what i read last week

… and kept not quite getting round to posting.

John Owen, talking about what kind of person is included in the promise. He says there are promises which sufficiently warrant a perplexed soul to go to Christ, “even when it can find in itself no other qualifications or conditions, but only such as render it every way unworthy to be accepted.”

“We do not say to a poor, naked, hungry, harbourless man, ‘Go, get thee clothes, get thee a habitation, and then I will give thee an alms.’ No, but ‘Because thou lackest all these, therefore I will give thee an alms.’ ‘Because thou art poor, blind, polluted, guilty, sinful, I will give thee mercy,’ says God.

… When did God give the great promise of Christ to Adam? Was it when he was sorrowing, repenting, qualifying his soul? No, but when he was fleeing, hiding, and had no thoughts but of separation from God. God calls him forth, and [all at the same time] tells him what he had deserved, pronounces the curse, and gives him the blessing. ‘I raised thee up,’ saith Christ, ‘under the apple tree; there thy mother brought thee forth.’ From the very place of sin Christ raiseth up the soul. So Isaiah 46 v 12: ‘Hearken to me, ye stout-hearted, that are far from righteousness.’ Here are two notable qualifications, stout-heartedness and remoteness from righteousness! What saith God to them? Verse 13, he discourses to them of mercy and salvation, and, 55v1, ‘Buy,’ saith he, ‘wine and milk.’

‘Yea, but I have nothing to buy with, and these things require a price.’ Indeed, so they do, but take them ‘without money, and without price.’

‘But he calls on them only who are thirsty.’ True, but it is a thirst of indigency and total want, not a thirst of spiritual desires. … Nay, we may go one step further. Proverbs 9 v 4-5, Christ invites to his bread and wine them who have no heart. This, commonly, is the last objection that an unbelieving heart makes against itself – it hath no mind to Christ. Indeed he hath no heart to Christ. ‘But yet,’ saith Christ, ‘thou shalt not thus go off – I will not admit of this excuse. You that have no heart, turn in hither.’

Now, I say, this obviating of all objections by unexpected appearances of love, mercy, and compassion in the promises is a strong inducement unto steadfastness in believing. When a soul shall find that God takes for granted that all that is true which it can charge itself with – that its sin, folly, unbelief, heartlessness, is just as he apprehends it, and inconceivably worse than he can think – that he takes for granted all the aggravations of his sins, that lie so dismally in his eye – his backsliding, frowardness, greatness of sin, impotency, coldness and the present, not answering in affection to the convictions that are upon him – and notwithstanding all this, yet says, ‘Come, let us agree, accept of peace, close with Christ, receive him from my love’ – surely it cannot but in some measure engage the soul into a rest and acquiescence in the word of promise.”

(Vol 9, p48-49)

for them as likes nutshells

This is what I really came here to say, the other day, when the mouse slipped and out popped a ramble on fictional sanctification, or the sanctification of fiction: a snatch of verse I came across in Andrew Bonar’s Diary (although I think it was his brother who wrote it). This would have been about the fourth or fifth Free Church theologian of the nineteenth century to be mentioned here in the space of about a month, meaning that (i) the citation rate for homegrown talent has been better than average recently and (ii) I suppose some good can come out of autobiography sometimes.

Upon a life I did not live,
Upon a death I did not die –
Another’s life, Another’s death –
I stake my whole eternity.

cunningham and two senses

Since I mentioned Buchanan and Smeaton in the last post, it makes sense to move on to William Cunningham next. Cunningham was the Principal of the Free Church College from 1847 and his major published work was a two-volume historical theology.

This bit is related indirectly to the last post, but also interesting as an inssue in its own right.

“The Reformers did not teach that man was altogether passive, or the mere inactive subject of the operation of divine grace, or of the agency of the Holy Ghost, in the whole of the process that might be comprehended under the name of regeneration, taken in its wider sense. Regeneration may be taken either in a more limited sense – as including only the first implantation of spiritual life, by which a man, dead in sins and trespasses, is quickened or made alive, so that he is no longer dead; or it may be taken in a wider sense, as comprehending the whole of the process by which he is renewed, or made over again, in the whole man, after the image of God – as including the production of saving faith and union to Christ, or very much what is described in our Standards under the name of effectual calling.

“Now, it was only of regeneration, as understood in the first or more limited of these senses, that the Reformers maintained that man in the process was wholly passive, and not active; for they did not dispute that, before the process in the second and more enlarged sense was completed, man was spiritually alive and spiritually active, and continued so ever after during the whole process of his sanctification.” Cunningham, Historical Theology, Vol 1, p617; see also Vol 2, p411.

