The Northern Iron and the Steel
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"Shall iron break the northern iron and the steel?"Jeremiah 15:12.
HE prophet Jeremiah was, as we saw upon a former occasion, a man of exquisitely sensitive character; not a prophet of iron, like Elijah, but nearer akin to him who was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He lived in times which were peculiarly trying to him, and in addition was called to exercise an office which involved him in perpetual sorrow. He loved the people among whom he dwelt, yet was he commissioned by God to pronounce judgments upon them; this in itself was a hard task to such a nature as his. As a loving father, fearful of Eli's doom, uses the rod upon his child, but feels each stroke in his own heart far more acutely than the child does upon his back, so every threatening word which the prophet uttered lashed his own soul, and cost his heart the direst panics. He went, however, to his work with unstaggering firmness; hopeful, perhaps, that when his countrymen heard the divine threatening, they would repent of their sin, seek mercy, and find it. Surely if anything can add weight to the prophecy of the judgments of God, it is the trembling love, the anxious fear with which such a messenger as Jeremiah would deliver his warning. The deep sorrow of him who warned them ought to have driven the sinful nation to a speedier repentance; instead of which they rejected his warnings, they despised his person, and defied his God. As they thus heaped wrath upon themselves, they also increased his sorrow. He was a delicate, sensitive plant, and felt an inward shudder as he marked the tempest gathering overhead. Though a most loyal servant of his God, he was sometimes very trembling, and though he never ventured, like Jonah, to flee unto Tarshish, yet he cried in the bitterness of hie soul, "O that I had in the wilderness a lodging-place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them!" The Jews treated him so harshly and unjustly, that he feared they would break his heart; they smote him ae with an iron rod, and he felt like one crushed beneath their unkindness. To silence his fear, the Lord assures him that he will renew his strength. "Behold," saith he, "I have made thee this day a defenced city and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee." Thus the Lord promised to his servant the divine support which his trials demanded He never did and never will place a man in a trying position and then leave him to perish. David dealt thus treacherously with Uriah, but the Lord acts not thus with his servants. If the rebellious seed of Israel were iron, the Lord declared that his prophet should be hardened by sustaining grace into northern iron and steel. If they beat upon him like hammers on an anvil, he should be made of such strong, enduring texture, that he should be able to resist all their blows. Iron in the olden times amongst the Israelites was very coarsely manufactured, but the best was the iron from the north. So bad was their iron generally, that an admixture of brass, which among us would be thought rather to deteriorate the hardness, was regarded as an improvement; so the Lord puts it, "Shall ironthe common ironbreak the most firm and best prepared iron?" It cannot do so: and if the people acted like iron against Jeremiah, God would make his spirit indomitably firm, that they should no more be able to put him down than common iron could break the northern iron and the steel.
Of heart or hope, but still bear up and steer
Such a man "plucks success even from the spear-proof crest of rugged danger." The well-annealed steel within him ere long breaks in shivers the common iron which strikes him so severely. To him, to overcome by grace is glory indeed.
Some of the greatest works that were ever performed by Christian people were not immediate in their results. The husbandman has waited long for the precious fruits of the earth. The question has been asked, again and again, "Watchman, what of the night?" Some, no doubt, have had to labor all their lives, and have bequeathed to their heirs the promise whose fulfillment they had not personally seen. They laid the underground courses of the temple, and others entered into their labors. You know the story of the removal of old St. Paul's by Sir Christopher Wren. A very massive piece of masonry had to be broken down, and the task, by pick and shovel, would have been a very tedious one, so the great architect prepared a battering-ram for its removal, and a large number of workmen were directed to strike with force against the wall with the ram. After several hours of labor, the wall, to all appearances, stood fast and firm. Their many strokes had been apparently lost, but the architect knew that they were gradually communicating motion to the wall, creating an agitation throughout the whole of it, and that, by-and-by, when they had continued long enough, the entire mass would come down beneath a single stroke. The workmen, no doubt, attributed the result to the one crowning concussion, but their master knew that their previous strokes had only culminated in that one tremendous blow and that all the nonresultant work had been necessary to prepare for the stroke which achieved the purpose. O Christian people, do not expect always to see the full outgrowth of your labors! Go on, serve your God, testify of his truth, tell of Jesus' love, pray for sinners, live a godly life, serve God with might and main, and if no harvest spring up to your joyous sickle, others shall follow you and reap what you have sown, and since God will be glorified, it shall be enough for you. Let no amount of nonsuccess daunt you. Be uneasy about it, but do not be discouraged; let not even this iron break the resolution of your soul; let your determination to honor Jesus be as the northern iron and the steel.
