“Isobel Hood’s Manuscript”: A Letter to Her Pastor
Being a Record of Spiritual Experience by a Humble Christian Woman
There is less danger in wounding us when we are innocent, than in healing our deadly wounds slightly. A faithful ministry puts both the innocent and the guilty to a trial, and hath been many times made the blessed means of letting both see where they are, or where they were.
But though I was wounded by many things which have been brought out of late [in your preaching], yet in another text you chose after this, you brought out many healing things indeed, some of which I was allowed to take hold of. It was in the book of Jonah, the words are these: — “I said I am cast out of thy sight, but I will look again towards thy holy temple.” In handling these words, you found me out, and touched the very case I was in. For a long time before I came under your ministry, the very words of this text were my continual outcry — “I am cast out of thy sight”; and you were led to bring out the very grounds and reasons of this heavy complaint in a more clear manner than I could have told you, though I had let it be known to you; but I believe you were told it from the Lord. I cannot record what you brought forth, so as to do it justice; but I think the comfort of it still remains. I shall note a few remarks that you had upon these words, which I could not well forget, they came so near the case I was in. First, you remarked that some poor souls might think they were cast out of God’s sight when they did not enjoy the means of spiritual life in that fullness in which they had formerly enjoyed them. And again, they might think they were cast out of His sight when they did not come home to them with that life, light, and clearness of evidence with which they had formerly found them come. These things were the main parts of my trouble under this dark cloud, from which Satan took great advantage to work upon the atheism and unbelief of my heart, by which a fearful havoc was made in the soul, much to the Lord’s dishonor, after all the appearances he had formerly made for me. Oh! With what patience hath he borne with the fearful workings of unbelief, atheism, enmity, and rebellion of my heart against him; for which I have cause to wonder that he did not thrust me out of the world in some awful manner! But he still acts like himself, and like none else.
But further, when you came to speak of looking again by faith towards his holy temple, you observed that when the Lord was drawing souls to himself, either at first, or after desertion, he gave them realizing views of the object of faith, made things clear to the soul as they really were; and then the heart was attracted and drawn out after those things which were so seen, and so cleared to them, and then they were allowed to draw all in again in the exercise of faith and love. This is as near to the words you spoke as I can remember, and near to any experience that I ever had of these things. Dear Sir, no words can express the majesty of grace that I thought I saw in these words as they proceeded from your mouth. I thought my soul was running along with these words, and setting my seal to them. This was a sweet day to me after a long night of desertion. Oh! What a blessing is a faithful gospel ministry, when the Lord is pleased to bless it to his church in general, or to souls in particular. Well may those words in the Song [of Solomon] be applied to a faithful minister — “Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honey-comb; honey and milk are under thy tongue.” Faithful ministers are the lips of Christ’s spouse in a most eminent manner. Under their tongue is that honey and milk by which he feeds his young and weak ones, and also that strong meat for the young men and fathers of his church; as Solomon says by the Spirit — “The lips of the righteous feed many”; and whatever be their dishonors and their hard labors now, their rest at last will be glorious, and their honor great. As Daniel speaks — “They that be wise shall shine as the sun, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”
I remark one instance of my childish weakness in my young days. I formed a high esteem of ministers before I had any judgment to understand the nature of their office, their usefulness, and the need of them, and their value upon that account. I thought if they were ministers they deserved a high esteem, and much reverence; and if I heard any person speak lightly of a minister, that person seemed worthless in my esteem. But ever since He allowed me to look into His holy Word with any understanding, and to discern both by word and experience between faithful and unfaithful ministers, the weight of them both has been made to lie heavy upon my spirit. When I was made to see the danger of their being unfaithful, the wrath that was threatened against them, and their very persons held as an abomination to the Lord — He calling them sleepy dogs, lying down, loving to slumber, dumb dogs that cannot bark, with much more of the like nature, all which have been made to appear awful things to me, I never got that nearness to the Lord in prayer for such as for those who gave evidence of their being called and qualified and sent out by himself, and were endeavoring in his own strength to be faithful to the trust he had committed to their charge.
