Messrs. Editors,—I am concerned to know how we may assure ourselves that a passage of Scripture, when applied to the mind, is by God the Holy Spirit, and not by the evil one who lieth in wait to deceive. If you or some of your correspondents will endeavour, through the medium of the Standard, to bring me to a satisfactory conclusion upon that matter, it will be greatly esteemed by your constant reader,—ELIZABETH.
“Elizabeth” says she is “concerned to know how we are to assure ourselves that a passage of Scripture, when applied to the mind, is by God the Holy Spirit, and not by the evil one who lieth in wait to deceive.”
Now to me it appears that what comes from the Lord is sure to lead to the Lord, and what comes from Satan leads to Satan. Therefore, whatever portion of the Word of God is applied to the mind by the power of God the Holy Ghost, it will invariably lead the mind, in some good degree, to act in conformity to the nature of that very truth which is applied. The Word of God is designed for the real benefit of his people. Now if any branch of this blessed word is applied to the conscience by the Holy Ghost, it is to answer some of the above purposes. If it is a passage of reproof or rebuke, it will lead them to feel a solemn check, and they will fall under it before the Lord and confess their sins with deep humility and prayer; and if it be a passage of admonition, of exhortation, or caution, it will lead them to self-examination, and to pray to the Lord that his gracious Majesty would be pleased to search them and try them, and lead them in the way of life everlasting, and keep them from snares and dangers, and deliver them from the snares and wiles of the devil, and enable them to watch and pray that they enter not into temptation, and keep them humble at the feet of the Lord, and enable them to walk circumspectly, not as fools. If it be a passage of comfort, or a precious promise, it will not fill them with pride, self-confidence, arrogance, or presumption, but will lead them to self-abasement and heart-melting joy, to think that such rich blessings should be promised and given to such vile sinners, and their souls will be drawn forth in praise and thanksgivings to the God of all grace for his wonderful kindness to them; and in their inmost mind they will love, praise, and adore a Three-One covenant God. If it be a blessed application of some of the discriminating doctrines of God’s free grace to the soul, such as the following: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth,” it will produce a sweet and solemn confidence in the Lord, and raise the soul above the world, and cause it feelingly to triumph in the Lord, and with holy wonder stand amazed at the matchless grace of God towards such a sinner; and in his very soul the sinner will say, “What hath God wrought!” and he will be constrained to sing with the psalmist, “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear thereof and be glad.” (Ps 34:2) If it be a sweet and glorious manifestation of the beauty of Christ and the beauty and glory that God has conferred upon us in Christ (see Col 2:10; Is 61:10), with holy wonder we shall both view and feel something of the matchless grace of God towards us, and the wonderful dignity he has conferred upon us. Here we are lost in wonder, love, and praise; nor will it vamp up the pride of the heart, but produce both a solemn glory and a deep humility in the mind, and will lead us with feeling adoration to ascribe all the glory to God. (See Rev 1:5,6; Eph 1:3-12; Ps 115:1)
In a word, as I said before so I say again, whatever comes from the Lord, by the power of God the Holy Ghost in the conscience, is sure to lead to the Lord in some way or other; so that if any portion of God’s Word appears to be brought to the mind with power, and the effect is to drive us from the Lord, or to lead us to commit sin; or which prompts to pride, arrogance, presumption, carelessness, indolence, unwatchfulness, and incaution; or which induces us to neglect prayer, attendance upon hearing and reading the word whenever we have an opportunity; or which tempts us to slight the ordinances of the Lord, the means of God’s grace, or any branch of divine truth that his gracious Majesty has revealed; or which inclines us to disregard the weak of God’s family, or to despise any poor broken-hearted child of God, and exalt ourselves in our great knowledge or attainments, yea, or our deep experience either; in short, anything which thus leads us to act in direct opposition to God’s Word, we may be quite certain comes from Satan.
I do not mean to say that we cannot be tempted even to take advantage of a blessed application of God’s truth to the conscience by the Holy Spirit, to act wrong; no, for I have felt that to the wounding of my spirit; but then, it is the devil’s temptations and the workings of our corrupt nature which produce such feelings and actions, and not the spirit, nor the blessed truth of God. But there will be deep groanings, sighings, and cryings when we are brought under these feelings. Satan can transform himself into an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14), and whatever he does in that form is to answer some Satanic purpose and to drive the child of God from the bosom and feet of the Lord into pride, self presumption, or sin in some shape or other; and when this is the case, we may be sure that Satan is the worker. He can come forth with an “It is written,” and suit his temptation to the very circumstances in which we are placed; but still he has an infernal purpose in view. If his Satanic majesty has some flesh-pleasing bait to lay before the child of God, he will bring such a portion of God’s Word as this to the mind: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus;” but not a word will he say about “walking not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Having brought the first of the text, or some one like it, he then turns preacher, and says, “You know that you have felt union to Christ, and you see you are made free; therefore you have no cause to feel so much alarmed at such trifling sins. You may do this thing which is so pleasing to you, and still there is no condemnation, for you stand complete in Christ. Your sins will not affect the glory of the work and righteousness of Christ. Your justification and completeness are in Christ, not in yourself; therefore there is no need of your being so very particular about watching and praying; neither need you be so much afraid of doing those things which are so pleasing to you. Besides, by doing this it may preserve you from some gross immorality, which would bring you into public disgrace; and therefore you may safely do this.” But not one hint will the tempter give about it being a shame to speak of those things which are done in secret; no, no; that must be kept out of sight, or at least the mind must, if possible, be steeled against it. The enemy will also tell you that David, and Solomon, and others of the saints of God have gone farther than you are likely to go, and yet they were saved; for “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” “Besides, you can do this and that thing, whatever it may be, and it will not be known, and will, therefore, bring no public disgrace upon your character nor upon the cause of Christ; and only think how pleasing it will be to the flesh.”
