us with Himself, it is absolutely impossible that a Christian should allow himself to marry a worldly person, without violating all his obligations towards God and towards Christ. If a child of God allies himself to an unbeliever, it is evident that he leaves Christ out of the question, and that he does so voluntarily in the most important event of his life. It is just at such a moment that he ought to have the most intimate communion of thought, affection, and interest with Christ; and He is totally excluded! The believer is yoked with an unbeliever. He has chosen to live without Christ; he has deliberately preferred to do his own will and to exclude Christ rather than give up his will in order to enjoy Christ and His approbation. He has given his heart to another, abandoning Christ and refusing to listen to Him. The more affection there is, the more the heart is attached, the more openly has something been preferred to Christ. What a fearful decision! to settle to spend one’s life thus, choosing for a companion an enemy of the Lord’s. The influence of such a union is necessarily to draw the Christian back into the world. He has already chosen to accept that which is of the world as the most beloved object of his heart; and only things of the world please those who are of the world, although their fruit is death; Rom. 6:21-23. “The world passeth away and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” What a dreadful position! Either to fail in faithfulness to Christ, or to have constantly to resist just where the tenderest affection ought to have established perfect unity. The fact is, that unless the sovereign grace of God comes in, the Christian man or woman always yields and enters little by little upon a worldly walk. Nothing is more natural. The worldly man has only his worldly desires. The Christian, besides his Christianity, has the flesh; and further, he has already abandoned his Christian principles in order to please his flesh, by uniting himself to one who does not know the Lord. The result of such an alliance is that he has not a thought in common on the subject which ought to be the most precious to his heart, with the person dearest to him in the world, and who is like a part of himself. They will have nothing but quarrels: as it is written, “How can two walk together except they be agreed?” Amos 3:3. If not, they must first yield to worldliness and then take pleasure in it; but this sad result is lost sight of when they first place themselves in the position which renders it inevitable. The Christian is drawn away little by little; he is not in communion with his Saviour, and he can find pleasure in the society of a person who is agreeable to him without thinking of Jesus. When he is alone, he does not think of praying; and when he is with the one whom he loves, though his conscience or his Christian friends may warn him, he has no strength, and Christ has not sufficient power over his heart, to lead him to turn from his way and give up an affection which he knows to be disapproved of by the Lord. He binds himself more or less by other motives, such as a feeling of honour—sometimes alas! by more detestable motives, such as pecuniary interest—and he sacrifices his conscience, his Saviour, his own soul, as far as it depends upon him, and, at all events, the glory of God. That which at first was nothing more than a fancy has become unrestrained will.
There is another remark which the history of this young person leads me to make. The first start of a converted soul, however sincere it may be, produces anything but the judgment of self and the flesh, which, by unveiling to us our weakness, causes us to lay down our burden at the feet of Jesus. We then seek for strength only in Him, and we confide in Him alone. The confidence which a soul that knows and distrusts itself has in Jesus what gives it a lasting and solid peace, when it has understood, not only as a doctrine, but by the acceptance of the heart, that He alone is our righteousness. But we only arrive at this when we have been in the presence of God and have there made the discovery that we are only sin, that Christ is perfect righteousness, and God perfect love. From that time we distrust ourselves, we fight against ourselves, and the flesh and the enemy have no longer the same power to deceive us.
I do not think that the young person of whom these pages speak had been stripped of self. There are many Christians in this condition, and although we may all be exposed to the same dangers, yet such have more particularly to dread the wiles of the enemy, because they have not learnt how far the flesh deceives us, and do not know with how terrible a traitor we have to do. When we have come to a knowledge of this, although there may be a lack of watchfulness, yet Christ has a larger place in the heart, and there is more calm, and less of self.
Observe how deceitful the heart is, and how it loses all self-command when it departs from God. That poor young girl (when she was getting farther and farther into the slough, on the borders of which she had been trifling, to use her own expressions) asked her mother’s friend to do all she could to remove every obstacle; and she, who was a woman of some piety, was surprised that A. should be disposed to unite herself to a worldly man.
How wily and deceitful is our heart! What slaves does an idol make of us! For although we may endeavour to escape the danger, yet we take means to secure the accomplishment of the thing that we desire, even while we flee from it. What a terrible thing it is to get away from God! This young person before she was entangled through this affection, would have shrunk with horror from the idea of such an action. When the heart has abandoned God, it dreads man more even than God. The God who loved A., and who was really beloved by her, must needs take her away from this world where she had not the courage to return to the right path. God took her to Himself. She died in peace, and through pure grace she triumphed. The Christian, whilst enjoying peace in his last moments, should always feel that it is God whose hand is there. What a solemn lesson for those who wish to depart from God and from His holy word, in order to satisfy an inclination which it would have been easy to overcome at first, but which, when cherished in the heart, becomes tyrannical and fatal! May God grant to the reader of these lines, and to all His children, to seek His presence day by day.