Oh! what am I, that I should be allowed to come before him, for any thing at all, and specially in behalf of his faithful servants in the ministry! But my own interest is deeply concerned in this matter, except I be a castaway. But oh! to get the same end in seeking salvation, and in the means of it, that the Lord has in giving salvation, and also in the means. His own glory — the glory of his love, grace, and mercy; and also in the glory of his holiness, justice, goodness, truth, and faithfulness! All these perfections, although daringly insulted by the fall, and by the actual transgression of all the fallen race, yet are richly glorified by the obedience and death of his eternal Son. O! upon what a sure footing is the salvation of his elect! As you have been sweetly describing from these words in the eighth of the Romans — “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh,” that they “might be made the righteousness of God in him, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Oh! what love, what grace and mercy are sounding in these words! And, dear Sir, what matter of praise to Him, who has enabled you to go through this text with such clearness, and to conclude it with such faithfulness!
I have this still to remark, that ever since I came under your ministry, whatever passage of the Lord’s Word you are led to speak upon, besides what you are enabled to bring forth from the words, I find greater light cast upon the words after, and I am made to see things in them which I never saw before; so that every declaration of His love and good-will that you make hath something of this tendency — to lead beyond you to Him who thus loved; and in this I find him working with you. You send us away to Him by every declaration of his love, and he is drawing us away from you, and letting us see more and more into that adorable deep of everlasting love. And, as was hinted to you before, this is one of the strongest evidences that worthless I could desire of the Divine commission you have, to speak of those things you are led to every Sabbath; this is what puts the savor in it, and maketh it as ointment poured forth. But, dear Sir, we cannot express, neither are there words to utter, what we feel of this; but oh! may He have the glory to whom it belongs. At the same time, I never was allowed a more just esteem of any of the ministers of his word, nor did I ever feel such a concern for any of them laid upon my spirit, as for you.
My allowances to pray for you are sometimes so very great that they overcome me, so as that I cannot utter them in words, but must breathe and sigh them out before the Lord; not only for what you need for the public work of the ministry, but also in an especial manner for personal and family sanctification, that as you stand as a son of Levi in His house, your offering may be more and more pure before him, being still performed with the incense of the suffering of the Great High Priest of your profession.
The week before this paper book was sent to me, I was under such a weight of this kind for you, as rendered me unfit for any outward action. I wondered what it could mean, that there was such a weight laid upon the spirit of such a weak and worthless one. The book was a very desirable present, whatever may be done with it; but a living character savingly under conviction by means of your ministry was no less desirable; this was like an answer to what I was led to desire for yourself and family.
But still, dear Sir, there is much need to join trembling with our mirth, and to be concerned for the happy issue, that this work may end in union with Christ. You were long in our hearing upon that fiery combat, between flesh and Spirit, from these words — “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” You justly observed that persons in this case would neither do the good nor yet the evil that they would; because, by the workings of the Holy Spirit, they were kept from the evil that flesh would draw them into, and by the sinful workings of the flesh, they were kept from the good the Spirit was leading them to. Oh! what a blessing would it be to have this warfare rightly begun, and carried on by lawful means; for we are not crowned unless we strive lawfully. Alas! The deceitful party in our own land giveth the foreign enemy great advantage against us! As for me, there is such a strength of indwelling sin in me, that when Satan comes with the least of his subtleties, I am suddenly overcome. This keeps me in continual doubt as to my state. For all the pains that the Lord hath been at with me, and for all the discoveries he hath made of himself unto me, in the methods of providence and grace, I have never attained to the unshaken, unclouded persuasion of my eternal salvation; but I can say this far, as in His own sight, and I desire to do it with the deepest humility, that in my lowest cases, I would not part with the smallest hope of it for thousands of worlds, though they did exist, and were in my offer. I would think it a far sweeter lot, indeed, to creep through the world upon my hands and my feet, seeking my bit of bread, with the least hair of the hope of eternal life, before I would sit upon a throne without it, small though a hair be, and proud although my heart be; and alas! it is too much so. Thus far I can say upon this matter, and this I could not keep back. But it may be, some that have much of the good things of this world might be ready to suspect the truth of this, because I have them not; but let them not do that. These are things that have been laid in the balance by me in my best and worst times ever since He made any discoveries of my lost and undone state by nature, the evil and danger of sin, and the dishonors done to God thereby, or any discovery of himself in his glorious perfections.
But further, with respect to the strength of sin that I feel in me, when I try to wrestle and cry for strength to resist them, it is seldom that my foes turn back. It is almost ever the case with me, that the more I cry against them, the more powerful they appear, and the more fiercely they run upon me, until some of the plagues of my heart prevail, and I fall before them. O! how often hath this made me cry out, “O wretched one that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” I am given up into the hands of sin and Satan, and it is to no purpose to cry for deliverance any more. I see nothing but that I must live and die, and spend a miserable eternity, under the power and defilement of sin. Dear Sir, these are not only deeps I was naturally in and under, in the day that the Lord began to deal with me, which was at an early period, in which he made many wonderful appearances to me, many of which I have told you already, but they are deeps into which I have been still falling ever since that time, through the strength of sin in me, and through my sinful compliance with its motions and deeps which I am naturally in, as far as I am still unrenewed, if I can say that I am in any degree renewed; for though I should be mercifully drawn up out of the deep of miry clay that is in the bottom, I am not yet above these waters.
