by Horatius Bonar
THESE Tracts were originally designed solely for the benefit of the Author's congregation, and for his own use in general distribution. He had no idea of the extent which their circulation was to reach. He sought merely to teach his own people by them; nor had he any ambitious aim of writing for a wider circle. He thought of them only as helps to his own pastoral work, and commenced them as such. He meant them but as words of instruction to his flock, words which should speak when his voice was silent, words which should tell the infinite tale of grace in the quiet dwellings of his people, perpetuating, not superseding, the public ministry of the Word, carrying on at home the work of the pulpit, or the prayer-meeting, or the class, both in the closet and in the family. God has been pleased to own them in many ways, and to give them a much wider circle to traverse than was reckoned on, or aimed at. To Him be the glory and the blessing throughout eternity.
They are rather miscellaneous in their contents, and immethodical in respect of order and connection. This arose from the way in which they commenced, as just stated. No outline was sketched, no special plan adopted, because no intention was entertained, at the time, of extending the series to above five or six numbers. Having once begun without a plan, it became a matter of difficulty, or rather of impossibility, to strike out, or follow one afterwards. Besides, the desultory method had some advantages of its own, inasmuch as it left the author unfettered in reference to subjects. He could more readily take advantage of passing circumstances, and direct attention to peculiar topics of importance, without being obliged to smooth them down into a consecutiveness which did not belong to them. Had he been writing a treatise, nothing would have been more preposterous; but as he was merely throwing out casual fragments of instruction, there was nothing unsuitable or awkward about the plan. It suited himself best; and upon the whole, he believes it was most suitable for his people. It may be well for the reader of this volume to keep this in mind, lest he should commence its perusal under the idea that he is to find in it a regular and consecutive series of treatises and expositions.
But, though these Tracts are not at all arranged in connection, or after a system, yet they do in some measure hang the one upon the other, being knit together by oneness of sentiment and thought, if not by regular coherence of plan. There may be among a hundred fragments, the unity of a pervading thought, which is to be found in each of them, though not one of the pieces may properly fit into, or link on closely with the other. So we think it will be seen. There is a leading idea throughout, as any careful reader will soon discover, and, by observing it, he may not only derive more profit from the Tracts, but be saved, perhaps, from mis-apprehending and mis-judging the author.
The leading object of the whole Series may be said to be, to endeavour to bring out with some fulness, perhaps with some repetition, the Work of Christ, and the Work of the Holy Spirit, in reference to the wants of sinners. There are not a few other points touched, more or less largely, but this may be said to be the prominent and ever-recurring theme, set forth under many various aspects, and embodied in innumerable passages of the Word of God.
It was found, in conversation with the troubled and doubting, that much confusion prevailed in their minds, as to both of these points, the Work of Christ, and the Work of the Spirit. There seemed a continual tendency to intermingle these two things, and so to subvert both; to build for eternity, partly on the one, and partly on the other, and so to come short of any true and sure establishment of the soul in grace. Many seemed most perversely bent on taking these two works as if they were one compounded work, trying to build their peace, their forgiveness, their salvation, upon a mysterious mixture of the two. The external and the internal were not kept distinct; the objective and the subjective were confusedly tangled together, so that neither was understood aright, and both were misapplied. It was not CHRIST FOR US, AND THE HOLT SPIRIT IN US, but it was Christ and the Holy Spirit together, both for us and in us. Thus, all was vagueness and indistinctness in reference to what Christ had done, and in reference to what the Holy Spirit had been sent down to do. Hence, all was darkness in the soul. There was no peace, for the ground of peace was not rightly seen; there was no holiness, for the source of holiness was but imperfectly apprehended. This Popish mixture of these two things—"Christ for us, and the Spirit in us," required to be exposed to view, its unscripturalness condemned, and its evil influence neutralized.
It is CHRIST FOR US, that is our peace. It is THE HOLY SPIRIT IN US, that is our regeneration and holiness. Woe be to the soul that intermingles these two, and seeks to rest his peace and hope, partly on what Christ had done for him, and partly on what the Spirit is doing in him.*
In consequence of this attempt to separate what had been so sadly confused and mixed together in the minds of many with whom he conversed, the Author's meaning has been exposed to much misconstruction, and a sense put upon one of his Tracts, against which he most strongly protests,—a sense which he cannot help calling a most unfair one,—a sense which, when he wrote the Tract, he never so much as dreamt of,—a sense, which is not only contradicted in the body of the Tract itself, but most explicitly and repeatedly set aside in other numbers of the Series. It was written before certain new doctrines arose, with which it has been supposed to coincide, when larger liberty of speech was allowable, because not liable to misinterpretation. Subsequent controversies may have led some to put a less favourable construction upon it. But, is this just or charitable? What work almost is there, written anterior to an age of controversy, that will stand the rigid test of a terminology, framed to meet the exigencies of subsequent discussion, and to oppose errors, which were not till then in existence? Besides, is it right to tear off a single leaf from a man's book,—a book of more than three hundred pages,—and to hold it up to view as a full statement of all that he believes on a particular point, regardless of the most distinct explanations in a hundred other parts,—more especially, when one of his chief designs was to isolate each topic as much as possible, not in order to disjoin them in reality, but merely for the sake of clearness and explicitness, to present them separately to the reader?
It is only, then, by setting distinctly forth the Work of Christ for us, and the Work of the Spirit in us, that we can really present the sinner with what he needs. As absolutely helpless and unholy, he needs an Almighty Spirit to new-create him. As condemned and accursed, he needs a Divine substitute and peace-maker. And in making known the latter, we preach the Gospel. For the Gospel is the good news of what another has done for us; It is not sent to tell me what to do, but to tell me what God has done. If it only made known what I had to do or to feel, it would be no Gospel to me, for there would still remain a vast gulf between it and me; but it comes to make known to me what God has done,—has done, so completely, that he has left nothing for me to do, but merely to take possession of a purchased gift.
