THE FOLLY, MISERY, GUILT, AND DANGER OF SECRET SINS

Taken and adapted from a sermon delivered on Sabbath morning, February 8, 1857, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.
Written by, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

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“Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.”
—Psalm 19:12

I AM going after a certain class of men who have sins not unknown to themselves…

…but secret to their fellow creatures. Every now and then, we turn up a fair stone that lies upon the green earth of the professing church, surrounded with the healthiness of apparent goodness; and to our astonishment, we find beneath it all kinds of filthy insects and loathsome reptiles. In our disgust at such hypocrisy, we are driven to exclaim, “All men are liars; there are none in whom we can put any trust at all!” It is not fair to say so of all, but really, the discoveries that are made of the insincerity of our fellow-creatures are enough to make us despise our kind because they can go so far in appearances, yet have so little soundness of heart. To you, sirs, who sin secretly and yet make a profession: you break God’s covenants in the dark and wear a mask of goodness in the light—to you, sirs, who shut the doors and commit wickedness in secret—to you I shall speak this morning. O may God also be pleased to speak to you and make you pray this prayer: “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” I shall endeavor to urge upon all pretenders present to give up, to renounce, to detest, to hate, to abhor all their secret sins.

FIRST, THEN, THE FOLLY OF SECRET SINS.

Pretender, thou art fair to look upon—thy conduct outwardly upright, amiable, liberal, generous, and Christian. But thou dost indulge in some sin that the eye of man has not yet detected. Perhaps it is private drunkenness. Thou dost revile the drunkard when he staggers through the street; but thou canst thyself indulge in the same habit in private. It may be some other lust or vice. It is not for me just now to mention what it is. But, pretender, we say unto thee, “Thou art a fool to think of harboring a secret sin, and thou art a fool for this one reason: thy sin is not a secret sin. It is known and shall one day be revealed—perhaps very soon. Thy sin is not a secret: the eye of God hath seen it. Thou hast sinned before His face. Thou hast shut-to the door, drawn the curtains, and kept out the eye of the sun. But God’s eye pierceth through the darkness: the brick walls that surrounded thee were as transparent as glass to the eye of the Almighty. The darkness that did gird thee was as bright as the summer’s noon to the eye of Him Who beholdeth all things. Knowest thou not, O man, that “all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13)?

As the priest ran his knife into the entrails of his victim, discovered the heart and liver and what else did lie within, so art thou, O man, seen by God, cut open by the Almighty. Thou hast no secret chamber where thou canst hide thyself. Thou hast no dark cellar where thou canst conceal thy soul. Dig deep, ay, deep as hell, but thou canst not find earth enough upon the globe to cover thy sin. If thou should heap the mountains on its grave, those mountains would tell the tale of what was buried in their bowels. If thou could cast thy sin into the sea, a thousand babbling waves would tell the secret out. There is no hiding it from God! Thy sin is photographed in high heaven. The deed, when it was done, was photographed upon the sky; and there it shall remain. Thou shalt see thyself one day revealed to the gazing eyes of all men—a hypocrite, a pretender who didst sin in fancied secret, observed in all thine acts by the all-seeing Jehovah. O what fools men are to think they can do anything in secret! This world is as the glass hives wherein bees sometimes work: we look down upon them, and we see all the operations of the little creatures. So God looks down and sees all our eyes are weak: we cannot look through the darkness. But His eye, like an orb of fire, penetrates the blackness, reads the thought of man, and sees his acts when he thinks himself most concealed. Oh, it is a thought enough to curb us from all sin if it were truly applied to us: “Thou God seest me” (Gen 16:13)!

Stop thief! Drop thou that which thou hast taken to thyself. God sees thee! No eye of detection of earth hath discovered thee, but God’s eyes are now looking through the clouds upon thee. Swearer! Scarce any for whom thou carest heard thy oath; but God heard it. It entered into the ears of the Lord God of Hosts. And [thee] who leads a filthy life and yet art a respectable merchant bearing among men a fair and goodly character: thy vices are all known, written in God’s book. He keeps a diary of all thine acts. What wilt thou think on that Day when a crowd shall be assembled, compared with which this immense multitude is but a drop of a bucket? God shall read out the story of thy secret life, and men and angels shall hear it! Certain I am there are none of us who would like to have all our secrets read, especially our secret thoughts. If I should select out of this congregation the most holy man, should bring him forward, and say, “Now, sir, I know all your thoughts and am about to tell them,” I am sure he would offer me the largest bribe that he could gather if I would be pleased to conceal at least some of them. “Tell,” he would say, “of my acts; of them I am not ashamed; but do not tell my thoughts and imaginations—of them I must ever stand ashamed before God.” What then, sinner, will be thy shame when thy privy lusts, thy closet transgressions, thy secret crimes shall be trumpeted from God’s throne, [and] published by His own mouth with a voice louder than a thousand thunders preached in the ears of an assembled world? What will be thy terror and confusion then, when all the deeds thou hast done shall be published in the face of the sun, in the ears of all mankind? O renounce the foolish hope of heresy; for thy sin is this day recorded and shall one day be advertised upon the walls of heaven.

IN THE NEXT PLACE, LET US NOTICE THE MISERY OF SECRET SINS.

Of all sinners, the man who makes a profession of religion and yet lives in iniquity is the most miserable. A downright wicked man who takes a glass in his hand and says, “I am a drunkard. I am not ashamed of it,” shall be unutterably miserable in worlds to come. But brief though it be, he has his hour of pleasure. A man who curses and swears and says, “That is my habit. I am a profane man,” and makes a profession of it, he has, at least, some peace in his soul. But the man who walks with God’s minister, who is united with God’s Church, who comes out before God’s people and unites with them, and then lives in sin—what a miserable existence he must have of it! Why, he has a worse existence than the mouse that is in the parlor, running out now and then to pick up the crumbs, and then back again to his hole. Such men must run out now and then to sin. Oh! How fearful they are to be discovered! One day, perhaps, their character turns up; with wonderful cunning, they manage to conceal and gloss it over. But the next day something else comes, and they live in constant fear, telling lie after lie to make the last lie appear truthful, adding deception to deception in order that they may not be discovered…

If I must be a wicked man, give me the life of a roistering sinner who sins before the face of day. But, if I must sin, let me not act as a hypocrite and a coward! Let me not profess to be God’s and spend my life for the devil. That way of cheating the devil is a thing that every honest sinner will be ashamed of. He will say, “Now, if I do serve [the devil], I will serve him out and out. I will have no sham about it. If I make a profession [of Christ], I will carry it out. But if I do not—if I live in sin—I am not going to gloss it over by cant and hypocrisy.” One thing that has hamstrung the Church and cut her very sinews in twain has been this most damnable hypocrisy. Oh! In how many places have we men whom you might praise to the very skies, if you could believe their words, but whom you might cast into the nethermost pit if you could see their secret actions! God forgive any of you who are so acting! I had almost said, “I can scarce forgive you.” I can forgive the man who riots openly and makes no profession of being better. But the man who fawns, cants, pretends, prays, and then lives in sin, that man I hate—I cannot bear him, I abhor him from my very soul. If he will turn from his ways, I will love him. But in his hypocrisy, he is to me the most loathsome of all creatures…A mere profession, my hearers, is but painted pageantry to go to hell in! It is like the plumes upon the hearse and the trappings upon the black horses that drag men to their graves, the funeral array of dead souls. Take heed above everything of a waxen profession that will not stand the sun. Take care of all that needs to have two faces to carry it out: be one thing or else the other. If you make up your mind to serve Satan, do not pretend to serve God! If you serve God, serve Him with all your heart. “No man can serve two masters” (Mat 6:24). Do not try it; do not endeavor to do it, for no life will be more miserable than that. Above all, beware of committing acts that it will be necessary to conceal…

Secret sins bring fevered eyes and sleepless nights until men burn out their consciences and become in very deed ripe for the pit. Hypocrisy is a hard game to play at: it is one deceiver against many observers; [certainly] it is a miserable trade that will earn at last, as its certain climax, a tremendous bankruptcy. Ah! Ye who have sinned without discovery, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23); and bethink you, it may find you out ere long. Sin, like murder, will come out. Men will even tell tales about themselves in their dreams. God has sometimes made men so pricked in their consciences that they have been obliged to stand forth and confess the story. Secret sinner! If thou wantest the foretaste of damnation upon earth, continue in thy secret sin! For no man is more miserable than he who sins secretly and yet tries to preserve a character. Yon stag, followed by the hungry hounds with open mouths, is far happier than the man who is followed by his sins. Yon bird, taken in the fowler’s net and laboring to escape, is far happier than he who hath weaved around himself a web of deception and labors to escape from it day by day by making the toils more thick and the web stronger. Oh! The misery of secret sins! Truly, one may pray, “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.”

BUT NOW…THE SOLEMN GUILT OF SECRET SIN.

Now, John, you do not think there is any evil in a thing unless somebody sees it, do you? You feel that it is a very great sin if your master finds you out in robbing the till; but there is no sin if he should not discover it—none at all! And you, sir, you fancy it to be very great sin to play a trick in trade, [if] you should be discovered and brought before the court. But to play a trick and never be discovered—that is all fair. “Do not say a word about it, Mr. Spurgeon! It is all business.” You must not touch business. Tricks that are not discovered, of course—you are not to find fault with them. The common measure of sin is the notoriety of it. But I do not believe in that. A sin is a sin, whether done in private or before the wide world…Do not measure sin by what other people say of it. Measure sin by what God says of it and [by] what your own conscience says of it…

Brethren, do not, I beseech you, incur the fearful guilt of secret sins. No man can sin a little in secret: it will certainly engender more sin. No man can be a hypocrite and yet be moderate in guilt. He will go from bad to worse and still proceed until his guilt shall be published. He shall be found to be the very worst and the most hardened of men. Take heed of the guilt of secret sin…“Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:24). I would…that I could make every man look to himself and find out his secret sin. Come, my hearer, what is it? Bring it forth to the daylight. Perhaps it will die in the light of the sun. These things love not to be discovered. Tell thine own conscience now what it is. Look it in the face! Confess it before God! And may He give thee grace to remove that sin and every other. Turn to Him with full purpose of heart. But know that thy guilt is guilt, [whether] discovered or undiscovered. If there be any difference, it is worse because it has been secret. God save us from the guilt of secret sin! “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.”

AND NOTE, NEXT, THE DANGER OF SECRET SIN.

