The Centurion: Or, an Exhortation to the Virtuous

By / Jun 22

The Centurion: Or, an Exhortation to the Virtuous

 

“And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this: for he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue. Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go. and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”—Luke 7:4-9.

 

THIS centurion certainly had a high reputation. Two features of character blend in him which do not often meet in such graceful harmony. He won the high opinion of others and yet he held a low estimation of himself. There are some who think little of themselves; and they are quite correct in their feelings, as all the world would endorse the estimate of their littleness. Others there are who think great things of themselves; but the more they are known, the less they are praised; and the higher they shall carry their heads, the more shall the world laugh them to scorn. Nor is it unusual for men to think great things of themselves because the world commends or flatters them; so they robe themselves with pride and cloak themselves with vanity, because they have by some means, either rightly or wrongly, won the good opinion of others. There are very few who have the happy combination of the text. The elders say of the centurion, that he is worthy; but he says of himself, “Lord, I am not worthy!” They commend mend him for building God a house; but he thinks that he is not worthy that Christ should come under the roof of his house. They plead his merit; but he pleads his demerit. Thus he appeals to the power of Christ, apart from anything that he felt in himself or thought of himself. O that you and I might have this blessed combination in ourselves; to win the high opinion of others, so far as it can be gained by integrity, by uprightness, and by decision of character, and yet at the same time to walk humbly with our God! 

     Now there are three things I shall speak about to-night, and may God make them profitable. First, here is a high character; secondly, here is deep humility; and, thirdly, here is, notwithstanding that deep humility, a very mighty faith.

     I. To begin, then, dear friends, here is A HIGH CHARACTER; let us thoroughly appreciate it, and give it a full measure of commendation. 

     When preaching Jesus Christ to the chief of sinners, we have sometimes half dreamed that some who are moral and upright might think themselves excluded: they ought not so to think, nor is it fair for them to draw such an inference. We have heard the whisper of some who have said they could almost wish that they had been more abandoned and dissolute in the days of their unregeneracy, that they might have a deeper repentance, and be witnesses of a more palpable and thorough change, so that they might never have cause to doubt of the triumph of grace in their experience. We have heard some even say, “I could have wished that I had grovelled in the very mire of sin; not that I love it, on the contrary, I loathe it, but because had I then to be rescued from such a course of life, the change would be so manifest and apparent, that I should never dare to ask myself whether I was a changed man or not. I should feel it, and see it in my every-day course and conversation.” Dear friends, if anything we have ever said should have led you into this mistake we are sorry for it: it was never our intention. While we would open the gates of mercy so wide that the greatest blasphemer, the most unchaste and the most debauched, may not be without hope; yet we never want to shut those gates in the face of such as have been brought up in a godly manner, and through the providence of God rod and the checks of education, have been kept from the grosser vices. On the contrary, we thought that when we opened it for the worst there would be room for the best; and if Noah's ark took in the unclean, certainly the clean would not be afraid to enter. If Jesus Christ was able to cure those who were far gone in sickness, you might infer that he would certainly be able to heal those who, though they were sick, might not be so far advanced in disease. Besides, a little reflection may suggest to you that the penitence of contrite believers is not regulated by the extent of their crimes against what you call the moral code. It is one thing to estimate sin by its apparent turpitude, and another and an infinitely better thing to have the eyes of the understanding enlightened, to see sin in its infinite malignity as it appears in the light of heavenly purity and perfection, which proceeds from the throne of God, or as it is reflected from Mount Calvary where the amazing sacrifice of Christ was offered. What! do you think the whitewashed sepulchre of a Pharisee's heart is less loathsome to the Almighty than the open pollution of a Magdalen's life? Or, in the matter of experience, could the recollection of a thousand debaucheries give such a melting sense of contrition as a sight of the Crucified one? O friends, let me remind you of the words of Jesus, “When he”—the Spirit of truth—“is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe on me.” That one sin of unbelief is such a concentration of all wickedness that it could outweigh the crimes of Sodom and Gomorrah, and make them more excusable in the day of judgment than the men of Capernaum who saw the mighty works of Christ and repented not. That one sin of unbelief is so heinous that the groans of the whole creation were but pitiful sighs to deplore it; and rivers of tears were but a weak tribute to lament it. However, as mistakes do arise, and misapprehensions will take place, let us have a few words concerning a high character in the sight of men.

     Such a character among your fellow creatures may be gained in any situation. The centurion was a soldier—a profession of life not altogether the most propitious for moral excellence; though there have been in the army some of the brightest saints that ever lived. He was a soldier moreover in a foreign country—not the place where he was likely to win esteem. He was there as one of the representatives of a power which had conquered Judea, and had treated it with great cruelty; yet, notwithstanding the prejudices of race and nationality, this man's kindness of disposition and goodness of conduct had won for him the esteem of others. Moreover, being a commander of soldiers, naturally every act of violence would be set down to him. Whatever might be done by his hundred men would be laid to the captain, so that his was a condition of peculiar difficulty, and yet, notwithstanding this, the elders said, “He is worthy.” Let none of you despair! Wherever you may be placed, a noble character may be earned. You may serve God in the most menial capacity; you may compel your very foes to own your excellence; you may stand so unblamably before men, and you may walk so uprightly before God, that those who watch for your halting may bite their lips with disappointment, while they shall not have a single word to say against you except it be touching the religion of your God and King. Let no man, wherever he may be thrown—though he be surrounded by those who tempt him—despair, especially if the grace of God be in him. Let him pray like Joab that he may have favour in the eyes of his Master, and expect to win it. 

     This centurion must have been a man of sterling worth. He was not merely quiet and inoffensive like some men who are as insipid as they are harmless. Though a high character may be won, it cannot be won without being earned. Men do not get character among their fellows by indolence and listlessness, or by pretensions and talk. Action! action!—this is what the world wants; and there is more truth than we have dreamed of in Nelson's aphorism, “England expects every man to do his duty.” Certainly, men will not speak well of thee unless thou doest well. This centurion did so, for you will observe that they said he was worthy—which must have signified that he was just in his dealings and generous in his habits, or they would not have thought him worthy. 

     It would appear, too, that his private temperament as well as his public spirit, contributed to the estimation in which he was held. You will notice in the circumstances which bring him before us, how his tender feelings, and his intense anxiety, were drawn out on behalf, not of a child, but of a servant, peradventure of a slave! And then we might have thought it had been enough to have said that the man was highly valued by his master; but the expression is one of fondness; he was “dear unto him.” The fidelity of the servant may be implied, but it is the amiability of the master which is most prominent, and chiefly arrests our attention. Nor need we overlook the fact that Matthew lays an emphasis upon the servant being “at home” under his master's roof. We know that the Romans were not remarkable for the kindness they showed to their dependants; often they were merely looked upon as slaves. Why, in our own days, and in the midst of our boasted civilization, when Christianity has exerted a salutary influence upon all our social relations, I suppose it is not uncommon for a domestic servant to go home to her parents’ house in the case of sickness. It is not every good man among us, I fear, whose gentleness would equal that of the centurion in the love which he bears to his servant, and the comfort he provided for him in his own house. 

     Next to this, you will observe his generosity. It is not, my dear friends, by occasional deeds of showy lustre, but by the habitual practice of comely virtues that a worthy character is built up. A thousand kindnesses may be nestling beneath the soil, like the many-fibre fibred root of a gigantic tree, when it is said, “He loveth our nation;” and then the conspicuous fruit appears in its season: “He hath built us a synagogue.” This example of liberality is spoken of as a mere supplement. The Jewish elders do not say, “He loveth our nation”—for—but “he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.” This last was a visible token of innumerable good offices which had already won their secret esteem before it bloomed in an open reputation. I have heard all sorts of men praised, and I have noted the qualities which win the plaudits of the crowd. Even the high and haughty have some to praise them; but I think I never heard a niggardly man praised, or one who was perpetually guilty of meanness. Let him have whatever virtues he may, if he lack liberality, few, if any, will speak well of him. Let me commend to the Christian, liberality in all his actions, and benevolence in all his thoughts. This may sound common-place; but I am persuaded that the little tricks in trade, those little savings of the pence, those sharp dealings, are just the things which bring religion into disrepute. It were infinitely better that the Christian should pay too much than too little. He had better be blamed for an excess of generosity, than take credit to himself for a rigid parsimony. Rather let him become now and then the dupe of an imposter, than shut up the bowels of his compassion against his fellow-man. I would seek, Christian man, to win a noble character. I cannot see how thou canst do so, except thou shouldst put generosity into the scale, and enrol it in the list of thy virtues. 

     A high character, when earned, is very useful. I am saying this because some might imagine that, in the preaching of the gospel, we put the base and the wicked before those who have walked uprightly. A good character, when earned, a good reputation in the esteem of men, may win for us, as it did for this centurion, kind thoughts, kind words, kind acts, kind prayers. There is many a man who will pray for thee if he sees thee walk uprightly; ay, and thy very adversary, who would otherwise have cursed thee, will find the curse trembling on his tongue. Though he would fain rail, yet doth he bate his breath, abashed at thine excellencies. Let the Christian labour so to live that he shall not lack a friend. “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness,” is one of Christ's own precepts. If to stoop, to cringe, to lie, win you friends, scorn to do it; but if with uprightness before God, you can still mingle such affection and such generosity towards men, that you shall win their suffrages, do it I pray you. The time may come when their sympathy shall befriend you. 

     But, remember, and here I close this point, however good your character, or however excellent your repute, not one word of this is ever to be mentioned before the throne of the Most High. Job could say when he was talking with his adversaries, “I am not wicked;” he could boast in his excellencies, as he did; but in the presence of God how he changed his note: “Now mine eye seeth thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Coming before the Lord, we must all come as sinners. When on your knees, you have nothing to boast of more than the veriest roue, or the man who has sinned against his country's laws. There, at the foot of the cross, one needs the cleansing blood as much as the other. At mercy’s gate we must alike knock, and we must be fed by the same generous hand. There are no degrees here: we enter by the same door; we come to the same Saviour; and we shall ultimately—glory be to his name!—sit together in the same heaven whether we have earned a good repute or no; whether we have crept into heaven, as the thief did, at the eleventh hour, or through forty-and-five years of public service earned the applause of men, as did Caleb the son of Jephunneh. 

 

“Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to thy cross I cling," 

 

must be the common footing, and the like confession of both before the God of mercy. Thus much by way of tribute to the high character of the centurion and the high motives to emulate it.

     II. Secondly, in the centurion we see coupled with this high and noble repute, DEEP HUMILIATION OF SOUL. “I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof.”

     Humility, then, it appears, may exist in any condition. There are some men who are too mean to be humble. Do you understand me? They are too crouching, crawling, sneakish, and abject to be humble. When they use humble words, they disgrace the words they use. You perceive at once that it is rather a rise than a stoop for them to be humble. How could it be otherwise? It certainly is not for the least vermin that creep the earth to talk about humility. They must be low: it is their proper place. Such the creatures who cringe and fawn—“Whatever you please, sir;” “Yes;” “No;” in the same breath. They have not a soul within them that would be worth the notice of a sparrow-hawk. They are too little to be worthy of observation, yet they say they are humble. But a man to be humble, needs to have a soul: to stoop, you must have some elevation to stoop from; you must have some real excellence within you before you can really understand what it is to renounce merit. Had he been unworthy, had he been ungenerous and an oppressor, he would have spoken the truth when he said, “I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof;” but there would have been no true humility in what he said. It was because of his excellence, as acknowledged by others, that he could be humble in the modesty of his opinion of himself. We have heard of a certain monk, who, professing to be humble, said he had broken all God's commandments; he was the greatest sinner in the world; he was as bad as Judas. Somebody said, “Why tell us that? we have all of us thought that a long time!” Straightway the holy man grew red in the face, and smote the accuser, and asked him what he had ever done to deserve such a speech. We know some of that kind: they will use the words of humility; appear very contrite; and perhaps even at prayer-meetings you would think them the meekest and most broken-hearted -hearted of men; but if you were to take them at their word, straightway they would tell you they use the language, as some ecclesiastical personages do, in a non-natural sense; they do not quite mean what they were supposed to mean, but something very different. That is not humility: it is a kind of mock-modesty which hankers after applause, and holds out specious words as a bait for the trap of approbation. Our centurion was truly humble. This a man may be, though possessing the highest excellence, and standing in the most eminent position. I believe, in my soul, that no man had truer humility in him than John Knox, and yet John Knox never cringes, and never bows. When Luther dared the thunders of the Vatican, no doubt many said how self-conceited, egotistical, and proud he was; but for all that, God knew how humbly Martin Luther walked with him. When Athanasius stood up, and said, “I, Athanasius, against the world,” it had the ring of pride about it, but there was true and sound humility before God in it, because he seemed to say, “What am I? not worthy of taking care of; and therefore I do not use the subterfuges of cowardice for mv own personal safety; let the world do what it will to me, God's truth is infinitely more precious than I am, and so I give myself up as an offering upon its altar.” True humility will comport with the highest chivalry in maintaining divine truth, and with the boldest assertion of what one knows in his own conscience to be true. Though it may be the lot of Christians to be thought proud, let it never be true or capable of being substantiated concerning them. 

     The centurion, though worthy, was still humble; his friends and neighbours found him out by what he said and what he did. He asked them to go for him, seeing he was not worthy; then, finding that they asked too great a boon, he comes to stop them: “I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof.” You need not tell people that you are humble. You have no occasion to advertise that you have genuine humility: let it discover itself as spice does, by its perfume: or as fire, by its burning. If you live near to God, and if your humility is of the right kind, it will tell its own tale ere long. But the place where humility does speak out, is at the throne of grace. Beloved, there are some things we would confess of ourselves before God, which we would not confess before men. There is an attitude of prostration at the throne of the Most High, which will never be so gracefully fully or graciously taken as by that man who would spurn to prostrate himself before his fellows. That is no true humility which bends the knee at the tyrant’s throne: that is true humility which, having bearded the tyrant to his face, goes down on its knees before the God of heaven: bold as a lion before men, but meek as a lamb before Jehovah. The true man, whom God approveth, will not, dares not swerve, for the love he bears his sovereign Lord, when he faceth men; but when he is alone with his Maker, he veileth his face with something better than the wings of angels. Wrapped all o'er with the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, he rejoices with fear and trembling that he is justified from ail things now; yet, conscious of the total defilement of his nature, with deep prostration of soul he uses the leper's cry, “Unclean! unclean! unclean!” Thus does he fix all his hope upon that cleansing blood, and depend alone on that meritorious obedience of Jesus, upon which every sanctified believer exclusively relies. Seek, then, as much as lieth in you, that high character which the Christian should maintain among men; but with it always blend that true humility which cometh of the Spirit of God, and ever behoveth us in the presence of the Lord.

     III. The main thing I am aiming at, because, after all, the most practical, lies in my third point. However deep our humility, however conscious we may be of our own undeservingness, WE SHOULD NEVER DIMINISH OUR FAITH IN GOD. 

     Observe the confession: “I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof.” What then will be the inference?—“I fear, therefore, my servant will not be healed”? No, no; but—“Say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.” It is all a mistake that great faith implies pride. Beloved, the greater faith, the deeper humility. These are brothers, not foes. The more the glories of God strike your eyes, the humbler you will lie in conscious abasement, but yet the higher you will rise in importunate prayer. Let us take this principle, and endeavour to apply it to a few cases. I say that a deep sense of our own nothingness, is not to prevent our having strong faith. We will take a few instances. 

