'Experimental Christianity' is nothing more or less than the study of Christian experience. Of course it first presupposes that there is such a thing as Christian experience. The Christian who is one in name only has no experience because his faith is a mere notion, not a real movement of the heart. It is a work of man, not of God. Joseph Hart wrote:
Vain is all our best devotion,
If on false foundations built;
True religion's more than notion;
Something must be known and felt.
(Hymn 237 in Gadsby's, first part)
It is for this reason that we write this article, being fully persuaded that the Bible teaches that true Christians have an experience. Not a stereotyped experience, as some suppose, for God leads each of us by a particular way. In the 107th Psalm we read of the experiences of "the redeemed of the LORD." The Psalm opens, "O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy." (verses 1, 2). We read then of the experiences of the redeemed of the LORD, first (verses 4-7) we read of those who were wanderers in the wilderness, then in verses 10-14 we read of those who sat in darkness. In verses 17 to 20 we read of those who were in afflictions, near to death. In verses 23 to 30 we read of those that go down to the sea in ships. Plainly it would be foolish for those who wandered in the wilderness to find fault with the experience of those who went down to the sea in ships simply because they did not wander in the wilderness. Christian experience is diverse, and one man's experienc e is unlike another man's. Yet all true Christians join in the refrain of the Psalm, "Oh that men would praise the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men." Yes, the wanderer in the desert must say to the man who went down to the sea, 'your experience is not mine', but he glorifies God in the experience of the other as he does in his own.
But I promised a bibliography of experimental Christianity. Frankly it might include every good Christian biography, and especially Christian autobiography, that was ever published. This is not exhaustive. It is not even comprehensive.
1. The Bible. The Bible is full of Christian experience. The historical books, Job, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, the Prophets... but to go on would just be to summarize the Bible's contents.
2. Good hymn-books. Throw out all the liberal hymnals, ignore those that are full of Keswick 'Victorious Christian Life' teaching or Victorian sentimentalism. They are worthless. No, take something like 'Christian Hymns' if you want a modern book. Or better still, go back earlier. Get Gadsby's Selection. It is published by Gospel Standard Publications, and a hardcover is very reasonably priced. You will find in it about 1150 hymns brimming over, not with turgid sentimentalism or cant phrases, but real Christian experience. You will find hymns forged in the crucible of suffering. Hymns by the invalid Isaac Watts, by the converted unbeliever turned suffering pastor Joseph Hart, by Cowper, who almost lost his mind, by the suffering invalid Augustus Toplady. Hymns you will be afraid to read because they are so full of true Christianity. Hymns for miserable Christians, for trials, for tempations.
3. Christian biography. Again, not the little digests of a person's life that tell you where they were at such-and-such a time, but those that are full of letters, of diaries, of the men or women themselves. Get autobiographies of men tried in all manner of afflictions. Samuel Rutherford. Robert Murray M'Cheyne. Books like John Warburton's 'The Mercies of a Covenant God'. It tells the story of a man who suffered in body and soul, a man God brought through trials and afflections that would have killed most modern Western believers. Think of it, having to live and work in a damp cellar because you cannot afford anything else, and not really being able to afford the cellar either. No welfare system, a young family (and a large one), and no apparent way to live. That was Warburton's experience, and God brough him through it all. "Oh that men would praise the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men."
Or John Bunyan's 'Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners'. Or Thomas Boston's 'Memoirs'. And we would mention in this connection the 'Bank of Faith' and 'Kingdom of God taken by prayer' of William Huntington, 'the Coalheaver'. Huntington was also brought through great suffering and God caused him to tell of it so that "men would praise the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men."
4. Other books. Again, these are legion. Samuel Rutherford's 'Letters' is chief among them. "Hold off the Bible, such a book... the world never saw," Richard Baxter said. "For the last two hundred years have these powerful letters been as goads to stir up living souls to tgake the Kingdom of heavedn by violence," J. C. Philpot wrote in the 19th century. We could increase our commendations of the book by the thousands, but we will let John Wesley sum them all up: "Generally admired by all the children of God."
The Puritans knew true religion, and their works are full of experimental Christianity. Thomas Goodwin's works drip with it, for example.
Good sermons by godly men of the past will teach a lot about Christian experience. Spurgeon is full of it. So is Lloyd-Jones in his own way. J.C. Philpot, William Gadsby, John Kershaw, J.K. Popham and other Strict Baptist preachers overflow with Christian experience. Philpot's sermons on 'The Heir of Heaven Walking in Darkness', and 'Winter Afore Harvest' are particularly noted in this respect.
We do not know when we shall write on this subject again, but if the Lord will, we shall.