One danger is that a man cannot commit a little sin in secret without being by-and-by betrayed into a public sin. You cannot, sir—though you may think you can—preserve a moderation in sin. If you commit one sin, it is like the melting of the lower glacier upon the Alps: the others must follow in time. As certainly as you heap one stone upon the grave today, the next day you will cast another, until the heap, reared stone by stone, shall become a very pyramid…Sin cannot be held in with bit and bridle. “But I am going to have a little drink now and then; I am only going to be intoxicated once a week or so. Nobody will see it; I shall be in bed directly.” You will be drunk in the streets soon. “I am only just going to read one lascivious book; I will put it under the sofa-cover when any one comes in.” You will keep it in your library yet, sir. “I am only going into that company now and then.” You will go there every day—such is the bewitching character of it. You cannot help it. You may as well ask the lion to let you put your head into his mouth. You cannot regulate his jaws; neither can you regulate sin. Once go into it, you cannot tell when you will be destroyed…You may labor to conceal your vicious habit, but it will come out. You cannot help it. You keep your little pet sin at home, but mark this: when the door is ajar, the dog will be out in the street. Wrap him up in your bosom, put over him fold after fold of hypocrisy to keep him secret, and the wretch will be singing some day when you are in company…

A man who indulges in sin privately gets his forehead as hard as brass by degrees. The first time he sinned, the drops of sweat stood on his brow at the recollection of what he had done. The second time, no hot sweat [stood] on his brow, only an agitation of the muscle. The third time, there was the sly, sneaky look, but no agitation. The next time, he sinned a little further. And by degrees, he became the bold blasphemer of his God, who exclaimed, “Who am I that I should fear Jehovah, and who is He that I should serve Him?” Men go from bad to worse. Launch your boat in the current: it must go where the current takes it. Put yourself in the whirlwind: you are but a straw in the wind; you must go which way the wind carries you, for you cannot control yourself. The balloon can mount, but it cannot direct its course: it must go whichever way the wind blows. If you once mount into sin, there is no stopping. Take heed if you would not become the worst of characters! Take heed of the little sins: they, mounting one upon another, may at last heave you from the summit and destroy your soul forever. There is a great danger in secret sins.

But I have here some true Christians who indulge in secret sins. They say it is but a little one, and therefore do they spare it. Dear brethren, I speak to you, and I speak to myself when I say this: Let us destroy all our little secret sins. They are called “little”; and if they be, let us remember that it is the foxes, even the little foxes that spoil our vines (Song of Solomon 2:15). For our vines have tender shoots. Let us take heed of our little sins. A little sin, like a little pebble in the shoe, will make a traveler to heaven walk very wearily. Little sins, like little thieves, may open the door to greater ones outside. Christians, recollect that little sins will spoil your communion with Christ. Little sins, like little stains in silk, may damage the fine texture of fellowship. Little sins, like little irregularities in the machinery, may spoil the whole fabric of your religion. The one dead fly spoileth the whole pot of ointment. That one thistle may seed a continent with noxious weeds. Let us, brethren, kill our sins as often as we can find them. One said, “The heart is full of unclean birds; it is a cage of them.” “Ah, but,” said another divine, “you must not make that an apology, for a Christian’s business is to wring their necks.” And so it is: if there be evil things [in the heart], it is our business to kill them. Christians must not tolerate secret sins. We must not harbor traitors. It is high treason against the King of Heaven. Let us drag them out to light and offer them upon the altar, giving up the dearest of our secret sins at the will and bidding of God. There is a great danger in a little secret sin. Therefore avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it and shun it (Pro 4:15); and God give thee grace to overcome it.

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Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892): English Baptist preacher; his sermons fill 63 volumes and include 20–25 million words, the largest set of books by a single author in the history of Christianity; born at Kelvedon, Essex, England.

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Take heed of secret sins. They will undo thee if loved and maintained: one moth may spoil the garment; one leak drown the ship; a penknife stab will kill a man as well as a sword. So one sin may damn the soul.—Jeremiah Burroughs

Lifting up the Serpent

Taken and adapted from, “On the Historical Types Contained in the Old Testament” Twenty Discourses Preached before the University of Cambridge in the Year 1926.
Written by, Temple Chevallier

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The Lord said to Moses, Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. –Numbers 21:8-9

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. — John 3:14-17

When we consider those historical types of Christ…

…which are mentioned in Scripture, and corroborated by prophecies, delivered before the appearance of the antitype, and subsequently fulfilled, we may now turn to those typical persons and events, which are ratified by the completion of prophecy, delivered by him who prefers a claim to the character of the antitype.

One prominent event of this nature, is the erection of the brazen serpent by Moses. The existence of a pre-concerted connection between two series of events may be revealed with various degrees of precision. Their mutual relation may be so strongly marked, and so plainly asserted, that no one who believes the authority of the writings, in which they are recorded, can doubt its reality.

The history of the brazen serpent is well known. When the time appointed for the wandering of the Israelites, in the wilderness, had nearly expired, the murmuring of the people, which had long been directed against Moses and his family, at length broke out into open rebellion against the Most High. “They journeyed from mount Hor, by the way of the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom,” through which they had in vain attempted to procure a passage. Their steps were thus turned once more from the promised land of Canaan; “and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, saying, wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water, and our soul loatheth this light bread.” Their impiety was soon visited with a special judgment. “The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people: and much people of Israel died,” Therefore the people, “terrified at the fearful visitation, “came to Moses and said, we have sinned: for we have spoken against the Lord and against thee: pray unto the Lord that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, “in form and color like those which had been the instruments producing the plague, “and set it upon a pole,” or, perhaps, set it up for a sign: “And it shall come to pass, that everyone that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.

And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole: and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.”

Such is the simple and brief narration of this miraculous event. Of the fact itself, there can be no doubt. Many experienced the salutary effects in the healing of their deadly wounds: and thousands were witnesses of its efficacy.

The brazen serpent itself was, for many centuries, preserved among the people as a memorial of the event. Neither can there be any doubt, that the cure was supernatural. The Jews themselves well knew, that the effect was not produced, as has been fancifully asserted, by any subtle incantation, nor by any human art, but by the power of God alone. They regarded the serpent as “a sign of salvation, to put them in remembrance of the commandment of the law.”

For they knew that “he that turned himself toward it was not saved by the thing that he saw, but by Him who is the Savior of all.’ Some of them, calling to mind the various promises, which had been made of old time to their fathers, instructed to look for that seed of the woman, which should bruise the serpent’s head, deeply feeling, in their own hearts, their need of a physician, who should heal them of the plague of sin, knowing how strictly the Israelites were forbidden to make any image, and yet that Moses was expressly commanded to make this might even regard the serpent in the same light in which many of the Jews have since regarded it, as a sacramental emblem of some higher blessing, which it prefigured. But no intimation occurs in the canonical Scriptures of the Old Testament, that the miracle had a designed reference to any subsequent event. From the day in which Hezekiah destroyed the image, and called it Nehushtan, a brazen bauble, we read no more of that serpent, until the day when Christ Jesus held his conference with Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.

On that memorable occasion, he discoursed on subjects of the deepest interest. Founding his instruction on the acknowledged authority of those miracles, which proved him to be a teacher come from God, Christ opened to the astonished ears of the teacher of Israel, the wonders of the spiritual world. The necessity of a new birth, the difference between that which is born of the flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit, were laid down with the accuracy of perfect knowledge. Christ claimed to himself a degree of wisdom and power, to which no mere man could ever pretend.

Nicodemus was no stranger to the emphatic question proposed by Agur, “Who hath ascended up into heaven or descended? Who hath gathered the wind in his fists? Who hath bound the waters in a garment? Who hath established all the ends of the earth? What is his name and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell?” ‘But such knowledge was too excellent for unassisted reason to attain. The question remained a hard saying which none could answer, until Christ then declared, that “no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man, which is in heaven.”

Having thus laid the sure grounds on which his high commission rested. Christ proceeds to speak, in the spirit of prophecy, of the causes which the mercy of God has rendered efficacious for the salvation of fallen man; the meritorious cause, his own sufferings and death, and the instrumental cause, sincere faith in those to whom the doctrine is propounded. Christ conveys this instruction to Nicodemus, by referring to the erection of the brazen serpent. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Here, then, we find one, acknowledged to be a teacher come from God, in the beginning of his ministry, instructing a disciple well learned in all the customs and history of the Jews, by the delivery of a prophecy, the completion of which depended upon the similarity between the things which he was to suffer, and a wonderful and notorious event in the previous history of the Jewish nation. And in this prophetic assertion, two distinct circumstances of resemblance are pointed out; the outward act; the lifting up of the Son of man, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness; and the benefit, which the free mercy of God extended to those who looked with faith upon this symbol of salvation.

The words in which the first part of this prophecy is expressed, are sufficiently clear to prevent any ambiguity in the application of them. The term, “to lift up,” re-applied to the death of the cross, was so frequently used in that sense that it’s meaning here cannot be mistaken: but being a figurative expression, it possessed precisely the degree of uncertainty which would prevent its exact signification from being known, until interpreted by the event. On two other occasions, our Savior employed the same words for the same purpose. He preferred the Jews for a more perfect knowledge of his mission, to the time when they should have “lifted up the Son of man.” And at another time he declared, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” And “this we know” he said, “signifying what death he should die.” “When, therefore, Christ said, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up,” he declared it to be determined in the Divine counsels, that he, who alone had come down from heaven, “who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” had now made himself of no reputation, and taken upon himself the form of a servant, and had been made in the likeness of man: and that, being found in fashion as a man, he should humble himself, and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Every man, who has read the undisputed narratives of the evangelists, corroborated by the testimony even of their adversaries, knows how accurately this prediction was accomplished by the crucifixion of Christ. The resemblance between the two events, the lifting up of the serpent, and the lifting up of the Son of man, was perfect.

Still it was a resemblance, which a mere conjecture of Christ could hardly have devised; and which no sagacity could have anticipated, when the first event occurred; even if the general circumstances of the second event could have been contemplated.

If an Israelite had conceived the idea of a prophet exciting the animosity of his countrymen, so as at length to be put to death at their instigation, the lifting up of the serpent would have conveyed to others no adequate notion of such a transaction. The fulfilment implied a most important political change. Crucifixion was not a Jewish, but a Roman, punishment. If Christ were guilty of blasphemy, of which they afterwards accused him, they had a law, and by that law he ought to die. But death for such a crime would be inflicted by stoning. It had been revealed, however, in the prophets and in the law, that the Messiah should suffer death upon the cross: and the fate of empires was so ordered as to complete the designs of Divine wisdom. And Christ himself, to whom the Spirit was given without measure, knew from the beginning all things which must be fulfilled: and what he foresaw he also foretold.

He knew, and he declared, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and chief priests, and scribes: that they should condemn him to death, and “deliver him to the Gentiles, to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him.” ‘And with full consciousness of this termination of his earthly ministry, he declared to Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”

The prophecy, thus delivered by Christ, appears also to illustrate the previous narrative of the sacred volume. There seems to be no assignable connection, between the lifting up of a brazen serpent, and the cure of those who had been bitten. It is not necessary to suppose, as some have done, that looking upon the serpent of brass would have naturally aggravated the deadly symptoms. But it is evident, that to cast a look upon such a representation had no intrinsic effect in producing the cure. To account for the benefit received, it might be sufficient to refer to the uncontrollable will of God, who will have mercy upon whom he will have mercy, by the means which his sovereign wisdom dictates. But it has pleased him, even in his miraculous acts, often to render his ways in some degree visible and intelligible; to work by means, to which He has attached some ordinary efficacy. To purify the waters of Marah by casting into them a tree, or those of Jericho by infusing salt; to heal a leprosy by washing in the waters of Jordan, or a grievous boil by the application of a vegetable preparation, were all instances, among many others, in which the immediate power of God was exhibited by preternaturally augmenting the effect of the natural means employed. Upon other occasions, the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man was immediately answered, by the cure of the sick, or the restoration of the dead to life: the blessing, ordinarily promised to the prayer of faith, being thus increased, and bestowed in an extraordinary manner. But in the desert it pleased the Almighty to appoint an instrument, which in itself had manifestly no influence in producing the cure.

