Delivered on Sabbath Morning, January 1st, 1860, by the
"But the God of all grace who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you."1 Peter 5:10.
HE APOSTLE PETER TURNS from exhortation to prayer. He knew that if praying be the end of preaching in the hearer, preaching should always be accompanied by prayer in the minister. Having exhorted believers to walk stedfastly, he bends his knee and commends them to the guardian care of heaven, imploring upon them one of the largest blessings for which the most affectionate heart ever made supplication. The minister of Christ is intended to execute two offices for the people of his charge. He is to speak for God to them, and for them to God. The pastor hath not fulfilled the whole of his sacred commission when he hath declared the whole counsel of God. He hath then done but half. The other part is that which is to be performed in secret, when he carrieth upon his breast, like the priest of old, the wants, the sins, the trials of his people, and pleads with God for them. The daily duty of the Christian pastor is as much to pray for his people, as to exhort, instruct, and console. There are, however, special seasons when the minister of Christ finds himself constrained to pronounce an unusual benediction over his people. When one year of trial has gone and another year of mercy has commenced, we may be allowed to express our sincere congratulations that God has spared us, and our earnest invocations of a thousand blessings upon the heads of those whom God has committed to our pastoral charge.
Unskilful, weak, and apt to slide."
The benediction however of the apostle is one which I pray may be fulfilled in us whether we be young or old, but especially in those of you who have long known your Lord and Savior. You ought not now to be the subject of those doubts which vex the babe in grace. Those first principles should not always be laid again by you: but you should be going forward to something higher. You are getting near to heaven; oh, how is it that you have not got to the land Beulah yet? to that land which floweth with milk and honey? Surely your wavering in beseemeth those grey hairs. Methought they had been whitened with the sunlight of heaven. How is it that some of the sunlight does not gleam from your eyes? We who are young look up to you old-established Christians; and if we see you doubting, and hear you speaking with a trembling lip then we are exceedingly cast down. We pray for our sakes as well as for yours, that this blessing may be fulfilled in you, that you may be established; that you may no longer be exercised with doubt; that you may know your interest in Christ, that you may feel you are secure in him; that resting upon the rock of ages you may know that you cannot perish while your feet are fixed there. We do pray, in fact, for all, of whatever age, that our hope may be fixed upon nothing less than Jesu's blood and righteousness, and that it may be so firmly fixed that it may never shake; but that we may be as Mount Zion, which can never be removed, and which abideth for ever.
Thus have I remarked upon the second blessing of this benediction. But mark, we cannot have it until after we have suffered a while. We cannot be established except by suffering. It is of no use our hoping that we shall be well-rooted if no March winds have passed over us. The young oak cannot be expected to strike its roots so deep as the old one. Those old gnarlings on the roots, and those strange twistings of the branches, all tell of many storms that have swept over the aged tree. But they are also indicators of the depths into which the roots have dived; and they tell the woodman that he might as soon expect to rend up a mountain as to tear up that oak by the roots. We must suffer a while, then shall we be established.
3. Now for the third blessing, which is strengthening. Ah, brethren, this is a very necessary blessing too for all Christians. There be some whose characters seem to be fixed and established. But still they lack force and vigor. Shall I give you a picture of a Christian without strength? There he is. He has espoused the cause of King Jesus. He hath put on his armor; he hath enlisted in the heavenly host. Do you observe him? He is perfectly panoplied from head to foot, and he carries with him the shield of faith. Do you notice, too, how firmly he is established? He keeps his ground, and he will not be removed. But notice him. When he uses his sword it falls with feeble force. His shield, though he grasps it as firmly as his weakness will allow him, trembles in his grasp. There he stands, he will not move, but still how tottering is his position. His knees knock together with affright when he heareth the sound and the noise of war and tumult. What doth this man need? His will is right, his intention is right, and his heart is fully set upon good things. What doth he need? Why he needeth strength. The poor man is weak and childlike. Either because he has been fed on unsavoury and unsubstantial meat, or because of some sin which has straitened him, he has not that force and strength which ought to dwell in the Christian man. But once let the prayer of Peter be fulfilled to him, and how strong the Christian becomes. There is not in all the world a creature so strong as a Christian when God is with him. Talk of Behemoth! he is but as a little thing. His might is weakness when matched with the believer. Talk of Leviathan that maketh the deep to be hoary! he is not the chief of the ways of God. The true believer is mightier far than even he. Have you never seen the Christian when God is with him? He smelleth the battle afar off, and he cries in the midst of the tumult, "Aha! aha! aha!" He laugheth at all the hosts of his enemies. Or if you compare him to the Leviathanif he be cast into a sea of trouble, he lashes about him and makes the deep hoary with benedictions. He is not overwhelmed by the depths, nor is he afraid of the rocks; he has the protection of God about him, and the floods cannot drown him; nay, they become an element of delight to him, while by the grace of God he rejoiceth in the midst of the billows. If you want a proof of the strength of a Christian you have only to turn to history, and you can see there how believers have quenched the violence of fire, have shut the mouths of lions, have shaken their fists in the face of grim death, have laughed tyrants to scorn, and have put to flight the armies of aliens, by the all-mastering power of faith in God. I pray God, my brethren, that he may strengthen you this year.