     There is a minister here who has been preaching the Word of God: he has so proclaimed it that God hath been pleased to own it in some degree; but, it may be, he has stirred up strife; he has caused I know not what amount of turmoil and of noise, as the faithful servant of God will in his measure; and now, coming before God, he is asking that a greater blessing than ever may rest upon his labours; but something checks his tongue. He remembers his many infirmities; he recollects, perhaps, how slack he is in his private devotions, and how cold he is in his pleading with the sons of men. He has before him the promise, “My word shall not return unto me void;” but for all that, so conscious is he that he does not deserve the honour of being useful, that he is half afraid to pray as he should pray, and to believe as he should believe. Dear brother, may I press upon you the case of the centurion? It is right for you, it is right for me, to say, “Lord, I am not worthy to be made the spiritual parent of one immortal soul.” It is right for me to feel that it is too great an honour to be permitted to preach the truth at all, and almost too high a thing for such a sinner to have any jewels to present to the Redeemer to fix in his crown ; but, oh! we must not from this infer that he will not fulfil his promise to us, and hear our prayer, “ Lord, speak in a word, and, feeble though the instrument may be, the congregation shall be blessed: say but the word, and the marvellous testimony, though marred with a thousand imperfections, shall yet be ‘quick and powerful , and sharper than any two-edged sword.» " Let this comfort and cheer any desponding pastor: let him take heart from this, and learn that it is not himself to whom he is look to, but that he is to look to God; and that it is not his own arm upon which he is to depend, but the promise of God and the strong arm of the Most High. Or, am I address dressing some brother or sister in somewhat similar perplexity of mind? In your private life, dear friend, you have laid upon your heart some of your relatives and neighbours who are very dear to you; or, perhaps, you teach a class in the Sabbath-school, or possibly you have a larger class of adults, and sometimes Satan will be very busy with you. The more useful you are, the more busy he will be; and he will say to you, “What are you, that you should ever hope to see conversions? Other men and women have had them, but they were better than you are: they had more talent; they had more ability; they served God better; and God gave them a greater reward. You must not hope to see your children saved; you cannot expect it. How should such teaching as yours ever be useful?” Friend, thou art right in saying, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof.” The more you can feel that, the more hopeful shall I be of your success. You are right in feeling that David is not fit to meet the giant, and that the stones out of the brook are scarcely fit weapons for such a warfare; but, oh! do not push the right into a wrong; do not, therefore, mistrust your God. No matter what a fool you may be: God has confounded wise things by the foolish, long ere now. No matter how weak you are: God has brought down the mighty by weak instrumentalities often enough before this time. Have thou hope in him; and to-night in thy prayer, when thou hast made thy confessions, do not let thy faith fail thee, but say, “Lord, say in a word, and my class shall be blessed; say in a word, and those stubborn boys and girls, those to whom I have talked so often, who seem to be none the better, shall be saved.” Have faith in God, beloved fellow-workers! The result of all, under God, must rest with your faith. If you believe for little success, you shall have little success; but if you can believe for great things, and expect great things, you shall certainly find your Master's words fulfilling your desire. Do I now also address parents here who have been praying for their children? or a husband who has been pleading for his wife? or a wife who has been making intercession for her husband? God only knows what heart-rending prayers are often heard in families, where only a part is saved! Ah! what grief is it to a truly godly father to see his sons and daughters still heirs of wrath! and what a pang to know that the partner of your bosom must be separated from you for ever by the stroke of death! I marvel not that you pray for your friends. Should I not marvel at you if you did not? And now, when you have been praying lately, a sense of your unworthiness has almost stopped you; and though, perhaps, there has been no public sin about you; though before others you could have defended yourself, you have said in private, “Lord, I am not worthy of this blessing.” You have said, “Lord, my children are not saved, because my example is not as good as it should be; my conversation is not as upright as it should be.” You have felt, as I have sometimes, that there was no creature in the whole world so little, and no man loved of God in all the world that was so great a wonder of ingratitude as you are. I say it is right that you should feel this, but do not let this stop your prayers; proffer your request; depend upon the blood of Christ for its plea, and upon the intercession of Christ for its prevalence. Do not be afraid. A black hand drops a letter into the post-office, but the blackness of that hand will not hinder the despatch of it; there is a stamp upon it, and it will go. And your black hand drops a prayer before Christ's feet, but that black hand will not stop its being heard, for there is a stamp upon it—Jehovah Jesus’ blood. It may be blotted and misspelt, and there may be many blurs all over it; but do not be afraid, for God knows his Son's signature, and that will give a worth to your prayers. It is the bloody signature of him whose hand was nailed to the cross that will carry the day with God. Therefore do not, I pray you, give place to fear; your prayers shall return into your bosom with an answer of peace.

     “Well, but,” says one, “I have prayed so long.” Ah! brother, do not “limit the Holy One of Israel.” Sister, do not let your doubts prevail. Renew your appeal to Jesus, “Say in a word: only say one word.” It is all done if he shall speak. Darkness fled before him in the primeval chaos, and order followed confusion. Think you, if he shall say, “Let there be light,” in a dark heart, that there shall not be light there? Angels fly at his bidding: at his presence the rocks melt, and the hills dissolve: Sinai is altogether on a smoke; and when he cometh forth, dressed in the robes of salvation, there are no impossibilities with him. He can win and conquer to your heart's best desire. Therefore be humble, but be not unbelieving. 

     By your leave, I shall now turn the principle of my text to an account in another way. Concerning yourselves, friends, what are the mercies which you want? If every man could write down his own peculiar prayer, what a variety we should have upon the paper as it just went round the front row of that gallery, If it went round to all, it would not be like Jeremiah’s roll, written within and without with lamentations, but it would be filled within and without with divers petitions. But now just imagine what your own case is, and the case of others, and let us apply this principle to it: we are utterly unworthy to obtain the temporal or spiritual mercy which, it may be, we are now seeking: we may feel this, but in asking anything for ourselves, we must still ask in faith in God, in his promise, and in his grace; and we shall prevail. This blessed principle may be turned to all sorts of uses. Whatever thy desire may be, only believe, and it shall be granted unto thee if it be a desire in accordance with his will, and in accordance with the promises of his Word; or else God's Word is not true. Be humble about it, but do not be doubtful about it. The case I have in ray mind's eye, is this: there is an unsaved soul here to-night. It happens to be one whose character has been morally admirable. Nobody finds any fault with you; and, as I said before, you almost wish they could; for you cannot feel, as some do, the terrors of the Lord. Your heart is not broken with conviction as the hearts of some are, but there is this desire in it, “Lord, save me, or I perish!” Now, dear friend, it is well that you should feel that there is nothing in you to commend you to Christ. I am glad that you do feel this. Though before the eyes of men, and even of your own parents, there is nothing which can cause you a blush, I am glad that you feel that before God you have nothing whatever to boast of. I think I see you now: you are saying, “My church-goings, my chapel-goings, I do not trust in them: I would not give up attendance at the means of grace, but, sir, I have no reliance upon all this. As for my baptism, or my confirmation, or my taking the sacrament, I know that all this has nothing whatever in it which can save my soul; and though I love God's ordinances, yet I cannot trust in them. Sir, I have fed the poor; I have taught the ignorant. In my measure I would do anything to assist those who need my aid; but I do solemnly renounce all this as a ground of trust. Nothing have I of which to glory.” Well now, dear friend, there remains only one thing to give you perfect peace to-night; and may the Master give you that one thing! Lift up this prayer to him, “Say in a word, and I shall be made whole." Christ can do it; the offering is made; the precious blood is spilt; there is an almighty efficacy in it: he can put away your sin. Christ lives to intercede before the throne, and “is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him.” Doubt not, then, but now, trusting thyself with Jesus Christ, remember thou art saved. I am not now looking after the vilest of the vile. How many times have we said from this place that none are excluded hence but those who do themselves exclude. No mountains of sin, nor height of vileness, can shut a man out of heaven if he believes in Jesus; but just now we are after you. I know you are a numerous class. You are, in some respects, our dear friends; and though not of us, you hover round us. If there is anything to be done for the cause of God, you are, perhaps, first in it; and yet you yourselves are not saved. I cannot bear the thought of your being cast away—to be so near the gates of heaven, and yet to be shut out after all. Why should it be? The voice speaks to you now: the spirit of the living God speaks through that voice. There is life in a look for you as well as for the chief of sinners. Without the strong convictions, without the terrors of conscience, without a sense of any aggravated crimes, if you rest on Jesus, you are saved. There is no amount of sin specified there here. You are lost in the fall—wholly lost, even if you had no sin of your own; but your own actual sin has irretrievably ruined you apart from the grace of Christ. You know this, and to an extent you feel it. You will feel it all the more when you have believed in Jesus. But now the one message of mercy is, “Believe, and thou shalt live.” I feel as if I cannot get at you. My soul will not go out as I can desire, and yet you know that I am talking about you and about your case. When we are firing our shots at sin, we hardly ever strike you. You have become so used to our appeals, that there seems no likelihood of our getting at you. Oh! there are some of you whom I would not find fault with if I could. You make your mother glad with your industry; you make your sister's heart rejoice at your many virtues; but yet there is one thing which you lack. Remember that when the strength of a chain is to be measured, it is measured at its one weakest link. If you have that one weak link the vital union is snapped. You may have anything and everything else, but you will be only a child of nature and not a living son. I am only telling you over and over truths which you have known for many years. You will not dispute these things; and sometimes times you feel an earnestness about your eternal portion, though, like so many others, you are putting off and putting off. But death will not put off; the judgment day will not be postponed for you. O may you be now brought in! What a happy Church we should be if such as you should be brought in. We rejoice over the chief of sinners; we make the place ring when the prodigals come in; but elder brother, why will not you come in—you who have not been standing all the day idle in the market, but only the first hour; say not, no man has hired you. O come in, that the house of mercy may be filled! God grant the desire of our hearts, and to his name shall be the praise. Amen and Amen.



An Awful Premonition

By / Jun 22

An Awful Premonition

 
“Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom,”—Matthew 16:28. 

 

I MUST confess that I have frequently read this verse with but a vague sense of its profound impressiveness, and I have passed it over rapidly because I did not understand it clearly. Though well acquainted with the usual interpretations, none of them had ever satisfied my mind. It seemed to me as if the text had awakened surprise without suggesting a simple obvious meaning, and therefore, the good commentators had invented explanations, and offered suggestions, widely different one from another, but all equally obscure and improbable. Lately, however, in reading a volume of sermons by Bishop Horsley, I have met with altogether a new view of the passage, which I firmly believe to be the correct one. Though I do not suppose I shall carry the judgment of all of you with me, yet I shall do my best to bring out of it that terrible denunciation which I believe the Saviour has here left on record. With his own cross and passion in view, he was admonishing his disciples to stedfastness, appealing to them at any sacrifice to take up their cross and follow him; then portraying the inestimable value of the soul, and reflecting on the horror of the soul being lost—a doom, the full force of which, it would be impossible to comprehend until he should come in the glory of his Father, with all his holy angels—he stopped short, looked upon some of the company, and said in words like these, “There are certain persons standing here who shall never taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” 

     Now what did he mean by this? Obviously it is either a marvellous promise to some who were his disciples indeed, or else it is a portent of woe to others who should die in their sins. How do the popular interpretations of our learned expositors look at it?

     Some say it refers to the transfiguration, and it certainly is remarkable able that the account of the transfiguration immediately follows this verse, both in Mark and in Luke, as well as in this record of Matthew. But can you for a moment bring your minds to believe that Christ was describing his transfiguration when he spoke of “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom?” and whether you can see any connection between the transfiguration, and the preceding verse, which says, “For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works”? We grant you that Christ was in his glory upon Mount Tabor, but he did not there “reward every man according to his works,” nor is it fair to call that a “coming” of the Son of Man at all. He did not “come” on Mount Tabor, for he was on the earth already; and it is a misuse of language to construe that into an advent. Besides, where would be the occasion for such a solemn prefix—“Verily I say unto you”? Does it not raise expectation merely to cause disappointment, if he intended no more than this—“There be some standing here who shall see me transfigured”? That scene took place six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart.” Why, the majesty of the prediction which carries our thoughts forward to “the last things" in the world's history, makes us shrink from accepting an immediate fulfilment of it all. I cannot imagine, therefore, that the transfiguration is in the slightest degree referred to here; and I do not think that anyone would have thought of such a thing unless he had been perplexed and utterly nonplussed for an explanation.

     And again—though it seems almost incredible—Dr. Gill endorses this view, and moreover says, that it also refers to the descent of the Holy Ghost. At this I am staggered. How any man can find an analogy with Pentecost in the connection here I cannot think. Pentecost took place six months after this event, and why Jesus Christ should say, “Verily I say unto you there be some standing here who will live six months,” I really cannot comprehend. It seems to me that my Master did not waste people’s time by talking such platitudes. Who that reads this passage can think it has any reference to the descent of the Holy Ghost—“For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then shall he reward every man according to his works?” Did Christ come at Pentecost in the glory of his Father? Was there then any company of angels? Did he then reward every man according to his works? Scarcely can the descent of the Holy Spirit, or the appearance of cloven tongues, like as of fire, be called the “coming of the Son of Man in the glory of his Father with his angels, to give every man according to his works,” without a gross misuse of our mother tongue, or a strange violation of symbolic imagery.

     Both these constructions, however, which I now mention, have now been given up as unsatisfactory by those modern students who have thought most carefully upon the subject. The third still holds its ground, and is currently received, though I believe it to be quite as far from the truth as the others. Will you carefully read the chapter through at your leisure, and see if you can find anything about the siege of Jerusalem in it? Yet this is the interpretation that finds favour at the present time. Some persons were standing there who would be alive when Jerusalem should be destroyed by the Romans!! Nothing surely could be more foreign to the entire scope of our Lord's discourse, or the narrative of the evangelists. There is not the slightest shadow of a reference to the siege of Jerusalem. It is the coming of the Son of Man which is here spoken of, “in the glory of his Father with his angels, to reward men according to their works.” Whenever Jesus spoke of the siege of Jerusalem and of its coming, he was wont to say, “Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled but he never singled out some few persons and said to them, “Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till the city of Jerusalem is besieged and destroyed.” 

     If a child were to read this passage I know what he would think it meant: he would suppose Jesus Christ was to come, and there were some standing there who should not taste of death until really and literally he did come. This, I believe, is the plain meaning. 

     “Well,” says one, “I am surprised; do you think, then, that this refers to the apostle John?” No; by no means. The fable passed current, you know, that John was to live till Christ came again. But John himself repudiated it. For at the end of his gospel, he says, “Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” This, you see, was putting a suppositious case, and in no sense the language of prediction. 

     Now, dear brethren, if you are so far convinced of the unreasonableness of each of these efforts to solve the difficulty by feigning a sense, I shall hope to have your minds in readiness for that explanation which appears to me to harmonize with every requirement. I believe the “coming” here spoken of, is the coming of the Son of God to judgment at the last great and terrible assize, when he shall judge the righteous, and separate the wicked from among them. 

     The next question is—“Of whom were the words spoken?” Are we warranted in supposing that our Lord intended this sentence as a gracious promise, or a kindly expectation that he would kindle in the breast of his disciples? I trow not. To me it appears to have no reference whatever to any man who ever had grace in his soul: such language is far more applicable to the ungodly than the wicked. It may well have been aimed directly at those followers who should apostatize from the faith, grasp at the world, shrink at the cross, endeavour to save their lives, but really lose them, and barter their souls. At the glorious appearing of Christ there are some who will taste death, but will they be the righteous? Surely, my dear friends, when Christ comes, the righteous will not die; they will be caught up with the Lord in the air. His coming will be the signal for the resurrection of all his saints. But mark you, at the time of his coming, the men who have been without God, and without Christ, will begin for the first time to “taste of death.” They passed the first stage of dissolution when the soul quitted the body, but they have never known the “taste of death.” Till then, they will not have known its tremendous bitterness and its awful horror. They will never drink of the wormwood and the gall, so as really to “taste of death,” till the Lord shall come. This tasting of death here may be explained, and I believe it is to be explained, by a reference to the second death, which men will not taste of till the Lord comes. And what a dreadful sentence that was, when the Saviour said—perhaps singling out Judas as he spoke—“Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, who shall never know what that dreadful word ‘death ' means, till the Lord shall come. You think that if you save your lives, you escape from death. Ah! you do not know what death means. The demise of the body is but a prelude to the perdition of the soul. The grave is but the porch of death; you will never understand the meaning of that terrible word till the Lord comes.” This can have no reference to the saints, because in the eighth chapter of John, and the fifty-first -first verse, you find this passage—“Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.” No righteous man, therefore, can ever “taste of death.” He will fall into that deep oblivious sleep in which the body sees corruption; but that is another and a very different thing from the bitter cup referred to as tasting of death. When the Holy Ghost wanted an expression to set forth that which was the equivalent for the divine wrath, what expression was used?—“Christ, by the grace of God, tasted death for every man.” The expression “to taste of death,” means the reception of that true and essential death, which kills both the body and the soul in hell for ever. The Saviour said then, as he might say, I fear, if he stood in this pulpit to-night—“Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

     If this be the meaning, and I hold that it is in keeping with the context, it explains the verse, sets forth the reason why Christ bespoke breathless attention with the word “ verily,” answers both the grammar and the rhetoric, and is not by any argument that I have ever heard of to be moved—if this be so, what thrilling denunciations are contained in my text. O, may the Holy Spirit deeply affect our hearts, and cause our souls to thrill with its solemnity! 

     What thoughts it stirs up! Compared with the doom which will be inflicted upon the ungodly at the coming of Christ, the death of nature is nothing. We go farther: compared with the doom of the wicked at the coming of Christ, even the torments of souls in a separate state are scarcely anything. The startling question then comes up. Are there any sitting or standing here who will have to taste of death when the Lord comes?

     THE SINNER'S DEATH IS BUT A FAINT PRESAGE OF THE SINNER'S DOOM AT THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN IN HIS GLORY. 

