Delivered on Sabbath Morning, August 28th, 1859, by
"They limited the Holy One of Israel,"Psalm 78:41.
AN IS ALWAYS ALTERING what God has ordained. Although God's order is ever the best, yet man will never agree therewith. When God gave forth the law it was engraved upon two stones. The first table contained the commandments concerning man and God, the second dealt with man and man. Sins against God are sins against the first table: sins against man are offenses against the second table. Man, to prove constantly his perversity, will put the second table before the first, nay, upon the first, so as to cover and conceal it. There are few men who will not allow the enormity of adultery, fewer still who will dispute the wickedness of murder. Men are willing enough to acknowledge that there is sin in an offense against man. That which endanger the human commonwealth, that which would disturb the order of earthly governmentsall this is wrong enough even in man's esteem, but when you come to deal with the first table it is hard indeed to extort a confession from mankind. They will scarce acknowledge that there is any such thing as an offense against God, or if they do acknowledge it, yet they think it but a light matter. What man is there among you that hath not in his heart often lamented sins against man, rather, than sins against God? And which of you hath not felt a greater compunction for sins against your neighbor, or against the nation, than for sins committed against God and done in his sight? I say that such is the perversity of man, that he will think more of the less than the greater. An offense against the Majesty of heaven is thought to be far more venial than an offense against his fellow-creature. There are many transgressions of the first table of which we think so little, that perhaps we scarcely ever confess them at all, or if we acknowledge them, it is only because the grace of God has taught us to estimate them aright. One offense against the first table which seldom agitates the mind of an unconvicted sinner is that of unbelief, and with it, I may put the want of love to God. The sinner does not believe in God, does not trust in him, does not love him. He gives his heart to the things of earth, and denies it to his Creator. Of this high treason and rebellion he thinks nothing. If you could take him in the act of theft, a blush would mantle his cheek; but you detect him in the daily omission of love to God, and faith in his Son Jesus Christ, and you cannot make him feel that he is guilty of any evil in this. Oh! strange contortion of human judgment! Oh! blindness of mortal conscience, that this greatest of iniquitiesa want of love to the All-Lovely, and a want of faith in him who is deserving of the highest trustshould be thought to be as nothing, and reckoned among the things that need not to be repented of.
And perish only there.'"
And do you not think again that perhaps the cause of your present distress is that you have been dictating to God as to the way in which he shall save you? You have a pious acquaintance who was converted in a very remarkable manner. He was suddenly convicted and as suddenly justified in the sight of God. He knows the very day and hour in which he obtained mercy, and you have foolishly made up your mind that you will never lay hold upon Christ unless you feel the same. You have laid it down as in a decree, that God is to save you, as it were, by an electric shock, that you must be consciously smitten, and vividly illumined, or else you will never lay hold on Christ. You want a vision. You dictate to God that he must send one of his angels down to tell you he has forgiven you. Now rest assured God will have nothing to do with your dictation. With your desire to be saved he will have to do, but with your planning as to how he should save you, he will have nought to do. Oh, be content to get salvation anyhow if thou dost but get it. If thou canst not have it like the prodigal son, who felt his father's arms about him, and knew his father's kiss, and had music and dancing in the moment that he was restoredif thou canst not come in by the front door, be content to enter at the back. If Mercy comes on foot do not despise her, for she is just as fair as when she rides in her chariot. Be content to go in sackcloth before God, and there to bemoan thy guilt and to lay hold on him who taketh away the sin of the world. Sinner, believe in Christ. That is God's command, and thy privilege. Cast thyself flat on his atonement; trust thou him and him alone and if God choose not to comfort thee in the way in which thou hast expected, yet be content to get the blessing anyhow so long as thou receivest it at all. Limit not, I beseech thee, the Holy One of Israel.
Upon this point of dictation I might tarry very long and give many instances. But I choose rather to close up this first head of my discourse by observing once again, what a heinous offense, what an unreasonable iniquity it is for any of us to attempt to dictate to God. Oh man, know that he is sovereign.
And all things serve his might."
