Cambridge Terrace, April 21st, 1871
To all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, may grace, mercy, and peace be multiplied, through the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is a day in which most persons are seeking after knowledge; and this is very well, as far as it goes. But all human knowledge, whatever may be its measure and extent, must soon vanish away. It seems to me that there are two branches of Divine knowledge, which are essential to all who have any concern about their future and immortal state. The first is, that we should know ourselves as sinners, and the second, that we should know Christ as a Saviour. Perhaps some may be ready to say, According to this description, real, true knowledge is contained in a very small compass.--So it may appear to those who are not taught of God; but I believe it will be found at last that they, and only they, are truly wise, who know themselves as sinners, and Christ as a Saviour.
But are not these facts admitted by all who make any profession of religion? yea, few are so judicially hardened as to deny at least the first of these propositions. Most persons will admit that they are not so good as they should be, and therefore that they are necessarily sinners. But for one to know himself as a sinner, and Christ as his Saviour, in a scriptural sense, is far beyond that natural knowledge which has been already described.
Paul tells us that he was alive without the law once, and sin was dead; but that when the commandment came, sin revived, and he died: and further, that the law entered, first into the world, and then into his conscience personally, that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. When the law is thus applied to a sinner, and his conscience is made honest to receive it, he discovers that many acts which he is accustomed to perform, many things that he does, and much, very much, that he says, is sinful, that is, contrary to the commandments of God. This is a discovery made of outward transgression. But as the law is spiritual, and we are carnal, sold under sin, its light and power penetrate still deeper. It reaches to the thoughts and intents of the heart; and by little and little shows us that all outward sin is the result of a corrupt and polluted nature. This we derive from our common ancestor, Adam, who, through sinning himself, has communicated the universal taint or corruption to all mankind.
Now, all who are thus taught of God out of His righteous law are compelled to acknowledge with David: 'Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.' They find by sad experience that they cannot speak a word, think a good thought, conceive a good desire, or perform a good act. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint; from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, all is wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores. The plague of leprosy is within. Yet such persons may do many things gladly, according to the letter of Scripture; but they find what Job expressed to be true: 'If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean; yet shalt Thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.'
Many have been the remedies invented by man to help himself and his fellow-men in this utterly lost and undone condition; such as legal repentance, natural faith in the Scriptures, the performance of religious duties, reading, prayer, meditation, and attending the ordinances of God's house; also using every endeavor to be serviceable to men, to be useful in the world at large. But all these, and every other human invention, have been, and must ever be, found insufficient to help a poor ruined sinner. He can never be acquitted at God's righteous bar, nor in the court of his own conscience; because he is destitute of true spiritual obedience. He knows nothing of the weighty matters of the law, as judgment, mercy, faith, and the love of God. He labors hard to obey the precept, and is sincere in his endeavors; but by no human effort can he ever get the smallest particle of the love of God into his heart. For as the law condemns all his performances, they not springing from the love of God in his heart, he finds himself to be a hater of God, of His people, and of that full, free, sovereign grace, by which alone poor sinners can be saved. The wrath of God is revealed in the law from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. This naturally stirs up the carnal enmity of the sinner's heart against God, and thus the law worketh wrath.
But some will be ready to say, May not a sinner be saved, without passing through such a fiery ordeal?--It is quite certain that all the Lord's dear people do not experience the same depth of conviction, that they cannot all trace the various effects of the law, as above described, in their own hearts. But of one thing we are sure, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; that He is called Jesus, because He shall save His people from their sins. The discovery of sin is more gradual in the experience of some than of others of His people; though all must know through Divine teaching, sooner or later, in a greater or less degree, that they are sinners in the sight of God.
The doctrine of the universal defilement of mankind, of original sin, and of actual transgression as its necessary consequence, is clearly revealed in the Scriptures; and it may be, and often is, learned as matter of fact, when there is no experience of its soul-distressing effects. Saul could say, 'I have sinned, my son David;' and Pharaoh to Moses, 'I have sinned against the Lord, and against you.' Also Judas, 'I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.' But none of these felt compunction of spirit, loathing of self, on account of sin; there was no real repentance. They feared the consequences of sin, as to the punishment thereof, but never loathed themselves in their own sight on account of it. It is not the depth of conviction that always imparts to a sinner a true, feeling sense of his being a sinner. Much knowledge of the doctrines of the Bible, and among them the universal depravity of man, may be obtained by study, and by the outward means of grace; and yet there may be no humbling sight and sense of the evil of personal sin communicated.