     Let me endeavour to show the contrast. We can make but little comparison between the two in point of time. Many men meet with their death so suddenly, that it can scarcely involve any pain to them. They are crushed, perhaps, by machinery; a shot sends them to find a grave upon the battle-field; or they may be speedily poisoned. If they be for hours, or days, or weeks, or months, upon the bed of sickness, yet the real work of dying is but short. It is rather a weary sort of living than an actual sense of dying while hope lingers though even in fitful dreams. Dying is but the work of a moment: if it shall be said to last for hours, yet the hours are brief. Misery may count them long, but oh! with what swift wings do they fly! To die, to fall asleep, to suffer, it may be but a pin's prick, and then to have passed away from the land of the living to the realm of shades! But oh! the doom which is to be brought upon the wicked when Christ comes! This is a death which never dies. Here is a heart palpitating with eternal misery. Here is an eye never filmed by the kind finger of generous forgetfulness. Here will be a body never to be stiffened in apathy; never to be laid quietly in the grave, rid of keen pangs, wearing disease, and lingering wretchedness. To die, ye say, is nature's kind release: it bringeth ease. It comes to a man, for this world at least, a farewell to his woes and griefs; but there shall be no ease, no rest, no pause in the destination of impenitent souls. “Depart, ye cursed,” shall ever ring along the endless aisles of eternity. The thunderbolt of that tremendous word shall follow the sinner in his perpetual flight from the presence of God; from its baleful influence he shall never be able to escape; no, never. A million years shall make not so much difference to the duration of his agony as a cup of water taken from the sea would to the volume of the ocean. Nay, when millions of years told a million times shall have rolled their fiery orbits over his poor tormented head, he shall be no nearer to the end than he was at first. Talk of Death! I might even paint him as an angel when once I think of the terrors of the wrath to come. Soon come, soon gone is Death. That sharp scythe gives but one cut, and down falls the flower and withers in the heat of the sun; but eternity, eternity, eternity, who shall measure its wounds, who shall fathom the depths of the gashes? When eternity wields the whip, how dreadfully will it fall! When eternity grasps the sword, how deep shall be the woundings, how terrible its killing!

 

“To linger in eternal pain,

Yet death for ever fly.” 

 

You are afraid of death, sinner; you are afraid of death; but were you wise, you would be ten thousand times ten thousand times more afraid of the coming and the judgment of the Son of Man.

     In point of loss there is no comparison. When the sinner dies it is not tasting of death in its true sense, for what does he lose? He loses wife, and children, and friends; he loses all his dainty bits and his sweet draughts. Where now his viol and his lute? Where now the merry dance and the joyful company? For him no more the pleasant landscape nor the gliding stream. For him no more the light of the sun by day, nor the light of moon and stars by night. He has lost at one stroke every comfort and every hope. But then the loss, as far as death is concerned, is but a loss of earthly things, the loss of temporal and temporary comforts, and he might put up with that. It is wretched enough to lose these, but let your imagination follow me, faint as is my power to describe the everlasting and infinite loss of the man who is found impenitent at the last great judgment day. What loses he then? The harps of heaven and the songs thereof; the joys of God's presence and the light thereof; the jasper sea and the gates of pearl. He has lost peace and immortality, and the crown of life; nay, he has lost all hope, and when a man has lost that, what remaineth to him? His spirit sinks with a terrible depression, more frightful than maniac ever knew in his wildest moods of grief. His soul sinks never to recover itself into the depths of dark despair, where not a ray of hope can ever reach him. Lost to God; lost to heaven; lost to time; lost to the preaching of the gospel; lost to the invitation of mercy; lost to the prayers of the gracious; lost to the mercy-seat; lost to the blood of sprinkling; lost to all hope of every sort; lost, lost, for ever! Compared with this loss the losses of death are nothing, and well might the Saviour say, that lost spirits shall not even “taste of death” until he shall come, and they shall receive their sentence.

     Neither does death bear any comparison with the last judgment in point of terror. I do not like to paint the terrors of the dying-bed of unawakened men. Some you know, glide gently into their graves. It is, in fact, the mark of the wicked that they have no bands in their death: but their strength is firm; they are not troubled like other men are. Like the sheep they are laid in the grave. A peaceful death is no sign of grace. Some of the worst of men have died with a smile upon their countenance to have it changed for one eternal weeping. But there are more men of other exquisite sensibility, instructed men, who cannot die like brutes, and they have alarms, and fears, and terrors, when they are on their dying beds. Many an atheist has cried to God under dying pangs, and many an infidel who heretofore could brag and speak high things against God, has found his cheek turn pale and his throat grow hoarse when he has come there. Like the mariner, the boldest man in that great storm reels to and fro, and staggers like a drunken man, and is at his wits' ends; for he finds that it is no child's play to die. I try sometimes to picture that hour, when we shall perhaps be propped up in the bed, or lying down with pillows round about us, be diligently watched; and as they hush their footfalls and gaze anxiously on, there is a whisper that the solemn time has come, and then there is a grappling of the strong man with the stronger than he. Oh! what must it be to die without a Saviour—to die in the dark without a light except the lurid glare of the wrath to come! Horrors there are, indeed, around the death-bed of the wicked, but these are hardly anything compared with the terrors of the day of judgment. When the sinner wakes from his bed of dust, the first object he will see will be the great white throne and the Judge seated upon it: the first sound that will greet his ears will be the trumpet sounding— 

 

“Come to judgment, come to judgment,

Come to judgment, sinner, come.” 

 

He will look up, and there will be the Son of Man on his judgment-thro throne, the king's officers arranged on either side, the saints on his right hand, and angels round about; then the books will be opened. What creeping horror will come upon the flesh of the wicked man! He knows his turn will arrive in a moment; he stands expecting it; fear takes hold upon him, while the eyes of the Judge look him through and through, and he cries to the rocks to hide him, and the mountains to fall upon him. Happy would he be now to find a friendly shelter in the grave, but the grave has burst its doors, and can never be closed upon him again. He would even be glad to rush back to his former state in hell, but he must not. The judgment has come, the assize is set; again the trumpet rings— 

 

“Come to judgment, come to judgment,

Come to judgment, come away.” 

 

And then the book is opened, and the dread sentence is pronounced; and, to use the words of Scripture, “Death and hell are cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” The man never knew what death was before. The first death was but a flea-bite this is death indeed. The first death he might have looked back upon as a dream, compared with this tasting of death now that the Lord has come.

     From what we can gleam darkly from hints of Scripture, the pains of death are not at all comparable to the pains of the judgment at the second advent. Who will speak in a depreciating manner of the pains of death? If we should attempt to do so, we know that our hearts would contradict us. In the shades of night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, you sometimes suddenly awake. You are alarmed. The terror by night has come upon you. You expect—you hardly know what it is, but you are half afraid that you are about to die. You know how the cold sweat comes upon the brow. You may have a good hope through grace, but the very thought of death brings a peculiar pang. Or when death has really come in view, some of us have marked with terrible grief the sufferings of our dearest friends. We have heard the eye-strings break; we have seen the face all pallid, and the cheek all hollow and sunken. We have sometimes seen how every nerve has become a road for the hot feet of pain to travel on, and how every vein has been a canal of grief. We have marked the pains, and moans, and groans, and dying strife that fright the soul away. These, however, are common to man. Not so the pangs which are to be inflicted both on body and on soul at the coming of the Son of God; they are such that I cast a veil over them, fearful of the very thought. Let the Master's words suffice “Fear him who is able to cast both body and soul into hell; yea, I say—unto you, fear him.” Then the body in all the parts shall suffer; the members which were once instruments of unrighteousness shall now be instruments of suffering. And the mind, the major sinner, shall be also the greater sufferer. The memory, the judgment, the understanding, the will, the imagination, and every power and passion of the soul become a deep lake of anguish. But I spare you these things; oh! spare yourselves! God alone knows with what pain I discourse upon these horrors. Were it net that they must be spoken of, or else I must give my account at the day of judgment as a faithless servant; were it not that I speak of them in mercy to your souls, poor sinners, I would fain forget them altogether, seeing that my own soul has a hope in him who saveth from the wrath to come. But as long as you will not have mercy upon yourselves, we must lay this axe at your root; so long as you will make a mock of sin, and set at nought the terrors of the world to come, we must warn you of hell. If it be hard to talk of these things, what must it be to endure them? If a dream makes you quiver from head to foot, what must it be to endure really, and in person, the wrath to come? O souls, were I to speak as I ought, my knees would knock together with trembling now; were you to feel as you should, there would not be an unconverted man among you who would not cry, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” I do conjure you to remember that death, with all its pangs, is but a drop of a bucket compared with the deep, mysterious, fathomless, shoreless sea of grief, you must endure for ever at the coming of the Lord Jesus except you repent. 

     Death makes great discoveries. The man thought himself wise, but Death draws the curtain, and he sees written up in large letters—“Thou fool!” He said he was prudent, for he hoarded up his gold and silver, and kept the wages of the labourer; but now he finds that he has made a bad bargain, while the question is propounded to him—“What doth it profit thee, to have gained the world, and to have lost thy soul?” Death is a great revealer of secrets. Many men are not believers at all until they die; but Death comes, and makes short work with their scepticism. It gives but one blow upon the head of doubt, and all is done; the man believes then, only he believes too late. Death gives to the sinner the discovery that there is a God, an angry God, and punishment is wrapped up in the wrath to come. But how much greater the discoveries that await the day of judgment! What will the sinner see then? He will see the man who was crucified sitting upon the throne. He will hear, how Satan has been defeated in all his craftiest undertakings. Read from those mysterious books, the secrets of all hearts shall then be revealed. Then men shall understand stand how the Lord reigned supremely even when Satan roared most loudly; how the mischief and the folly of man did but after all bring forth the great purposes of God. All this shall be in the books, and the sinner shall stand there defeated, terribly defeated, worsted at every point, baffled, foiled, stultified in every act and every purpose by which he thought to do well for himself; yea, and utterly confounded in all the hostility and all the negligence of his heart towards the living and true God who would and who did rule over him. Too late, he will discover the preciousness of the blood he despised, the value of the Saviour he rejected, the glory of the heaven which he lost, the terror of the hell to which he is sentenced. How wise, how dreadfully wise will he be when fully aware of his terrible and eternal destruction! Thus sinners shall not taste of death in the real meaning of the terra, until the Lord shall come. 

     Still further; IN THE STATE OF SEPARATE SPIRITS THEY HAVE NOT FULLY TASTED OF DEATH, NOR WILL THEY DO SO UNTIL CHRIST COMES. 

     The moment that a man dies his spirit goes before God. If without Christ that spirit then begins to feel the anger and the wrath of God. It is as when a man is taken before a magistrate. He is known to be guilty, and therefore he is remanded and put in prison till his trial shall come. Such is the state of souls apart from the body: they are spirits in prison, waiting for the time of their trial. There is not, in the sense in which the Romanist teaches it, any purgatory; yet there is a place of waiting for lost spirits which is in Scripture called “Hell,” because it is one room in that awful prison-house house in which must dwell for ever spirits that die finally impenitent and without faith in Christ. But those of our departed countrymen and fellow citizens of earth who die without Christ, have not yet fully tasted of death, nor can they until the advent of the Lord. 

     Just consider why not. Their bodies do not suffer. The bodies of the wicked are still the prey of the worm; still the atoms are the sport of the winds, and are traversing their boundless cycles, and must do so until they are gathered up into the body again, at the trump of the archangel—at the voice of God. 

     The ungodly know that their present state is to have an end at the judgment, but after the judgment their state will have no end; it is then to go on, and on, and on, for ever and for ever, unchanged and unchangeable. Now there may be half a hope, an anticipation of some change, for change brings some relief; but to the finally damned, upon whom the sentence has been pronounced, there is no hope even of a change. For ever and for ever shall there be the same ceaseless wheel of misery.

     The ungodly, too, in their present state, have not as yet been put to the shame of a public sentence. They have, as it were, merely been cast into prison, the facts being too clear to admit of any doubt as to the sentence, and they are their own tormentors, vexing and paining themselves with the fear of what is yet to come. They have never yet heard that dreadful sentence—“Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” 

     I was struck whilst studying this subject, to find how little is said about the pains of the lost while they are merely souls, and how much is said concerning this when the Lord comes. You have that one parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and there it speaks of the soul being already tormented in the flame; but if you turn to the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, and read the parable of the tares, you will find it is at the end of the world that the tares are to be cast into the fire. Then comes the parable of the dragnet. It is when; the dispensation comes to an end that the net is to be dragged to shore, and then the good are to be put in vessels, and the bad cast away; and then the Lord says, “The Son of Man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” That memorable description in Matthew of those of whom he said, “I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink,” is described as happening when the “Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all his holy angels with him.” The apostle Paul, too, tells us plainly in the Epistle to the Thessalonians, that the wicked are to be destroyed at his coming by the brightness of his power. The recompense of the ungodly, like the reward of the righteous, is anticipated now: but the full reward of the righteous is to be at his coming; they are to reign with Christ; their fulness of bliss is to be given them when the King himself in his glory shall sit upon his throne. So, too, the wicked have the beginning of their heritage at death, but the dread fulness of it is to be hereafter. 

     At the present moment, death and hell are not yet cast into the lake of fire. Death is still abroad in the world slaying men; hell is yet loose; the devil is not yet chained, but still does he go about the “dry places, seeking rest, and finding none.” At the last day, at the coming of Christ, "death and hell shall be cast into the lake of fire.” We do not understand the symbol; but if it means anything, one would think it must mean this, that at that day the scattered powers of evil, which are to be the tormentors of the wicked, but which have hitherto been wandering up and down throughout the world, shall all be collected together, and then, indeed, shall it be that the wicked shall begin to “taste of death” as they have never tasted of it before! 

     My soul is bowed down with terror while I speak these words to you. I scarcely know how to find suitable words to express the weight of thought which is upon me. My dear hearers, instead of speculating upon these matters, let us try to shun the wrath to come; and what can help us to do that better than to weigh the warning words of a dear and loving Saviour, when he tells us that at his coming such a doom shall pass upon impenitent souls, that compared with it, even death itself shall be as nothing? Christians, by the faith of their risen Lord, swallow death in victory; but if you die impenitent, you swallow death in ignorance. You do not feel its bitterness now. But, oh! that bitter pill has yet to work its way, and that fierce draught has yet to be drained even to the dregs, unless you repent.

     And now, does not the meditation of these terrors prompt A QUESTION. Jesus said—“Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Are there any standing or sitting here who shall not taste of death till then? 

     In that little group addressed by the Saviour stood Judas. He had been trusted by his Master and he was an apostle, but after all he was a thief and a hypocrite. He, the son of perdition, would not taste of death till Christ should come in his kingdom. Is there a Judas here? I look into your faces, and many of you are members of this Church, and others of you I doubt not are members of other Christian Churches, but are you sure that you have made sound work of it? Is your religion genuine? Do you wear a mask, or are you an honest man? O sirs, try your own hearts, and since you may fail in the trial, ask the Lord to search you; for as the Lord my God liveth, unless ye thus search yourselves and find that you are in the right, you may come presumptuously to sit at the Lord's table. Though with a name to live, you may be among his people here, you will have to taste of death when the Lord comes. You may deceive us, but you cannot deceive him. The preacher reflects that he himself may be mistaken, that he himself may be self-deceived. If it be so, may the Lord open his eyes to know the worst of his own state. Will you put up this prayer for yourselves, professors? Do not be too bold, you who say you are Christ's; never be satisfied till you are quite sure of it; and the best way to be sure is to go again just as you went at first, and lay hold on eternal life through the power of the blessed Spirit, and not by any strength of your own. 

     No doubt, however, there stood in that little throng around the Saviour some who were careless sinners. He knew that they had been so during the whole of his teaching, and that they would be so still, and therefore they would taste of death at his coming. Are there not some careless persons come in here to-night? I mean you who never think about religion, who generally look upon the Sunday as a day of pleasure, or who loll about in your shirt-sleeves nearly all the day; you who look upon the very name of religion as a bugbear to frighten children with; who mock at God's servants, and contemn the very thought of earnestly seeking after the Most High. Oh! will you, will you be among the number of those who taste of death when the Son of Man shall come in his kingdom? Oh! must I ring your death-knell tonight? Must my warning voice be lost upon you? I beseech you to recollect that you must either turn or burn. I beseech you to remember this—“Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him turn unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." By the wounds of Jesus, sinner, stop and think. If God’s dear Son was slain for human sin, how terrible must that sin be! and if Jesus died, how base are you if you are disobedient to the doctrine of faith! I pray you if you think of your body, give some thought to your soul. “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not?” Hearken diligently unto Jehovah's Word, and eat of that which is good, real, and substantial food. Come to Jesus, and your soul shall live.

     And there are some here of another class, Bethsaida sinners, Capernaum sinners. I mean some of you who constantly occupy these pews, and stand in yonder area, and sit in yonder gallery Sunday after Sunday. The same eyes look down on me week after week; the same faces salute me often with a smile when the Sabbath comes, and I pass you journeying to this the Tabernacle of your worship, and yet how many of you are still without God and without Christ! Have I been unfaithful to you? If I have, forgive me, and pray to God both for me and for yourselves that we may mend our ways. But if I have warned you of the wrath to come, why will you choose to walk in the path which leads to it? If I have preached to you Christ Jesus, how is it that his charms move you not, and that the story of his great love doth not bring you to repentance? O that the Spirit of God would come and deal with you, for I cannot. My hammer breaks not your flinty hearts, but God’s arm can do it, and 0 may he turn you yet. Of all sinners over whom a minister ought to weep, you are the worst; for while the careless perish you perish doubly. You know your Master’s will, and yet you do it not. You see heaven's gate set open, and yet you will not enter. Your vicious free-will ruins you; your base and wicked love of self and sin destroys you. “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life,” said Christ. You are so vile that you will not turn even though Jesus should woo you. I do pray you let the menace of judgment to come contained in my text, stir you now if you have never been stirred before. May God have pity on you even if you will have no pity upon yourselves.