Wilt thou, a beggar, dictate to the King of kings, the Lord of lords, when the angels veil their faces before him, and scarcely dare to look upon his brightness? Wilt thou dare to lord it over him, and command thy Maker? Shall infinite wisdom stoop to obey thy folly, and shall divine goodness be cooped and caged and imprisoned within the bars of thy frantic desires. What! dost thou dare to mount the steps of his throne, and affront him with thy haughty speeches, when cherubim dare not look upon his brightnesswhen the pillars of heaven's starry roof tremble and start at his reproof! Wilt thou seek to be greater than he is? Shall mortal man be greater then his God? Shall be dictate to the everlastinghe who is born of a woman and of few days, and full of folly? No go thou to his throne, bow thyself reverently before him; give up thy will, let it be bound in golden fetters a bond-slave to God. Cry thou this day, "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner, and let it be not as I will, but as thou wilt."
Thus, then, I have discoursed on the first part of the subject.
II. In the second place, we limit the Holy One of Israel by DISTRUST. And here again I will divide my congregation into the two grand classes of saints and sinners. Children of God, purchased by blood and regenerated by the Spirit, you are guilty here; for by your distrust and fear you have often limited the Holy One of Israel, and have said in effect, that his ear is heavy that it cannot hear, and that his arm is shortened that it cannot save. In your trials you have done this. You have looked upon your troubles, you have seen them roll like mountain waves; you have hearkened to your fears, and they have howled in your ears like tempestuous winds, and you have said, "My bark is but a feeble one, and it will soon be ship-wrecked. It is true that God has said that through tempests and tossings he will bring me to my desired haven. But alas! such a state as this was never contemplated in his promise; I shall sink at last and never see his face with joy." What hast thou done, fearful one? O thou of little faith, dost thou know what sin thou best committed? Thou hast judged the omnipotence of God to be finite. Thou hast said that thy troubles are greater than his power, that thy woes are more terrible than his might. I say retract that thought; drown it and thou shalt not be drowned thyself. Give it to the winds, and rest thou assured that out of all thy troubles he will surely bring thee, and in thy deepest distress he will not forsake thee.
But says one, "I did believe this once, and I had hoped for an escape from my present predicament, but that escape has failed me. I did think that some friend would have assisted me, and thus, I imagined I should have come out of the furnace." Ah! and thou art distrusting God because he does not choose to use the means which thou hast chosen; because his election and thy election are not the same, therefore thou doubtest him. Why man, he is not limited to meansto any means, much less to one of thy choosing. If he deliver thee not by calming the tempest, he hath a better way in store; he will send from above and deliver thee; he will snatch thee out of the deep waters lest the floods overflow thee. What might Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego have said? Suppose they had got it into their heads that God would deliver them in some particular way. They did have some such idea, but they said, as if to prove that they trusted not really to their thought about the deliverance"Nevertheless, be it known unto thee, O king, we will not worship thy gods, nor bow before the image which thou hast set up." They were prepared to let God have his will, even though he used no means of deliverance. But suppose, I say, they had conferred with flesh and blood, and Shadrach had said, "God will strike Nebuchadnezzar dead; just at the moment when the men are about to put us into the furnace the king will turn pale and die, and so we shall escape." O my friends, they would have trembled indeed when they went into the furnace if they had chosen their own means of deliverance, and the king had remained alive. But instead of this, they gave themselves up to God, though he did not deliver them. And, though he did not prevent their going into the furnace, yet he kept them alive in it, so that not so much as the smell of fire had passed upon them. It shall be even so with you. Repose in God. When thou seest him not, believe him; when everything seems to contradict thy faith, still stagger not at the promise. If HE hath said it, he can find ways and means to do it. Rest assured, sinner, he would come from his throne to do it himself in person, rather than suffer his promises to be unfulfilled. The harps of heaven should sooner lament an absent God than thou shouldst have to mourn a broken promise. Trust in him, repose constantly on him, and limit not the Holy One of Israel. Do you not think that the church as a great body has done this? We do not any of us expect to hear that a nation is born in a day. If it should be said that in a certain chapel in London this morning some thousand souls had been converted under one sermon, we should shake our heads incredulously, and say it cannot be. We have a notion that because we have only had drops of mercy of late, we are never to have showers of it; because mercy seems only to have come in little rills and trickling streamlets, we have conceived the idea that it never can roll its mighty floods like the huge rivers of the western world. No, we have limited the Holy One of Israel; especially as preachers have we done it. We do not expect our ministry to be blessed, and therefore it is not blessed. If we had learned to expect great things we should have them. If we had made up our minds to this, that the promise was great, that the Promiser was great, that his faithfulness was great, and that his power was great; and if with this for our strength we set to work expecting a great blessing, I trow we should not be disappointed. But the universal church of Christ hath limited the Holy One of Israel. Why, my friends, if God should will it, ye need not ask where are to come the successors of such and such a man. Ye need not sit down and ask when such and such a one is gone where shall be another who shall preach the word with power. When God gives the word, great shall be the multitude of them that publish it; and when the multitude shall begin to publish, believe me, God can move thousands as easily as be can move tens, and where our baptismal pool hath been stirred by ones and twos he can bid millions descend to be baptized into our holy faith. Limit not, O limit not, thou church of the living God, limit not the Holy One of Israel.
