Archive for the ‘Horatius Bonar’ Category

Does the Holy Spirit love us?  There can be but one answer to this question.  Yes! He does.

As truly as the Father loveth us, as truly as the Son loveth us, so truly does the Spirit love us.  The grace or free love which a sinner needs, and which has been revealed and sealed to us through the Seed of the woman, the “Word made flesh,” belongs equally to Father, Son, and Spirit.  That love which we believe to be in God must be the same in each Person of the Godhead, else the Godhead would be divided; one Person at variance with the others, or, at least, less loving than the others: which is impossible.

Twice over it is written, God is love (1 John 4:8, 16); and this applies to each Person of the Godhead.  The Father is love; the Son is love; the Spirit is love.  The Trinity is a Trinity of Love.

When it is said, “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24), the words refer to each Person.  If we lose sight of the love of one, we shall lose sight of the love of all.  That which is the glory of Jehovah, is the glory of each of the three Persons.  Let us beware of misrepresenting the Trinity by believing in unequal love, a love that is not equally large and free in each.

When it is said, “God is light” (1 John 1:5), we know that these words are true of the whole three Persons; not merely of the Father or of the Son.  The Father is light; the Son is light; the Spirit is light.  As of light, so of love; and he who would doubt that the Spirit is love, must needs also doubt that the Spirit is light.  That which is written of God, is written of the Spirit of God.  That “name” which God has proclaimed as His, belongs to the Spirit as certainly as to the Father and the Son, “The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands” (Exodus 34:6).  Shall we rob the Holy Spirit of that blessed name?  His personality claims it; and the gracious characteristics which go to make up the name, are as much those of the Spirit as those of the Father and the Son.  The personality of the Spirit requires that what is thus written of one should be applicable to all.  We are wont to say of the three Persons, “They are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.”  If so, then the love which we affirm of the whole we must affirm of each.  They must be equal in love, as well as in “power and glory.”

Let not the old question of unbelief come in “How can these things be?”  We cannot “find out the Almighty unto perfection” (Job 11:7); but shall this inability of ours lead to doubt?  Shall it not rather lead to faith?  Shall we rob the Spirit of His love, because we cannot understand the deep wonders of Godhead?  Shall we not rather say, If there be love in God at all, there must be love in the Spirit?  For to Him it is given to carry out in human hearts the purposes of redeeming love, in striving, awakening, drawing, convincing, quickening, comforting; so that it is impossible to suppose that His love can be less warm, less tender, less large, less personal than the love of the Father and the Son.

Laying aside the disputes of intellectual pride, the questionings of vain human reason, the puzzling suggestions of unhumbled self-righteousness, the fond endeavors to comprehend the hidden things of God, the stubborn determination not to believe unless we see “signs and wonders” (John 4:48), let us recognize in that simple formula, God is love the foundation of our faith as to the Spirit’s gracious character, and the solution of all our perplexities as to His personal and ineffable love.  True, He did not take flesh for us; He did not become poor for us; He did not die for us; He did not weep for us the human tears which the Son of God wept over Jerusalem; but none the less does He love us; and none the less is His work for us and in us the work of love love without bounds, or change, or end.

We are baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt 28:19).  That threefold name is love; or rather, that one name in its threefold connection with the three Persons, unfolds itself as the expression of the threefold love of Father, Son, and Spirit.  The name thus named upon us is the divine declaration and pledge to us of “the love of the Spirit.”  Our baptism says, not only, “God the Father loveth us,” not only, “God the Son loveth us”; but also, “God the Spirit loveth us.”  We are baptized into the love of the Spirit.

Perhaps much of our slow progress in the walk of faith is to be traced to our overlooking the love of the Spirit.  We do not deal with Him, for strength and advancement, as one who really loveth us, and longs to bless us, and delights to help our infirmities (Rom 8:26).  We regard Him as cold, or distant, or austere; we do not trust Him for His grace, nor realize how much He is in earnest in His dealings with us.  More childlike confidence in Him and in His love would help us on mightily.  Let us not grieve Him, nor vex Him, nor quench Him by our untrustfulness, by disbelieving or doubting the riches of His grace, the abundance of His loving-kindness.

He is no mere “influence,” but a living “Personality;” and there is a vast difference between these two things. An “influence” cannot love us, and we cannot love an “influence.” If there is to be love, there must be personality; and, in this case, it must be the personality of love. The fresh breath of spring is an influence, but not a personality.  It cannot love us nor call on us to love it.  The voice of that which we call “nature” is an influence, but not a personality.  There can be no mutual love between it and us.  But a being with a soul is a personality, not an influence; and the love of man or woman is a personal thing, a true and real affection – one eye looking into another and one heart touching its fellow.  So is it with the love of the Spirit.  There is a personality about Him passing all the personalities of earth – passing all the personalities of men or angels; and it is this divine personality that makes His love so precious and so suitable, as well as so true and real.  There is no reality of love like that of the Spirit. It has nothing in common with the coldness or distance of a mere “influence.”  It comes closely home to a human heart, because it is the love of Him who formed the heart, and who is seeking to make it His abode forever.

The proofs of His love are abundant.  They are divine proofs; and, therefore, assuredly true.  It is God who has given them to us, that no doubt of the Spirit’s love may ever enter our minds. They are spread over all Scripture, in different forms and aspects.  While the Bible was meant to be specially the revelation of the Son of God, it is also the revelation of the Holy Spirit.  He reveals Himself while revealing Christ.  He utters His own love while showing us the love of the Father and the Son.

The thoughts of the Spirit are thoughts of love. The apostle uses the words, “the mind of the Spirit,” in connection with His gracious intercession (Rom 8:26, 27); and we know that intercession implies love.  The “groanings that cannot be uttered” are awakened in us by the Spirit in His love.  He thinks of us; and His thoughts are “precious” (Psalm 139:17).  Yes; He thinks of us; and His thoughts are thoughts of peace (Jeremiah 29:11).  The Bible is filled with the thoughts of the Spirit; and they are love.  They breathe in every page of Scripture; for holy men of God “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

The ways of the Spirit are the ways of love. His manifold dealings with the sons of men, in “opening hearts” (Acts 16:14), teaching, sanctifying, chastening, are the dealings of love – love which many waters cannot quench, and which the floods cannot drown.  The faintest touch of His hand is the touch of love.  The gentlest whisper of His voice is the whisper of love.  All His dealings from day to day, whether of cheer or of chastisement, whether of warning or of welcome, are those of love.  In a thousand ways, He beckons us to come to the Cross; He draws us, unconsciously and imperceptibly, but irresistibly, away from sin and self to God and heaven.  He has not, indeed, human tears to shed, like the son of God when he wept over Jerusalem; but not the less are His yearnings true and tender, and all His ways toward us are ways of unutterable compassion (see Genesis 6:3; Psalm 51:11,12; and Isaiah 55:8).  He is “very pitiful, and of tender mercy.”

The works of the Spirit are the works of love. When He “garnished the heavens” (Job 26:13), it was the work of love.  When he moved upon the face of the deep (Gen 1:2), it was in love.  When He came upon holy men of old, it was in love.  When He wrote the Scriptures, it was in love – love to us.  When He anointed Jesus of Nazareth to preach the gospel to the poor, it was in love to us.  When He fulfills His office of “guiding into all truth,” it is in love.  When He opens eyes and hearts, it is in love.  When He chastens, it is in love.  When He comforts, it is in love.  When He sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts, it is in love.  When He, as one with the Father and the Son, wrote the seven epistles of the Revelation, it was in love – as the close of each of them shows: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Revelation 2:7).  His works in the soul of man, in regenerating, upholding, and perfecting, are the works of love,-love like that of Christ, “that passeth knowledge:” love to the chief of sinners; love to those who have vexed and resisted and quenched Him; love which says, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?  How shall I deliver thee, Israel?” (Hosea 11:8).

