The gospel of Christ, described in the Scriptures, and published by every minister of the Spirit, becomes glad tidings to such, and only such as feel themselves condemned by the law and are made willing to be saved by sovereign grace. Until the Holy Spirit thus takes the sinner in hand, he cannot but trust to the works of the flesh for salvation, nor conceive of any better method for life than by obeying the moral law. In this state of vassalage he lives, if it can be called life; nor does he feel the chains which hold him fast; and he may be said to be alive without the law, unto whom the commandment never came in its killing power, spirituality, and vast extent. Hence he trusts to the letter of the law, and supposes, by virtue of his own patch-work obedience, to get safe to heaven at last. Unacquainted with the plague, barrenness, and depravity of human nature, he fancies himself a little sinner, and, of course, under no great obligation, if any, to Jesus Christ; therefore he is determined not to receive salvation upon gospel terms, at free cost, but labor for life, that so he may share the crown. This description is applicable, not only to the legal pharisee, but also to the gospel pharisee, or to the person under a gospel profession. Of the two characters, the latter is by far the worst, as he corrupts both law and gospel, and so fouls the water with the feet that the heaven-bound traveler is sometimes deprived of refreshment. We have a striking description of the latter in Acts 15:5, "But there rose up certain of the sect of the pharisees which believed, saying that it was needful to circumcise them, and command them to keep the law of Moses." But Peter, equipped with heavenly armor, displayed more wisdom and courage than in cutting off the high priest's servant's, ear, as appears in verses 10,11: "Now, therefore, why tempt ye God to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we are able to bear? But we believe that, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved even as they." And this home-thrust had the desired effect. From hence we learn that the most effectual way to suppress damnable errors is, to declare, in the plainest terms, the "word of the truth of the gospel," and give no place to those who err in judgment and stumble in vision, let their pretension be never so great to purity of motive. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:14) I make no doubt but a person of good natural parts may, by dint of study, attain a carnal knowledge of spiritual things; but the apostle will not allow such acquirements to be real knowledge; therefore he saith, "Neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
The eternal Spirit is that blessed Agent who delivers a sinner from a state of spiritual death; this will not be denied by the person translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son, though it may, and no doubt will be denied, by those whose minds are blinded by the god of this world, and who are led captive by the devil at his will.
The Spirit's power displayed in the regeneration of a sinner, forms a great part of the ministerial office; and that preacher cannot be considered a minister of the Spirit that does not insist on the necessity of the Spirit's power, in order to a proper understanding of the law's spirituality, the infinite evil of sin, or the Mediator's work. But many, very many such preachers there are, who, instead of doing the work of an evangelist, casting up the way for the heavy-laden sinner, and speaking a word in season to them that are weary, are doing the devil's work; casting stumbling-blocks in the way of God's people, and sending the free-born citizens of Zion to Moses' school for instruction in the "new and living way," as though the grace that is in Christ Jesus, received of him by the Spirit, and poured into the heart of a believer, were not sufficient to answer Zion's every purpose. "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." "The servant abideth not in the house for ever, but the Son abideth for ever. If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." "Being then made free from sin, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life."
It is manifest to every one blessed with a spiritual understanding of Jesus Christ, that the bulk of religious professors are utter strangers to the justifying righteousness of Immanuel, as also to the Spirit's marvelous work in the heart; and though they speak of comfortable frames and illuminations, it is only a vision of falsehood, and not the impressions of the Spirit of grace, which always lead the happy partaker to cleave with full purpose of heart unto Christ, as his "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." This fruit is produced in every regenerated child of God, and is the consequence and proof of his union unto Christ, the true Vine; but the barren tree, planted in God's vineyard, or the visible church, by mere profession, though he may put forth numerous branches, or make a fair show in the flesh, his "root shall be rottenness, and his blossom shall go up as dust." His leaf shall fade, and that shall be taken away which he "seemeth to have."
Now he may walk in the light of his own fire, and dance round the idol himself hath set up; may feed on the ashes of human applause, and drink with greediness the sweet but poisonous doctrines of human merit and self-sufficiency; but anon, when God shall make manifest the secrets of all hearts, his covering will be but as a spider's web; with all his profession he will then be found an enemy to Christ, and treated accordingly; the righteous sentence will be passed, and he will be driven into darkness. This is the portion of those that to the end despise the blood and righteousness of Immanuel.
Plymouth, October 29, 1808. HENRY FOWLER.