The Christians of this age are very feeble things. It is a remarkable thing that the great mass of children now-a-days are born feeble. You ask me for the evidence of it. I can supply it very readily. You are aware that in the Church of England Liturgy it is ordered and ordained that all children should be immersed in baptism except those that are certified to be of a weakly state. Now, it were uncharitable to imagine that persons would be guilty of falsehood when they come up to what they think to be a sacred ordinance; and, therefore, as nearly all children are now sprinkled, and not immersed, I suppose they are born feeble. Whether that accounts for the fact that all Christians are so feeble I will not undertake to say, but certain it is that we have not many gigantic Christians now-a-days. Here and there we hear of one who seems to work all but miracles in these modern times, and we are astonished. Oh that ye had faith like these men! I do not think there is much more piety in England now than there used to be in the days of the Puritans. I believe there are far more pious men; but while the quantity has been multiplied, I fear the quality has been depreciated. In those days the stream of grace ran very deep indeed. Some of those old Puritans, when we read of their devotion, and of the hours they spent in prayer, seem to have as much grace as any hundred of us. The stream ran deep. But now-a-days the banks are broken down, and great meadows have been flooded therewith. So far so good. But while the surface has been enlarged I fear the depth has been frightfully diminished. And this may account for it, that while our piety has become shallow our strength has become weak. Oh, may God strengthen you this year! But remember, if he does do so, you will then have to suffer. "After that ye have suffered a while," may he strengthen you. There is sometimes an operation performed upon horses which one must consider to be cruelthe firing of them to make their tendons strong. Now, every Christian man before he can be strengthened must be fired. He must have his nerves and tendons braced up with the hot iron of affliction. He will never become strong in grace, unless it be after he has suffered a while.
4. And now I come to the last blessing of the four"Settling." I will not say that this last blessing is greater than the other three, but it is a stepping-stone to each; and strange to say, if is often the result of a gradual attainment of the three preceding ones. "Settle you!" Oh, how many there are that are never settled. The tree which should be transplanted every week would soon die. Nay, if it were moved, no matter how skilfully, once every year, no gardener would expect fruit from it. How many Christians there be that are transplanting themselves constantly, even as to their doctrinal sentiments. There be some who generally believe according to the last speaker; and there be others who do not know what they do believe, but they believe almost anything that is told them. The spirit of Christian charity, so much cultivated in these days, and which we all love so much, has, I fear, assisted in bringing into the world a species of latitudinarianism; or in other words, men have come to believe that it does not matter what they do believe; that although one minister says it is so, and the other says it is not so; yet we are both right; that though we contradict each other flatly, yet we are both correct. I know not where men have had their judgments manufactured, but to my mind it always seems impossible to believe a contradiction. I can never understand how contrary sentiments can both of them be in accordance with the Word of God, which is the standard of truth. But yet there be some who are like the weathercock upon the church steeple, they will turn just as the wind blows. As good Mr. Whitfield said, "You might as well measure the moon for a suit of clothes as tell their doctrinal sentiments," for they are always shifting and ever changing. Now, I pray that this may be taken away from any of you, if this be your weakness, and that you may be settled. Far from us be bigotry removed; yet would I have the Christian know what he believes to be true and then stand to it. Take your time in weighing the controversy, but when you have once decided, be not easily moved. Let God be true though every man be a liar, and stand to it, that what is according to God's Word one day cannot be contrary to it another day, that what was true in Luther's day and Calvin's day must be true now; that falsehoods may shift, for they have a Protean shape; but the truth is one, and indivisible, and evermore the same. Let others think as they please. Allow the greatest latitude to others, but to yourself allow none. Stand firm and steadfast by that which ye have been taught, and ever seek the spirit of the apostle Paul, "If any man preach any other gospel than that which we have received, let him be accursed." If, however, I wished you to be firm in your doctrines, my prayer would be that you may be especially settled in your faith. You believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God, and you rest in him. But sometimes your faith wavers, then you lose your joy