As Dying, and Behold We Live

George Thomas Congreve

Dearly Beloved,

All hail! The peace of God rest on thee; for thou art worthy - unworthy in thyself, but worthy in Jesus. O how blessed it is to feel this!

No doubt you will be rather disappointed in not having an epistle before; but, my dear friend, you must pardon me, and make all the excuse you can for me, for as soon as I begin to write, my hindrances increase. Oft has my soul been refreshed, and rejoiced for the consolation; while thus communing with my friends in the Lord, which has hitherto been a blessed and desirable employment for me. Satan knows it, too, right well; therefore he prevents, and harasses me as much as he can; insomuch that I, sometimes almost in distraction, think I will never try to write on spiritual things again. A few days ago, a poor woman, in tears, took hold of my hand, and blessed God that, some time since, she saw one of my letters in the "Standard." She said if those were the feelings of a Christian, and I was a Christian, she hoped and believed she was a Christian also. This broke my hard, sorrowful heart, and encouraged me a little to withdraw my hasty conclusion, and leave the event with the Lord. Thus, I had another proof that the Lord was not confined to men of talent, or great abilities, or great light, or learning, or to the most likely means in man's estimation, when he is graciously pleased to comfort his people, or to accomplish his all-wise designs. No, bless his dear holy name, he does and will work by the most unlikely instruments and means, that it may be made the more evident from whence the power comes, that proud pompous man may be humbled, and that he may reserve to himself all the glory. Who could have thought that clay would have been a means, in God's hand, of restoring sight to the blind? Who could have thought that a few poor illiterate fishermen were intended by the God of grace and glory to be the anciently predicted and blessed apostles of the Lamb? Who could have thought that the family of the living God, his chosen, his re: deemed, his beloved ones were to be the poor, despised, and afflicted of this world, and but a very few indeed of the rich, and wise, and noble were to be found amongst that highly-favoured number, had net the Scriptures made it known? Who could have thought that a persecuting Saul was designed to be Paul, the beloved? Who could have thought, when my dear mother and father saw me, their beloved first born, lying in convulsions for nearly a fortnight, and my mother watching without intermission seven nights and days, upwards of fifty years ago, that I should be spared so long to see such wonders, and feel such heavenly blessedness, and be made manifest a vessel of mercy before many witnesses? But time and Almighty grace have proved it true. O, my dear friends, my heart now bleeds and sings with love and praise to the God of my life and salvation for his mercies, and melts in holy wonder at his dear, sacred feet; and would he but give me power and grace sufficient, I do feel that I could gladly spend and be spent for him, who bled, and groaned, and died for me - for me! Ye angels, ye redeemed in glory, thou Holy Comforter on earth, come, witness to the sincerity of my weeping heart - the sum total of all that lie has to bestow my soul craves to possess, feel, and enjoy below; and should I ask more than he deigns to give me while on earth, I know he will pardon me, and not take it amiss at my hands. But, forasmuch as he still tells me to open my mouth wide, and he will fill it, I do feel encouraged to ask of him a living store still; for my desires, at times, are like a flowing brook, which the fulness of him who filleth all in all alone can satisfy. And it is only while I am groaning out my deepest complaints and sorrows to him, I feel I can live. I love thus to groan away my dying life, and it is thus the Lord teaches me to die daily unto sin, and to live to God in the spirit. Dying must be hard work to old Nature; so it is hard work to part with darling sin; and to be daily dying unto sin, and still to feel sin alive in my mortal members, and tormenting me every hour is harder work still; which, together with the life within, that never dies, amounts to Paul's expression: "Dying, and behold we live!" A sweet and solemn surprise, indeed! A parable unto those who are without, but a mystery revealed, and rendered plain to my soul, and to my friend, by the Spirit. Blessed be God for giving me a natural and spiritual birth - the one without the other is not worth having; but, coupled together, is blessed indeed. And for ever adored be the dear name of my Lord, for calling me into the most holy place, to learn and know the secrets of his loving heart; as it is written, "The secret of the Lord is with them who fear him, and who hope in his mercy." My soul loves, and serves, and fears the God of heaven, and hopes still in his mercy. I love him, because his Spirit testifieth that he first loved me, and for all the loving-kindness he has bestowed, and, I trust, will still bestow on me. I serve him, because he has engaged my heart so to do, and because I have hitherto found him so kind, and gracious, and merciful; and because I find and prove that his service is sweet and holy, and perfect freedom. I fear him, not with a slavish, but a filial fear; not as a cruel task-master, as when under the terrors of the law, but as my Lord and Master, Redeemer and Friend, beneath the banner of his love and the gospel law of liberty, with a child-like, holy fear, felt within, lest I should offend such a dear, faithful Friend as he is to me, and cause him to hide his lovely face from me, and refuse to commune with me, which he often does, because I cannot help but sin against him, which makes my soul to groan, being burdened, and causes my life to be as though I were continually dying, and yet could not die. My friend knows well what I mean; therefore does my soul fear to sin against him; not for fear of hell and torments, but for the aforesaid cause, and because I love him and hate sin, and hate myself because I cannot cease from sin, and because I want to spend my worthless, dying life in uninterrupted communion with him, and live always as though I knew I was going to die, and die as triumphantly as I hope o live before the eternal throne above for ever.