And in setting forth the work of the Spirit, we are called upon to be careful, on the one hand, to show the necessity for the direct and special operation of His power; and on the other, to guard the sinner against resting upon the Spirit's work, as if it were part of the foundation on which he builds for heaven. The work in us, however deep and decisive, can never pacify our consciences or reconcile us to God. It can never make, or maintain, our peace. It cannot be our resting place, or our Saviour. Convictions, feelings, prayers, repentance, duties, can never be our peace. No fruits of the Spirit, however precious, can ever make us acceptable before God. Nor, as too many seem to suppose, is it our faith that is our peace or our salvation. Neither as an act of our own, nor as a fruit of the Spirit, can our faith be our Saviour. It is said to save us, simply because it is a giving ourselves up to Christ to be saved by him. It excludes not only works, but its own self, in the matter of salvation. It is what we believe, not our act of believing, that saves us. On this point an old writer thus speaks:—"Faith, as we have often heard, rests upon Christ alone. It in effect excludes itself as a work, in the matter of justification. It is not a thing upon which a sinner rests: it is his resting on the Surety. Therefore, that man who would bring in his faith, as part of his justifying righteousness before God, thereby proves that he has no faith in Jesus Christ. He comes as with a lie in his right hand; for such is the absurdity, that he trusts in the act of his faith, and not in its object, i.e., he believes in his faith, not in Jesus Christ. Having taken Christ, as he pretends, he would have that very act whereby he received him, sustained at the Divine tribunal, as his righteousness. Thus Christ is bid to stand at a distance, and the sinner's own act is by himself bid to come near, in the case of justification. This is nothing else but works under another name. It is not faith; for that necessarily establishes grace. This being a matter of the utmost importance, we cannot be too plain or precise upon it. The proud deceitful heart of man has a diabolical dexterity, so to speak, in destroying the doctrine of grace, and therewith himself. The sinner will seek a thousand lurking holes at the foot of Sinai, burning as it is, rather than repair to Mount Zion. Men may dispute with others, and deceive themselves as they will, but as Christ's surety-righteousness only would be sustained as satisfactory to law and justice, so nothing but it can support a sinner at a dying hour. Everything else will then be swept away as a refuge of lies, and the sinner, not in Christ, exposed to one eternal storm."*
It is of the utmost moment that these things be attended to, otherwise we shall never present the Gospel in any really tangible shape. Nay, we shall so confound things that differ, that they to whom it is preached shall not be able to see in it any glad tidings at all. With much that is evangelical, both in phrase and sentiment, in our statements, we may yet miss the real point and burden of the Gospel, and so leave men nearly as much in the dark as if we had set them upon providing a righteousness for themselves. And as, in these last days, there are so many refuges of lies, within which sinners have entrenched themselves, it becomes all the more necessary to let men see what the real refuge is, and how secure a hiding-place from the storm it affords to any sinner that will only avail himself of its divinely-erected shelter.
For thus only it is that anything like true religion can exist. A man may be anxious, solemn, earnest, and yet have nothing of what God can recognise as religion. So long as he is mistaking the way of acceptance, he cannot have what God calls religion. For he has not yet got upon the foundation, he does not as yet know the way of approaching God, the only way in which God will receive him. Therefore his worship cannot be acceptable, for he himself is not yet accepted. And how can there be true religion, where the worshipper and the worship are alike unacceptable? The idea which many have of religion is, that it is a most necessary and becoming thing, by means of which they hope, in course of time, to work themselves into God's favour, and so to obtain forgiveness before they die. But this is man's religion, not God's. It has no resemblance to that in which God delights, and which alone he will accept. Its chief feature is a direct contradiction to that which the Bible presents to us. It is an entire inversion of God's order. It ends with securing forgiveness, whereas God's religion begins with securing it. Man's religion is just a series of solemn efforts to recommend himself to the favour of God, in which efforts the only recommendation which God will acknowledge, that is, the Work of His own Son, is lost sight of. God's religion, on the other hand, is the holy, self-sacrificing life of one who, having secured forgiveness and favour at the very outset, simply in believing the record which God has given of his Son, is walking with Him in the calm consciousness of being entirely accepted, and working for Him all the day long, with the delighted eagerness of one whose only reward for toil is the smile of love; who, having been much forgiven, loveth much, and is seeking to show forth by a lifetime's untiring service, how much he feels himself a debtor to the grace of a redeeming God.
KELSO, October 1846.
Table of Contents
The Door of Salvation Opened
The Faithful Saying
The Well of Living Water
Jehovah our Righteousness
Believe and Live
Sin put away by Christ
Words of Warning
The Works of the Holy Spirit, as recorded in the Old Testament. Part I
To the Unconverted
The White Robes
The Works of the Holy Spirit, as recorded in the New Testament. Part II
Sin our Enemy, and God our Friend
The Lord's Supper
The Anchor of the Soul
Do you go to the Prayer-Meeting?
The City of Refuge
Night, Day-Break, and Clear Day
Behold he cometh with Clouds
God's Unspeakable Gift
Salvation to the Uttermost
The Love of the Spirit
Who shall dwell with the Devouring Fire!
The Throne of Grace
The True Heart
The False Peace and the True
God's Purpose of Grace
The Chosen One
The Last Time
The Power of the Gospel
Grace and Glory