Delivered on Sabbath Morning, August 22, 1858, by the
"As thy days, so shall thy strength be;"Deuteronomy 33:25.
ELOVED, IT SEEMS A SAD THING that every day must die and be followed by a night. When we have seen the hills clad with verdure to their summit, and the seas laving their base with a silver glory; when we have stretched our eye faraway, and have seen the widening prospect full of loveliness and beauty we have felt sad that the sunlight should ever set upon such a scene, and that so much beauty should be shrouded in the oblivion of darkness. But how much reason have we to bless God for nights! for if it were not for nights how much of beauty never would be discovered. Never should I have considered the heavens the work of thy fingers, O my God, if thou hadst not first covered the sun with a thick mantle of darkness: the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained, had never been bright in mine eyes, if thou hadst not hidden the light of the sun and bidden him retire within the curtains of the west. Night seems to be the great friend of the stars: they must be all unseen by eyes of men, were they not set in the foil of darkness. It is even so with winter. We might feel sad, that all the flowers of summer must die, and all the fruits of autumn must be gathered into their store-house, that every tree must be stripped. and that all the fields must lose their fair flowers. But were it not for winter we should never see the glistening crystals of the snow; we should never behold the beauteous festoons of the icicles that hang from the eaves. Much of God's marvellous miracles of hoar frost must have been hidden from us, if it had not been for the cold chill of winter, which, when it robs us of one beauty, gives us another,when it takes away the emerald of verdure, it gives us the diamond of icewhen it casts from us the bright rubies of the flowers, it gives us the fair white ermine of snow. Well now, translate those two ideas, and you will see why it is that even our sin, our lost and ruined estate, has been made the means, in the hand of God, of manifesting to us the excellencies of his character. My dear friends, if you and I had been without trouble, we never could have had such a promise as this given to us:"As thy days, so shall thy strength be." It is our weakness that has made room for God to give us such a promise as this. Our sins make room for a Saviour; our frailties make room for the Holy Spirit to correct them; all our wanderings make room for the good Shepherd, that he may seek us and bring us back. We do not love nights, but we do love stars; we do not love weakness, but we do bless God for the promise that is to sustain us in our weakness, we do not admire winter, but we do admire the glittering snow; we must shudder at our own trembling weakness, but we still do bless God that we are weak because it makes room for the display of his own invincible strength in fulfilling such a promise as this.
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know
And seek more earnestly his face.
I hop'd that in some favor'd hour
Instead of this he made me feel
'Lord why is this?' I trembling cried
That is, the Lord helps us to grow downward when we are only thinking about growing upward. Let any of you try to grow in grace, and seek to run the heavenly race, and make a little progress, and you will soon find, in such a slippery road as that which we have to travel, that it is very hard to go one step forward, though remarkably easy to go a great many steps backward.
If neither of these three things will prove thy weakness, Christian, I will advise thee to try another. See what thou art in temptation. I have seen a tree in the forest that seemed to stand fast like a rock, I have stood beneath its widespreading branches, and have sought to shake its trunk, to see if I could, but it stood immovable. The sun shone upon it, and the rain descended, and many a winter's frost sprinkled its boughs with snow, but it still stood fast and firm. But one night there came a howling wind which swept through the forest, and the tree that seemed to stand so fast lay stretched along the ground, its gaunt arms which once were lifted up to heaven lying hopelessly broken, and the trunk snapped in twain. And so have I seen many a professor strong and mighty, and nothing seemed to move him; but I have seen the wind of persecution and temptation come against him, and I have heard him creak with murmuring, and at last have seen him break in apostasy and he has lain along the ground a mournful specimen of what every man must become who maketh not the Lord his strength, and who relieth not upon the Most High. "Ah!" says one, "I do not believe I could be tempted to sin." My friend, it depends upon what kind of temptation it should be. There are many of us who could not be tempted to drunkenness, and others who could not he tempted to lust. If the devil should set before some of you cups of the richest wines that ever came from the vintages of Burgundy or of Xeres, you would not care for them, if you did but sip them it would suffice you; it would be in vain to tempt you with the drunkard's song; nothing could induce you to lose your equilibrium by intoxicating liquors; but perhaps you are the very man whom a temptation of lust might overthrow. While there be other men whom neither lust nor wine can overcome, who may be led by a prospect of profit into that which is dishonest; and others again, whom neither profit, nor lust, nor wine, would turn aside, may be overthrown by anger, or envy, or malice. We have all our tender points. When Thetis dipped Achilles in the Styx, you remember she held him by the heel; he was made invulnerable wherever the