The biographical introduction, incidentally, says that his first ministerial charge began in Greenock in 1828 in “a sudden exigency of impatient Revivalism,” connected with John Campbell of Row. This phenomenon was characterised first by “sentimental Arminianism, but … eventually developed into mischievous Pelagianism,” and was accompanied by alleged speaking in tongues and miraculous healings. Cunningham was having none of it – “was convinced that ‘there was a perilous tendency in the views then current'” – and preached instead the pure gospel. Many people were converted under this ministry. But he was apparently very impressed by the revival-not-ism-s of 1859, they being evidently very different in nature.

‘about the law’

Following with interest the discussions unfolding on Ref21 and GB.

Three themes I find especially notable.

1) Of the exceptionally helpful points set out by Rick Phillips here , his point 6 in particular is something which (in my perception) if it was emphasised more would be very helpful – that in justification, faith is passive and receptive, while in sanctification, faith is active.

Here’s Smeaton on the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification (Smeaton being one of the early professors in the Free Church College, mid-C19th, and the excerpt being particularly pungent in the third para):

“… a marked line of distinction must be drawn between the prevenient grace of the Spirit and his cooperating grace. The former belongs to effectual calling, regeneration, conversion, and faith, in which the man with all his powers is the object in whom the Spirit operates by the Word; the latter belongs to his progressive sanctification, in which the Spirit calls into exercise the new powers of the renewed mind, and where there are no immediate actings of the Spirit superseding that cooperation.

“… The Holy Spirit does not move the hearts of regenerate men by mere power, but by another principle. He moves them by those spiritual powers or graces with which they are now provided. The Spirit which is in Christ without measure, is in them by measure as a Spirit of life, not moving the mind as a stone, or as a wheel, by mere power, but according to the new nature which has been created or formed in it. To lose sight of this is to ignore the fact that Christ is the source of the Spirit of life, and that the Christian has to add to his faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and all the various excellences which are in Christ Jesus. …

“The practical neglect of this distinction may sometimes be traced in Church history and on whole generations of men. The Lutherans, for example, though they spoke much and admirably of free grace and liberty, were too easily satisfied that the good tree, by the inevitable law of its existence, would bring forth its fruit. They neglected the due cultivation of the graces of the Spirit in the new creature. On the contrary, the Puritans pruned and cultivated the good tree with unwearied diligence, and made every Christian grace, after scriptural example, the subject of wholesome exhortation.” (Smeaton, Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, p211-212.)

2) William B Evans saying in the post which kicked the whole thing off, “The gospel involves freedom from both the penalty and the power of sin, and the latter is not simply to be collapsed into the former. … in dismissing legitimate biblical imperatives as “legalism” this attenuated gospel robs believers of the very resources they need for progress in sanctification.”

Which actually anticipates an excerpt from E Erskine I’d read recently and earmarked for future posting:

“I do not think that it is enough, when we are pressing any duty of the law, to come in with a direction or advice at the end, telling that all is to be done in the strength of Christ; we see here that God begins his sermon of morality to Israel from Mount Sinai with a revalation of himself as the Lord God gracious and merciful through Christ, ‘I am the Lord thy God,’ and lays this as the foundation of obedience to the following precepts. … Upon the other hand there is an error, I fear too common among some. Whenever they hear a minister pressing duty, immediately they conclude him to be a legal[istic] preacher, without ever considering upon what ground he doth it; for if he press the duties of the law upon the ground of covenanted grace, he acts according to his commision, and keeps the order and method that God has laid; but if this method be not followed, if the duties of the law be urged as the foundation  of our claim to the privileges of the gospel, or without keeping Christ and the grace of the gospel in the eye of the sinner as the foundation of duty, you may indeed conclude that it is legal[istic].” (Erskine, ed McMillan, p144-145.)

3) More generally, Phillips’ point 2 on how justification and sanctification are distinct from each other.

For what it’s worth, one of the most valuable resources on the doctrine of justification I’ve ever come across (not that, admittedly, I’ve read especially extensively) is James Buchanan’s Doctrine of Justification, first published 1867. Throughout this work Buchanan consistently emphasises the distinction between justification as Christ’s work for us and sanctification as the Spirit’s work in us, and a more cogent and learned and profound and lucid treatment is hard to imagine.

