To a Young Man in Soul Difficulties

We have received a letter from a young Christian — a very poignant letter — who for some years had served the Lord with zeal, but who has been swept on a tide of doubts to the very verge of lost faith and hope. He writes of having "lost every tithe of enjoyment of the things of the Lord," and of "the barrenness and bitterness" of his life in consequence. The sovereignty of God as revealed in Romans 9, and eternal punishment are the questions over which he has stumbled, those will be taken up in due course in "Answers to Correspondents." This only we reveal of his letter, and give some answers to it, for it may be that others may be helped as well as he by them.

"My Dear brother,

"Your letter telling of the distress and darkness of soul into which you have fallen has reached me and I want to assure you of my sympathetic interest in you. First of all, who is the author of this condition in which you are? It is not God, darkness does not come from Him, for 'God is light'; distress does not come from Him, for He is the 'God of peace' and of 'all comfort'; barrenness and bitterness and loss of enjoyment do not come from Him, for He is the giving God, who not only gives the living water that the souls of men may be satisfied and happy, but considers them in every way, and gives 'to all life, breath and all things' (Acts 17:25), 'filling our hearts with food and gladness' (Acts 14:17). It is from Satan that this wretchedness has come. From the very beginning he has poisoned the minds of men by hard and false thoughts of God. 'The god of this world has blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine into them' (2 Cor. 4:4). It will help you if you discern this, your present misery is the work of an enemy, of the devil himself.

"But on your side there has been failure, you have failed to use the shield of faith. This is that part of our defensive armour that is most essential to our warfare, hence the Scripture says, "Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked" (Eph. 6:16). How can a soldier stand in an evil day if he is sorely wounded? You have been wounded by the fiery darts of the wicked one, and these fiery darts are still rankling in your soul.

"Two questions have to be faced: first, what was it that led up to your present condition? and, second, how can you be restored to spiritual health again? As to the first, I judge that you shouldered far more responsibility in Christian work than your spiritual experience warranted, and that you leaned on your own understanding and trusted your natural ability instead of turning wholly to God for wisdom and strength. I fear that you had not learnt the lesson of your own nothingness as Paul had when be cried, 'Who is sufficient for these things? …' Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; 'BUT OUR SUFFICIENCY IS OF GOD' (2 Cor. 2:8). This you ought to humbly confess to God, if it is so. All those who engage in the work of the Lord should remember that power from on high is necessary for it. To take up His work in independence of His grace and of His Spirit is really presumption, it is a slight to the Lord, it is injurious to us, and it gives Satan an opportunity that he is not slow to seize.

"It is an inexorable law that if our expenditure is greater than our income a crash must come, in matters financial it leads to the bankruptcy court, in matters physical it leads to overstrain, breakdown, and invalidism. Can we expect this law to be reversed in matters spiritual? Certainly not. Your barrenness and bitterness of soul is proof that it cannot be.

"Yet it is a mercy, a blessing disguised, that you have discovered this. You might have gone on with your work in a dead mechanical way, and the devil would have let you alone, for in that you would have served his purpose well, for you would have been no use to God and a hindrance to others, but you were too sincere for that, and the devil thought you worth his fiery darts. I do not think that I am wrong in saying that this deep exercise of soul and spiritual sickness is going to eventuate in great blessing to you. It certainly will if you learn by it to distrust yourself and your own ability, and exchange your fancied strength for the power and grace of the Lord.

If you are to be restored to spiritual health the enemy must be defeated and your wounds healed. He can only be defeated by the Word of God, and the same Word will be as oil and wine to you. 'I have written to you, young men, because ye are strong, and the Word of God abides in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one' (1 John 2:14). Let the Word of God fight the battle for you. You have used your own reason and failed, your carnal weapons are no use against Satan. But the Word will not fail, it is the sword of the Spirit. Do you think that God is less just than you? 'What shall we say then, Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid' (Rom. 9:14). Is He less compassionate than you? He has revealed Himself in Jesus, and He 'is rich to all that call upon Him' (Rom. 10:12). If He is sovereign, it is in compassion and mercy while judgment is His strange work. We may rejoice and be glad in the former, and leave the latter which we do not understand to Him who will do right in all things.

"Your darkness of soul cannot be greater than that of Simon's, who denied his Lord with oaths and curses. Was he cast off or forgotten by his Lord? No, Satan's triumph was short-lived. For we read that the disciples, in their astonishment at the turn events had taken, were saying to each other, 'The Lord is risen indeed and has appeared to Simon' (Luke 24). At first sight there seems very little correspondence between those two facts. The Lord is risen. That was the greatest event of all time, an event that reached up from the depth of death to the throne of God and out into an illimitable eternity, why should His appearance to Simon be coupled with it? Who was Simon? What was he worth, either as a man, a friend, or a disciple? He had shown himself to be altogether untrustworthy, as you have. Ah, but he was precious to the Lord, as you are! And He who had just DEMONSTRATED HIS GLORY by breaking the power of death, DISPLAYS HIS GRACE in appearing to His weak and bewildered disciple and binding up his broken heart. His power was enough to vanquish the greatest foe, and His grace was enough to meet the greatest failure. It was necessary that He should prove both, and He has done so.

"Now will you listen still to the voice of the enemy who has maligned God to you and robbed you of your joy, or will you permit the Lord to manifest Himself to you as the Great Physician who can heal your soul by His grace and restore you to His service again? Let the Lord's ways with Simon encourage you. When George Herbert was assailed by the foe with many questions, he cried, 'Do thou answer for me, O Lord.' Let this be your child-like and trustful attitude, and you will surely be able to sing, 'I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. I will call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies' (Ps. 18).

"Thus will you be strengthened and restored to your service, with a knowledge of the One whom you serve that you never had before. You will not think less of the needs and miseries of men, but your compassion for them will not spring from your own natural kindness of heart, though that will not be any the less, but it will flow from His heart of infinite love through you to them.

"Having proved Him for yourself in your own deep experience, you will be able to tell men out of that experience that the tenderest heart in the universe beats in the bosom of Jesus, who is the image of God, and that you know that He is enough for them, for you have proved Him to be enough for you. You will preach that God is love.'

"Yours sincerely in Christ,