Brethren Archive

The Golden And The Gilded

by John Dickie

IN the description of the New Jerusalem given us in Rev. xxi., we read that "the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass." And again it is added, "the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass" (Rev. xxi. 18, 21). This city is the continuing city which God has prepared for his children; the city of which he is the builder and the maker; for, from its first conception to its final completion, it is wholly the work of God. And God's workmanship is always "pure gold."

In Rev. xvii., we read of Satan's imitation of the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of peace—viz., Babylon, the earthly city of confusion. It is represented as a woman gorgeously arrayed, and, among her other adornments, she is "decked," or, as the margin reads it, "gilded with gold." God's reality is "pure gold; "Satan's counterfeit is only "gilded with gold."

Now, without using this in any other way than merely as an illustration of a most important principle which is set before us under a great variety of forms throughout Scripture, let us, for a little while, meditate on the danger that besets us all of mistaking Satan's gilded counterfeit for God's reality of pure and solid gold.

Gold is an admirable emblem of the divine. It is the most precious of the metals. It is also that metal which, in the procuring of it, is generally least subjected to the art of man. Iron, copper, and most of the other metals, need to be laboriously separated from their ores; but, in general, gold needs only to be searched for till it is found. Gold is also the most malleable of metals, capable of being worked into every shape by the practiced hammer; and thus it fitly represents the gracious soul, soft and passive in the hand of God, and ready to take whatever shape the great Designer pleases. Gold, again, has scarcely any affinity for oxygen the destroyer, so that the atmospheric air does not rust it, common acids do not corrode it, alkalis do not affect it; and so little does it lose by heat, that it has been kept fused for a month without the waste of a single grain weight. And is not this, of all the metals, the best emblem of the faith which is of God's operation, which, when sent out amid an evil world, has no affinity for its destroying corruptions, and which, when placed in the very eye of God's testing furnace, will stand the heat for weeks, and months, and years, and will lose nothing of its own, but will part only with the dross which encrusts it?

But, if pure gold be a fitting emblem of the truly divine in man, equally so is gilding a fit emblem of the counterfeit; for, while in reality, it is only a human thing, it assumes all the appearance of being a work of God.

And all the religiousness of a man's own heart is sure to be but gilded. Man, as man, universally loves sin. True, he may not love vice, which is often confounded with sin; but still, whether loving or hating vice, man is in love with sin, whose essence always lies in self-will and in self-pleasing. Coupled with this universal love of sin, there exists in certain classes of minds a powerful drawing towards religiousness; and under the influence of these two-fold likings, such men are in imminent danger of taking up with a form of religion which shall gratify the natural demands of the conscience for worship, while, at the same time, it shall not interfere with the selfishness of the unregenerated heart. And though the gospel, in its entirety, is anything but palatable to the natural heart of man, yet, certain portions of it, wrenched out of their connection, and rested on as if they alone were the gospel, are exceedingly sweet to the sin-loving, self-loving, religion-loving lusts of the unrenewed soul. These fragments of truth, then, the unbroken heart is only too ready to lay hold of, and out of them to compound for itself a "gilded gospel," as Bunyan calls it, which, of all religions, true or false, is the sweetest to the carnal heart.

This "gilded gospel," in the form of it which is most likely to assail many of us, is one that completely over-looks God's holiness and man's sin. It keeps harping on grace, grace; but it has nothing to say about God's holy hatred of man's most fearful sin. It chatters about love and mercy, and it delights to expatiate on the exalted privileges of the forgiven; but it never speaks of repentance towards God, and never thinks of exhorting to do works meet for repentance. Indeed, whatever it may possess, it lacks every element in Paul's gospel-commission as described by himself. (See Acts xxvi. 18-20.)

And so this "gilded gospel" produces in the heart that receives it a corresponding class of emotions, which, however lively for a season, are only, as Fraser of Brea styles it, "gilded grace." The mutilated gospel, like the genuine, may find out the sinner where he is; but, unlike the genuine, it leaves the sinner as it finds him, only with his outside gilded. He is as selfish as ever, though in the gilded professor this takes the form of religious selfishness. He is as self-willed as ever, as self-satisfied as ever, as whole-hearted and as worldly as ever; only these are all covered over with a thin film of surface gilding. He used to forget God, and to live for self, as a confessedly godless man; he forgets God still, and lives as much for self, only he does it now as a religious man. What was leaden is leaden still, only the lead is gilded. There is in him no true humility—none; though there is just enough of the semblance of it to deceive a heart that loves to be deceived. There is no real denial of self—none; and what seems to be so is only the forsaking of the old lusts for the indulging of the new. There is no Enoch-like walking with God, nor even the possibility of it; though there may be plentiful dealing with the letter of the Word. And so the whole of this fosters frequently a wonderful confidence and assurance—a confidence that is the fruit, not of a heart broken through faith, but of a heart made obdurate in its unbelief.