The words of the Spirit are the words of love. That which we call “the word of God” is specially the Spirit’s word: and it overflows with love; love which, while it condemns the sin, presents pardon to the sinner; love which, while it spreads out before us “the exceeding sinfulness of sin,” proclaims aloud, to the guiltiest of the guilty, free forgiveness and “deliverance from the wrath to come.”  The gospel of Christ contains in it the good news of the Spirit’s love.  “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 3:11) are the words in which is described the fitting out of men for preaching the good news; and in this baptism we have the manifestation of the Spirit’s love.  He baptizes because He loves.  He sends out men to tell of His love; and the baptism with which He baptizes them is to fit them for this message of love.  By this baptism, the words of love are put into their lips; and these words are truly those of the Spirit Himself, from whatever lips they may come, by whatever pen they may be written down.  They are the words of sincerity and truth.  He means what He says when He sends out His servants with the language of love upon their tongues.

Hear some of His words of grace – grace as boundless and as suitable as that of the Father and the Son; grace which has lost none of its largeness or freeness by the lapse of ages or the desperate resistance of human hearts: “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (Psalm 103:3,4); “O Lord, I will praise thee: though Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away” (Isaiah 12:1); “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found” (Isaiah 55:6); “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18); “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11); “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love” (Hosea 11:4); “Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity” (Micah 7:18); “The Lord is good; a stronghold in the day of trouble” (Nahum 1:7); “How great is His goodness” (Zech 9:17).  These are the Spirit’s own words; and He writes them as the witness for God, the revealer of the divine character, the Unfolder of the love of Father, Son, and Spirit.  They are the words of the Spirit, spoken before the Son of God came into the world to reveal and to embody in Himself the love of God to man.  The New Testament is yet more abundant in its utterances of love: and in every one of them the Spirit has His part: till all is summed up in the wondrous words which time cannot weaken, and which long use cannot make stale: “The Spirit and the bride say, Come.  And let him that heareth say, Come.  And let him that is athirst come.  And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17).

The Holy Spirit is no mere mechanical agent in the great work of a sinner’s deliverance, and of the Church’s upbuilding, obediently doing the work appointed to Him.  “I delight to do Thy will” is as true of the Spirit as the Son.  He loves the sinner; therefore He lays hold of him.  He pities his misery; therefore He stretches out the hand of help.  He has no pleasure in his death; therefore He puts forth His saving power.  He is longsuffering and patient; therefore He strives with him day by day; and though “vexed,” “resisted,” “grieved,” and “quenched.”  He refuses to retire from, or give up, any sinner on this side of eternity.  The extent to which we resist Him, and the amount of His forbearing love, we cannot know.  This only we may say, that our stubbornness is something infinitely fearful and malignant, while His patient grace passeth all understanding.

We are little alive to the injury we do to ourselves by any misunderstanding as to the mind and the work of the Spirit.  The injustice which we do to Him is great; and the wrong which we inflict upon ourselves is no less so.  No mistakes as to the Spirit’s gracious character can be trivial or harmless.  To regard Him as “austere,” or “hard,” or inaccessible, or needing to be persuaded to do His work in us, is to treat Him as at variance with the Father and the Son; slow to carry out the great purpose of divine love, in which purpose the three Persons of the Godhead are equally concerned.  To raise questions as to the riches of His grace is to misread Scripture, and to put a dark and false construction upon His testimony for Christ, as well as upon His dealings with the sons of men – His dealings with those who have been saved, as well as with those who are lost.  For what do the saved ones not owe to His love; and what would that love not have done for the lost, had they not stubbornly set it at nought to the last!  “How often would I have gathered thy children” were the words which accompanied the tears of the Son of God over the rebellious city; and they are words equally expressive of the Spirit’s feelings toward the stout-hearted of every age and nation.

Imperfect views of the Spirit’s character may not be regarded by some as serious or fatal, but it is hardly possible that they can be entertained without exercising a darkening and deadening influence upon the soul: not in the same way as defective views of Christ’s work affect us, but still with a most evil result both upon the conscience and the heart – as if there were something in the Spirit which repelled us, whatever there might be in Christ to attract us; as if the light which the Cross throws upon the love of the Spirit were not quite in harmony with that which it reveals of the love of Christ; as if the Spirit were not always as ready with His help as is the Son.

All wrong thoughts of God, whether of Father, Son, or Spirit, must cast a shadow over the soul that entertains them.  In some cases, the shadow may not be so deep and cold as in others; but never can it be a trifle.  And it is this that furnishes the proper answer to the flippant question so often asked, Does it really matter what a man believes?  All defective views of God’s character tell upon the life of the soul and the peace of the conscience.  We must think right thoughts of God if we would worship Him as He desires to be worshipped; if we would live the life He wishes us to live and enjoy the peace which He has provided for us.

The want of stable peace, of which so many complain, may arise from imperfect views of the Spirit’s love.  True, our peace comes from the work of the Substitute upon the cross, from the blood of the one sacrifice, from the sin bearing of Him who has made peace by the blood of the cross.  But it is the Holy Spirit who glorifies Christ to us, and takes the scales from our eyes.  If then we doubt His love, can we expect Him to reveal the Son in our hearts?  Are we not thrusting Him away, and hindering that view of the peace-making which He only can give?  Trust His love and He will make known the Peacemaker to you.  Trust His love and He will show the precious blood by which the guiltiest conscience is purged, and the peace which passeth all understanding is imparted.  He is the Spirit of peace and His work is the work of peace.  His office is to make known to us the Prince of Peace.  Can there be peace without the recognition of the Holy Spirit’s love?  Can there fail to be peace when this is recognized and acted on?  Doubts as to the love of the Spirit must inevitably intercept the peace which the peace-making cross presents to us.

Perhaps the want of faith, which we often mourn over, may arise from our not realizing the Spirit’s love.  “Faith [no doubt] cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God:” yet it is the Holy Spirit who shines upon the word; it is He who gives the seeing eye and the hearing ear.  Under the pressure of unbelief, have we fled to Him and appealed to His love?  “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief,” may be as aptly a cry to the Spirit as to the Son of God.  He helpeth our infirmities; and in the infirmity of our faith He will most assuredly succor us.  It is through Him that we become strong in faith; and He loves to impart the needed strength.  He giveth to all men, liberally, and upbraideth not.  Yet in our dealings with Him regarding faith, let us remember that He does not operate in some mystical or miraculous way, as if imparting to us a new faculty called faith; but by taking of the things of Christ and showing them to us; so touching our faculties by His mighty yet invisible hand, that, ere we are aware, these disordered souls of ours begin to work aright, and these dull eyes of ours begin to see what was all along before them, but what they never had perceived, “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Thus He works in us, often slowly and imperceptibly, but with divine power, making us to understand the gospel and to draw out of it that light and life which it contains for the dead and the dark.  Looking at the cross, under the Spirit’s enlightenment, we grow in faith.  For never does He produce or increase faith in us without keeping our eye steadfastly fixed upon the great redeeming work of the incarnate Son.  He is not the Spirit of unbelief or bondage, but of faith and liberty; and His desire is that we should be delivered from unbelief and bondage. He loves us too well to be indifferent to our remaining in distance or in distrust.  He longs to see us children of faith, not of unbelief; to make us strong in faith; to remove whatever from within or without hinders its growth.  Trust His love for the increase of faith; for deliverance from the evil heart of unbelief; for revealing to you the bright object of faith – Christ, and “God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing unto men their trespasses.”  As truth is the foundation of faith, so, as “the Spirit of truth,” He guides us out of error into truth, and thus leads us out of unbelief into faith; making us to see that the root of what we called our want of faith, was not that we were believing the right thing in a wrong way (as is so often said), but that we were not believing the right thing, but something else which could not bring rest to us in what way soever we might believe it.