Sometimes the enemy will tempt the child of God to some covetous act, to which worldly gain may be attached, and he will say, “You may do such and such a thing without any one knowing a word about it; and you will gain so much by it, and thus it will be profitable to your outward circumstances, and still bring with it no disgrace.” But the tempter does not say a word about taking heed to beware of covetousness, nor of covetousness being numbered with some of the basest of crimes (Lk 12:15; Eph 5:3); nor does he say anything about grieving the Spirit of the Lord, about the hidings of the Lord’s countenance, about making sore work for conscience, nor about crucifying the Lord of life afresh; no, no; all this is kept on the back ground. And if the enemy succeeds in drawing the poor sinner into the snare, and the Lord withholds a manifestation of his light, life, and love, and the soul sinks into gloomy darkness and dismay, which is sure to be the case, in a greater or lesser degree; for if we walk contrary to the Lord he will walk contrary to us; then the devil turns round upon us with some portion of God’s Word which appears to cut up all hope and stop the mouth of prayer; such as the following: “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” “And,” says he, “what holiness have you? Look at yourself. Mark the feelings of your heart, examine all your deportment, and then hear what God says of such: ‘Let no man deceive you, with vain words, for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.’ (Eph 5:3-6) And again: ‘If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.’“ (1 Jn 2:15,16) These and many other such solemn truths will be brought to the mind, accompanied with dreadful horror and dismay, and the soul will perhaps be plunged into the heart of Hebrews 6:4-8; 10:26-29; 2 Pet 2:20,21. “There is your case and character described,” says the enemy. “Be assured there is no more mercy for you; you have sealed your condemnation sure.” And if the poor soul feels a small degree of godly sorrow, and is desirous to confess his sins and cry for mercy, the enemy again comes in, and says, “No, no; it is of no use praying; there is no hope; for you have loved strangers, and after them have you gone. Nay, more; the Lord says if you regard iniquity in your heart he will not hear you; and that you have done; nay, you have practised it. Therefore, as you have shut yourself out of all hope, you had better put an end to your existence and know the worst of it, for the longer you live the more you will sin and the deeper you will sink.”
All this, and a thousand times more will the enemy urge to prevent the poor soul from confessing his sin and crying for mercy; so that he first pleads Scripture to draw from the Lord into pleasing sin, and then to drive from the Lord into destruction. But sometimes, after a long and severe heart-groaning struggle, the blessed Spirit will apply such a blessed portion of God’s Word as this: “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.” This being brought to the conscience with divine power, it opens the heart, unstops the mouth, and constrains the soul to cry to God in prayer, confession, adoration, and thanksgiving. Satan is defeated, the conscience enlarged and consecrated to God, the soul blessed and God glorified.
But we have no cause to wonder at Satan’s horrible attacks upon a poor child of God, if we read his conduct towards the Lord himself in Matt. iv. 3-10. Is the Lord a hungred? He tempts him, as a proof of his being the Son of God, to command the stones to be made bread. Do the priests, scribes, and Pharisees deny the power and glory of Christ, and despise him? He tempts him to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, and give them a proof that he is the Son of God with power, and partly quotes a passage out of the psalms as applicable to Christ, and thus tempts his glorious Majesty to presumption, with a “Thus saith the Lord,” to back him in it. Have foxes holes, and the birds of the air nests, and the Son of Man no where to lay his head? Satan had power to show him the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, and had infernal impudence enough to tell him that all these things he would give him if he would fall down and worship him; and if the devil could do these things to the green tree, what is he not able to do to the dry? “Good God, defend the dry.”
May the blessed words and conduct of the dear Lord be sealed upon our hearts by the invincible power of God the Holy Ghost; and when a “Thus saith the Lord” is brought to the mind, may the Lord enable us to watch its movements both in the conscience and conduct; and may we in very deed watch and pray that we enter not into temptation; for we may be assured that Satan is on the watch, whether we are or not, and he will suit his temptations to the circumstances in which we are placed, but his end will invariably be to either lead or drive us into some false way, in thought or deed, or both.
I am but a poor worm, yet I am not altogether ignorant of Satan’s devices; and if the above hints, just as a key to the subject, will be of any service to “Elizabeth,” or to any branch of God’s dear family, I hope that both they and I shall be constrained to give God the glory.
William Gadsby (1773-1844) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher, writer and philanthropist.