When a sinner's mouth is stopped by the righteous sentence of God's Word, and he has no plea to urge in arrest of judgment, why the sentence should not be executed upon him, the Saviour will appear, standing at the right hand of the poor, to save him from all that would condemn his soul. This is often done by some gracious word of encouragement spoken home by Divine power to the distressed soul, or by some exceeding great and precious promise dropped, as it were, into the heart, or by the shining of a ray of light upon the Word of God, upon the sinner's experience and path, whereby some discovery is made of the willingness, suitableness, and all-sufficiency of the Saviour. Now the poor sinner begins to see that, though in such a wretched condition, his case is not beyond the reach of mercy; that it is not altogether impossible for him to be saved; and perhaps one of the first petitions he is enabled to offer up in faith may be something like the poor leper's, 'Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.' And, as Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever, He will condescend to make a similar reply: 'I will, be thou clean.' Now the doors of faith and hope are opened, and the seeking soul earnestly desires to be favored with further discoveries of this wonderful Saviour and His great salvation. And thus the Lord is pleased to carry on His own work.
The more the sinner knows of Christ as a Saviour, the more will he know of himself as a sinner. Though the pardon of sin purges the conscience from its guilt, subdues the reigning power of sin in the will, and casts out the love of it from the affections, yet it still remains within. Indwelling sin continues to distress the pardoned sinner all his days; as Paul declares at large in Rom. 7. And thus we find that a sight and sense of sin deepens, as the Lord is pleased to lead us on in His way. If sin is pardoned, we can never forget that we are sinners. When the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when, as he said, his eye saw God, then he was constrained to abhor himself, and repent in dust and ashes. So every gracious manifestation that the Lord condescends to favor us with, of His pardoning love, pity, and compassion, leads us into a deeper sense of our own unworthiness.
When under the law, all our sin was committed against a just and holy God; but when sin is pardoned, and we are raised to a hope in His mercy, when we have been indulged with communion and fellowship with Himself, when He has made known His secret love to us, and we have been enabled to lay open our whole heart before Him; and yet we still find that in us, that is, in our flesh, dwelleth no good thing, that sin continues to work in us, this makes sin appear exceeding sinful indeed, because it is sinning against light and love; it is dishonoring to the Saviour, it grieves the Holy Spirit of God, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption, suspends communion, separates between God and our souls, and often produces hard thoughts of God, who is our best and only Friend, nourishes unbelief, and, in a word, makes us as miserable in ourselves as can be.
I think Paul's experience had been much like this when he said: 'This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.' If I may so express it, it is gospel sinners, or those who sin under the gospel, that is, those who have experienced its saving efficacy, who are the chief of sinners.
Now, my dear friends, in this sense I know myself to be a sinner, and I dare say many of you can say the same. Should the contents of this paper ever be made known to any who have not felt the evil of sin, nor the plague of their own heart, and consequently have never been grieved on account of their own sin, or the sin of others, let them know that they are alike unacquainted with Christ as a Saviour. Such may admit the general fact that all are sinners, because it is written that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, but they are unacquainted with personal sin. They know not that the thought of foolishness is sin; nor that a proud, covetous, impenitent heart, a self-righteous spirit, a stubborn will, a lying tongue, and an evil eye,--that all these are sin. These have not yet known the Saviour, so as to be touched with compunction for His sorrow, or to grieve over His sufferings or the afflictions of His tried people. Depend upon it, a knowledge of personal sin, more or less, always precedes the true knowledge of Christ as a Saviour.
It is possible to know Christ as a Saviour in theory only; but for a sinner to know Christ as his Saviour differs from this altogether. Do all sinners know Christ as a Saviour? I answer, They do not; because there are some who perish in their sins. Judas knew in theory that Christ was a Saviour, but he never knew Him as his Saviour.
How then are those sinners distinguished in Scripture, from others, who are in just judgment suffered to die in their sins? I answer that they were given by the Father in the covenant of grace from all eternity to His dear Son, to be saved by Him; as Himself says: 'Thine they were, and Thou gavest them me.' But then, this is a secret transaction: how is it made manifest in time? According to Scripture, all that were thus given to Christ shall come to Him; as it is written: 'All that the Father giveth me shall come to me'--not, may come, but, shall come. God makes them willing in the day of His power. As the Bridegroom betrothed the church to Himself from everlasting, so in time every member of that church is constrained to come to Christ, to give himself to Christ, as a woman gives herself to her husband, and to follow Him. So that whatever fears, or doubts, or misgivings of heart may at any time distress a poor sinner, who is thus enabled to come to Christ for the pardon of sin, such a poor sinner never was, and never shall be, cast out by Him.
The Saviour said to the poor paralytic who was brought by others, and laid before Him: 'Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.' Yes, some poor sinner may be ready to reply, if I could hear the Saviour speak such a word to me, then I should know indeed that my sins were forgiven me: this is what I have been long looking for, watching at Wisdom's gates, and waiting at the posts of her doors.--You may never hear such words spoken to you by the Saviour in an articulate manner; but remember that where the word of a King is, there is power. It is that power which attends the Saviour's word, that must assure your heart and mine that our sins are forgiven us for His name's sake. This is often a very gradual work. We sometimes rise in hope, then sink in fear; almost believe, then call it in question again. Sometimes the Saviour shines upon us, and in our hearts, as the Sun of righteousness, then again withholds the light of His countenance. He hides His face, and we are troubled.
This knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins, or knowledge of Christ as our Saviour, differs from all other kinds of knowledge. If we attain to the knowledge of anything that is temporal, say, of science, or mechanics, or anything else that is common to the intellect of man, such attainment is permanent; there is no going back: what a man knows, he does know. But the knowledge of which we are treating differs from all other knowledge, in this respect, that it stands not in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God. Those who are favored with it may not be left to call in question any truth contained in the Bible, and yet they may be deeply exercised about their own interest in God's salvation. When the Saviour condescends to show a smiling face, to speak a gracious and encouraging word, to admit us to near communion with Himself, we can indeed believe that our sins are forgiven us. According to John, even little children in Divine grace may know this, as he says: 'I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake.'
Perhaps some may be ready to say that this is trusting to frames and feelings; that we should rather trust the Saviour when and where we cannot trace Him. Well, I desire to be favored with such a confiding faith; and yet I would rather, if it were the Lord's gracious will, be blessed with a faith that can so pierce through any dark cloud that separates between me and Him, as to behold Him; such a faith as can bring distant things near, being the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. To trust the Saviour at a distance is a great favor; but so to believe in Him as to bring Him into our very heart, soul, and affections, is a greater. I know that I cannot attain to this myself, any more than I could at first believe, until the Saviour was pleased to say: 'Stretch forth thine hand of faith;' and I know that He who began this good work has power sufficient to perfect it, and therefore I labor in spirit after it.
Our spiritual life is a complete riddle. We can of ourselves do nothing, and yet we are laborers together with Him. Faith is His gift, but we believe. He circumcises our hearts to love Him, yea, He sheds abroad His own love in your hearts, and the result is that we love Him.
To know the Saviour as ours, is to be known of Him. He says: 'I know my sheep, and am known of mine.' We know His voice, and He knows our cry. He seeks after His sheep, that is, after poor, lost, ruined, undone sinners, by the word of the gospel; and they seek to know Him as their Saviour. Paul knew the Lord already when he said: 'That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death.' You and I, my dear friends, must, through Divine teaching, possess this knowledge in some small measure, or we shall never have any right ideas about it, or value it. It often seems to human reason to be a complete contradiction--to know, and not to know; that is, to hope and believe that Christ is indeed our Saviour, and that our sins are, and shall be, forgiven for His name's sake, and yet to tremble, fear, and quake, lest it should not be so. A natural man, whatever may be his attainments in human knowledge, can never receive or understand this. It is hid from the wise and prudent of this world, and yet it is revealed even to babes in Divine grace.
Do not fear, poor, miserable, uncomfortable, dissatisfied soul; if you want something, and you do not at present know exactly what, wait upon God, both in private and public, and He will in His own time be found of you; for He says: 'Those that seek me early shall find me.' And when He condescends to come, He will make all right, and show you that He has been emptying you, as to all creature comforts and enjoyments, in order to make way for a true discovery of your real state as a sinner. And depend upon it, if He leads you to feel, and know, and mourn over this, He will in His own time reveal Himself in your heart as your Saviour. This is real personal religion.
It is thus that thousands of Adam's fallen race have been, and are brought, each one to know himself as a sinner, and also to know Christ as his Saviour, who says: 'This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.' All Zion's children are taught of the Lord; and the Saviour says: 'Every man that hath heard and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me;' and, 'Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.' Therefore if you are a coming sinner, you shall surely be a saved sinner. This going and coming, that is, Christ's coming to us, and our going to Him, is truly wonderful. Those who are favored to know something about it, will at times be lost and absorbed in admiration, wonder, and delight, at God's unspeakable mercy.
But, blessed be God! there is a state before us, in which all who know themselves as sinners, and Christ as a Saviour, shall for ever cease to experience any of the effects of sin. It shall not only be swallowed up, but for ever blotted out. Sin and death shall be swallowed up in victory; but Christ and His great salvation shall eternally fill every faculty of the soul, heart, affections, mind, and memory. Nothing will or shall be known but Christ, in all His fullness of covenant relation as a Saviour. We shall be filled with Him, so as to be like Him, body, soul, and spirit. I believe we shall know ourselves only as we are in Christ. If the saints could remember sin in heaven, it seems to me as if it would, as it were, cast a shade over that glorious view which will admit nothing to be seen but itself, and that is Christ. Christ will be not only all, but in all, in such an unspeakable sense as to shut out for ever everything but Himself.
And this, my dear friends, is what we want, and are seeking after here in some small measure, that we may have such a view of Christ in our salvation, as to see and know nothing of ourselves, nothing else.
Yours affectionately in the Lord, John Hobbs