Brethren Archive

The Missing Receipt

by John Dickie

OLD ROBIN was seated by his window, with spectacles on his face, busily rummaging a little drawer filled with loose papers, when the door opened, and a cheerful voice called out----

"There's fine weather, Robin. This will fit your rheumatics nicely. How are ye coming on?"

"Oh, is that you, Mirran? come awa' ben and see," said the old man, flinging down his handful of papers, and hastening to bring a chair.

"Never mind a chair, thank ye, Robin, for I mustn't sit down," said Mirran. "I was passing up the gate, and thinks I to mysel, I havena seen Robin for a month, so I'll just lift his sneck, and ask how he is. Are ye any better, think ye, Robin?"

"Oh, thank ye, Mirran, I'm a great deal better; but will you not try to bide a wee?"

"I canna bide lang," said Mirran. "However, since I'm in, I may venture to sit for fifteen minutes. But I'm disturbing you, I fear."

"No, no," cried Robin; "that business can stand ouer a wee. I hae been huntin' after a receipt for a bit sum o' money, which I'm almost sure I paid already, and which I have sweer-will to pay twice ouer, if it can be avoided."

"Na," said Mirran; "maybe I could help you to seek for't, I'm rather quicker in the sicht than you."

And the two renewed the search, which Mirran speedily brought to a successful issue by discovering the desired document.

"Now, Robin," said Mirran, "ye see that it's worthwhile to keep your auld receipts beside you, for you may come to want them some day."

"Deed it is," replied Robin. "I paid pretty dear in my youth to be taucht that lesson; but I have kept good mind o't."

"And, Robin, "said Mirran, in a low and tender voice, "aye be sure to keep your accounts weel red up between God and your soul; for it is a mischancie thing to lose any o' his receipts."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Robin, with a puzzled air.

"Ah," said she, "I have paid dear, dear—rather dearer maybe than you did—to be taucht this lesson, and, like you, I wad fain keep good mind o't. When ane begins at first to discover his deplorable state before God, as a bankrupt sinner, who has neither money to pay nor yet excuse to offer, it is fearsome to feel anesell in the grips o' the angry and merciless law, and to hear it cry, 'Pay me that thou owest, to the uttermost farthing—even to the eternal death.' But what a happy outgate frae such a sorrow, when ane is led to the blood of Jesus as the sufficient ransom for a sinfu' soul; and sees that, through what his Son has done, God can be just, and yet also be the justifier of the guilty sinner that believes in Jesus. And when such a broken-hearted one ventures into God's presence with fear and trembling, to urge the precious blood as his only plea, oh, who can tell his joy when his plea is at once sustained, and he finds that, so soon as he confesses his sin and asks forgiveness in the name of the great Sin-bearer, the just and faithful God forgives his sins, and scores the debt for ever out o' his book, and writes a discharge in full on the purged conscience, in a peace that passes a' understanding! Ye have felt a' this, Robin, have ye no?"

"Deed have I, Mirran, at least in some sma' measure; but I wish that I could feel it more."

"Weel, then, Robin," continued Mirran, "did ye ever lose God's receipt after ye had gotten't? Did ye ever, by your carnal sloth and your careless walking, lose faith's sicht o' the precious blood, and let go your hold on a good conscience, and forget, as Peter says, that ye were purged frae your auld sins? If so, Robin, ye'll remember how distressed ye were, when God in mercy wakened you out o' your shamfu' slumbers, and conscience started up to accuse you, and the law rushed on you again, claiming not only new debts, but the auld anes frae the very beginning; and ye stood bewildered and dumb, for ye had lost a' your auld receipts, and hadna the scrape o' a pen to show for your past discharge. Ken ye aucht about this, Robin?"

And as Mirran slowly uttered the foregoing words, her voice became soft and tremulous, as if they had awakened memories in her own heart of the most tenderly solemn kind.

"Ay, woman," said Robin, in a similar tone; "I ken ouer much about it—mair than the maist o' folks, I fear. "Deed, to tell you the truth, after that I lost the first receipt, I've never got the business richt red up sin' syne; and I have never had the same sweet and strengthening assurance o' the Lord's being my God. At the best, I'm aye troubled wi' the fear that am only a hypocrite; and now and then, when I'm at the warst, I feel quite assured that I am."

"I believe you, Robin," said Mirran; "God abhors backsliding above everything else; and therefore he makes the backslider's life bitter to him, that we may learn to abhor it, and to dread it, and to watch in prayer against it. And so, when we lose our receipts through carelessness and unbelief, He often leaves us to have more trouble and heart-breaking sorrow about their renewal than we had in getting them at the first"

"Very likely, very likely, "said the old man, with a melancholy shake of the head; "but what's to be done in a case like mine, when the receipt's fairly gone! I wnd gladly give a' that I have to feel as I ance felt; but I canna see how that is ever to be. I opened my mind to your cousin, but he said that I was lookin' ouer much in to mysel, and ouer little out to my Saviour; that I should walk more by faith, and never trouble mysel wi' frames and feelings."