Perhaps our want of joy may arise from our over-looking the love of the Spirit.  Peace is one thing; joy is something more – “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”  Assuredly He is the Spirit of joy and as such delights to impart His joy.  He who, by the lips of His Apostle, said, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” wants to see you a joyful man. Will you trust Him for this?  Will you rest in His love for this gift?  Do not say, Joy is a secondary thing: a man may be a Christian without joy; some of the best of God’s people have gone mourning all their days.  These are poor excuses for not possessing what God wants you to possess, and what would make you ten times more useful to all around.  God wishes you to be joyful.  Your testimony to God is imperfect without joy.  Cultivate joy; and in order to do so effectually, take firmer hold of the Spirit’s power, and rest more implicitly in His love.  He loves you too well to wish you to be gloomy.  Be filled with the Spirit and you will be filled with joy.  Joy is a great help in living a holy and consistent life.  Holiness is joy, and joy is holiness.  Accept the Spirit’s love for both of these.

It is the loving Spirit that seals, and witnesses, and indwells, and inworks, and helps, and liberates, and strengthens, and teaches, and baptizes. The “seal of the Spirit” (Eph. 1:13); the “witness of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:16); the “indwelling” of the Spirit (Rom. 8:11); the “inworking” of the Spirit (Eph. 1:19); the “help” of the Spirit (Rom. 8:26); the “liberty” of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:17); the “strengthening” of the Spirit (Eph. 3:16); the “fulness” of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18); the “teaching” of the Spirit (John 14:26); the “baptism” of the Spirit (Mark 1:8); – all these are most closely connected with the “love of the Spirit;” and he who would separate them from that love would rob them of all their meaning and power and consolation.  So that in seeking these blessings we must ever remember that we are dealing with one whose love anticipates our longings, and on whose side there exists no hindrance to our possessing them all.  Nowhere in Scripture has God led us to suppose that the Holy Spirit would be awanting to us in any time of need, or that we could be beforehand with Him in any desire of ours for any spiritual blessing.  “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” (Luke 11:13).

In our day, when that which is miraculous or supernatural is suspected or scorned, it is not easy even to gain a hearing for such truths.  The Holy Spirit, we may say, is discarded as the most incredible part of the supernatural and impersonal.  He Himself is regarded as an airy nothing, or as mist; and His direct and divine agency is treated as the dream of diseased enthusiasm.  The removal of the supernatural from religion means specially the removal of the Spirit.  To retain Him personally in our theology is considered to be retaining the most incredible part of the supernatural – the most visionary article in our creed.

Hence the need of bringing fully into view both His personality and His character.  That modern unbelief should dislike the whole subject, and treat it as incompatible with reason, and therefore incapable of proof, as being wholly beyond the range of our senses, need not surprise us: nor would we attempt to meet Rationalism on its own ground.  But what we say is this: Our information regarding the Holy Spirit must come wholly from revelation; and the question is, Does the Bible bear us out in the above statements?  It certainly does seem to contain the doctrine we have been affirming.  Its Author evidently meant us to accept that doctrine as true.  If that doctrine cannot be true, it must be honestly struck out of the Bible; not by explaining texts away, or misinterpreting whole chapters, but by boldly affirming that Scripture is inaccurate.  The words regarding the Spirit are too plain to be diluted into unmeaning figures.  He who inspired the Bible has used language that cannot be mistaken.  He has not left us in any doubt as to what He intended.  Hence the quarrel of unbelief is a quarrel with revelation, and more especially with the Author of revelation.  This is the real point at issue in these days, in the controversy with Rationalism.

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit’s person and work must stand or fall with the Bible. If it is incredible, then Scripture has utterly deceived us, and the God who made us has given us a book, as the revelation of divine truth, which contains what no man ought to believe or can believe.  If the innumerable references to the Spirit be mere figures of speech – Orientalisms – meaning nothing real, then to accept them as literal, and to believe in a personal Spirit, must be pure fanaticism; and as to such a thing as the love of the Spirit, only visionaries or mystics would accept it.

Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure; and the Word of God is true and real.  Heaven and earth may pass away, but one jot or one tittle of what is written in Scripture cannot.  What God has made known to us concerning the Spirit – His wisdom, love, holiness, and power, remains unaltered throughout the ages; as true to us in these last days as it was in the beginning.

That the Holy Spirit is the producer in the human heart of everything that God calls religion, is beyond question to any one who accepts Bible statements as divinely true.  He begins, carries on, and consummates in us all spiritual feeling, all spiritual worship, all spiritual life and energy.  Nor can there be anything more hollow and unreal than religion without the Holy Spirit.  That which is external and superficial – which manifests itself in dress, and music, and routine service – may flourish without Him; nay, can only flourish in His absence.  But the deep and the real must be His work from first to last.  The love of the Spirit is absolutely necessary to a religion of love, and liberty, and joy.  Religiousness is at every man’s command.  Any man may get it up in a day; but religion cometh from above, and is the product of the Spirit dwelling and working in the heart.

The bustle of the present day hinders our discernment of this difference; nay, it grieves the Spirit provoking Him utterly to depart; thus leaving us with a hollowness of heart which yields no rest nor satisfaction, and which cannot be acceptable to God.  “The Spirit of God,” says Melancthon, “loves retirement and silence; it is then He penetrates into our hearts.  The Bride of Christ does not take her stand in the streets and cross ways, but she leads her spouse into the house of her mother” (Song of Solomon 8:2).

“The gifts of the Holy Ghost!” This is the Church’s heritage (Acts 2:38, 39).  How far she has claimed it or used it is a serious question; but that this gift was meant for her in all ages is beyond a doubt.  The whole book of the Acts of the Apostles is evidence of this.  “My Spirit remaineth among you,” is a promise for the Church as truly as for Israel (Haggai 2:5).

From the beginning it has been so; and the holy men raised up by God to speak His words or do His works were men “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Exodus 31:2).  It is this Spirit that has been the life of the Church.  When He came, all was life; when He departed, all was death.  Nothing was lacking so long as He was in the midst, and when He left nothing could compensate for His withdrawal.  When He was present, the Church was the garden of the Lord; when He forsook her, every herb and flower of that garden withered.

Even in Old Testament days it was so; but since Pentecost, more largely and more powerfully.  The indwelling and inworking Spirit, who is the promise of the Father and gift of the Son, is that which belongs to the Church of every age, little as she may have claimed or welcomed her peculiar glory.

“The gift” and “the gifts” are, both of them, expressions used in connection with the Spirit (Acts 8:20-10:45).  He is one, yet manifold; called “the seven Spirits of God,” and “the seven lamps of fire,” and the “seven eyes,” and the “seven horns” (Rev. 3:1; 4:5; 5:6).  He is not only spoken of in connection with each saint, but with the body, the Church universal, which is the “habitation of God, through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22); “the temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19); and, as such, possessor of His love.

Such is the manifold fulness of the Spirit which as the gift of Christ, is the property of the whole Church of God.  That fulness is not only the fulness of peace, and wisdom, and holiness, but of love.  It is given her, not for herself only, but for the world out of which she has been called.  She is to shine in the light of this love upon a dark earth.  She is to pour out of the fulness which she receives upon a parched and needy world; out of her are to flow rivers of living water (John 7:38).  Great is the world’s need; but not greater than the provided supply: for the fountain of love, out of which the Church receives and pours this living water, is inexhaustible and divine.

The love of the Spirit is, like that of the Son, a love that passeth knowledge, a fountain whose waters fail not: “A pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev 22:1).

In the possession of this heavenly gift – of these sevenfold gifts – the Church is unspeakably rich, whatever her outward condition may be.  Enjoying the fulness of this abiding Spirit, she manifests her character as the witness for Christ and as the light of the world.  These gifts of the ascended Christ (Eph 4:8) made her what she was meant to be in the midst of the world’s evil and of the powers of darkness, “a burning and shining light.”  In the power of such gifts, she went forth to do battle with the idolatries and immoralities of heathendom.  Boldly entering the cities of classic fame, she took possession of pagan temples and Jewish synagogues; and thousands everywhere, through apostolic preaching gathered round the throne.