     Peradventure among that company there were some who held the truth, but who held it in licentiousness—and there may be such here present. You believe in the doctrine of election, so do I; but then you make it a cloak for your sin. You hold the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, but you still persevere in your iniquity. Oh! there is no way of perishing that I know of worse than perishing by making the doctrines of grace an excuse for one's sins. The apostle has well said of such that their damnation is just: it is just to any man, but to a seven-fold degree is it just to such as you are. I would not have you forget the doctrine, nor neglect it, nor despise it, but I do beseech you do not prostitute it, do not turn it to the vile purposes of making it pander to your own carnal ease. Remember, you have no evidence of election except you are holy, and that you have no right to expect you will be saved at the last unless you are saved now. A present faith in a present Saviour is the test. O that my Master would bring some of you to trust him to-night. The plan of salvation is simple. Trust Christ, and you are saved; rely upon him and you shall live. This faith is the gift of God, but remember that though God gives it, he works in you to will and to do of his own good pleasure. God does not believe for you; the Holy Spirit does not believe for you; you must believe, or else you will be lost: and it is quite consistent with the fact that it is the gift of God, to say that it is also the act of man. You must, poor soul, be led to trust the Saviour, or into heaven you can never enter. Is there one here who saith, “I would find the Saviour tonight?” Go not to thy bed until thou hast sought him, and seek thou him with sighs and with tears.

     Methinks this is a night of grace. I have preached the law and the terrors of the Lord to you, but it will be a night of grace to the souls of some of you. My Master doth but kill you that he may make you alive; he does but wound you that he may make you whole. I feel a sort of inward whisper in my heart that there are some of you who even now have begun your flight from the wrath to come. Whither do ye flee? Fly to Jesus. Haste, sinner, haste. I trust you will find him before you retire to your beds, or if you lie tossing there in doubt and fear, then may he manifest himself unto you before the morning light. Methinks I would freely give my eyes if you might but see Christ, and that I would willingly give my hands if you might but lay hold on him. Do, I conjure you, put not from you this warning, but let it have its proper work upon you and lead you to repentance. May God save you, and may the prayer we have already offered this evening be answered, that the company of you may be found among his elect at his right-hand. To that end let us pray. 

     Our Father, save us with thy great salvation. We will say unto God, do not condemn us; deliver us from going down to the pit, for thou hast found the ransom; may we not be among the company that shall taste of death when the Son of Man shall come. Hear us, Jesus, through thy blood. God be merciful to us sinners. Amen.



The Child Samuel’s Prayer

By / Jun 22

The Child Samuel's Prayer

 

“Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.”—1 Samuel 3:9.

 

IN the days of Eli the word of the Lord was precious, and there was no open vision. It was well when the word did come, that one chosen individual had the hearing ear to receive it, and the obedient heart to perform it. Eli failed to tutor his sons to be the willing servants and the attentive hearers of the Lord's word. In this he was without the excuse of inability, since he successfully trained the child Samuel in reverent attention to the divine will. 0 that those who are diligent about the souls of others, would look well to their own households. Alas, poor Eli, like many in our day, they made thee keeper of the vineyards, but thine own vineyard thou hast not kept. As often as he looked upon the gracious child, Samuel, he must have felt the heartache. When he remembered his own neglected and unchastened sons, and how they had made themselves vile before all Israel, Samuel was the living witness of what grace can work where children are trained up in God's fear, and Hophni and Phineas were sad specimens of what parental indulgence will produce in the children of the best of men. Ah, Eli, if thou hadst been as careful with thine own sons as with the son of Hannah, they had not been such men of Belial, nor would Israel have abhorred the offering of the Lord because of the fornication which those priestly reprobates committed at the very door of the tabernacle. O for grace so to nurse our little ones for the Lord, that they may hear the Lord when he shall be pleased to speak unto them. 

     Let us proceed at once to consider our short but very suggestive text in four aspects, and I pray that the Holy Spirit may speak to us through the word. We shall meditate upon this Scripture, first, as the prayer of a little child; secondly, as the cry of an anxious soul; thirdly, as the prayer of an earnest believer; and fourthly, as the spirit of a dying saint. 

     I. First of all we shall take our text AS THE PRAYER OP A LITTLE CHILD.

     Samuel was blessed with a gracious father, and what is of even more importance, he was the child of an eminently holy mother. Hannah was a woman of great poetic talent, as appears from her memorable song—“My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord; my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies, because I rejoiced in thy salvation.” The soul of poetry lives in every line; a brave but chastened spirit breathes in every sentence; even the Virgin Mary, the most blessed among women, could do no other than use expressions of a similar import. Better still, Hannah was a woman of great prayer. She had been a woman of a sorrowful spirit, but her prayers at last returned to her in blessing, and she had this son given her of the Lord. He was very dear to his mother's heart, and she, therefore, to show her gratitude, and in fulfilment of the vow which in her anguish she had vowed unto the Lord, would consecrate the best thing she had, and presented her son before the Lord in Shiloh—a lesson to all godly parents to see to it, that they dedicate their children unto God. How highly favoured shall we be if our children shall all be like Isaac—children of the promise! What blessed parents should we be if we saw our children all rise up to call the Redeemer blessed. It has been the lot of some of you to see all your children numbered with the people of God: all your jewels are now in Jehovah's casket. In their early childhood you gave them up to God, and dedicated them to him in earnest prayer, and now the Lord has given you your petition which you asked of him. I like our friends to hold little services in their own houses when their family is increased; it seems good and profitable for friends to assemble, and prayer to be offered that the child may be an inheritor of the promises, that he may be early called by mighty grace, and received into the divine family. You will perceive, dear friends, that as Samuel was put under the care and tuition of Eli, Eli had instructed him in some degree in the spirit of religion, but he does not appear to have explained to him the peculiar form and nature of those special and particular manifestations of God which were given to his prophets; little dreaming, I dare say, that Samuel would ever be himself self the subject of them. On that memorable night, when towards morning the lamp of God was about to go out, the Lord cried, “Samuel, Samuel,” the young child was not able to discern—for he had not been taught—that it was the voice of God, and not the voice of man. That he had learned the spirit of true religion, is indicated by his instantaneous obedience, and the habit of obedience became a valuable guide to him in the perplexities of that eventful hour. He runs to Eli, and says, “Here am I, for thou didst call me;” and though this is three times repeated, yet he seems nothing loath to leave his warm bed, and run to his foster-father her, to see if he could get him any comfort that his old age might require during the night, or otherwise do his bidding—a sure sign that the child had acquired the healthy principle of obedience though he did not understand the mystery of the prophetic call. Better far to have the young heart trained to bear the yoke than to fill the childish head with knowledge, however valuable. An ounce of obedience is better than a ton of learning. 

     When Eli perceived that God had called the child, he taught him his first little prayer. It is a very short one, but it is a very full one—“Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” Many questions have been raised, as to whether children ought to be taught a form of prayer. As far as I can judge I think not, for I do not think that forms of prayer, although they may be allowed, and God may accept them, are ever of very great advantage to those who use them. Forms of prayer are something like the stilts of a cripple; if a man begins with them, it is very probable that he will never be able to do without them. They resemble the copious notes and manuscripts of certain ministers, who began with them, and are quite unable now to preach without them. Children who are taught a form of prayer, may perhaps by divine grace be enabled to use the form in all sincerity of heart: I hope they may; but I think they are more likely to understand the things of God, if instead of teaching them the form, you explain to them the meaning and the value of prayer. I take this to be the best plan. Let the Christian parent explain to the child what prayer is; tell him that God answers prayer; direct him to the Saviour, and then urge him to express his desires in his own language, both when he rises, and when he goes to rest. Gather the little ones around your knee and listen to their words, suggesting to them their needs, and reminding them of God's gracious promise. You will be amazed, and, I may add, sometimes amused too; but you will be frequently surprised at the expressions they will use, the confessions they will make, the desires they will utter; and I am certain that any Christian person standing within ear-shot, and listening to the simple prayer of a little child earnestly asking God for what it thinks it wants, would never afterwards wish to teach a child a form, but would say, that as a matter of education to the heart the extemporaneous utterance was infinitely superior to the best form, and that the form should be given up for ever. However, do not let me speak too sweepingly. If you must teach your child to say a form of prayer, at least take care that you do not teach him to say anything which is not true. If you teach your children a catechism, mind that it is thoroughly scriptural, or you may train them up to tell falsehoods. Do not call the child up, and command him to say, “in my baptism, wherein I was made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of heaven.” If you want to educate him for the gallows, teach him to utter untruths about sacred things; if you would make him an habitual deceiver, teach him the Church Catechism, and make him to say, “God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth me, and all the elect people of God,” when he is altogether unsanctified, and has no evidence of being elected. I pray you, if you would have an honest son, do not teach him to say that he thanks his heavenly Father, “who hath brought him into this state of salvation,” when he knows, and you know, that he is not saved at all. Teach him nothing but the truth as it is in Jesus so far as he can learn it, and pray the Holy Spirit to write that truth upon his heart. Better to supply no sign-posts to the young traveller than to mislead him with false ones. The light of a wrecker's beacon is worse than darkness. Teach our youth to make untruthful statements in religious matters, and Atheism can scarcely do more to corrupt their minds. Formal religion is a deadly foe to vital godliness. If you teach a catechism, or if you teach a form of prayer to your little ones, let it be all true; and, as far as possible, never put into a child's mouth a word which the child cannot truly say from his heart. Dear friends, we must be more careful about truthfulness and correctness in speech. If a child looked out of a window at anything going on in the street, and then told you that he saw it from the door, you ought to make him tell the tale over again, so as to impress upon him the necessity of being truthful in every respect. Especially in things connected with religion, keep your child back from any form until he has a right to be a partaker of it. Never encourage him to come to the Lord’s Table unless you really believe that there is a work of grace in his heart; for why should you lead him to eat and drink his own damnation. Insist with all your heart that religion is a solemn reality not to be mimicked or pretended to, and seek to bring the child to understand that there is no vice more abhorrent before God than hypocrisy. Do not make your young Samuel a young hypocrite, but train up your darling to speak before the Lord with a deep solemnity and a conscientious truthfulness, and let him never to dare to say, either in answer to a catechismal question, or as a form of prayer, anything which is not positively true. If you must have a form of prayer, let it not express such desires as a child never had, but let it be adapted to his young capacity. At the same time, I would again say, that it would be infinitely better to leave the child alone as to the words, having earnestly inculcated upon him the spirit of prayer. Beloved, when we see any trace of good in our youth, then, like Eli, we should be the more earnest to have them trained up in the faith. Let the child learn the Assembly’s Catechism, even though he does not understand all that is in it; and as soon as the young heart can comprehend the things of Jesus, labour in power of the Holy Spirit to bring it to a simple dependance upon the great sacrifice. It is said of the Rev. John Angell James, “Like most men who have been eminent and honoured in the Church of Christ, he had a godly mother, who was wont to take her children to her chamber, and with each separately to pray for the salvation of their souls. This exercise, which fulfilled her own responsibility, was moulding the character of her children, and most, if not all of them, rose up to call her blessed. When did such means ever fail?” I beseech you, the teachers of the Sunday-school—though I scarcely need to do so, for I know how zealous you are in this matter—as soon as ever you see the first peep of day in your children, encourage their young desires. Believe in the conversion of children, as children; believe that the Lord can call them by his grace, can renew their hearts, can give them a part and a lot among his people long before they reach the prime of life. Oh! that the Lord may give us to see many Samuels added to this Church, as we have seen them in days gone by. You that are little ones, when the Lord speaks to you, cry to him, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth;” and when in the class, or here in the Tabernacle, the Word of God is preached to sinners, remember it is preached to you quite as much as to the men who are six feet high; and do lift up your little hearts to God with the desire that while we are preaching God would speak to you. Do, dear children, expect the Lord to meet with you. Boys and girls have been saved. 

 

“Many dear children are gathering there,

For of such is the kingdom of heaven.”  

 

We have baptized many like you, at twelve, thirteen, and fourteen years of age, who have made a very clear profession of their faith; and rejoiced indeed shall we be if we see you boys and girls coming forward and saying, “God has called us, has brought us to put our trust in Jesus; and here we are.” Young Samuel, the Lord calls you; and thou art a privileged one to be called so soon, for early grace frequently becomes eminent grace; and those who begin early with God, are often preserved in this world to be of distinguished service in the courts of the Lord's house. May that be your lot and mine! 

     II. We have perhaps spoken enough upon this point, let us now consider the words as THE CRY OF AN ANXIOUS SOUL.  

     What an overwhelming sight is this vast crowd of immortal souls! What a joy would it be to me if I could hope that you were all anxious to find the Saviour. Many of you who assemble constantly within these walls, though you have had serious impressions, are not yet saved. As you came in to-night this thought may have been uppermost—“Oh, that God would meet with my soul to-night.” Some of you young women have been in my sister's, Mrs. Bartlett's class, this afternoon, and it is very hard to be in that class long without receiving solemn impressions. God has been visiting your class just lately; he has removed a heavenly-minded and well-beloved sister; he has carried her aloft to the upper and better world. She could die singing and rejoicing in her Saviour, for her usual frame of mind was set forth in these words, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” Well, dear friends, this bereaving providence has had a loud voice to your class, God has wrought a solemn impression upon your mind by it, and you prayed as you entered the Tabernacle, “O God, save my soul this night!” Let me recommend you the use of this simple prayer now while you are sitting in the pew, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” “Speak, Lord!" pray that first. “Speak, Lord!” While the minister is speaking, Lord do thou speak. I have heard the minister’s voice, and sometimes it awakens me, but I am not saved, and I never shall be, Lord, if the minister speaks alone. Speak, Lord! My mother has talked with me; my earnest teacher has sought to lead me to the Saviour; but I know that the words of blessed men and women will fall to the ground if they come alone. Speak, Lord! Thy voice said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light. Speak, Lord! and make light in my bedarkened mind! Thy voice called Lazarus from the grave, though he had been dead four days. Speak, Lord! and make me live. Oh, let it be to-night a real work of grace in my soul! Let divine power come and operate upon me.” My dear friend, cannot you follow me in such petitions as these? You know my soul is going up for you, and I am crying to God, “Speak, Lord!” and there are others here that you know of, and who are dear to you, who are even now in earnest wrestling ling with the angel of mercy, and they are saying, “Speak, Lord!" Oh! what would your father give if he should hear that God had spoken to your soul? How would your mother leap for joy if she did but know that God had come to deal with you in away of saving grace! “Speak, Lord!” let that be your prayer. Then put it next, Speak, Lord, to me? For if the Lord speak in a sermon, it may be to another, and then woe is me that I should be denied the priceless boon. I may be lying by Bethesda’s pool, but another man may step in before me, and I may miss the mercy. Speak, Lord, to me, even to me. Say unto my soul, “I am thy salvation.” May there be an unmistakable message to my heart. Thou hast taken away one that I knew. It is a marvel that then thou hast not taken me away. It is a wonder that I am spared—such a rebel as I have been. O how great is thy patience, that thou hast not dashed me in pieces, and cast me into hell! Lord, thou hast dealt graciously with me in sparing my life. Speak to me, Lord. If there be other souls in a like case with me, do thou deal graciously with them, but oh! do chiefly so with me, for if there be one heart that wants thee more than another I am that one. If there be one less likely than another to be saved— one who would give thee more praise than another if saved, I am that one. Lord speak to me!” Dear young friend, you need not go home to pray that prayer. While you are sitting there, I pray God the Holy Ghost to lead you to offer it in silence—“Lord, speak to me.” Personal possession of an interest in Christ Jesus is a blessing to be sought for with strong crying and tears: be not silent till the God of heaven shall grant it to you.

     I will add another word to the prayer which I commend to you: it shall be the word of time. “Lord, speak to me now” How old are you? Perhaps you are young. Oh! but how well it is to let the Saviour have the bud of our being—to consecrate to him the early morning of life! Blessed is the day of life when it begins with clear shining, and opens with a morning without clouds. “Lord, I am young, but not too young to die. Speak to me now!” But are there not some of you who are past your one-and-twenty, and are beginning to run into the ways of sin? It may be your feet have slipped. Have you wandered into evil? Are you living in the daily practice of outward vice? You know you have left the right path some of you, and the pangs of conscience are upon you just now. Pray: “Lord, let me have had the last of my sins; let me have done with them now. Sever, once for all, the bonds between me and Satan, and bind me to thine altar fast to-night!” Perhaps you have passed even the prime of life. It may be that your hairs are turning grey. An old sinner is an old fool. He who is out of Christ at sixty or seventy is devoid of understanding. The young may die, but the old must. To be careless in youth is to sleep in a siege; but to be worldly in old age is to sleep in an attack, when already the scaling ladders are at the walls. Take heed, ye who wear grey hairs, for if they be not crowns of glory to you, they will prove to be fools'-caps. Woe unto you who have spent your threescore years and ten, and are yet the enemies of God! What will ye do when he comes to require of you that which is past? O, what will ye do in the day when he shall deal out to you who have followed the flesh, the corruption thereof? O, what will you do when the heavens are in a blaze, and the trumpet rings, and the dead awaken, and you are judged? I put this question to you in deep solemnity this night; and do, I pray you, ere you leave these walls, send up the cry, “Speak, Lord to me, and speak to me now!” 