On Green Baggins, they’re recommending the Marrow of Modern Divinity, which is unquestionably essential reading for this whole controversy, and I can personally vouch for its practical usefulness, except that in all ages and generations the Marrow has been found to be hampered by sadly infelicitous expressions which even dear Boston’s clarificatory notes don’t fully rescue it from. Buchanan came two centuries later and was chair of systematic theology in the Free Church College at the time when Reformed theology was at the peak of its attainments to date in terms of reverent rock solid understanding of scripture truth (while simultaneously on the brink of shortly disintegrating under the weight of rationalistic doubt, although that is a story for another day), and Buchanan, and Smeaton too, incorporate all the best of the Marrow doctrine in about as firm a grasp and careful an articulation of the scriptural teaching as you could wish for.

The paper trail:

  1. Evans – Sanctification and the nature of the gospel
  2. Lucas – A rejoinder on sanctification
  3. Philips – Seven assertions
  4. Evans – Sanctification and the gospel
  5. Lucas – A concluding contribution
  6. Evans – A question of balance?
  7. Levy – light relief

without money and without price

Yesterday afternoon’s discussion concluded:

1) The basis of the free offer isn’t a universal love (even if by that you mean benevolence).

2) You don’t find your warrant to believe the gospel in God’s love for you but in his word to you.

With all due respect to the good people who say otherwise.



One of the great mistakes of my life so far is not to have read more of the Erskines sooner. I’m remedying that by reading Samuel McMillan’s selections in the meantime (Ralph a while ago and now Ebenezer) but all they really do is whet your appetite for the complete works.

This is from a discourse on Luke 1, ‘the dayspring from on high hath visited us.’

“Come and see a bright ray of divine mercy and love breaking forth in the day-spring of his incarnation, the sounding of his bowels, the beating of his blessed heart. O sirs, what is Christ, but just the love of God wrapped up in flesh and blood! 1 John 4: 9-10. Here is the highest flight that ever the love of God took, and higher it cannot mount. It is observed by some divines that the other attributes of God are able to do more than they have done: infinite power can make more worlds, infinite wisdom can devise greater things than ever yet appeared unto man; but as for the love of God, it hath stretched itself to the uttermost, it can go no further: what could he do more for us than to give his Son, the Son of his love, to give him unto the death? and how will he not with him freely give us all things? O the height, the depth, the breadth, and the length of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge!”

back to front

Two confusions spotted recurringly recently:

1) the idea that faith leads to regeneration (when in fact it’s regeneration that leads to faith)

2) the idea that believers are sanctified through doing their good works (when in fact good works are the outcome of sanctification).

RMK: mains

DG Hart’s Recovering Mother Kirk has many good things to recommend it. It provides a much needed critique of, and a sparkling case against, the kind of sloppy, soppy innovations which burden the contemporary church, plagued as it is with that general sort of sentimental undoctrinal religiosity, and casual pragmatism in respect of evangelistic and discipleship techniques. So its affirmations of the need for both confessing a concrete biblical creed, and worshipping with all and only the right external forms, are very welcome.

What I’m going to take issue with is therefore neither to do with the ‘high church’-ism nor the liturgicalism – consider me sold, by background and personal conviction, on both these points. Instead, my concerns are these.

1) The classification system proposed at the outset is unhelpful.

The Introduction describes different flavours of the Reformed brand, distinguishing (i) doctrinalists, like Machen, (ii) culturalists, like Kuyper, (iii) pietists, like Jonathan Edwards, and (iv) liturgicalists. Like, I suppose, Hart.

One quibble would be that selecting the representative figureheads from different time periods and different contexts makes it hard to evaluate how distinct they really are from each other. But more to the point, there seems to be a lack of recognition that the Reformed tradition is best and most typically represented when the doctrinal, “pious,” and liturgical strands combine in one and the same individual/congregation/church. Machen, for instance, undoubtedly prized true doctrine, but he also understood what doctrine ‘felt’ like – Christianity, he said in Christianity and Liberalism, “begins with the broken heart,” and includes consciousness of sin. In exclaiming, “Where shall true Christian experience be found if not in the blessed peace which comes from Calvary?” he not only references the precise orthodox teaching on the atonement achieved at Calvary, but equally clearly expects this very orthodoxy to be realised in inner personal experience.

