It is not so with what may be conveniently denominated the Hidden Life; a form of expression which we employ to indicate a degree of Christian experience, greatly in advance of that, which so often lingers darkly and doubtfully at the threshold of the Christian’s career. As the Hidden Life, as we now employ the expressions, indicates a greatly advanced state of religious feeling, resulting in a sacred and intimate union with the Infinite Mind, we may perhaps regard the Psalmist, who had a large share of this interior experience, as making an indistinct allusion to it when he says “Thou art my HIDING place, and my shield.” And again “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Perhaps the Apostle Paul makes some allusion to this more advanced and matured condition of the religious life, when in the Epistle to the Galatians, he says “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet NOT I, BUT CHRIST LIVETH IN ME.” And again, addressing the Colossians, “Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth; for ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” And does not the Savior himself sometimes recognize the existence of an Interior or Hidden Life, unknown to the world, and unknown, to a considerable extent, even to many that are denominated Christians, but who are yet in the beginning of their Christian career? “He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches. To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the HIDDEN MANNA, and I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, save he that RECEIVETH it.”
The phrase Hidden Life, which is appropriately and peculiarly the life of all those, who, advancing beyond the first elements of Christianity, may properly be said to be sanctified in Christ Jesus, indicates a vitality or living principle, which differs in various particulars from every other form of life.
In the first place, the life of those, who dwell in the secret place of the Most High, may be called a Hidden Life, because the animating principle, the vital or operative element, is not so much in itself as in another. It is a life, grafted into another life. It is the life of the soul, incorporated into the life of Christ; and in such a way, that, while it has a distinct vitality, it has so very much in the sense, in which the branch of a tree may be said to have a distinct vitality from the root. It buds, blossoms, and bears fruit in the strong basis of an eternal stock. “I am the vine,” says the Savior, “ye are the branches. He, that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing.” This is a great mystery, but it is also a great truth. The Christian, whose “life is hid with Christ in God,” can never doubt, that his spiritual existence and growth originate in and are sustained in that divine source alone.
In the second place, the life, which we are considering, may properly be called a Hidden Life, because its moving principles, its interior and powerful springs of action, are not known to the world. This is what might naturally be expected from what has already been said in respect to the relation existing between a truly devoted Christian and his Savior; inasmuch as he is taken from himself and is grafted into another, and has now become a “new man in Christ Jesus.” The natural man can appreciate the natural man. The man of the world can appreciate the man of the world. And it must be admitted, that he can appreciate, to a considerable extent, numbers of persons, who profess to be Christians, and who are probably to be regarded as such in the ordinary sense of the term, because the natural life still remains in them in part. There is such a mixture of worldly and religious motives in the ordinary forms of the religious state, such an impregnation of what is gracious with what is natural, that the men of the world can undoubtedly form an approximated, if not a positive estimate of the principles, which regulate the conduct of its possessors. But of the springs of movement in the purified or Hidden Life, except by dark and uncertain conjecture, they know comparatively nothing. Little can the men, who under the teachings of nature have been trained up to the reception and love of the doctrine, which inculcates “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” appreciate the evangelical precept, which requires us, when we are assaulted, “to turn the other cheek.” Still feebler and more imperfect is the idea, which they form of that ennobling Christian philosophy, which inculcates the love of holiness for holiness’ sake. They are entirely at a loss, and on any principles with which they are at present acquainted, they ever must be at a loss, in their estimate of that intimacy and sacredness of friendship, which exists between God and the sanctified mind. Rightly is it said in the Scriptures, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
Again, the Hidden life has a claim to the descriptive epithet, which we have proposed to apply to it, because, in its results upon individual minds, it is directly the reverse of the life of the world. The natural life seeks notoriety. Desirous of human applause, it aims to clothe itself in purple and fine linen. It covets a position in the market place and at the corners of the streets. It loves to be called Rabbi. But the life of God in the soul, occupied with a divine companionship, avoids all unnecessary familiarities with men. It pursues a lowly and retired course. It obeys the precept of the Saviour, “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and pray to thy Father, who seeth in secret”. It neither desires to see nor to be seen openly, except when and where duty calls it. It is willing to be little, to be unhonored, and to be cast out from among men. It has no eye for worldly pomp; no ear for worldly applause. It is formed on the model of the Saviour, who was a man unknown. He came into the world, the highest personage on the highest errand; and yet so humble in origin, so simple in appearance, so gentle in heart and manners, that the world could not comprehend him; and he was ever a sealed book, except to those, who had the key of the inner life to open it with.
In close connection with what has been said, we may remark further, that the hidden life of religion is not identical with the place and with the formalities and observances of religion; nor is it necessarily dependent upon them. If it were so, it would no longer be hidden: but would be as much exposed to notice, as that which is most expansive and attractive in the outward temple and in the external formality. It is true that places of worship and the various outward formalities of worship may be its handmaids, and oftentimes very important ones; but they are not its essence. It has no essence, but its own spiritual nature, and no true locality but the soul, which it sanctifies. It may be found, therefore, among all classes of men and consequently in all places, occupying equally the purple of the king and the rags of a beggar; prostrating itself at the altar of the cathedral, or offering its prayer in the humble conventicle in the wilderness: like the wind that bloweth where it listeth, and “ye know not whence it cometh nor whither it goeth.” And, therefore, being what the Savior has denominated it, “the kingdom of God within you,” and essentially independent of outward circumstances, it possesses a perpetual vitality. It cannot die, for the vivifying breath of God is in it. And hence it is, that in the most disastrous periods of the church, there have always been some, (a seven thousand perhaps,) who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Ministers may have become corrupt; churches may have been infected with unholy leaven; the rich and the learned may have been unanimous in their rejection of every thing except the mere superficialities of religion; and yet it will be found that God, who values the blood of his beloved Son too highly to let it remain inoperative, has raised his altar in individual hearts. In the dwellings of the poor, in solitary places, in the recesses of vallies and mountains, he has written his name upon regenerated minds; and the incense of their adoration, remote from public notice, has gone silently up to heaven.
These are general views and remarks, which will perhaps be better understood in the result. We do not think it necessary to dwell upon them longer at present. In conclusion, we would say, however, that the true Hidden Life has its principles; principles of origin and principles of perpetuity. The popular Christianity, that which exists in great numbers of the professed followers of Christ, has sometimes seemed to those, who have looked into its nature, to be a sort of chaos, entirely irregular and confused, “without form and void.” The measurement, and almost the only measurement of its vitality, is excitation, temporary emotion. It is driven downward and upward, backward, forward, and transversely, by the blind impulse of emotive power. So that if we seek it here, supposing it has a fixed principle of movement which will help to designate where it is, it is gone somewhere else; and if we seek it somewhere else, it has already altered its position. The true Hidden Life, refusing to be characterized by the fatal mark of inconstancy, has cast anchor in God; and its principles are the strong cable, which holds it there. This is one thing, which, if we estimate the subject correctly, the church of God are called upon to learn more fully, viz. that the true life of God in the soul has its principles; principles founded in wisdom; principles fixed and inflexible.
God never made a stone, an herb, a blade of grass, or any natural thing however insignificant; nor does he sustain it for a moment, without a principle of action. It is impossible for God to operate accidentally. Whatever he does. He does by principle. And if this is true in natural things, it is equally so in spiritual things. God did not make and does not sustain the soul by accident. Nor does He raise it from its fallen condition; rekindle within it a renovated life; and bear it onward to present and eternal victory by a fortuitous aid, an accidental fatality. The new life in the soul, therefore, has its laws of beginning and progress, as well as every other form of life.
— from The Interior or Hidden Life (1844), Chapter 1.