     But can you say, like Samuel, “Thy servant heareth?” Truly, I am afraid many of you cannot, for you do not hear God’s word with your hearts. Mine eye runneth down with grief when I think of some of you who listen to my voice year after year, and yet do not hear. You hear me, but you do not hear my Master. Alas! how many have been the arrows out of God's bow which I have shot at you? Have they not been wasted? They have rattled upon your armour, but they have not pierced your hearts. I have run in vain, I have laboured in vain for you. I have beaten the air so far as you are concerned. You would not hear. I can say solemnly I have sometimes stood in this pulpit, and have laboured with your souls to the best of my power, and I have felt that I would have cheerfully resigned all I had on earth if I might but have brought you to Christ. If you, my hearers, who sit here constantly, might but be partakers of eternal life, I will leave my Master to do what he wills with me. Shame, contempt, obloquy—these shall be our joy and our crown for our faithfulness to God and your souls; but, oh! I must have you saved; I must have you lay hold on eternal life; I must see you look to Jesus; and my prayer is that you may this night look to a Saviour crucified! Can you say, “Thy servant heareth?” “Yes,” says one, “I can; if now the Lord would say a word in mercy to me I would gladly hear it.” Then he will speak to thee, poor soul, ere long. If thou wilt hear it he will say it, for he never did give a hearing ear to any heart without intending to speak to it. I know how you want him to speak: you want him to speak with conviction. You want the broken and the contrite heart such as he will not despise. Well, ask for it—say, “Speak, Lord, with thy convincing voice, for I am ready to hear.” But you want him to speak with a converting voice; you desire to be turned from your evil ways, and to follow the Lord. Cry to him then, “Speak, Lord, with the voice that turns men, and turn me now from darkness to light.” Or it may be that you want a comforting word. Well, then, pray for it—“Speak, Lord, with thy voice of comfort: bind up my bleeding wounds, and let my soul rejoice in thee.” Yet, truly, I do not know that he will speak anything more to you than this—“Look to Christ, and live.” He will speak with power, but that is the substance of it. Jesus is the sum of mercy's message He is the word of God. Do not expect to have any other gospel from God’s lips than that which is revealed in God’s word. The gospel of God’s word is, “Believe, and live.” There is life in a look at the crucified One; there is life at this moment for thee. If thou wilt not hear the voice of God when he saith to thee, “Trust Christ,” remember he hath no other glad tidings. Effectual calling may speak this same thing more effectually, but the Holy Spirit never reveals any other gospel. There is no other way to heaven but just this—“Trust thy soul to Christ; thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou art saved.” 

     I am loath to leave this point, because my heart is panting to know and to feel some inward emotion, which might make me feel confident that some of you had breathed this prayer. O may the good Master who alone can drive these nails home, use the gospel hammer now! I do conjure you, by the shortness of life, by the certainty of death, by the glories of heaven, by the terrors of hell, seek the Lord, and let this be now the voice of your seeking, “Speak, Lord; speak to me; speak now; for thy servant heareth.” 

     III. We will turn to the third view of the text as the PRAYER OF AN EARNEST BELIEVER. I was led to select this text, by finding it in the letter of one who has just been taken away from our classes, and from our Church. She was about to change her position in life in some degree, and the one prayer that seemed to be ever upon her mind, was a prayer for guidance, and she prayed, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” She said she felt that God was about to do something thing for her, but she did not know what it was; she little dreamed that she was so near the kingdom and the glory, but yet that was the prayer, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” This is a very appropriate prayer for the Christian when he is in providential difficulty. You may not know what you ought to do to-morrow; of two courses open to you, there may appear certain advantages connected with each, and some friends have urged you to one plan, and other friends have urged you to the other. Now if you have used your best judgment, and have endeavoured to direct your steps according to the Word of God, you may expect in answer to prayer, to have a distinct guidance from God—not perhaps from the mouth of man, though that sometimes happens, for even from this pulpit cases which we never heard of have been unravelled, and dilemmas with which the preacher was never acquainted have notwithstanding been solved by what seemed but a stray word, but what was meant by God to be a finger, pointing out to his children—“This is the way, walk ye in it.” Take your difficulty to the God of wisdom; spread it out before him, and having divested yourself of your own will in the matter, having solemnly desired to know the will of God, and not your own wish, then you may expect by some means or other—and God has different ways of doing it—to have an answer from the Most High. Take you this as your prayer, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” We want in our daily life more fully to acknowledge God in all our ways. We are, I am afraid, in this age, in great danger of forgetting God. We ought to acknowledge him in the common transactions of the day, or else like the Israelites with the Gibeonites, we may be betrayed in the simplest transaction, and deceived to our lasting injury. Take thy matters before the God of Abraham, and the Urim and Thummim shall yet speak to thee. Domine Dirige nos, “Lord direct us,” is a good motto, not only for the City of London, but for the citizens of heaven. In points of doctrine this desire humbly uttered may bring us much light. God's Word is not all of it alike plain; sometimes when you have heard conflicting views—this preacher earnestly declaring a doctrine, and another denouncing it—you may be somewhat nonplussed. My advice to you is, take your difficulty before God in prayer, and say, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” Do not ask God to confirm your opinion, but ask him to make your opinion conformable with his truth. Do not go to God's Word to find texts to support your tenets, but go to Scripture for texts and tenets too. Remember that to a true Christian no doctrine has any force upon the conscience, except as it comes with “thus saith the Lord.” Follow the simple Word of God as you find it, and rest assured you shall have the light of the Holy Spirit streaming upon the sacred page, and as you read it you shall hear the Master say, “This is my Word.” He shall make it come to your soul with such power, that you shall have no doubt about it if your heart cries, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.”

     The same course should be adopted by every Christian in matters of practice. I am afraid there are many Christians who have stopped their ears up, that they may not hear the teaching of portions of the Word. There are certain Scriptures which they can never abide. I have heard of one who never would read the eighth or ninth chapter of Romans at family prayer. I have heard of another who invariably omitted that chapter in the Acts, about the Ethiopian eunuch—a very awkward chapter, I confess, for any one to read who has not accepted believer's baptism. You will find many professed Christians in these day's who do not like to meddle with certain questions, because they are more than half afraid that a little examination would prove them to be in the wrong. They cannot bear us to put a finger upon their Prayer Book, their creed, or their Church, for they know that they will not bear a close inspection. They will say, “Well, there are faults everywhere where, let well alone;” the fact being that they do not care what truth is, so long as they can be comfortable and go with the fashion of the day. Some whom we fain hope to be true Christians think truth unimportant, and are not prepared to “search the Scriptures whether these things be so or not.” Brethren, I should be afraid of my own doctrine, if I dare not test it both by Scripture and sound argument. If my foundation would not stand a good shaking, I should be afraid that it was not made of very solid material. Some people cry out if we say a word about their Church; it is a sign that their Church is hardly strong enough to endure an honest encounter. Pasteboard and tinsel always pray for peace and charity, but solid metal fears not the day of battle. Be it ours to court the sunlight, and above all let us beseech the Lord our God to be our light, for in his light we shall see light. Sitting at the feet of Jesus be our position! To receive of his words be our sweet employ! As melted wax is fitted to receive the impress of the seal, so let us be ready to accept the Master's teaching. Let his faintest word bind us as with bonds of steel; and let his minutest precept be precious as the gold of Ophir. “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams;” let it be our chosen privilege to be taught of the Lord, and to maintain his truth. Here, in this house of prayer let us offer the petition, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.”

     As for matters of duty again, be ye ever ready to follow the Master, and him alone. Not Luther, nor Calvin, neither Wesley, nor Whitfield, is to be your Rabbi; Jesus alone is Master in the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it, but where you have not his warrant, let no traditions or ancient customs make you stir so much as a single inch. 

     IV. We will close by observing that our text seems to us rightly to express THE SPIRIT OF A DEPARTING CHRISTIAN. There he lies upon the bed; his pulse grows fainter; the many pains of death afflict him. His eye is beginning to glaze, but a brighter light than that of earth has dawned upon him; and while the outward man decayeth, the inward man beginneth to renew his youth. Meihinks I see him when his pains are worst. He desireth to go, but he is willing to remain as long as his Master wills. He says sometimes, “I ill can brook delay,” but the next moment he checketh himself, and he saith, “Not my will, but thine be done.” He sits patiently upon the river's brink, expecting that his Master shall open the passage for him to pass over dryshod. He is praying, ‘Speak, Lord, and the sooner thou wilt speak the more shall I rejoice.’ Say unto me, ‘Come up hither.’ ‘Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth’—heareth now better and more distinctly than he ever did hear before; he is now nearer to thee; the ear is almost closed to the din and bustle of the world, while in secret silence of the mind it waits the still small voice of thy lips. Speak, Lord, and say, “Plunge into the river,” and I will cheerfully do so, if thou wilt but come and meet me. “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” Methinks I hear that divine and mysterious voice, which, in fact, none can hear but those whose day of glory is dawning. The messenger has come and whispered in the ear of the dying saint, and I pray you mark his joy for you may see it; its light illuminates the countenance; the eye sparkles with supernatural glory. “Now,” saith the man of God, “my journey is over, and I am almost home.” “Now,” saith the expiring sister, “it is victory, glory, triumph! The white horse is at the door: my Master bids me mount and ride in triumph, following my Lord Jesus, and all the conquering ones. The Master is come in his garments of salvation and calleth for me.” The physician says he could see the death-change, and the nurse bears the same witness, but the well-instructed instructed believer calls it the life-change, and reads the true meaning of the mysterious transformation. He sees a something, which is a prognostic of the coming glory; he marks those beaming eyes, and that celestial smile. Now strange words drop from the lips—sometimes words that are scarcely lawful for a man to utter, by reason of the high and awful glory of their meaning. Now come the shouts of victory over death—now the note of defiance of the grave. The soul has left all care, all doubt, all fear behind. Its foot is not only on the Rock of Ages, but on that part of the rock which is on the other side of Jordan; and the soul cries with transport, “I am with him: another moment I shall be in his arms! I see him. The angelic chariots await me; I step into them, and I ride to the kingdom. ‘Victory, victory, victory, through the blood of the Lamb!’” Something like this was the departing scene of our beloved friend who has gone home this week, and something like this, I trust, will be your departure and mine; but it will not, it cannot be thus with us, except we are resting upon Christ.

 

“None but Jesus—none but Jesus—

Can do helpless sinners good.”

 

Lo! these fifteen years have I been preaching Jesus' name, and preaching nothing but his name, and it hath a savour about it sweeter than ever; and if I had but one word more to speak, methinks this should be it: none but Jesus, none but Jesus! Oh! fly to him, if ye would have a blessed death and a glorious resurrection. Look out of yourselves away from your frames and your feelings; look away from ceremonies, from priests, and from all men; look only to the bleeding wounds of my Master. Trust Jesus, expiring on the cross, and trust in him alone. You shall find eternal happiness in him. The Lord bless you with his richest blessing, for Jesus’ sake. Amen. 



Quiet Musing!

By / Jun 22

Quiet Musing!

 

“While I was musing the fire burned."— Psalm 39:3.

 

OUR subject this evening will not stand in need of much preface. The Psalm may teach us that there are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech. The company of sinners was a grief to David's soul, and because their converse was profane, he chose rather to fly away from their midst; or if they must still continue in his presence, he determined that he would resolutely seal his lips. Touchingly he says, “I was dumb with silence (that is, utterly dumb), I held my peace, even from good." This painful necessity soon proved to him a pleasing occasion. While he yielded himself up to the thoughts, the reveries, and the pensive workings of his own heart, a sacred fire of devotion was kindled in his breast. But, brethren, whatever the circumstances of the Psalmist, you will all see that the exercise was profitable; and however peculiar the advantages of meditation at particular seasons, it may not be amiss for us to make it a common habit. Inverting a popular proverb, “What was one man's medicine may be food for others.” There is much that is light and frothy in our ordinary intercourse; and our communications one with another soon grow frothy and insipid when we have no definite matter in hand. Whether, therefore, to free ourselves from the stress of business, or to escape from the temptations of idleness, let it be thought worthy of note that “musing” hath sweet charms, and calm reflection is capable of kindling a bright fire.

     Our remarks will now run in two directions. First, we shall say something in praise of musing; and then, secondly, we shall supply ply you with some fuel to burn on the altar of your hearts.

     I. First, then, LET US SAY SOMETHING IN PRAISE OF MUSING.   

     We do not muse much in these days of ours. We are too busy. We are hurrying here and there, doing much, and talking much, but thinking very little, and spending but very little time indeed in the modesty of retirement. 

 

“The calm retreat, the silent shade,” 

 

are things which we know but very little about. We should be better men, if we were more alone; and I trow that we should do more good after all, if with even less of active effort we spent more time in waiting upon God, and gathering spiritual strength for labour in his service. Where lives there upon earth, in these days, a man who spends hour after hour of the day in meditation upon God? There may be such, and if there be, I would that I had their acquaintance; but where will you find giants such as those who lived in the Puritanic times, whose lips dropped pearls, because they themselves had dived down deep in the fathomless ocean of mercy by the sweet aid of meditation? There may be such, and I would that it were our lot to sit under their ministry; but I fear that the most of us are so little in retirement—so seldom in communion with God in private, and even when there, the communion is for so short a time—that we are but tiny dwarfs, and can never, while we live thus, attain to the stature of a perfect man in Christ Jesus. The world has put a little letter before the word “musing,” and these are the days, not for musing, but for a-musing. People will go anywhere for amusement; but to muse is a strange thing to them, and they think it dull and wearisome. Our good sires loved the quiet hour, and loved it so well, that they cherished those times which they could spend in musing as the most happy, because the most peaceful seasons of their life. We drag such time off to execution in a moment, and only ask men to tell us how we may kill it. 

     Now there is much virtue in musing, especially if we muse upon the best, the highest, and the noblest of subjects. If we muse upon the things of which we hear and read in sacred Scripture, we shall do wisely. It is well to muse upon the things of God, because ive thus get the real nutriment out of them. A man who hears many sermons, is not necessarily well-instructed structed in the faith. We may read so many religious books, that we overload our brains, and they may be unable to work under the weight of the great mass of paper and of printer's ink. The man who reads but one book, and that book his Bible, and then muses much upon it, will be a better scholar in Christ's school than he who merely reads hundreds of books, and muses not at all. And he, too, who gets but one sermon in a day, though it is an ill habit to stay away from half our Sabbath engagements, and only go out once, yet, he who heareth but one sermon in a day, if he meditateth much upon it, will get far more out of it than he who heareth two or three but meditateth not. Truth is something like the cluster of the vine: if you would have wine from it, you must bruise it; you must press and squeeze it many times. The bruisers’ feet must come down joyfully upon the bunches, or else the juice will not flow; and they must leap, and leap, and leap again, and well tread the grapes, or else much of the precious liquid will be wasted. You must, by the feet of meditation, tread the clusters of truth, would you get the wine of consolation therefrom. Our bodies are not supported by merely taking food into the mouth, but the process which really supplies the muscle, and the nerve, and the sinew, and the bone, is the process of digestion. It is by digestion that the outward food becomes assimilated with inner life. And so is it with our souls; they are not nourished merely by what we hear by going hither, and thither, and listening awhile to this, and then to that, and then to the other. Hearing, leading, marking, and learning, all require inwardly digesting; and the inward digesting of the truth lies in the meditating upon it. Ruminating creatures chew the cud, and these have always been considered clean animals; and so it is a mark of a true child of God that he understandeth how to chew the cud of meditation. Why is it that some people are always in a place of worship, and yet they are not holy, though they make some slight advances in the divine life? It is because they neglect their closets. They love the wheat, but they do not grind it; they would have the corn, but they will not go forth into the fields to gather it; the fruit hangs upon the tree, but they will not pluck it; the Water flows at their feet, but they will not stoop to drink of it. They are either too idle, or too busy, I will not say which, but often to be busy is to be idle; and when some men think us idle, we are then best at work. You who know anything of the divine life know very well what I mean by that. Meditation is not idleness, and retirement is not forsaking the good of the world. I trow that Moses did as much for Israel on the mountain's summit with uplifted hands, as ever Joshua did in the valley with his drawn sword; and Elias upon the top of Carmel, ay, even by the brook Cherith, or in the house of the widow of Zarephath, was as much serving Israel as when he smote the priests of Baal, and hewed them in pieces before the Lord. I commend meditation to you, then, for fetching the nutriment out of truth. 

