Brethren Archive

Change For A Pound

by John Dickie


"I can't see it—I can't see a bit of it," said Adam, rubbing his forehead with an air of perplexity.

"What is it that you can't see, Adam? Tell me your difficulty as plainly as you can. Do you not see that you are a sinner—a lost and miserable sinner?"

"Oh yes; I see that clearly enough. Indeed, I see nothing else but that. Whenever I try to go a little bit further forward, I get into mist and darkness; and I have to come back to the only point which I can see clearly—that I am a most miserable and helpless sinner."

"And how do you know that you are such a sinner?"

"How do I know it? why, I feel it, to be sure. Alas! there is no room left me for any doubt about this."

"No; and I am so far glad that you do feel it; though I should have been still better satisfied if you had mentioned, along with this, another, and a weightier reason for believing yourself to be such a sinner."

"A weightier reason than my own feeling of it! What can that be?"

"God's formal announcement of the awful fact."

"Ah yes, of course."

"Now, why say 'of course,' Adam, when practically you are influenced almost exclusively by your own thoughts on the subject, and scarcely at all by anything that you read in the Word of God? Your almost total neglect of God's most holy Word is the source of much unhappiness to yourself, besides being grievously dishonouring to him."

"But I do not neglect his Word. So far from this, I am continually turning it over in search of comfort; though, indeed, I find little enough in it to comfort me, for its awful statements only condemn me."

"My dear friend, will you permit me to speak my mind with perfect candour? It seems to me that during your whole life, hitherto you have taken counsel on these matters only from your own heart. What a miserable counsellor in a question such as this! and yet, as if you had no more trust-worthy teacher within your reach, you persist in setting yourself to think out your own thoughts about your case, instead of sitting down reverently to listen to God, while he condescends to open up his thoughts about you, and to listen, too, as one who is ready to believe all that the Lord his God shall speak. Until you abandon your own independent thinking, and begin to listen and to believe, I cannot see that true deliverance is at all possible."

"But I already believe the Word of God—every clause and every sentence of it. I am not aware, indeed, that I have ever doubted it. Surely you are under a mistake."

"What! did you believe every clause and every sentence of it, during all those long years which you have been spending in such sinful carelessness? What single day was it, of all that time, what hour was it, in which you either felt or acted like a man who understood and who believed all that the Bible was telling him about his condition as a sinner, condemned already, and in the hands of an angry and perfectly righteous God? Will you really profess that you believed your guilt to be as aggravated, and your danger to be as imminent, as the Bible affirmed them to be, while this faith of yours did not modify in the least your carelessness, your worldliness, or your self-satisfaction? No, no, my friend; it is simply because you have begun of late to believe these things that you are now so thoroughly miserable; and if you had only believed them years ago, you would have been equally wretched years ago."

"Too true, alas! too true—at least so far as the past is concerned.  But I believe now all that the Bible is telling me."

"That may be questioned, Adam. If we have patience for a little, we may perhaps discover the facts of the case. I am happy to admit that certain portions of the Word of God which you have hitherto neglected, you now listen to and believe—those portions, namely, which condemn you, and to which I have just been referring. I admit, also, that these portions have awakened your slumbering conscience; but that you are now exercising faith on the entire Word of God—no, no, Adam; you are still far enough from that. Indeed, I am afraid that you are scarcely more submissive to its statements, in your present wretchedness, than you have hitherto been in your easy-minded carelessness."

"I am sure I do not know. I stand amazed when I look back at my past folly in neglecting the one thing needful so completely as I have done."

"And you may well stand aghast at the sin of it, as well as the folly. Let us, however, seek to profit now by our past errors and sins; and let us, above all, watch against the repetition of our old mistakes under new shapes and forms. You will perceive, I am sure, that the Word of God was telling you during all that time, everything that it tells you now, while yet, its awful statements never gave you any trouble. Why do they so trouble you now?"

"I really can scarcely tell you. I only know that I am stupid, and dark, and most miserable."

"Well, let me humbly attempt an answer. I suppose that the Holy Spirit has been pleased to use his own Word in order to arouse your torpid conscience—a painful office which this same Word is certain to discharge on every torpid conscience, sooner or later, either here or hereafter. I suppose, too, that conscience is now speaking to you in the way of applying certain portions of the divine Word which you have hitherto slighted, and that it is doing this in tones which you can neither soften nor escape. The danger now is, that you persist in listening to the voice of conscience only, instead of turning towards God to listen to him; just as the one grand error of your past life has lain in your listening to your own heart, instead of sitting humbly at the feet of Jesus, to learn all about your condition, your interests, and your duty from his lips. Indeed, I cannot but fear, Adam, that your present darkness and despondency come out of a conviction of sin which has been produced rather by what your own conscience has been telling you, than by what God's Word has been telling you. In other words, I am afraid that you are repeating your original sin and folly of listening merely to your own heart, instead of listening to the voice of God; though you are now doing it under a different form and in circumstances somewhat altered."