It was not the gift of miracle, of healing, or of tongues, that did the work.  These were not subordinate things, and in many places never used by the apostles.  These were not “the best gifts” which we are commanded to covet (1 Cor. 12:31).  It was the fulness of spiritual power, possessed and exercised by holy men, awakening, quickening, sanctifying, that wrought the mighty changes which history records. It is well that we should look back to Pentecost, with wistful eyes, longing for a ministry of Pentecostal power, as the only remedy for the unbelief of the last days.  But mere physical miracles are not the desirable things.  The gifts of the Spirit, the Church’s inalienable inheritance, are quite apart from bodily manifestations; and they remain with us still.  But do we claim them?  Do we use them?  Do we not trust in other strength?  Do we not lean on learning, on science, on talent, as if by these we were to fight and overcome?  And, in so doing, do we not mistake our true position, and character, and mission?  Nay, do we not grieve and quench the Spirit?

Yet, the love of the Spirit is unquenchable. He is unwilling to depart.  He despises not the day of small things; but He bids us look beyond and above them.  Formalism, routine, and external religion, the excitements of mysticism – these are poor substitutes for the life, and glow, and energy of the Holy Spirit.  Nothing but His own presence can avail to lift us out of the unreal religiousness into which we have fallen; to transform creeds into realities, and the bodily bowing of the head, or bending of the knee, into spiritual worship; turning the “dim religious light” into the sunshine of a heavenly noon; drawing out of our hymnals the deep heart-music of divine and blessed song; delivering us alike from Rationalism and Ritualism, from a hollow externalism, and from an impulsive and unreasoning fanaticism.  It is His presence only that can vitalize ordinances; clothe ministry with power; unite the broken Church; fill the void of aching hearts; impart to service, liberty and gladness; ward off error; and make truth mighty – filling our sanctuaries with living worshippers, and sending forth men of might to preach the everlasting gospel; and to proclaim, as in primitive days, the Christ that has come, and the Christ that is to come again.

He has come, in His love, to quicken the dead in sin; and He is daily moving upon the face of the waters – bringing life out of death. Nor is His arm shortened, that it cannot save.

He has come, in His love, to give light for darkness. Nor is there any human heart too dark for Him to illumine.  He lights up souls.  He lights up Churches.  He lights up lands, making them that sit in darkness to see a great light.

He has come, in His love, to gather in the wanderers, far and near. No strayed one has gone too far into the wilderness for Him to follow and to bring back.  The “ends of the earth” form the vast region into which His love has gone forth to seek, and find, and save.

He has come, in His love, to guide the doubting heart. He takes lovingly and gently the hand of the perplexed and inquiring, and leads them into the way of peace.  He knows all their troubles and fears, so that they need not fear being misunderstood.  He teaches their ignorance and shows them their mistakes, and points their eye to the cross.

He has come, in His love, to bind up the broken-hearted. His name is the Comforter, and His consolations are as abundant as they are everlasting.  “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,” are the words which he has written down for every sorrowful one (Isaiah 40:1).  In all trial, bereavement, pain, sorrow, let us realize the love of the Spirit.  That love comes out most brightly and most tenderly in the day of mourning.  In the chamber of sickness or of death, let us find strength and peace in the presence, companionship, and sympathy of the gracious Spirit.

He has come down, in His love, to seek after the backslider. From a heart that once owned Him, He has been driven out, and He has retired sorrowfully.  But He has not ceased to desire a return to His old abode.  He still pities, and yearns, and beseeches.  “Turn, ye backsliding children, for I am married unto you,” are His words of longing and pity.

He has come, in His love, even to the misbelieving and the deluded, seeking to remove the mists with which a rebellious intellect has compassed itself about; and to lead them out into life, and love, and day.  They are groping for an idea; and He brings them into contact with a Person, even God Himself.  They are crying vaguely for knowledge; and He presents to them the wisdom deposited in the Person of the Word made flesh.  They are in search of sympathy for their wounded hearts; and He places Himself before them in the fulness of His all-sympathizing love.  They are asking for a creed of certainty and perfection, on which their faith may rest; He offers Himself to them as a living and unerring Teacher – the Author of an infallible Book, all whose pages sparkle with the love of its loving Author.  They crave beauty in worship, something to please the eye,-aesthetic beauty, as they call it!  He draws the eye to Him who is “the chiefest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely.”

He has come, in His love, to build up His own. He seeks to fill, with His holy presence, the soul into which He has come.  He wants, not a part of the man, but the whole – body, soul, and spirit,-the entire being, that it may be altogether conformed to Himself.  He has come to His temples, and His purpose is to make them in reality, what they are in name, the “habitation of God, the temples of the Holy Ghost.”

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The things that are seen are temporal.  Ours is a dying world and here we have no continuing city.  But a few years—it may be less—and all things here are changed.  But a few years —it may be less—and the Lord shall have come, and the last trumpet shall have sounded, and the great sentence shall have been pronounced upon each of the sons of men.

There is a world that passeth not away. It is fair and glorious.  It is called “the inheritance in light.”  It is bright with the love of God and with the joy of heaven.  “The Lamb is the light thereof.”  Its gates are of pearl; they are always open.  And as we tell men of this wondrous city, we tell them to enter in.

The Book of Revelation tells us the story of earth’s vanity: “A mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.  And the voice of harpers and musicians and of pipers and trumpeters shall be heard no more at all in thee.  And no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee” (Revelation 18:21-22).

Such is the day that is coming on the world, and such is the doom overhanging earth — a doom dimly foreshadowed by the sad commercial disasters that have often sent sorrow into so many hearts and desolation into so many homes.

An old minister, now two hundred years gone, lay dying.  His fourscore years were well‑nigh completed.  He had been tossed on many a wave, from England to America, from America to England, again from England to America.  At Boston, he lay dying, full of faith and love.  The evening before his death, as he lay all but speechless, his daughter asked him how it was with him.  He lifted up his dying hands, and with his dying lips simply said, “Vanishing things, vanishing things!”  We repeat his solemn words, and, pointing to the world with all the vanities on which vain man sets his heart, say, “Vanishing things!”

“The world passeth away.” This is our message.  Like a dream of the night.  We lie down to rest; we fall asleep; we dream; we awake at morn; and lo, all is fled that in our dream seemed so stable and so pleasant!  So hastens the world away.  O child of mortality, have you no brighter world beyond?

Like the mist of the morning. The night brings down the mists upon the hills—the vapor covers the valleys; the sun rises, all has passed off—hill and vale are clear.  So the world passeth off and is seen no more.  O man, will you embrace a world like this?  Will you lie down upon a mist, and say, This is my home?

Like a shadow. There is nothing more unreal than a shadow.  It has no substance, no being.  It is dark, it is a figure, it has motion that is all!  Such is the world.  O man, will you chase a shadow?  What will a shadow do for you?

Like a wave of the sea. It rises, falls and is seen no more.  Such is the history of a wave.  Such is the story of the world.  O man, will you make a wave your portion?  Have you no better pillow on which to lay your wearied head than this?  A poor world this for human heart to love, for an immortal soul to be filled with!

Like a rainbow. The sun throws its colors on a cloud and for a few minutes all is brilliant.  But the cloud shifts and the brilliance is all gone.  Such is the world.  With all its beauty and brightness; with all its honors and pleasures; with all its mirth and madness; with all its pomp and luxury; with all its revelry and riot; with all its hopes and flatteries; with all its love and laughter; with all its songs and splendor; with all its gems and gold—it vanishes.  And the cloud that knew the rainbow knows it no more.  O man, is a passing world like this all that you have for an inheritance?

Like a flower. Beautiful, very beautiful; fragrant, very fragrant, are the summer flowers.  But they wither away.  So fades the world from before our eyes.  While we are looking at it and admiring it, behold, it is gone!  No trace is left of all its loveliness but a little dust!  O man, can you feed on flowers?  Can you dote on that which is but for an hour?  You were made for eternity and only that which is eternal can be your portion or your resting place.  The things that perish with the using only mock your longings.  They cannot fill you and, even if they filled, they cannot abide.  Mortality is written on all things here; immortality belongs only to the world to come—to that new heavens and new earth wherein righteousness dwells.