water touched him, but his heel not being covered with the water, was vulnerable, and there Paris shot his arrow, and he died. It is even so with us. We may think that we are covered with virtue till we are totally invulnerable, but we have a heel somewhere; there is a place where the arrow of the devil can make way: hence the absolute necessity of taking to ourselves "the whole armor of God," so that there may not be a solitary joint in the harness that shall be unprotected against the arrows of the devil. Satan is very crafty; he knows the ins and outs of manhood. There is many an old castle that has stood against every attack, but at last some traitor from within has gone without, and said "I know an old deserted passage, a subterranean back way, that has not been used for many a-day. In such and such a field you will see an opening; clear away a heap of stones there, and I will lead you down the passage: you will then come to an old door, of which I have the key and I can let you in; and so by a back way I can lead you into the very heart of the citadel, which you may then easily capture." It is so with Satan. Man knoweth not himself so well as Satan knows him. There are back ways and subterranean passages into man's heart which the devil doth well understand. and he who thinketh that he is safe, let him take heed lest he fall. That is not a bad hymn of Dr. Watts, after all, where he tells us that Samson was very strong while he wore his hair, but
Met the Philistines to his cost:
Shook his vain limbs with vast surprise,
Made feeble fight, and lost his eyes."
The reason was, because there was a back way into Samson's heart. The Philistines could not overcome him: "Heaps upon heaps, with the jaw-bone of an ass, have I slain a thousand men." Come on, Philistines, he will rend you in pieces as he did the young lion; bind him with green withes, and he will snap them as tow; weave his locks with a weaver's beam, and he will carry away loom and all, and go out like a giant refreshed with new wine. But, O Delilah, he hath a back way to his heart; thou hast found it out, and now thou canst overthrow him. Tremble, for ye may yet be overcome! Ye are as weak as water if God shall leave you alone.
Now, I think, if we have well surveyed these different points of our moral standing on earth, every child of God will be ready to confess that he is weak. I imagine there may be some of you ready to say, "Sir, I am nothing." Then I shall reply, "Ah! you are a young Christian." There will be others of you who will say, "Sir, I am less than nothing." And I shall say, "Ah! you are an old Christian;" for the older Christians get, the less they become in their own esteem, the more they feel their own weakness, and the more entirely they rely upon the strength of God.
II. Having thus dwelt upon the first point, we shall now come to the secondTHE GREAT PROMISE,"As thy days, so shall thy strength be."
In the first place, this is a well-guaranteed promise. A promise is nothing unless I have good security that it shall be fulfilled. It is in vain for men to promise largely unless their fulfillment shall be as large as their promise, for the largeness of their promise is just the largeness of deception. But here every word of God is true. God has issued no more notes for the bank of heaven than he can cash in an hour if he wills. There is enough bullion in the vaults of Omnipotence to pay off every bill that ever shall be drawn by the faith of man or the promises of God. Now look at this one"As thy days, so shall thy strength be." Beloved, God has a strong reserve with which to pay off this promise; for is he not himself omnipotent, able to do all things? Believer, till thou canst drain dry the ocean of omnipotence, till thou canst break into pieces the towering mountains of almighty strength, thou never needest to fear. Until thine enemy can stop the course of a whirlwind with a reed, till he can twist the hurricane from its path by a word of his puny lip, thou needest not think that the strength of man shall ever be able to overcome the strength which is in thee, namely, the strength of God. Whilst the earth's huge pillars stand, thou hast enough to make thy faith firm. The same God who guides the stars in their courses, who directs the earth in its orbit, who feeds the burning furnace of the sun, and keeps the stars perpetually burning with their firesthe same God has promised to supply thy strength. While he is able to do all these things, think not that he shall be unable to fulfill his own promise. Remember what he did in the days of old, in the former generations. Remember how he spoke and it was done; how he commanded, and it stood fast. Do you not see him in the black eternity? When there was nothing but grim darkness, there he stoodthe mighty Artificer: upon the anvil there he cast a hot mass of flame, and hammering it with his own ponderous arm, each spark that flew from it made a world; there those sparks are glittering now, the offspring of the anvil of the eternal purposes, and the hymned of his own majestic might. And shall he, that created the world, grow weary? Shall he fail? Shall he break his promises for want of strength? He hangeth the world upon nothing; he fixed the pillars of heaven in silver sockets of light and thereon he hung the golden lamps, the sun and the moon, and shall he that did all this be unable to support his children? Shall he be unfaithful to his word for want of power in his arm or strength in his will? Remember again, thy God, who has promised to be thy strength, is the God who upholdeth all things by the power of his hand. Who feedeth the ravens? Who supplies the lions? Doth not he do it? And how? He openeth his hand