The thing which the wounded Israelites saw could never save them.

If the serpent had no reference to any future event, there is no apparent connection between the means and the end. If we conceive it to have designedly prefigured the lifting up of Christ upon the cross, this connection is supplied. Although they who were bitten could not be cured by the thing which they saw, they might be, and on this supposition they were, cured by Him who is the Savior of all.

From the mode, then, in which Christ mentions the mention of the brazen serpent, from the manner in which the very peculiar prophecy of his own death is connected with it, from the accurate resemblance in the external circumstances, and from the absence of all other assignable connection between the means employed and the cure effected, it seems highly probable, that the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness was intended to prefigure the lifting up of the Son of man.

The conclusion, thus deduced from the correspondence in the external acts of the two events, is confirmed by the similarity in the effects which were produced, expressly pointed out by Christ: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

By the sin of our first parents, all mankind were far gone from original righteousness. In Adam all died. The sting of death, sin, was deeply fixed in our nature; and man lay exposed to the wrath of God, unable, by his own power, to raise himself from this state of misery: aptly represented by the fainting Israelites, extended upon the desert, dying with the mortal bite of the fiery serpents. But behold the mercy and loving-kindness of God.  While we were yet sinners, God sent into the world the promised seed of the woman, who should bruise the serpent’s head. He gave his own Son to be made sin for us, although himself without sin, to take upon him our nature, to pass a life of privation and suffering; to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows; to be despised, and rejected, and buffeted, and scourged, and to suffer death upon the cross: that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so the Son of man should be lifted up; and that when so lifted up, he should draw all men unto him.

And the means, by which, as in Adam all died, even so in Christ all should be made alive, were precisely similar to those by which the brazen serpent, erected by Moses, was made efficacious to heal the Israelites.

It was an act of faith, to which the wisdom of God attached an exclusive blessing. No other remedy was provided for the wounded Israelites, than to look upon the sign which Moses lifted up. Salvation is now proposed by no other means than by faith in the blood of Christ, who was in like manner lifted up upon the cross. All who looked upon the serpent of brass lived. All who believe in Christ shall not perish, but have eternal life. They who tempted and rebelled against Christ in the wilderness, were destroyed of the serpents. They who now tempt and rebel against him, by neglecting his revealed word, have no promise, and, therefore, can have no ground for hope, that they will be enabled effectually to resist “that old serpent, which deceiveth the whole world.”

Without pursuing the comparison by a deduction of any more minute coincidences, these resemblances are sufficient to shew a remarkable correspondence, between the effects produced by the elevation of the serpent in the wilderness, and the lifting up of Christ upon the cross.

And the correspondence, being predicted by Christ himself, arises from no ingenious accommodation of circumstances accidentally similar. Christ, while delivering an undoubted prophecy, clearly fulfilled, points out the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness, and the cure performed by it, as an event to which the circumstances and consequences of his own death should be like. In order, therefore, to fulfil the prophecy, as it was fulfilled, the two series of events were, by the Providence of God, to be made to correspond. And it is difficult to conceive any correspondence, unless, either the present, when it was so lifted up, intentionally prefigured the future death of Christ upon the cross, or that death were adapted, if we may so speak, to an event previously indifferent. Now the lifting up of Christ on the cross was not an isolated fact. It was the great event so long predicted in the prophets, and foreshadowed in the law. Christ himself continually referred, during his life, to this termination of his ministry: and his followers, after his death, preached what was a stumbling-block to the Jew, and foolishness to the Greek, as the foundation of all their hopes. When so vast a fabric harmonizes, in this manner, with a single event, we can scarcely avoid the conclusion, that the correspondence was designed from the beginning: that the connection between the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness, and the lifting up of the Son of man upon the cross, was pre-concerted, and therefore typical.

But whatever opinion may be formed respecting the typical character of the brazen serpent, indicated in the words of Christ, the practical doctrine, which those words convey, is of the highest interest to all.

There are few doctrines which have been more opposed, than that which attaches such pre-eminent importance to belief in Christ. Endless are the cavils and discussions to which it has given rise. But surely it is not for man to supply the secret connection, which the Almighty counsels have established, between an act performed, and the benefit received. No Israelite, burning with the wound of the fiery serpent, would have stayed to make the enquiry, “how can these things be?” before he looked up to the sign of salvation erected by God’s command, that by looking he might live. The act of looking, might originally have been an indifferent act. But God commanded it to be performed; and it then became a duty.

So it is in spiritual things. God has thought fit, in his unerring wisdom, to make faith in his Son the indispensable means of salvation, to all those to whom the doctrine is propounded.

The benefits freely proposed are incomparably greater than any which this world can offer: the pardon of sin; release from eternal death; the gift of everlasting life. What should be said of that man, who, instead of searching the revealed will of God to know, with certainty, whether these things be so, and receiving with thanksgiving such inestimable benefits, will continue to harden himself in sin, and refuse his assent, because he cannot precisely comprehend the mode, in which the relief is conferred? Yet this is the conduct of thousands.

If then, the Son of man were lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life;” if by grace we are saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves, since it is the gift of God: it is most important, that we all consider whether we have this faith or not. Now to say, we believe, is most easy and most common. We are all Christians in name. And God alone can read the heart, and know how fervent and how effectual is the belief of any man. But there is one criterion by which all may, in some degree, judge of the insincerity of faith. No faith is sincere, which does not produce the fruits of a holy, pure, religious, charitable life. “A good man, out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things.” Actions, therefore, and actions only, shew to other men the truth and sincerity of religious principles. And if any man affect to possess a saving faith, while he indulges in the known practice of unrepented sin, the reply to his pretensions is made in the words of Saint James: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?” “Faith, if it hath not works, is dead being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”

To those who thus sincerely, although imperfectly, endeavor to follow the precepts of our holy religion, the doctrine of the atonement is full of comfort.

They feel, like the Israelites, the mortal bite of sin. They feel their moral strength fail. They know how widely the poison is spread: that the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. Still will they raise the eye of faith to Him who was lifted up, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. They will contemplate the wonderful love of God thus shewed to his creatures.

They will receive “the ministry of reconciliation: to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them:” “for he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

The Mystical Union Between Christ and His People

Taken and adapted from, “The Godly Man’s Picture”
Written by, Thomas Watson

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“My beloved is mine, and I am His.”

–Song of Solomon 2:16

In this Song of Songs we see the love of Christ and his church running towards each other in a full torrent.

The text contains three general parts:

1. A symbol of affection: “My beloved.”
2. A term of appropriation: “is mine.”

3. A holy resignation: “I am his.”

Doctrine: There is a marital union between Christ and believers. The apostle, having treated at large of marriage, winds up the whole chapter thus: “This is a great mystery—but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). What is closer than union? What sweeter? There is a twofold union with Christ:

1. A natural union. This all men have, Christ having taken their nature on him and not that of the angels (Heb. 2:16). But if there is no more than this natural union, it will give little comfort. Thousands are damned—though Christ is united to their nature.

2. A sacred union. By this we are mystically united to Christ. The union with Christ is not personal. If Christ’s essence were transfused into the person of a believer, then it would follow that all that a believer does should be meritorious.

But the union between Christ and a saint is:

(a) Federal: “My beloved is mine.” God the Father gives the bride; God the Son receives the bride; God the Holy Spirit ties the knot in marriage—he knits our wills to Christ and Christ’s love to us.

(b) Effectual. Christ unites himself to his spouse by his graces and influences: “of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16). Christ makes himself one with the spouse by conveying his image and stamping the impress of his own holiness upon her!

This union with Christ may well be called mystical. It is hard to describe the manner of it. It is hard to show how the soul is united to the body—and how Christ is united to the soul. But though this union is spiritual—it is real. Things in nature often work insensibly, yet really (Eccles. 11:5). We do not see the hand move on the sun-dial, yet it moves. The sun exhales and draws up the vapors of the earth insensibly yet really. So the union between Christ and the soul—though it is imperceptible to the eye of reason—is still real (1 Cor. 6:17).

Before this union with Christ there must be a separation. The heart must be separated from all other lovers, as in marriage there is a leaving of father and mother: “Forget your own people, and your father’s house.” (Psalm 45:10). So there must be a leaving of our former sins, a breaking off the old league with hell before we can be united to Christ. “Ephraim shall say, ‘What have I to do any more with idols?’” (Hosea 14:8), or as it is in the Hebrew, “with sorrows.” Those sins which were looked on before as lovers, are now sorrows. There must be a divorce, before a union.

The purpose of our marital union with Christ is twofold:

1. Co-habitation. This is one purpose of marriage, to live together: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts” (Ephesians 2:17). It is not enough to pay Christ a few complimentary visits in his ordinances—hypocrites may do so—but there must be a mutual associating. We must dwell upon the thoughts of Christ: “he who abides in God” (I John 3:24). Married people should not live apart.

2. Fruit bearing: “That you may be married to another; to Him who was raised from the dead—that we should bear fruit to God.” (Rom. 7:4). The spouse bears the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness (Gal. 5:22). Barrenness is a shame in Christ’s spouse!

This marriage union with Christ is the most noble and excellent union:

(a) Christ unites himself to many. In other marriages only one person is taken—but here millions are taken! Otherwise, poor souls might cry out, “Alas! Christ has married So-and-so, but what is that to me? I am left out.” No, Christ marries thousands. It is a holy and chaste polygamy. Multitudes of people do not defile this marriage bed. Any poor sinner who brings a humble, believing heart may be married to Christ.

(b) There is a closer union in this holy marriage than there can be in any other. In other marriages, two make one flesh—but Christ and the believer make one spirit: “But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” (1 Cor. 6:17). Now as the soul is more excellent than the body, and admits of far greater joy, so this spiritual union brings in more astonishing delights and ravishments than any other marriage relationship is capable of. The joy that flows from the mystical union is unspeakable and full of glory (I Peter 1:8).

(c) This union with Christ never ceases. Other marriages are soon at an end. Death cuts asunder the marriage knot—but this marital union is eternal. You who are once Christ’s spouse shall never again be a widow: “I will betroth you to me forever” (Hosea 2:19). To speak properly, our marriage with Christ begins where other marriages end, at death.

In this life there is only the contract. The Jews had a time set between their engagement and marriage, sometimes a year or more. In this life there is only the engagement and contract; promises are made on both sides, and love passes secretly between Christ and the soul. He gives some smiles of his face, and the soul sends up her sighs and drops tears of love. But all this is only a preliminary work, and something leading up to the marriage. The glorious completing and solemnizing of the marriage is reserved for heaven. There, in heaven, is the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9) and the bed of glory perfumed with love where the souls of the elect shall be perpetually consoling themselves. “Then shall we ever be with the Lord” (I Thess. 4:17). So death merely begins our marriage with Christ.

