Dearly beloved brother in the grace of Jesus,
I will see if I have time and ability to write a few words, in answer to your questions; for which, however, a short letter will not suffice, and which are more proper for verbal communication.
The state of repentance, of the law, and the drawing of the Father, is generally speaking, one and the same: because the one, as well as the other, is a preparation for Christ, and for regeneration, or the state of the new covenant. But there is sometimes a distinction observable. One, who constrained by the sincere reproofs, demands, and anguish of conscience, labors in his own strength, refrains from evil and does good, in order to sooth his suffering mind, is properly speaking, still under the law. But if I should call it a state of repentance, it must be accompanied with a greater humiliation and contrition for sins committed; and the more a soul, in the consciousness of its sinfulness, misery, and weakness, sighs and longs for forgiveness in Christ, and for his operating power and grace to renew the heart, the more properly might this be called the drawing of the Father; although these three appellations, as already said, signify generally the same thing, and are often united.
The assurance of the forgiveness of sins is commonly taken for believing in Jesus; but in my opinion, this is incorrect. That which I have just now more fitly called the drawing of the Father, I might also with propriety call, believing in Jesus: for the Father draws us to the Son. But faith in Christ has its gradations: in the beginning it is a “Coming to Jesus;” (John 6:35) that is, with hunger and desire, just as I have said respecting the drawing of the Father. It is afterwards a receiving of
Jesus, (John 1:12) which cannot take place, unless the sincere will of the soul lets go at once the world, sin, and self. In advancing, faith is an abiding in Jesus, (John 15) namely, with a fervent inclination, otherwise called retiring within, or cleaving to him: (1 Cor. 6:17) and thus by abiding and walking in Jesus, we are increasingly rooted and grounded in him, (Col. 2:7) which, however, is not accomplished without afflictions and trials. Faith is, finally, a dwelling of Christ in the soul, and of the soul in Christ, (Eph. 3:17, John 17:23) and a becoming one with him. By referring to, and considering the passages quoted, you may perhaps attain more light on the subject.
On the whole, you perceive, that I do not merely regard faith as an act of the understanding, by which we represent and imagine to ourselves, that Christ has made a sufficient atonement for us, but chiefly as an act of the will, and of the heart, in which our love, desire, and confidence are turned away from ourselves and all created things, and directed to the grace of Jesus, in order that, by him, we may be delivered from guilt and the dominion of sin. Confidence, it is true, is a material ingredient of faith; but as soon as there is a hungering after grace, or a coming to Jesus, it is accompanied with confidence, although frequently much concealed by sin and fear. But no one ever comes to a physician that places no confidence in him whatever. If we only continue to come, confidence will manifest itself in due time. The light shines out of darkness, and confidence is generated by anxiety and despondency.
That which is otherwise called an inward attraction, is properly speaking, faith in Jesus, accompanied by a fervent and tender confidence. This inward attraction manifests itself to some souls, like a flash of lightning; but alas ! it is seldom that proper room is made for it, or that it is duly attended to; otherwise the soul would be speedily delivered by it from bondage and disquietude, and strengthened to entire resignation.
Your question, respecting free will, is equivocal. By a free will, is generally understood, a will to will what is good, and an ability to do what is good; and in this sense, no one has by nature a free will. But if by it be understood the voluntary direction of the will, freely to choose the good or evil that is presented to it; not only has every man, in this sense, a free will, but also the devil himself. But on the one hand, man possesses naturally, neither light, nor anything, to which his will might be able to turn itself; yet the will is free in the element of darkness, as a fish in the water, but it is neither able nor willing to depart from it. The light, it is true, now shines through Christ ; and when it offers itself to any one, his will is then free to open the window of his heart, or not. And on the other hand, man is not able to do this by nature, but through the mercy of God. He can do it, but will not, because the light gives him pain, and on that account, he hates it. God, therefore, not only offers light and grace, but likewise gives a good impulse and inclination to the will, so that the light appears desirable to him, and the evil, hateful. And as therefore, God for Christ’s sake, most assuredly acts thus towards man, there remains no excuse for the unbelieving. However, the Lord forces no one: he offers faith to everyone, (Acts 17:31. Marginal reading,) and then the man is at liberty to accept or refuse. In other respects, that man has in reality a freewill, who has entirely resigned and lost his own will in God. A fish may lie at liberty upon the land, and spring about, but it is nowhere truly free, except in the water. That which water is to fish, God is to the spirit. He that follows his own opinion, impulse, and will, either in a gross or subtle manner, is a captive slave. The kings of this world are, by nature, as little free, in respect to the will, as a prisoner in jail. Our spirit and our will live entirely under restraint and pressure, until we thoroughly commit them to, and lose them in God; for to this end we were created, and then we are free, happy, and blessed indeed. May this be verified in our experience.
It is, however, unnecessary, dear brother, and often injurious, when the soul seeks to know so precisely, the different degrees of spiritual life. It is not necessary to, say much upon the subject: it may occasionally serve for the information of him who has to instruct others, but he must not seek to lead others according to any particular plan, even as God does not guide every soul in the same manner. For instance; many at the commencement, enter upon a course of severe legality; others, into deep: repentance and distress, on account of past sins; and others again, are drawn by loving-kindness and tender mercy. Some attain to a view of their depravity, etc., at the beginning; others, afterwards. He, therefore, that will minister unto others, must follow God, and observe him; and act as a nursery-maid that follows a child, and only turns it away, when it is running into danger. But it is our own exercise in prayer and self-denial, which ought to give us the true insight into the ways of God. Solitude, prayer, and self-denial! O how necessary are they to every soul at this period! In these we ought ourselves to live, and when necessary write, and give occasion to others to exercise them.
A minister ought likewise to endeavor to inspire the soul with a good confidence towards God in Christ, yet so as never to lose sight of self-denial, in order that the individual may detach the heart, voluntarily and from love to God, from everything else, and fix it alone upon him. He that walketh disorderly must be admonished; yet we must not prescribe too many laws of self-denial for peculiarities, but leave grace to counteract them, and chiefly insist upon the complete surrender of the heart. We ought to know how to give way to the weak, and yet keep the end in view, in order that by making a little circuit, they may be brought imperceptibly nearer to it. God grant unto those, who have at present to converse with others on spiritual things, a rich measure of his Spirit!
O who is sufficient for it!
My time is expended, I must therefore break off. You will perhaps, be unable either to read my writing, or to understand my meaning properly. Brother N*** may read it with you; otherwise it is not for everyone, particularly as I write in great haste. The Lord bless and strengthen you, particularly in the inward man. Remember me also. I remain,
Yours in weakness.