     Another note in the praise of this most blessed, but much-neglected duty, is that it fixes the truth upon the memory. You complain of short memories; you say that what you have heard you can scarcely remember to another day. If thy paint be thin, and thou canst not make thy picture stand out in glowing colours, lay on many coats of thy paint, and so wilt thou do what thou wantest. If thy memory will not retain the truth the first time, then think it over, and over, and over again, and so, by having these several coats of paint, as it were, the whole matter shall abide. When the fisherman goeth out to angle, it may be that in mid-stream stream he sees a great fish, and having cast his fly, the hook is soon fairly in the fish's jaws; but what now? Why, he must let him run out the line, and then he must drag him back again, and after all he never thinks his fish safely his own till he gets him into the landing-net. Well, now, hearing sermons is but, as it were, getting the hook into the fish’s mouth, but meditation is the landing-net, it is this which gets the thing to shore. And what if I say that after that, the same meditation becomes a fire of coals upon which the fish is broiled and prepared for our spiritual food. If you cannot hold a thing well, try and get many hooks to hold it with, and meditation will supply you, as it were, with a hundred hands, by every one of which you may grasp the truth. I am sure, dear friends, that we give not earnest heed enough to these things, or else we should not let them slip. There are many photographers who can take a street view more rapidly than I can speak of it; they have but just to lift up the cover, and put it down again, and the whole thing is done; but for many things which are to endure and last, they like, if they have time, to have the object long before the camera, and there it stands, and fairly fixes itself upon the plate. And surely, there may be some few men who can just hear a sermon, and retain the impression of it all their days; there are some who are quick of understanding in the things of God, and as with a flash they get the truth, and never lose it; but the most of us need more than this. If we would have the truth photographed upon our hearts, we must keep it long before the spiritual lens, or else it never will fix itself there. Complain not, then, of thy memory, complain of thyself if thou art not given to meditation. Let thy closet rebuke thee because thou hast not been oftener there, if thy memory be frail. Whereas another man may do with less meditation, if thou sayest thy memory is weak, the more reason why thou shouldst be a longer time, and oftener with thy God in secret. All want this, but thou needest it more than others; see thou to it, then, that thou neglectest not this duty. For getting the nourishment out of truth, and moreover, for preserving, for salting down the truth for future use, employ much meditation. Meditation clippeth the wings of thoughts, which otherwise would fly away at the first clapping of the world's hands. Thou shalt thus keep thy prey, as it were, surrounded and entangled in a net, else it might escape thee; thy meditation shall hold it fast until thou needest it. 

     Yet further, meditation is of great value in opening up truth and leading us into its secrets. There is some gold to be found on the surface of this land of Ophir, the Book of God. There are some precious jewels which may be discovered even by the wayfaring man, but the mass of the gold is hidden in the bowels of the earth; and he who would be rich in these treasures, must dig into Scripture as one who seeketh for choice pearls. Thou must go down into its depths, and thou must rummage there until thou gettest at last at the treasure. Truth is sometimes like a flint, which, when it is smitten the first time yieldeth not, and you may even strike it yet again, and still it yieldeth not; but at last one happy blow of the hammer shall make it fly to shivers. Meditation may be compared, for its potency, to the great battering-ram which Sir Christopher Wren used when he built the present St. Paul's Cathedral. Old St. Paul's, you remember, had been destroyed by the fire, but its walls were so extremely thick, that it was found very difficult to take the old walls away; and they were so lofty, that there was also great danger to the workmen. Sir Christopher therefore invented a ram, composed of a large piece of timber, and intended to be used in the same way as the Romans used their rams of old. A number of men were set to work with this ram, and of course, being a new instrument to them, they did not like it, and they did not believe in it either; so, after hammering away some five or six hours, and the wall showing no sign whatever of anything like an impression, they complained to Sir Christopher that he had given them a useless work to do. He set them at it again, and the ram fell heavily, but not a stone seemed to stir. One whole day they kept on thus, battering away at the walls. The architect knew full well that, although it might not be palpable to the labourers, there must have been a degree of oscillation given to the whole structure. And so it proved, for the next morning, when they began the work again, all of a sudden down tumbled the whole mass. Thus at length the men were convinced that the work of the day before had not been lost, it really had been telling when they could not chalk down the progress. You will find it the same with gospel doctrine, that you want to understand but cannot. There is some difficulty you cannot surmount. Meditation comes and gives one stroke after another with all the weight of prayer and of thoughtfulness, but it stirs not; till at last our diligence is rewarded, and we see the whole mass of masonry which reason had piled together of fabulous traditions, cometh tumbling down; the foundation is discovered, and the truth made clear to our apprehension in a moment. What! think ye that the great thoughts of master-minds come in a minute. People say, “Oh! what a genius!” Nonsense! the man had been hard at work over that for years, and years, and years, though perhaps the thing came at last to him suddenly, it was not a whit less a result of study, the success which crowns the patient brain-work of a meditative mind. Never despair, dear friends, of understanding the truth. If you will but in the name of Jesus give your souls to the study, come resolved to sit at Christ's feet as Mary did, to believe just what he tells you, as he tells it to you, though he may reveal dark things and speak of them to you in parables, yet you shall be able to comprehend with all saints what are the heights and depths, and you shall yet know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. Be not weary of well-thinking, use much diligence in musing, yield up thy heart to sacred meditation. Turn the matter over, and over, and over again in your minds. You rememb member the story of the great philosopher who had been attempting to discover how much alloy there was in the king's crown, but who could find no way of doing it. By day and by night he pondered it; nay, at night when he slept, his day-dreams did but come to him again; but on a sudden, when he was in the bath, he sprang up and wrapped his garments about him, and ran through the street, crying out, “Inveni, Inveni” “I have found it! I have found it!” And one of these days, Christian, when you are puzzling over some doctrine which you feel must be true, but which you cannot grasp, you will spring upon your feet when God the Holy Spirit has revealed the truth to you, and you will cry, “I have found it! I have found it!” and great will be your joy at the discovery. Cultivate much, then, the habit of retirement and meditation, because of the way in which it opens up the truth. 

     Here, almost unwittingly, I have touched upon another suggestion. This musing is a charmed exercise, for, mark ye, the joy which it brings. There is a text in Scripture which speaks of the sinner as rolling sin under his tongue as a sweet morsel, an allusion to the habit of the man whose mouth is somewhat flavourish, who, when he gets a dainty thing, swallows it not at once, but rolleth it under his tongue, trying to draw out more and more of its sweetness. Well, now, this is what the Christian should do with doctrinal truth—he should roll it under his tongue. Thou wilt have far more enjoyment while it is in thy mouth than thou wilt afterwards, so keep it there; meditate much upon it; roll it under thy tongue again, and again, and again, until thou gettest more to find its savour. Scripture is often like a bone, but meditation is the hammer which cracks it, and then the soul gets the marrow and the fatness. The beauties of Christ are not to be seen by the passer-by who merely glances at him; there is something to arrest attention at a glance, it is true, but he who would see the beauties of Jesus, must look, and look, and look again, until his whole soul is enamoured of the Saviour and as he looks, and is transformed into the Saviour's image, he shall, have such enjoyment, that this side of heaven there is none other like it. Communion comes after musing. “My meditation of him shall be sweet,” said the Psalmist, and truly so it is. When I can walk with him, as the old philosophers walked with Plato in the groves of the Academe, then am I indeed made wise unto salvation; and then, too, is my heart made glad. There is no riding in the chariots of Amminadib, except by being much with Christ. The spouse does not say, “I stood under his shadow;” no, but “I sat under his shadow with great delight.” Sitting down is the posture of waiting, in which we ungird the loins of the mind, and indulge the repose of meditation; let us sit down then beneath his shadow, and we shall have great delight in musing upon Christ.

     But perhaps, after all, the best reason, at least the best to clench all the other reasons I have given, why we should spend much time in musing, is, because musing then becomes easier to us. I never did light an oven-fire in my life, but I have heard that sometimes when a baker goes to light a coal-oven, if his fuel be a little damp, he gets no blaze; but after the fire is once up, then he may throw in what he will, and everything is speedily consumed by the vehement heat. So sometimes you and I feel our hearts to be like cold ovens, and we try to put some fresh truth in, but it will not burn. But ah! when the heart gets hot and the fire is roaring, then even such damp material as I am able to give you on Sabbath-days will burn right well, and the feeble words of a poor servant of God will make your hearts hot within you. We can meditate better after we have addicted ourselves to a meditative frame. When we have mused a little, then the fire begins to burn; and you will perceive, that as the fire burns, meditation gets easier, and then the heart gets warm; and oh! what holy affections, what blessed excitements those have who are much alone with Christ! Such a man never has a cold heart or a slack hand who is much in meditation with his Lord Jesus; his heart comes to be like a mass of molten lard, and ere long he verifies the experience of the Psalmist, and can make my text his own. “Then spake I with my tongue.” He cannot help it, for this lava will soon be running over in burning hot words; and if this man should be a preacher, he will preach with holy power; his heart being hot, his words will burn their way into his hearers' hearts. Nor will it end there, but this hot heart will soon make a hot hand, and the man who once has his soul full of Christ will not have his hand empty for Christ. Now he will work; now he will preach for Christ; now he will pray, now he will plead with sinners; now he will be in earnest; now he will weep; now he will agonize; now he will wrestle with the angel, and now he will prevail; for, as the fire burneth, his whole being gets into a glow; and the man, like a pillar of fire, warms those who are round about him, burns his way to the glory of success, and gives his Master fresh renown.

     Commend me, then, for all these reasons which we have given, this blessed art of holy musing. 

     II. And now we have to spend the few minutes which remain to us in PUTTING SOME FUEL ON THE FIRE OF MEDITATION. 

     The man who says that he has nothing to think about, can surely have no brains; and that professing Christian who says he has nothing to muse upon, must be a laughing-stock for devils. A Christian man without a subject for contemplation! Impossible! Only give us the time and the opportunity, and there are a thousand topics which at once present themselves for our consideration. 

     Let me just suggest a few of these to the Christian.

     Your heart will surely bum like an oven, my Christian brother, if you think, first, upon eternal love. What a topic to muse upon! 

 

"Sing we, then, eternal love,

Such as did the Father move;

When he saw the world undone,

Loved the world, and gave his SON.”  

 

     Think of that love without beginning, and which, blessed be God, shall never, never cease. Give the wings of your imagination full play, and go back to the time before all time, when there was no day but the Ancient of Days; when ages had not begun to be, but God dwelt alone. Remember, if you are one of his people, that the Father loved you even then, and he continues still to love you, and will love you when, like a bubble, this earth has melted, and like a gipsy's tent, the universe has been rolled up and put away. Why, as you think of this, surely you will say with our songster—

 

“Loved of my God, for him again

With love intense I'd burn:

Chosen of God ere time began,

I'd choose him in return.”

 

If you want meditation, dear friends, here is an ocean to swim in. That one doctrine of election, that precious truth of predestinating love, and all the consequences which flow from it, why, here is a well, an overflowing well, which you can never drink dry. Take deep draughts of it, then, and while you are musing, you shall find that your heart is warmed.

     Then, next, there is dying love to think of. Oh ! think of the Saviour descending from the starry heights of glory, and coming down to the Virgin's womb, and then descending from that lowly manger of Bethlehem, even to the cross and to the grave for you ; counting it not robbery to be equal with God, and yet for your sake he takes upon himself the form of a servant, and makes himself of no reputation, but becomes obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Many of the ancient saints were accustomed to spend hours in meditating upon the wounds of Christ, and many of the martyrs have been for days engaged in solemn meditation upon those wounded hands and feet, and that pierced side. Oh! of all the volumes which were ever written, this volume, printed in crimson upon the pure, lily-like flesh of Christ, is the best to read. Talk ye of pictures? Was there ever such a picture as that which God drew with the pencil of eternal love, dipped into the colour of Almighty wrath on Calvary's summit? Angels desired to see it, but there was a veil before the picture until Jesus came and drew it up, and then the spectacle was revealed, to be gazed upon throughout eternity by adoring spirits, with fresh wonder and admiration for evermore. You cannot exhaust this subject, but, 0, let me beseech you to give it the first and chief place in your meditation. “I have set the Lord always before me,” would be a good motto for the believer, and well would it be for him to have the cross painted upon his very eye-balls, so that everywhere he should be reminded of Christ crucified, and so should be led always to say, “For me to live is Christ.”

     That topic never can be exhausted, and there are kindred ones connected with it—your justification, the work of the Spirit, and so on; let me rather now hint at one or two other matters which I would ye should solemnly brood over. You will do well, Christian, to meditate much upon death. What! man, did I see you turn away? A Christian afraid of death? No, verily, for death is our Lord's door keeper. Life keeps the key, and saith to us, “Ye shall not enter into your Father’s mansions;” but Death comes, and with his bony hand snatches the key out of the grasp of the tyrant, Life, and puts it into the lock, and opens the gate, and lets us in. Why, we say sometimes that “the last enemy which shall be destroyed is death;” but if he be “the last enemy,” he is not altogether the less a friend, for he is a friend, too, now that Christ hath transformed him. It is to be greatly wise, Christian, to think sometimes of the grave, the mattock, and the shroud. The catacomb is no ill place for musing, and a little cemetery, with its green knolls and its white memorial stones, will be a good place to study in for the man who wishes to muse upon life and immortality in the midst of death. The old naturalists, who tell us a good many things which are not true, as well as some which are, say that the birds of Norway always fly more swiftly than any others, because the summer days are so short, and therefore they have so much to do in such a little time. I do not know anything about the birds of Norway, but this I do know, that Christ's birds would surely fly more swiftly if they would only meditate upon the fact, that the day is so short and that the night is so near at hand. Surely they would fly more swiftly and work more earnestly, if they only thought more of the nearness of eternity. 

     And then, Christian, if that does not make your heart bum, let me persuade you to think of heaven. O, carry your thoughts from this poor, dunghill world, up to the golden streets, and to the music-begetting harps; up yonder, I say, let your souls soar, and dwell where your treasure is, with Christ upon his throne. Hark! how they sing to-night the eternal hallelujah, louder than the voice of many waters, and yet sweet as harpers harping with their harps! Listen, how the music swells in a sea of glory round about the throne of the eternal God! And you and I shall soon be there; leaving behind the sweat of toil, the rags of poverty, the shame of persecution, the pangs of sickness, and the groans of death, of the death of sin; we shall soon be immortal, celestial, immaculate, glorified with the glory which Christ had with his Father before the world was. Oh! your hearts will surely glow if you can muse thus upon heaven, if you can sing with me tonight—

 

“My soul amid this stormy world

Is like some flutter'd dove,

And fain would be as swift of wing

To flee to him I love.

 

My heart is with him on his throne,

And ill can brook delay;

Each moment listening for the voice,

‘Rise up, and come away.’

 

I would, my Lord and Saviour, know

That which no measure knows,

Would search the mystery of thy love,

The depth of all thy woes.

 

I fain would strike my harp divine

Before the Father's throne,

There cast my crown of righteousness,

And sing what grace has done.

 

Ah! leave me not in this base world,

A stranger still to roam;

Come, Lord, and take me to thyself,

Come, Jesus, quickly come!”

 

Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarrieth he? Come quickly, come, Lord Jesus, come! Lash the white horse, and bid him come as soon as may be, that death may meet me, and that I may meet my God! 

     And, if that stir you not, Christians, there is one other subject necessary for you to muse upon. Sometimes, Christians, think of hell. Nay, start not, I pray you, for you will never have to feel it, and therefore you need not shrink from thinking of it. Think of that hell from which you have escaped, and it will surely fire you with gratitude. Think of that place of doom into which multitudes are going every day, and if this bring not the tears to your eye, and make not your heart palpitate with zeal, I know not what will. Bethink you that now, while I have been speaking, a soul has passed into eternity, and oh! since we have been here how many spirits have taken the last dreadful plunge into the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, lost, lost, lost beyond my call, and beyond your prayers! No sermons can save them now; no tears can bring them to repentance now, but they are gone, gone, gone. Yes, and there are others who are going; and as you walk the streets of this great London, what multitudes do you meet who will for ever have to magnify the awful justice of that God whom they have slighted, and of that Saviour whom they have rejected! And will not this make you bestir yourselves? O my brethren, if we can think of hell and yet be idle, if we can meditate upon the wrath to come, and yet be prayerless then, surely, feeling has been given to beasts, and we are turned to stone. What! believe in judgment and in eternal wrath, and yet not weep for sinners! Believe in hell, and yet not weep for sinners! Surely, we may expect to be turned, like Lot's wife, into pillars of salt, if we thus show signs of looking back with careless and wicked eye on burning Sodom, instead of fleeing from it, and urging others to escape from the wrath to come.

