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The Works of Gilbert Beebe
Spiritual Depression and Assurance
From Signs of the Times—September 15, 1867.
The following correspondence was not written for publication; nor have we asked or obtained the consent of our correspondent to expose it in our columns; but as the entire subject matter of her letter, and our reply, is of common interest to all the tried, trembling, doubting lambs of the flock, in the hope that its perusal will be useful to others, we take the liberty to present it to our readers. As we suppress her signature and her place of date, we think the writer will not charge us with a breach of trust. Having had some previous correspondence and personal acquaintance with the writer, we fully believe she is a subject of grace, and an heir of glory, notwithstanding all her doubts and fears.
Dear Elder Beebe:
Many times I have thought I would never again write to anyone on the subject of religion, then I feel how very ungrateful it is in me to repay your kindness in this way. But which is the worse crime, write and perhaps deceive those whom you have the least desire to deceive, or be silent and let them conclude you know not what the feeling of gratitude is? I often think, dear Elder Beebe, that I have deceived you, though I do not think it has been my intention to do so. I think the animal feelings can become excited when there is really no change of heart. I have felt for the last few weeks indifferent to everything; my heart, as it were, has lost its feeling; there is a hopelessness connected with the future, and I often feel that it matters but little whether I live or die. I think of all states of the mind, this is the most to be deplored. In reading the other evening I came to this passage: “So we see they could not enter in because of unbelief,” (Heb. 3:19).
What has this reference to? Does it refer to any members of the church of God? If so, what rest is meant? It cannot be their final rest, for the Bible says, “they rest from their labors and their works do follow them.” And we know that all the saints will attain that rest; none will fall short of it.
I often desire rest, feeling weary and heavy laden. Christ says, “Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Now if I could feel that the weariness that I feel is the weariness spoken of by the Savior, then this promise would be very precious; but everything to me is uncertain. I cannot allow myself to hope, for fear I may at last find myself doomed to hell. You think it is because I look for perfection in myself that I do not find that consolation in the gospel that the subjects of grace receive. I do not think I look for perfection in myself; I know there is no good in me; though I think if I were a Christian I would be different from what I am. Still, what right have I to look to Christ; I have no claim there? From the hour of my birth to the present time I have sinned against him. My heart sickens at the thought of my hopeless condition. I often feel that if I could exchange places with anyone in the world, there would be some hope. You will ask why there is not as much hope for me as for others? I know not; God is so far off he never hears my cry; beside he knows what a wicked deceitful heart I have, and he knows I am unworthy of any notice. I try to give up thinking of the future, but I cannot. I endeavor to find pleasure in my old pursuits, but I have lost my relish for them. I used to take great pleasure in politics; was well posted on all the issues of the day. Now I cannot endure the subject; I feel but little interest in the welfare of the county, I know God will rule it for his own glory; he undoubtedly has a people here, and when they are gathered home, the balance will soon be disposed of. I used to think the acquisition of knowledge was the great object of life, but that also has lost its charm. I visited a lecture at Rome the other day but found my interest in such had passed away. When I think of these things I feel there has been a change, but Oh! What right have I to hope this is the change I desire? You will think I am a strange being; but do not, if it is any trouble, write me anymore. I fully appreciate your kindness and would gladly repay you if I could, but all that my friends can say to me cannot relieve me of troubles, it is there to remain till God lifts the burden, and I fear that may never be. You say in your letter that you hope I may be an obedient child. O! how willingly I would follow in the footsteps of the blessed Savior did I feel that I dare claim him as mine. If I knew one drop of his precious blood was shed for me, I would rejoice all the days of my life; but you will not ask me to follow in the footsteps of the flock when I feel to have no place there. I would rather remain without always, and have a little enjoyment lingering around the fold, than to enter in and know I were a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I have the greatest fear of being a hypocrite. I feel it would be a great pleasure to me if no one knew anything about my feelings, then I think I would not deceive anyone, but as it is, so many have spoken to me on the subject that if I am deceived, my deception has been extensive.
Is it possible for one to feel any spiritual enjoyment who have never had a full and complete Savior presented to their view?
Is it possible for anyone to receive a change of heart who is not aware of such change?
Does the Christian ever feel sure of his acceptance in Christ?
I would like to ask many more questions but fear I may weary you. When I used to read the many experiences in the “Signs of the Times,” I thought how strange it was the writers did not know it was the Lord dealing with them. I felt if I should ever become troubled I would immediately know the cause. How very wise we are in our own estimation. Trouble has since overtaken me and I find my worldly wisdom of no avail.