Like a ship at sea. With all its sails set and a fresh breeze blowing, the vessel comes into sight, passes before our eye in the distance, and then disappears.  So comes, so goes, so vanishes away this present world, with all that it contains.  A few hours within sight, then gone!  The wide sea o’er which it sailed as calm or as stormy as before; no trace anywhere of all the life or motion or beauty which was passing over it!  O man, is that vanishing world thy only dwelling‑place?  Are all thy treasures, thy hopes, thy joys laid up there?  Where will all these be when thou goest down to the tomb?  Or where wilt thou be when these things leave thee, and thou art stripped of all the inheritance which thou art ever to have for eternity?  It is a poor heritage at the best, and its short duration makes it poorer still.  Oh, choose the better part, which shall not be taken from thee!

Like a tent in the desert. They who have traveled over the Arabian sands know what this means.  At sunset, a little speck of white seems to rise out of the barren waste.  It is a traveler’s tent.  At sunrise, it disappears.  Both it and its inhabitant are gone.  The wilderness is as lonely as before.  Such is the world.  Today it shows itself; tomorrow it disappears.  O man, born of a woman, is that thy stay and thy home?  Wilt thou say of it, “This is my rest,” when we tell you that there is a rest, an everlasting rest, remaining for the people of God?

The world passeth away. This is the message from heaven.  All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field.  The world passeth away. But God ever liveth.  He is from everlasting to everlasting; the king eternal and immortal.  The world passeth away. But man is immortal.  Eternity lies before each son of Adam as the duration of his lifetime.  In light or in darkness forever!  In joy or in sorrow!

The world passeth away. What then?  This is the question that so deeply concerns man.  If the world is to vanish away and man is to live forever, of what importance is it to know where and what we are to be!  A celebrated physician, trying to cheer a desponding patient, said to him, “Treat life as a plaything.”  It was wretched counsel.  For life is no plaything, and time is no child’s toy, to be flung away.  Life here is the beginning of the life which has no end; and time is but the gateway of eternity.

What then? Thou must, O man, make sure of a home in that world into which thou art so soon to pass.  Thou must not pass out of this tent without making sure of the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  When thou hast done this thou canst lie down upon thy deathbed in peace.  Till thou hast done this, thou canst neither live nor die in peace.  One who had lived a worldly life at last lay down to die; and when about to pass away he uttered these terrible words, “I am dying, and I don’t know where I am going.”  Another in similar circumstances cried out, “I am within an hour of eternity and all is dark.”  O man of earth, it is time to awake!

“How can I make sure?” you ask.  God has long since answered that question, and His answer is recorded for all ages: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ! I have never done anything else,” you say.  If that be really true, then, as the Lord liveth, thou art a saved man.  But is it really so?  Has thy life been the life of a saved man?  No, verily.  It has been a life wholly given to vanity.  Then as the Lord God of Israel liveth, and as thy soul liveth, thou hast not believed, and thou art not yet saved.

“Have I then no work to work in this great matter of my pardon?” None.  What work canst thou work?  What work of thine can buy forgiveness or make thee fit for the Divine favor?  What work has God bidden thee work in order to obtain salvation?  None.  His Word is very plain, and easy to be understood: “To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5).

There is but one work by which a man can be saved. That work is not thine, but the work of the Son of God.  That work is finished—neither to be taken from nor added to—perfect through all ages and presented by Himself to you, that you may avail yourself of it and be saved.

“And is that work available for me just as I am?” It is.  God has brought it to your door; and your only way of honoring it is by accepting it for yourself and taking it as the one basis of your eternal hope.  We honor the Father when we consent to be saved entirely by the finished work of His Son; and we honor the Son when we consent to take His one finished work in the room of all our works; and we honor the Holy Spirit, whose office is to glorify Christ, when we hear what He saith to us concerning that work finished “once for all” upon the cross.

Forgiveness is through the man Christ Jesus, who is Son of God as well as Son of man! This is our message. Forgiveness through the one work of sin‑bearing which He accomplished for sinners upon earth.  Forgiveness to the worst and wickedest, to the farthest off from God whom this earth contains.  Forgiveness of the largest, fullest, completest kind; without stint, or exception, or condition, or the possibility of revocation!  Forgiveness free and undeserved—free as the love of God, free as the gift of His beloved Son.  Forgiveness ungrudged and unrestrained—whole‑hearted and joyful, as the forgiveness of the father falling on the neck of the prodigal!  Forgiveness simply in believing; for, “by Him all that believe are justified from all things.”

Could salvation be made more free? Could forgiveness be brought nearer?  Could God in any way more fully show His earnest desire that you should not be lost, but saved—that you should not die, but live?

In the cross there is salvation—nowhere else.  No failure of this world’s hopes can quench the hope which it reveals.  It shines brightest in the evil day.  In the day of darkening prospects, of thickening sorrows, of heavy burdens, of pressing cares—when friends depart, when riches fly away, when disease oppresses us, when poverty knocks at our door—then the cross shines out, and tells us of a light beyond this world’s darkness, the Light of Him who is the light of the world.

From How Shall I Go To God?

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The Consolation by Horatius Bonar

“TO BRING MANY SONS UNTO GLORY,” was the end for which the Son of God took flesh and died. This was no common, no inferior object. So vast and worthy did Jehovah deem it that it pleased Him for the attaining of it to “make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). It was an object worthy of the God “for whom are all things, and by whom are all things.” It was an object glorious enough to render it “becoming” in Him to make Jesus pass through suffering and death, and to justify the Father in not sparing His only begotten Son.

They for whom God has done all this must be very precious in His sight. He must be much in earnest indeed to bless them and to take them to be with Him forever. As He so delighted in Enoch that He could no longer bear the separation and the distance, but took him to be with Him without tasting death, and long ere he had run the common race of man, so with His saints. He is making haste to bring them to glory, for the day of absence has been long.

The glory which He has in reserve for them must be surpassing glory, for it was to bring them to it that He was willing to bruise His Son and to put Him to grief. Eye has not seen it; ear has not heard it; it is far beyond what we can comprehend, yet it is all reality. God is not ashamed to be called our God because He has prepared for us a city. Were that city not worthy of Himself He would be ashamed to have called Himself by the name of “our God.” For that implies large blessings on His part, and it leads to large expectations on ours-expectations which He cannot disappoint.

He did not count this glory to be bought for us at too dear a rate, even though the price was the sufferings of His only begotten Son. If, then, God thus estimated the glory to which we were brought, shall not we do the same? If He thought it worth all the sufferings of His Son, shall we not think it worth our poor sufferings here? Shall we not say, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

This is consolation. It is that which most naturally occurs to us, and it is both scriptural and effectual. This is what is usually presented to the afflicted saint, and it is what he feels to be very precious and suitable. But though the most common and the most natural consolation, it is by no means the only one. Let us suggest a few others.

1. Jesus weeps with us. “In all our affliction he is afflicted.” He knows our sorrows, for He has passed through them all, and therefore He feels for us. He is touched with the feeling of our griefs as well as of our infirmities. Man—very man—man all over, even in His glory, He enters most fully into the fellowship of our burdens and sorrows whatever these may be, for there is not one which He did not taste when He “dwelt among us” here. His is sympathy, deep, real and true. It is no fiction, no fancy. We do not see His tears falling upon us; neither do we clasp His hand nor feel the beating of His heart against ours. But still His communion with us in suffering is a reality. We may not understand how it can be. But He understands it; and He can make us feel it, whether we can comprehend it or not.

