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but I should consider that you were in a good state to come and seek the mercies of the Gospel, since you were sensible of your need of them.
Henry.—Why, I did feel, that, instead of being able to trust to my own doings for salvation, my works were so imperfect that I stood in daily and constant need of pardon.
Friend.—And there is a promise of pardon in the Gospel; and to that I endeavoured to lead you. Jesus Christ died for us, that He might procure pardon for us.
Henry.—I see the need of this now, but I did not see it then. Besides, if I am pardoned to-day, my sinful nature will lead me astray again. I have not strength and power to stand against all the temptations of the world, and the proud and sinful suggestions of my own heart.
Friend.—But here, also, the Scriptures promise us help,—the help of God's Spirit, to turn our minds from the love of sin,—to teach us to love the way of God,— and to enable us to follow Him.
Henry.—Yes; I see this now; but, for a long time, I never sought forgiveness through Christ, and I never prayed for the help of His Spirit. I am afraid I did not believe that there was that divine power in the Saviour, that, through Him, my sins might be blotted out; neither did I believe in the divine power of the Spirit, to turn the heart of man from the love of sin, and to draw it to the love of God. And, as I did not firmly believe in this, I could not sincerely pray for it.
Friend.—And this want of faith prevented you from receiving the benefits of the promised pardon and help.
Henry.—It was so: and my mind was grievously harassed, fearing that I should not find mercy and pardon; and my pride, and my selfishness, and my neglect of God continued.
Friend.—But, now you know the truth, surely you have found relief.
Henry.—I believe I now see the right way; but still I am not at ease.
Friend.—Perhaps it is as well that it should be so. We are not to be in a state of ease and indifference about 1838.] A DIALOGUE ON RELIGIOUS FEELINGS. 123
our eternal salvation. We are to watch, and to pray, and to strive, that we may enter in at the strait gate, which leadeth to everlasting life.
Henry.—I am aware of that; but I read of the peace which belongeth to the righteous,—the love which is felt towards God,—the joy of the believer; and I do not feel these.
Friend.—I doubt not that this is the state of many, many a happy Christian, and it may yet be yours; but still I believe that many of the holiest persons have felt as much cast down as you do, and have had much tribulation before their minds have been at rest.
Henry.—But if I were a true believer,—if my sins were forgiven,—if I was in a state of reconciliation with God, surely I should find that peace and comfort which others speak of.
Friend.—I do not exactly think with you on that point. The feelings of real Christian believers are very different according to the progress which they have made in their Christian course,—according to their different constitutional dispositions,—and often according to the different state of their health and spirits.
Henry.—I see that you are trying to give me peace and comfort, and to make me think well of my own state, when I know how very far I am from what I ought to be.
Friend.—I should grieve indeed at the thought of giving you false comfort; but I consider that your present earnest desire to believe lightly, and to act rightly, marks a better state than a mere feeling of security and peace would do. There may be a state where the mind is at ease, but where there is no safety; but, where there is an earnest desire to know God aright, and to serve Him, this marks the state of those who " labour and are heavy laden," it is such as those whom Christ invites to "come unto Him," and assures them that He will "give them rest."
Henry.—Yes; but I have been so great a sinner. I have despised my Saviour's power; I have done despite unto the Spirit of His grace; yes, I have been a great sinner.
Friend.—But is not Christ a great Saviour? Is He not mighty to save? Have you ever heard of His being a Saviour from little sins, and not from great ones? If you have doubted the power of Christ, surely you do not doubt it now.
Henry.—No, indeed I do not. He is all powerful to save; "the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin."
Friend.—And yet you think that He has not power to atone for your sins.
Henry.—Indeed, my dear friend, I do not doubt His power, or His willingness to save; but I doubt myself. I feel as if I could hardly go through the great work of repentance, with the distressing search into all my past errors, and sins, and negligences, and resistance to the will of God. I almost feel disposed to turn away from the dreadful task, and try to drive away such thoughts by the gaiety and dissipations of the world; but I dare not do this; and, moreover, I feel that this would now be no relief to me. I believe I could not shake off my distressing thoughts in that way.