and comfort. I pray that your faith may become so settled that it may never be a matter of question with you, whether Christ is yours or not, but that you may say confidently, "I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him." Then I pray that you may be settled in your aims and designs. There are many Christian people who get a good idea into their heads, but they never carry it out, because they ask some friend what he thinks of it. "Not much," says he. Of course he does not. Whoever did think much of anybody else's idea? And at once the person who conceived it gives it up, and the work is never accomplished. How many a man in his ministry has begun to preach the gospel, and he has allowed some member of the church, some deacon possibly, to pull him by one ear, and he has gone a little that way. By-and-bye, some other brother has thought fit to pull him in the other direction. The man has lost his manliness. He has never been settled as to what he ought to do; and now he becomes a mere lacquey, waiting upon everybody's opinion, willing to adopt whatever anybody else conceives to be right. Now, I pray you be settled in your aims. See what niche it is that God would have you occupy. Stand in it, and don't be got out of it by all the laughter that comes upon you. If you believe God has called you to a work, do it. If men will help you thank them. If they will not, tell them to stand out of your road or be run over. Let nothing daunt you. He who will serve his God must expect sometimes to serve him alone. Not always shall we fight in the ranks. There are times when the Lord's David must fight Goliath singly, and must take with him three stones out of the brook amid the laughter of his brethren, yet still in his weapons is he confident of victory through faith in God. Be not moved from the work to which God has put you. Be not weary in well-doing, for in due season ye shall reap if ye faint not. Be ye settled. Oh, may God fulfill this rich blessing to you.
But you will not be settled unless you suffer. You will become settled in your faith and settled in your aims by suffering. Men are soft molluscous animals in these days. We have not the tough men that know they are right and stand to it. Even when a man is wrong one does admire his conscientiousness when he stands up believing that he is right and dares to face the frowns of the world. But when a man is right, the worst thing he can have is inconstancy, vacillation, the fear of men. Hurl it from thee O knight of the holy cross, and be firm if thou wouldst be victorious. Faint heart never stormed a city yet, and thou wilt never win nor be crowned with honor, if thy heart be not steeled against every assault and if thou be not settled in thy intention to honor thy Master and to win the crown.
Thus have I run through the benediction.
II. I come now, asking your attention for a few minutes more, to observe THE REASONS WHY THE APOSTLE PETER EXPECTED THAT HIS PRAYER WOULD BE HEARD. He asked that they might be made perfect, stablished, strengthened, settled. Did not Unbelief whisper in Peter's ear, "Peter, thou askest too much. Thou wast always headstrong. Thou didst say 'Bid me come upon the water.' Surely, this is another instance of thy presumption. If thou hadst said, 'Lord, make them holy,' had it not been a sufficient prayer? Hast thou not asked too much?" "No," saith Peter; and he replies to Unbelief, "I am sure I shall receive what I have asked for; for I am in the first place asking it of the God of all gracethe God of all grace." Not the God of the little graces we have received already alone, but the God of the great boundless grace which is stored up for us in the promise, but which as yet we have not received in our experience. "The God of all grace;" of quickening grace, of convincing grace, of pardoning grace, of believing grace, the God of comforting, supporting, sustaining grace. Surely, when we come to him we cannot come for too much. If he be the God, not of one grace, or of two graces, but of all graces, if in him there is stored up an infinite, boundless, limitless supply, how can we ask too much, even though we ask that we may be perfect? Believer, when you are on your knees, remember you are going to a king. Let your petitions be large. Imitate the example of Alexander's courtier, who when he was told he might have whatever he chose to ask as a reward for his valor, asked a sum of money so large that Alexander's treasurer refused to pay it until he had first seen the monarch. When he saw the monarch, he smiled and said, "It is true it is much for him to ask, but it is not much for Alexander to give. I admire him for his faith in me; let him have all he asks for." And dare I ask that I may be perfect, that my angry temper may be taken away, my stubbornness removed, my imperfections covered? May I ask that I may be like Adam in the gardennay more, as pure and perfect as God himself? May I ask, that one day I may tread the golden streets, and "With my Savior's garments on, holy as the holy one," stand in the mid-blaze of God's glory, and cry, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" Yes, I may ask it; and I shall have it, for he is the God of all grace.
