Spiritual Ups and Downs

By Isaac Watts, written in 1726 to a distressed soul.

It is at the request of your excellent brother that I take the freedom to offer my sentiments in order to restore that comfort to your soul which you have many years enjoyed, and which has been of late a little interrupted. To this end, I entreat you to take these few inquiries into your own heart.

1. Have you seen yourself a sinful, guilty creature before the great God? Have you not acknowledged this guilt before the throne of grace and humbly sought to be restored to His favor, and to partake of pardoning love?

2. Are you not willing to have your sinful nature made holy? Have you not found the workings of sin a burden and grief to you? And cannot you join with the apostle in complaining of the flesh and the workings of indwelling sin? (Romans 7:16, 25). Are you not desirous to love God with fervency, and to serve Him with zeal? Is it not your highest ambition to please God in all things?—to be much with God on earth, and to be forever with Him in Heaven? Be assured no power but that of God—could raise such desires, and He will satisfy them.

3. Have you not seen Christ as an all-sufficient Mediator, who has died to provide pardon for guilty creatures, and who lives in Heaven to intercede for sinners on earth? Have you not committed your soul into His hand: that you might be introduced into the favor of God?—that you might be pardoned for the sake of His sufferings and death?—that you might be accepted in His name? (Acts 4:12, John 14:6). Are you not persuaded He is the true and living way, and that He is able to keep what you have committed to Him, until He presents you before the Father's and His own glory? (1 Timothy 1:12, Ephesians 5:26-27). And have you not given up yourself to His conduct, to be influenced and assisted by His Spirit, to carry you on your way Heavenward? This is a full and large account of faith in Christ; and if you have found these things in your heart and life, you may assuredly pronounce yourself a believer in Jesus, to all the ends and purposes of salvation.

4. Have you not experienced the blessed fruits of faith, in having your love drawn out to Christ, in being enabled to mortify corrupt affections? And has not the love of God wrought in you, love to man for God's sake?

I would not multiply inquiries of this kind, as I have reason to believe you will find most of these characters and principles in your soul. I persuade myself you will apply the following words of Gospel consolation to yourself, and rejoice in them through the aid of the comforting Spirit: 1 John 1:7, John 6:37, Matthew 11:28-29. Can you ever believe God will reject your soul, and abandon you in old age and death? Can you entertain such dishonorable thoughts of Christ? Surely the Divine Shepherd has more compassion for His sheep!

But there are three things which have been the occasion of grief and darkness to many pious souls, and I would caution you against them:

A. Let not your expectations of holiness be too high. The Law of God requires a perfect obedience—but no one has ever obeyed it in perfection—but the God-man, Christ Jesus. There will be sins working in the heart, wishes of corrupt nature, defects in our best duties, too much indifference in our love to God, too much earthly-mindedness, too many wanderings of heart from God, and this flesh will be often leading us astray. These things should be matter of confession and humiliation before God—but should not discourage our faith and hope. A pain at the heart under a sense of sin, a delight in the law of the Lord after the inner man, and a diligent labor after complete holiness—are the highest degrees of perfection attainable in this life.

B. Be not fond of extraordinary witnesses of the Spirit: God feeds very few of His people with extraordinary ecstasies and Divine transports of soul.

C. Let not your hopes be so inconstant and fickle—as the temperature of your blood may be—but rather rejoice with David in the language of faith: "For you are my hope, O Lord God! You are my trust from my youth" (Psalm 71:5); "Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone" (Psalm 71:9); "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil" (Psalm 23:4).

May the Spirit of God seal these comfortable truths upon your heart, and give you peace and joy in believing.