"And did ye take his advice?"

"I tried hard, hard to do it, but it winna work wi' me; an here I am the nicht, greatly distressed wi' the consciousness of something far wrong in me, and yet I kenna how to get it richtet. Think ye, Mirran, that it wud be possible to get my auld receipt back again?"

"No," said Mirran, after a moment's pause; "I do not think that God ever gives a mere duplicate o' an auld receipt. But what would be the use o' the auld ane, seeing that he is as ready as ever he was to give you a new ane, containing a full and free discharge frae everything up to the present moment? This is your only course, Robin; ye must ask him for a new receipt which will cover a' byganes, and settle accounts to this very day."

"That's what I'm wantin, Mirran; but that's the very thing I canna get accomplished!"

"Then be sure, Robin, that the fault's your ain."

"I ken that; but I wad fain have it mended if I could see how it's to be done. Whereaboots lies the fault in me, think ye?" said Robin, anxiously.

''Robin, ye ken that Jesus receiveth sinners, chief sinners, but only sinners. His Word speaks o' grace to him that cometh—any him; he offers mercy to 'whosoever will'—any whosoever. All are bidden, all are welcome. And among sinfu' men, I cannot conceive of any more guilty or more needy than him that's been a backslider. So, Robin, you must take care to go, not as something better than you were when you went at first, but as something worse—as a chief sinner among chief sinners; but still go as one who has all the grace that's in God's heart to encourage him, and all the merit that's in Christ's blood to trust in; and say, 'Lord, fulfil to a guilty backslider this word of thine own, I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for in thee, the fatherless findeth mercy.'"

"Weel, Mirran," said Robin, "I think I have been trying to do that, ouer and ouer again; but still I don't seem ever to get a renewal o' my receipt."

"Maybe, Robin, ye havena been going to the throne of grace to receive grace merely as a sinner, a back-sliding, inexcusable sinner, who needs that, mercy be quite free, if it is to be a mercy that can reach his case at all; and who, accepting the invitation which bids him come for this mercy, comes for it as a thing which God delights to give for Jesus' sake. Maybe, instead o' coming with this singleness o' plea, ye have been trying to pay a little o' your ain debt, or, at least, been trying to write a bit o' your ain receipt. And if ye have been doing either, I can well understand that ye wadna get the restoration of your peace with God."

Robin sat musing for a little.

"I can see," he said at last, "what you mean by payin' pairt o' my sin debt, and I have been watching against the thocht that anything o' mine can commend me to God; but what ye mean by writing the receipt mysel, I dinna sae clearly see."

"The receipt, Robin," replied Mirran, "is the peace of a pacified conscience—a conscience which has been purged from its painful sense of guiltiness by being sprinkled with the blood of Christ. And just as it is Christ's office to pay all the ransom for the sinner with- out the sinner's help, so it is the Holy Spirit's office to write the receipt himself; in other words, to pacify conscience, to satisfy the heart, and to give that sweet repose of soul on Christ's person and Christ's work which constitutes peace in believing. And I fear, Robin, lest you have been presuming to thrust in your help, in either, or in both of these points. I fear that you may have been trying, first, to do a very little towards furnishing a plea which could help to give you confidence before God; and then, after that, I fear, too, lest you have been trying to do a little towards writing your own discharge. You have been certainly doing the first, if ye hae been thinking before God o' your ain humblings o' heart, your ain tears, your ain resolutions, your ain faith; in short, your ain anything. The fact is, there is but one solitary plea that we can present to God, and that is the atoning blood of the divine Redeemer; and we must remember in his presence naething o' our own whatever, unless it be the heinousncss o' our guilt and the extremity o' our need."

Mirran paused, but Robin was silent. Her words were felt by him to be more applicable than he had thought that any remarks on self-righteousness could have been; so, after a brief silence, Mirran resumed.

"And then, as for writing the receipt, that also, it is God's part to do, and not yours. Ye winna try to pacify your conscience wi' your prayers, or your resolutions, or your duties; and when you fail to find peace in this way, to fall back on efforts after more praying, and more feeling, and more believing. It winna do. Conscience cannot be lawfully pacified in this way; it is God's commissioner, and when he bids it speak, it will not be silent at your bidding. The Holy Spirit calms its clamour, by revealing to it Jesus, in all his grace and glory. Oh, Robin man, look simply as a needy sinner to the Saviour of needy sinners, and faith's happy sicht o' him will give you instant deliverance."

"That's what I feel I'm needin," said Robin, "and your words give me a bit glimmer o' licht; but I'm in great darkness, not so much about general gospel truth, as about its personal application to mysel. I'm an uncommonly dark and hard-hearted man."

