TRACTS ON HOLINESS.
EXPERIENCE OF PRESIDENT MAHAN;
IN A LETTER TO HIS WIFE.
MY DEAR WIFE: I now sit down to complete a design which I have long contemplated, but the accomplishment of which the providence of God has seemed hitherto to prevent. It is to give you and the children, as far as I am able, some account of the dealings of God with my own soul during the several winters in which I have been separated from you--blessed seasons, in which God has led me
into green pastures, and beside the still waters," in which my dwelling-place has been in a "land of broad rivers and streams," along the banks of the river of life," and on those everlasting hills where my "sun goes not down, neither does my moon withdraw itself, for the Lord is my everlasting light, and the days of my mourning are ended." As I commence writing, the waters of life rise and swell in my heart, and bear my soul upward and onwsrd into an ocean of such calm, and serene, and peaceful blessedness, that language fails when I attempt to describe what I see, and feel, and enjoy. Inspiration only furnishes language which approaches the reality --"Whom, not having seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not; yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory."
Perhaps I cannot better succeed in giving you an apprehension of the state of my mind, than by presenting some of the elements and soures of that blessedness with which I have served God and my generation these years that are past.
The first source of blessedness is conscious peace with God. To look up, with an eye of faith, into our Father's face, with the full and sweet assurance that every controversy is fully and perfectly settled, that, like Enoch, we can now "walk with God," and "God himself will walk with us, and dwell in us, and be our God, and we be his sons and his daughters,"--we then know the blessedness which Moses felt when God said to him, "I know thee by name, and thou hast found grace in my sight." To have God thus present to and in the soul, with not a cloud or frown upon his smiling face,-- this is the "fulness of joy" which I have had in him for months and months together. Is it a matter of wonder, then, that my "joy is full" ? In the very centre of my heart
"Sits my Savior, clothed in love,
And there my smiling God."
Another source and element of this blessedness is the sweet "spirit of adoption, crying Abba, Father," which God, by his Spirit, breathes into the heart. In the exercise of this spirit, the current of the thoughts, feelings, and affections, naturally, sweetly, and continually, flow out in sentinents of love, gratitude, and adoration, toward God, and there they roll "in blissful fixedness about one changeless centre." In the hour of temptation, the soul spontaneously "looks to Jesus," with the peaceful assurance that his "grace will be sufficient." "In time of need," however great or small the necessity, it naturally turns to God, and "casts its cares upon him," with the full assurance that "he careth for us;" that in Christ are provisions full and free for every want; that the ear of God is open when we pray to him; that even "before we cry, he hears, and while we are speaking, he answers, Here am I. Son, daughter, what is thy petition?" To pray with the consciousness that God is thus present, that we are "speaking to him face to face, as a man speaketh to a friend," -- this renders our blessedness in God so great, that the particular blessings asked for appear hardly necessary to the fulness of our joy. "This my joy is fulfilled."
Another element and source of this blessedness is, the perpetual and peaceful assurance that, in and through Christ, every real want, temporal and spiritual, may and will be supplied. Christ has promised that "they that follow him shall not want any good thing," that is, any thing the possession of which would be a real blessing to them, any thing necessary to the perfect fulness of their joy. To have this truth perpetually present to the mind, to feel an entire assurance that this is the actual relation which we sustain to Christ, -- then we "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." Then we, being delivered from our enemies, serve God without fear, in righteousness and holiness before him all the days of our life." This is the relation which I feel myself to sustaing to Christ from day to day. While I remain here, I have no expectation or fear of wanting any good thing in time or eternity. All my interests lie secure in the hands of Christ. "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so is the Lord found about his people," and I contimiually have the peaceful assurance that my soul dwells within that blessed circle.
Another source of this blessedness is the continued assurance that my way is so committed to the Lord, that he does and will direct my steps. "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way thou shalt go; I will guide thee with mine eye." This promise is a living reality to my mind, and I find it realized in my experience from day to day, In every time of need. When laboring in a place, up almost to the last moment when I am called to leave, I often know not where next to direct my steps. Yet when the time comes, the providences of God invariably make the way as plain as if a voice from heaven should tell me where to go. The firm confidence I have that this will be the case, preserves the mind from all care about the future, and leaves it at full liberty to expend its entire energies for Christ on the present field of labor. This state of peaceful trust, too, is itself, in the soul, a "well of water springing up into everlasting life." Then, when called to act, to know that God has heard prayer, in making the way so plain that not a shadow of doubt remains that one is walking in the very path which he has marked out, and, when pursuing that path, to be able to say, This is the highway which God bath cast up before me,--then, indeed, "our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." Then we "walk with God."