But, dear Sir, I will yet tell you strange things; they have been many times wonderfully strange to me — it is not by my fighting with my spiritual enemies, but by my falling before them, that I obtain any victory over them — we must overcome by faith, for “every battle of the warrior is with confused noise and garments rolled in blood”; but it is “the Child that was born,” and “the Son that was given” for that very end — to destroy the works of the devil — it is He that gains all the victories — to Him belongs victory and honor, power and might. He will have the honor of all the victories which are obtained over sin, Satan, death, hell, and the grave. When I have been so foiled and defeated by my spiritual enemies, that I could neither act, nor think, nor speak against them, then it was that He made the most wonderful appearances for me.
I think the Lord had holy and wise ends in letting me fall so low before he delivered me. I think he hath taught me these things from his dealing thus with me, — first, to let me see how just he would have been to have left me under the power of sin and Satan, according to the state I was in by nature; and, secondly, to let me see how dreadful a thing it will be to be under the power and dominion and defilement of sin, throughout an endless eternity, and under his avenging wrath and curse on that account; and thirdly, to teach me to lay no stress upon my prayers, tears, wrestlings, and cries for deliverance from the power of sin, and that there was no saving efficacy in them as they came from me, but were rather provoking to the eyes of his holiness, but in as far as I had an eye to the saving grace that was treasured up in the Captain of Salvation to enable me to overcome. Dear Sir, agreeably to his way of dealing with me was that which you brought forth when you were [preaching] upon the spiritual warfare. You had it thus, — you said that the Spirit sometimes suffered himself to be overcome and foiled, as it were, that more glory might redound to the riches of his grace in delivering his poor people when brought to the lowest. These are nearly the words you spoke, and they did tend much to cast light upon the Lord’s way with me, for I many times could not believe that the strength of sin that I found in me could consist with the indwellings of the Spirit.
But still further, in pleading for deliverance from the power and defilement of sin, I used wrong pleas before the Lord. I have pleaded that he would pity me, because I was his own creature, a creature of the human race. But he let me see from his holy Word that this was no just plea, but rather would condemn me before him, if I had not the saving knowledge of him as a God reconciled in Christ. He says of all such, “They are a people of no understanding; therefore he that made them will not have mercy upon them, and he that formed them will show them no favor.” I have pleaded that he would pity me as a miserable creature; but it is clear from the word that this also is a wrong plea. Indeed, my misery was of myself, both originally and actually. Man, in making himself miserable, did all that in him lay to rob God of his glory, by trampling upon his authority, for which cause his wrath is gone out against all the human race. This was dealing with God in an unsuitable way, ignorantly eyeing his mercy, without eyeing his justice and holiness; and by my own legal inventions, contrary to the wonderful way his own infinite wisdom had devised, have I, times without number, been desiring deliverance from the power and guilt of sin, without a direct eye to that wonderful Name who saves his people from their sins. Alas, the sad legal ties of my heart! I do not find my soul like a chaste virgin to Christ. It is a sad complaint that the Lord hath against his professing Israel of old. He saith, “I am broken with their whorish hearts.” This is wonderful, to hear the Lord of Glory thus complaining of the dust of his feet; this is a charge I take to myself — a change I am many times like to faint under.
It is no wonder, indeed, that He plunges me often into the deeps of desertion and darkness. Dear Sir, as it was said of the darkness in Egypt, it was “darkness that was felt”; so it has been the Lord’s way with me to keep me in these deeps of darkness and desertion, until he made me see all their terror as far as he gave strength to bear them; I was made sensibly to sink deeper and deeper, and yet kept alive, until he made me to see and acknowledge how just he would have been in leaving me there according to the state I was naturally in by the fall, under his wrath and curse, held forth in the threat, and sunk deeper and deeper by my own actual transgressions; so that I was condemned by God’s holy law — condemned by my own conscience; so that I was made to see him just in his procedures towards me, and to acquiesce, as it were, in his procedure towards sinning men and sinning angels, and that he would lose none of his glory by their fall, but he would establish his throne in righteousness upon their ruins. And he also made me to see how fearful a thing it is to lie under his wrath and curse in time, and to be left under the power and defilement of sin, but unspeakably more so to be under or in the unfathomable deep of it through an endless eternity — even sinning to the highest degree against the Fountain of life, and love, and purity. But further, he taught me, by his thus dealing with me, to have my eye and my heart continually set on him for deliverance, upon whom the eternal Father’s heart and eye is continually, being well pleased for his righteousness’s sake. Although the work of redemption was finished from the foundation of the world, yea even from eternity, in purpose and decree, and was actually finished as to purchase by the appearance of the eternal Son of God in the world, and by his obedience unto death; yet, as to application, it is still a-finishing.