"Just like the rest o' us, Robin. Ye're a clear case for free and sovereign mercy; for if that dinna meet us, you and I are gone. But when was it that you got that receipt which you have in your hand"?

"I got it when I paid the money," replied Robin.

"Exactly! You had no right to it before, and your creditor had no reason to withhold it after; and therefore, so soon as you settled his claim, you received your discharge. Now, Robin, though we canna o' oursels settle God's claim on us as debtors to his holy law, the Lord Jesus has fully done it; and all the settlement that is required at our hands is, that we consent to be indebted to the grace of the Lord Jesus, and that we present his finished work as our only plea for complete forgiveness. As many as receive him are made one with him, and his death becomes for them the full payment of all their debts. Urge this, Robin, in humble faith, as your only payment, and God will not delay to write a full discharge on your heart and conscience. 'Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.'"

"Weel, then, Mirran, I canna be a believer at all, seeing that I haena the receipt that ye mention. At this moment, though I have some sma' hope that the Lord winna leave me to mysel, under a' my fearfu' provocations, yet I darena profess that I have the peace o' pardon which you speak o'."

"Weel, weel, Robin, we're not going to argue that point; it is not in the least degree needful to prove that you are a true believer. It is enough just now to see clearly that you are commanded, invited, entreated to put all your confidence in the Saviour, on the instant. And why should you not? At the same time, I would feel free to say, that many a tempted and downcast disciple has had his great debt scored out of God's book, while yet he had sma' comfort o't, frae his sinfu' losing o' his auld receipts. But, Robin, allow me to say, that I'm afraid your first joy, which you mourn the loss of, had a great deal o' the carnal and the self-righteous in it; and I'm led to think this by seeing the earnestness with which you cling to self in all your attempts to recover the lost joy. Like Peter, ye maybe had confidence enough; but then, there might be much of confidence in an unknown and undiscovered self. And so, like Peter, self has been left to fall, that it might get its neck broken; and that your joy, hence-forward, may be joy only in the Lord. It was a fearfu' thing to hear an apostle curse and swear and deny his Lord; but maybe it was a hantle better for Peter's own soul that he should be left to do so, than that he should have been able to stand in his fleshly confidence of his own strength. And, similarly, it may have been better for you, Robin, that ye have been left to learn a little more o' your ain deceitful heart, in order that ye micht be hunted out o' all your self-righteous confidences, and be cast on Jesus only. I'm afraid, Robin, that ye have far ouer high a notion, even yet, of your ain goodness, and far ouer low a notion of the goodness o' your infinitely gracious Saviour."

This last remark fairly took Robin's breath from him. He had thought that if there were anything whatever with which he was less justly chargeable than another, it was with forming too high an estimate of his own goodness. Was he not, at this moment, brought to the verge of despair by a sense of his incurable badness? If his surprise had been less, be might have denied the charge; but, as it was, he could only stammer out, confused and troubled,—

"What maks ye think sae, Mirran?"

"Ah, Robin, I can make a lucky guess about the workings o' unbelief in your heart, because I have been sae often afflicted wi' the same workings mysel. There is an auld bye-word that says, 'The wolf kens what the ill beast thinks,' for, ye see, it's an ill beast itsel; and, on the same principle, I can discover the sproutings o' that accursed root o' self-righteousness in your heart, for I've had so much to do wi't in my ain. It was a lang time before I could detect it as self-righteousness, for it works in two very different forms; but, whatever the outward form be, it is always the same self-righteousness at the bottom."

"And what are the twa forms o't ?" asked the old man; "ye see I'm but a bairn, Mirran, beside you, though I'm auld enough to be your faither."

"There is, first and foremost," replied Mirran, "the manifest self-righteousness that nobody is deceived wi'. It boasts of its doings and its feelings, and is pleased wi' its own goodness, saying, like the Pharisee in the parable, 'God, I thank thee that I'm a good man.' That isna the form in which the trouble afflicts you, Robin. But there is anither form o't; more hidden, indeed, but only, on that account, the more dangerous. This second kind o't doesna set a man on taking comfort from his being so good; but it does the same thing in reality; it sets him on desponding, because he is so bad. What has a man's own goodness or badness to do wi' the question, when salvation is based only and alone on God's free grace, and the perfection of Christ's finished work? The man that seeks for goodness in himsel, and rejoices because he thinks he has found it; and the man that seeks for goodness in himsel, and is near despair because he canna find it; why, Robin baith o' them alike are turning their backs on the grace of God, and the sufficiency of Christ's finished work; baith alike are seeking to establish their own righteousness. Ye have seen a man in the fever, Robin. Well, then, ye have noticed that at one stage o't, the fever took a high turn, while at anither stage o't, it took a contrary turn; but whether high or low, it was aye the same fever. And so, Robin, is it wi' self-righteoustess: it has a high stage, and it has a low stage; but, whether high or low, it's aye the same self-righteousness. And let me say't in kindness, that it's the low stage o' the trouble that's afflicting you just now. What I would fain be kept at, Robin, for mysel, is, neither to be lifted up wi' anything that seems good in me, nor yet made desponding by any discoveries of evil (though I desire to be deeply humbled by it); but I would fain find a' my comfort in the person and work of Christ—that Christ who is 'made of God unto us wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption.'"