Another, and, I may add, one of the chief sources of this blessedness, is the continued assurance that, through the grace of God, I am one with God; that my will is lost in the divine will; that I have no will to do what God would not have me do, and that all he would have me do I will to do. Thus "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." This is the Most blessed spot in the universe. Nothing can offend the soul when it is here. In this blessed spot Christ seems to hold my soul from day to day. In this spot, no finite object has power to disturb the deep rest of the soul in God. "God is its everlasting light, and the days of its mourning are ended." I should here mention another fact in my experience,which I owe to the grace of Christ. It is this: a state of perfect contentment, and an entire and peaceful acquiescence in the dispensations of providence, in every variety of condition. As the soul retires under the "shadow of the Almighty," no occurrence without has power to disturb it there. From that spot it looks outupon all the arangements andmovements of the surrounding universe, with this sweet spirit pervading its whole being, and that in respect to all creatures, objects, and events, "thy will be done." It then "learns in whatever state it is, therewith to be content." Every conditionis best.Soitappears to the soul, and that because our heavenly Father so wills. My dear ones, I want you all to find this peaceful, blissfull spot. No want unsupplied reaches the soul there. Never, it seems to me, did my soul dwell there so uniterruptedly as within a few months past. O that blessed gospel, which has power to hold the mind in such a state! And O that blessed Savior, who is the "author and finisher" of this gospel, and is himself its very substance!
Another element of this blessedness is this: an entire separation, in all my aims, purposes, and desires, from all objects but one--Christ and the interests of his kingdom. I do not know that I "covet any man's silver, or gold, or apparel;" that I have an desire for a name among men, or any wish to pursue any object, but the glory of Christ. I have the witness in my own heart that, by the cross of Christ, "I am crucified to the world, and the world to me." In this blessed state, the soul can say, Christ is all mine. Nothing interrupts its deep blessedness in him. With sweetness have I been able, especiaally during the present period of separation from your, to present my entire family as a "whole burnt-offering" to Christ, with this single desire and prayer, that we may all be entirely his; that we may be wholly separated from all that is unlike him, and have his entire image in all our hearts; and that, as a family, we may all be able to say, "For us to live is Christ." To entertain such desires and intentions, is a foretast of eternal blessedness.
I now come to speak of a sourse of blessedness, to the description of which, I fear, I shall be able to make but feeble approach. It is what, for want of better language to express, I would call those open, direct, and inconceivably sweet visions, which, a great portion of the time, I have, of the infinte beauty, loveliness, and ineffable glory of Jesus Christ, and of the Godhead as manifested in him. You will doubtless recollect that memorable era of my existence when I may say that I received the first full baptism of the Spirit,--a baptism in which the Sun of righteousness shone out in cloadless light, beauty, sweetness, and glory, upon my soul. We had just retired to rest. As I laid my head upon my pillow, in a moment the vision opened upon my mind. I had an apprehension of Christ as he came out of the sepulchre after his resurection. The work of redemption was finished, and Christ, having burst the bars of death, had come forth to present the offer of eternal life to a dying world. There was in his benign countenance such majestic sweeetness and beauty, such mildness and love ineffable and infinite, and glory so divine and resplendent, and all mingled with compassion so tender for the sinner, that my heart melted in a moment. "The fountain of the great deep" of emotion were all "broken up." My bosom was swelling and heaving with emotions to which no language could give utterance. For seven years these baptisms have been more and more frequent, till now they seem to be the dwelling-place of the soul. At one time, I would view Him, as he led the disciples out to Bethany, and then "lifted up his hands and was taken up into heaven; at another, as he revealed himself to weeping Mary at the sepulchre, and to the two disciples at Emmaus; at another, as he met the weeping widow, and with infinite love restored her son alive from the dead; at another, as he lay, the babe of Bethlehem, and yet the God incarnate, in the arms of the aged Simeon. At another, I apprehend him as present to my soul, and apprehend him with the full and perfect consciousness that "in him I am complete, that there is not a demand of my being, in time or eternity, which he is not able, and willing, and present, to meet. At first, I seemed to view him at a distance from me, and yet, as I fixed the eye of faith upon him, approaching nearer and nearer, with a countenance infinitely benignant, and saying, if you will fix your eye steadily upon me, I will come to you, and make my abode with you. Thus he approached nearer and nearer, till he shone upon me from every point. He is in the soul, and yet all around. These views of Christ bring such sweetness and beauty into the soul, that I have often thus described the effect to my own mind. The heart is a harp of a thousand strings, and all are unstrung and discordant by reason of sin. But Christ comes and puts every chord in tune, and then, with the fingers of infinite love, sweeping those chords, raises such notes of heavenly harmony, that the soul lies all melted with the sweetness of its own melody. "Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." In the study of the Bible I seem to be walking along the banks of the "river of life;" at one time bathing in its waters, and at another, plucking the fruit of that tree "which grows upon either side of the river, and the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations."