We think, according to the nature of things, although the elect were justified in purpose and decree from eternity, considered as in Christ before any of them did exist; yet, from his word, and from his way of dealing with souls, that they could not be actually justified, nor actually sanctified, until they did actually exist. Nor could their sins be pardoned until they were actually committed, either in thought, word, or deed; and until they be brought to a sight and sense of the evil and danger of sin, and, in some measure of gospel sincerity, to hate and abhor it, and, by the grace of the gospel, determined to turn from it in heart and life. Repentance and remission of sin must go together; they are both treasured up in the same wonderful Name, who is exalted a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance and remission of sins. And when once he quickens and awakens a soul out of a state of spiritual death, he keeps it awake with a sight and a sense of its sin and misery, and holds it continually traveling, as it were, between its own sin and guilt, and his pardoning mercy in a Mediator, and between its own defilement, and the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness, and between its own emptiness and infinite fullness; and so exerciseth it continually by means of that abominable thing, sin, which his righteous soul hateth, and which is in itself unspeakably dishonorable to him, and ruinous to the soul; yet, in his infinite wisdom, power, love, and grace, he so overruleth it, that by means of it he promotes his own glory, and the eternal salvation of his elect.
Oh! what need of the deepest humiliation, and, at the same time, what matter of wonder and praise! O how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! O, what wonder that sin should be one of the “all things” He maketh to work together for the good of his chosen!
Dear Sir, I hope you will bear with me, and excuse me for insisting so much upon these things, for we cannot speak but what we have heard and seen. You know, in common life, things that persons are continually conversant about are most upon their minds.
I have told you of many deeps I have been in, and I have told you of many deliverances that have been wrought out for me; but I have insisted most on my deeps, “the wormwood and the gall, my soul hath them still in remembrance.”
But, after all, alas! I cannot say that my soul is truly humbled; and, as for the deliverances that have been wrought out for me, I have much cause of shame and sorrow that I am so little in the exercise of praise and gratitude. Alas! I am not calling to mind, as I ought, his power, nor the many days that he has delivered me; that he is still delivering me out of the hand of some enemy or other, and preserving me in life and being, and continuing to me the means of spiritual life, keeping me so near them as that I can reach them every Sabbath, contrary to what I had purposed years ago. I think wonderful are the methods that the Holy One hath taken, both in his ways of providence and grace, to bring to view what he hath done, and is still doing, for such a poor, useless, silly one as I am. Contrary to my own will and determination, I was sent to the town of Elgin, and contrary to the will of them who had the greatest hand in my coming. It was contrary to my will to be in public places ever since the Lord gave me any concern for salvation. But he hath been pleased, at different times, to cast my lot in public places, and sometimes in such places of them as where there was none that I could speak to in things that concerned his own glory or our salvation; but we think by this means we are made to see more of the dismal effects of the fall, both in ourselves and others, and to see more the ruinous plague of sin, which is still increasing in the earth, and of the signs of mortality, which are the immediate effect of sin; and by this means God gave me occasion of greater concern for all ranks than otherwise I could have had.
And when I came under your ministry, it was impressed upon me to let you know something of the effects of your preaching, as a duty incumbent upon me, both with respect to His own glory and your comfort in his work, which I did at first in a single letter, and I sent it by the hand of one that could speak to you without letting any other know, and I desired them not to receive from you, for I paid them myself for their trouble. I earnestly desired the person to tell you to read the letter, but not to inquire after any one, and, I believe, the person did so.
And after this there was another impression made upon me, to let you know his dealings with me in childhood and youth; and I charged the bearer to tell you not to trouble yourself to inquire after any person.