     Christians, I have given you topics enough to meditate upon; may I fondly hope that some of you will try during the next week to scrape up some fragments of time to be alone? I should not have a cold-hearted congregation, I should not have need to stir you up to liberality in giving, or in earnestness, or in service, if you would but muse much, for well am I persuaded that while you are musing the fire will burn. 

     But I address myself now—stealing a minute of your time which might, perhaps, be worse spent than here—though I go beyond the allotted hour, I address myself to those who are not yet converted to God. I could have hope of you, my dear hearer, I could have good hope of you if I knew that you were given to musing; and if you are so given, may I suggest a few topics which are most likely to be useful to you? 

     Muse, I pray you, unregenerate man, upon your present state. “Dead in trespasses and sins,” as you now are, the wrath of God abideth on you. Heirs of wrath even as others, afar off, without God, without hope, and without Christ in the world, I pray you bethink you of the hole of the pit where you now are, and out of which you have never yet been digged. Perhaps I have thought more about your soul than you have ever thought about it in your life; I pray you now let your own thoughtfulness begin to exercise itself; examine yourself; see what your state is. 

     And when you have thought that over, I pray you bethink you of what your end must be if you continue what you are. If you are resolved to perish, at least look your doom in the face. If you mean to make your bed in hell, I pray you look at it, and see the dreadful coverlet of flame in which you shall be wrapped for ever. If you have made a league with hell, I pray you see whither that league will take you. Count the cost, I beseech you, for every wise man would do it. Can you dwell with the devouring flames? Can you, can you dwell with everlasting burnings? I know you cannot; for while I do but even use the word, my bones seem to tremble, and rottenness taketh hold upon my heart; and how can you endure it when God cometh forth to tear you in pieces, and there shall be none to deliver? Oh! what will you do in that day of your visitation? What will you do when the sharp and furbished sword is drawn from its scabbard, when God cometh forth dressed as a man of war, to take vengeance upon your iniquities? I pray you, then, muse upon these things, and perhaps the fire may burn, perhaps the heart may melt, perhaps tears of penitence may come streaming down from both your eyes in rivers.

     But if you will not think of this, at least let me give you a better and a sweeter topic to muse upon. Think of my Lord and Master Jesus Christ. 

 

“Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by,

Is it nothing to you that Jesus should die?” 

 

I pray you sit down at the foot of his cross, and answer these questions. Did he die for you, or not? Remember, my hearers, Christ did not die for every one; some of you will have no lot and no part in his blood; if you die without faith in him, that blood will never cleanse you, that precious blood is not an atonement for your sins. Do not suppose that Christ came into the world to save damned souls. Nay, those whom he came to save he will save, and every vessel of mercy bought with his blood shall glitter upon the tables of heaven; not one of his precious sheep shall be cast out. The question is: Is that blood shed for you? And you may know whether it is or not, by this: Art thou willing to trust him? If thou trustest him this is the mark of redemption, this is the blood-mark mark upon the purchased sheep; canst thou, as thou sittest there, think upon this, that he died for sinners, the just for the unjust, that he might bring them to God, and that he died for those who hated him? Methinks I see him now; there on the cross he hangs, and suffers for those who cursed him, bleeds for those who hounded him through the streets, bows his head upon his bosom in an extremity of anguish for the very men who put the vinegar and the gall into his mouth. “Of whom I am chief,” saith Paul, when he spoke of sinners for whom Jesus died. Sinner, thou canst not have sinned so foully as Paul did, and if thou restest on the blood of Christ thou shalt be saved. Some men tell me that they do not know how to get faith. Faith is the gift of God, but then faith usually comes by meditating much upon Christ. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” As it comes in this way, hearing begets meditation; and while we are meditating upon the great and marvellous story of the condescension and the suffering of Jesus, something seems to say within us, “Yes, it is true, I will believe it;” and faith is thus wrought in us before we are aware of it, and we cast ourselves upon Jesus Christ. 

     And then, sinner, if this topic will not suit thee, let me remind thee that there shall come a day when thou wilt have to muse without any hope. Abraham said to Dives, “Son, remember.” Son, remember, you may forget to-day; you have, perhaps, forgotten until now, and you will forget when you leave this Tabernacle what I have said to you, or what God has said, but you will never be able to forget when once you have come into hell-fire. Then it will be, “Son, remember,” and you will remember your mother's tears and your father’s prayers; you will remember your privileges. The invitations and the wooings of love which you had, will all rise up before you anew, and you will see how guilty you have been. “Son, remember,” and then all your sins will rise again before you— the nights, the days, the words, the thoughts, the deeds, will all start up, and people hell with multitudes of worse than fiends to plague and torment you for ever. “Son, remember,” and then you will remember the Christ who was preached to you, the stirrings of conscience which you once had, and how you sinned against it all, and choked the good seed. “Son, remember,” and then you will be made to remember all that is yet to come! you will remember God's threatenings concerning the wrath which never can be appeased, the fire which never shall be quenched, and the worm which shall never die. O I pray thee, instead of remembering then to remember now! O that I could plead with you! I stand here so far away from you; would that I could come and take you by the hand, and say, “Why will you perish? Men and women, why will ye die?” O you who are strangers to my Lord and Master, do you find any pleasure in your sin? Are the ways of the world, after all, so fair and so pleasant as you once thought them to be? Is there not an emptiness? Do you not find “an aching void” in all your pleasures? Tell me now, will you be able to die quietly as you now are? Can you put your head down upon your death-pillow w softly and in peace? Can you think of meeting God and hearing the thunders of the last tremendous day, and beholding the wonders of the resurrection—can you think of these things with anything like composure? You cannot; I know you cannot. O, then, 

 

“Come, trembling souls, and flee away

To Christ, and heal your wounds;

This is the glorious gospel day

In which free grace abounds.” 

 

     May the Spirit of God now sweetly bring you to the Saviour. Poor dove, poor dove, the hawk is after thee, and thou canst not fight him, nor canst thou escape him. Hearken to one who loves thee; there is a cleft in yonder Rock to hide thyself in, and then the hawk would lose his prey. Soul, the wounds of Jesus are the clefts in the Rock; flee thou thither, and the fowler, Satan, shall seek, but shall never be able to reach thee, for there is salvation in him who died that we might live. 

     Save us now, for his name's sake. Amen.



Expiation

By / Jun 22

Expiation

 

"Thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin."—Isaiah 53:10

 

     Both Jews and Gentiles knew pretty well what an offering for sin meant. The Gentiles had been in the habit of offering sacrifices. The Jews, however, had by far the clearer idea of it. And what was meant by a sin-offering? Undoubtedly, it was taken for granted by the offerer, that without shedding blood there was no remission of sin. Conscious of guilt, and anxious for pardon, therefore he brought a sacrifice, the blood of which should be poured out at the foot of the altar—feeling persuaded that without sacrifice there was no satisfaction, and without satisfaction there was no pardon. Then the victim to be offered was, on all occasions, a spotless one. The most scrupulous care was taken that it should be altogether without blemish; for this idea was always connected with a sin-offering, that it must be sinless in itself; and being without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, it was held to be a competent victim to take the offender's place. That done, the victim being selected, the offerer put his hand upon the sin-offering—and this indeed was the essence of the whole transaction—putting his hand on the victim, he confessed his sin, and a transference took place, in type at least, from the offender to the victim. He did, as it were, put the sin from off his own shoulders on to those of the lamb, or the bullock, or the he-goat which was now about to be slaughtered. And, to complete the sin-offering, the priest draws his knife and kills the victim, which must be utterly consumed with fire. I say this was always the idea of a sin-offering, that of a perfect victim; without offense on its own account, taking the place of the offender; the transference of the offender's sin to that victim, and that expiation in the person of the victim for the sin done by another.

     Now, Jesus Christ has been made by God an offering for sin; and oh that to-night we may be able to do in reality what the Jew did in metaphor! May we put our hand upon the head of Christ Jesus; as we see him offered up upon the cross for guilty men, may we know that our sins are transferred to him, and may we be able to cry, in the ecstasy of faith, "Great God, I am clean; through Jesus' blood I am clean."

     I. In trying now to expound the doctrine of Christ's being an offering for sin, we will begin by laying down one great axiom; which is, that SIN DESERVES AND DEMANDS PUNISHMENT.

     Certain divines have demurred to this. You are aware, I suppose, that there have been many theories of atonement; and every new or different theory of atonement involves a new or different theory of sin. There are some who say that there is no reason in sin itself why it should be punished, but that God punishes offenses for the sake of society at large. This is what is called the governmental theory, that it is necessary for the maintenance of good order that an offender should be punished, but that there is nothing in sin itself which absolutely requires a penalty. Now, we begin by opposing all this, and asserting, and we believe we have God's warrant of it, that sin intrinsically and in itself demands and deserves the just anger of God, and that that anger should be displayed in the form of a punishment. To establish this, let me appeal to the conscience—I will not say to the conscience of a man who has, by years of sin, dwindled it down to the very lowest degree, but let me appeal to the conscience of an awakened sinner, a sinner under the influence of the Holy Spirit. And are we ever in our right senses, brethren, till the Holy Spirit really brings us into them? May it not be said of each of us as it was of the prodigal, "He came to himself?" Are we not beside ourselves till the Holy Spirit begins to enlighten us? Well, ask this man, who is now really in the possession of his true senses, whether he believes that sin deserves punishment; and his answer will be quick, sharp, and decisive. "Deserve it," saith he, "ay, indeed; and the wonder is that I have not suffered it; why, sir, it seems a marvel to me that I am out of hell, and Wesley's hymn is often on my lips—

 

'Tell it unto sinners, tell,

I am, I am out of hell.'"

 

"Yes, sir," says such a sinner, "I feel that if God should smite me now, without hope or offer of mercy, to the lowest hell, I should only have what I justly deserve; and I feel that if I be not punished for my sins, or if there be not some plan found by which my sin can be punished in another, I cannot understand how God can be just at all: how shall he be Judge of all the earth, if he suffer offenses to go unpunished?" There has been a dispute whether men have any innate ideas, but surely this idea is in us as early as anything, that virtue deserves reward, and sin deserves punishment. I think I might venture to assert that if you go to the most degraded race of men, you would still find, at least, some traces of this—shall I call it tradition—or is it not a part of the natural light which never was altogether eclipsed in man? Man may put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter; darkness for light, and light for darkness; but this follows him as a dog at the heels of its master, a sense that virtue should be rewarded, and that sin must be punished. You may stifle this voice, if you will, but sometimes you will hear it; and terribly and decisively will it speak in your ears to say to you, "Yes, man, God must punish you; the Judge of all the earth cannot suffer you to go scot free." Add to this another matter; namely, that God has absolutely declared his displeasure against sin itself. There is a passage in Jeremiah, the forty-fourth chapter and the fourth verse, where he calls it "That abominable thing which I hate." And then, in Deuteronomy, the twenty-fifth chapter, at the sixteenth verse, he speaks of it as the thing which is an abomination to him. It must be the character of God, that he has a desire to do towards his creatures that which is equitable. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" If there is anything in them which deserves reward, rest assured he will not rob them of it; and, on the other hand, he will do the right thing with those who have offended, and if they deserve punishment, it is according to the nature and character of a just and holy God that punishment should be inflicted. And we think there is nothing more clear in Scripture than the truth that sin is in itself so detestable to God that he must and will put forth all the vigor of his tremendous strength to crush it, and to make the offender feel that it is an evil and a bitter thing to offend against the Most High. Beware, ye who forget God in this matter, lest he tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver you. Sin must be punished.

     The other idea, that sin is only to be punished for the sake of the community, involves injustice. If I am to be damned for the sake of other people, I demur to it. No, sir: if I am to be punished, Justice says; at any rate, that it shall be for my own sins, but if I am to be eternally a castaway from God's presence merely as a sort of trick of government to maintain the dignity of his law, I cannot understand the justice of this. If I am to be cast into hell merely that I am to teach to others the tremendousness of the divine holiness, I shall say there is no justice in this; but if my sin intrinsically and of itself deserves the wrath of God, and I am sent to perdition as the result of this fact, I close my lips, and have nothing to say. I am speechless; conscience binds my tongue. But if I am told that I am only sent there as a part of a scheme of moral government, and that I am sent into torment to impress others with a sense of right, I ask that some one else should have the place of preacher to the people, and that I may be one of those whose felicity it shall be to be preached to; for I see no reason in justice why I should be selected as the victim. Really, when men run away from the simplicities of the gospel in order to make Jehovah more kind, it is strange how unjust and unkind they make him. Sinner, God will never destroy you merely to maintain his government, or for the good of others. If you be destroyed, it shall be because you would not come to him that you might have life; because you would rebel against him; because sin from stern necessity did, as it were, compel the attribute of divine justice to kindle into vengeance, and to drive you from his presence for ever. Sin must be punished.

     The reverse of this doctrine, that sin demands punishment, may be used to prove it; for it is highly immoral, dangerous, and opens the floodgates of licentiousness to teach that sin can go unpunished. O sirs, it is contrary to fact. Look ye! O, if your eyes could see to-night the terrible justice of God which a being executed now, if these ears could but hear it, if ye could be appalled for a moment with

 

" The sullen groans and hollow moans

And shrieks of tortured ghosts,"

 

you would soon perceive that God is punishing sin! And if sin deserve not to be punished, what is Tophet but injustice on a monstrous scale? What is it but an infinite outrage against everything which is honest and right, if these creatures are punished for anything short of their own deserts. Go and preach this in hell, and you will have quenched the fire which is forever to burn, and the worm of conscience will die. Tell them in hell that they are not punished for sin, and you have taken away the very sting of their punishment. And then come to earth, and go, like Jonah went, though with another message than Jonah carried, through the highways and the broadways, the streets and thoroughfares of the exceeding great city, and proclaim that sin is not to be punished for its own intrinsic desert and baseness. But if you expect your prophecy to be believed, enlarge the number of your jails, and seek for fresh fields for transportation in the interests of society, for if any doctrine can breed villains, this will. Say that sin is not to be punished, and you have unhinged government; you have plucked up the very gate of our commonweal; you have been another Samson to another Gaza; and we shall soon have to rue the day. But, sirs, I need not stop to prove it; it is written clearly upon the consciousness of each man, and upon the conscience of every one of us, that sin must be punished. Here are you and I to-night brought into this dilemma. We have sinned; we all like sheep have gone astray; and we must be punished for it. It is impossible, absolutely, that sin can be forgiven without a sacrifice. God must be just, if heaven falls. If earth should pass away and every creature should be lost, the justice of God must stand, it cannot by any possibility be suffered to be impugned. Let this, then, be fully established in our minds.

     You need not to be told, as for the first time, that God in his infinite mercy has devised a way by which justice can be satisfied, and yet mercy can be triumphant. Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father, took upon himself the form of man, and offered unto Divine Justice that which was accepted as an equivalent for the punishment due to all his people.

     II. Now, the second matter that I wish to bring under your notice is this, THAT THE PROVISION AND ACCEPTANCE OF A SUBSTITUTE FOR SINNERS IS AN ACT OF GRACE.

     It is no act of grace for a person to accept a pecuniary debt on my behalf of another person. If I owe a man twenty pounds, it is no matter to him whatever who shall pay the twenty pounds so long as it is duly paid. You know that you could legally and at once demand a receipt and an acquittance from any one who is your creditor, so long as his debt is discharged, though it is discharged by another, and not by you. It is so in pecuniary matters, but it is not so in penal matters. If a man be condemned to be imprisoned there is no law, there is no justice which can compel the lawgiver to accept a substitute for him. If the sovereign should permit another to suffer in his stead, it must be the sovereign's own act and deed. He must use his own discretion as to whether he will accept the substitute or not; and if he do so, it is an act of grace. In Gods case, if he had said in the infinite sovereignty of his absolute will, "I will have no substitute, but each man shall suffer for himself, he who sinneth shall die," none could have murmured. It was grace, and only grace which led the divine mind to say, "I will accept of a substitute. There shall be a vicarious suffering; and my vengeance shall be content, and my mercy shall be gratified."

     Now, dear friends, this grace of God is yet further magnified not only in the allowance of the principle of substitution, but in the providing of such a substitute as Christ—on Christ's part that he should give up himself, the Prince of Life to die; the King of glory to be despised and rejected of men; the Lord of angels to be a servant of servants; and the Ancient of days to become an infant of a span long. Think of the distance

 

"From the highest throne in glory

To the cross of deepest woe,"

 

and consider the unexampled love which shines in Christ's gift of himself. But the Father gives the Son. "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." To give your wealth is something, if you make yourself poor; but to give your child is something more. When the patriot mother tears her son from her bosom, and cries, "Go, my first-born, to your country's wars; there, go and fight until your country's flag is safe, and the hearths and homes of your native land are secure," there is something in it; for she can look forward to the bloody spectacle of her son's mangled body, and yet love her country more than her own child. Here is heroism indeed; but God spared not his own Son, his only-begotten Son, but freely delivered him up for us all. "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." I do implore you, do not look upon the sacrifice of Christ as an act of mere vengeance on the Father's part. Never imagine, oh! never indulge the idea that Jesus died to make the Father complacent towards us. Oh, no, dear friends: Jesus' death is the effect of overwhelming and infinite love on the Father's part; and every blow which wounds, every infliction which occasions sorrow, and every pang which rends his heart, speaks of the Father's love as much as the joy, the everlasting triumph, which now surrounds his head.