Or think of someone like Samuel Rutherford – his devotional writings verge on the mystical, never mind the experiential, but they flowed from his theology. For orthodoxy, and indeed for high views of the Church, he cannot be faulted; see, eg, his tremendous theological output, his contributions to the Westminster Assembly, and his commitment to the spirituality and liberty of the Church (Lex, Rex, and his imprisonment). (See him also featured recently on Ref21.) Indeed if Jonathan Edwards wasn’t already blacklisted, he would be the next most obvious person to cite, so think instead of John Calvin himself. Or the C19th Hugh Martin – writer both of The Atonement and The Abiding Presence. Or John Owen, C17th writer of both The Death of Death and Christologia. Or Thomas Boston – Human Nature in its Fourfold State and, er, Human Nature in its Fourfold State. In short: in every place and time from the Reformation onwards, the best “doctrinalists” have been the deepest “experientialists.” A “doctrinalist” who is not simultaneously an “experientialist” is subverting the very doctrines he/she is ostensibly affirming.

The same, more briefly, goes for ‘liturgicalism’ too. All the doughtiest defenders of the spiritual independence of the church and the regulative principle of worship (easy examples being, well, Calvin, or Samuel Rutherford and George Gillespie, or more recently Thomas Chalmers, John Kennedy, James Begg) were the also most insistent on inward personal godliness. The sheer pointlessness of having the right forms of worship without a worshipping heart should be evident to anyone with any hope of standing in the Reformed tradition.

2) There is a certain hostility to Jonathan Edwards and his accounts of religious experience.

This remains perplexing. The objection to Edwards is apparently that he indulged sensational and revivalist excesses and somehow therefore gives license to contemporary aberrances in terms of both novel evangelistic techniques and the problematic concept of “Christian hedonism” (associated with John Piper and critiqued here by Jerrold Lewis). But not only is Edwards’ culpability on these points unsubstantiated, I’m not convinced that it’s even substantiable. It’s hardly as though Jonathan Edwards can be regarded as heterodox, and the care which he took in discriminating what was valid and what was blameworthy in the New England revivals has indeed made him a standard resource for how to critique religious excesses and extravagances, and avoid undue subjectivity. (My earliest recollection (I know, this dates me) of controversy over alleged revival was in reactions to the 1994 Toronto Blessing, where simply to mention the name of Jonathan Edwards was to explode any claims to authenticity which this phenomenon might have had.) No doubt there are people who might lay claim to Edwards’ name in order to cash in on his prestige and respectability, but Edwards himself, read in context, might not be particularly keen to acknowledge them all as his spiritual heirs.

3) The criticism of revival is unwarranted.

It relies on a conflation of revival and revivalism, and either a failure or a refusal to distinguish reformation from revival. Ie:

  • reformation involves the setting right of doctrine and/or external forms in church life. Coming to a clearer understanding of the truth, or moving from a prelatical to a presbyterian form of government, or singing psalms instead of hymns in corporate worship, would be instances of reformation
  • revival involves the striking increase of grace in an already reformed context. The many revivals in Scotland until the mid-19th century were of this nature; see for instance the communion services at Shotts in 1630
  • revivalism involves using illegitimate means to induce religious excitement in the absence (denial or minimising) of orthodox doctrine.

It is possible for reformation and revival to coincide, as in the 16th century Reformation, and less spectacularly any time when a local congregation recovers a more biblical set of practices and experiences encouragement in the form of conversions and the edification of existing believers. It is also possible for revivals to be tainted with revivalistic illegitimacies, and indeed it seems that much of Hart’s criticism of “revival” seems to hinge on the view that it is indistinguishable from illegitimate doctrines/methods, a view which fails to take into consideration all the available historical data. In the context of orthodox doctrine and the due use of the ordained means of grace, when there are unexpected conversions (numbers-wise or person-wise) and/or an unexpected increase in believers’ sanctification, if we’re going to talk about such events, the most conventional way of labelling them is to call them revivals.

4) Finally, RMK stops short of describing what happens once the case for liturgy in the Reformed tradition is accepted.

In a context where a high view of the spirituality of the church and a habitual due use of the corporate means of grace have been attained, what next? Even allowing for the fact that the intended audience is presumably those whose view of the church and of worship stands most in need of reforming, there is still a danger of giving the impression that, once we all confess accurate scriptural doctrine and regulate worship scripturally, nothing more remains to be said.

This would be a mistake. (i) Because Scripture is clear that religion must be heart-deep. ‘With their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness,’ was the charge against people who came to hear gospel preaching from a divinely commissioned prophet, sitting and listening and looking for all the world as if they were God’s people. ‘This people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but [they] have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.’ The message which Christ brought to those within the church who knew the scriptures from a lifetime’s immersion and observed all the ceremonies was, ‘Ye must be born again.’