But it seems, if the second bearer told you this, it had not the intended effect upon you — to keep you from troubling yourself, but rather set you upon a more diligent search after me. And it would appear that the Lord himself assisted you in it, in his leading you to such fit hands in finding worthless me out, by one that knew me not, nor to our knowledge had we ever seen one another, namely, May Laing; and your being informed by another person about me, to whom I had never spoken, namely, Mrs. Duncan, though I had heard much to her commendation, and to the commendation of the family she belonged to; and her being a dear inmate of that valuable family of Pittensein, and especially of Miss Nancy Ogilvie, who was a degree exalted above the rest of the family in many things; and you being informed by Mrs. Duncan of the knowledge the Reverend Mr. Thomas Gordon, late minister of Speymouth, had of me. Dear Sir, there are two names, Mr. Thomas Gordon and Lady Agnes Ogilvie, that it seems the Lord will not allow me to conceal in my mean records. The Lord exalted them high on earth, and beautified them by his grace, which they were much in the exercise of. But oh! who can tell what they are exalted to now in glory! I mentioned these two persons in the last lines you received, but I concealed their names; but now, dear Sir, I present their names to you for your comfort. Though you had no knowledge of them upon earth, I hope you will have a happy and joyful meeting in the land above, and in your everlasting Father’s house, where you will together, and for ever, sing the song of Moses and the Lamb in highest strains — the song of Him whom all the armies that are in heaven do follow. And when you thus meet, you will perhaps then remember that you had this small account of them from such a poor hand as mine.
It appeareth to me that it is the will of the Lord that I note down with mine own hand, in one book the first minister of his word that he dealt with me by, and the last that I think he will deal with me by, for reasons know to himself — namely, the Rev. Mr. Gordon aforementioned, and the Rev. Mr. Bayne. But, dear Sir, I think that this was the one weighty reason which appeareth to me, that these two names be together united with mine own hand — if they do not witness for me, will greatly witness against me in the great day of account, and tend much to the glory of God, especially the glory of his justice, in leaving me inexcusable, and even with mine own hand making me to raise up witness against myself for my sad misimprovement of all the pains he hath been at with me, and all the patience and forbearance he hath exercised towards me, and for all the goodness he hath bestowed upon me, either in the methods of providence or grace, by whatever hand.
But, dear Sir, I have something further to observe in the way in which you were led out to search after me; for after you had found me out to be the person you were inquiring after, then you desired to speak with me. And you have seen that, as yet, there has been a stop put to that by all means. I have seen one reason for it since, and it is this, that you might still see more and more of the Lord’s way with such a poor silly one; for had I spoken to you when I first wrote you, you had not seen nor known the half that you have seen and known of his way with me.
My end in writing so often to you was to keep you from troubling yourself with me in any manner of way. As I have told you often, I found myself under such a restraint that I could not speak to your comfort. But although that was my end in sending the last three letters to you, yet I am led to think that the Lord had other and higher ends than this, even to manifest his own glory. He who forgets not the swallows, and sparrows, ravens, and young lions, hath done much for me, who cannot yet confidently say that I am much better than they.
But, dear Sir, I think my being led to write so much is every way more for your sake than for mine, that you may be encouraged to go on in a faithful discharge of the ministry of the Word of the Lord; for faithful ministers are said to be a “sweet savor of Christ in them that are saved and in them that perish,” and I must set my seal to this great truth of God’s holy Word. The restraints that I am under at present, and have been long under, is the fulfillment of that which was told me in a prophetical sermon, that was preached in my hearing upon a Sabbath evening after a solemnity, now a considerable number of years ago. That sermon was preached from Amos 9:9; the words are these: — “So I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel as corn is sifted in a sieve; yet shall not the least grain fall to the ground.” The minister pronounced these things from the words, with a very solemn appearance; — he said, “it may be that some of you that are hearing me, may be sifted out of all things that are comfortable to you in the world; you may be sifted out of ministers and ordinances — out of friends and fellow-Christians; but,” said he, “I will tell you that which will tend to comfort you under all this, you will be sifted out of the hands of Satan, and all your sins at last — those causes of your being thus sifted.” Dear Sir, from that day to this present day, I have found that sermon preached in my experience as to the first four “comfortable” things. But as to the last two — being taken out of the hands of sin and Satan — alas! I feel in my sad experience much of their power over me still. But just and righteous is He in his thus dealing with me, because I was putting the means in place of the end, and more taken up with his gifts than with himself. So let none stumble at my being so long restrained from one of the ordinances of His grace. But oh! may they take heed of stumbling upon this block that I stumbled upon.