and supplieth the want of every living thing. He has to do nothing more than simply to open his hand. Who is it that restrains the tempest? Doth not he say that he rides upon the wings of the wind, that he maketh the clouds his chariots, and holds the water in the hollow of his hand? Shall he fail thee? When he has put such a promise as this on record, shalt thou for a moment indulge the thought that he has out-promised himself, and gone beyond his power to fulfill? Ah! no. Who was it that cut Rahab in pieces, and wounded the dragon? Who divided the Red Sea, and made the waters thereof stand upright as a heap? Who led the people through the wilderness? Who was it that did oust Pharoah into the depths of the sea, his chosen captains also, in the depth of the Red Sea? Who rained fire and brimstone out of heaven upon Sodom and Gomorrah? Who chased out the Canaanite with the hornet, and made a way of escape for his people Israel? Who was it that brought them again from their captivity and did settle them again in their own land? Who is he that hath put down kings, yea and slew mighty kings, that he might make room for his people wherein they might dwell in a quiet habitation? Hath not the Lord done it: and is his arm shortened that he cannot save: or is his ear heavy that he cannot hear? O thou who art my God and my strength, I can believe that this promise shall be fulfilled for the boundless reservoir of thy grace can never be exhausted, and the unlimitable storehouse of thy strength can never be emptied or rifled by the enemy. It is, then, a well guaranteed promise.
But now I want you to notice it is a limited promise. "What!" says one, "limited" Why it says, 'As thy days, so shall thy strength be.' " Ay, it is limited. I know it is unlimited in our troubles, but still it is limited. First, it says our strength is to be as our days are; it does not say our strength is to be as our desires are. Oh! how often have we thought, "How I wish I were as strong as so and so"one who had a great deal of faith. Ah! but then you would have rather more faith than you wanted, and what would be the good of that? It would be like the manna the children of Israel hadif they did not eat it in the day it bred worms and stank. "Still," says one, "if I had faith like so-and-so, I think I should do wonders." Yes, but you would get the glory of them. That is why God does not let you have the faith, because he does not want you to do wonders. That is reserved for God, not for you,"He only doeth wondrous things." Once more, it does not say, our strength shall be as our fears. God often leaves us to shift alone with our fears,never with our troubles. Many of God's people have a manufactory at the back of their houses in which they manufacture troubles; and home-made troubles, like other home made things, last a very long while, and generally fit very comfortably. Troubles of God's sending are always suitablethe right sort for our backs; but those that we make are of the wrong sort, and they always last us longer than God's; I have known an old lady sit and fret because she believed she should die in a workhouse and she wanted God to give her grace accordingly; but what would have been the good of that? because the Lord meant that she should die in her own quiet bedroom? I have heard of and known men who, being sick, believed they were dying, and wanted grace to die complacently; but God would not give it because he intended them to live, and why should he give them dying grace till they came to die? And we have known others who said they wanted grace to endure many troubles which they expected to come upon them. They were going to fail in a fortnight or so, but they did not fail and it was no wonder they had not grace given to carry them through it, because they did not require it. The promise is "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." "When your vessel gets empty then will I fill it; I will not give you any extra, over and above. When you are weak then I will make you strong; but I will not give you any extra strength to lay by: strength enough to bear your sufferings, and to do your duty; but no strength to play at matches with your brethren and sisters in order to get the glory to yourselves." Oh! if we had strength according to our wishes we should soon all of us be like Jeshurun,wax fat, and begin to kick against the Most High. Then again, there is another limit. It says "As thy days so shall thy strength be." It does not any, "as thy weeks," or "months," but "as thy days." You are not going to have Monday's grace given you on a Sunday, nor Tuesday's grace on a Monday. You shall have Monday's grace given you on Monday morning as soon as you rise and want it; you shall not have it given you on Saturday night; you shall have it "day by day"no more than you want, no less than you want. I do not believe God's people are to be trusted with a week's grace all at once. They are like many of our London workman: they get their wages on Saturday night, and then the rascals go and have Saint Monday and Saint Tuesday, and never do a stroke of work till Wednesday, when they go to the pawnbrokers with their tools to help them over till the next Saturday night. Now, I think God's children would do the same. If they had grace given them on Saturday to last them all through the week, I question whether the devil would not get a good deal of it,whether they would not be pawning some of their old evidences before the week was out, in order to live upon them: spending all their grace on Monday and Tuesday. spending very much of their strength in indulging in pride and boasting, instead of walking humbly with their God. No, "as thy days, so shall thy strength be."