Application 1: If Christ is the head of the mystical body (Ephesians 1:22), then this doctrine beheads the Pope…

That man of sin who usurps this prerogative of being the head of the church, and so would defile Christ’s marriage bed. What blasphemy this is! Two heads are monstrous. Christ is Head, as he is Husband. There is no vice-husband, no deputy in his place. The Pope is the beast in Revelation (Rev. 13:11). To make him head of the church, what would this be but to set the head of a beast upon the body of a man?

Application 2: If there is such a marital union, let us test whether we are united to Christ:

1. Have we chosen Christ to set our love upon, and is this choice founded on knowledge?

2. Have we consented to the match? It is not enough that Christ is willing to have us—but are we willing to have him? God does not so force salvation upon us that we shall have Christ whether we want to or not. We must consent to have him. Many approve of Christ—but do not give their consent. And this consent must be:

(a) Pure and genuine. We consent to have him for his own worth and excellence: “You are fairer than the sons of men” (Psalm 45:2).

(b) A present consent: “now is the acceptable time” (2 Cor. 6:2). If we put Christ off with delays and excuses, perhaps he will stop coming. He will leave off wooing. “His spirit shall no longer strive,” and then, poor sinner, what will you do? When God’s wooing ends, your woes begin.

3. Have we taken Christ? Faith is the bond of the union. Christ is joined to us by his Spirit, and we are joined to him by faith. Faith ties the marriage knot.

4. Have we given ourselves up to Christ? Thus the spouse in the text says, “I am his,” as if she had said, “All I have is for the use and service of Christ.” Have we made a surrender? Have we given up our name and will to Christ? When the devil solicits by a temptation, do we say, “We are not our own, we are Christ’s; our tongues are his, we must not defile them with oaths; our bodies are his temple, we must not pollute them with sin?” If it is so, it is a sign that the Holy Spirit has produced this blessed union between Christ and us.

Application 3: Is there this mystical union? Then from that we may draw many inferences:

1. See the DIGNITY of all true believers. They are joined in marriage with Christ! There is not only assimilation but union; they are not only like Christ but one with Christ. All the saints have this honor. When a king marries a beggar, by virtue of the union she is ennobled and made of the blood royal. As wicked men are united to the prince of darkness, and he settles hell upon them as their inheritance, so the godly are divinely united to Christ, who is King of kings, and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:16). By virtue of this sacred union the saints are dignified above the angels. Christ is the Lord of the angels—but not their husband.

2. See how HAPPILY all the saints are married. They are united to Christ, who is the best Husband, “the Chief among ten thousand” (Song of Solomon 5:10). Christ is a Husband who cannot be paralleled:

(a) For tender care. The spouse cannot be as considerate of her own soul and credit as Christ is considerate of her: “He cares for you” (I Pet. 5:7). Christ has a debate with himself, consulting and projecting how to carry on the work of our salvation. He transacts all our affairs, he attends to our business as his own. Indeed, he himself is concerned in it. He brings fresh supplies to his spouse. If she wanders out-of-the-way, he guides her. If she stumbles, he holds her by the hand. If she falls, he raises her. If she is dull, he quickens her by his Spirit. If she is perverse, he draws her with cords of love. If she is sad, he comforts her with promises.

(b) For ardent affection. No husband loves like Christ. The Lord says to the people, “I have loved you,” and they say, “In what way have you loved us?” (Mal. 1:2). But we cannot say to Christ, “In what way have you loved us?” Christ has given real demonstrations of his love to his spouse. He has sent her his Word, which is a love-letter, and he has given her his Spirit, which is a love-token. Christ loves more than any other husband:

Christ puts a richer robe on his bride: “For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10).

In this robe, God looks on us as if we had not sinned! This robe is as truly ours to justify us, as it is Christ’s to bestow on us. This robe not only covers but adorns. Having on this robe, we are reputed righteous, not only as righteous as angels—but as righteous as Christ: “that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor.5:21).

Christ gives his bride not only his golden garments but his image! He loves her into his own likeness. A husband may have a dear affection for his wife—but he cannot stamp his own image on her. If she is deformed, he may give her a veil to hide it—but he cannot put his beauty on her. But Christ imparts “the beauty of holiness” to his spouse: “Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,” (Ezek. 16:14). When Christ marries a soul, he makes it lovely: “You are all beautiful, my love” (Song of Solomon 4:7). Christ never thinks he has loved his spouse enough until he can see his own face in her.

Christ discharges those debts which no other husband can. Our sins are the worst debts we owe. If all the angels should contribute money, they could not pay one of these debts—but Christ frees us from these. He is both a Husband and a Surety. He says to justice what Paul said concerning Onesimus, “But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account.” (Philemon 1:18).

Christ has suffered more for his spouse than ever any husband did for a wife. He suffered poverty and ignominy. He who crowned the heavens with stars was himself crowned with thorns. He was called a companion of sinners, so that we might be made companions of angels. He had no regard of his life; he leaped into the sea of his Father’s wrath to save his spouse from drowning!

Christ’s love does not end with his life. He loves his spouse forever: “I will betroth you to me forever” (Hosea 2:19). Well may the apostle call it “a love which passes knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).

3. See how RICH believers are. They have married into the crown of heaven, and by virtue of the marital union all Christ’s riches go to believers: “communion is founded in union.” Christ communicates his graces (John 1:16). As long as Christ has them, believers shall not be in need. And he communicates his privileges—justification, glorification. He settles a kingdom on his spouse as her inheritance (Heb. 12:28). This is a key to the apostle’s riddle, “as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (2 Cor. 6:10). By virtue of the marriage union, the saints have an interest in all Christ’s riches!

4. See how fearful a sin it is, to abuse the saints. It is an injury done to Christ, for believers are mystically one with him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). When the body was wounded, the Head, being in heaven, cried out. In this sense, men crucify Christ afresh (Heb. 6:6), because what is done to his members is done to him. If Gideon was avenged upon those who slew his brethren, will not Christ much more be avenged on those that wrong his spouse (Judges 8:21)? Will a king tolerate having his treasure rifled, his crown thrown in the dust, his queen beheaded? Will Christ bear with the affronts and injuries done to his bride? The saints are the apple of Christ’s eye (Zech. 2:8), and let those who strike at his eye answer for it. Isa 49:26 “I will feed those who oppress you with their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with sweet wine” (Isaiah 49:26).

5. See the reason why the saints so rejoice in the Word and sacrament, because here they meet with their Husband, Christ! The wife desires to be in the presence of her husband. The ordinances are the chariot in which Christ rides, the lattice through which he looks forth and shows his smiling face. Here Christ displays the banner of love (Song of Solomon 2:4). The Lord’s Supper is nothing other than a pledge and security of that eternal communion which the saints shall have with Christ in heaven. Then he will take the spouse into his bosom. If Christ is so sweet in an ordinance, when we have only short glances and dark glimpses of him by faith, oh then, how delightful and ravishing will his presence be in heaven when we see him face to face and are forever in his loving embraces!

Application 4: This mystical union affords much comfort to believers in several cases:

1. In the case of the disrespect and unkindness of the world: “in wrath they hate me” (Psalm. 55:3). But though we live in an unkind world, we have a kind Husband: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9). What angel can tell how God the Father loves Christ? Yet the Father’s love to Christ is made the copy and pattern of Christ’s love to his spouse! This love of Christ as far exceeds all created love as the sun outshines the light of a torch. And is not this a matter of comfort? Though the world hates me, Christ still loves me.

2. In the case of weakness of grace. The believer cannot lay hold on Christ, except with a trembling hand. There is a “spirit of infirmity” on him. But oh, weak Christian, here is strong consolation: you have a marital union to Christ! You are the spouse of Christ! Will he will bear with you as the weaker vessel? Will a husband divorce his wife because she is weak and sickly? No! he will be the more tender with her. Christ hates divorce—but he will pity infirmity. When the spouse is faint and ready to be discouraged, Christ puts his left hand under her head (Song of Solomon 2:6). This is the spouse’s comfort when she is weak. Her Husband can infuse strength into her: “My God shall be my strength” (Isaiah 49:5).

3. In the case of death. When believers die—they go to their Husband! Who would not be willing to cross the gulf of death that they might meet with their Husband, Christ? “I desire to loosen anchor” (Phil. 1:23), and be with Christ. What though the way is dirty? We are going to our friend. When a woman is engaged, she longs for the day of marriage. After the saints’ funeral, their marriage begins. The body is a prison to the soul. Who would not desire to exchange a prison for a marriage bed? How glad Joseph was to go out of prison to the king’s court! God is wise; he lets us meet with changes and troubles here, so that he may wean us from the world and make us long for death. When the soul is divorced from the body, it is married to Christ.

4. In the case of passing sentence at the Day of Judgment. There is a marriage union and, oh Christian, your Husband shall be your judge! A wife would not fear appearing at the bar if her husband was sitting as judge. What though the devil should bring in many indictments against you? Christ will expunge your sins in his blood. Could he possibly say, “I shall condemn my spouse?” Oh, what a comfort this is! The Husband is judge! Christ cannot pass sentence against his spouse without passing it against himself. For Christ and believers are one.

5. In the case of the saints’ suffering. The church of God is exposed in this life to many injuries—but she has a Husband in heaven who is mindful of her and will “turn water into wine” for her. Now it is a time of mourning with the spouse because the Bridegroom is absent (Matt. 9:15). But shortly she shall put off her mourning. Christ will wipe the tears of blood off the cheeks of his spouse: “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8). Christ will comfort his spouse for as much time as she has been afflicted. He will solace her with his love; he will take away the cup of trembling and give her the cup of consolation. And now she shall forget all her sorrows, being called into the banqueting house of heaven and having the banner of Christ’s love displayed over her.

Application 5: Let me press several duties upon those who have this marriage union with Christ:

1. Make use of this relationship in two cases:

(a) When the law brings in its indictments against you. The law says, “Here there are so many debts to be paid!” and it demands satisfaction. Acknowledge the debt—but turn it all over to your Husband, Christ. It is a maxim in law that the suit must not go against the wife, as long as the husband is living. Tell Satan when he accuses you, “It is true that the debt is mine—but go to my Husband, Christ! He will discharge it.” If we took this course, we might relieve ourselves of much trouble. By faith we turn over the debt to our Husband. Believers are not in a state of widowhood but of marriage. Satan will never go to Christ—he knows that justice is satisfied and the debt book cancelled—but he comes to us for the debt so that he may perplex us. We should send him to Christ and then all lawsuits would cease. This is a believer’s triumph. When he is guilty in himself, he is worthy in Christ. When he is spotted in himself, he is pure in his Head.

