Knowing About it, and Yet not Knowing it.
by John Dickie
WILLIAM COCHRANE was an amiable and intelligent young man, resident in Kilmarnock. But though, as an amiable man, he partly understood his duties to his fellowmen, and sought to discharge them; he had no room in his heart for the fear of God, and no profound sense of obligation to Him; indeed, like every unconverted man, the amiable as well as the profane, he lived very much as he would have done, had he been assured there was no God, no Saviour, no judgment, and no eternity. He went to church, but if this be all, a man may as easily forget God amid the routine of religious observances, as in the entire neglect of them. Happily for William, however, God met him there, and used the preached word for the thorough awakening of his slumbering soul. He was startled by the discovery of his unutterable guilt before God, as well as his extreme danger, and felt that it was of sinners like him that such words were spoken, "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God."
For ten months he bore his heavy burden; for though he had gone to many to ask, "What must I do to be saved?" he had found no rest. The instruction he had thus received however, had greatly increased his knowledge of gospel truth, and though this had not led him to peace in believing, it sufficed to keep him out of sheer despair.
All this time, he was making vehement effort to get his heart put right, but the more he strove to make it right, the more conscious he became of its being hopelessly wrong. For some mouths, he had been feeling as if he were within just a hair’sbreadth of salvation, but though he made almost frantic efforts to cross that hair’sbreadth, he never was able to do it. To-morrow he hoped to get it done, but months went past, and left him still groaning and struggling on the wrong side of the narrow barrier. Poor man! he knew neither the greatness of his own ruin, nor yet the greatness of God's saving mercy. He knew not that he could no more pass over that narrow hindrance than he could climb the whole height of heaven, for he was seeking to bridge it over with a little piece of his own righteousness. Neither did he know that God's grace in Christ Jesus had so met his case, as to leave him not even that hair'sbreadth gap to cross; for Jesus had crossed it to come to his side of it, Jesus had come down to the deepest depth of his ruin and his wretchedness, to bring God's mercy to him just as he was. But he missed that mercy, for not knowing that the Word was so near him (Rom. x. 8), he persisted in seeking it just a hair'sbreadth off.
It was while he was in this state of mind that the writer met him and invited him to call for conversation. He came, and after praying, a conversation like the following ensued:—
"Now, William, we have met to speak about the gospel, but whether will you tell me about it, or am I to tell you; for really you seem to know all about it?"
He made no answer, but his look was full of despairing misery.
"Do you think you know enough, William, of the story of Divine love, to be able to point out the way of salvation to an anxious soul, if no one else were at hand to do it?"
"Yes," said he with deliberation, "I think I could."
"And what would you tell him?"
"I would show him what Jesus had done to save the lost, and I would tell him that there was pardon for any sinner through the blood of Jesus.''
"And if he were to ask you how he was to get this forgiveness, and when, what would you answer?"
"Oh," said he, "I would say that he was to believe on the Lord Jesus, and to believe at once, that he might be at once forgiven."
“Now, William, how much comfort does the knowledge of all these precious truths give yourself?" I asked.
"Oh, they give me no comfort at all."
“That is surely very strange; what can be the matter?"
"I do not know," he answered very modestly.
"Ah, William, here's the reason," said I, “though you know a great deal about the gospel, you don't believe it; you don't believe what you told me a minute ago."
"Oh, certainly," said he with earnestness, "I do believe it."
"Then what makes you so unhappy?" I asked.
"It's the hardness of my heart,” he said. "I have no pleasure in prayer or in the Bible; and as for God, I am afraid of Him, but I don't feel that I love Him."
"Then would it make you happy, if you could feel your heart soft and tender, melting at the remembrance of your sins, and warming with love at the thought of Jesus?"
"That's the very thing I'm wanting," he said eagerly, "but do as I like, I cannot get at it."
"Ah, my friend, you will never get your rest there. Will you tell me once more, who it is that Jesus came to seek and to save?" I asked.
"He came to save sinners," he replied.
"Are you quite sure of that?"
"Oh yes," said he, "the Bible says so very plainly. 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.' "
"Now, William," said I, "I wish you to be very clear on this point, that God expressly tells us that it is the sinner whom Jesus came to save; for this is just the point which you do not believe."
"Oh yes," said he, "I certainly believe that."
"I don't think you do, for if you did, you would not be in despair because you are a sinner. What is a sinner, but just a poor wicked creature exactly like yourself, with a hard godless heart just like yours? It was to save such sinners that Jesus came, and if you were anything but what you are, you would not be a fit subject for Christ's mercy, for He came to save the lost. Why then are you seeking to work some good thing in yourself, instead of going to Jesus just as you are, to take in your character as a sinner, the free mercy which all along He has been holding out to you AS A SINNER.
