There is a high window in our living room, through which the sun shines in the late morning and early afternoon. And when the sun shines in, it reveals all the dust in the living room. The other day we had a particularly dusty piece of fabric sitting on the couch. Duncan tried patting the fabric and waving away the dust, but it just flew up in the air and spread, and the I knew the room was dustier.
As my science book would say: “Consider the picture below.”
Sometimes a soul can get like this bookshelf. Those books are so dusty, they’re moldering and rotting away, like Miss Haversham’s wedding feast. Do you like this recipe for book disaster? Then put your books in an old, moldy place and leave them. Go do something else for the rest of your life, and never look at them again. Don’t even think of them, and your precious volumes filled with so many good stories and good lessons, will crumble and get eaten away. If you don’t want your books to look like this, but you don’t want to take care of them, leave the lights off, and you won’t see the dust. But as soon as the light touches them, you’re going to see that they look like this. While I admit it is actually a neat picture, I am too closely attached to my books to let something like that happen to them. I really feel that they deserve something better than decay.
Our souls can get like these books on the shelf… Christian character with all of the attributes described in Romans twelve are hard to exercise. And one morning when it’s raining and the sky is cloudy, and there’s a sick feeling, and a fog settles on the brain, we might say: “I’ll just take it easy… not go out of my way…” Pretty soon we start saying it on sunny days. Eventually we stop saying it because it’s become a habit. And when somebody says: “Ah… How beautiful a Christian character is!” We think: “Ah yes, Christian character. I have one of those because I’m a Christian.” But the truth is, there are gray clouds in the sky of the soul. If they were to part, if the light was let in, it would be a dusty soul.
A dusty room is very, very hard to clean. I remember in Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian was at the House of the Interpreter, there was that one room covered in dust. And the maids would sprinkle water over the dust, and a man kept sweeping, but it was still dusty. However, I would like to point out that because I can’t remember what the Interpreter said about it, there was really no point in my saying anything about it.
Dusty and rusty. These words rhyme, and they go very well together for this post. A soul collects dust, the attributes lie on forgotten shelves. But the machine with which we exercised our Christian qualities is rusty from disuse. And when the light shines in our soul, when the window is opened and we start coughing and sputtering, we see the machine and we think: “Ah! We’ll get it moving again!” But it creaks and groans, the acts of kindness go wrong, the quiet word becomes a shout, and we stutter and hesitate in the midst of comforting and encouraging. It reminds me of a few verses from a poem, The Fool’s Prayer, by Edward Rowland Sill:
“These clumsy feet, still in the mire
Go crushing blossoms without end
These hard, well meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart strings of a friend.
The ill-timed truth we might have kept—
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung!
The word we had not sense to say—
Who knows how grandly it had rung!”
We are, indeed, severely out of whack, when it comes to this.
But grace is like oil and water in our souls. Without it, we would choke and die in despair, with the screeching of the rusty machine in our ears. We would die because of our own neglect, and that’s not a happy thoughts And because I believe in happy thoughts, I believe in the idea that there is hope for our hopeless case. I believe in the grace that flows so wide and free that it drenches the dust and washes it clean away, that it oils the machine so that it works noiselessly and modestly.
I believe in the grace that accomplishes this. But I do not believe that it is done behind our backs, while the window of the soul is still closed, and the blinds are drawn tightly, and the curtains are drawn, and the second sets of blinds and curtains are also shut and drawn, and the shutters are locked securely. No, it doesn’t happen then.
It comes with repentance. It comes when we crash from our high throne of selfishness and pride. Down, down, down we fall. We fall so low that we find ourselves on our knees. It is then that the gates of our souls are torn open, wide open, and the light of righteousness shines inside. We lie in our shame and disgrace, but He is not ashamed of us. And with his grace, he is willing to cleanse our repentant souls. We are unfaithful. It will happen again and again, but he is always there. He never tires of being the rescuer, the healer, the covenant keeper. And someday it will not have to happen again. No more will we have to fight the battle between sin and righteousness, and no more will we give in to the temptations which seek to bear us down. Grace will win in the end, though pride seems to conquer for awhile.
I keep thinking: “Aw, I can get away without saying it.” But I should say it, so that no one is under the wrong impression. Just because I say: “Grace will win in the end,” doesn’t mean the shelves can be kept dusty. No indeed. With repentance comes the cleanup, because repentance is a true and willing desire to live righteously. True repentance is not a: “Okay, I’m sorry, now let me go and I’ll do it again, and be forgiven again” etc. If I am really repentant then my attitude will be one of heartfelt obedience. If I am not repentant, the shelves aren’t getting cleaned—they’re getting dustier. And rustier. The soul will never be free from filth and blackness until we are fully sanctified, yet we are still called to live righteously.
How can I be truly righteous with a dusty soul? I don’t want to be an actor, I want to be a real person. If I am not truly righteous, if I am doing it for the sake of myself and other people rather than out of obedience, what good is that? I see the blackness of my own heart and I think: “Rather than deceive people, why don’t I just show my dark, dark self?” And then God says: “Why don’t you just desire to be righteous, and strive after it earnestly, without pretense?” And then I think: “Good point.” And I’m humbled again. It’s easier to be dark and wicked, to pretend righteousness. It’s hard practicing it, it’s even harder to truly desire it.
There are two kinds of lives in this world: the sinful life, and then the sinful life. Hitler was sinful. I am sinful. He murdered thousands physically, I’ve murdered in my heart. We both deserve the same thing. But there’s the sinful life that ends up in perfect righteousness, and there’s the sinful life that ends up in eternal death. The effects of both lives are everlasting. Both are beyond words. One is absolute hell, the other is absolute paradise. The road to the worst is easiest, the road to the best is hardest.
So never give up hope. Let’s keep the windows of our dusty souls open, and be humbled before God, and seek to always live in righteousness, living by faith, in grace, and through His strength.