And now I turn to the poor troubled heart, and although I accuse of sin, yet I doubt not the Spirit shall bear witness with the conscience, and leading to Christ, shall this morning deliver from its galling yoke. Poor troubled one, thou hast said in thy heart, "my sins are too many to be forgiven." What hast thou done? Repent thee, and let the tear roll down thy cheek. Thou hast limited the Holy One of Israel. Thou hast put thy sins above his grace. Thou hast considered that thy guilt is more omnipotent than omnipotence itself. He is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God by Christ. Thou canst not have exceeded the boundlessness of his grace. Be thy sins ever so many, the blood of Christ can put them all away; and if thou doubtest this, thou art limiting the Holy One of Israel. Another says, I do not doubt his power to save, but what I doubt is his willingness. What hast thou done in this? Thou hast limited the love, the boundless love of the Holy One of Israel. What, dost thou stand on the shore of a love which ever must be shoreless. Was it deep enough and broad enough to cover the iniquities of Paul, and doth it stop just where thou art? Why thou art the limit, then; thou standest as the limiting landmark of the grace of the Holy One of Israel! Out upon thy folly! get rid of this thy mistrust. He whom love has embraced the chief of sinners, is willing to embrace thee, if now hating thy sin and leaving thy iniquity, thou art ready to put thy trust in Jesus. I beseech thee, limit not the Holy One of Israel by thinking he is unwilling to forgive. Are you really conscious of the sin you are committing when you think God unwilling to save? Why you are accusing God of being a liar. Does not that alarm you? You have done worse than this, you have even accused him of being perjured, for you doubt his oath. "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, but had rather that he should turn unto me and live." You do not believe that? then you make God to be perjured. Oh! tremble at such guilt as this, "No, but," you say, "I would not accuse him; but he would be quite just if he were unwilling to save me." I am glad thou sayest that; that proves thou dost not accuse his justice. But I still say thou art limiting his love. What doth he say himself? hath he limited it? Hath he not himself said, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price!" And thou art thirsty, and yet thou thinkest that his love cannot reach to thee. Oh! while God assures thee that thou art welcome, be not wicked enough to throw the lie in the teeth of mercy. Limit not the Holy One of Israel. "But, sir, I am such an old sinner." Yea, but limit not God. "But I am such a black sinner." Limit not the efficacy of the cleansing blood. "But I have aggravated him so much." Limit not his infinite longsuffering. "But my heart is so hard." Limit not the melting power of his grace, "But I am so sinful." Limit not the potency of the atonement. "But, sir, I am so hard-hearted, and I feel so little my need of him." Limit not the influences of the Spirit by thy folly or thy stubbornness but come as thou art, and put thy trust in Christ, and so honor God and he will not dishonor thy faith.