Look again at the text, and you see another reason why Peter expected that his prayer would be heard:"The God of all grace who hath called us." Unbelief might have said to Peter, "Ah, Peter, it is true that God is the God of all grace, but he is as a fountain shut up, as waters sealed." "Ah," saith Peter, "get thee hence Satan, thou savourest not the things that be of God. It is not a sealed fountain of all grace, for it has begun to flow""The God of all grace hath called us." Calling is the first drop of mercy that trickleth into the thirsty lip of the dying man. Calling is the first golden link of the endless chain of eternal mercies. Not the first in order of time with God, but the first in order of time with us. The first thing we know of Christ in his mercy, is that he cries, "Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden," and that by his sweet Spirit he addresses us, so that we obey the call and come to him. Now, mark, if God has called me, I may ask him to stablish and keep me; I may ask that as year rolls after year my piety may not die out, I may pray that the bush may burn, but not be consumed, that the barrel of meal may not waste, and the cruse of oil may not fail. Dare I ask that to life's latest hour I may be faithful to God, because God is faithful to me? Yes, I may ask it, and I shall have it too: because the God that calls, will give the rest. "For whom he did foreknow, them he did predestinate; and whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified." Think of thy calling Christian, and take courage, "For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." If he has called thee he will never repent of what he has done, nor cease to bless or cease to save.
But I think there is a stronger reason coming yet:"The God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory." Hath God called thee, my hearer? Dost thou know to what he has called thee? He called thee first into the house of conviction, where he made thee feel thy sin. Again he called thee to Calvary's summit, where thou didst see thy sin atoned for and thy pardon sealed with precious blood. And now he calls thee. And whither away? I hear a voice to-dayunbelief tells me that there is a voice calling me to Jordan's waves. Oh, unbelief! it is true that through the stormy billows of that sea my soul must wade. But the voice comes not from the depths of the grave, it comes from the eternal glory. There where Jehovah sits resplendent on his throne, surrounded by cherubim and seraphim, from that brightness into which angels dare not gaze, I hear a voice:"Come unto me, thou blood-washed sinner, come unto my eternal glory." O heavens! is not this a wondrous call?to be called to glorycalled to the shining streets and pearly gatescalled to the harps and to the songs of eternal happinessand better still, called to Jesu's bosomcalled to his Father's facecalled, not to eternal glory, but to HIS eternal glorycalled to that very glory and honor with which God invests himself for ever? And now, beloved, is any prayer too great after this? Has God called me to heaven, and is there anything on earth he will deny me? If he has called me to dwell in heaven is not perfection necessary for me? May I not therefore ask for it? If he has called me to glory, is it not necessary that I should be strengthened to fight my way thither? May I not ask for strengthening? Nay, if there be a mercy upon earth too great for me to think of, too large for me to conceive, too heavy for my language to carry it before the throne in prayer, he will I do for me exceeding abundantly above what I can ask, or even I can think. I know he will, because he has called me to his eternal glory.