Friend.—I would not advise you to try that way. The cause of your distress seems to me to arise from a consciousness of having hitherto been in a wrong course; the way, then, to remove it is to seek now to be brought into the right course.
Henry.—This is what I desire: and I am striving, all I can, to give up a course of acting and thinking which I now know to be wrong ; and I am trying, by all the means in my power, to do what I believe to be right; but I cannot now satisfy myself in the performance of my duties; and, if I could, there is still a great weight upon my mind for past sins, which I cannot in any way shake off. Some of my friends try to cheer me by telling me that I have never been a wicked person, like many others,—that I have never been a drunkard, or a swearer, or an adulterer, or a Sabbath-breaker, or any thing of that kind; but I now know what sin is, I know that I have fallen grievously short of God's law, and I find no relief from such miserable comforters.
Friend.—That is certainly not the sort of comfort which I should offer to you; but you seem to me to be 1838.] A DIALOGUE ON RELIGIOUS FEELINGS. 125
suffering from an error, which a right application of the holy Scriptures would remove.
Friend.—You seem to me to be looking only at the requirements and duties set forth in Scripture, without seeing its merciful offers, its privileges, and its grace.
Henry.—Yes, I know what you mean; you would say that I am clinging to the Law, instead of to the Gospel.
Friend.—And is it not so?
Henry.—It may be so: but yet I see so plainly in Scripture, that rules of duty are given, and I see, too, that there is no true repentance, unless there be an earnest endeavour henceforth to live by the rules of Scripture, that I cannot help thinking that it is our duty to labour diligently to live according to the law of God.
Friend.—There can be no doubt of that; and I believe that God is well pleased with every such attempt: but there is a great difference as to which end we begin at, when we are seeking to live like Christians. If we are attempting to work out for ourselves a perfect righteousness such as God will approve, we every day find ourselves falling short; and, even if we could do this, we feel that there is still upon us the guilt of past sin: —and this seems to be your distress.
Friend.—Now take the other course; look at the merciful offers of Scripture,—listen to the message,— accept the promises. The Scriptures tell us, in our distress to " come unto Christ, and that He will give us rest,"—to "cast all our care upon Him," assuring us, that " He careth for us," and that none who come unto Him shall be cast out. The New Testament abounds with such offers and invitations,—the Gospel is a scheme of mercy, its message is "glad tidings," its object is "man's salvation." And the offers are free. Whoever looks at the Gospel in this light, and commits himself wholly to Christ, is trusting to one who is all-powerful to save; but whoever trusts to his own works, is trusting to what is full of imperfection.
Henry.—But we are not to lay aside the attempt to perform good works.
Friend.—Quite the contrary; but there is a difference between endeavouring to live according to holiness and duty, and trusting in any such works as sinful man can perform. But, as to the dutiful necessity of seeking to act according to God's will, no one sees this more than the Christian who looks to Christ for the pardon of his past sins, and sees the need of the Spirit's help to lead him on in the right course; and he now has a great desire to serve God, arising from a strong sense of what God has done for him,—in dying that his sins might be forgiven, —in bestowing full and free pardon on one who feels that he deserves condemnation, and in offering him such help as shall enable him to live in newness of life,—in holiness and godly love.
Henry.—I believe I should find much more comfort in taking this view of the Gospel.
Friend.—I believe, assuredly, that you would; but, if not, it is a great object to see the right way and to follow it; and this should be the desire of us all, rather than merely to ask what will give most comfort to ourselves; though this will probably, ere long, be given to the Christian pilgrim who faithfully endeavours to walk in the way which leadeth to eternal life. V.
THE SOWER.—A TALE.
The Sabbath bell roll'd on the gale,
All listen'd with attentive ear,