If you will but now for half a moment consider how faithful God has been to his children and how true he has been to all his promises, I think that saint and sinner may stand together and make a common confession and utter a common prayer: "Lord, we have been guilty of doubting thee; we pray that we may limit thee no longer." Oh! remember, remember more and more God's Love and goodness to his ancient people, remember how he delivered them many a time, how he brought them out of Egypt with a high hand and an outstretched arm; think how he fed them in the wilderness, how he carried them all the days of old; remember his faithfulness to his covenant and to his servant Abraham, and say will he leave you, will he forget his covenant sealed with blood will he be unmindful of his promise, will he be slow to answer or slack to deliver? Scout the thought, drive it far away, and now come, and at the foot of the cross renew your faith; in the sight of the flowing wounds renew your confidence and say, "Jesus, we put our trust in thee; thy Father's grace can never fail, thou hast loved us, and thou wilt love us despite our sins, thou wilt present us at last before thy Father's face in glory everlasting."
III. And now, to conclude, I want your solemn attention while I address myself to a very small number of person here present, for whose sorrowful state I feel the greatest pity. It has been my mournful duty as pastor of so large a congregation, to have to deal with desperate cases. Here and there, there are men and women who have come into a state which, without meaning to wound them, I am free to confess I think, is sullen DESPAIR. They feel that they are guilty; they know that Christ is able to save; they also doctrinally understand the duty of faith, and its power to bring peace but they persevere in the declaration that there is no mercy for them. In vain you find out a parallel case; they soon discover some little discrepancy and so escape you. The most mighty promises lose all their force because they turn their edge by the declaration"That does not mean me." They read in the Word of God that "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners;" they are sinners, but they cannot think he came to save them. They know right well that he is able to save them to the uttermost; they would not say they had gone beyond the uttermost, but still they think so. They cannot imagine that free grace and sovereign love can ever come to them. They have, it is true, their gleams of sunshine, sometimes they believe, but when the comfortable presence of God is gone, they relapse into their old despair. Let me speak very tenderly, and O that the Spirit of God would speak also! My dear brother and sister, what art thou doing? I ask thee; what art thou doing?if thou art not limiting the Holy One of Israel? Wouldst thou dishonor God? "No," sayest thou, "I would not." But thou art doing it. Thou art saying that God cannot save thee, or if not saying that, thou art implyingthat all the torture thou hast felt in thy conscience, and all the anxiety thou hast in thy heart, have never yet moved God to look on thee. Why, thou makest God to be the most hard-hearted of all beings. If thou shouldst hear another groan as thou art groaning, thou wouldst weep over him; but thou thinkest that God looks on thee with cold indifference, and will never hear thy prayer. This is not only limitingit is slandering the Holy One of Israel. Oh, come forth, I beseech you, and dare to believe a good thing of thy God. Dare to believe this, that he is willing now to save theethat now he will put away thy sins. "But suppose, sir, I should believe something too good?" Nay, that thou canst not do. Think of God as being the most loving, the most tender-hearted being that can be, and thou hast thought just rightly of him. Think of him as having a mother's heart, that mourns over its sick babe; think of him as having a father's heart, pitying his children; think of him as having a husband's heart, loving his spouse and cherishing her, and thou hast just thought rightly of him. Think of him as being one who will not look on thy sins, but who casts them behind his back. Dare for once to give God a little honor. Come, put the crown on his head; say, "Lord, I am the vilest rebel out of hell, the most hard-hearted, the most full of blasphemous thoughts; I am the most wicked, the most abandoned; Lord let me have the honor now of being able to say, Thou art able to save even me; and on thy boundless love, thy great, thine infinite grace, do I rely." One of Charles Wesley's hymns, which I forget just now, has in it an expression something like thisLord, if there be a sinner in the world more needy than I am, then refuse me; if there be one more undeserving than I am, then cast me away; if there be one that needs grace and mercy, pity and compassion, more than I, then pass me by. "But, Lord," says he in his song, "thou knowest I the chief of sinners am, the vilest of the vile, the most hardened, and the most senseless, then, Lord, glorify thyself by showing to men, to angels, and to devils, what thy right hand can do. May the Holy Ghost enable thee now to come forth from the dungeon of despair, and no longer limit the Holy One of Israel.
I shall add no more, but leave the effect of this sermon with my God. May every one of us believe him better, and have greater thoughts of him, and never let us be guilty henceforth of confining, as it were, within iron bonds the limitless One of Israel.