Though I have gone away for a season, I feel that I am not separated from you, for I find you in my heart wherever I go. Recent circumstances constrained me to think of our final separation on the earth, but in forecasting this I found that you and I were so associated that, if I could not remove you from the court of my conscience, no more would I remove you from the love of my heart. If there must be an early parting, we must all yet stand together before the Great White Throne of Judgement. All who part here must gather together there. And even that gathering is in order to another separation. The mixed multitude shall be divided by the Great Shepherd. The righteous, placed at His right hand, not one of them awanting, shall go to life eternal; and the wicked, placed on His left, not one of them awanting, shall go to everlasting punishment. In view of all this, blessed are all those who are united to the Person, washed by the blood, and sealed by the Spirit, of the Lord Jesus, and whose hope is sanctioned by the Word of the living God!
If, through the mercy of God, I shall return to my work among you again, I will have nothing to preach to you except what I preached to you before. Hitherto I have taught you what I believed to be the counsel of God, giving prominence to those truths which, in seeking a resting-place for my own soul, I found to be of primary importance: the utter ruin effected by the fall; the sovereignty and riches of new-covenant grace; the eternal Godhead and true humanity of Jesus Christ; His atoning sacrifice, with its infinite value and infallible efficacy; the certainty of the application of redemption to all for whom, as a substitute, Jesus died; the necessity of regeneration by the Holy Ghost in order to an entrance into the kingdom of grace on earth, and of perfected sanctification in order to passing through death into the kingdom of glory in heaven, of leaving “the first principles of the oracles of God” in advancing acquaintance with the doctrines of grace in order to evidence our being taught of God, and of bearing fruit in sobriety, righteousness and godliness that we may certify to our conscience, and prove to the Church, that we have passed from death unto life. These, if I resume my work, will continue to be my main themes, as they have been in the past, while declaring to all, without any exception, that they are called by God to receive, and rest upon, the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation as He is presented to us in “the word of the truth of the gospel”.
In these days of unrest, when men are blindly groping after novelties, it would be well to have our hearts fed by this manna, which never waxes old. Steadfast and immovable in the faith we can never be, unless the everlasting verities of the gospel give both strength and gladness to our hearts.
There are some of you who, hitherto, have cared for none of these things. You take help from the Prince of darkness, though you do not know his presence and his power in keeping your souls benighted, that so you may find it easy to walk in the way of your heart. And, willingly subject to this cruel power, you rebelliously resist the will of God and madly reject His counsel and resent the strivings of His Spirit. But all the sparks of truth, which you have laboured to extinguish in your souls in order to create the darkness which your hearts were craving, shall yet be gathered into one great fire on the bosom of your conscience in order to burn up all your joy and ease and hope. The Lord grant that this may be done in mercy by a Spirit-given conviction of sin! If not, it shall take place in righteous retribution, and the fire thus kindled shall penetrate your souls with a scorching that shall never end. The Lord requireth that which is past, and the words of God, which you treated with indifference when they were addressed to you, shall yet command your attention and shall utterly and awfully overpower you.
There are among you not a few who cannot but know that your souls are yet lying where the Fall has left them. You dare not hope that it shall be well with you at the latter end if you do not experience a change to which you as yet are strangers. How can you be at ease in such a plight, in view of the end of all things, and while not having a moment beyond the present which you may call your own? It can only be by accepting a promise from him who was “a liar from the beginning”, and who lies so that he may murder. He tells you that tomorrow is the day of salvation, while He who cannot lie tells you that it is “today”. But you receive the liar’s word and reject the word of God and, resting on a falsehood, you float down on “the course of this world” to eternal woe. And you pervert the counsel of God in order to deepen your delusive sleep. You know that salvation is of God and you say that, if it comes at all, it will find you somehow and somewhere ere you die.