(b) In the case of desertion. Christ may (for reasons best known to himself) step aside for a time: “my beloved had withdrawn himself” (Song of Solomon 5:6). Do not say, therefore, that Christ has gone for good. It is a fruit of jealousy in a wife, when her husband has left her a while, to think that he has gone from her for good. Every time Christ removes himself out of sight, it is wrong for us to say, “The Lord has forsaken me” (Isaiah 49:14). This is jealousy, and it is a wrong done to the love of Christ and the sweetness of this marriage relationship. Christ may forsake his spouse in regards to comfort—but he will not forsake her in regard of union. A husband may be a thousand miles distant from his wife—but he is still a husband. Christ may leave his spouse—but the marriage knot still holds.

2. Rejoice in your Husband, Christ. Has Christ honored you by taking you into the marriage relationship and making you one with himself? This calls for joy. By virtue of the union, believers are sharers with Christ in his riches. It was a custom among the Romans, when the wife was brought home, for her to receive the keys of her husband’s house, intimating that the treasure and custody of the house was now committed to her. When Christ brings his bride home to those glorious mansions which he has gone ahead to prepare for her (John 14:2), he will hand over the keys of his treasure to her, and she shall be as rich as heaven can make her! And shall not the spouse rejoice and sing aloud upon her bed (Psalm. 149:5)? Christians, let the times be ever so sad, you may rejoice in your spiritual espousals (Hab. 3:17, 18). Let me tell you, it is a sin not to rejoice—you find fault with your Husband, Christ.

When a wife is always sighing and weeping, what will others say? “This woman has a bad husband!” Is this the fruit of Christ’s love to you, to reflect dishonor upon him? A melancholy spouse saddens Christ’s heart. I do not deny that Christians should grieve for sins of daily occurrence—but to be always weeping (as if they mourned without hope) is dishonorable to the marriage relationship. “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). Rejoicing brings credit to your husband. Christ loves a cheerful bride, and indeed the very purpose of God’s making us sad is to make us rejoice. We sow in tears, so that we may reap in joy. The excessive sadness and contrition of the godly will make others afraid to embrace Christ. They will begin to question whether there is that satisfactory joy in religion which is claimed. Oh, you saints of God, do not forget consolation; let others see that you do not regret your choice. It is joy that puts liveliness and activity into a Christian: “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). The soul is swiftest in duty when it is carried on the wings of joy.

3. Adorn this marriage relationship, so that you may be a crown to your husband.

(a) Wear a veil. We read of the spouse’s veil (Song of Solomon 5:7). This veil is humility.

(b) Put on your jewels. These are the graces which for their luster are compared to rows of pearl and chains of gold (Song of Solomon 1:10). These precious jewels distinguish Christ’s bride from strangers.

(c) Behave as becomes Christ’s spouse:

In chastity. Be chaste in your judgments; do not defile yourselves with error. Error adulterates the mind (1 Tim. 6:5). It is one of Satan’s artifices—first to defile the judgment, then the conscience.

In sanctity. It is not for Christ’s spouse to behave like harlots. A half-naked breast and a wanton tongue—do not befit a saint. Christ’s bride must shine forth in gospel purity, so that she may make her husband fall in love with her. A woman was asked what dowry she brought her husband. She answered that she had no dowry—but she promised to keep herself chaste. So though we can bring Christ no dowry, yet he expects us to keep ourselves pure, not spotting the breasts of our virginity by contagious and scandalous sins.

4. Love your Husband, Christ (Song of Solomon 2:5). Love him though he is reproached and persecuted. A wife loves her husband when in prison. To inflame your love towards Christ, consider:

(a) Nothing else is fit for you to love. If Christ is your Husband, it is not fit to have other lovers who would make Christ grow jealous.

(b) He is worthy of your love. He is of unparalleled beauty: “altogether lovely” (Song of Solomon 5:16).

(c) How fervent is Christ’s love towards you! He loves you in your worst condition, he loves you in affliction. The goldsmith loves his gold in the furnace. Just so, Christ loves you notwithstanding your fears and blemishes. The saints’ infirmities cannot wholly remove Christ’s love from them (Jer. 3:1). Oh then, how the spouse should be endeared in her love to Christ! Perfect love to Christ, will be the excellence of heaven. Our love will then be like the sun in its full strength!

It is true — I do love my sins, my lusts and pleasures

(“A Few Sighs From Hell” or “The Groans of the Damned Soul” by that poor and contemptible servant of Jesus Christ, John Bunyan, 1658. Being an exposition of Luke 16:19-31, concerning the Rich Man and the Beggar, wherein is revealed the lamentable state of the Damned — their cries, and their desires in their distresses, with the determined judgment of God upon them. A good warning word to sinners, both old and young, to seek salvation by faith in Jesus Christ — lest they come into the same place of torment.)

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Lost sinner, I beg you to consider the state of those who die outside of Christ Jesus.

Yes, I say, consider their miserable state, and think thus with yourself: “What, shall I lose an eternal Heaven — for short pleasure? Shall I buy the pleasures of this world at so dear a rate — as to lose my soul to obtain them? What advantage will these be to me — when the Lord shall separate soul and body asunder, and send one to the grave, and the other to Hell; and at the judgment-day, the final sentence of eternal ruin must be passed upon me?”

Consider, that the profits, pleasures, and vanities of this world will not last forever — but the time is coming, yes, just at the door, when they will give you the slip, and leave you in such a dreadful condition.

And therefore to prevent this, consider your dismal state, think thus with yourself: It is true — I do love my sins, my lusts and pleasures; but what good will they do me at the day of death and of judgment? Will my sins do me good then? Will they be able to help me when I come to fetch my last breath? What good will my money then do for me? And what good will my vanities then do, when death drags me away? What good will all my companions, fellow-jesters, jeerers, liars, drunkards, and all my harlots do for me? Will they help to ease the pains of Hell? Will these help to turn the hand of God from inflicting His fierce anger upon me? Nay, they will rather cause God to show me no mercy, to give me no comfort; and to thrust me down into the hottest place of Hell, where I will swim in fire and brimstone!

O consider, that your doom is forever, forever! It is unto . . .

        everlasting damnation,
        eternal destruction,
        eternal wrath and displeasure from God,
        eternal gnawings of conscience,
        eternal continuance with devils.

O consider, that just the thought of now seeing the devil, makes your hair to stand straight up on your head. O but this — to be damned, to dwell among all the devils, and that not only for a short time — but forever, to all eternity! This is so astonishingly miserable — that no tongue of man, no, nor of angels, is able to express it!

Have you revealed your case to your Advocate?

Taken and adapted from, “The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, Clearly Explained, and Largely Improved for the Benefit of All Believers”
Written by, John Bunyan, London: 1689. Edited for thought and sense.
Posted in the Dead Puritan Society by Paul D. Posted in Justification.

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“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”   –1 John 2:1 (ESV)

Wouldst you know whether Jesus Christ is your advocate?

Then I ask again, Hast thou revealed thy cause unto him? —I say, Have you revealed your cause unto him? For he that goes to law for his right, must not only go to a lawyer, and say, Sir, I am in trouble, and am to have a trial at law with mine enemy, pray undertake my cause; but he must also reveal to his lawyer his cause. He must go to him and tell him what is the matter, how things stand, where the shoe pinches, and so forth. Thus did the church of old, and thus does every true Christian now; for though nothing can be hid from him, yet he will have things out of thine own mouth; he will have you to reveal your matters unto him (Matt 20:32).

“O Lord of hosts,” said Jeremiah, “that judges righteously, that tries the feelings and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I revealed my cause” (Jeremiah 11:20). And again; “But, O Lord of hosts, that tries the righteous, and sees the feelings and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them; for unto thee have I opened my cause” (Jeremiah 20:12).  Do you see here, how saints of old were accustomed to do? How they did, not only in a general way, entreat Christ to plead their case, but in a particular way, they went to him and revealed, or opened their cause unto him? O! It is excellent to behold how some sinners will do this when they get Christ and themselves in a closet alone; when they, upon their bare knees, are pouring out of their souls before him; or, like the woman in the gospel, telling him all the truth (Mark 5).

O! Says the soul, Lord, I am come to thee upon an earnest business; I am arrested by Satan; the bailiff was mine own conscience, and I am like to be accused before the judgment-seat of God. My salvation lies at stake; I am questioned for my interest in heaven; I am afraid of the Judge; my heart condemns me (I John 3:20). Mine enemy is subtle, and doesn’t lack the malice to prosecute me to death, and then to hell. Also, Lord, I am sensible that the law is against me, for indeed I have horribly sinned, and thus and thus have I done. Here I lie open to law, and there I lie open to law; here I have given the adversary advantage, and there he will surely have a hank against me. Lord, I am distressed, undertake for me! And there are some things that thou must be acquainted with about thine Advocate, before thou wilt venture to go thus far with him. And, you must know him to be a friend, and not an enemy, unto whom you open your heart; and until you come to know that Christ is you friend, or a friend to souls in you condition, you will never reveal you cause unto him, not thy whole cause….

Part Three. Robert Matthews, and Elijah the Tishbite. False Prophets in the Early 1800’s

TheProphet

Some years ago a considerable sensation was created in the state of New York by the mad and grotesque pranks of Robert Matthews, who presumptuously laid claim to the divine character, and imposed himself as a superior being upon whom some of the most respectable members of society believed. As no account, as far as we are aware, has ever been published in Britain of this remarkable affair, notwithstanding the interest which it excited in America, we propose to introduce a notice of it to our readers.

Robert Matthews was a native of Washington County, in the state of New York, and of Scotch extraction. At an early age he was left an orphan, and was brought up in the family of a respectable farmer in the town of Cambridge, where in his boyhood he received the religious instruction of the clergyman belonging to the Anti-burgher branch of Seceders. At about twenty years of age he came to the city of New York, and worked at the business of a carpenter and house-joiner, which he had partially learned in the country. Possessing genius for mechanical pursuits, and being of active habits, he was an excellent workman, and was in constant and lucrative employment. In 1813 he married a respectable young woman, and removed to Cambridge for the purpose of pursuing the business of a storekeeper; but the undertaking, after a trial of three years, failed.

He became bankrupt, involving his father-in-law in his ruin; and in 1816 he returned once more to New York, where for a number of years he wrought at his old profession of a house-carpenter. Being at length dissatisfied with his condition, he removed in 1827 to what he thought a better field for his talent in Albany. While settled in this city, a remarkable change took place in his feelings.

Hitherto he had belonged to the Scotch Church; but now, disliking that communion, he attached himself to the Dutch Reformed congregation, and there gathering fresh ardor, at length surrendered his whole mind to spiritual affairs. While in this condition, he went to hear a young and fervent orator, the Rev. Mr. Kirk, from New York, preach, and returned home in such a frenzy of enthusiasm as to sit up a great part of the night repeating, expounding, and commending passages from the sermon. From this period his conduct was that of a half-crazy man. He joined the temperance society, but went far beyond the usual rules of such associations, contending that the use of meats should be excluded as well as of intoxicating liquors; proceeding on this notion, he enforced a rigid system of dietetics in his household, obliging his wife and children to subsist only on bread, fruits, and vegetables.