Preaching the gospel has now an entirely different influence upon my mind from what it ever had before. In former years, when preparing and delivering a discourse, my feelings would be greatly interested. But when I was done, my own cup seemed to be almost empty. Now, while preaching "the unsearchable riches of Christ," my own cup fills up and overflows continually, and I retire to rest at night with my soul afloat in a world of light, glory, peace, and blessedness, that appears boundless and infinite. When "watering others," none appear to receive so full draughts as my own soul. All the while it appears such an infinite privilege to be a servant of Jesus Christ, to do and to suffer all his righteous will. With inexpressible sweetness this passage, and others of kindred character, come home to my mind: "Unto you it is given in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake."
Soon after I heard of the death of my mother, as I was meditating upon this event, this stanza passed with indescribable sweetness through my mind : --
"Hope looks beyond the bounds of time,
When what we now deplore
Shall rise in full, immortal prime,
And bloom to fade no more."
For a whole night my soul lay all dissolved with that sweet thought, without hardly closing my eyes to sleep. These sweet thoughts often flow on into my dreams, and then I sometimes hear music and singing that are perfectly unearthly. I will endeavor to give you some conception of one such scene. I was at T----- two years since, amid the occurrences above described. One evening, as I retired to rest, I seemed, with infinite sweetness, to pillow head upon the bosom of Christ. In this state, I fell asleep. I soon thought myself in company with some ten or twelve individuals before my father's dwelling, walking with them towards the door. As we were about to enter the door, the whole scene being inconceivably peaceful, they all stopped, and commenced singing. The words and tune of each were in perfect harmony, and yet appeared undesigned, as each seemed to be singing, as it were, alone by himself. The perfect harmony seemed to be the spontaneous effect of the concurrent melody of the soul within. The words and the music were all unearthly, such as I had never conceived of before. I looked at their countenances; each one beamed with a serenity so peaceful and heavenly, that it appeared as if in each heart "hope lay asleep on the bosom of bliss," and my own soul was as peaceful as theirs. One voice rose above all the rest. I turned to see from whom it came. It was from my departed father. One line they sang which I had before heard : --
"Gently, Lord, 0, gently lead us."
As they came to this, my feelings were so excited that I awoke, all dissolved in tears. When I awoke, the words and tune were distinctly in my mind. I attempted to sing them; but my voice was so coarse and harsh that the whole vanished in a moment. In thought only I remember it now. It has given me, however, such an idea of the harmony of heaven as I never conceived of before.
Such is an imperfect statement of what the Lord has done for my soul.
"Therefore praise him,
Praise the great Redeemer's name."
From what I have written, you will not suppose that my mind has always been in the same state of ecstasy. This I could not endure. But my "peace is as a river." Neither will you suppose that no feelings of sorrow dwell in my mind. I ofien weep for sinners, and over "Zion, weary, tossed with tempst, and not comforted," and as often "travail in birth" for them. And what a privilege it is to weep with Jesus over a lost world! Such tears are inconceivably sweet. God treasures them up in his bottle. In him, however, there is perpetual rest..
Now, my dear ones, having told you the dealings of God with my own soul, permit me to say, that my heart's desire and prayer to God, from day to day, for you, is, that you may all share with me in this "fulness of joy." It is all for you. I have obtained it "by the faith of the Son of God." If you will "believe, you shall also speak." May God, of his infinite mercy, grant "that you may be strengthened with might, by his Spirit, in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundandy above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us--unto him be glory in the church, by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen."
Evangelical Tract Society, No. 1 Cornhill, Boston.