Robin's face was brightening up a little.

"I think, Mirran," said he, "that ye've really discovered the root of the whole evil; and yet I never suspected it. Oh, woman, I hae a wonderfu' hard and unbelieving heart; however, I feel jist a wee kennin o' the warmth and sweetness that I wad like to feel mair o'. Ye wadna hae me to sit down contented just as I am, wad ye? Should I not seek to feel very differently frae what I am doing?"

"Certainly," said Mirran; "press on, press on; but still, take good care to see that you are on the richt road before you press onward in't. If ye be seekin' for a state o' soul in which ye'll be better pleased wi yoursel, then ye'll never get it; and the more you press forward in this road, the farther will you go wrong. As the prophet says, 'My people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the Lord;' while we, alas! often try unco hard to be satisfied wi' our own. But the Lord will keep his children frae gettin' a rest except in himsel. If, however, ye want to attain to more satisfaction o' heart in the Lord's goodness, press on, press on, Robin; for, outside o' yoursel, there's neither hindrance to your speed nor limits to your journey. His goodness is infinite. What we need, Robin, is a lively faith that ever looks on the glories of the Father as revealed to us in the person and the work of the Son; and then, while faith is lively, feeling and a' else will be lively likewise."

"Yes, Mirran," said the old man; "this is the victory that overcometh the world, and overcometh a' else, even our faith. But how is decayed faith to be revived, think ye? Yc see I'm just like a schule wean that has to begin at the beginning, for I ken naething."

"'Faith cometh by hearing,'" said Mirran, solemnly, "'and hearing by the Word of God.' Faith is the fruit of the Spirit; but the Holy Spirit produces or increases it only; in connection wi' his own Word. Be much ta'en up wi' the Word of God, Robin. Dinna think your own thoughts about spiritual things, but let God tell you his thoughts; hearken carefully to him, and believe a' that he tells you. This is a main point. Whatever God says, be ye sure to receive his word, and to mix it wi' faith. Unless you mix the word wi' faith, the word alone will do you harm instead o' good. So, then, as your understanding comprehends some part o' the meaning o' each glorious utterance, let your heart assent to it as an undoubted truth, because God speaks it; and let its precious lessons of warning, comfort, or instruction fill your soul wi' their heavenly sweetness. But, Robin, see to keep by God's Bible, and take care never to open, or to read a verse of Satan's. Ye have been reading ouer much o' the Deevil's Bible this while back, and much sin and sorrow has come out o't."

"Deevil's Bible! that's an extraordinar name, Mirran. What mean ye by that?"

"I mean simply that ye have been thinking your ain thochts on subjects, about which your ain thochts arena able to give you licht. Na, more than that, ye have preferred to lean on these thochts which were suggested to you by the enemy, to leaning on the true and gracious words of the God of all grace. Who told you, Robin, that you were such a sinner? God's Bible, maybe. Well, but who told you, on the back of that, that such a sinner as yon would not at once meet God's pardoning mercy in Christ Jesus? Ye gotna that information in his Bible. There isna a verse wi' such a word in't between Genesis and Revelation. Ye got that, where there's a hantle mair o' a similar kind to be got, out o' your ain foolish and self-righteous heart, the thoughts of which, on spiritual subjects, are just Satan's Bible. You must give it up for ever, Robin, and in spiritual things ye must believe naething but what ye have chapter and verse for. Oh, look up, Robin, from amid your poverty and ruin, and instead o' letting your sense o' poverty and ruin drive you in despair away from God, let it rather increase your joy in that Saviour who has come to give to the chief of sinners the full adoption of a child of God. Yes, look up, and, as your heart warms at faith's sicht of Jesus on the Father's richt hand, remember that whenever you take him for your portion you get him for your portion; and that, wi' a' his riches o' grace and glory, he's as much your ain, ay, far more your ain, than that poor, sinfu', wearifu' heart is yours. And so, while you are humbled with a sense of what you are in yoursel, let your heart be lifted up in the joyous faith of what Jesus is to you. But there's the eight-hour bell, and I'm past my appointed time. Good-nicht Robin. I'm unco houpfu' that ye're about to get your receipts again; but take care not to lose them this time. 'Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.' Good-nicht, Robin."

"Good-nicht, Mirran."                                                                                                                                                                                           J. D.

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