I might thus enlarge, but I have so many other things to speak of, that I shall pass on. The pith of what I want to say is this: if any dear brother here, as a Christian, is put to very severe trials, he may depend upon it there is nothing that happens to him but what is common to men, and that there is grace enough to be had to enable him to bear up under all. There is no need for any one soldier of God to turn his back in the day of battle. It is not right that any one of us should consider himself doomed to be defeated. The Holy Spirit giveth power to the weak, and lifts the common warriors into the ranks of the mightiest. Fulness of grace is provided for us in Christ Jesus, and if we draw from it by faith we shall not need to fail. Let us not be slow to arm ourselves with the divine might. Let us ask the Captain of our salvation to make us as tough in the day of battle as the northern iron was beneath the blow of the common iron; that having done and suffered all, we may still stand, and none may be able to rob us of our crown.
II. But we shall now make a second use of this same proverb. It is applicable to the cause of God in the worldto THE CHURCH. I shall speak but little upon this, for time would fail me. What power, however like to iron, shall suffice to break the kingdom of Jesus, which is comparable to steel? We every now and then hear the babyish talk of persons who say that the gospel will die out in Englandthat Romanism will return in all its darkness, gospel light will be extinguished, and the candle which Latimer helped to light will be blown out. Atrocious nonsense, if not partial blasphemy. If this thing were of men it would come to nought; but if it be of God, who shall overthrow it? It has sometimes happened that fear has been the father of the thing it feared: let it not be so in this case; let us not court defeat by anticipating it. As surely as the Lord liveth the end of the Romish Anti-Christ will come, and the long-expected angel shall cry with a loud voice, "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird." "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her." Revelation 18:2, 20. Other desponding prophets foretell that infidelity will so spread through all the churches and the fabric of society, that at last we shall see this country without a gospel ministry, and perhaps, through the spread of revolutionary principles, bereft of all respect for law and order. We are to go down by way of Paris to the foulness of Sodom, and thence into Pandemonium. Brethren, let those who will believe these evil tidings, I am not greatly moved thereby; for there are eternal principles and immutable decrees which uphold my joyful hopes. Consider for a moment what is involved in these gloomy forebodings. Then the gates of hell are to prevail against the church, are they? Then Christ is to be defeated by anti-Christ, is he? Then the pleasure of the Lord is not to prosper in his hand? Who said that? Who but a lying spirit that would lay low the faith and confidence of the people of God? It is no more possible for the truth of God and the church of God to be defeated, than for God himself to be overcome in conflict. Lo! Jehovah girds his church like a buckler on his arm: this is his battle-axe; this his weapons of war; and if you can wrench from his hand the weapons of his choice, then may you lift up the shout of triumph over the Eternal himself. But it never can be, for who shall stand against the Lord and prosper? My brethren, we may well fear the crafty machinations of the church of Rome, for all the subtlety of the old serpent is within her; but with the wisdom of God to meet it, there can be no alarm. He taketh the wise in their own craftiness: there is no device nor counsel against the Lord. We may well be dismayed at the insidious attacks of scepticism; but while there remains a Holy Ghost to create and sustain faith in the world, we need not fear that the faithful will utterly cease out of the land. The thousands will still be reserved whose knees have never bowed to Baal. Infidelity and Socinianism have ready tongues, but every tongue that rises against the church in judgment she will condemn. The forges of hell are busy in fashioning new weapons with which to assail us, but the Lord will break their bows and cut their spears in sunder. They may and will defeat the dogmas of superstition, but the truths of revelation and the people who believe them they can never overthrow. The iron will never break the northern iron and the steel. The church can bear the blows of Ritualism and Infidelity, and survive them all, and be the better for them too. See what the cause of Christ is. It is truth: therein is victory. Who knows not that the truth must prevail? There is in the church of God, moreover, life, and life is a thing you cannot overcome. A dead thing may be cut in pieces, and strewn to the winds of heaven; but the life in Christ's church is that which has defied and overcome Satan a thousand times already. In the dark ages the enemy thought he had destroyed the church, but life came into the monk in his cell, and Luther shook the world. The church in England fell into a deadly slumber in