Last fall when my mind first became interested in my future welfare, I thought if I only could become well enough acquainted with some of the ministers to tell them how I felt, they could tell if my feelings were those of a Christian. I have had that pleasure; have become acquainted with some I have the greatest confidence in; have talked freely with them; they have all spoken words of encouragement, and yet, dear Elder Beebe, I have no more hope than I had before I was acquainted with them. I feel that it is possible in my case that they are deceived. I would be willing to receive their judgments in regard to others, but myself I cannot. My desire to attend the association was gratified; I heard what should have comforted anyone, except they be so deep in sin that their case is hopeless. You see I have been gratified in many things, but have not found that consolation I was seeking. Dear Elder Beebe, for the last four or five years I have been unable to listen with any degree of patience to an Arminian sermon. I felt in my heart that what they preached was false. I would try not to listen to it, yet my mind would be keenly alive to every word; again when I would have an opportunity to hear the gospel, my mind perhaps would wander so I would not hear a dozen words. Now why was this, if my dislike for the doctrine of salvation by works had arisen from a love for the truth, would not I have appreciated the truth when I heard it? Is it not all prejudice from first to last? I have been taught to believe that salvation is of grace. I have learned the letter and know nothing of the Spirit. I cannot remember the time when I could not detect the difference between a gospel sermon and one that was not. I never hated the gospel; I may not have loved it, but I never hated. If I had, and had been made to love it, then I would know what I am. When no more than nine years of age, I have heard sermons that impressed me deeply. At about this time I heard you preach from the text: “Christ, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness,” etc. The sermon troubled me a great deal, but I have lived twenty years since then, and still without hope and without God in the world. If you think this worthy of an answer, I should be very glad to hear from you. But do not allow me to weary your patience. My ideas are very disconnected, but I am not able to write a nicely connected letter.
Believe me as ever your unworthy friend.
My esteemed, tried, tempted, tempest-tossed friend; your letter of the 17th is received, describing, to my judgment, a quickened, living child of God; but in a state of severe trial occasioned by doubts and unbelief. If you have never passed from death unto life, how shall we account for this state of things? You “think the animal feelings can become excited, when there is really no change of heart.” And so do I. Our physical powers and nervous system are subject to excitements; such as are common to all our race: but it is equally true that when the cause of such agitation is removed the excitement ceases, and the mind settles back to its former tranquility. But such is not your case. Your love for the society of the saints, and for the doctrine which gives God all the glory of the eternal salvation of his people is not an effect resulting from excitement of animal passions. No excitement can change our nature so as to make us love that which our carnal nature always hates. It cannot make us love God, his cause, his people, his truth, or his ordinances. The children of Israel had no less right to declare that the golden calf which they had made was the god that brought them out of Egypt than you have to ascribe the change which has been wrought in you to animal excitement. With them it was idolatry. God’s glory he will not give to another, nor his praise to graven images.
There have been times when you have felt a comfortable assurance that you were born again; and at such times you were disposed to seek the society of the children of God, and follow and obey your Lord and Master. But because you are not permitted to feel the same assurance at all times, you cast aside all that God has done for you, and almost deny that he has done anything for you. Is this right? Would you really choose rather to walk by sight than to live by faith? If not, why appeal from faith to sense; and insist on having some evidence that can be demonstrated to your reasoning powers? Do you think if an angel were sent down from heaven, and with your eyes you could see him, and with your ears could hear him say you were a child of God and an heir of glory, that that would satisfy you? If all that were done, your confidence would not result from faith, but sight. “For what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” God’s people must live by faith and not walk by sight. The passage in Hebrews 3, to which you refer, is full of instruction for you. The children of Israel were typical of the people of God. They could not enter into rest because of unbelief. The land of Canaan was a type of gospel rest; but they disbelieved the promise of God, and came short of that rest; and their carcasses fell in the wilderness. It is even so with the spiritual children of God; it is only so far as our faith triumphs over our fears and unbelief that we can enter into and enjoy that Sabbath of rest wherein we cease from all our own works—from thinking our own thoughts, and from speaking our own words. You cannot deny that whenever you have been enabled to believe that you were a subject of grace, you have felt at rest. You could rest in the promises which God has spoken, in the oaths which he has sworn, and in the sweet consolations this hope has afforded you. And you continued to rest securely, and sweetly, until your unbelief arose to dispute your faith and confidence in God. But as soon as you began to doubt, you became disquieted and restless. How is it possible for a child to rest in the Redeemer when he does not believe in him as his Redeemer?