Now, having said that the promise is limited, perhaps I am bound to addwhat an extensive promise this is! "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." Some days are very little things, in our pocket book we have very little to put down, for there was nothing done of any importance. But some days are very big days. Ah! I have known a big daya day of great duties, when great things had to be done for Godtoo great, it seemed, for one man to do; and when great duty was but half done there came great trouble, such as my poor heart had never felt before.
Oh! what a great day it was! there was a night of lamentation in this place, and the cry of weeping, and of mourning, and of death. Ah! but blessed be God's name, though the day was big with tempest, and though it swelled with horror, yet as that day was, so was God's strength. Look at poor Job. What a great day he had once! "Master," says one, "The oxen were ploughing, and the asses feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them away." In comes another and he says, "The fire of God hath fallen on the sheep." "Oh," says another "the Chaldeans have fallen upon the camels and taken them away, and I, only I, am left to tell thee." Still, you see, grace kept growing with the day. Still strength grew as the trouble grew. At last comes the back stroke: "A great wind came from the wilderness, and smote the house where thy sons and daughters were feasting, and they are dead, and I, only I, am left to tell thee." Grace still kept growing, and at last the grace did overflow the trouble, and the poor old patriarch cried, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Ah! Job, that was a big day indeed, and it was big grace that went with that big day. Satan sometimes blows up our days with his black breath till they grow to such a cursed height that we know not how great the days must be. Our head whirls at the thought of passing through such a sea of trouble in so short a space of time. But oh! how sweet it is to think that the bed of grace is never shorter than a man can stretch himself upon it; nor is the covering of Almighty love ever shorter than that it may cover us. We never need be afraid. If our troubles should become high as mountains. God's grace would become like Noah s flood: it would go twenty cubits higher till the mountains were covered. If God should send to you and to me a day such as there was none like it, neither should be any more, he would send us strength such as there was none like it, neither should there be any more. Do you see Martin Luther riding into Worms? There is a solitary monk going before a great council: he knows they will burn him; did not they burn John Huss, and Jerome of Prague? Both those men had a safe conduct, and it was violated and they were put to death by Papists, who said that no faith was to be kept with heretics. Luther placed very little reliance on his safe conduct; and you would have expected as he rode into Worms that he would have a dejected countenance. Not so. No sooner does he catch sight of Worms, than some one advises him not to go into the city. Said he, "If there were as many devils in Worms as there are tiles on the roofs of the houses, I would enter." And he does ride in. He goes to the inn, and eats his bread and drinks his beer, as complacently as if he were at his own fire-side; and then he goes quietly to bed. When summoned before the council, and asked to retract his opinion, he does not want time to consider, or debate about it; but he says, "These things that I have written are the truth of God, and by them will I stand till I die; so help me God!" The whole assembly trembles, but there is not a flush upon the cheek of the brave monk, nor do his knees knock together. He is in the midst of armed men and those that seek his blood. There sit fierce cardinals and bloodthirsty bishops and the Pope's legate; like spiders longing to suck his blood. He cares for none of them; he walks away, and is confident that "God is his refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." "Ah! but," you say, "I could not do that."" Yea you could, if God called you to it. Any child of God can do what any other child of God has done, if God gives him the strength. You could not do what you are doing even now, without God's strength; and you could do ten thousand times more, if he should be pressed to fill you with his might. What an expansive promise this is!