During the year 1829 his conduct became more and more wild and unregulated. His employment was still that of a journeyman house joiner; but instead of minding his work, he fell into the practice of exhorting the workmen during the hours of labor, and of expounding the Scriptures to them in a novel and enthusiastic manner, until at length he became so boisterous, that his employer, a very pious man, was obliged to discharge him from his service. He claimed at this time to have received by revelation some new light upon the subject of experimental religion, but did not as yet lay claim to any supernatural character. Discharged from regular employment, he had abundant leisure for street-preaching, which he commenced in a vociferous manner –exhorting everyone he met upon the subject of temperance and religion, and holding forth to crowds at the comers of the streets. Having made a convert of one of his late fellow-workmen, he procured a large white flag, on which was inscribed ‘Rally round the Standard of Truth;’ this they raised on a pole, and bore through the streets every morning, haranguing the multitudes whom their strange appearance and demeanor attracted around them. A young student of divinity, catching the infection, as it seemed, united himself with Matthews, and assisted in the preachings in the public thoroughfares. Matthews, however, was a remarkably bad preacher, and made little or no impression on his listeners. His addresses were incoherent, consisting of disjointed sentences, sometimes grand or bombastic, and at other times low and ridiculous, but always uttered at the highest pitch of the voice, and designed both in matter and manner to terrify and startle his hearers. The favorite doctrine which he attempted to enforce was, that Albany would be immediately destroyed, unless the people were converted; and he harped so wildly on this theme, that in a short time he became utterly distraught.

All the efforts of his poor wife to restrain him in his mania were unavailing. One night he aroused his family from their slumbers, declared that the city would be destroyed before morning, and fled from his home, taking with him three of his sons, the youngest an infant of only two years. With these he travelled maniacally on foot for twenty-four hours, till he reached the house of his sister in the town of Argyle, a distance of forty miles.

The religious wanderings of Matthews the prophet, as he was called, may now be said to have commenced. With a Bible in his hand, and his face garnished with a long beard, which he had for some time been suffering to grow, in obedience to a Scriptural command, he wandered about, collecting crowds to listen to his ravings, and frequently disturbed the peace of regular meetings in the churches. Finding that he made no impression in the old settled part of the country, he set out on a missionary tour through the western states, penetrating the deepest forests, crossing the prairies, and never stopping till he had proclaimed his mission amid the wilds of the Arkansas. Thence he turned his steps to the Southeast, re-crossed the Mississippi, traversed Tennessee, and arrived in Georgia with the view of preaching to the Indians; but here he was seized by the authorities, and placed in confinement as a disturber of the public peace. Ultimately he was dismissed, and permitted to return towards his old haunts in New York and its neighborhood where he arrived in a somewhat new character. It would appear that till about this period Matthews was simply in a state of mental derangement, and, like all madmen in similar circumstances, was perfectly sincere in his belief. The small degree of success on his journey, his imprisonment in Georgia, and his utter poverty, may be advanced as a cause for an alteration in his conduct. He now lost a portion of his frenzy, and in proportion as he cooled in this respect, the idea of imposture seems to have assumed a place in his mind. There is at least no other rational mode of explaining his very singular behavior. In the capacity, therefore, of half madman, half knave, Mr. Matthews may be viewed as entering on his career in New York in the month of May 1832.

In ordinary times and circumstances, the intrusion of such a madman into a quiet mercantile city would lead to no other result than the committal of the intruder to the house of correction or a lunatic asylum; but at the period of Matthews’s appearance in New York, a pretty large portion of the public mind was prepared for any kind of extravagance in religion, and therefore the declaration of his mission was looked upon only as another act in the drama which had for some time been performing. About the year 1822 a few ladies became dissatisfied with the existing means of religious instruction in the city, and set on foot the bold project of converting the whole population by a system of female visitation, in the execution of which, every house and family was to be visited by committees of two, who were to enter houses indiscriminately, and pray for the conversion of the inmates whether they would hear or not.

This scheme created no little noise at the time, but, like all frenzies, it only lasted its day, and was succeeded by other schemes perhaps equally well meaning, but equally visionary. Among the class of perfectionists as, they were termed, there were doubtless many estimable persons, and none more so than Mr. Elijah Pierson and his wife. Mr. Pierson was a merchant by profession, and, by a course of industry and regularity in all his undertakings, was now in opulent circumstances. Until the late religious frenzy agitated the city, he had been noted for his intelligence and unaffected piety, and not less so was his lady. In a short period his devotional feelings underwent a remarkable change. In 1828, after passing through a state of preliminary excitement, he became afflicted with monomania on the subject of religion, while upon all matters of business, as far as they could be disconnected from that on which he was decidedly crazed, his intellectual powers and faculties were as active and acute as ever. During his continuance in this state of hallucination, in the year 1830 his wife died of a pulmonary affection, which had been greatly aggravated by long fasting and other bodily severities. This event only served to confirm Mr. Pierson in his monomania. He considered that it would afford an opportunity for the working of a miracle through the efficacy of faith. By a gross misinterpretation of Scripture (Epistle of James 5:14, 15),he believed that his wife should be ‘raised up’ from death while lying in her coffin, and accordingly collected a crowd of persons, some of whom were equally deluded with himself, to see the wonder performed in their presence. The account of this melancholy exhibition, which is lying before us, is too long and too painful for extract; and it will suffice to state, that notwithstanding the most solemn appeals to the Almighty from the bereaved husband, the corpse remained still and lifeless; and by the remonstrances of a medical attendant, who declared that decomposition was making rapid and dangerous progress, the body was finally consigned to the tomb.

Such was the hallucination of Mr. Pierson, which many pitied, and some were found to approve. Among the latter was Mr. S, also a merchant in good circumstances, but who had latterly become a victim to the religious excitement which prevailed, and, like Mr.Pierson, often subjected himself to fasts for a week at a time, greatly to the injury of his health and the confirmation of his mania.

Both gentlemen being thus in a state of mind to look for extraordinary events, a stranger presented himself before them on the 5th of May 1832. He had the beard of a patriarch, a tall form, and his language was of a high-flown cast on religious topics, which at once engaged their attention and sympathy. This imposing stranger was no other than Robert Matthews. The pretensions which he made were of a nature which we can scarcely trust ourselves even to hint at. That the tale may be told with as little pain to our readers as possible, let it suffice to say, that the very highest imaginable character was assumed by this unhappy man, and that the pretense was supported merely by the perversion and misinterpretation of one or two passages of Scripture. The character which he assumed he pretended to be in the meantime incorporated with the resuscitated person of the Matthias mentioned in the New Testament; and he accordingly was not now any longer Matthews, but Matthias. He had the power, he said, to do all things, not excepting those which most peculiarly belong to the divine nature. Mr. Pierson and his friend believed all that he set forth of himself, then and subsequently, no matter how extravagant or blasphemous; and he in turn recognized them as the first members of the true church, whom, after two years’ search, he had been able certainly to identify.

He announced to them that, although the kingdom of God on earth began with his public declaration in Albany in June 1830, it would not be completed until twenty-one years from that date, in 1 851; previous to which time wars would be done away, the judgments finished, and the wicked destroyed. As Mr. Pierson’s Christian name was Elijah, this afforded Matthews the opportunity of declaring that he was a revivification of Elijah the Tishbite, who should go before him in the spirit and power of Elias; and as Elias, as everybody knows, was only another name for John the Baptist, it was assumed that Elijah Pierson was the actual John the Baptist come once more on earth, and by this title he was henceforth called.

Mr. Pierson very soon relinquished preaching, as did Mr. S, and the work of the ministry devolved entirely on Matthews, who, jealous of his dignity, would bear no rivals near the throne. The prophet was now invited to take up his residence at the elegantly furnished house of Mr. S, and acceding to the invitation, he remained there three months. The best apartments were allotted to his use, and the whole establishment was submitted to his control.

It was not long before he arrogated to himself divine honors, and his entertainer washed his feet in token of his humility. The female relations of the family were sent away by the impostor, and he allowed no one to reside there but the black domestics who were of the true faith. From fasting he taught his disciples to change their system to feasting; and having their houses at his command, and their purses at his service  loving the good things of this world, and taking all the direction in procuring supplies” he caused them to fare sumptuously every day. But this splendid style of living was not enough. The prophet was vain of his personal appearance, and proud of wearing rich clothes. It was now necessary that he should be arrayed in garments befitting his character and the dignity of his mission. His liberal entertainer, therefore, at his suggestion, furnished him with an ample wardrobe of the richest clothes and finest linens. His favorite costume consisted of a black cap of japanned leather, in shape like an inverted cone, with a shade; a frock-coat of fine green cloth, lined with white or pink satin; a vest, commonly of richly figured silk; frills of fine lace or cambric at the wrists; a sash around his waist of crimson silk, to which were suspended twelve gold tassels, emblematical of the twelve tribes of Israel; green or black pantaloons, over which were worn a pair of well-polished Wellington boots. Add to this, hair hanging over his shoulders, and a long beard flowing in ringlets on his breast, and we may have an idea of him in his public costume. In private he disused the black leather cap, and sometimes appeared in a nightcap of the finest linen, decorated with twelve points or turrets, and magnificently embroidered in gold by his female votaries. He usually preached in a suit of elegant canonicals.

Lodged, fed, and decorated in this sumptuous manner, Matthews spent his time so agreeably, that he became less anxious to make public appearances. His preaching was confined to select parties of fifty or sixty individuals, composing, as he styled it, ‘the kingdom,’ and by these he was held in the most reverential esteem. Occasionally, strangers were invited to attend his ministrations, but this was only as a great favor; and at all meetings he made it a rule to allow no one to speak but himself. He declared his rooted antipathy to arguing or discussion. If anyone attempted to question him on the subject of his mission or character, he broke into a towering passion, and said that he came not to be questioned, but to preach.

Among other of his vagaries, he declared that he had received in a vision an architectural plan for the New Jerusalem, which he was commissioned to build, and which for magnificence and beauty, extent and grandeur, would excel all that was known of Greece or Rome. The site of this great capital of the kingdom was to be in the western part of New York. The bed of the ocean was to yield up its long-concealed treasures for its use. All the vessels, tools, and implements of the New Jerusalem were to be of massive silver and pure gold. In the midst of the city was to stand an immense temple, to be surrounded with smaller ones: in the greater temple he was to be enthroned, and Mr. Pierson and Mr. S were each to occupy a lesser throne on his right hand and on his left. Before him was to be placed a massive candlestick with seven branches, all of pure gold.

Any man in his senses must have perceived that this was the vision of a madman, but by his humble votaries it was considered a sure prediction of what would speedily come to pass. As long as it was confined to mere harangues, the public were not called on to interfere; the case, however, was very different when Mr. S, in obedience to the injunctions of the prophet, commenced ordering expensive ornaments for the proposed temple from a goldsmith in the city. Matters were now going too far for S’s friends to remain any longer calm spectators of his folly, and both he and Matthews were taken up on a warrant of lunacy, and consigned to an asylum for the insane. Poor S was too confirmed in his madness to be speedily cured, and therefore remained long in confinement; but Matthews had the address to appear perfectly sane when judicially examined, and was relieved by a writ of habeas corpus, procured by one of his friends.

