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HEN I returned from the far-off mission in Staffordshire, whether from over-fatigue or other causes, I was much depressed in mind as well as body, and quite out of heart with the Church of England. It is true I found the converted people in Staffordshire were not so leavened with Dissent as in Cornwall, and that there was some attachment to the Church; but still I could see that Churchmen there, as elsewhere, distrusted spirituality, and preferred to work on their own ecclesiastical or sacramental lines; they chose to draw water to quench their thirst, rather than to ask, and receive (directly from Christ) the living water.
If a bishop accidentally invited me, or if a clergyman cordially did so, they were marked exceptions. I felt myself to be obnoxious to the majority of my clerical brethren who professed to represent the Church; but, somehow, I was convinced that, as a converted clergyman, I represented the Church of England more truly than they, and that the principles of the Reformation were the principles I was working upon. This was trial from outside, which, however trying
to flesh and blood, is by no means so bad as misgiving from within.
I was discouraged also about the work in which I had been engaged; for there was evidently an imperfection about it. I observed that some people over whom I rejoiced as converted, went back to their former worldliness, which perplexed and troubled me more than I can describe. I knew from my own experience, that cCONVERSION was necessary to salvation and a new life; but when people professed to be saved, and did not live a new life, I was sure there was something wrong. My dear friend, Mr. Aitken, said, "My brother, this work is the Lord's; you must go to Him and ask what is wrong. Lie on your face before Him, till He shows you His will about the matter!"
This I did; for, shutting myself up in the church, I cried to the Lord till I felt that an answer would come in due time.
Soon after, I was led to preach from the text, "Through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him all that believe are justified from all things" (Acts xiii. 38, 39). This opened my eyes to see that the proclamation was twofold-that through Christ Jesus, pardon was offered to any and every sinner as such, and moreover, that by the same Christ Jesus, every believer—that is, every one who had received the forgiveness of his sins-was justified from all things.
Those who know how old familiar texts flash upon the mind with new meaning, will understand my surprise. God was speaking to me in answer to my inquiry. I had been preaching forgiveness and salvation through the bloodshedding and death of Christ; and confining myself to this, as if salvation were all. I now saw that I had not preached about Justification to believers, as fully as I had dwelt on the subject of pardon to sinners; indeed, that I had preached
to believers the same Gospel which I preached to them before they were converted; that is, that Christ died for their sins, but not the "yea rather, that is risen again." No wonder they did not stand, if their standing-place before God their Father was not simply and plainly put before them. Believers having been brought from death unto life, from the cross to the resurrection-side of Christ's grave, should be led to the Throne of Grace, where Christ sits at the right hand of God, making intercession for them. Once enlightened on the subject, it was easy to see that this truth was set forth all through the Bible.
For instance, when the prodigal son received pardon, immediately his father called the servants and said unto them, "Bring forth the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet." Here, besides pardon, is standing-union-strength; and over and beyond these, the feast of rejoicing.
When the children of Israel were brought out of Egypt, it was not that they should escape from bondage only, but that they should be led, and even carried, by God through the wilderness. Moses illustrated this in a simple yet comprehensive figure, when he wrote, "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him" (Deut. xxxii. 11, 12).
The thousands who perished in the wilderness were persons of whom it may be said that they professed to come up out of Egypt, and did so in act; but God, who looks upon the heart, saw that they were still lingering in that place; for when they were in trouble, they said, "Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness ! Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt" (Num. xiv. 2-4).
THE WHOLE GOSPEL.
This is one secret of the "going back" which I have noticed. People came out as converted, whose hearts were still entangled in the things of this world, or in some besetments with which they were fettered. Those who are really converted should come out, as Caleb and Joshua did. They left Egypt behind them altogether, and finally, in their trials and troubles in the wilderness, they looked for deliverance, not in going back, but in going forward, assured that if lions were before, there were dragons behind.
Another lesson which we may learn from these two, is, that they compared difficulties and giants, not with themselves, but with the Lord. It was true that they were not able to conquer their enemies or take their cities, but, as they said, "the Lord is able to give us the victory." In this I saw how Joshua trusted God, also how God wrought a great deliverance.
I urged the people to consider that we were not created and redeemed to be saved, but saved to glorify God in our lives; but I grieve to say, this teaching did not meet with the acceptance I hoped for. I wondered at their slowness of heart to believe in the "risen" Christ, and was sure that this was reason enough for their instability; and I felt that there would be nothing else while they continued to receive only a part of the Gospel instead of the whole.
One thing leads to another. While I was thus making discoveries, my attention was drawn to a hymn which spoke of "Jordan's stream," and "death's cold flood," as if they were the same thing. Now, I had always regarded Jordan as death; but the question in my mind was-What is all that fighting and conquering in the land of Canaan, if Canaan represents heaven? I observed, moreover, that the Israelites were on the defensive in the wilderness, and on the aggressive on the other side of Jordan; that they were led by the cloud on the one, and by a living Person on the
other; that they were daily sustained with manna, as children, on the one side, and ate the old corn of the land, as men of Israel, on the other, besides sowing and reaping for themselves. These striking marks of contrast excited much inquiry, and not obtaining, with sufficient definiteness, the satisfaction I sought, I went to the Lord about this, as before. I confessed my shortcomings, and the defectiveness of my teaching, and pleaded earnestly, "Lord, what wouldst Thou have me to do? What I know not, teach Thou me!"
Then I was brought into the deepest distress and perplexity of soul, to think that after my experience of conversion, and all I had done for the conversion of others, I was still such a vile, self-condemned sinner. I even began to think that I had never been converted; it appeared to me that my whole life was nothing but intense selfishness; that 1 availed myself of the blood of Christ for my salvation and happiness, and led others to do the same, rejoicing with them in thus making use of God for the purpose of getting quit of hell and gaining heaven. It was a clear case of making God serve me, instead of my serving Him. Many other things came to my mind, by which I knew there was an immense gap between my experience and the Word of God. I can see it all now; but at the time it was very dark and grievous.
When I had been under conviction before, at the time of my conversion, it was, as it were, with my eyes shut; but now they were open: then I saw my sins, and the penalty which was due to them; now I saw my unrighteousness, and the corruption of my nature. I felt as if I were two persons, and that there was a law in my members warring against the law of my mind, the flesh contending against the Spirit. "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” For a whole week I was in