And not unfrequently, to man's eyes, the gilded looks better than the golden; still more frequently does it look quite as well. As in jewelry it is almost impossible for the inexperienced to distinguish the true gold from the well-plated trinket, so, in spiritual matters it is often hard to discern God's grace from Satan's skillful imitation of it. My reader, never attempt to judge a fellow disciple. "Who art thou that judgest another?----"let a man examine himself. And that this self-searching be done satisfactorily, let us cast ourselves on God, to be tried in his crucible, saying, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." For the special circumstance which makes it often very difficult to discern the gilded is, that the gilding is done with genuine gold. In the "gilded gospel," for instance, there may be, every one of them, undoubted truths which are gloried in; though, being wrenched from their connection, and carefully separated from the complemental truths which are given us to prevent the abuse of them, they have all the effect of absolute falsehoods.

Very generally the poor gilded disciple does not readily suspect that he is aught else but genuine gold. His zeal may concern itself about others, but never about himself. The man that is farthest wrong is likely to be best satisfied of his being perfectly right. Hence he does not like to be stirred up to self-suspicion; he relishes only smooth things that soothe and comfort him. On no account can he bear to be led deeper into his heart than the outside gilding; for, whatever his profession may say otherwise, his spiritual confidence is so entirely confidence in self, that a true sight of the humbling realities within him would speedily put it to death. When anything therefore awakens a troublesome doubt, he never dares to search honestly to the bottom of the case; but he turns at once to the gilt outside, and pacifies his conscience with the glitter of the seeming gold. "I had a very good outside," says Brainerd, speaking of his earlier experiences, "and I rested entirely on my duties, though I was not sensible of it." And it is astonishing how far a very little gilding, though it be almost all worn off, can go towards quieting a man who shrinks from troublesome self-discovery. A creed somewhat clear, a loud profession, a little zeal for doctrines or for party, a little feeling, though perhaps almost all evaporated, will suffice to lull a self-deluded soul back to its deadly slumbers. For all love is blind, and the reigning love of self, blinds the eyes to everything that would defile the beauty of the idol.

The great source of all this self-delusion lies in light and inadequate convictions of sin. Unless we be brought to realize in some degree the infinite enormity of sin, together with our own personal standing before God, as hopelessly and helplessly ruined by it, we shall never rightly apprehend the holy grace of God in Christ. We shall be sure to trifle with the gospel, and instead of being turned by it into gold, we shall only gild self with it. So far from having self-crucified and slain by the law, in order that we may be quickened into newness of life in Christ Jesus, we shall only have self-stimulated, decorated, and flattered, both by the law and by the gospel. Ah, what thorough work does the Holy Spirit make in hearts in which he enters to convict of sin! He stops every mouth, silences every excuse, makes a man stand before God speechless with shame and fear; while all the time he reveals the boundless grace of God in Jesus as sufficient for every need of a soul dead in trespasses and sins. Happy are they who thus are taught of God! It is only so far as we receive such teaching; that we really learn to know ourselves, and to know Christ. It is by this demonstration of the Spirit, and not by any persuadable words of man's wisdom, that we are enabled to see God himself, so as to fear him, to tremble at his word, to walk humbly before him, and to rejoice only in Christ Jesus. But without some measure of this peculiar teaching of the Holy Spirit, if we take up God's truths at all, we shall do it only to use them for our own gilding. And while the gilded professor is practically ignorant of sin in all its aspects, he is especially ignorant of it in the enormity of its heinousness. He has never seen its reality in God's light, nor been taught its true character by the dying agonies of the Son of God. He has never died to sin. He does not hate it with a hatred that is implacable. Between Christ's thoughts of sin and his thoughts of it, there is no sympathy whatever. What little light he seems to have, is confined to the knowledge of its dangerousness as a thing which may entail punishment on himself. Free him from the fear of the personal danger, and he is easy about all besides. So he takes Christ for pardon, as he fancies, but he never takes Christ for holiness; nay, he can scarcely be said even to wish for holiness. Self-loathing for sin, and groanings unutterable for deliverance from its abhorred remainders, are feelings which he never experiences. All the use that he has for Christ's salvation is to deliver him from punishment; salvation by power he never thinks of, never prays for. Like Halyburton in his earlier life, who, afterwards describing his experience, says, "I designed only so much religion as would take me to heaven."

