By J.C. Philpot
I see and feel that there is abroad in the world and among the professing churches so much false and delusive religion, that it seems as though I were continually compelled to be bearing witness against it. If indeed this natural and creature religion were confined to the unregenerate, I might well leave it alone, and let the dead bury their dead; but it infects the children of God too, it creeps in and insinuates itself even amongst those who are partakers of a new and spiritual nature, and is closely mixed up, though it can never really unite, with all our acts of spiritual worship. I find so much of this natural and creature religion in my heart, that I think I have nothing else; and when I look round upon the professing churches, even the purest and most experimental, I see a religion received by tradition from their fathers, standing too much in the place of and almost eating up that vital, heavenly, and almost supernatural godliness which comes from and rises up to the Father of Light. Ordinances, prayer-meetings, preachings, reading the Word, family prayers seem prized for their own sake more than the simple, pure, heavenly, and divine communications of God to the soul. These things I do not despise, yea, rather practise and attend unto, but to me they are barren husks in themselves; I value them only as the shell that contains the kernel, and if the nut be wanting, or if there be a worm within it, I can trample upon the shell.
It is not prayer, but the answer to prayer that delivers the soul; it is not the ordinance, but He whom the ordinance sets forth that is meat and drink; it is not the preaching, but the Spirit ministered through the preaching (Gal. 3:5) that profits and edifies. Mr.Hart’s words, “But O my soul wants more than a sign!” convey my meaning, and I believe express the feelings of every child of God. I wish to steer the middle path; not to despise the ordinances of God, and yet not to overvalue them; not to make idols of them, and yet not to call them Nehushtan, which means a piece of brass, and a piece of brass only. And my firm conviction is, that God, who is a jealous God, will teach all His people the difference between worshipping an idol and worshipping Him in spirit and in truth. I want God’s religion, the Creator’s and not the creature’s. I want that pure and heavenly and yet simple and most blessed religion, which is the gift of God and the work of God. I want that religion which the world hates, the professors cry down, the Ishmaels mock, the Pharisees revile, the bastards ridicule, and the zealots despise. I want that religion which the clean-hearted call licentious, and the workers pronounce idle; yea, I want that divine and heavenly religion to stream down into my soul out of the fulness of the Godman, which is like rivers of water in a dry and thirsty land; not a religion that will puff up, but abase; not fill the creature full of himself, but empty him into nothingness, and at the same time fill, melt, soften, renew, and warm the soul with the sweet earnests of eternity.
Such a religion as this, my dear friends, will not lead to sin, but from sin; yea, will shew sin in its true colours, as that unclean thing which Jehovah hateth. This is the universal medicine, the balm of Gilead, which heals the ulcers, cleanses the wounds, and mollifies with ointment the putrefying sores. But O my soul, how much of this religion dost thou possess? Thou hast sometimes the desire after it; thou seest this land at times a great way off; thou now and then breakest into a cry after it in the lonely watches of the night; and thou canst not be satisfied without it. But what if, instead of enjoying and realising this heavenly gift, thou seemest to possess nothing but the line of confusion and the stones of emptiness? What if, instead of the Good Shepherd pitching fold there, they heart is rather a habitation for dragons and a court for owls? What if the wild beasts of the desert meet there, with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr cries to his fellow? What if little else but deadness, darkness, vileness, earthliness, filthiness, and uncleanness gush up in thy heart? What if blasphemy and infidelity, with all imaginable and unimaginable lustings, taint every thought? Why, put all this together, and add to it the thousand nameless workings and boilings up of thy own filthy heart, dear reader, and then thou hast the picture of the writer. But do not shew this dark picture to the holy and the pious; tell it not in the streets of self-righteous Gath and evangelical Askelon, lest the daughters of the clean-handed triumph; and if thou feelest and findest thy heart like mine, keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom. But is this religion? Is not religion to be holy and good, to be free from all sin, and have a heart so pure, that a sinful thought never lodges there? Yes, my friends, this is religion, but whose? Man’s or God’s? This is a religion which nature, reason, and the world approve, but not the way that leads to Zion. I have found that the experience I have of my sinfulness makes me long for and value Christ’s atoning blood; that the sense I have of my helplessness leads me to cry to God to help me; that the knowledge which I have of my condemnation teaches me to prize a free grace salvation. But I find that I am always expecting to have grace in me, instead of looking for it out of me. I read of the God of all grace and I receive as a most solemn and certain truth that all grace comes from Him, but when I come to experience I want to find that grace in me which is stored up in the Redeemer; in other words, I want to find some stock of faith, prayer, hope, spirituality, and love stored up in my heart, to which I can go as to the money in my purse, but this I cannot find, and because I cannot find it, I feel guilty and condemned; I want a spirit of prayer to dwell in me, and not to be lodged in the hands of the Redeemer; I want to believe when I like, and be spiritual when I like, and mortify sin when I like. But where would grace be then? Would Jesus be its author and its finisher? Should I pray and cry to Him for it if I could find it in myself? No; I should act as the rich man does, who when he wants a supply goes to his own coffers; and not as the beggar, who must go and beg for it. I saw this very clearly today, as I was taking my solitary walk, and it seemed to encourage me. When I acknowledge Jehovah as the God of all grace, I own that it is in Him and not in me, and that all I at any time have is His direct and sovereign gift.
You know me I trust too well to think I am one of those dry and dead Calvinists who abuse this truth to their own destruction, and who because a man has not a stock of grace are satisfied without any; no, I only know what grace is by feeling its operations and having it within. He who has it not in his heart will die in his sins.
May the Lord communicate to us out of His own fulness abundance of grace. May He work in us cries, sighs, breathings, groanings and wrestlings. May He give us a tender conscience, a contrite spirit, and a filial fear, and fill our souls with real humility, meekness, and godly sorrow, that we may be weaned children before Him. May we find and feel God stronger than we; and may His rich and abounding grace triumph over all our guilt, sin, and unbelief; yea, above all our continual lustings after those evil and soul-destroying things which God hateth.