I have many times attempted to break these bands wherewith I was bound up from sealing ordinances; but they were ever yet too strong for me. But, Sir, the Sabbath before the solemnity at Elgin, June 1794, I did not find my bands so far loosed since ever I was bound in this manner, as they were by the two sermons you preached that Sabbath. You came so near to the Lord’s way with me, and so near to the way of his communicating the comforts of his Word and Spirit unto me, that I through if the solemn table had been before me, I would have gone immediately forward towards it; but alas! on Monday evening I found myself bound again. But, besides the bands that I have made for myself, which lie heavy upon me, I find from the holy Word, that I am bound with the bands of others. It is one of the commands of the Word, “If any that is called a brother walk disorderly, with such a one, no, not to eat.” By this I find myself doubly bound up from sealing ordinances, when I see common swearers, awful blasphemers, Sabbath-breakers, drunkards, and mockers of the power of godliness, yea, mocking at the very form of godliness, with many more things which I will not name — when I see such admitted without gainsaying, both by ministers and elders, from year to year, without taking any inspection of their life or practice, and allowing them to continue dishonoring the God that made them to the highest degree, disgracing and abusing the ordinances of his grace, and permitting them to go on building their hopes of salvation upon that which, if mercy do not prevent, will prove one great reason of their damnation, — that is, building their hopes of salvation upon a mere outward profession, and upon their taking the outward seal of the covenant of grace, while, at the same time, they give every evidence to all around them that they are not at all brought within the bond of that holy covenant — professing that they have received Christ, are believing in him, and living on him by faith — and yet, at the same time, by every word almost that they speak, they are declaring themselves enemies to the Redeemer, and to his cross; and, by their taking unworthily the outward seal of the covenant, instead of sealing their right, by faith in the righteousness of Christ, to all the blessings of the covenant of grace, it seals their right, by unbelief, to all the curses of a broken holy law. If this holy solemnity be not blessed in faith, and dispensed by the minister in faith, and received and applied by the people in faith, it is worse than not done at all — it provoketh the Lord to desert his own ordinances, and to leave us with the very shadow of them.
And, alas! this is the great spiritual judgment His church is generally left under at this day; and, what maketh our judgment still the greater is, that generally we are neither seeing it, nor lamenting it, and some of us will not even acknowledge it.
But it is clear from the holy Word, that if we be wholly carnal and formal in His worship and ordinances, that it is not the Lord’s worship nor ordinances at all, but our own inventions, even though we should shelter ourselves under the shadow of his holy ordinances and spiritual worship; for it is also clear from his unerring Word, that he accounts of the going about his ordinances according to the soul of the worshipper. This is manifest from Isaiah 1:10-18, though there were no more in all the Bible to prove it, although the same truth runs through the whole of that blessed volume. I shall note down here a few of these proofs from the first of Isaiah, some of which you mentioned not long ago upon this very head. Dear Sir, of this I was glad. These are the strong proofs against myself, and against the generation I make a part of. They are the unchangeable words of Him that cannot lie. Thus, He saith from the twelfth verse of that chapter, “When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hands, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; when ye make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well.”
This is it which He delighteth in — holiness and uprightness both in heart and life; and this cannot be without union to the Redeemer. None but such as have his righteousness imputed to them for their justification, and his Spirit imparted to them for their sanctification; he being all things to them; and this way only are their persons and services accepted of the Father. And in this way only do they desire to be accepted; they desire to be altogether out of themselves, and to disappear, as it were, and to be sunk in Him, and to appear in Him; for such as worship God in the spirit must be such as rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Oh! what an unsearchable wonder is that union which subsists between Christ and his people! For, after all the similitudes he has been graciously pleased to use in his Word to point out and describe the nature of it, yet how little is conceived, or can be conceived of it, even by those who have felt something of the happy fruits of it! When he cometh by his servants in the preaching of his holy Word, and manifests himself in his glory, and greatness, and beauty, in the beauty of his holiness, and offereth poor souls union with himself in all his fullness, the poor soul is like “one that dreameth.” It can hardly believe that it is true; the offer is so wonderfully great, and itself so vile and mean!
