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Posts Tagged ‘Revivalsim’

aalexander2This question, I think it is true to say, is probably on the minds of many more Christians than we would like to admit.  What must I do to be saved?  How can I know I am saved? And although I know some would not have us focus so much on this question (citing the morbid introspective individualism of our times) I would go so far as to say that this inherent heart-cry of the human soul before God, and the answer proclaimed in the gospel, lies at the very center of the Christian faith!

Oh, and the answer goes against every bone of contention in our body, every seeming rule of nature, and every preconception about reality.  And yet that answer is so wonderfully, beautifully, joyously, and rapturously simple.

Below is an account of one Archibald Alexander, who later went on to become the first professor at Princeton Seminary.  He describes the great labor and anguish in which he wrestled with this understanding.  The context is during the great awakenings, where the common expectations, in some places, was that you needed an ‘experience’ in order to be sure of your salvation. People were urged to look inwards instead of outward to Christ.  This only lead to deep spiritual confusion.  Please read.

Being much dissatisfied with my state of mind, and now sensible of the corruption of my heart, I resolved to enter on a new course, and determined to give up all reading except the Bible, and to devote myself entirely to prayer, fasting and the Scriptures, until I should arrive at greater hope. My life was spent almost entirely in religious company, but our conversation often degenerated into levity, which was succeeded by compunction [regret]. Telling over our private exercises was carried to an undue length, and instead of tending to edification, was often injurious. But reserve on this subject was considered a bad sign; and on meeting, the first inquiry after salutation was concerning the state of each other’s souls.

A young women of my acquaintance, who, with others, had gone over to Bedford, appeared more solemnly impressed than most of the company. All believed that if any one had experienced divine renewal, it was Mary Hanna. One afternoon, while reading a sermon of Tennent’s on the need of a legal work preparatory to conversion, she was seized with such apprehensions of her danger, that she began to tremble, and in attempting to reach the house, which was distant only a few steps, fell prostrate, and was taken up in a state of terrible convulsion. The news quickly spread, and in a short time most of the serious young people in the town were present. I mention this for the purpose of adding that I was at once struck with the conviction that I had received an irreparable injury from the clergyman who had persuaded me that no such conviction as this was necessary. I determined, therefore, to admit no hope until I should have the like experience.

I read all the religious narratives I could procure, and laboured much to put myself into the state in which they described themselves to have been, before enjoying hope. But all these efforts and desires proved abortive, and I began to see much more of the wickedness of my own heart than ever before. I was distressed and discouraged, and convinced that I had placed too much dependence on mere means, and on my own efforts. I therefore determined to give myself incessantly to prayer until I found mercy, or perished in the pursuit.

This Resolution was formed on a Sunday evening. The next morning I took my Bible and walked several miles into the dense wood of the Bushy Hills, which were then wholly uncultivated. Finding a place that pleased me, at the foot of a projecting rock, in a dark valley, I began with great earnestness the course which I had prescribed to myself. I prayed, and then read in the Bible, prayed and read, prayed and read, until my strength was exhausted; for I had taken no nourishment that day. But the more I strove the harder my heart became, and the more barren was my mind of every serious or tender feeling. I tasted then some of the bitterness of despair. It seemed to be my last resource, and now this had utterly failed.

I was about to desist from the endeavour, when the thought occurred to me, that though I was helpless, and my case was nearly desperate, yet it would be well to cry to God to help me in this extremity. I knelt upon the ground, and had poured out perhaps a single petition, or rather broken cry for help, when, in a moment, I had such a view of a crucified Saviour, as is without a parallel in my experience. The whole plan of grace appeared as clear as day. I was persuaded that God was willing to accept me, just as I was, and convinced that I had never before understood the freeness of salvation, but had always been striving to bring some price in my hand, or to prepare myself for receiving Christ. Now I discovered that I could receive him in all his offices at that very moment, which I was sure at the time I did. I felt truly a joy which was unspeakable and full of glory.

Charles Hodge, in his Memoir, comments.

There is another lesson of a different kind suggested by the account above given. How different are theory and experience! What becomes of the boasted power of man – of his ability, plenary or natural, to repent, believe, and change his own heart? Had any miserable sophist gone to the youthful subject of this memoir, lying on the ground in his agony in the depths of the forest, and told him, ‘You can if you will’, would it not have been as much a mockery as when Satan said to Adam and Eve, ‘Ye shall be as gods’? It is well enough for men in their studies to split hairs and quibble about ability and inability, can and can’t; but when it comes to the death-struggle, these distinctions are all discarded, and a solemn, fearful consciousness of absolute helplessness is produced. And until in one form or another this sense of impotence is experienced, there is no real apprehension of the help of Christ.

Then, again, when men tell us that conversion is effected when the soul summons all its powers and determines to make God its portion, or purposes the general good, how does this agree with the experience of God’s people? Is conversion, so far as it is a conscious process, a self-determination, [as] much as it is a beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, as that glory is revealed to it through the word and by the Spirit, taking the whole soul captive in admiration, gratitude, love, and submission? Men do not create themselves; they do not come forth from the darkness of spiritual death, to behold the light of God’s countenance and the glories of the new creation, by any energy of their own. The whole change is one of which man is the subject, rather than the agent.

Taken from Princeton And Preaching by James M Garretson. (p 14-17)

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