the days of Whitfield and Wesley; but she was not dead, and therefore a time of awakening came. The flame burned low but the heavenly fire still lingered among the ashes, and only needed the Holy Spirit to blow upon it, and cause a hallowed conflagration. Six young men in Oxford were found guilty of meeting to pray: their offense was contagious, and soon there sprang up hundreds glorying in the same blessed crime. Earnest servants of the living God were forthcoming and no man knew whence they came; like the buds and blossoms which come forth at the bidding of spring, a people made willing in the day of God's power came forward at once. Seeing that there is life in the church of God, you can never calculate what will happen within its bounds to-morrow, for life is an unaccountable thing, and scorns the laws which bind the formal and inanimate. The statues in St. Paul's Cathedral stand fixed on their pedestals, and the renowned dead in Westminster Abbey never raise a riot; but who can tell what the living may next conceive or attempt? Men have said: "We will put down the troublesome religion of these gospellers. Build prisons enough, forge chains enough, make racks enough, concoct tortures infernal enough, slay enough victims, and stamp out the plague." But their designs have never been accomplished. They hatched the cockatrice's egg, but that which came of it died. They burnt the gospel out in Spain, did they not? And in the Low Countries they erased the memory thereof. How is it now? Has not Spain achieved her liberty at a blow? Is not also Belgium free to the preacher of the word? Not even Italy or Rome itself is safe against the obnoxious heretic. Everywhere the gospel penetrates. Even the earth helps the woman, and swallows up the flood which the dragon casts out of his mouth to drown the man child: political rulers restrain the violence of those who otherwise would slay the saints in one general massacre. It shall be so, right on through all the ages till Christ comesthe iron shall not break the northern iron and the steel. Glory be to God, we have confidence in this, and in the name of God we set up our banner. This, too, is a pleasing theme; but we must leave it and pass on to another.
III. We may apply the principle to a very different matter indeedTHE SELF-RIGHTEOUS EFFORTS WHICH MEN MAKE FOR THEIR OWN SALVATION. We may remind them that the iron will never break the northern iron and the steel. The bonds of guilt are not to be snapped by a merely human power. Here is a man with the fetters of his transgressions about him, but "he will get them off," he says: prayer shall be his file; tears shall be the aquafortis to dissolve the metal, and his own resolutions shall, like a hammer, dash the links in fragments. But it cannot be: the iron shall never break this northern iron and the steel. Habits of sin yield not to raspings of the unregenerate resolves. You are condemned, and only Christ the Son of God can set you free from the fetters which hold you in the condenmed cell. All your efforts apart from Jesus are utterly useless. He must bring libertyyou cannot emancipate yourselves. You say that you will break off the chains of evil habit. There are some you can break off, but can you alter your nature? "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?" That were an easy task compared with a man renewing his own heart. The imaginations of the thoughts of your heart are evil, only evil, and that continually, and do what you will they will remain so. The dead cannot give themselves life: it needs superior power to hew off the fetters which hold you prisoner in the sepulcher of your natural death. Your iron can never break the northern iron and the steel which bind you to the slavery of hell. Do you think to force your way to heaven by ceremony? Do you imagine that baptism can wash away your sin, that confirmation can convey to you grace, that outward ceremonies of man's devising, or of God's instituting can deliver you from wrath? Believe no such thing; there is no potency in all these to deliver you from the bonds which hold you. The iron cannot break the northern iron and the steel. Come, sinner, with thy fetters, and day thy Christ here at the cross-foot, where Christ can break the iron at once. Come, bring thyself, chained as thou art, to him, or if thou canst not stir an inch, cry out to him! Ask him to deliver thee! He can do it. Trust in him, for trust in his precious blood and reliance upon his perfect sacrifice will make thee a free man in a moment, never to be a bondslave again. But, oh, let not thy puny strength be wasted on so futile an effort as that which aims at self-salvation; how shall weakness achieve the labor of omnipotence, or death accomplish the sublimes miracle of the Immortal? Remember the work of salvation think how great it is, how worthy of a God; and then cease utterly from all self-reliance, for it is madness and blasphemy. Where were the need of the Holy Ghost, if you could regenerate yourself? Where would there be room for a display of the power of sovereign grace, if man's will and effort could accomplish all? But I leave that topic, also, and pass on to another consideration.