Dear Sir, this brings a sweet remembrance of what you observed when you were [preaching] upon that wonderful appearance that the Lord of glory made to Moses at the bush. You observed that that manifestation of the glory of the Lord so humbled Moses, and made him nothing in his own eyes, and every way feel so unfit for the charge the Lord was giving him, to go and speak to Pharaoh, in order to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt, that he came all the length of refusing the charge altogether. But you observed that the Lord did still bear with him, and met his objections, and removed them out of the way, and gave him his faithful promises of assistance in going through with the great charge he was giving him; and confirmed his promises by a present and visible act of his power — his almighty power in turning the rod into a serpent, and by turning the serpent into a rod again. You observed, that while Moses continued poring upon his own unworthiness, his own weakness, and his own want of eloquence, and did not act faith upon the power and promises of God which were held out to him and manifested before him, he did not give a ready obedience to the call and command of God. And I think this was the improvement you made of it, — that when the Lord was calling to more than ordinary duty, he gave more than ordinary manifestations of himself; and when poor souls were made to see so much of his glory and dignity, then they were made to see their own sinfulness, weakness, meanness, and uselessness; and there was a kind of unbelief from the very grounds of faith; and they were ready to call in question the truth of what was manifested to them, thinking it too great to be true. But you observed again, — that it was the power and promise of God that was the overcoming encouragement that they had to go out to any duty, or to encounter any temptation or difficulty; this being more than sufficient to overcome all the oppositions from within them, and from without them. Sir, I wondered when you brought forth this kind of unbelief, I did not know if there was any that had this kind of it but I. It is a kind of unbelief that has attended me ever since the Lord made any thing like a manifestation of himself to worthless me. My exercise hath been strange indeed, — a raging unbelief, and at the same time something like faith, something like a holy joy, something like a holy wondering that he could humble himself to make known such things to the like of me. If I had not found something like it in the exercise of the disciples at the Redeemer’s first appearance to them after his glorious resurrection, I think I should have ever accounted this exercise a delusion. It is there said of the disciples that they doubted its being the Lord — they thought it to be some frightful spirit. But in his infinite condescension, a tenderness and love towards them, he allowed them such nearness to himself as to bid them handle him and see; for, said he, “A spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have.” But, after all this nearness to him, their exercise is said to be a “not believing,” and a gazing and wondering. “While they yet believed not for joy, and wondered,” he gave them a still stronger confirmation of their faith — he said, “Have ye here any meat?” “And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish and of an honeycomb, and he took and did eat before them,” which put it beyond all doubt that it was their dear Lord and Master; and while he was eating, he manifested himself in a still more spiritual manner, from the promises and prophecies of his holy Word which testified of himself beforehand, and showed them more clearly than ever the end of his coming into the world — the end of his suffering and death — the end of his resurrection and exaltation as Mediator at the right hand of his Father.
Sir, I must digress in a word or two from my own confused exercise which I intended to speak a little more of.
Upon the Saturday before the solemnity at Elgin, 1794, you brought forth strange things from these words in the 8th of the Romans: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things?” You laid down the method in a proposition and an inference. You were wonderful upon the proposition, what it cost the eternal Father to deliver up his eternal Son. Oh! Sir, to think of that unparalleled cost! What can balance it! To see the God of love delivering up the eternal Son of his love, and that even for rebel sinners that had trampled upon all his authority! To see him pouring out all his undiluted wrath, all his holy and just anger threatened against sin, and due to the rebel sinner! To see him restraining and repressing the sense of his love from his dear Son under all this! These were affecting things which you brought forth. If all the miseries of this life could make him suffer, the Son of God suffered; if hell and earth could make him suffer, the Son of the God suffered; and if the Father’s wrath could make him suffer, he suffered indeed.
And wonderful was that kind of thanksgiving which you had in one of your prayers. You ran out in blessing the Lord for that justice which inflicted such a punishment upon sin, that holiness which required it, and that wisdom and love which found out such a ransom; and from hence you exhorted to learn and see the evil of sin, which cost so much to redeem from it.
