There are three classes of Christians, who seem to be easily distinguishable from each other.
The first class are those, who, destitute, in a considerable degree, of any marked spiritual manifestations and joys, may yet be said to possess FAITH. And in the possession of faith, they undoubtedly have the effective element of the inward life. Their faith, however, is weak. Their language is, "Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief." They have but little strength. In general, they move feebly and slowly; and in some instances scarcely show signs of life. Some, however, exhibit a little more strength and activity than others; and God honors them by employing them in the smaller charges and duties of his Church. These cases are not without their encouragement. Such persons are often characterized by the trait of humble perseverance. They grow in grace, though not rapidly; and not unfrequently become strong in the end. As a general statement, they have not much to say in any period of their experience; but they are not wanting in sincerity, and they cling to the Cross of Christ, as the foundation of their hope. It is seldom that they make a strong impression upon the world; but their example is generally salutary. These are not those, who have been caught up to the "third heavens," and have seen wonderful things.
The second class are those, who have had striking manifestations, in the way of strong convictions and of subsequent great illuminations. From time to time, a remarkable impulse, a divine afflatus, if we may so express it, seems to come upon them, and they are borne on in a gale. Then comes a calm; and they temporarily make but little progress. Sometimes they have great darkness; but it is alternated with gleams of light. Nor is the light, which they have, always the pure and calm light, which is of a heavenly origin; but sometimes the red, meteor-like glare of an earthly fire. They may be said to have a considerable degree of faith; but they evidently have less faith than feeling. Their mental history, however, under its various changes, partakes, in no small degree, of the striking, the marvelous. These persons are generally the marked ones, the particular and bright stars in the Church. They often have great gifts; they labor for God; they attract attention. They overwhelm by their eloquence; startle by their new and sometimes heretical views; are denunciatory, argumentative, prophetic, just as the occasion may call. But their movements are not always clear of Self; and pride sometimes lurks at the bottom. They are "many men in one;" without true fixedness and simplicity of character; but exhibiting themselves in different aspects, according as the natural or the spiritual life predominates, Sometimes they are sunk deep in their own nothingness through the influence of the Spirit of God; and sometimes they are up in the "airy mind" of nature's "inflatibility." They are undoubtedly very useful; aiding themselves in the things of religion and aiding others; but it can hardly be said of them, that their life is hid with Christ in God. They think too much of their own efforts and powers; they place too high an estimate on human instrumentality; they do not fully understand the secret of their own nothingness; nor do they know, in their own experience and to its full extent, the meaning of self-crucifixion. Hence their confusion, when, in their own view, things do not go right; hence their evident dejection, when the voice of the multitude is suddenly a little adverse to them; hence their plans, their contrivances, too much like the plans and calculations of human policy. They are not destitute of christian graces; but they need more lowliness of heart, and more faith. Nevertheless they have had much experience of the divine goodness; God owns and blesses them; and their memorial is often written in multitudes of grateful hearts.
A third class are those, whose life may be said to be emphatically a LIFE OF FAITH, attended with an entire renunciation and crucifixion of Self. Faith is not perfect, until Self is crucified; and the converse is equally true, that perfect faith necessarily results in entire self-renunciation.
In the second class of persons, which has been mentioned, the spiritual life mingles more or less, and perhaps in nearly equal proportions, with the tendencies and activities of nature. The fire, which blazes up from their hearts, and which often casts a broad light upon the surrounding multitude, is a mixed fire, partly from heaven and partly from earth. The natural unholy principles are not extinct; but can only be said to be partly purified, and to be turned into a new channel. Hence they will oftentimes fight for God with the same zeal, and almost in the same manner, that worldly men fight for their temporary and worldly objects; with great earnestness, with an unquiet and turbulent indignation, and sometimes with a cruelty of attack, which vents itself in misrepresentations, and which persecutes even to prison and to death.
But the class of Christians, to whom we are now attending, having their souls fully fixed in God by FAITH, cannot consent to serve their heavenly Father with the instruments which Satan furnishes. They sow the seed; but they have faith in the God of the harvest; and they know that all will be well in the end. They are not inactive; but they move only at God's command, and in God's way; and are fully satisfied with the result, which God may see fit to give. At the command of the world or of a worldly spirit, they would not "turn upon their heel to save their life." But to God they hold all in subjection; and they rest calmly in the great Central Power. These are men of a grave countenance; of a retired life except when duty calls to public action; of few words, simple manners, and inflexible principle. They have renounced Self; and they naturally seek a low place, remote from public observation and unreached by human applause. When they are silent to human hearing, they are conversing with God; and when they open their lips and speak, it is the message which God gives, and is spoken with the demonstration of the Spirit. When they are apparently inactive, they are gaining strength from the Divine Fountain; drinking nourishment into the inmost soul. And when they move, although with quiet step, the heart of the multitude is shaken and troubled at their approach, because God moves with them. There is no thunder, but the "still small voice;" no smoke, but consuming fire.
These are the men, of whom martyrs are made. When the day of great tribulation comes, when dungeons are ready, and fires are burning, When God permits his children, who are weak in the faith, to stand aside. Then the illuminated Christians, those who live in the region of high emotion, rather than of quiet faith, who have been conspicuous in the world of christian activity, and have been as a pleasant and a loud song, and in many things have done nobly, will unfold to the right and the left, and let this little company, of whom the world is ignorant, and whom it cannot know, come up from their secret places to the great battle of the Lord. To them the prison is as acceptable as the throne; the place of degradation as the place of honor. They eat of the "hidden manna" and they have the secret name given them, "which no man knoweth." Ask them how they feel, and they will perhaps be startled, because their thoughts are thus turned from God to themselves. And they will answer by asking, What God wills. They have no feeling; separate from the will of God. All high and low, all joy and sorrow, all honor and dishonor, all friendship and enmity, are brought to a level; and are merged and lost in the great realization of God present in the heart. Hence chains and dungeons have no terrors; a bed of fire is as a bed of down.
It is here in this class of persons, that we find the great grace of sanctification; a word alas, too little understood in the Church. These are they, who, in the spirit of self crucifixion, live by faith, and faith only.
— edited from The Interior or Hidden Life (2nd edition, 1844) Part 3, Chapter 14.