IV. This same text is applicable to the case of any persons who are making SELF-RELIANT EFFORTS FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS. How painfully are we made to feel, my brethren, after every series of our special services at this Tabernacle, that we of ourselves can do nothing! How are we driven to the conclusion that it is not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of God, and by the Spirit of God alone! Man's heart is very hard; it is like the northern iron and the steel. Our preachingwe try to make it forcible, but how powerless is it of itself! The preacher seeks goodly words and illustrations; he brings forth the law of God, he gives forth threatenings in God's name; he reasons concerning judgment to come, and flinches not from declaring the eternal punishment of sin; he preaches the love of God, and the infinite mercy of Christ Jesus, and he blends all this with an affection which longs for conversion, and he prays for God's blessing; but in many many hearts there is no change, the northern iron and the steel remain unmovable. We call spirits from the vasty deep of their lost estate, but they come not at our bidding. We plead with sinners to be reconciled to God, and we beseech them as though God himself besought them by us; but they remain unreconciled; they are even the more obdurate in iniquity. The cries and tears of a Whitfield would not avail. Though all the apostles reasoned with them they would turn to them a deaf ear. Herein the best adapted means cannot break the northern iron and the steel. With some of you an instrumentality has been used which ought to have been more prolific of results. A mother's tears, to your knowledge, have been shed for you. How affectionately has she spoken to you of the Savior, whom she loves: but powerful as your mother's pleadings would be on any other point, you reject them in the matter of your soul. How would it make you gray-headed man, your father, rejoice if he might see you saved! In other matters this also would have weight with you, but it has none in this. You have had the gospel, too, some of you, put to you very, very tenderly by those whom you love best, but you are unsaved still. There could be no better means than human love sanctified and strengthened by indwelling grace; it has been strong as iron, and would have broken any ordinary heart, but it has not crushed yours, for it is hard as the northern iron and the steel. Ay, and you have been sick; you have been stretched upon the bed with fever, within a hair's breadth of hell; or you have been at sea, and escaped as with the skin of your teeth from shipwreck; but even the judgments of God have not aroused you. The iron has not broken the northern iron and the steel. This month, to some of you, there have been addresses delivered pointedly, plaintively, which should have moved a rock. I have been present at some of the meetings, when I have heard certain of our brethren speak in a way that made me inwardly say, "Surely these careless ones will yield to that." There has been much sighing and crying for your souls; and you have been spoken with personally, many of you; a kind hand has been put upon your wrist, and with tearful eye, brother and sister have looked into your face, and told you of your danger and of your remedy. Oh I if this does not save you, what will? "What shall I do unto thee?" "O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee?" What other instrumentality can be employed? The iron will not break the northern iron and the steel. Children of God, you are driven to this, that here is a case in which you are powerless. You might as well reverse the wind, or move a star, or create a world, as soften these hardened hearts. What are you then to do? Certainly, you are to continue the effort; nothing must tempt you to relinquish it, or even to relax your zeal. If you cannot break the heart, truly it is no business of yours to do so; commit that work to him who is fully equal to the miracle, keep to your work, and fear not that the Lord will work with you. God bids you continue prayer, warning instruction, and invitation. If you knew that every soul you preached to or talked with would be lost, it were no less your duty to preach the gospel; for the duty to tell out the gospel is not influenced by our success, but is based upon the commission of Christ: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." It is not Ezekiel's duty to make the dry bones live; but whether they live or not, it is his duty to prophesy upon them. Noah was none the less a preacher of righteousness because none, save his own family, listened to his appeals and sought shelter with him in the ark. Go on with your work; but let a sense of your personal inability make you fall back upon your God. Let it keep you from one self-reliant prayer or word, much more from one self-confident sermon or address. Every time we try to do good in our own strength, the effort bears the certainty of defeat in its own bowels. You shoot pointless darts; you wield a blunted sword when you go to work for God without God. It is only when we go in God's power that we can save souls. "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain." Lo, spiritual children are a heritage of the Lord, and the fruit of our soul's womb is his reward. Feel your weakness, my brethren, and then you shall know your strength. Go to the sinner in God's strength, and then shall you see the divine operation; but certainly not till then. What a blessing it has been to some of us at times to be made to lie very low in the dust, and see what unworthy creatures we are! I have often noticed that when God intends to give a great blessing upon my ministry, and to let me know it, he usually makes me feel as if I had rather die than dive, because I feel myself so utterly unworthy to preach his word, and am made to bemoan my wretched unfitness to be used at all by my gracious Master. Let the stone lie in the brook, and let it be rounded, and made smooth by trituration of the waterit will do nothing of itself; but when it has been worn away enough by the brook, and David slings it, and smites the giant's brow, the stone cannot say, "I slew the giant by my own force;" but all men will give glory to the champion who hurled it at the giant's forehead. Yes, God will have the glory, and he will take means to prevent us from usurping it. He will make us feel that the iron cannot break the northern iron and the steel, and then he will send us forth to victory. Truly my inmost heart confesses that if one heart has been won for my Lord Jesus by me, I am less than nothing in it, and he is all in all. My soul dares not touch the glory, but loathes every thought of self-praise. He hath done it, and to him be everlasting songs.