"I do not know. But, if I am lost at all, what matters it whether I learn the frightful fact of my ruin from my own conscience or from the Word of God, or perhaps from each of them in part? If it be a fact at all, it is surely of little consequence to me how I may have come to learn it."

"By no means, Adam; by no means. If you receive the knowledge of this alarming fact from conscience chiefly, or from conscience only, then conscience can speak to you of nothing but your aggravated guilt and your everlasting condemnation. It can cast no light upon any matter fitted either to deliver or to comfort you. If you implicitly accept conscience as your only teacher, it can lead you down into the depths of hopeless misery, and leave you there; but it knows not how to lead you through the sorrow, and out beyond it, into the region of peace and joy. On the other hand, when a man accepts the Word of God as his only teacher, and when he mixes faith with every one of its utterances, then he puts himself under divine guidance; and though he too may be led down into the sorrowful depths of conviction of sin, this is only as a stage on the blessed road towards the full, the lasting joy of perfect pardon. If, Adam, you had been learning the solemn fact of your ruin and condemnation from the Word of God alone, or even chiefly, you would have found in that Word a further message addressed to you—a message about salvation as well as about sin; and the same faith in God which would have led you to accept the one half of his statement, would have led you with equal heartiness to accept the other. But since you receive only that part of the divine message which your own conscience takes up and repeats to you, while you persist in refusing to believe that other part of it which God alone is addressing to you. I fear that even in regard to your present conviction you are listening to your conscience rather than to God. This is probably the reason why your unhappiness is so largely compounded of that fear which can only torment."

Adam hung his head, like one absorbed in thought, for a minute or two.

"I see a faint glimmer of light where you point it out to me," he said; "but it looks as if it were true light. Can you make that last remark a little plainer, do you think?"

"I shall try it, Adam. My present suggestion is, that yon have been all along building on your own reasonings about yourself, and not on the Word of God, and that you still persist in doing so. It is this unbelief which has kept you in your state of ruin hitherto; which is keeping you in your protracted misery now; and which, unless put away, will turn out to be your misery and your ruin forever. Your own reasonings have ruled you hitherto, and they rule you still; God's naked Word has had, and still has, scarcely any weight with you. Look back for a moment on the actual state of your mind during your careless years. Did you not rest in a measure of peace on your decent life, and on your attention to social and religious duties; and, in spite of the very plainest and most unmistakable statements to the contrary in the Word of God, did you not, by your own reasonings, infer from that decent life that you could pretty securely count on a goodly measure of the divine favour? In other words, your own reasonings on the subject were to you everything; God's plainest statements were to you nothing."

"Yes, that is all true enough of the weary past; but it seems to me that the case is different now. I now believe every one of those warnings and threatenings which formerly I overlooked."

"But then, Adam, you are overlooking other statements now; which other statements constitute for you 'the present truth'—the truth which God is specially calling on you at this moment to embrace. Nay, if you will look candidly at the matter, you will see that your attitude towards the Word of God is scarcely altered. Your conscience, it is true, has been awakened, your understanding has been partially enlightened; but now again, as formerly, you set your reason to work upon your condition according to your new discoveries of it. And because your reason, now a little better enlightened as to the reality of your case, passes a verdict directly opposite to that which it passed in the days of your ignorance, you are sunk into despair; and this while the Word of God is speaking to the convicted sinner nothing but peace and pardon. At this moment you seem to be setting aside the word of God's grace by your new reasonings, as completely as you were wont to set aside his word of threatening by your old reasonings. You presumed in those days, simply because your own reasonings led you to presume; you despond now, because your present reasonings lead you to despond. In either case, you almost equally neglect the Word of God—that Word which would guard you alike from presumption on the one hand, and from despondency on the other."

"Alas! I am all dark, and miserable, and sinful. Must I perish, drawn on to my ruin by one mistake after another?"

"Certainly not. There is no reason why you should perish, since the Son of God has come to save the chief of sinners, and since the blessed gospel is an offer of eternal life to 'whosoever will.' But though there is no need for you to perish, there is pressing need for you to begin now, at the very beginning of a life of faith, by sitting down in confessed ignorance at the feet of Jesus, to learn from him what are the thoughts of God about you. You must now recognize the forgotten fact of your own utter ignorance of spiritual things; and, as a consequence, you must abandon your own presumptuous and misleading thoughts about them. And, for your first lesson, learn that the most dangerous symptom of your case is one about which you are giving yourself hitherto no concern."

"What is that?"