All our faith is the fruit of the Spirit which is born of God. And all our doubts are from our carnal minds which are not subject to the law of God; neither indeed can be. In every heaven-born child, both of these opposite and conflicting natures exist. The flesh warring against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. But remember, they cannot possibly both be found in anyone that is not born of the Spirit. Hence the very conflicts in your mind which you regard as witnesses against you, are positive evidence that you are born again. Your fleshly powers resist the evidences of your heavenly birth, and it is not possible it should be otherwise; for your natural mind cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God, nor know them, for they are only spiritually discerned. But you, like a fretful child, cherish and nurse your doubts, fears, and unbelief, and refuse to be comforted by the testimony which the word presents to your faith. And why? Only because your natural mind cannot perceive them.
Could you and I be entirely divested of the selfishness of our carnal nature, and raised above it, we should have no trouble, toil or labor about our own personal interest in Jesus; all that we should leave in better, safer hands than ours and we should gaze with joy and admiration on what faith presents to our minds—of the uncreated glory of our adorable God and Savior. There would be rest. All our care he bids us cast on him: he assumes it all; he careth for us. Why then, if we can trust him, should we care for ourselves? Who is it that feeds the ravens, clothes in beauty the lilies, and protects the sparrows? Can we by taking thought add to our stature one cubit, or make a hair black or white?
“Then doubting child, forbid your fears,
For all he has, and is, are yours.”
That hopelessness in regard to the future which settles heavily upon your mind, of which you speak, is but the natural consequence of unbelief; cherished unbelief. Faith reviving in your heart will say, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, [not in thyself, nor in thy frames and feelings] for I shall yet praise him; who is the health of my countenance and my God.”
If yours is not the uneasiness spoken of by the Savior, of what kind does he speak, and to what class does your weariness belong? Is yours a kind that can find relief any where else but in Jesus? Why allow your unbelief and the tempter to criticize, pervert, and cast from you the blessed words on which God’s children feed and thrive?
You cannot allow yourself to hope for fear that at last you will find yourself doomed to hell! Poor child! What have you to do with hell; or hell to do with you? If Jesus had not redeemed you from hell, you would never have been sensible of your lost estate; you never would have been weary and heavy laden; you would never have hungered and thirsted after righteousness; you never would have lost your relish for sin; you never would have loved the company of the saints or desired to be one; you never would have seen a beauty in the holy ordinances of the gospel, nor seen the kingdom of God. The fear of hell could never make you love holiness or desire companionship with the children of the living God. Nothing but the love of God himself shed abroad in your heart could make you love God, his word, his people or his ordinances.
You say, you do not look for perfection in yourself; but think if you were a Christian you would be different from what you are. Just so would say every Christian on earth. Ask any of them; even Paul has told you that, to will was present with him, but how to perform that which is good he found not. He could not do the things that he would. And you ask, “What right have I to look to Christ?” The best possible right; for he has commanded you to do so. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, for I am God, and there is none else,” (Isa. 45:22). It takes a God to save a sinner; you are a sinner, and as there is no other God, it is vain to look to any other source for salvation. He says, I am God, and beside me there is no Savior. This constitutes your right; and the very fact that you have no claim on God proves that you are the very sinner that he has thus called: for Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. And yet another unmistakable mark you have that you are the very sinner Jesus came to save is that you are the chief of sinners, sickened at heart in view of your vileness, and so much worse than anybody else, that you often feel that if you could exchange places with anyone in the world, there would then be some hope in your case. Do you not believe it is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save the very chief of sinners?
What right have you to say that God is so far off, he does not hear your cry? You no doubt feel that you are far off from God; because he is so holy, and you feel so vile; but it is God that works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. And if he did not know how wicked and deceitful a heart you have, and that of yourself you are utterly unworthy of his notice, your case would be hopeless indeed; for if he knew not our malady how would he know how to cure? Who but God has caused you to see and feel and acknowledge how vile and sinful you are? Who but God has sent a famine upon all the vanities on earth in which you once delighted? Who but God has given you a longing desire to be a Christian? Do you ascribe the work to any other than the God that made you? You say, He undoubtedly has a people here, and when they are gathered home, the balance will soon be disposed of. This you do not doubt, of this you are fully satisfied; and so am I. But what evidence have you that this is true, more than you have that you are one of that very people: for without an exception they all have the very same experience in every essential particular that you relate? How much easier it is for us to be satisfied with the experience of others, than with our own. You are compelled to admit that in your own case there has been a change. The things you once loved now you hate; your views, and taste, and desires, and hopes, and fears are none of them such as you once had; and yet you ask, what right have you to hope that this is the change that you desire? Precisely the same that any other quickened one has to hope: and my impression is that in spite of yourself you are obliged to hope, and do hope; but the trouble is, like all others who have this hope, you find it opposed by the darkness and unbelief of your own unrenewed nature; by doubts and fears that you will have to battle with as long as you remain here in the flesh. Truly the words of all your friends are powerless unless God by his Spirit shall apply them with comfort to your heart.