But also (ii) because our confessions of faith insist that religion must be heart-deep. The work of salvation in a sinner’s experience means the Spirit “enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh, renewing their wills, … and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ,” WCF 10.1. And, “they who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally,” WCF 13.1.

There is, in other words, a marked incongruity between arguing for a clear articulation and practicing of the truths which the Holy Spirit has revealed in his scriptures, and failing to insist on the need for the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the souls of those who congregate around these scriptures. This is, alternatively, the incongruity of confessing faith in such a great and glorious God and his great and glorious work of salvation, while remaining cool and apathetic about the degree to which the entire soul requires to be engaged and devoted to his worship and minute-by-minute obedience in everyday life. This does not require gushing about how nice the gospel is and how spiritual you are, but simply a recognition that it is the believer’s business to give the Lord all their heart and soul and mind and strength, and, as an outcome of being ‘in Christ’, increasingly to press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God.

I don’t say that RMK fails in an absolute sense to make this kind of point, but, as a matter of priority or emphasis, there is a certain feeling that punches are being pulled and calls muted on this the most striking implication of the position so persuasively argued for. Maybe, now that we’ve had Recovering the Reformed Confession and Recovering Mother Kirk, it’s time for someone to release Recovering Confessional Piety.

Go here for starters.
DG Hart blogs provocatively at Old Life.

RMK: starters

Liturgy is a term to strike terror into the heart of honest presbyterians. When Charles I tried to impose ‘Laud’s Liturgy’ on the Scottish church in the 1630s, there were protests all over Scotland, the swearing of solemn oaths, and even possibly the hurling of a stool in St Giles. Those who signed National Covenant of 1638 swore to defend the doctrine, faith, religion, discipline, and sacraments of “this true reformed kirk,” no matter how severe the civil penalties might be.

Yet the core of the objection to Laud’s liturgy was not so much that it was a liturgy, but that it was an “Anglo-Popish” one. The Scottish church has always had a liturgy, even when not called by that name. There has been, especially, the Directory for Public Worship, usually published in the same volume as the Confession of Faith and Catechisms. Where practice has diverged from the DPW, it has historically been a consistent and stable divergence – for instance in uniformly beginning the Lord’s Day services by singing a psalm instead of with prayer.

Scottish theologians have also devoted a great deal of serious thought to the doctrine of the Church. The spiritual independence of the Church was firmly defended not only against the impositions of Charles I but also against the encroachments of the benevolent and increasingly bossy Victorian-era state. A civil court meddling in ecclesiastical matters such as the ordaining and inducting of ministers was simply outrageous: to the Church belongs real (sole) authority in ecclesiastical matters. Ordained ministers, further, were ordained to preach the Word and administer the sacraments. Those who heard the Word preached were supposed to receive it “as the Word of God,” according to the Larger Catechism (160) and the ‘power of the keys’ was a real power.

The Reformation centrality of the preaching of the gospel in the work of the Church was similarly maintained until really very recently. Whatever social reforms the Church made a contribution to historically (and there were many), these were self-consciously not the main function of the Church, because the Church’s role was spiritual and ecclesiastical – to preach the Word, administer the sacraments, and exercise discipline. Because of the priority of preaching, virtually the only evangelism which the Church did was to preach sermons. The unchurched, or whatever they were called back then, were brought to church, to hear the gospel preached – special ‘evangelistic’ programmes and rallies being on that account quite redundant and until recently distinctly under-utilised.


With all that by way of background, let me turn to Recovering Mother Kirk, by DG Hart (2003). This is an extremely stimulating book, written with vigour and verve, and in many, many ways an excellent corrective to the misunderstandings and misbehaviour of the contemporary Protestant world. The critique of ‘contemporary’ worship is simply devastating, and the high view propounded of the spirituality of the Church and the authority of the ordained ministry is extremely welcome. Or consider this, from p117.

“How would you rate the work of your church? A ministry scorecard might include the following: If your church has a children’s ministry, give it 2 points; a welcome team ministry, 1 point; a tape ministry, 1 point (but if a tape and book ministry, 2 points). A couple’s ministry should be worth 2 points as should an international student ministry, a mothers’ ministry, and a newlywed ministry; but subtract a point if it is a newlywed mothers’ ministry. A women’s ministry should also receive 2 points, and in the spirit of equity, a men’s ministry should receive the same. … An AIDS ministry, a ministry to the homeless, and a low-income housing ministry all receive 3 points, a score befitting a big church with many resources and talented members. Throw in 1 point each for a weekly Bible study, foreign missions, and the sacraments (2 points for the latter if your church allows the laity to set up the Lord’s Supper). Finally, add 1 point for a Sunday morning service, 2 points if you have both a contemporary and a traditional service.
How did your church do? Be careful though. Before you delight in a double-digit number, you should know that this game is like golf – the higher the score, the worse the performance. The reason, of course, for this inverse method of scoring comes from our Lord himself. … In the Great Commission, Christ told the apostles to teach and baptise. In other words, he defined the ministry of the church as encompassing two tasks only: Word and sacrament.”