2. We are made partakers of Christ’s sufferings. What honor is this! We are baptized with His baptism; we drink of His cup, we are made like Him in sorrow as we shall hereafter be made like Him in joy! How soothing and sustaining! If reproach, and shame, and poverty are ours, let us remember that they were His also. If we have to go down to Gethsemane, or up to the cross, let us think that He was there before us. It is when keeping our eye on this that we are brought somewhat to realize the feeling of the apostle when he “rejoiced in his sufferings” for the Church, as “filling up that which is behind (literally the leavings of Christ’s sufferings) of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church” (Col. 1: 24). To be treated better than Christ, is neither what a thoughtful soul could expect,, nor what a loving heart could desire.

3. Suffering is the family lot. This we have already dwelt upon, and we refer to it simply to present it more prominently as a consolation. The path of sorrow is no unfrequented way. All the saints have trodden it. We can trace their footprints there. It is comforting, nay, it is cheering to keep this in mind. Were we cast fettered into some low dungeon, would it not be consolation to know that many a martyr had been there before us; would it not be cheering to read their names written with their own hands all round the ancient walls? Such is the solace we may extract from all suffering, for the furnace into which we are cast has been consecrated by many a saint already.

4. All things work together for our good. Nothing is unsuitable, unseasonable or unprofitable. Out of all evil comes good to the saints; out of all darkness comes light; out of all sorrow comes joy. Each pang, sharp or slight, is doing its work—the very work which God designs, the very work which we could not do without. The forces of earth, unless they all bear in one line, or nearly so, tend to counteract each other and arrest the common impulse. But the forces which God brings to bear upon us in affliction are all directly and necessarily impulsive. Come from what quarter they may, or from opposite quarters all at once, they still bear us successfully forward. “All things work together for good.” “All things are ours” (1 Cor. 3:21).

5. There is special grace for every trial. As trials bring to light the weakness that is in us, so they draw out the strength of God to meet that weakness—new resources of strength and grace which we never knew before. In affliction, we may be quite sure of learning something more of God than we were acquainted with before, for it is just in order to furnish an opportunity for bringing out this and showing it to us, that He sends the trial. How little should we know of Him were it not for sorrow! What fullness of blessing comes out to us, what riches of love are spread out before us in the dark and cloudy day!

6. Affliction is our fullest opportunity for glorifying God. It is on earth that He expects to get glory from us, glory such as angels cannot give, glory such as we shall not be able to give hereafter. It is here that we are to preach to angels; it is here we are to show to them what a glorious God is ours. Our whole life below is given us for this. But it is especially in sorrow and under infirmity that God looks for glory from us. What a God-honoring thing to see a struggling, sorrowing child of earth cleave fast to God, calmly trusting in Him, happy and at rest in the midst of storm and suffering! What a spectacle for the hosts of heaven! Now is the time for the saints to give glory to the Lord their God. Let them prize affliction as the very time and opportunity for doing so most of all. Let them use such a season well. And what consolation to think that affliction is really such a season! Surely it is one which an angel might covet, which an archangel would gladly stoop to were that possible! They can glorify God much in heaven amid its glory and blessedness, but not half so much as we can on earth amid suffering and shame!

7. We are getting rid of sin. Each pain is a nail driven through some sin, another blow inflicted on the flesh, destroying the very power of sinning. As we entered on our first life, sin fastened its chain upon us, and link after link twined itself about us. When we commenced our second and better life these began one by one to untwine themselves. Affliction untwines them faster; and though it is not till we are laid on our death-bed, or till Jesus come, that the last link of earth is thoroughly untwined or broken, still it is consolation to think that each successive trial is helping on the blessed consummation. A lifetime’s sufferings would not be too long or too heavy, if by means of them we got rid of sin and sinful ways and tempers, and became more holy, more heavenly, more conformable to the image of the Lord. God drives affliction like a wedge between us and the world; or He sends it like a ploughshare right across our most cherished hopes and brightest prospects, till He thoroughly wearies us of all below. “He hath made me weary,” said Job. Nor do we wonder at the complaint. He might well be weary. So with us. God makes us weary too, weary all over-thoroughly weary. We get weary of a present evil world, weary of self, weary of sin, weary of suffering, weary of this mortal body, weary of these vile hearts, weary of earth-weary of all but Jesus! Of Him no trial can weary us. Suffering only endears Him the more. Blessed suffering that makes Him appear more precious and the world more vile; that brings Him nearer to our hearts and thrusts the world away!

8. We are preparing for usefulness while here. We have but a few years below, and it concerns us much that these should be useful years. We have but one life, and it must be laid out for God. But we need preparation for usefulness. We need a thorough breaking down, a thorough emptying, a thorough bruising. God cannot trust us with success till we are thus laid low. We are not fit to receive it; nor would He get the glory. Therefore He sends sore and heavy trials in order to make us vessels fit for the Master’s use. And oftentimes we see that the heaviest trials are forerunners of our greatest usefulness. When we are entirely prostrated and crushed, then it is safe to grant us success, for God gets all the glory. And what wonders has God often done by bruised reeds! It is the bruised reed that is most often the instrument in His hand for working His mighty signs and wonders. What consolation is this! Suffering is stripped of half its bitterness if it thus brings with it a double portion of the Spirit, and fits for double usefulness on earth.

9. We have the Holy Spirit as our Comforter. He is mighty to comfort as well as to sanctify. His name is ‘the Comforter.’ His office is to console. And in the discharge of this office He puts forth His power, not only mediately and indirectly through the Word, but immediately and directly upon the soul, sustaining and strengthening it when fainting and troubled. It is consolation unspeakable to know that there is a hand, a divine and omnipotent hand, laid upon our wounded spirit, not only upholding it, but drying up as it were the very springs of grief within. In the day of oppressive sorrow, when bowed down to the dust, what is there that we feel so much we need as a hand that can come into close and direct contact with our souls to lift them up and strengthen them? For it is here that human consolation fails. Friends can say much to soothe us, but they cannot lay their finger upon the hidden seat of sorrow. They can put their arm around the fainting body, but not around the fainting spirit. To that they have only distant and indirect access. But here the heavenly aid comes in. The Spirit throws around us the everlasting arms, and we are invincibly upheld. We cannot sink, for He sustains, He comforts, He cheers. And who knows so well as He how to sustain, and comfort, and cheer?

10. The time is short. We have not a pilgrimage like Seth’s or Noah’s, or even like Abraham’s to pass through. Ours is but a hand-breadth in comparison with theirs. We have not many days to suffer, nor many nights to watch, even though our whole life were filled with weary days and sleepless nights. “Our light affliction is but for a moment.” And besides the briefness of our earthly span, we know that the coming of the Lord draws nigh. This is consolation, for it tells not only of the end of our tribulation, but of the beginning of our triumph; and not only of our individual rest from trouble, but of the rest and deliverance of the whole Church together. For then the whole “body of Christ,” waking or sleeping, shall be glorified with their glorified Lord, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.

In the day of bereavement, the day of mourning over those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, this consolation is especially precious. Them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. And if the Lord be near, the time of reunion may not be far off. They that lie down at evening have a whole night’s slumber before them; but they who lie down towards morning have, it may be, but an hour or less till the dawn awakes them. So with the dead in Christ in these last days. They will not have long to sleep, for it is now the fourth watch of the night, and the day-star is preparing to arise. What consolation! How it soothes the pain of parting! How it cheers the wounded spirit! “Awake, and sing, ye that dwell in dust,” is now our watchword every day.

11. All is love. Affliction is the expression of paternal love. It is from the deepest recess of the fountain of love that sorrow flows down to us. And love cannot wrong us. It blesses, but cannot curse. Its utterances and actions are all of peace and gladness. It wants a larger vessel into which to empty itself, and a deeper channel through which to flow. That is all. It seeks to make us more susceptible of kindness, and then to pour that kindness in. Yes, love is the true, the one origin of the sharpest stroke that ever fell upon a bleeding heart. The truth is, there is no other way of accounting for affliction but this. Anger will not account for it, forgetfulness will not account for it, chance will not account for it. No. It is simply impossible to trace it to any cause but love. Admit this as its spring, and all its harmonious, comely, perfect. Deny it, and all is confusion, cruelty, and darkness. Chastising love is the most faithful, pure, and true of all. Let this be our consolation.