V. But now I must closetime warns me to do soby remarking that this text has A VERY SOLEMN APPLICATION TO ALL THOSE WHO ARE REBELS AGAINST GOD. Men sometimes think themselves of very great consequence. I spoke with one some years ago who had professed to be a Christian, who addressed me very indignantly after some little argument, and said that ere long he intended to produce a pamphlet which would extinguish Christianity. I remember making the remark, that I dared to say that the world would hear as much about it as when a fly fell into a pail of water and was drowned, and not much more. And then he was more indignant still; but I told him I had seen many a moth dash against my gas-burner in the evening, but I had never seen the light put out, though I had seen the wretched insect fall with singed wings upon my table, to suffer for its fatal folly; and I feared that such a fate would happen to him. So rest assured it will be to you, O blasphemer of God, or hater of his Christ. Fight against God, would you? Measure your adversary, I charge you. The wax is about to wrestle with the flame: the tow is about to contend with the fire. It is too unequal a warfare. If you are wise, you will select another adversary, and not attempt to go to war with the omnipotent King, with such a puny force as yours. "Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?" You may be like iron: go and break the potsherds of the earth; they are fair game for you; but do not contend against the northern iron and the steel, for these will break you. You will not be able to deprive Christ of a single atom of his glory. You may blaspheme, but even that shall, somehow or other by a holy alchemy, be turned to his glory. You cannot thwart his decrees. The great wheels of his providence grind on, and woe to him who throws himself in their track; they will surely grind him to powder. The huge Matterhorn lilts its colossal head above the clouds. Who will may speak against it; but it bows not its giant form; and no matter what of snow and sleet may dash against its ramparts, there it stands, still the same; emblem herein of the great throne of the Eternal, firm and immutable, though all the universe storm at its foot. To resist God is to strike with naked feet against a goad. "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." You will hurt yourself; you cannot injure him, nor change his purposes by so much as the turning of a hair. God will have his way: None shall resist his will. Everlasting and eternal are his decrees; and fast and fixed they ever must remain, though all earth and hell should unite in one great conspiracy. He thrusts a bit into the tempest's mouth, and rides upon the wings of the wind. Confusion there is none to him. Adversaries, what are they? They are utterly consumed as the stubble. But take ye heed that God come not out against you, ye who are rebels; for if he once put on the war-harness and fight against you, woe unto you! Have you not heard? Hath no one told you of the arrows of his quiver? They are sharp, heart-piercing, infallible. Sickness can shake you till every nerve shall become a road for pain to carry on its dreadful traffic. Poverty can come upon you, and want, like an armed man. Death shall strike down ail your lovers, and your acquaintances shall sink into the abyss. Let God but come forth in judgment against a man, or a people, and what can he not do? Look at the nation across the Channel, and see how God hath dealt with it. Turn to any other nation against whom his fiat has gone forth, and read the story of its overthrow. What can emperors do, and what their imperial guards, and what their novel instruments of war, and what their death-dealing machines, that were to mow down thousands in an hour? He that sitteth in the heavens doth laugh; the Lord doth have them in derision. He hath broken the bow and cut the spear in sunder; he hath burned the chariot in the fire. Contend no more against the Almighty: put back thy sword into the scabbard, and submit thyself to the inevitable; for remember, ere long, O rebel against God, he will deal with thee in another fashion than he doth now. Let that breath which is in thy nostrils go forth from thee, and where art thou then? I will quote one passage of Scripture and leave it to your thoughts. "Beware, ye that forget God"that is, the very mildest form of rebellion"Beware, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver." O may you never know what that means! Cast down your weapons. Come now, and ask for reconciliation. The ambassador of peace invites you. I point you no longer to his burning throne, but to yonder cross. See there God in human fleshbleeding, suffering, dying. Those wounds are fountains of mercy. Look to them, and you shall live. Wrath is appeased by the death of Jesus. Fury is no more in Jehovah! Trust in Jesus, the crucified, and your transgression shall be forgiven you. That precious blood shall make reconciliation: there shall be peace between you and God; but O resist no longer, for the iron cannot break the northern iron and the steel.
The Lord bless you for Jesus' sake. Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMONIsaiah 40. 9-31.