How brilliant is that? Something just as good pops up in every chapter.

The best thing about it is that many of the biggest “ta-da!” moments in the book, just like this, relate to things which all but one, or all but two, of the Scottish denominations have in fact doggedly clung to all down through the generations. Yet attaining greater clarity and conviction on these points is always necessary. One of the main reasons therefore for recommending this book far and wide is because of how it puts a point and a polish on many things which may well remain embedded in our collective life, but, perhaps, gently rusting away there, more than they should be.

Being ‘conservative’ isn’t enough is, in other words, a refrain which we very much need to hear. And ‘the Bible doesn’t say so’ can only take you so far, before you need to start affirming what the Bible does say. Youth camps aren’t a means of grace – nor interdenominational conferences, nor giving a public testimony nor post-church tea and biscuits – well, so far so good. But then what are the means of grace, and how far do we really respect them? How far, in other words, are we positively comfortable and confident about using these and only these means just because these are what the Holy Spirit has promised to bless.

For the great bulk of this book, therefore, reading brings a great feeling of relief. Someone else out there really gets it.

But! He doesn’t get everything, may I make so bold as to say. Yet since even I’m dimly aware that there’s such a thing as a Too Long blog post, I’m going to break the habit of a lifetime and do a two-part series…

You may now bate your breath.

why not

Excerpt from a book I’ve borrowed, and was dipping into recently. It’s a small paperback, part doctrinal, part devotional, by Octavius Winslow, an English/American(?) preacher, who flourished (love that expression) in the mid 19th century. His style is sometimes too elaborate for my taste, I must admit, so I’m afraid I only read him when I’m in the mood for it. This bit is from a chapter on prayer in his Work of the Holy Spirit, where he discusses prayer in the sense of ‘coming to the throne of grace’.


It is a throne, because God is a Sovereign. … He hears whom he will, and answers what and when he will. … But it is also a throne of grace. … A God of grace sits on it, and the sceptre of grace is held out from it, and all the favours bestowed there are the blessings of grace.

God has many thrones. There is the throne of creation, and the throne of providence, and the throne of justice, and the throne of redemption; but this is the throne of grace.

Just the throne we want! We are the poor, the needy, the helpless, the vile, the sinful, the unworthy. We have nothing to bring but our deep wretchedness and poverty – nothing but our complaints, our miseries, our crosses, our groanings, our sighs and tears. But it is the throne of grace. For just such it is set up.

It is a God of grace who sits upon it, and all the blessings he dispenses from it are the gifts of grace. Pardon, justification, adoption, peace, comfort, light, direction – all, all, is of grace. No worth or worthiness in the creature extracts these blessings; no price he may bring purchases them; no tears or complainings or misery move the heart of God to compassion – it is all of grace. God is so full of compassion and love and mercy that he does not need to be moved to pour it forth. …

Therefore, whatever your case, you may come. If it is a throne of grace (as indeed it is), then why not come? Why stand a long way off? If the poor, the penniless, the disconsolate and the guilty are welcome here, if this throne is crowded by such – why make yourself an exception? Why not come too? What is your case, what is your sorrow, what is your burden? … Go to the throne of grace. Whether the want is temporal or spiritual, take it there. …

Do not stay away from the throne of grace because of an unfavourable state of mind. If God is ready to receive you just as you are, if no questions are asked and no examination is instituted, and no exceptions are made on account of the badness of the state, then count it a great blessing to be able to go to God even when you feel at your worst. To keep away from the throne of grace because of unfitness and unpreparedness to approach it, is to turn the throne of grace into a throne of merit. …

What is your state? Are you weak in prayer? Are you tried in prayer? And yet is there anything of real want, of real desire in your heart? Is this so? Then draw near to God. Your state of mind will not be more favourable tomorrow than it is today. You will not be more acceptable or welcome at any future period than you are at this moment.

Supposing your state is the worst that can be, your frame of mind the most unfavourable, your cross the heaviest, your corruption the strongest, your heart the hardest — still go to the throne of grace.