The very best for the very worst.
Octavius Winslow on God’s good news for the emptied, tried, and burdened.
Those in the church often operate as though they are duty-bound to put on perfect airs when around other church folk. Pretenses of spiritual soundness, wholeness, and enoughness ooze all over our participation in worship and conversation with fellow ecclesiastical patrons. We parade ourselves as put-together when deep inside we know we’re anything but. Like everyone else, we persist in this game because we don’t want to be exposed as weak or inadequate. Deficiencies are eschewed and edited, masked under the garb of supposed strength. But, in so doing, we abandon the way of the gospel.
The only condition which accompanies the good news of God’s reconciliation is the requisite realization that you’re incompetent, incapable, and inadequate. All your fashioned strength isn’t accepted. It is only the weak who are allowed in. It is only the dead. And, what’s more, after the gospel raises you to “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4), it never ceases to be your crutch. Sinners saved by grace will forever be sinners who “live upon Christ’s wealth.” Such is how Octavius Winslow considers it:
The covenant of grace is made for a poor and an afflicted people whom the Lord has left in the midst of Zion. To know from experience what the fulness and preciousness of that covenant is, we must be emptied, tried, burdened. It is only the poor sinner that lives upon Christ’s wealth, the empty soul that lives upon Christ’s fulness, the feeble saint that lives upon Christ’s power, the tried, afflicted, and tempted believer that lives upon Christ’s grace, sympathy, and love. The extent of our conscious need is the measure of our life of faith on Jesus. We ally weakness with His strength, demerit with His righteousness, indigence with His opulence, and hang the empty vessel upon His unbounded and fathomless sufficiency. Beloved, entwine as a thread of gold with the ministry of home this precious thought: — “My emptiness fits me for Christ’s fulness, and Christ’s fulness is designed for my emptiness.”
But what an exceeding great and precious exhortation and promise is this: — “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee.” The marginal reading is, “thy gift.” We accept both readings as correct. All that we receive from the Lord we receive as a gift, — the gift of His most free grace and love. The believer sees and tastes free grace in every blessing of His Heavenly Father. He traces it in the sun that cheers him, in the spring that refreshes him, in the breeze that fans him, in the flowers that delight him. He sees it in the love that comforts him, in the friendship that strengthens him, in the sympathy that soothes him, in the outstretched hand that relieves his want. Nay, more. The child of God sees free grace — a Father’s gift — in every cloud that darkens, in every sorrow that embitters, in every disappointment that wounds, in every burden that crushes. But infinitely beyond all, he sees and tastes free grace in the blood that pardons him, in the righteousness that justifies him, in the love that adopts him, in the voice that calls him, and in the promises that engage to bring him home to glory. (342–44)
When we come to Christ, we come with nothing clenched in our fists, save for a profound awareness of our own depravity and desperation. “We can only come to Christ with a catalogue of our sins in our hands,” writes Thomas Adam (62). The monstrosity of our iniquity is the only thing we bring to the table of salvation, at which the Lord speaks words of indefatigable peace, pardon, and grace. “The first step to mercy, is to see our own misery,” asserts Puritan preacher Thomas Brooks; “the first step toward heaven, is to see ourselves near hell” (100). As you crawl your way to Christ, crippled and gaunt, with sin quenching the life out of your lungs, the Savior is found on bended knee to relieve us from the life-choking chains of iniquity. That’s who the gospel is for: the burdened, the bruised, the broken, the afflicted. Only the worst are let in. Because only those who know themselves to be the worst entrust their all to the One who gave his best to save those who are the worst.
Grace and peace.
Thomas Adam, Private Thoughts on Religion and Other Subjects Connected With It (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1843).
Thomas Brooks, Apples of Gold for Young Men and Women, and a Crown of Glory for Old Men and Women (Otley: William Walker, 1839).
Octavius Winslow, The Ministry of Home: Brief Expository Lectures on Divine Truth (London: William Hunt & Co., 1867).