I would by no means urge anyone to profess faith in the Lord Jesus who does not possess such faith, nor to be baptized who has never felt a sincere love to the people of God; but we hold that it is not possible that one can truly love the brethren who has not passed from death unto life, or that any can love the brethren who do not love the Lord Jesus Christ: and his command is, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” He does not say, If ye feel worthy, if ye have no doubts and fears, or if ye know that one drop of his precious blood was shed especially for you; but simply, if ye love me, for if you love him, it is positive proof that he first loved you, and gave himself for you, and that not merely one drop, but all the rich fountain of his blood was shed for the remission of your sins.
If you were a hypocrite, you would be trying to deceive. A fear of deceiving and being deceived is a mark of sincerity and truth. And certainly no hypocrite or wolf in sheep’s clothing could find any enjoyment in lingering around the fold of Christ, except for the purpose of devouring the flock. You cannot conceal your love for the people of God, and desire to be numbered with them, for your speech, looks, and actions all betray you.
To your questions, I answer, It is not possible that one can feel a particle of spiritual enjoyment, who is not born of God. For, as before quoted, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” That measure of spiritual enjoyment is an earnest of an incorruptible inheritance of glory; and we may add, in the words of the poet,
“Yes, I to the end shall endure
As sure as the earnest is given;
More happy, but not more secure
Are the glorified spirits in heaven.”
Is it possible, you ask, for any one to receive a change of heart, who is not aware of such a change? There are evidences given to all who have passed from death unto life, such as I have already enumerated; but there are thousands who like yourself are distrustful of such evidences as the Scriptures warrant them to rely upon; such as a love of the brethren, desire after holiness, a disrelish for carnal enjoyments in which they have once delighted: and the seeing a beauty in the ordinances of the church of God. Some are very suddenly ushered into the light and liberty of the gospel, and can tell the day and hour, the place and circumstances when their deliverance came; but others who may be numbered by thousands, have been led in such a manner as never to be able to tell when they ceased to hate, and when they began to love the Savior, and his people. But the fact that they do love Christ and desire to honor and obey him, are equally as reliable and scriptural evidences that they are born of God, as though an angel came down from heaven and declared it.
Again you ask, “Does a Christian ever feel sure of his acceptance in Christ?” Yes. There are times when Christians enjoy the faith of assurance; but as a general thing, those precious seasons are few and far between. Whenever they confer with flesh and blood, doubts arise, fears prevail, and unbelief is master of the field; until faith revives and looks within the vail; then it puts our doubts to flight, and again we enter into rest.
Again, your case is not unlike all the children of God in being keenly sensitive when you hear the truth of God blasphemed by Arminians; and often sluggish and inattentive while sitting under the preaching of the gospel. The rantings of Arminians are understood and repelled by our knowledge of the truth; but the preaching of the gospel must be sent home by the Spirit before it can animate and feed us. Prejudice never taught anyone to know that salvation is of grace; nor can the letter of that doctrine be so acquired as to qualify one to detect error, unless the error be so gross as to be apparent to our natural judgment. You may not be conscious of a time when you ever hated the gospel, but you certainly came into the world with a hatred to it. Your change of heart may have been as early, or even before you were nine years of age; and your being troubled in hearing me preach at that early period may have been in consequence of the word being sent home with divine power to your quickened heart.
In conclusion, let me say, it cannot be right for us to cherish the unbelief and infidelity of our carnal reason, and reject the evidences which God has warranted us to rely upon. Nor are we justifiable if we love God and his people, and his truth, and see a beauty in the ordinances which he has enjoined on all who love him, to tempt God by saying, unless he shall give us greater evidences than he has given to others, or such as will be tangible to our mental powers, we will not obey his precepts. Thomas said, “Except I see the prints of the nails,” etc., I will not believe that Christ is risen. Was that commendable in Thomas? Is the like commendable in us?
Here I must leave the subject for the present; for the conversation I have had with you, and the evidences received, I cannot doubt that you are a subject of saving grace; and although the tempter may strive to make you think that it is wise and prudent in you to cast away or under rate the evidence you have of your acceptance with God, to demand more, or a different kind of testimony, I will only remind you that you will find that the way of the transgressor is hard. Deeply solicitous for your spiritual welfare, I am your sincere friend and kindred in Christ.
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