"That's just what I'm wishing to do," he said briskly.
"Nay, William," said I, "that is what you are most unwilling to do. If you are ready to do it, nothing hinders, for Jesus has been all along quite ready to receive you. ‘I would,' He says, 'but ye would not.' The truth is, you will not venture yourself into God's hands with no plea whatever, save the blood of Jesus, and God's own promise about it. You want to have, in addition, some good feelings of your own. But you must come trusting simply to God's Word about Jesus, and with no feeling but the feeling of a dead, dark, and miserable heart."
He was very thoughtful for a little, and then quietly asked, "What do you think I should do now?"
“l think you should give up trying to do any more in the sense you mean it. All your doing hitherto has done nothing for you, and it never will. Be quiet now, and simply listen to God. Let Him speak to you and do believe every word He says. Will you read Rom. x. 1-3?"
He read, “Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved. For I bear them record, that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”
"Now, William," said I, "you see from these verses that the Jews were very much like you. They sought what you are seeking, and they sought it earnestly, but because they did not seek in God's way, they missed it. Is there anything in the third verse that strikes you?"
"Yes," he said, "going about to establish their own righteousness.”
“And what strikes you in that?"
“I fear that I have been doing it," he said.
“Indeed you have, William. Now what does the Bible say about those who go about to establish their own righteousness?”
"They have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” he answered.
"Precisely so," I replied; “and is not this your case? You want to be saved as a good man, instead of ‘submitting’ gladly to be saved as a bad man; as one who, having no goodness of his own, needs to be indebted to the mere mercy of his Saviour. It is not your sins that hinder you from getting peace; it is your reluctance to be SAVED AS A SINNER. No case can be too bad for Christ; for since He is showing forth the exceeding riches of God's grace in saving even 'the chief of sinners,’ His purpose is best served with the worst man, if only that man will 'submit' to the 'righteousness of God.' Oh! that you would accept God’s estimate of you as one ‘dead in trespasses in sins;’ that you would submit to take your place before Jesus as one who is certainly bad enough to fit His purposes of mercy. Will you please to read also Exod. xii. from the first to the fourteenth verse?”
He did so, and was so well instructed as quite to understand that the Passover was a type of the Lord Jesus, and of free salvation in His blood.
"Now, William," said I, "observe that God was to pass through Egypt that night in judgment; and If guilty Egypt suffer for its sins, why should guilty Israel escape? They escape only because they are God's covenant people, the objects of His undeserved favour; and while He spares them for His own sake, He gives them a sign which teaches this, and which also serves to shadow forth a greater salvation through blood more precious. Every household is charged to take its lamb, and to kill it between the evenings, and the head of the house is to take the blood in his hands, and going on, is to sprinkle it on the door-posts and the lintel outside, then coming in, he shuts the door, while the family feasts on the lamb within in perfect safety. For they have God’s assurance that wherever the blood marks shall be put upon the door, there the destroying angel will ‘pass over’ the household. Now notice particularly the words in verse 13, ‘When I see the blood, I will pass over you;’ and from these words, learn three most important lessons:—
"First, the thing which saved an Israelite was not anything in his own heart. He might feel his heart soft, or he might feel it hard; his safety did not depend on the state of his feelings, but simply on the fact of his having put up the blood marks on his door. The one thing that could give him safety was a something outside of himself; nay, it was outside of his house—it was the blood on the door-posts. And, in like manner, the only thing which can preserve a sinner now from God's judgment against sin is the blood of Jesus; which blood is a something not in our hearts at all—not in our houses even not in this town—not in Scotland. And yet, dear William, you turn away from this blood of Jesus, which God has provided. Your only safeguard and keep searching in your own heart for a something of your own, which you will God to recognize as yours and for sake of which you would have Him to withdraw His destroying judgments.
Do you see what I mean?"
"I see it very clearly," he said.
"Then please to notice the second lesson taught us in these words. The something which kept the household in safety was not only outside of themselves, but it was a something which they could not EVEN SEE. God alone saw it. 'When I see the blood,' He says. The blood was put upon the door-posts to meet God's eye; it was not meant for the eye of the Israelite who was saved by it. And it is the same still. The sinner who is saved by the blood of Jesus, is saved on account of something which he himself does not see, but which God sees, for it was meant for God's eye, not for ours. Christ's great work of redemption is presented to His Father. Now William, you are seeking to see somebody, to feel something; and till you can see it for yourself, you can take no comfort from what God is telling you that He sees, for you refuse to believe Him. Is not this the case?"