I do not expect to be free from sin while on this side the grave, neither am I looking for it. The Canaanites were left in the land for Israel's good. Sin has worked for my good, and harm too, in measure; but it will end in my immortal good, without any harm. Blessed be God for the sweet assurance. How came I with that assurance? By the sealing testimony of God the Holy Ghost, and the application of the pardoning blood of Jesus, repeatedly felt in my conscience. How do I know it came from God? By the sweet and blessed effects which I feel, it has produced within my breast. What are those effects? Love, joy, and peace in the Holy Ghost. Is this assurance abiding within? Yes, while I am favoured to hold intercourse with God by faith. Can intercourse with God be enjoyed while guilt remains on the conscience? Sin unpardoned, and guilt not cleansed by atoning blood, clip the wings of communion. A guilty, sin-burdened, and heavy-laden soul may plead and wrestle with God, but a living faith in exercise alone can prevail; and intercourse with God can alone be enjoyed when pardoning mercy shows the guilt and sin nailed to the cross, and the handwriting of ordinances which once stood against us is removed. How do I know that I prevail with God, when as yet the Lord delays to answer prayer? When faith assures me the vision shall come in God's own appointed time, and my soul is enabled to wait for it in hope, and watch unto prayer. Why do I hope that I have the life of God in my soul? Because I cannot live without tasting, handling, and feeling of the good word of life; and feeling is a sign of life, as also are tasting and handling. Why do I desire so to taste, handle, and feel of the good word of life? Christ is the good .Word of Life, the life of my soul, the life of my spirit, the joy of my heart, the boast of my tongue, and the Word of God which has quickened and healed and comforted me. I want another and another taste of him because I have tasted of him heretofore, and proved him to be so sweet and precious to my soul that nothing on earth can equal it, and because fed a keen appetite for him, and a feIt desire thus to be fed. I want to handle him, to be more and more assured that he is the self-same Jesus who died for me on Calvary, and with whom I hope to live and reign above; and because I have handled him before, and proved him to be the very same; and while handling him, my fingers have dropped with sweet-smelling myrrh, my bowels have been moved for him, my heart has been melted and broken, and made sick with love for my Best-beloved. I want to feel him as I. hope to feel him above; for I have felt him so precious that I verily think that I shall never be satisfied till I enjoy his lovely presence there, and sin no more. Why do I think I die daily unto sin, seeing sin still liveth in me? I die daily to all hope of being free from sin while on this side the grave. I die daily to all expectation of ever being saved from sin and misery, and ever having guilt removed in the right way from my conscience, so as to bring the peace of God down into my breast, but by the Spirit's own application of the merits and atonement of Jesus really felt in my heart. I die daily to the love of sin, even as a dying saint, in the enjoyment of the presence of his Lord, would look upon sin, and long to be for ever free from it, that it may not grieve him any more. I strive to loose my hold of sin daily, as a man would strive to loose his hold of a serpent, and long with great desire for sin to leave his hold of me. I feel the pangs of sin dying daily in. me, though it still liveth to my great torment and misery. I feel the strength of sin is taken away in the condemning power thereof, for Christ, the end of the law, dwelleth in my heart, the hope of glory. And, notwithstanding, I am dying daily in sin, in the misery I feel because of sin still reigning me. For these causes, and more not named, I feel and know that I am dying daily unto sin, though sin still liveth in me; and, God is my witness, how I long more and more to live a new life unto righteousness, that my soul may be comforted more and more, and my dear gracious Lord may be for ever glorified thereby. I am dead to the law, as a covenant of works; and though I am so long dying unto sin, I am still living in hope, ere long, to feel sin for ever give up the ghost in me, in Jordan's flood; which will be the case as soon as I have drawn my last breath. O with what rapture and surprise I shall fly into the everlasting embraces of Jesus, my Lord, while my sorrowing friends are mourning over my worthless remains, and struggling with sin below. My heart and soul now melt for joy at the blessed consideration, although the thought of leaving my own life and flesh behind wounds my feelings beyond expression. Therefore, let this be engraved on my forehead: "Dying, and behold I live; for Christ dwelleth in me." For this cause I am always delivered unto death, that my spirit might be saved in the clay of the Lord Jesus. Dear name! He shall never hear the last of it when he has saved me to sin no more. "We know in part," says Paul. How it delighted his soul thus to bear his witness to the honour of God to the churches; and how it delights my soul to bear my witness to the honour of God to may friends, that the song of the redeemed in glory is the very theme and rejoicing of my heart, and that I know what the joys of heaven are, in a blessed degree, before I reach that happy place; then shall I know as I am known.