But can you endure not to know that the salvation of God is yours? At least you know that, if it be not yours, the eternal woe of hell is right before you. God does not reveal His secret things to you, but He calls you to reflect on what lies before you, and now to flee without delay to Jesus from the wrath to come. And the very knowledge you have of your present state makes it all the easier for you to abide in it. You look down on those who are less enlightened, and your sense of superiority emboldens you to advance in the way that leads down to death. You have been only hardened by that which ought to alarm you. You have acquired an unholy familiarity with the terrors of the Lord, till you have become bold to despise them. The light that is in you surely is darkness if it be such as this and will, “except ye repent”, go out at last in the darkness into which the sun of righteousness shall never shed a ray. O, “while it is called today”, shake off your slumber, break through the spell of delusion, and put all away from before your soul’s attention which engrossed you before, till the great question, “What must I do to be saved?” is addressed by you to the Lord and answered by the Lord to you.
There are others among you of whom I stand in doubt; and none the less – but all the more – because they do not stand in doubt of themselves. Such familiarity with the things of God as banishes reverence from the heart, so favourable an estimate of oneself that it is easy to exercise a lifeless hope which the great enemy finds it in his interest not to challenge or disturb, a self-complacent resting on the past that allows no straining after growth in grace, a readiness in practice to take the side of Christ or of the world as may be found most convenient, the neglect of closet intercourse with God – these are the things against which I in love would warn you. At once and for ever, have done with all that will not abide the trial by fire in which all shall be burned which has not been produced by the renewing power, and is not sanctioned by the infallible Word, of God.
There are some among you with whom, now and for ever, I desire to be associated, thinking of you, as I do, as having the fear of God in your heart, and as poor sinners cleaving, in your helplessness, to free rich saving grace through Christ crucified. To such I would say, do not expect to be less dependent on the grace of God than you have been in the past, and be afraid of the consciousness of that dependence passing away from your heart. Your only strength is in the grace that is in Christ, and you reach it only as by faith you lean with your weakness and unworthiness on Him in whom all fulness dwelleth. Forget not that your souls can only thrive in the measure in which you watch and pray, and your heart, constrained by the love of Christ, keeps your hand to the work which the Lord has given you to do. Seek grace to move you to take a deeper interest in those around you who yet know not God. Restrain not prayer for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in His convincing and converting power. And, brethren, pray for me that the Lord may make profitable to my soul His present dealing with me, and thus prepare me for future work on earth, or make me ready for the kingdom in which no one shall ever say “I am sick”.
Amidst the prevailing spiritual ignorance, the silly superstition, and the rampant ungodliness of the Continent, I am impressed, as I never was before, with the great responsibility of all who live in our native land. And I am thoroughly persuaded that no one who desired the ruin of Scotland could devise a more effective way of fulfilling his purpose, than by decrying as superstitious our Sabbath-keeping, and by endeavouring to create a taste that would be gratified by a departure from the simplicity of our Presbyterian worship. Either the grossest superstition or open infidelity must prevail where the Sabbath is not observed. This is the lesson taught by the state of things on the Continent; and therefore, with all the earnestness of which my heart is capable, and with all the energy which I can put forth, I feel bound to warn you, and all whom I can address, against the neglect of Sabbath observance, which is invariably the result of a decline in faith and spirituality, and is surely followed by general immorality. Profanity and vice are inseparable, though the latter may, at certain stages, wear a mask that hides its deformity.
The great kindness of my brethren, in giving supply during my absence, has kept anxiety, as to your being provided with the bread of life, from invading the season of my rest, and made it easier for me to obtain all the benefit which it was fitted to yield. I now at last find that bodily vigour is returning, and as I feel – so to others do I seem – greatly improved in health since I reached the warm climate of the sunny south of Italy. I am now on my way to my home and my work, at the disposal of Him who doeth all things well.
1. This is a pastoral letter dated 2 April 1881, written from Rome by John Kennedy of Dingwall. He had gone abroad for the sake of his health. It is reprinted, with slight editing, from volume 6 of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, which should be available in print, DV, by the time this issue is in the hands of readers.