Beloved, “it is well.” It is good to be afflicted. Our days of suffering here we call days of darkness; hereafter they will seem our brightest and fairest. In eternity we shall praise Jehovah most of all for our sorrows and tears. So blessed shall they then seem to us that we shall wonder how we could ever weep and sigh. We shall then know how utterly unworthy we were of all this grace. We did not deserve anything, but least of all to be afflicted. Our joys were all of grace—pure grace—much more our sorrows. It is out of the “exceeding riches of the grace of God” that trial comes.

Taken from When God’s Children Suffer (published by Keats Publishing, New Canaan, CT) an updated reprint of Bonar’s Night of Weeping.

The current formatting and editing is copyrighted by Jim Ehrhard, 2000. You are permitted to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author; (2) any modifications are clearly marked; (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction; and (4) you do not make more than 100 copies without permission. If you would like to post this material to your web site or make any use other than as defined above, please contact Teaching Resources International

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But an inquirer asks, What is the special meaning of the blood, of which we read so much? How does it speak of peace? How does it “purge the conscience from dead works” (Heb. 9:14)? What can blood have to do with the peace, the grace, and the righteousness of which we have been speaking?

God has given the reason for the stress which He lays upon the blood; and, in understanding this, we get to the very bottom of the grounds of a sinner’s peace.

The sacrifices of old, from the days of Abel onwards, furnish us with the key to the meaning of the blood, and explain the necessity for its being “shed for the remission of sins.” “Not without blood” (Heb. 9:7) was the great truth taught by God from the beginning; the inscription which may be said to have been written on the gates of tabernacle and temple. For more than two thousand years, during the ages of the patriarchs, there was but one great sacrifice: the burnt-offering. This, under the Mosaic service, was split into parts: the peace-offering, trespass-offering and sin-offering. In all of these, however, the essence of the original burnt-offering was preserved–by the blood and the fire which were common to them all. The blood, as the emblem of substitution, and the fire, as the symbol of God’s wrath upon the substitute, were seen in all the parts of Israel’s service; but especially in the daily burnt-offering–the morning and evening lamb–which was the true continuation and representative of the old patriarchal burnt-offering. It was to this that John referred when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Israel’s daily lamb was the kernel and core of all the Old Testament sacrifices, and it was its blood that carried the worshippers back to the primitive sacrifices, and forward to the blood of sprinkling that was to speak better things than that of Abel (Heb. 12:24).

In all these sacrifices, the shedding of the blood was the affliction of death. The “blood was the life” (Lev. 17:11, 14; Deut. 12:23); and the pouring out of the blood was “the pouring out of the soul” (Isa. 53:12). This blood-shedding or life-taking was the payment of the penalty for sin; for it was threatened from the beginning: “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17); and it is written, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezk. 18:4); and again, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

But the blood-shedding of Israel’s sacrifices could not take sin away. It showed the way in which this was to be done, but it was in fact more a “remembrance of sins” (Heb. 10:11). It said life must be given for life, before sin can be pardoned; but then the continual repetition of the sacrifices showed that there was needed “richer blood” than the temple altar was ever sprinkled with and a more precious life than man could ever give.

The great blood-shedding has been accomplished; the better life has been presented, and the one death of the Son of God has done what all the deaths of old could never do. His one life was enough; His one dying paid the penalty. “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:28). “In that he died, he died unto sin once” (Rom. 6:10). He “offered one sacrifice for sins for ever” (Heb. 10:12).

The sprinkling of the blood (Exodus 24:8) was the making use of the death by putting it upon certain persons or things, so that these persons or things were counted as dead, and therefore, to have paid the law’s penalty. So long as they had not paid that penalty, they were counted as unclean and unfit for God to look upon; but as soon as they paid it, they were counted clean and fit for the service of God.

Usually when we read of cleansing, we think merely of our common process if removing dirt by water and soap. But this is not the figure meant in the application of the sacrifice. The blood cleanses by making us partakeres of the death of the Substitute. For what is it that makes us filthy before God? It is our guilt, our breach of the law, and our being under sentence of death in consequence of our disobedience. We have not only done what God dislikes, but what His righteous law declares worthy of death. It is this sentence of death that separates us so completely from God making it wrong for Him to bless us, and perilous for us to go to Him.

When thus covered all over with that guilt whose penalty is death, the blood is brought in by the great High Priest. That blood represents death; it is God’s expression for death. It is then sprinkled on us, and thus death, which is the law’s penalty, passes on us. We die. We undergo the sentence, and thus the guilt passes away. We are cleansed! The sin which was like scarlet becomes as snow, and that which was like crimson becomes as wool. It is thus that we make use of the blood of Christ in believing, for faith is just the sinner employing the blood. Believing what God has testified concerning this blood, we become one with Jesus in His death; and thus we are counted in law, and treated by God, as men who have paid the whole penalty, and so been “washed from their sins in his blood.”

Such are the glad tidings of life, through Him who died. They are tidings which tell us, not what we are to do, in order to be saved, but what He has done. This only can lay to rest the sinner’s fears, can “purge his conscience,” can make him feel as a thoroughly pardoned man. The right knowledge of God’s meaning in this sprinkling of the blood is the only effective way of removing the anxieties of the troubled soul, and introducing it into perfect peace.

The gospel is not the mere revelation of the heart of God in Christ Jesus. In it the righteousness of God is specially manifested and it is this revelation of the righteousness that makes it so truly “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom 1:16). The blood-shedding is God’s declaration of the righteousness of the love which He is pouring down upon the sons of men; it is the reconciliation of law and love; the condemnation of the sin and the acquittal of the sinner. As “without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22); so the gospel announces that the blood has been shed by which remission flows to us; and now we know that “the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). The conscience is satisfied. It feels that God’s grace is righteous grace, that His love is holy love. There it rests.

It is not by incarnation, but by blood-shedding that we are saved. The Christ of God is no mere expounder of wisdom, no mere deliverer or gracious benefactor; and they who think that they have told the whole gospel, when they have spoken of Jesus revealing the love of God, greatly err.

If Christ is not the Substitute, He is nothing to the sinner. If He did not die as the Sin-bearer, He has died in vain. Let us not be deceived on this point, nor misled by those who, when they announce Christ as the Deliverer, think they have preached the gospel. If I throw a rope to a drowning man, I am a deliverer. But is Christ no more than that? If I cast myself into the sea, and risk myself to save another, I am a deliverer. But is Christ no more? Did He but risk His life? The very essence of Christ’s deliverance is the substitution of Himself for us, His life for ours. He did not come to risk His life; He came to die! He did not redeem us by a little loss, a little sacrifice, a little labor, a little suffering: “He redeemed us to God by his blood;” “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:19). He gave all He had, even His life, for us. This is the kind of deliverance that awakens the happy song, “To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” (Rev 1:5;5:9).

The tendency of the world’s religion just now is to reject the blood, and to glory in a gospel which needs no sacrifice, no “Lamb slain.” Thus, they go the way of Cain, who refused the blood, and came to God without it. He would not own himself a sinner, condemned to die, and needing the death of another to save him. This was man’s open rejection of God’s way of life. Foremost in this rejection we see the first murderer; and he who would not defile his altar with the blood of a lamb pollutes the earth with his brother’s blood.

The heathen altars have been red with blood; and to this day they are the same. But these worshippers do not know what they mean in bringing that blood. It is associated only with vengeance in their minds; and they shed it to appease the vengeance of their gods. But this is no recognition either of the love or the righteousness of God. “Fury is not in him;” whereas their altars speak only of fury. The blood which they bring is a denial both of righteousness and grace.

