Cambridge Terrace, May 5th, 1871
To them that watch at Wisdom's gates, and wait at the posts of her doors in Staining Lane Chapel.--I John, who am still the Lord's prisoner in bonds, once more greet you in His name, wishing you all grace, from the fountain-fullness of Him who is the source and spring of every blessing and good thing, temporal, spiritual, and eternal. Amen.
I have had such thoughts as the following pass through my mind, what is the use of my continuing to send you these scraps, as there is so much preaching everywhere? But there are two considerations that encourage me to persevere. First, I have been favored with a sense of the Lord's presence whilst inditing and dictating the matter; and you know our poet says:
"The way I walk cannot be wrong,
If Jesus be but there;"
and second, I have heard that some of my dear friends have been profited thereby. It is but a mite cast into the treasury. May the Lord of the harvest make such use of it as He pleases. I am watching and waiting to know what may be the will of my dear Lord and master concerning my future. If He is pleased to enable me, I shall come among you, whether expected or not.
I have been meditating a little on what is written in Malachi 3:6: "I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed."
We must not limit the 'sons of Jacob' to those who derive their natural being from him as a father; the whole church of Christ is intended, whether Jew or Gentile, all who, being Christ's are the spiritual seed of Abraham: "If ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:29). Paul, writing to the Galatian churches, who were Gentiles, says: "As many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). This agrees with Isaiah: "One shall say, I am the Lord's; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel" (Isaiah 44:5).
Who is there among the Israel of God, who has not often feared that he should be consumed altogether, by some enemy or other? It is profitable, when, like Moses, we are favored to turn aside and see that great sight, how it is that the bush burns, and is not consumed. This was a very significant figure, first, of literal Israel in Egyptian bondage, and secondly, of the whole spiritual family in their various afflictions, trials, etc.
Jehovah has been pleased to reveal Himself in the sacred Scriptures, as the only true, self-existent, and independent God, subsisting in a Trinity of Persons, having neither beginning nor end. Being underived and self-existent, He is necessarily without changeableness or shadow of turning. The Father is a distinct Person in the Godhead. He says: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God" (Psalm 90:2). The Son is the eternal I AM; and the Holy Spirit is a distinct Person in the Godhead, and is the eternal Spirit. "Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Corinthians 3:17). If the Holy Spirit had been called only the spirit or breath of the Lord, an influence or emanation from the Godhead might have been intended; but He is spoken of as a Person, distinct from the Father and the Son. Personal pronouns are applied to Him, which must mean more than an office, name, or character in the Godhead. The names by which the Holy Spirit is spoken of, are applied only to proper persons. "the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them" (Acts 13:2). And the Saviour says: "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13): As the Father is the Creator of all things, and the Son, so also the Holy Spirit. Elihu says: "The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life" (Job 33:4). Indeed, the whole Word of God is filled with testimonies concerning the Godhead and distinct Personality of the Holy Ghost. And as it is the Spirit of God who is the producer of the new creation as well as the old, it is absolutely necessary and essential that all the family of God should be firmly established, and at a point, respecting this greatest, this most sublime of all mysteries, a Trinity of Persons in the One indivisible Jehovah.
"I am the Lord; I change not." That is, no change ever did, or ever can, take place in the nature of His being, in the mode of His existence; nothing can be added to Him, or taken from Him. He can receive no increase of knowledge; for, "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18). Now, what He is in Himself, such is He in all His attributes and perfections. His will lies at the foundation of all that He does; and this will of His never did, and never can change. It respects all the sons of Jacob; that is, as before said, His whole church. He says: "and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people" (Hebrews 8:10): His I will and They shall are immutable. He willed to love Jacob and all his spiritual seed from everlasting; as it is written: "Jacob have I loved" (Romans 9:13). He loves all those whom He wills to love; and therefore, His love is unchangeable.
As connected with this everlasting love, is His foreknowledge of His Israel: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2) and His eternal choice of them: "Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away" (Isaiah 41:9). Because He changes not, His will, His love, His choice changes not; therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed.
It is the following things that threatened to consume the whole family of our spiritual Jacob. Every poor sinner saved by sovereign grace has a personal interest in them.
First, the sin of Adam must have finally destroyed all the spiritual seed of Jacob (for they were as truly the children of Adam as the rest of the world), if Jehovah had not been unchangeable in His will concerning them.