The gilded professor, therefore, is in all cases sure to cream the Bible. He never looks on it as all cream, as being seven times purified in every word of it, but he dwells exclusively on a few selected passages. Instead of yielding up his character to be moulded according to the perfect model of the Word of God, he lays violent hands on the Word, and by expanding this part, and ignoring that, he frames out of God's Bible a smaller Bible to suit himself; choosing rather to tamper with the perfect model till it fits the crooked character, than to submit the crooked character to the trying operation of the perfect model. And, indeed, how much do our Bibles condemn the most among us, of the golden disciples as well as of the gilded; not our neglected Bibles merely, but our Bibles as daily used and prized! Are we not blame-worthy in our eclectic use of them, feeding exclusively, or too nearly so, on our favourite portions, as if it were not the case that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and given, too, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works? Is not our selection, also, often a sign that we are babes who, through spiritual feebleness, turn from the strong man's meat, for we can digest nothing but the milk of infants? (1 Cor. iii. 1, 2; Heb. v. 13, 14). For what are the portions which are thus exclusively dwelt on? Are they not generally the elementary truths of the Word, the beautiful gospel that is meant and that is fitted for the sinner? There are, alas! believing souls who have for years been so exclusively occupied with what concerns their own safety, that they have never had time or vigour to press forward to that which concerns God's fullest glory. They study the life and death of Jesus to have conscience kept quiet, and the troubled heart comforted, and this is surely well; but they err in not studying the same life and death as being also our perfect pattern, and our most powerful stimulus to holy living. They like to hear Jesus say to them, "Son, daughter, thy sins be forgiven thee;" but they are not careful enough to listen as he goes on to add, "It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master, and the servant as his Lord." They value dearly the precious promises which speak of full forgiveness; why should they not equally value those which secure, to the pleader of them, every present help for holy and efficient service? My brother, my sister, this is far from well. If it be so with us, it is a proof that grace, even when it is genuine, is in its low and feeble stages, rather indeed in the blossom than in the ripening fruit and it not only proves that the soul is weak, but, what is very serious, it continues the guilty weakness.

In all ages men have been given to the gilding of self with an outside film of religion. The first worshipper we read of was also the first murderer. And that a kind of worship was maintained in his godless family, seems probable from the names which were given to his descendants, many of which sound with as devout a ring as those of the holiest households. For in the use of good words, the gilded can always equal the truly golden. Lying Gehazi is able to say, "The Lord liveth." quite as fervently as his master; and vindictive Saul can tell the traitorous helpers of his rage, "Blessed be ye of the Lord." In the case of Israel of old, we find that God gave them a variety of ordinances, most of which were beautiful types that shadowed forth, more or less clearly, the same spiritual truths in which the gracious soul now finds all its joy. But the bulk of the nation, carnal and earthly, cared little for the ordinance; and most of those who did care for it rested merely on the shadow, while few, very few passed beyond the veil of the symbol, to feed their hungering souls on the divine realities behind. The multitude used the ordinance only to adorn themselves with it, and to glory in their observance of it as a self-righteous merit. And though now, in our day, God has removed the veil of type and shadow, and has set before us divine truth in its uncovered clearness, man's tendencies remain the same, and we are just as ready now to use God's gospel for our own gilding, as were the Jews of old to use the ceremonial foreshadowings of it. Man is now equally ready to rest in the outward shell of the doctrine, as of old, he was to rest in the outward shell of the type; and unless we be individually taught of God, we shall be no more likely to pass beyond the shell, in order to feed on the life-giving kernel, than were our ancient predecessors, the Jewish formalists. The blood of bulls and of goats could not take away sin then, neither can the clear knowledge of any set of doctrines take away it now; Jesus alone can do it, and Jesus does it as he is apprehended by a faith which eats the very flesh and drinks the very blood of the Son of man. Ah, my brother, is your knowledge—is mine—a personal, sanctifying knowledge of the Redeeming God-man; does it include the elements of all that Paul aimed at, when, forgetting his past attainments, he still pressed on to "know Him?"