Once more, what a varying promise it is! I do not mean that the promise varies but adapts itself to all our changes. "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." Here is a fine sunshiny morning; all the world is laughing; everything looks glad; the birds are singing, the trees seem to be all alive with music. "My strength shall be as my day is," says the pilgrim. Ah! pilgrim, there is a little black cloud gathering. Soon it increases; the flash of lightning wounds the heaven, and it begins to bleed in showers. Pilgrim, "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." The birds have done singing, and the world has done laughing; but "as thy days, so shall thy strength be." Now the dark night comes on, and another day approachesa day of tempest, and whirlwind, and storm. Dost thou tremble, pilgrim?"As thy days, so shall thy strength be." "But there are robbers in the wood.""As thy days, so shall thy strength be." "But there are lions which shall devour me.""As thy days. so shall thy strength be." "But there are rivers: how shall I swim them?" Here is a boat to carry thee over: "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." "But there are fires: how shall I pass through them?" Here is the garment that will protect thee: "As thy days so shall thy strength be." "But there are arrows that fly by day." Here is thy shield: "As thy days so shall thy strength be." "But there is the pestilence that walketh in darkness." Here is thy antidote: "As thy days so shall thy strength be." Wherever you may be, and whatever trouble awaits you, "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." Children of God, cannot you say that this has been true hitherto? I can. It might seem egotistical if I were to talk of the evidence I have received of this during the past week, but nevertheless I cannot help recording my praise to God. I left this pulpit last Sunday as sick as any man ever left the pulpit, and I left this country too as ill as I could be, but no sooner had I set my foot upon the other shore, where I was to preach the gospel, than my wonted strength entirely returned to me. I had no sooner buckled on the harness to go forth and fight my Master's battle, than every ache and pain was gone, and all my sickness fled; and as my day was, so certainly was my strength. I believe if I were lying upon a dying couch, if God called me to preach in America, and I had but faith to be carried down to the boat, I should have strength given me, though I seemed to be dying, to minister as the Lord had appointed me. And so would each of you, wherever you might be find that as your day was, so your strength should be.
And, in conclusion, what a long promise this is! You may live till you are never so old, but this promise will outlive you. When thou comest into the depths of the river Jordan, "as thy days, so shall thy strength be;" thou shalt have confidence to face the last grim tyrant, and grace to smile even in the jaws of the grave. And when thou shalt rise again in the terrible morning of the resurrection, "as thy days, so shall thy strength be:" though the earth be reeling with dismay thou shalt know no fear; though the heavens are tottering with confusion thou shalt know no trouble. "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." And when thou shalt see God face to face, though thy weakness were enough to make thee die, thou shalt have strength to bear the beatific vision: thou shalt see him face to face, and thou shalt live; thou shalt lie in the bosom of thy God; immortalized and made full of strength, thou shalt be able to bear even the brightness of the Most High.
III. What INFERENCE shall I draw except this? Children of the living God, be rid of your doubts, be rid of your trouble and your fear. Young Christians, do not be afraid to set forward on the heavenly race. You bashful Christians, that, like Nicodemus, are ashamed to come out and make an open profession, don't be afraid, "As your day is, so shall your strength be." Why need you fear? You are afraid of disgracing your profession, you shall not; your day shall never be more troublesome, or more fun of temptation, than your strength shall be full of deliverance.
And as for you that have not God to be yours, I must draw one inference for you. Your strength is decaying. You are growing old, and your old age will not be like your youth, You have strengthstrength which you prostitute to the cause of Satan, which you misuse in the service of the devil. When you grow old, as you will do, unless your wickedness shall bring you to an early grave; they that look out of the windows must be darkened, and the grasshopper must be burden to you; and your strength shall not be as your day. And when you come to die, as die you must, then you shall have no strength to die with; you must die alone; you must hear yon iron gates creak on their hinges, and no guardian angel to comfort you as you go through the dreary vault. And you must stand at God's great bar at the day of resurrection, and no one to strengthen you there. How will your cheek blanch with terror! How will your soul be affrighted with horror when you shall hear it said, "Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire in hell, prepared for the devil and his angels." You have no such promise as this to cheer you onward, but you have this to drive you to despair: your days shall become heavier, but your strength shall become lighter; your sorrows shall be multiplied, and your joys shall be diminished; your days shall shorten, and your nights shall lengthen; your summers shall become dimmer and your winters shall become blacker; all your hopes shall die, and your fears shall live. Ye shall reap the harvest of your sins in the dreadful vintage of eternal wrath. May God give us all grace, so that when days and years are past, we all may meet in heaven. There are some people here that I have seen a great many times, and I thought they would have been converted before now. I ask them one question, (there are some of them whom I sincerely respect) and it is thiswhat will you do in the swellings of Jordan? When death shall get hold upon you? What, what will you do then? May God help you to answer and prepare to meet Him!