T STRIKES ME that this building, so thoroughly cleansed and chastely beautified, has a lesson for us. The prophet Habakkuk spoke of stones crying out of the wall, and beams out of the timber answering thereto; surely this roof and these pillars have long enough heard the voices of our solemn assemblies, to be able to echo to us thoughts of truth and soberness. If there be indeed
Sermons in stones, and good in everything,
rest assured there is a lesson for us in the cleaning and reparation of the house in which we delight to meet for the united worship of God.
Do we not all need in our own souls, every now and then, just what this building required, namely, restoration and renovation? In this our smoky city the most careful housekeepers find cleanliness to be difficult; do what they will, dingyness will get the upper hand. Gilt grows dim, gloss departs, the purest whiteness is discoloured, and dust and dirt are apparent everywhere, because our atmosphere is heavily laden with elements opposed to purity. Even so in this crooked and perverse generation, the best of believers will find it difficult to maintain the freshness and beauty of their piety, the closeness of their fellowship with Jesus, and the heavenliness of their conversation. Our first love all too soon grows cold, and much of its fair promise perishes, for the influence of the world is, to renewed souls, as the night wind of winter to tender plants, pinching them with biting frosts. Heavenly-mindedness is subject to secret, unceasing, and most powerful assaults; like a vessel floating in equatorial seas, it is assailed by innumerable minute enemies which seek to pierce its timbers of strength, and turn its solidity to rottenness. Holy zeal, like a sacred fire, seems burns low, unless fed by the unseen hand of our Well-beloved, for the forests of earth yield no fuel for its flame. Even under the ordinary circumstances of spiritual life, it is the easiest thing in the world to lose our first heat of love, and to decline into a lukewarm and sickly state; but under certain conditions it becomes almost inevitable. "Facilis decensus averni"easy is the descent to hell; down, down, down. It is easy work to slide imperceptibly down; and he must be watchful to the highest degree who does not find himself descending by the mere force of fallen nature into backsliding of heart, and active departure from his God.
In order that declensions may not continue, that blessed Spirit who has been pleased to make us the temples in which he dwells, gives us, at fitting periods, seasons of complete restoration, renewing us in the spirit of our minds. I am not referring now to those daily cleansings and quickenings which are the result of his indwelling; nor do I speak of that one great and perfect purification bestowed upon us when we believed in Jesus at the first; but my mind dwells upon that mercy of which David sang: "He restoreth my soul;" "He satisfieth thy mouth with good things, so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's;" that boon for which he pleaded in the plaintive words of the fifty-first Psalm: "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." Concerning such visitations of grace, let us speak in few words, drawing a comparison between this building and our souls. As soon as we left this Tabernacle, the workpeople busied themselves in unsettling everything, creating clouds of dust, dragging in timbers and ladders, and manufacturing confusion by wholesale. Scaffolds sprung up as quickly as Jonah's gourd; and, instead of the place looking grave and sober as a place of worship should do, from top to bottom it bristled with timber, like a forest, abounded in crossbeams and yards, like a fleet of ships; and was as full of bustle and noise as a market or a factory. They that turn the world upside down, had come hither also. Then great havoc was made of everything which seemed passable and decent; where there was a tolerable show of paint the ruthless spoilers scrape it off, and then picked out every flaw they could find in the ceiling, and made the cracks gape twice as wide as before, till the house was stripped and peeled, and made to put on sackcloth, and to be covered with dust and ashes, because its glory had departed. You who love this house for the sake of happy hours spent within it, might well have taken up a weeping and a lamentation for it. Yet these workmen needed not to be ashamed, for their work has been executed to perfection; and had it not been for the scraping and the pulling down, the whole business would have been very badly finished in the long run. Now, herein is an analogy as to God's dealings with the souls of his saints when he is about to bless them; for his gracious renewings frequently commence with strippings and humblings of no ordinary kind. "When thou with rebukes dost correct man for his iniquity, then makest his beauty to consume away like a moth," and all this with a view of putting upon the humbled soul the beauty of the Lord, and the glory of the God of Israel. Job thus describes the dealings of the Lord when he brings down the high looks of pride: "I was at ease, but he hath broken me asunder: he hath also taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces, and set me up for his mark. His archers compass me round about, he cleaveth my reins asunder, and doth not spare; he poureth out my gall upon the ground. He breaketh me with breach upon breach, he runneth upon me like a giant. I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin, and defiled my horn in the dust. My face is foul with weeping, and on my eyelids is the shadow of death." This is severe usage, but when viewed as a preparation for future blessedness, wisdom teaches us to see the hand of love in it all. If the current were always smooth, might it not be a token of our gliding towards the gulf of destruction? Depend upon it, the most of us cannot endure great prosperity long together. As some constitutions cannot bear certain meats, so a long run of spiritual ease is much too strong a thing for the constitution of average Christians. The pools of our heart are apt to grow stagnant unless stirred by affliction. Peace and quietness are hotbeds for shams and superficialities; but when sharp troubles and keen temptations assail us, nothing will stand but that which is real and lasting. We should be very grateful to our gracious Lord for sending his rough providences to despoil us of our supposed excellency, and lay bare the poverty and nakedness of our natural estate. Traders with rotten establishments are afraid to have their books overhauled, but judicious men long to know their true position; and if they are shown by a wise accountant that supposed gains are real losses, they are thankful for the information, and change their mode of business at once. Soul trouble does this for our spiritual trading; it finds out the bad debts, the windy speculations, the worthless paper, the spurious securities which the soul has been dealing in, and sets our spiritual efforts upon a less cheering, but much more certain footing.