"O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be;
Let that grace, Lord, like a fetter,
Bind my wand'ring heart to thee.
Till in glory,
Safe with Christ, from sin set free."

Again, "as dying, and behold I live." As though we were always dying, and yet to live. How painful! how distressing! how surprising! True portrait of any life indeed! O how surprising it has appeared to me since, that I was kept alive in the midst of the terrors of Sinai's flame, and still spared to see and feel the wonders God can do. It is no less surprising to me now to feel that I have not been consumed in the furnace of affliction, nor by the flames of sin and of a guilty conscience, nor by the rod of his hand, during these many years since, but am still preserved alive to praise him. Come, my brother, turn aside, and behold this great sight, a branch of the "bush " unconsumed! O mystery of mysteries, sacred and divine! But you know the cause. Life immortal was found in my heart. My eyes are bathed in tears, and my soul bleeds with joy at the sound. Rejoice, O ye righteous, and join the transports of my soul, for the Lord hath done it. Farewell, my dear brother, thou servant of the Most High God! Peace be with thee and thy spouse, and prosperity attend thy labours. My soul, ray spouse, and the brethren greet you both in the Lord. We are much as usual, through mercy. Write soon. "As, dying, and behold we live." I am a mystery and wonder to myself.

Yours affectionately in the Lord,

Bedworth, Aug. 6th, 1846. 

[What light, life, and power are in the above letter! What sound doctrine, gracious experience, and living practice! How forcibly, feelingly, and experimentally the dear man, now gone home, expresses the longing desires of his heart after communion with the blessed Lord! Yet what a sense of indwelling sin and creature-helplessness! . We may indeed call the above letter an epitome of vital godliness. O that we had more of such living experience in the Church of God! In this day of lukewarm profession, how few seem to live as our dear departed friend lived, who, being dead, yet speaketh in his letters. - E D.] - J.C. Philpot