"Oh," said he eagerly, "this is the very point where I have been all wrong. I see it now.”
“Then notice the third lesson. While the Israelite was saved by a something outside of himself and which he could not even see, he had God’s plain promise about it to keep him in peace of mind, but he had NOTHING ELSE. In other words, he was saved through faith. If he could trust God's promise, then he is safe and happy; but if he cannot trust God's naked word, then he shall get nothing else. Now, William, you stumble at this point also. You refuse to trust simply to God's bare Word, that ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth from all sin.’ But till you 'submit' to trust yourself into God's hands, simply as a sinner, with nothing to give you safety but the blood of Jesus and with nothing to give you peace but God's promise, and this too while you see nothing and feel nothing—till you ‘submit’ to this, there is no release from your sin and misery and black despair. But why, dear William, should you delay another moment, to place yourself as a lost and most guilty sinner under the shelter of the precious blood of Jesus? God invites, commands, urges you to do it; and He promises you perfect safety in your doing it. ‘Now is the accepted time, now,' this very day, this very hour, in this very room, ‘is the day of salvation.' Are you not ready yet?"
"Yes, I am ready," he said with a tremulous voice, and with the deepest feeling.
“And does this way of holy mercy suit a case so hopeless and so helpless as yours?”
“It does," he replied, "oh, it does. I never saw before that I might be saved just as I am, and just at once, but I see it plainly now.”
"Well, William, it will be better not to detain you. I can do no more. I have tried to show you the open way into the holiest of all. You must enter for yourself. Go in and go now to settle it all with the Lord Jesus. Tell Him all that is on your heart and trust him to do for you all that He promises. Take Him as He gives Himself to you to be your Prophet, your Priest and your King. Give yourself up to Him. He is waiting for you—waiting to show you all His pardoning love. Do not fear a refusal, for He says, 'Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise—in no wise—IN NO WISE—cast out.’ ”
We only add that the foregoing conversation was blessed to the young man. He at once went direct to the Lord Jesus and found immediate and lasting peace. He was then in usual health, but some time after, his health broke down, and in fifteen months or so he died. Jesus was his strength and his song all through the time of his trying sickness, and his end was "perfect peace."
And now, my reader, will you permit me to ask, Have you submitted to the righteousness of God? Have you, in the light of God's holy presence, seen that all your righteousnesses are nothing better than filthy rags—that what you have counted your very best deeds, are as perfectly worthless, so far as your justification is concerned, as those which you have counted your very worst? Have you, therefore, been brought to glory only in Christ as made of God unto you, "wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption?" (1 Cor. i. 30) Or are you still toiling at the heartless, hopeless, wicked task of seeking to establish your own righteousness? Alas for you if it be so! What ails you at the loving and altogether lovely Son of God, that you will not trust him—that you will not "submit" to be His debtor for the free mercy which you so urgently need, and which He so graciously delights to bestow? Ah! you may for the present stand aloof from Him, and vainly toil to weave for yourself a robe out of your doings or your feelings; but be assured that God will meet you only in His fiery anger, if you shall go before Him at last a despiser of His beloved Son. Wherefore, "Kiss the Son lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him."
But possibly, my reader, you may be one of those who are perfectly unconcerned, who do not care so much for these things as even to go about to establish their own righteousness. Infatuated sleeper, what shall awake you when the thunder of God's threatenings are altogether unheard? How can you be so easy when God's wrath at this moment rests upon you? (John iii. 36) How can you manage to laugh—to sleep—to eat—to drink—you who are a lost soul, condemned already (John iii. 18), —condemned to everlasting destruction, and who are at this moment, for aught you know, within an hour of the awful execution? Oh, sleeper! awake! awake! There is help at your side if you will only accept of it. Jesus has come down from Heaven to save such as you. Listen to Him then as He tells you of your ruin, and as He tells you too of the full and free salvation that is in Him for "whosoever will." What extremity of folly is it to stave off consideration now, when consideration may be of service, only to have it force itself upon you at last when its visit shall avail you nothing, for it shall then come only to extinguish hope for ever, and to fan into intolerable fury, the flames of that tormenting fire which never can be quenched. In the meantime, the Word of grace speaketh thus, "Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of men" (Prov, viii. 4). "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezek. xxxiii. 11.)
“Good News” February 1866