Secondly, each of us who have felt the evil of sin must be constrained to acknowledge, that his own corruption of nature, his own personal sin, must have consumed him, if the sparing, unchangeable mercy of God had not prevented it. And since we have been brought to know the Lord for ourselves, as a sin-pardoning God, we continually feel enough in self, in our own sinful propensities, to consume and swallow us up, if God was not unchangeable in His purposes of grace and favor towards us.
Thirdly, Satan would continually swallow us up, through the power of temptation working upon our corrupt and polluted nature, were not God unchangeable in His all-sufficient grace. Paul found this, when the Lord said to him: "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Fourthly, the many trials, troubles, and afflictions, which more or less attend the whole family of God all through their pilgrimage, must consume and swallow them up, if the Lord was not their unchangeable refuge. In proof of this, you may read almost the whole Bible. Job, David, Jeremiah, indeed all the saints, will each bear his own testimony to this truth.
Fifthly, if the Lord was not on our side, may Israel now say, when men rise up against us, they would swallow us up quick, when their wrath is kindled against us. The world would soon destroy the church, either by flattery or by persecution, by outward prosperity or adversity, by its smiles or its frowns, by its allurements or its menaces, if the Lord was not on the side of His people.
Yes, my dear friends, by one or all of these enemies, Jacob and his sons, and we amongst them, must have been swallowed up long ago, if our God was not the faithful, unchangeable Jehovah.
"I am the Lord; I change not." God is as unchangeable in respect of His justice as of His mercy. Unchangeable justice demands that every sinner should receive the just reward of his sins; and we know that the wages of sin is death, temporal, spiritual, and eternal. It also requires that every righteous person should receive the reward of inheritance, freely promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to their spiritual seed. Now, nothing short of the unchangeable love, wisdom, and power of the unchangeable Jehovah could ever have brought this about, that Divine justice should be on the side of God's Israel; because, as it has been already proved, all the sons of Jacob are sinners, in as full a sense as the rest of the world. But God has provided a Saviour, in the person of His dear Son, who undertook, as their Surety, to pay all the debts of the sons of Israel. He paid the debt of perfect obedience to the moral law, thereby becoming the Lord their Righteousness. This He could do, being Himself completely righteous, a just God and a Saviour; righteous in His Godhead, righteous in His manhood. As He is without sin, He did not need of Himself the perfect moral obedience which He rendered to the law, in that spotless life which He lived. He pleased the Father in everything. He said: "I delight to do Thy will, O my God; yea, Thy law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8) His love to God and man was perfect and complete; and love is the fulfilling of the law. This obedience of the Saviour, He freely bestows upon all the sons of Jacob. God the Father accepts it on their behalf, and imputes it to them. Blessed with this righteousness, the lost ruined sons of Jacob are in the sight of God as truly freed from sin as though they had never committed it.
This blessed Surety also paid the debt of suffering due to Divine justice from all the sinful sons of Jacob; and hence there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, (Romans 8:1) as their covenant Head and Surety, and who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; which walking is the effect of their being cleansed from the guilt of sin, by free, immutable grace: "Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14) And when any one of the sons of Jacob is, through Divine teaching, by an application of the law to his conscience, brought to confess from his heart before God that he is indeed a lost sinner, sooner or later he is sure to receive the knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of sins. It is written: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8,9)
Thus you see that the sentence of death, to which all the sons of Jacob were subject through sin, having been executed upon the Surety, and that perfect obedience which the law had a right to demand from them, having been rendered by Him, they, on that account, become perfectly righteous, even as God is righteous; for the righteousness of the God-man Mediator is their righteousness. It is freely imputed to them, and accepted by God for them. He has revealed it in the gospel, and makes it known to that faith which He produces in their hearts. It is to all, and upon all, them that believe. It is on this account that they are called "the righteous nation" (Isaiah 26:2) It is in this way that a just and holy God cleanses, pardons, acquits, and justifies all the sons of Jacob from their sins. Sin being thus removed, there remains no other hindrance to their receiving the reward of inheritance promised to righteous Abraham and his seed. It is written: "Thy people shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified" (Isaiah 60:21) God willed from all eternity that, whatever might happen in time, all the spiritual seed of Jacob should be righteous. This will could never be changed; I am the Lord; I change not: therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
What can consume or destroy them? Not their sins, their fears, their unbelief, the dangers to which they may be exposed, either from inward or outward foes. Surely nothing; for that Jehovah who changes not has said: "But Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation: they shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end" (Isaiah 45:17) The will of God, the purpose of God, the love of God, and the justice of God, all demand the everlasting welfare of the Israel of God.