"Your persistent unbelief, my friend. This unbelief it was that kept you in shameful peace, under God's wrath and curse, while you were careless; this unbelief it is which keeps you in your misery, now that you are partially convinced of your sin. This unbelief, which has no fear for God, speak what he may, is the sin of sins; and it is of this sin of unbelief that the Holy Spirit convicts a man when he begins to open the man's heart to his blessed teaching. 'When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will convince the world of sin, because they believe not on me.' Our past conversation has aimed at showing you that you have never had any confidence to place in the Word of God; and I fear I must add that you have scarcely any confidence in it yet. 'He that believeth not God—' Can you finish the quotation?"

"He that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son."

"Yes; there is no difficulty in understanding how it must be so. If we refuse to believe the testimony of a man when he is giving formal evidence, we unquestionably treat him as if we thought him to be a liar. The gospel is not Paul's word, nor John's word; but it is 'the testimony of God' (1 Cor. ii. 1). And if we receive it not, what gentler term can be applied to our unbelief than that we make the God of truth and holiness—a liar?"

"I fear that you are right. My darkness is growing darker; I dread the very worst. God be merciful to me, a sinner!"

"Amen, my friend; amen! He delighteth in mercy; he is infinitely ready to bestow it. Oh, that you were only ready to accept it in his appointed way! All the reluctance lies with you. In order that you may be startled out of your present refuge, let us look seriously at the hideous guilt and misery of unbelief—of actually making God a liar."

"Spare me, if you please. It is too horrible; I can't bear to think of it," groaned Adam, with some impatience.

"And yet for forty-odd years, God has been graciously bearing with your doing of it. But let us look at the matter. With such an ample atonement for sin as the perfect sacrifice of Christ, we can afford to look steadily and honestly at our condition. Did you ever tell a lie, Adam?"

"Yes; I have told a lie and acted a lie only too often; that is to say, when I was under some temptation to do it."

"Precisely; some influence or other came in to give you a bias to the wrong side. Had you been left at perfect liberty, you would spontaneously have spoken the truth."

"I would certainly have preferred to tell the truth, all things being equal; but temptation is sometimes strong, and I, alas! am always weak."

"Now, Adam, please to revert to what you have been saying, and tell me whether your unbelief—which the Bible says makes God a liar—does not go the length of implying that he is not half so good a Being as yourself. He can be under no constraint of any kind to swerve from the truth. He can lose nothing; he can gain nothing; he cannot be tempted with sin. And therefore, Adam, when your unbelief charges him with being a liar, it makes him a liar under circumstances in which a man like you would prefer to speak the truth. Are you not amazed at yourself, Adam, that you dare to treat the only Holy One as if he were speaking and acting in a sphere of falsehood far below anything that ordinary men succeed in reaching? And yet you have been doing it every day of your past life till now."

"Yes; it is dreadful. I have no excuse; you sink me into despair. Can there be pardon for such a wretch as I?"

"'Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.' But this is not all. Who is it that, when he speaks a lie, speaketh of his own, for he is a liar, and the father of it?"

"The devil, of course."

"Yes; the devil. And I wish you, Adam, to consider whether the God of truth and holiness has not been hitherto to you as the devil; while the devil—who is in fact the god of this world—has been your god. His suggestions you have all along trusted, and you trust them still. On the other hand, the God of the Bible, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, you do not, cannot trust. His assurances give you no comfort; his offers you will not accept; his gracious promises do not assuage your fears. In plain words, so completely do you turn things upside down, putting bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter, that hitherto you have been making God a liar and the devil true; or, to speak it in its unadorned horror, you make God your devil, while you make the devil your god. Now tell me, Adam, if you are not yet ready to give up this monstrous perversity, and submit for the first time to receive the Lord as your God, by accepting his word of grace about Jesus, as you have already begun to give credit to his word of condemnation because of your sin."

Adam sat silent, and manifestly absorbed in thought. Unwilling to disturb his meditations, his friend sat silent beside him for a time; but fearing that these meditations were tending rather to the dark than to the bright aspects of the solemn subject, he began to interject slowly, one after another, a few of the warm and gracious invitations of Holy Scripture. As they thus sat, the door of Adam's cottage was opened; but the neighbour who entered hastily withdrew again, so soon as she saw that a stranger was within.

"Come away, mistress, come away," said Adam, running to the door to call his neighbour back.

"Never mind," she said; "I am sorry for having disturbed you. All that I wanted was to see if you could oblige me with change for a pound."

"I am glad that I am able to do it. Come in, if you please," replied Adam, opening a drawer, and taking out of it a small bag, from which he counted the requisite number of coins into the hand of his neighbour. After she had retired, his friend said, "Now, Adam, have you not made a reckless and uncalled-for venture just now?"

"In what respect?" returned Adam.

