Those who have any knowledge of the history of God’s work in souls will admit that there are two moments in the life of His children when the grace of God is paramount, and every other consideration is forgotten.
These are, first, the glad moment of conversion; and the other, that of departure to be “forever with the Lord.” In neither have the things of self any place; there is an absolute exclusion of all that might thus occupy the mind.
A sense of the supreme blessedness of the grace of God fills the heart. The world, with its attractions, its friendships, its pleasures, its snares and temptations, is at those times out of calculation.
At first the novelty and indescribable blessedness of God’s pardoning mercy, the knowledge of the cleansing virtue of the blood of Christ, and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, produce such intense joy that all else is eclipsed.
“No tongue can express
The sweet comfort and peace
Of a soul in its earliest love.”
is the experience of every soul at the moment of its conversion to God. Then, seemingly, at the time of departure for the presence of the Lord, the world has, of course, no further attraction; and while the soul may then review its course here, it gladly repudiates every element of merit in the good works which it may have been enabled to perform; because, in all of them, there must evidently have been an admixture of unfaithfulness and shortcoming.
It allows that in everything of the kind it has been unprofitable; it is then that the breadth of the Lord’s saving grace is proved beyond measure and deeply enjoyed.
It is quite true that deathbed experiences differ; but whatever the experiences, it is most happy for a dying saint to find his full consolation in the love of Christ, instead of his own blessing. Nevertheless it is the work of grace in any case, which gilds the bed of death. To depart and be with Christ constantly charmed the soul of the apostle, and a similar desire should animate our own.
But there is the interval between conversion and the end, whether it be death (that is but “sleep” for the Christian) or the coming of the Lord in person to take all His people home—an interval long or short, but which is the testing time for faith all the way through. It is then that we are commanded to “make our calling and election sure.” It is then that the whole of the word of God must be made good in the believer; and it is here that failure, alas, takes place.
Mark, the Christian starts on his wilderness journey in the possession of a settled relationship with God. He starts as a son. God is his Father; Christ on high is his life and righteousness; he is sealed with the Spirit. The relation is indefectible, and supremely blessed; hence he worships the Father continually. He is in true liberty. He awaits the coming again of the Lord. His power of holiness of life is the Spirit. All this is true of every child of God.
It might well be asked how, with such an investiture, there can be failure! If grace is so surpassing in its actings, how can the pilgrim possibly stumble on the road?
Just because he “walks by faith.” He is “not yet perfected.” He is dependent on God each step of the way. An independent believer is a contradiction in terms, though we have to own how ready we are to trust any one, or any thing, but the mighty Arm on which, after all, we do lean.
Now here it is that “appropriation” comes in; and the believer who appropriates most is clearly the best off in things divine. He is “rich toward God.” The land has been given him as a matter of grace; he places his foot upon it as one of appropriation. He makes his “calling and election sure.” And this is the work of the Spirit in him, and is profoundly important. Every precept, every command, every exhortation of Scripture has this inward work for its object. And yet these commands, however stringent, are in no wise legal. They educate the new nature, instead of repressing the old. They go to form Christ in us, so that His life may be expressed by us. Hence “the fruit of the Spirit,” in all its exquisite moral beauty, should characterize the Christian continually. Against such fruit there is no law.
Thus too “the Spirit is truth” inwardly just as Christ is the truth externally, and both are correlative. The subjective is the result of the objective.
In this way that which is true of the Christian judicially should be true of him practically.
Thus we can all thankfully say that “our old man was crucified with Christ,” and should be able to say, as the apostle could, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet, not I, but Christ lives in me”: and yet, alas, who of us can honestly write on his own life, “Not I, but Christ”? Do people see much of Christ in our words and ways?
Let us, beloved, evermore glory in the sovereign grace of God, which is the only spring of our blessing and eternal joy; but let us also seek, much more diligently, to appropriate, and possess, and hold, in spiritual vigour, all that God has given us.