One has written: “The language we have been accustomed to adopt is this; we must use the means, and leave the event to God; we can do no more than employ the means; this is our duty and having done this we must leave the rest to Him who is the disposer of all things.” Such language sounds well, for it seems to be an acknowledgment of our own nothingness, and to savor of submission to God’s sovereignty; but it is only sound—it has not really any substance in it, for though there is truth stamped on the face of it, there is falsehood at the root of it. To talk of submission to God’s sovereignty is one thing, but really to submit to it is another and quite different thing.
Really to submit to God’s sovereign disposal does always necessarily involve the deep renunciation of our own will in the matter concerned, and such a renunciation of the will can never be effected without a soul being brought through very severe and trying exercises of an inward and most humbling nature. Therefore, whilst we are quietly satisfied in using the means without obtaining the end, and this costs us no such painful inward exercise and deep humbling as that alluded to, if we think that we are leaving the affair to God’s disposal—we deceive ourselves, and the truth in this matter is not in us.
No; really to give anything to God, implies that the will, which is emphatically the heart, has been set on that thing; and if the heart has indeed been set on the salvation of sinners as the end to be answered by the means we use, we cannot possibly give up that end without, as was before observed, the heart being severely exercised and deeply pained by the renunciation of the will involved in it.
When, therefore, we can be quietly content to use the means for saving souls without seeing them saved thereby, it is because there is no renunciation of the will—that is, no real giving up to God in the affair. The fact is, the will—that is, the heart—had never really been set upon this end; if it had, it could not possibly give up such an end without being broken by the sacrifice.
When we can thus be satisfied to use the means without obtaining the end, and speak of it as though we were submitting to the Lord’s disposal, we use a truth to hide a falsehood, exactly in the same way that those formalists in religion do, who continue in forms and duties without going beyond them, though they know they will not save them, and who, when they are warned of their danger and earnestly entreated to seek the Lord with all the heart, reply by telling us they know they must repent and believe but that they cannot do either the one or the other of themselves and that they must wait till God gives them grace to do so.
Now, this is a truth, absolutely considered; yet most of us can see that they are using it as a falsehood to cover and excuse a great insincerity of heart. We can readily perceive that if their hearts were really set upon salvation, they could not rest satisfied without it. Their contentedness is the result, not of heart submission to God, but in reality of heart-indifference to the salvation of their own souls.
This post is a continuation of Horatius Bonar’s Words to Winners of Souls (see here for book information).