The last reason why the apostle expected that his benediction would be fulfilled was this: "Who hath called us to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus." It is a singular fact that no promise is ever so sweet to the believer as those in which the name of Christ is mentioned. If I have to preach a comforting sermon to desponding Christians, I would never select a text which did not enable me to lead the desponding one to the cross. Does it not seem too much to you, brethren and sisters, this morning, that the God of all grace should be your God? Does it not surpass your faith that he should actually have called you? Do you not sometimes doubt as to whether you were called at all? And when you think of eternal glory, does not the question arise, "Shall I ever enjoy it? Shall I ever see the face of God with acceptance?" Oh, beloved, when ye hear of Christ, when you know that this grace comes through Christ, and the calling through Christ, and the glory through Christ, then you say, "Lord, I can believe it now, if it is through Christ." It is not a hard thing to believe that Christ's blood was sufficient to purchase every blessing for me. If I go to God's treasury without Christ, I am afraid to ask for anything, but when Christ is with me I can then ask for everything. For sure I think he deserves it though I do not. If I can claim his merits then I am not afraid to plead. Is perfection too great a boon for God to give to Christ? Oh, no. Is the keeping, the stability, the preservation of the blood-bought ones too great a reward for the terrible agonies and sufferings of the Savior? I trow not. Then we may with confidence plead, because everything comes through Christ.
I would in concluding make this remark. I wish, my brothers and sisters, that during this year you may live nearer to Christ than you have ever done before. Depend upon it, it is when we think much of Christ that we think little of ourselves, little of our troubles, and little of the doubts and fears that surround us. Begin from this day, and may God help you. Never let a single day pass over your head without a visit to the garden of Gethsemane, and the cross on Calvary. And as for some of you who are not saved, and know not the Redeemer, I would to God that this very day you would come to Christ. I dare say you think coming to Christ is some terrible thing: that you need to be prepared before you come; that he is hard and harsh with you. When men have to go to a lawyer they need to tremble; when they have to go to the doctor they may fear; though both those persons, however unwelcome, may be often necessary. But when you come to Christ, you may come boldly. There is no fee required; there is no preparation necessary. You may come just as you are. It was a brave saying of Martin Luther's, when he said, "I would run into Christ's arms even if he had a drawn sword in his hand." Now, he has not a drawn sword, but he has his wounds in his hands. Run into his arms, poor sinner. "Oh," you say, "May I come?" How can you ask the question? you are commanded to come. The great command of the gospel is, "Believe on the Lord Jesus." Those who disobey this command disobey God. It is as much a command of God that man should believe on Christ, as that we should love our neighbor. Now, what is a command I have certainly a right to obey. There can be no question you see; a sinner has liberty to believe in Christ because he is told to do so. God would not have told him to do a thing which he must not do. You are allowed to believe. "Oh," saith one, "that is all I want to know. I do believe that Christ is able to save to the uttermost. May I rest my soul on him, and say, sink or swim, most blessed Jesus, thou art my Lord?" May do it! man? Why you are commanded to do it. Oh that you may be enabled to do it. Remember, this is not a thing which you will do at a risk. The risk is in not doing it. Cast yourself on Christ, sinner. Throw away every other dependence and rest alone on him. "No," says one, "I am not prepared." Prepared! sir? Then you do not understand me. There is no preparation needed; it is, just as you are. "Oh, I do not feel my need enough." I know you do not. What has that to do with it? You are commanded to cast yourself on Christ. Be you never so black or never so bad, trust to him. He that believeth on Christ shall be saved, be his sins never so many, he that believeth not must be damned be his sins never so few. The great command of the gospel is, "Believe." "Oh," but saith one, "am I to say I know that Christ died for me?" Ah, I did not say that, you shall learn that by-and-bye. You have nothing to do with that question now, your business is to believe on Christ and trust him; to cast yourself into his hands. And may God the Spirit now sweetly compel you to do it. Now, sinner, hands off your own righteousness. Drop all idea of becoming better through your own strength. Cast yourself flat on the promise. Say
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bid'st me come to thee;
Oh, Lamb of God! I come, I come."
You cannot trust in Christ and find him still deceive you.
Now, have I made myself plain? If there were a number of persons here in debt, and if I were to say, "If you will simply trust to me your debts shall be paid, and no creditor shall ever molest you," you would understand me directly. How is it you cannot comprehend that trusting in Christ will remove all your debts, take away all your sins, and you shall be saved eternally. Oh, Spirit of the living God, open the understanding to receive, and the heart to obey, and may many a soul here present cast itself on Christ. On all such, as on all believers, do I again pronounce the benediction, with which I shall dismiss you. "May the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you!"