It is an awful and most startling thought that the gilded have in all ages been the majority, and the golden only, as it were, a remnant. What a view does this give us of the deceivableness of the human heart! "Salvation cometh now," says Samuel Rutherford, "to the most part of men in a night-dream; there is no scarcity of faith, such as it is, for ye shall not now light upon the man who shall not say he hath faith in Christ." And in all ages it has been much the same. Nay, long before Rutherford's day, within the limits of the apostolic age, the leaven had so fatally leavened the lump, that we see in the later epistles, and especially in the latest, the seven epistles in Rev. ii. iii., the gilded professors grown alarmingly abundant. Suffer me again to say, Let no one presume rashly to judge a brother, but "let a man examine himself." (not his neighbour!) And in doing so, these epistles to the seven churches in Asia will furnish us with an admirable help. "They are to me," says Henry Martyn, "the most searching and alarming part of the Bible." Let no one be satisfied because he knows a great deal, or has been under the influence of powerful convictions, or is conscious of zeal for doctrines, or feels at times a lively joy when exercised about divine things. These things are all needful and useful in their own place, but they are all quite as common to the gilded as to the golden. "Probably few perish," says the judicious Scott, "where the Word of God is fully preached, without many awakenings, many fears, many desires; yea, and many feeble endeavours, which are all subdued and extinguished through the love of sin."

Indeed, to a certain extent, every one of us is gilded; every professor, true and false, is more or less under the influence of a deceitful heart. The humblest among the humble is still too proud; the soul that has been most completely emptied of confidence in the flesh, needs to be still further emptied. Self is never too much forsaken, nor Christ, too exclusively gloried in, by any man here in the body. Even after we have put off the old man, and have put on the new, we need still to be exhorted to put on the new man (Col. iii. 9-12). Our own spiritual reality is such that we cannot, in this life, bear to have it fully disclosed to us. Let us be truly thankful if God has shown us so much of it as has sufficed to send us in self-loathing to Christ for everything; and if he be still opening up to us more of our unsuspected evils, that we may be still more simply cast on Jesus. It is the unsuspected element of the false within us which is one of our greatest snares, and therefore it is that our Lord so often warns us against self-deception. He charged the disciples first of all, to beware of hypocrisy (Luke xii. 1); and Peter exhorts believers to lay aside all hypocrisy (1 Pet. ii. 1). From these, and similar warnings, we learn that hypocrisy is specially a believer's danger; understanding by the word, not the conscious fraud which is practiced by the designing, but the unconscious wearing of a mask which is sure to accompany a believer's self-ignorance. And against this mask-wearing, a mask which first of all hides our real features from ourselves, we need to be all, put on our guard. "It is not," says an old Puritan, "the presence of hypocrisy, but the reign of hypocrisy, that damns the soul." But though such unconscious mask-wearing does not destroy us, who can tell how much it may hinder our growth or spoil our service.

What an awful view does the whole subject give us of the "depths of Satan!" How subtle is his craft, how universal his sphere of operation! He can as effectually destroy souls in his assumed disguise as an angel of light, as he can in his native form of open wickedness. He is working in the Church as destructively as in the world. He has his one hand busy in the shaping of a professor's creed; while he has the other hand busy in the infidel's denial of it. The prayers of one man, and the blasphemies of another, are equally prompted by him. While he blows up to fury the flames of the most loathsome passions in one heart, he feeds with fuel the wild-fire of false religious emotion in another. Everywhere, always, and through everything, he leads the powers of darkness in their desperate conflict with the children of the light. And what a master-stroke of craft it is, to fill the Church with gilded professors! Who can estimate the havoc which he is working by means of this? So soon as the Lord of the harvest sowed his field with wheat, his enemy followed his footsteps sowing the field with tares—tares, which are so like the wheat, that till they have both come to fruit they cannot be distinguished. "I could never have believed," says Luther, "but that I have good experience thereof at this day, that the power of the devil is so great, that he can make falsehood so like the truth." And he is still carrying on his work of mischief. Wherever Jesus sows his wheat, Satan is immediately on the spot, scattering his tares among them. And there is a depth of malicious skill in this. Not to speak at all of the fearful fact that the tares are thereby almost hopelessly sealed up to final ruin, and that, too, a ruin all the worse that it has been reached through the abuse of the very highest privileges; think of what mischief is done by such tares to all around them. Their influence on the world is hurtful, for their earthly spirit and their grievous inconsistencies are stumbling-blocks to their neighbours, and so, whether they commend the gospel, or whether they oppose it, they are in either case enemies of the cross of Christ. Their influence on each other is most hurtful for they keep each other in countenance; nay, so numerous are they, that they often give the tone to public sentiment—a tone which is always unspeakably below the heavenly spirit which should prevail in the Church of God. And in this way their influence on true saints is hurtful; nay, who can tell how much of the slumbering of the wise virgins is owing to the deeper sleep of the foolish virgins beside them? Perhaps, after all, these gilded professors are the most efficient instruments which Satan wields in his work of destruction. Ah, my brother professor, there is no single question that can ever be so important to you or me as this; am I a grain of Christ's wheat, or am I of the devil's sowing in the Church—a miserable misery-making tare?