Upon his release from the asylum, he was invited to take up his residence with Mr. Pierson; but that gentleman shortly afterwards broke up his establishment, though he still rented a house for Matthews and one or two attendants, supplying him at the same time with the means of living. In the autumn of 1833 he was, on the solicitations of Mr. Pierson, invited to reside at Singsing, in Westchester county, about thirty miles from town, with a Mr. and Mrs. Folger, two respectable persons, whose minds had become a little crazed with the prevailing mania, but who as yet were not fully acquainted with the character of the prophet. Mr. Pierson afterwards became a resident in the family, and thus things went on very much in the old comfortable way. Only one thing disturbed the tranquility of the establishment. Mrs. Folger, who had a number of children, and was of an orderly turn of mind respecting household affairs, felt exceedingly uneasy in consequence of certain irregular habits and tendencies in the prophet, who set himself above all domestic discipline. The great evil which she complained of was, that he always took the meal-time to preach, and generally preached so long, that it was very difficult to find sufficient time to get through the duties of the day. He often detained the breakfast-table so long, that it was almost time for dinner before the meal was over; in the same manner he ran dinner almost into supper, and supper was seldom over before midnight” all which was very vexing to a person like Mrs. Folger, who was accustomed to regularity at meals, and could not well see why the exercises of religion should supersede the ordinary current of practical duties.

The infatuation of both Pierson and Folger in submitting to the tyranny and pampering the vanity of Matthews was demonstrated at this period in many acts of weakness which astonished the more sober part of the community. The impostor was furnished with a carriage and horses to convey him to and from New York, or any other place in which he chose to exhibit himself Money to a considerable amount was given him on various pretenses; and to crown the absurdity, an inheritable property was conveyed to him for his permanent support. An allowance of two dollars a day was further made to his wife in Albany; and several of his children, including a married daughter, Mrs. Laisdel, were brought to reside with him in Mr. Folger’s establishment. After a short time, however, Mrs. Laisdel was under the necessity of returning home, in consequence of her father’s violent treatment.

Elt200903081619042937186-183x300This very agreeable state of affairs was too pleasant to last. Mr. Folger’s business concerns became embarrassed, and he was obliged to spend the greater part of his time in New York. The entire government of the household now devolved on Matthews; and he, along with Katy, a black female cook, (Sojourner Truth) who was a submissive tool in all his projects, ruled the unfortunate Pierson, Mrs. Folger, and the children, with the rod of an oppressor. Certain meats were forbidden to appear at table; the use of confectionary or pastry was denounced as a heinous sin; and the principal food allowed was bread, vegetables, and coffee. What with mental excitement and physical deprivations, Mr. Pierson’s health began to decline; he became liable to fainting and apoplectic fits; but no medical man was permitted to visit him, and he was placed altogether at the mercy of the impostor. At this crisis Matthews’s shewed his utter incapacity for supporting the character he had assumed. Instead of alleviating the condition of his friend, he embraced every opportunity of abusing him, so as to leave little doubt that he was anxious to put him out of the way. One of his mad doctrines was, that all bodily ailments were caused by a devil; that there was a fever devil, a toothache devil, a fainting-fit devil, and so on with every other malady; and that the operations of such a fiend were in each case caused by unbelief, or a relaxation of faith in Matthews’s divine character. The illness of Pierson was therefore considered equivalent to an act of unbelief, and worthy of the severest displeasure. On pretense of expelling the sick spirit, he induced his friend to eat plentifully of certain mysteriously prepared dishes of berries, which caused vomiting to a serious extent, and had a similar though less powerful effect on others who partook of them. The children also complained that the coffee which was served for breakfast made them sick. On none of these occasions did Matthews taste of the food set before Mr. Pierson or the family; and from the account of the circumstances, there can be no doubt of his having, either from knavery or madness, endeavored to poison the family, or at least to destroy the life of his deluded patron. Besides causing Mr. Pierson to swallow such trash as he offered him, he compelled him to receive the contents of a pitcher of water poured into his mouth from a height of four or five feet. This horrid operation, in which Katy the black servant assisted, brought on strong spasmodic fits, in which the sufferer uttered such dismal groans and sighs as shocked Mrs. Folger, and might have induced her to discredit the pretensions of the impostor, and to appeal to a magistrate for protection; but excellent as was this lady’s general character, she possessed no firmness to decide in so important a matter, and her sympathy was dissolved in a flood of useless tears.

The water-torture, as it may be called, hastened the fate of the unhappy gentleman, and he was shortly afterwards found dead in his bed. The intelligence of Mr. Pierson’s death immediately brought Mr. Folger from New York, to inquire into the cause of the event, and to superintend the arrangements for the funeral. The representations of the case made by Mrs. Folger did not suggest the possibility of Matthews having used any unfair means towards Mr. Pierson, but that his death was in some way caused by him through supernatural power. Matthews, indeed, boasted that he could kill anyone who doubted his divine character by a mere expression of his will. Singular as it may seem, this madness or villainy did not yet release Folger from the impression that Matthews was a divine being; and fearing his assumed power, he had not the resolution to order his departure. In a few days, however, all ceremony on the subject was at an end. An action having been raised by Pierson’s heirs to recover the property which the impostor had obtained on false pretenses, Matthews refused to resign it, and attempted to justify his conduct to Folger by reasons so completely opposed to the principles of common honesty, that that gentleman’s belief at once gave way, and he ordered him to quit the house. This abrupt announcement was received with anything but complacency. The prophet preached, stormed, and threatened; tears likewise were tried; but all was unavailing. Folger respectfully but firmly told him that circumstances required a retrenchment of his expenditure, and that he must seek for a new habitation. Matthews, in short, was turned out of doors.

He was again thrown upon the world, though not in an utterly penniless condition. The right which he held to Pierson’s property was in the course of being wrested from him, but he possessed a considerable sum which he had gathered from Folger and a few other disciples, and on this he commenced living until some new and wealthy dupe, as he expected, should countenance his pretensions, and afford him the means of a comfortable subsistence. This Expectation was not realized in time to save him from public exposure and shame. Folger, having pondered on a variety of circumstances, felt convinced that he had been the victim of a designing impostor, that Pierson’s death had been caused by foul means, and that the lives of his own family had been exposed to a similar danger. On these suspicions he caused Matthews to be apprehended, for the purpose, in the first place, of being tried on a charge of swindling. On the 16th of October 1834, this remarkable case came on for trial before the Court of Sessions in New York, on an indictment setting forth that Matthews was guilty of ‘devising by unlawful means to obtain possession of money, goods, chattels, and effects of divers good people of the state of New York; and that the said B. H. Folger, believing his representations, gave the said Matthias one hundred pieces of gold coin, of the value of five hundred and thirty dollars, and one hundred dollars in bank-notes, which the said Matthias feloniously received by means of the false pretenses aforesaid.’ Matthews pled not guilty to the charge, but upon the solicitation of Folger, who seems to have been ashamed to appear publicly as prosecutor, the district attorney dropped the case, and the prisoner was handed over to the authorities of the county of Westchester, on the still more serious accusation of having murdered Mr. Pierson.

To bring to a conclusion this melancholy tale of delusion, imposture, and crime, Matthews was arraigned for murder before the court of Oyer and Terminer at Westchester, on the 16th of April 1835.

The trial excited uncommon interest, and many persons attended from a great distance, to get a view of the man whose vagaries had made so much noise in the country. The evidence produced for the prosecution was principally that of medical men, who had been commissioned to disinter the body of the deceased, and examine the condition of the stomach, it being a general belief that death had been caused by poison. Unfortunately for the ends of justice, the medical examiners could not agree that the stomach shewed conditions of a poisonous substance, some alleging that it did, and others affirming the reverse. On this doubtful state of the question, the jury had no other course than to offer a verdict of acquittal. On the announcement of the verdict, the prisoner was evidently elated; but his countenance fell when he found that he was to be tried on another indictment for having assaulted his daughter, Mrs. Laisdel, with a whip, on the occasion of her visit to him at Singsing; her husband was the prosecutor. Of this misdemeanor he was immediately found guilty, and condemned to three months’ imprisonment in the county jail. In passing sentence, the judge took occasion to reprimand him for his gross impostures and impious pretensions, and advised him, when he came out of confinement, to shave his beard, lay aside his peculiar dress, and go to work like an honest man.

Of the ultimate fate of Matthews we have heard no account, and therefore are unable to say whether he renewed his schemes of imposture.

I conclude now some of the more remarkable early-modern prophets, and I will next look at some of the more dangerous ones of the latter 1800’s, and how their delusions have left their mark upon society, today.

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Taken and adapted from, “Chambers’s Miscellany” (sp) Vol. IV.
Written by William Chambers

“The New York History Blog,”
Written by Miguel Hernandez

An Evangelical looks at What the Law Could Not do and Why: A Bible Study

Taken and adapted from, The Mosaic Covenant: ‘Law,’ Chapter 4.
Written by, Charles Leiter

abraham1

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world…

…was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. Romans 4:13-16

Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” Galatians 3:11-12

In Chapter 3, we considered God’s covenant with Abraham and his “seed”—a covenant that Paul describes by the term “Promise.” In this chapter, we will consider God’s covenant with Israel through Moses—a covenant that Paul describes by the term “Law.” Then in Chapter 5, we will consider the New Covenant—a covenant that Paul describes by the term “Faith.” It is clear that Paul views Law as fundamentally different from both Promise (Galatians 3:18), and Faith (Galatians 3:12). He repeatedly speaks of the Mosaic Covenant in terms of “works,” in contrast with “faith.” “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them.’ Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ‘The righteous man shall live by faith.’ However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, ‘He who practices them shall live by them.’” (Galatians 3:10-12)

Some have argued that when Paul says “the Law is not of faith,” he is speaking of a Jewish misunderstanding or distortion of the Law. They maintain that, in reality, the Law was a covenant of grace based on faith, but the Jews misconstrued it to be a covenant of works based on human performance. It is evident, however, that Paul is not setting forth here a Jewish misunderstanding or distortion of the Law, but the basic principles that characterized the Mosaic Covenant itself.

Blessings and Curses

To understand why this is so, we must remember that the Law had both a positive and negative side, setting forth the dual possibilities of either life or death. These possibilities were conditioned upon human obedience or disobedience. This is well illustrated by the blessings and curses pronounced from Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. Though this important passage should be read in its entirety if we are to feel its full impact (Deuteronomy 27:11-28:68; see also Leviticus 26), a few excerpts will be sufficient to demonstrate the fact that the Old Covenant was characterized by “conditions” and that its blessings (or curses) hinged upon human performance.