Again: Because He says: "I am the Lord; I change not: therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed," therefore they are preserved from final destruction. This is further manifested by the several relations in which God condescends to reveal Himself towards the sons of Jacob. He is their God: "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations" (Exodus 3:15) And He changes not. He is their Father: "for I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn" (Jeremiah 31:9) He will never disown His children. They may, like the prodigal son, be suffered to wander far away from Him, but there is a time when He will bring every one of them back to Himself again, and say of each: "For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry" (Luke 15:24). and this because, as a Father, He changes not.
Again, it is said of the Saviour: "Thy Maker is thine Husband, the Lord of hosts is His name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall He be called" (Israel 54:5) He will never suffer this conjugal relation to change. Zion may say at times, in her fits of unbelief: "The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me" (Isaiah 49:14); but this is not true, for her Husband never changes in His kindness towards her. He loves her too dearly, she cost Him too much, for Him either to forget or neglect her. "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me" (Isaiah 49:15,16) And why? Because He is the unchangeable Jehovah, the same yesterday, representing the eternity that is past; today, which means the time-state; and for ever, the eternity that is to come.
Once more: He does not change with respect to His promises. He says: "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words" (that is, of prophecy and promise) "shall not pass away" (Matthew 24:35) As I have observed in a former letter, there are some of God's promises which are never fulfilled; that is, according to the interpretation put upon them by human wisdom: but then, all such promises are made conditionally. There are promises both conditional and unconditional. This is seen in respect of the land of Canaan, promises to Abraham and his seed according to the flesh. The gift was unconditional: "To thee will I give it, and to they seed after thee" (Genesis 35:12): but the promises that they should retain this gift was made to them conditionally. If they obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, they were to retain it for ever; but if they were disobedient, God said He would cast them out of it. The promise was made through Moses to the natural seed of Jacob, when they came out of the land of Egypt; but we are told that the Lord, having saved the people out of Egypt, afterwards destroyed them that believed not. God said that that generation should know His breach of promise. And yet God never changed His mind, nor altered His word; for He had never said that that generation should possess the land of promise, but that it should be given to the seed of Jacob. And this was punctually performed. For though that generation which believed not were cut off through their unbelief, their children who succeeded them realized the promise in all its fullness. They entered into that good land which their fathers despised; and God's longsuffering mercy was extended to future generations, even until all the promises made to Jacob and his sons were fulfilled in the advent of the Saviour, in whom they are all made. All the promises made to the spiritual sons of Jacob are unconditional, and therefore they must be accomplished, because He who made them is without variableness or shadow of turning.
Furthermore, the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Romans 11:29). Observe the Father's promise made to His dear Son, and to all His spiritual seed in Him: "As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My Spirit that is upon Thee, and my words which I have put in Thy mouth, shall not depart out of Thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of Thy seed, nor out of the mouth of Thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever" (Isaiah 59:21). It is the Holy Spirit who is the author of the whole work of grace in every saved sinner. And as it is promised that the Spirit shall never be taken away from Christ and His spiritual seed, so the good work which He begins in the saints must be continued even to the end. Our Lord said to the woman of Samaria: "But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst" (that is, for any other water); "but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14). The holy and ever-blessed Spirit, with all His saving operations, is here intended; and our Lord told His disciples: "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever" (John 14:16). Therefore, whatever fears may distress the hearts of those who are quickened into life, lest the work of the Lord in them should cease, through their own unbelief, the prevalence of sin, or the temptations of Satan; the immutability of God in His promises secures the perfecting of His work in the souls of all His regenerated family. It is because Jehovah changes not, that the work of grace can never cease where it is begun, until it is perfected in eternal glory. He that gives grace will crown it with glory. Gifts bestowed upon bond-servants may be withdrawn, but the inheritance of the children must and shall be theirs for ever. And why? Not through any merit in themselves, but because their Father is immutable. He is in one mind, and none can turn Him. It is this, and this alone, that secures the temporal, spiritual, and eternal welfare of all the saints. God's immutability is the foundation of all our hopes and expectations here and hereafter. Every poor, tried, tempted child of God is hereby encouraged to say:
"How can I sink with such a prop
And bears the world and all things up?"
--Yours affectionately in the Lord,