If we are to form our judgment from the position which this subject occupies in Holy Scripture (and what other standard of judgment have we?), there is scarcely any question which more concerns us than this danger of self-deception. Open the Bible anywhere, and you will be almost sure to come on some reference to it. Histories, prophecies, psalms, and parables, burden them- selves with this most solemn matter, in every variety of aspects; and in the personal teaching of our Lord, few subjects are made more prominent. Those who are familiar with the writings of our godly fathers, know that they too, assigned it a place of similar prominence (sometimes, perhaps, too much so); and yet, in certain quarters of the modern Church, such warnings are never uttered, nay, the need for them is not only ignored but vehemently denied. Is this quite safe? Would our wise and gracious God have made such full provision against this danger of self-deception, if it had not been an urgent one? From neglect of the wise use of divine warnings on this subject, there are multitudes of sinners who continue unconvinced of their sins; multitudes of self-deluded professors who continue unaware that they are entirely self-deluded; and multitudes, too, of true believers who continue distressingly ignorant of their remaining corruptions, and who, therefore, are not duly humbled under a sense of them. For want of the self-jealousy enjoined in the Bible, the Bible itself is partially lost to many, and entirely lost to myriads. Its fearful exposure of human corruption, its vehement warnings, and its solemn expostulations, are read without profit, for they are applied to others. The reader of them may see in them his neighbour's sin or his neighbour's danger; but if he be taught that it is a point of faith never to mistrust himself, he is scarcely likely to see either his own sin or his own danger. And yet, unless he faithfully apply the Word to himself, his knowledge of it is likely to be used towards making him a gilded, rather than a golden professor. It is true, indeed, that this self-inspection may be, and often is, carried too far, and that in a most legal and self-righteous spirit. But the proper remedy for this is not the total neglect of the duty; it is rather the devout recognition of the need of the Holy Spirit's help, in order to do it profitably, and the humble waiting on God for this needed and promised help.

My reader, let us try to realize the blank horror of a deluded professor, who has gone forward, smiling in his easy-minded self-delusion, to discover, when too late, that he has been labouring to hoard up, not wrath merely, but wrath on the most tremendous scale. Ah, we cannot exaggerate, we cannot even estimate the despairing horror! "It is genuine gold," said Satan to him all along; and as Satan appeared in the guise of a holy angel, and spoke as kindly as he did to Eve in Eden, he was as readily and as fatally believed. "It is gold, genuine gold," said Pride; and Pride, if it speak at all moderately, is sure to be credulously trusted. "It is gold," said Sloth, alarmed at the prospect of any needless trouble. "It is surely gold," said Worldliness, afraid that the purchase of anything better would cost too dear. "It is gold," said each charitable friend and brother; "if your profession be not golden, it will be a pity of mine." " It is surely gold," said the deceived soul to itself; "so many shrewd and competent witnesses can never be mistaken." And as it said so, it looked again at the gilded outside. Alas for it, that it never asked the judgment of the "faithful true witness who never deceives!" Instead of this, it was satisfied with the flatteries of its flatterers, and went forward to the judgment-seat, hugging to its heart its fancied gold, only to learn from the lips of the final Judge that its treasure is not gold at all, but only gilded dross. What an unspeakable horror, to be aroused from a life-time's pleasant dreams by the angry words, "Bind the hypocrite together hand and foot, and cast him out!" Ah, my brother! if this appalling doom be not yours and mine, it shall only be because we are kept from it by God's preserving mercy; a mercy which we shall do well to bespeak continually for ourselves and others.

Before concluding, it may be well to add a word of caution to the timid and sensitive disciple. Satan invariably misapplies spiritual truth, and he will endeavour to misapply this. To the whole-hearted, he hands the comforts meant only for the heart-broken; while the rude shock, designed to awaken an infatuated sleeper, he applies to the tender conscience of one who may already be morbidly sensitive. Ah! beloved brother, who art down-cast with the humbling conviction that there is nothing golden at all about thee, except it be the little well-worn gilding, and who, the more thou lookest into self, discoverest infinities of evil in thyself, take courage; that is one good sign of a golden soul. For the only true gold is not man, but Christ; not human excellence, but divine grace. It is Christ within us, and Christ upon us; and the golden Christian is one who says with Paul, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." Let no discoveries, then, of the worthlessness of self, discourage thee, any more than thy discoveries of the infinite worthiness of Christ; for both together are meant to lead thee through self-despair to glory, only in the Lord. And however unworthy a man may be in himself, yet in Christ (and he is in Christ if he sincerely accepts him as his Prophet, Priest, and King) he is "pure gold."

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