"What do you think may be the actual value of the metal you have just given your friend, even if it were rated at the price of old silver?"

"Somewhere about twenty shillings, I suppose; deducting a little, of course, for tear and wear. At least, I am told that British coins are worth, as mere metal, the sums they represent."

"So I believe. Now, will you tell me next what may be the actual worth of the tattered bit of paper which you have accepted in exchange for them; I mean its value merely as a piece of old paper?"

"Why, it is worth, as nearly as possible, nothing whatever," he answered, with a melancholy smile.

"Then you gave away what is in itself worth twenty shillings for what is in itself absolutely worthless. Is this wise?"

"Yes, but the paper represents twenty shillings. Men have agreed to give it and to take it for this sum; so I can turn the note into the coins again as soon as I like. Indeed, the bank engages to cash the note on demand. See, here it is—'The Bank promise to pay to the bearer one pound sterling on demand at their office here. By order of the Court of Directors, signed so and so;"

"'Promise to pay,' and 'promise to pay on demand;' please to note these words very particularly, Adam. After all, your note is only a promise—nothing more. It is the promise, however, of a body which is quite able to fulfil its engagements, quite willing to do so, and which, moreover, is legally bound to fulfil its promise whenever it is asked to do so. You have just acknowledged that, in itself, that piece of crumpled paper is worth nothing. And yet the promise which it bears, joined to the solvency of the parties who issue it, gives it a value equal to the sum which it undertakes to pay; and you and your fellows are so satisfied of the reliability of the bank's promises, that you will take the paper in payment as readily as the bullion; nay, in order to oblige a neighbour, and without any purpose of profit to yourself, you will come between the bank and its creditor, and will advance the money, while you run all the risk of the bank's failure to fulfil its engagement"

"Oh, there is no risk, none whatever," replied Adam, smiling mournfully. "I only wish that I were equally sure about some more important interests."

"That is to say, Adam, you only wish you were as certain about the faithfulness of God as you are about the solvency of the bank."

"Oh, no, no," exclaimed Adam, eagerly; "it is not God whom I mistrust, it is myself; it is only myself. I know that I can count on his faithfulness."

"It is God whom you mistrust, Adam; and your present method of stating the case is simply a little bit of deceit which you practice on yourself. The truth is, your present state of soul is too hideous to be looked at in its native deformity; so you cover it up from your own eyes with anything that will serve for a decent veil. Permit me to strip gently off the delusive covering, and to repeat to you that your perplexity arises from the shocking unbelief which cannot venture on the mercy and the faithfulness of God as it ventures on the honesty and truthfulness of man. How strange that you, who have so much faith in human promises, refuse to put any value on the bank-notes of God. I do not say that you will not change them—that would be a sad proof of unbelief; but, far worse than this, you will not even take a gift of them. You treat God's formal promises to pay upon demand as if they were only so much waste paper, and nothing more. In response to your complaining outcry of abject spiritual poverty, he graciously presents you with untold riches in the form of promises, or if you like to call them notes, whereby he engages to pay on demand to the party who presents them, forgiveness of sin, peace of conscience, grace here and glory yonder. But you pay no heed to his invitations, give him no credit for his kind intentions, put no value on his notes, and have not hitherto carried even one of them to him, to ask and to receive the stipulated payment. How long has the Lord Jesus been calling in your hearing, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;' why, then, is it that you have never accepted his invitation, never gone to him to get the rest which he is so ready to bestow? If you would only trust the promises of God as you rely with confidence on the promises of man, there would actually be no end to your spiritual wealth. To place the matter on no higher ground, the God of truth is as able to fulfil, as willing to fulfil, and, by his own Word, he is as much engaged to fulfil all his exceeding great and gracious promises, as any bank can do, but it seems that you, who can venture so confidently on the written promises of your fellow-men, cannot risk anything on the promises, the bank-bills, of God. You think so kindly of false and fallen man, that he will prefer to speak the truth, unless he be under some temptation to do otherwise; while you refuse to think even so favourably of that God who cannot lie. Oh, Adam, is it not infinitely wonderful that he continues his mercy to creatures who persist in abusing him so wickedly?"

"It is all true," replied Adam, after a brief interval of silence." Nay, you might have spoken more strongly, and yet have kept within the truth. One can scarcely think that there is still pardon for a man who has all along been treating the God of truth after this fashion."

"Yes; but then, Adam, we are not to think our own thoughts; we are to listen to God while he tells us this, 'Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.' But you must believe what you read in his Word; you must begin now to believe it. And as you have been instructed in some little measure about your sin, and your consequent ruin, you must now accept God's further instructions to you about his saving mercy in Christ Jesus; and you must now venture your guilty soul for pardon on the merits of the blood of Jesus, who gave his life a ransom for us. 'Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.' 'Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out'"






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