This painful but truthful work within the heart is a preparation for manifestations of the Lord Jesus' sweetest love. The saintly Rutherford has written, "I never find myself nearer Christ, that royal and princely One, than after a great weight and sense of deadness and gracelessness. I think that the sense of our wants when withal we have a restlessness and a sort of spiritual impatience under them, and can cry out because we want him whom our soul loveth, is that which maketh an open door for Christ. When we think we are going backward, because we feel deadness, we are going forward; for the more sense the more life, and no sense argueth no life. There is no sweeter fellowship with Christ than to bring our wounds and our sores to him." Our own experience, after its fashion, comes to the same result; it is only as we are brought low in self, that we are lifted up in the ways of the Lord. A harsh-faced providence, although sternly breaking up our false refuges, has proved itself to be a good friend, by constraining us to flee into the inner chambers of the Redeemer's love for comfort. How sweet is the warm bosom of the Savior, when wintry blasts sweep over us and make our bones to quiver! then do we, like newborn lambs, rejoice in the Shepherd's bosom, and cling closely to it as for life itself. For ever blessed be the hand which covers me with wonders and bruises, and so leads me to seek to the Physician of my soul. Glorious is the poverty which endows me with the riches of Christ; happy is the shipwreck which casts me helplessly upon the shore of divine love. Thus, out of the lion we gather honey, and the flinty rock drips with oil.
After all the defacing work had been done, the workpeople passed on to something more satisfactory, and first one, then another, busied himself according to his trade, until the house became fair to look upon, as we see it now. Your eye sees nothing of the scraping and the peeling, but you see the result, and are content with it; believe that it shall be so with your heart after you have fully known and felt the evil of sin. All the undoing is necessary to the renewal; all the laying bare of filthiness is necessary to the complete purification of the spirit. Farmers leave their fields fallow for a season that the earth may gather strength for a richer crop, and so we may be under the Lord's desertions for awhile for our lasting profit; and, as after awhile the farmer returns to plough and sow and reap in that field, so will our blessed Master turn to us in mercy, and we shall know the Lord. Our house was not deserted altogether because we left it for a season, and we had no ill will towards it when we gave it over to the workmen's hands; and the temples of the Holy Spirit shall have no cause in the end to accuse him of forsaking his own, or turning away his love from his chosen.
In the day when all the saints shall glitter like palaces of gold, and be pure as temples of alabaster, they shall adore the infinite wisdom which defiled their fancied purity that they might be made truly holy, and stained their imaginary glory that they might shine in a splendor altogether divine. My friends, beloved of my soul, more dear than ever as years roll on, I do not ask trouble for any of you; but if there be no other way of renovating your spirits, you may on your own account cheerfully welcome the severest trials, when sent by heaven, to visit your house. Come they will, whether we welcome them or no, for the promise is sure to all the seed, "In the world ye shall have tribulation." Let us most devoutly praise God that he does not consult our whims, or our fancies, as to how he should deal with us; we have a Father who does not spare the rod for our crying, knowing better than we do what is good for us. He does not ask us in which path we will go; he directs our steps according to his own wisdom, and not according to our folly. Surely we poor shortsighted creatures can even now feel that it is good for us to have infallible wisdom to direct us, and that it is our duty to give up our unbelief, and all our questionings, and submit ourselves absolutely to the will of the unerring Father. All our misery springs out of our self-will. Self-love is the nest out of which the hornets fly in their armies; would to God it were utterly destroyed. If self-will were slain, sorrow would lose its sting. The daily cross in itself is not heavyas Jesus' yoke, it is easy; but self-will makes our shoulders raw, and then the cross becomes very heavy to bear. Sweetly does Madame Guyon sing
My soul to that dear hand of thine,
Without reserve, or fear;
That hand shall wipe my streaming eyes,
Or into smiles of glad surprise
Transform the falling tear."
When the spirit gets into a condition of perfect acquiescence with the divine with, it flourishes equally in sunshine or shade. I pray God that we may be made willing to receive from him, with equal satisfaction, both that which seems to be evil, and that which is apparently good, and this may be an argument of which even our selfishness may feel the weight, that the time for casting away stones is followed by a time for gathering them together, and the period of humiliation is certainly succeeded by a deep and lasting exaltation of soul, and therefore we may complacently endure the first for the sake of the second. The heart in disorder of grief shall be but a prelude for the spirit in fullness of joy and peace; therefore let us be of good courage, and trust in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.