Dear Sir, in this glass, the glass of the Redeemer’s sufferings, is the evil of sin most clearly seen, infinitely more clearly than in the glass of the law; for, although the knowledge of sin be by the law, and the infinite evil and danger of it is there seen, the law requireth perfect obedience, and for the least breach of it threateneth eternal death with all its forerunners in this life. And the soul is made to see by the law how just the Lord will be in executing his threatenings in its eternal death. And, at the same time, it is made to see that its own sufferings will never be equal to the guilt with which it is chargeable. And it is made to see that it cannot obey the law, or bear the punishment which is due to every sinner for breaking God’s law. Here is a fearful sight presented to the soul; when the commandment comes home with power and awakens the conscience, the soul sees sin, that hateful and infinite evil, and itself a poor sinful finite creature, liable to the eternal wrath of an infinite and holy God. This is all the comfort the law can afford; it brings the poor soul to the king of terrors with all his frowns, and leaves it there, without strength or comfort, without showing it how justice is to be infinitely satisfied, and the soul saved, until it be delivered by the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which alone can make it free from the law of sin and death, in whose name alone it can have righteousness and strength, in whom alone all the seed of Israel are justified, and in whom alone they glory when they are in any measure thus made free. I think there are four kinds of death which they could wish to die, and which they see they must die, if they would live a life of faith upon the Son of God: — 1st, They could wish to be dead to the law evermore, which hath already killed them, and to hate the very thought of spiritual and eternal life being procured by the deeds of the law. 2nd, They could wish to be dead to sin in all its motions. 3rd, They could wish to be dead to themselves and to every selfish principle or purpose of whatever kind. 4th, And they wish to be dead to the world in all its riches, and honors, profits, pleasures, entanglements, smiles or frowns, except in as far as it tends to promote the glory of Him who hath called them by his grace one way or other. But I have gone far from what I intended to speak something of; for when I am led to speak of this law-work, I cannot get myself clear of it; but this is no wonder to me, because I was sorely dealt with before I was divorced from it, if, indeed, I be yet divorced. Dear Sir, it may seem strange to you to hear me insist so much upon it, but I hope you will bear with me, and also be concerned for me, that I may be wholly divorced from the law as a covenant of works, and closely united to the one husband, even to Christ.
I shall now return to the method you laid down for treating these words in the 8th of the Romans. I think, if I rightly remember, it was a proposition and an inference. I noted some things which you said upon the first particular as near to the way you delivered them as I could remember. But the inference which you drew from the words was, — that He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up to death, would withhold nothing from them for whom he delivered him up of which they stood in need for life or salvation. This is the import of what you said. You had a sweet run upon some of these “all things” in the last sermon from these words. And the whole sum of your addresses at the three tables which you served was upon these “all things.” As you stated them, they were affecting to me; I could not directly apply them to myself at the time, yet I could not deny them, as I know it to be like the Lord’s method of dealing with me.
On the Monday morning following, between three and four o’clock, I was awakened out of my sleep, and I think upon my awaking there was an application made to me of all that you delivered. It was one of the strongest manifestations of redeeming love and pardoning mercy that I ever received. I thought I could willingly have been transported to another world in the strength of what I then enjoyed. But alas! it was of short continuance. But O! what wonder that ever any thing of this nature should be bestowed upon the like of me! Dear Sir, I desire, that you would try to hand up the praise to Him who is giving testimony to the word of his grace by means of your ministry, in different ways, to my knowledge. Upon the Monday morning already mentioned, my allowances were so large as to run out in viewing the costliness of redemption flowing from the wonderful greatness and glorious excellencies of the Ransomer, and to see pardoning grace and mercy running through him like a stream that could not stop flowing from the fountain of everlasting love. I had a complaint of the short continuance of this wonderful sight; but I think if it had been continued long in the strength it came with, soul and body could not long have subsisted together; this vile body must be changed, and become a spiritual and holy body indeed, before it can bear up a soul filled with an eternal weight of glory.
If a taste and a drop now and then of the earnest of the inheritance so filleth even in the wilderness, Oh, what will be full enjoyments of the whole inheritance be in Emmanuel’s land! — Oh, what will it be to be ever and for ever filled with that new wine flowing from the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God, even “Him who was dead and is alive for evermore, and has the keys of hell and of death”! His holy apostle John, who, though he was allowed such nearness to him, in the days of his humiliation, as to lean on his breast, and to ask things which the rest of his brethren would not venture to do, yet the same dear child, when he was in the Isle of Patmos, for the testimony of his Lord, in a suffering condition — when, I say, the same loving Redeemer, on whose breast he had leaned, appeared to him in his glorious excellencies — then he fell at his feet as dead, until he had laid his right hand upon him and strengthened him, and said unto him, “Fear not,” and told him the near and dear and wonderful relation in which he stood to him, and what he had done for him in his suffering and death, and what victory he had obtained for him over all his enemies, so as that he had the keys of hell and death, and also what he was still doing in his exalted state for him, and for the whole elect body of his church.
Dear Sir, I think, in the same spiritual manner doth He manifest himself to some poor souls, although not in this special way. Some poor souls, when they view him in all the depths of his humiliation, would wish to glory in him in all those depths; and, as they get strength, they will in spirit be creeping out after Him!