But look at Israel’s altars. There is blood; and they who bring it know the God to whom they come. They bring it in acknowledgment of their own guilt, but also of His pardoning love. They say, “I deserve death; but let this death stand for mine; and let the love which otherwise could not reach me, by reason of guilt, now pour itself out on me.”

Beware of Cain’s error on the one hand, in coming to God without blood; and beware of the heathen error on the other, in mistaking the meaning of the blood. Understand God’s mind and meaning in “the precious blood” of His Son. Believe His testimony concerning it; so shall your conscience be pacified, and your soul find rest.

It is into Christ’s death that we are baptized (Rom 6:3), and hence the cross, which was the instrument of that death, is that in which we glory. The cross is to us the payment of the sinner’s penalty, the extinction of the debt, and the tearing up of the hand-writing which was against us. And as the cross is the payment, so the resurrection is God’s receipt in full, for the whole sum, signed with His own hand. Our faith is not the completion of the payment, but the simple recognition on our part of the payment made by the Son of God. By this recognition we become so one with Him who died and rose, that we are thereafter reckoned to be the parties who have paid the penalty, and treated as if it were we ourselves who had died. Thus are we “justified from sin,” and then made partakers of the righteousness of Him, who was not only delivered for our offenses, but who was raised again for our justification.

From God’s Way of Peace.

The current formatting and editing is copyrighted by Jim Ehrhard, 1999. You are permitted to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author; (2) any modifications are clearly marked; (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction; and (4) you do not make more than 100 copies without permission. If you would like to post this material to your web site or make any use other than as defined above, please contact Teaching Resources International

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Faith Alone in Christ’s Completed Work by Horatius Bonar

“Wholly a sinner!  Is that really my character?”

“No doubt of that.  If you doubt it, go and search your Bible.  God’s testimony is that you are wholly a sinner and must deal with Him as such, for the whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”

“Wholly a sinner, well! – but must I not get quit of some of my sins before I can expect blessing from Him?”

“No, indeed; He alone can deliver you from so much as even one sin; and you must go at once to Him with all that you have of evil, how much so ever that may be.  If you be not wholly a sinner, you don’t wholly need Christ, for He is out and out a Savior; He does not help you to save yourself, nor do you help Him to save you.  He does all, or nothing.  A half salvation will only do for those who are not completely lost.  He ‘His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree’” (1 Peter 2:24).

It was in some such way as the above that Luther found his way into the peace and liberty of Christ.  The story of his deliverance is an instructive one, as showing how the stumbling-blocks of self-righteousness are removed by the full exhibition of the gospel in its freeness, as the good news of God’s love to the unloving and unlovable, the good news of pardon to the sinner, without merit and without money, the good news of PEACE WITH GOD, solely through the propitiation of Him who hath made peace by the blood of His cross.

One of Luther’s earliest difficulties was that he must get repentance wrought within himself; and having accomplished this, he was to carry this repentance as a peace-offering or recommendation to God.  If this repentance could not be presented as a positive recommendation, at least it could be urged as a plea in mitigation of punishment.  “How can I dare believe in the favor of God,” he said, “so long as there is in me no real conversion?  I must be changed before He can receive me.”  He is answered that the “conversion,” or “repentance,” of which he is so desirous, can never take place so long as he regards God as a stern and unloving Judge.  It is the goodness of God that leadeth to repentance, (Rom. 2:4) and without the recognition of this “goodness,” there can be no softening of heart.  An impenitent sinner is one who is despising the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering.

Luther’s aged counselor tells him plainly that he must be done with penances and mortifications, and all such self-righteous preparations for securing or purchasing the Divine favor.  That voice, Luther tells us touchingly, seemed to come to him from heaven: “All true repentance begins with the knowledge of the forgiving love of God.”  As he listens light breaks in, and an unknown joy fills him.  Nothing between him and God!  Nothing between him and pardon!  No preliminary goodness or preparatory feeling!  He learns the Apostle’s lesson, “Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).  All the evil that is in him cannot hinder this justification; and all the goodness (if such there be) that is in him cannot assist in obtaining it.  He must be received as a sinner, or not at all.  The pardon that is proffered recognizes only his guilt; and the salvation provided in the cross of Christ regards him simply as lost.

But the sense of guilt is too deep to be easily quieted.  Fear comes back again, and he goes once more to his aged adviser, crying, “Oh, my sin, my sin!” as if the message of forgiveness which he had so lately received was too good news to be true, and as if sins like his could not be so easily and so simply forgiven.  “What! would you be only a pretended sinner, and therefore need only a pretended Savior?”  So spake his venerable friend, and then added, solemnly, “Know that Jesus Christ is the Savior of great and real sinners, who are deserving of nothing but utter condemnation.”

“But is not God sovereign in His electing love?” said Luther; “Perhaps I may not be one of His chosen.”  “Look to the wounds of Christ,” was the answer, “and learn there God’s gracious mind to the children of men.  In Christ we read the name of God and learn what He is, and how He loves; the Son is the revealer of the Father; and the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.”

“I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” said Luther to a friend one day, when tossing on a sick bed; “but what is that to me?”  “Ah,” said his friend, “does not that include your own sins?  You believe in the forgiveness of David’s sins and of Peter’s sins, why not of your own?  The forgiveness is for you as much as for David or Peter.”

Thus Luther found rest.  The gospel, thus believed, brought liberty and peace.  He knew that he was forgiven because he knew that forgiveness was the immediate and sure possession of all who believed the good news.

In the settlement of the great question between the sinner and God, there was to be no bargaining and no price of any kind.  The basis of settlement was laid eighteen hundred years ago; and the mighty transaction on the cross did all that was needed as a price.  “It is finished,” is God’s message to the sons of men in their inquiry, “What shall we do to be saved?”  This completed transaction supersedes all man’s efforts to justify himself or to assist God in justifying him.  We see Christ crucified and God in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing unto men their trespasses; and this non-imputation is the result solely of what was done upon the cross, where the transference of the sinner’s guilt to the Divine surety was once and forever accomplished.  It is that transaction that the gospel brings us the “good news” and whosoever believeth it becomes partaker of all the benefits which that transaction secured.

“But am I not to be indebted to the Holy Spirit’s work in my soul?”  “Undoubtedly; for what hope can there be for you without the Almighty Spirit, who quickeneth the dead?”  “If so, then ought I not to wait for His impulses, and having got them, may I not present the feelings which He has wrought in me as reasons why I should be justified?”

“No, in no wise.  You are not justified by the Spirit’s work, but by Christ’s alone; nor are the motions of the Spirit in you the grounds of your confidence or the reasons for your expecting pardon from the Judge of all.  The Spirit works in you, not to prepare you for being justified, or to make you fit for the favor of God, but to bring you to the cross, just as you are.  For the cross is the only place where God deals in mercy with the transgressor.”  It is at the cross that we meet God in peace and receive His favor.  There we find not only the blood that washes, but the righteousness which clothes and beautifies, so that henceforth we are treated by God as if our own righteousness had passed away, and the righteousness of His own Son were actually ours.

This is what the apostle calls “imputed” righteousness (Rom. 4:6, 8, 11, 22, 24), or righteousness so reckoned to us by God as that we are entitled to all the blessings which that righteousness can obtain for us.  Righteousness got up by ourselves or put into us by another, we call infused, or imparted, or inherent righteousness; but righteousness belonging to another reckoned to us by God as if it were our own, we call imputed righteousness. It is of this that the apostle speaks when he says, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27).  Thus Christ represents us: and God deals with us as represented by Him.  Righteousness within will follow necessarily and inseparably; but we are not to wait in order to get it before going to God for the righteousness of His only begotten Son.

Imputed righteousness must come first. You cannot have the righteousness within till you have the righteousness without; and to make your own righteousness the price which you give to God for that of His Son is to dishonor Christ and to deny His cross.  The Spirit’s work is not to make us holy, in order that we may be pardoned, but to show us the cross, where the pardon is to be found by the unholy; so that having found the pardon there, we may begin the life of holiness to which we are called.

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