THE FORCE OF TRUTH
(First published in 1779)
When I had made this little progress in seeking the truth, my acquaintance with Mr. Newton was resumed. From the inclusion of our correspondence in December 1775, till April 1777, it had been almost wholly dropped. To speak plainly, I did not care for his company; I did not mean to make any use of him as an instructor; and I was unwilling the world should think us in any way connected. But under discouraging circumstances, I had occasion to call upon him; and his discourse so comforted and edified me, that my heart, being by his means relieved from its burden, became susceptible of affection for him. From that time I was inwardly pleased to have him for my friend, though not as now rejoiced to call him so. I had, however, even at that time, no thoughts of learning doctrinal truth from him, and was ashamed to be detected in his company; but I sometimes stole away to spend an hour with him. About the same period, I once heard him preach; but still it was foolishness to me, his sermon being principally upon the believer’s experience, in some particulars with which I was unacquainted: so that though I loved and valued him, I considered him as a person misled by enthusiastical notions, and strenuously insisted that we should never think alike till we met in heaven.
All along, in the progress of this inquiry, I grew more and more concerned about my character. I saw myself continually verging nearer and nearer to that scheme of doctrine which the world calls methodism; nor could I help it without doing violence to my convictions. I had indeed set out with the avowed, and I trust sincere, resolution of seeking the truth as impartially as possible; and of embracing it wherever I might find it, without respect to interest, reputation, or any worldly consideration whatever. I had taken patiently, and sustained comfortably, the loss of my opening prospect of preferment, I trust mainly from the supports of grace, and the consciousness of having acted with integrity; yet I am not sure but my deceitful heart might also derive some support from a vain imagination that my character would be no loser. Ambitious thirst after the praise of men was much more my peculiar corruption, than covetousness; and I had been in no ordinary degree proud of my natural understanding. I had
been accustomed to hear the people called methodists mentioned with contempt, as ignorant and deluded, as fools, and sometimes as madmen; and that with no small degree of complacency and self-preference, I too had despised them as weak enthusiasts. But I now began to be apprehensive that the tables were about to be turned upon me. If I professed and taught these doctrines, I must no longer be considered as a man of sober understanding, but as one of those persons whose heads, being naturally weak, had been turned by religious studies; and who, having fallen under the power of enthusiasm. had become no better than fools or madmen.
This was the sharpest trial I passed through; for I had not yet learned, that when we are reproached for the name of Christ, happy are we. Nor did I remember that the apostles were “fools for Christ’s sake;” were deemed “beside themselves;” and went “through evil report and good report, as deceivers, and yet true;” that they were “everywhere spoken against,” as the men that “turned the world upside down;” were treated as “vain babblers,” and “accounted the filth of the world, and the off scouring of all things.” I did not consider that Jesus himself, the “brightness of the Father’s glory,” the “word and wisdom of God,” who went about doing good,” and “spake as never man spake,” was not only rejected, but despised as not worth hearing, as “one that had a devil,” as in league with the devil, as “a blasphemer,” “a Samaritan,” “a madman,” yea, “a devil.” I read, indeed, but my understanding was not yet opened to understand such plain scriptures as these: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own, but because we are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said .unto you. The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you,” John 15.19-20. “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?” Matt. 10.24-25. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you,” Matt. 5.11-12. Not being aware of these consequences when my resolution was first formed, I was as one who has begun to build without counting the cost;
and was greatly disturbed when I saw the favourite idol of my proud heart, my character, in such imminent danger.
It must be supposed that this apprehension would make me cautious what doctrines I admitted into my creed; and unwilling to be convinced that those things were true and important, the profession of which was sure to bring infamy on any character; and that, even after the fullest conviction, I
should thus be rendered very careful in what manner I reached them. In general, however, though the conflict was
sharp, I was enabled to be faithful. The words, “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is me if I preach not the gospel,” were commonly upon my mind when I penned my sermon, and when I entered the pulpit: and though, when a bold declaration of what I believed to be the truth, with an offensive application of it to the consciences of my hearers, drew opposition and calumny upon me, I have secretly resolved to be more circumspect the next time; yet, when that time came, my heart and conscience being both engaged, I dared not to conceal one little of what appeared to me to be true, and to promise usefulness. But while, with perturbation of mind, and with many disquieting apprehensions, I declared the message with which I supposed myself to be intrusted; to screen myself from the charge of methodism, and to soften the offence, I was frequently throwing out slighting expressions, and bringing the charge of enthusiasm against those who preached such doctrines as I was not yet convinced of. On the other hand, my concern about my character quickened me very much in prayer, and increased my diligence in searching the scriptures, that I might be sure I was not, at this expense, preaching ‘cunningly devised fables,” instead of feeding the souls committed to my care with the unadulterated milk of evangelical truth.
In this state of mind, which is more easily understood by experience than description, I met with Mr. Venn’s Essay on the Prophecy of Zacharias, Luke 1.67-79. I was no stranger to the character he bore in the eyes of the world, and did not begin to read this book with great alacrity or expectation:
however, the interesting subjects treated of engaged my attention, and I read it with great seriousness, and some degree of impartiality. I disapproved indeed of many things;
but the truth and importance of others brought conviction both to my understanding and conscience: especially, I found a word in season, respecting my foolish and wicked shame and attention to character, inquiring after divine truth, and in the performance of the important duties of a gospel minister. These solemn words in/particular came home to my heart: “If the spirit of the world, pride, carelessness respecting the soul,
and neglect of Christ, be not hateful to God and destructive to men, the gospel (with reverence I speak it) is an imposition. Do you abhor that thought as blasphemy? Abhor as much a fawning upon Christ from year to year in your closet, calling Him there your Lord and God, and then coming out to consult the world how far they will allow you to obey His plain commands, without saying you are a methodist. Cease rather to profess any allegiance to Christ, than treat Him, under professions of duty, with such contempt. ‘I would,’ said he to the church of Laodicea, ‘thou wert cold or hot;’ but ‘because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.'”