Now it shall be, if you will diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you will obey the LORD your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground and the offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out…. Deuteronomy 28:1-6

But it shall come about, if you will not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. The LORD will send upon you curses, confusion, and rebuke, in all you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken Me…. Deuteronomy 28:15-20

All this is summarized, on the one hand, by the Law’s warning that “the soul who sins will die” ( Ezekiel 18:4), and on the other hand, by the Law’s assurance that “he who practices” the commandments “shall live by them”(Galatians 3:12; Leviticus 18:5). This assurance that those who “do” will “live” had a temporal application to the Jews—as long as they obeyed the commandments and requirements of the Law of Moses, they would “live” in the land that God had given them and experience His “blessings.” This held true even if their obedience was far from perfect and (in many cases) only external or “outward in the flesh” (Romans 2:28-29).

But the promise of “life” also represented a deeper and abiding legal principle—it had to do, not only with “life in the land,” but with eternal life. And the obedience required for obtaining such life involved nothing less than perfect love to both God and man. The Lord Jesus made this clear on more than one occasion:

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered and said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” –Luke 10:25-29

Likewise, when the “rich young ruler” asked Jesus, “What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” His reply was, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:16-17). This means that if anyone were to keep the law perfectly, he would earn or merit eternal life by working out his own (Philippians 3:9) righteousness in the eyes of the law. “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness” (Philippians 3:9). Not only did the promise of “life” that was set forth by the Law represent more than mere “life in the land”; the Law’s “curse” also represented more than mere physical death or expulsion from Canaan. This is made clear by Paul’s statement that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). The “curse of the Law” from which Christ has redeemed us by drinking the cup of God’s wrath, is none other than the eternal death that is the just “wages of sin.” Christ did not die to save us from a Jewish misunderstanding of the Law’s curse, but from the actual curse (Romans 6:23) of the Law itself!

In light of these clear teachings of Scripture, we must conclude that, whatever gracious provisions the Mosaic Covenant may have included, it nevertheless represented a covenant of works. It was characterized by the principle that life is contingent on doing. It was not just another “gracious administration of the covenant of grace,” essentially one piece with the New Covenant, as some have supposed. The Law served a gracious purpose in God’s overall plan, as we shall see, but the Law itself was not based on the principle of grace! Instead, it was given to “increase transgression” (Romans 5:20), and its inevitable result was to “bring about wrath” (Romans 4:15). This is why Paul views the Old Covenant as such to be a “ministry of death” (2 Corinthians 3:7) and a “ministry of condemnation” (2 Corinthians 3:9). It was not a Jewish misunderstanding of the Old Covenant that represented a “ministry” of death and condemnation, but the very “tablets of stone” (2 Corinthians 3:3, 7) themselves!

It is true that most of the Jews did in fact fail to understand the real purpose of the Law of Moses. But their misunderstanding related, not to the fact that the Law promised life on condition of obedience, but to the fact that men are too sinful in themselves to merit this life (Romans 7:10). Rather than realizing that the Law had been given to “shut them up under sin” (Galatians 3:22) and show them their desperate need to be justified by faith as their father Abraham had been, (Romans 4:1-5; 11-12) they supposed instead that they could obtain a “righteousness of their own” (Philippians 3:9) by keeping the Law. “For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:3-4).

The stark contrast between the demands of the Old Covenant and the provisions of the New is seen even in the very manner in which the two covenants were inaugurated. The giving of the Law on Sinai was an event full of fear, foreboding, and darkness—as sinful men trembled before an unapproachably holy God and the “holy, righteous, and good” (Romans 7:12) law He was calling them to obey.

For you have not come to…a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” –Hebrews 12:18-21

By contrast, the New Covenant was inaugurated in the quiet intimacy of the Upper Room, where Jesus, “having loved His own who were in the world, loved them to the uttermost” (John 13:1) and spoke to them words of comfort and assurance before laying down His life for them. The inauguration of the New Covenant did indeed involve darkness, earthquake, and terror, but it was the darkness that fell upon Christ Himself (Matthew 27:45-46) as He redeemed His people from the curse of the Law and drank the bitter “cup” (Luke 22:42-44) of God’s wrath reserved for them!

Law vs. Promise

According to Paul, “the Law is not of faith,” (Galatians 3:12) and it is only when salvation is by faith that it can be a matter of grace:

For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified…. For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants…. Romans 4:14-16

We see in these verses that Law, because it is characterized by the principle of “works,” is opposed to both Promise and Faith. And it is precisely this opposition that leads to Paul’s question, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God” (Galatians 3:21)? If Paul were teaching that the Law is a covenant based on the principle of grace, this question would never have arisen. But as it is, God has done something apparently inexplicable: He has made unconditional promises to Abraham and then followed them with a covenant that is conditioned on human performance! Does He really intend that men will earn their salvation by keeping the Law? Paul’s answer is an emphatic, “May it never be!” “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law” (Galatians 3:21). God never intended the Law as an alternate method of salvation, because man’s sinful condition renders the Law “unable” to impart life. The problem lies, not in the Law’s promise of life, but in man’s inability to keep the Law and thus obtain its “righteousness.” For this reason, Paul speaks of “what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh” (Romans 8:3). Instead of bringing life to fallen men, the Law brings only death: “And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me” (Romans 7:9-10). The commandment did indeed promise life, but it “proved to result” only in death.

Why the Law Then?

If God never intended that men should be saved by law keeping, the question naturally arises, “Why the Law then” (Galatians 3:19)? Paul’s answer is that “it was added because of transgressions…until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made.” Notice that Paul describes the Law here as something “added.” It is not the main entity, but an attachment; it “came in beside” (Romans 5:20 ASV). Not only was the Law added; it was also temporary. “It was added…until the seed [Christ] should come to whom the promise had been made.” When Christ appeared, the time of the Mosaic Covenant was over. “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Galatians 3:25).

Paul says that the Law was added “because of transgressions.” What he means by this statement is spelled out in considerable detail in his other writings. According to Paul, the Law “arouses sinful passions” in those who are unconverted (Romans 7:5). Sin “takes opportunity through the commandment” to produce more sin, to “deceive” us, and “through the commandment” to “kill” us (Romans 7:8, 11, 13). The Law awakens and stirs up sin; in fact, the Law is the very “power of sin” (1 Corinthians 15:56)! Thus, Paul can actually say, “the Law came in that the transgression might increase” (Romans 5:20). By showing men more clearly their condemnation and horrible bondage to sin, “the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). The Law of Moses did its part to “shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22).

The Mosaic Covenant does indeed serve a gracious purpose in that it “leads us to Christ.” Its laws reveal to us our sinfulness, and its sacrifices foreshadow our Savior. But the Mosaic Covenant itself is not characterized by the principle of grace, “for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them’” (Galatians 3:10).

Promise vs. Law

Since “as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse” (Galatians 3:10), it is evident that those Jews who found eternal life while living under the Mosaic Covenant, found it not through the Law as such, but through the Promise. Unlike their fellow countrymen who imagined that they could succeed in establishing a “righteousness of their own” by keeping the Law (Philippians 3:9; Romans 9:31-32; 10:3), they realized, instead, that the Law itself only condemned them. They knew that even their “righteous” deeds were but “a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6) in God’s sight, and they understood that scrupulous observance of the sacrifices and offerings of the Mosaic system could not actually take away their sins (Micah 6:6-7; Psalm 51:16; Hebrews 10:4). Instead, they “followed in the steps of the faith of their father Abraham which he had while he was yet uncircumcised” (Romans 4:12). They, like Abraham, “believed God,” trusting Him to “justify the ungodly” and to “reckon righteousness” to them “apart from works” (Romans 4:3-6). They, like Abraham, looked in faith to the promise and to the coming of the One to whom the promise had been made (John 8:56; 12:41; Acts 2:30-31; 1 Peter 1:10-12). As a result, they experienced the “blessing” of Abraham, even though they lived under the Law of Moses:

Just as David [a man who lived directly under the Mosaic Law] also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”  Romans 4:6-8

The same principle applied to the survival of the nation of Israel as a whole. Time after time, when the nation of Israel should have been utterly destroyed (Deuteronomy 28:45, 48, 51, 61 “until you are destroyed”), it was Promise, not Law, that preserved a remnant. Under the conditions of the Law (Deuteronomy 28:15-68), the people of Israel richly deserved every judgment that came upon them (Nehemiah 9:26-37; Daniel 9:1-19), and the fact that God did not “make an end of them or forsake them” is attributed to His grace and compassion (Nehemiah 9:30-31; Deuteronomy 4:29-31), not to His legal justice. When Israel sinned, no prophet ever interceded for the nation on the basis of Law, but solely on the basis of grace, imploring God for mercy and appealing to the covenant God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.” So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people. –Exodus 32:12-14 NAS95

You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day I knew you. So I fell down before the LORD the forty days and nights, which I did because the LORD had said He would destroy you. I prayed to the LORD, and said, “O Lord GOD, do not destroy Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not look at the stubbornness of this people or at their wickedness or their sin.” –Deuteronomy 9:24-27 NAS95

Now Hazael king of Aram had oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. But the LORD was gracious to them and had compassion on them and turned to them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them or cast them from His presence until now. –2 Kings 13:22-23

In this remnant preserved by grace lay the hope and future of God’s people. Through the prophets, God assured the Jews that one day He would yet fulfill every promise made to Abraham by sending the Messiah, who would establish a New Covenant with the renewed “house of Israel and house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31-37; 32:37-41; Hebrews 8:6-13).

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain; when he was one I called him, then I blessed him and multiplied him.” Indeed, the LORD will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and sound of a melody….“Lift up your eyes to the sky, then look to the earth beneath; for the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment, and its inhabitants will die in like manner, but My salvation shall be forever, and My righteousness shall not wane.”…So the ransomed of the LORD will return, and come with joyful shouting to Zion, and everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. –Isaiah 51:1-3, 6, 11

“Shut Up Under Sin”

In answer to the question, “Why the Law then?” Paul says that it was “added because of transgressions.” After considering something of what he means by this phrase, we have seen that God’s ultimate purpose in giving the Law to fallen men was not that they might save themselves by keeping it, but that their utter need of a Savior might be established by their failing to keep it! In light of this truth, several questions immediately press upon each of us, even though we have never lived directly under the Mosaic Covenant:

Do I see God’s demands as “holy, righteous, and good” (Romans 7:12) and His requirements as only good and right? Have I stopped blaming God for my sins by excusing them or by imagining that He expects too much of me?

Do I realize that I have fallen infinitely short of living a life of perfect love to God and man, and that, in myself, I stand hopelessly condemned in God’s sight? Can I see that I am condemned, not because of any fault on God’s part, but because of my own selfish and wicked heart?

Do I realize that I will never be able to establish any righteousness of my own before God or do anything that will obligate Him to love and save me? Have I given up on ever being able to “merit” the merits of Christ? Do I realize that unless salvation is entirely by grace, I will never be saved?

If my answer is “yes” to all of these questions, then the law of God has done its intended work in me! I have nothing to do but to look away from myself and put my trust in Christ alone for my righteousness and salvation!

“So the ransomed of the LORD will return, and come with joyful shouting to Zion, and everlasting joy will be on their heads.” Hallelujah!