I should as easily be convinced that there was no Holy Ghost, as that He was not present with my soul when I read this passage, and the whole of what Mr. Venn has written upon the subject. It came to my heart with such evidence, conviction, and demonstration, that it lifted me up above the world, and produced that victory which faith alone can give, and that liberty which uniformly attends the presence of the Spirit of the Lord. I became at once ashamed of my base ingratitude and foolish fears, and was filled with such consolation and
rejoicing, even in the prospect of sacrificing my character, and
running the risk of infamy and contempt, as made me entirely satisfied on that head: and, some few seasons of unbelief excepted, I have never since been much troubled about being called an enthusiast or a methodist.
But while I was thus delivered from the dread of unmerited
reproaches, I continued as much as ever afraid of real enthusiasm; nay, I became continually more and more averse to everything which can justly bear that name: so that the nearer I verged to what I had ignorantly supposed to be unthusiastical, the more apprehensive I was, lest my earnestness in such interesting inqiries, and the warmth of my natural spirits, thus occasionally increased, should put me off my guard, and betray me into delusions and mistakes. From this danger I could however obtain no security, but by keeping close to the study of the word of God; and by being earnest and particular in praying to be preserved from error, and to be enabled to distinguish between the pure revelations of the Holy Spirit contained in scripture, and the inventions of men, the imaginations of my own heart, or the delusions of the spirit of lies.
The doctrine of a Trinity of co-equal persons in the Unity of the Godhead had been hitherto no part of my creed. I had long been accustomed to despise this great mystery of godliness. I
had first quarrelled with the articles of the established church about this doctrine: I had been very decided and open in my declarations against it; and my unhumbled reason still retained many objections to it. But about June 1777,I began to be troubled with doubts about my own sentiments, and, in consequence, was led again to a more serious and anxious consideration of the subject. Yet, the more I studied, the more I was dissatisfied.
Many things now first occurred to me as strong objections against my own sentiments; and, being thus perplexed, and unable to form a scheme for myself, I easily perceived that I was not qualified to dispute with another person. My pride and my convictions struggled hard for the victory: I was very unwilling to become a Trinitarian in the strict sense of the word, though, in my own sense, I had for some time pretended to be one; and yet the more I considered it, the more I was dissatisfied with all other systems,
My esteem for Mr. N. was also now very much increased; and though I had hitherto concealed this part of my sentiments from him, yet I knew his to be very different. I was not indeed willing to be taught by him in other matters: yet, in this respect, finding his opinion the same which in all former ages of the church hath been accounted orthodox, while that which I held had always been branded as heretical; my fears of a mistake were thus exceedingly increased. In this perplexity I applied to the Lord, and frequently besought Him to lead me to a settled conclusion what was the truth in this important subject. After much meditation, together with a careful examination of all the scriptures which I then understood to relate to it, accompanied with earnest prayer for Divine teaching, I was at length constrained to renounce, as utterly indefensible, all my former sentiments, and to accede to that doctrine which I had so long despised. I saw, and I could no longer help seeing, that the offices and works, attributed in scripture to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, are such as none but the infinite God could perform: that it is a contradiction to believe the real, and consequently infinite, satisfaction to Divine justice made by the death of Christ, without believing Him to be “very God of very God:” nor could the Holy Ghost give spiritual life, and dwell in the hearts of all believers at the same time, to adapt His work of convincing, enlightening, teaching, strengthening, sanctifying and comforting to the several cases of every individual, were He not the omniscient, omnipresent, infinite God. Being likewise certain, from reason as well as from scripture, that there is not, and cannot be, more Gods than one; I was driven from my reasonings, and constrained to
submit my understanding to Divine revelation; and, allowing that the incomprehensible God alone can fully know the unsearchable mysteries of his own Divine nature, and the manner of his own existence, to adopt the doctrine of a “Trinity in Unity,” among other reasons of still greater moment, in order to preserve consistency in my own scheme. It was, however, a considerable time before I was disentangled from my embarrassments on this subject.
Hitherto my prejudices against Mr. Hervey, as a writer upon doctrinal subjects, had been very strong. I thought him a very pious man, and I had read with pleasure some parts of his meditations; yet, looking on him as an enthusiast, I had no curiosity to read any other of his writings. But, about July 1777,
providentially met with his “Theron and Aspasio;” and opening the book, I was much pleased with the first passage in which I cast my eye. This engaged me to read the whole with uncommon attention: nor did I, in twice perusing it, meet with any thing contrary to my own sentiments, without immediately beseeching the Lord to guide me to the truth. I trust the Lord heard and answered these prayers; for, though I could not but dissent from him (as I still do) in some few things; yet I was both instructed and convinced by his arguments and illustrations in every thing relative to our alien, guilty, lost, and helplessly miserable state by nature;
and the way and manner in which the believer is accounted, and accepted as righteous, in the presence of a just, holy, and heart-searching, a faithful and unchangeable God: especially his animated description and application of the stag chase, cleared up this important matter to my mind, more than any thing I had hitherto met with upon the subject.**
* Continued from Vol.9p.151.
** To be continued.