     Let us add, however, to this, that, although Jesus Christ's dying as a substitute does give to him lawful right to all promised privileges, and does make him, as the covenant head of his people a claimant of the divine mercy, yet it does not render any of the gifts which we receive from God the less gifts from God. Christ has died; but still everything that we receive comes to us entirely as a gratuitous outflow of God's great heart of love. Never think you have any claim to anything because Christ purchased it. If you use the word claim at all, let it always be in so humble and modified a sense that you understand that you are still receiving, not of debt, but of grace. Look upon the whole transaction of a substitute, and of Christ becoming the second Adam, as being a matter of pure, rich, free, sovereign grace, and never indulge the atrocious thought, I pray you, that there was justice, and justice only here; but do magnify the love and pity of God in that he did devise and accomplish the great plan of salvation by an atoning sacrifice.

     III. But now to go a step further, and with as much brevity as possible. The Lord having established the principle of substitution, having provided a substitute, and having through him bestowed upon us gratuitously innumerable mercies, let us observe THAT JESUS IS THE MOST FITTING PERSON TO BE A SUBSTITUTE, AND THAT HIS WORK IS THE MOST FITTING WORK TO BE A SATISFACTION.

     Let every sinner here who desires something stable to fix his faith upon, listen to these simple truths, which I am trying to put as plainly as possible. You do understand me, I trust, that God must punish sin; that he must punish you for sin unless some one else will suffer in your stead; that Jesus Christ is the person who did suffer in the room and place of all those who ever have believed on him who do believe in him, or ever shall believe in him, —making for those who believe on him a complete atonement by his substitution in their place. Now we say that Christ was the best person to be a substitute; for just consider what sort of a mediator was needed. Most absolutely he must be one who had no debt of his own. If Christ had been at all under the law naturally, if it had been his duty to do what it is our duty to do, it is plain he could only have lived for himself; and if he had any sin of his own, he could only have died for himself, seeing his obligations to do and to suffer would have been his just due to the righteousness and the vengeance of God. But on Christ's part there was no natural necessity for obedience, much less for obedience unto death. Who shall venture to say that the Divine Lord, amidst the glories of heaven, owed to his father anything? "Who shall say it was due to the Divine Father that Christ should be nailed to the accursed tree, to suffer, bleed, and die, and then be cast into the grave? None can dare to say such a thing. He is himself perfectly free, and therefore can he undertake for others. One man who is drawn for the militia cannot be a substitute for another person so drawn, because he owes for himself his own personal service. I must, if I would escape, and would procure a substitute, find a man who is not drawn, and who is therefore exempt. Such is Jesus Christ. He is perfectly exempt from service, and therefore can volunteer to undertake it for our sake. He is the right person.

     There was needed, also, one of the same nature with us. Such is Jesus Christ. For this purpose he became man, of the substance of his mother, very man, such a man as any of us. Handle him and see if he be not flesh and bones. Look at him, and mark if he be not man in soul as well as in body. He hungers; he thirsts, he fears, he weeps, he rejoices, he loves, he dies. Made in all points and like unto us, being a man, and standing exactly in a man's place, becoming a real Adam, as true an Adam as was the first Adam, standing quite in the first Adam's place, he is a fit person to become a substitute for us.

     But please to observe (see if you cannot throw your grappling-hooks upon this), the dignity of his sacred person made him the most proper person for a substitute. A mere man could at most only substitute for one other man. Crush him as you will, and make him feel in his life every pang which flesh is heir to, but he can only suffer what one man would have suffered. He could not, I will venture to say, even then have suffered an equivalent for that eternal misery which the ungodly deserve; and if he were a mere man, he must suffer precisely the same. A difference may be made in the penalty, when there is a difference in the person; but if the person be the same, the penalty must be precisely and exactly the same in degree and in quality. But the dignity of the Son of God, the dignity of his nature, changes the whole matter. A God bowing his head, and suffering and dying, in the person of manhood, puts such a singular efficacy into every groan and every pang that it needs not that his pangs should be eternal, or that he should die a second death. Remember that in pecuniary matters you must give a quid pro quo, but that in matters of penal justice no such thing is demanded. The dignity of the person adds a special force to the substitution; and thus one bleeding Saviour can make atonement for millions of sinful men, and the Captain of our salvation can bring multitudes unto glory.

     It needs one other condition to be fulfilled. The person so free from personal service, and so truly in our nature, and yet so exalted in person, should also be accepted and ordained of God. Our text gives this a full solution, in that it says, "He shall make his soul an offering for sin." Christ did not make himself a sin-offering without a warrant from the Most High: God made him so. "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." It was the sovereign degree of heaven which constituted Christ the great substitute for his people. No man taketh this office upon himself. Even the Son of God stoopeth not to this burden uncalled. He was chosen as the covenant-head in election; he was ordained in the divine decree to stand for his people. God the Father cannot refuse the sacrifice which he has himself appointed. "My son," said good old Abraham, "God shall provide himself a lamb for a burnt-offering." He has done so in the Saviour; and what God provides, God must and will accept.

     I wish to-night that I had power to deal with this doctrine as I would. Poor trembling sinner, look up a moment. Dost thou see him there—him whom God hath set forth? Dost thou see him in proper flesh and blood fastened to that tree? See how the cruel iron drags through his tender hands! Mark how the rough nails are making the blood flow profusely from his feet! See how fever parches his tongue, and dries his whole body like a potsherd! Hearest thou the cry of his spirit, which is suffering more than his body suffers—"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" This is none other than God's only-begotten Son; this is he who made the worlds; this is the express image of his Father's person, the brightness of Jehovah's glory! What thinkest thou, man? Is there not enough there to satisfy God? Truly it has satisfied God: is there not enough there to satisfy thee? Cannot thy conscience rest on that? If God's appointed Christ could suffer in thy stead, is it not enough? What can Justice ask more? Wilt thou now trust Christ with thy soul? Come, now, sir, wilt thou now fall flat at the foot of the cross, and rest thy soul's eternal destiny in the pierced hands of Jesus of Nazareth? If thou wilt, then God has made him to be a sin-offering for thee; but if thou wilt not, beware, lest he whom thou wouldst not have to be thy Saviour should become thy Judge, and say, "Depart, thou cursed one, into everlasting fire in hell!"

     IV. We come now to our fourth remark—THAT CHRIST'S WORK, AND THE EFFECTS OF THAT WORK ARE NOW COMPLETE.

     Christ becomes a substitute for us. We have seen how fit and proper a person he was to be such. We hinted that from the dignity of his person the pains he suffered were a good and sufficient equivalent for our own suffering on account of sin. But now the joyous truths come up that Christ's work is finished. Christ has made an atonement so complete that he never need suffer again. No more drops of blood, no more pangs of heart, no more bitterness and darkness, with exceeding heaviness even unto death are needed.

 

"'Tis done—the great transaction's done."

 

The death-knell of the penalty rings in the dying words of the Saviour, "It is finished." Do you ask for a proof of this? Remember that Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. If he had not completed his work of penalty-suffering he would have been left in the tomb till now; our preaching would have been in vain, and your faith would have been in vain; ye would have been yet in your sins. But Jesus rose. God's sheriff's officer let him out of "durance vile" because the account had been discharged, and God's great Court of King's Bench sent down the mittimus to let the captive go free. More than that: Christ has ascended upon high. Think you he would have returned thither with unexpiated sin red upon his garments? Do you suppose he would have ascended to the rest and to the reward of an accomplished work? What, sit at his Fathers right hand to be crowned for doing nothing, and rest until his adversaries are made his footstool, when he has not performed his Father's will! Absurd! Impossible! His ascension in stately pomp, amidst the acclamations of angels, to the enjoyment of his Father's continued smile, is the sure proof that the work is complete.

     Complete it is, dear brethren, not only in itself, but, as I said, in its effects; that is to say, that there is now complete pardon for every soul which believeth in Christ. You need not do anything to make the atonement of Christ sufficient to pardon you. It wants no eking out. It is not as if Christ had put so much into the scale and it was quivering in the balance; but your sins, for all their gravity, utterly ceased their pressure through the tremendous weight of his atonement. He has outweighed the penalty, and given double for all your sins. Pardon, full and free, is now presented in the name of Jesus, proclaimed to every creature under heaven, for sins past, for sins present, and for sins to come; for blasphemies and murders; for drunkenness and whoredom; for all manner of sin under heaven. Jesus Christ hath ascended up on high, and exalted he is that he may give repentance and remission of sin. Ye have no need of shillings to pay the priests; nor is baptismal water wanted to erect the pardon: there is no willing, doing, being, or suffering of yours required to complete the task. The blood has filled the fountain full: thou hast but to wash and be clean, and thy sins shall be gone forever.

     Justification, too, is finished. You know the difference. Pardon takes away our filth, but then it leaves us naked; justification puts a royal robe upon us. How no rags of yours are wanted; not a stitch of yours is needed to perfect what Christ has done. He whom God the Father hath accepted as a sin offering hath perfected forever thou who are set apart. Ye are complete in Christ. No tears of yours, no penance, no personal mortifications, nay, no good works of yours, are wanted to make yourself complete and perfect. Take it as it is. O sirs, may you have grace to take it as it is freely presented to you in the gospel. "He that believeth on him is not condemned;" "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." Trust Christ—implicitly trust Christ; and all that he did shall cover you, while all that he suffered shall cleanse you.

     Remember, too, that acceptance is finished. There are the Father's arms, and here are you, a black sinner to-night. I do not know you, but it may be you have trodden the pavements, or you have gone further than that, and added drunkenness to shame; you have gone to the lowest vice, perhaps to robbery. Who knoweth what manner of person may step into this place? But the great arms of the Eternal Father are ready to save you as you are, because the great work of Christ has effected all that is wanted before God for the acceptance of the vilest sinner. How is it that the Father can embrace the prodigal? Why, he is fresh from the swine-trough! Look at him; look at his rags; how foul they are! We would not touch them with a pair of tongs! Take him to the fire and burn the filth! Take him to the bath and wash him! That lip is not fit to kiss; those filthy lips cannot be permitted to touch that holy cheek of the glorious Father! Ah! but it is not so. While he was yet a great way off, his father saw him—rags and poverty and sin and filth and all—and he did not wait till he was clean, but ran and fell upon his neck and kissed him, just as he was. How could he do that? Why, the parable does not tell us; for it did not run on with the subject to introduce the atonement; but this explains it: when God accepts a sinner, he is, in fact, only accepting Christ. He looks into the sinner's eyes, and he sees his own dear Son's image there, and he takes him in. As we have heard of a good woman, who, whenever a poor sailor came to her door, whoever he might be, would always make him welcome, because, she said, "I think I see my own dear son who has been these many years away, and I have never heard of him; but whenever I see a sailor, I think of him, and treat the stranger kindly for my son's sake." So my God, when he sees a sinner long for pardon and desirous of being accepted, thinks he sees his Son in him, and accepts him for his Son's sake. Do not imagine that we preach a gospel in this place for respectable, godly people. No: we preach a gospel here for sinners. I heard, the other day, from one who told me that he believed we were saved by being perfect, that when we committed sin we at once fell out of God's mercy. Well now, supposing that were true, it would not be worth making a large splutter about. It would not be worth angels singing "Glory to God in the highest" about it, I should think. Any fool might know that God would accept a perfect man. But this is the thing of marvel, for which heaven and earth shall ring with the praises of the Mediator, that Jesus Christ died for the ungodly; that Jesus Christ gave himself for their sin; not for their righteousness, not for their good deeds. If he had looked to all eternity, he could not have seen anything in us worthy of so great a suffering as that which he endured; but he did it for charity's sake, for love's sake.

     And now, in his name—O that I could do it with his voice and with his love and with his fervour—I do beseech you to lay hold upon him. No matter who you may be, I will not exclude you from the invitation. Hast thou piled thy sins together till they seem to provoke heaven? Do thy sins touch the clouds? Yet, come and welcome, for God has provided a sin-offering. Has man cast thee out? Say, poor woman, does the dreary river seem to invite thee to the fatal plunge? God has not cast thee out. O thou who feelest in thine own body the effect of thy sin, till thou art loathing thyself, and wishing thou hadst never been born—perhaps thou sayest, like John Bunyan, "Oh that I had been a frog, or a toad, or a snake, sooner than have been a man, to have fallen into such sin, and to have become so foul!" Have courage, sinner; have courage. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." Do not doubt this message: God has sent it to you. Do not reject it: you will reject your own life if you do. Turn you at his rebuke! It is a loving voice which speaks to you, and that would speak, perhaps, better and more forcibly if it were not choked with love. I do implore thee, sinner, come to Jesus! If thou art damned it is not for want of invitation. If thou wilt perish, it is not for want of earnest pleading with thee. I tell thee, man, there is nothing of thine own wanted. All this is found in the sin-offering; for thou needest not find it. There is no merit of thine needed; there is merit enough in Christ. Is it not the old proverb that you are not to take coals to Newcastle? Do not take anything to Christ. Come as you are—just as you are. Nay, tarry not till you go out of this house. The Lord enable you to believe in Jesus now, to take him now as a complete and finished salvation for you, though you may be the most sunken and abandoned and hopeless of all characters. Why did God provide a sin-offering but for sinners? He could not have wanted to provide it if there was no necessity. You have a great necessity. You have, shall I say, compelled him to it. Your sins have nailed Christ's hands to the cross. Your sins have pierced his heart; and his heart is not pierced in vain, nor are those hands nailed there for naught. Christ will have you, sinner, Christ will have you. There are some of God's elect here, and he will have you. You shall not stand out against him. Almighty love will have you. He has determined that you shall not do what you have vowed. Your league with hell is broken to-night, and your covenant with death is disannulled. The prey shall not be taken from the mighty; the lawful captive shall be delivered. The Lord will yet fetch you up from the depths of the sea. Oh, what a debtor to grace you will be! Be a debtor to that grace to-night; over head and ears in debt, plunge yourself by a simple act of trusting in Jesus, and you are saved.

     Pray, ye who know how to pray, that this message may be made effective in the hand of God. And you who have never prayed before, God help you to pray now. May he now be found of them who sought not for him, and he shall have the glory, world without end. Amen.



The Cripple at Lystra

By / Jun 22

The Cripple at Lystra

 

"The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked."—Acts 14:9-10

 

     I have read in your hearing the story of the preaching of Paul and Barnabas in the town of Lystra. The name of Christ was there totally unknown. They were a sort of country people, partly pastoral and partly agricultural, who seem to have been deeply sunken in superstition. At the gates of their city there stood a great temple dedicated to Jupiter, and they appear to have been his zealous votaries. Coming down from the mountain-side Paul and Barnabas enter the town, and when a fitting time has come, they stand up in the marketplace, or the street, and begin to talk concerning Jesus, the Son of God, who had come down from heaven, had suffered and died, and had again ascended up on high. The people gather round them. Among the rest a cripple listens with very marked attention. They preach again. The crowds are still greater, and on one occasion, while Paul is in the middle of a sermon, using his eyes to watch the audience as all preachers should do, and not looking up at the ceiling, or at the gallery-front as some preachers are wont to do, he marks this cripple, fixes his eyes upon him, and looks earnestly in his face. Either by the exercise of his judgment, or by the promptings of revelation, the apostle gathers that this man has faith—faith to be healed. In order to attract the attention of the people, to glorify the name of Christ, to publish more widely his glorious fame, and to make the miracle well known, Paul stops the sermon, and with a loud voice cries, "Stand upright on thy feet." The cripple leaps and praises God. The population are all amazed, and knowing that there was a tradition that Jupiter and Mercury had once appeared in that very town, a tradition preserved in the Metamorphoses of Ovid to the present day, they at once conclude that surely Jupiter and Mercury must be come again. They fix upon Barnabas, who was probably the elder and the nobler looking man, for Jupiter; and as Jupiter was always attended by Mercurius, as a messenger, and Mercury was the god of eloquence, they conclude that Paul must be Mercury. They rush to the temple, they tell the priests that the gods have come down. The priests, only too ready to foster popular credulity, and pander to it, bring forth the sacred bullocks and the garlands, and are about to offer sacrifice before Paul and Barnabas. Such homage these men of God indignantly refuse; they rend their clothes; they beseech them to do no such thing, for they are nothing but men; yet hardly with earnest words can they stay the people. But the next day certain Jews came thither and produced a counter irritation in the simple minds of the people. No very difficult task where a rude fanaticism rouses the wild passions of the mob. Such an assembly must rage, whether it he with redundant applause or with derisive jeers. Accordingly, Paul finds himself exposed to peril; he is stoned through the streets, dragged forth as dead, and left by the very men who worshipped him but yesterday as a god, left to die as a villain outside the city gates. But Paul's preaching had not been in vain. There were some few disciples who remained faithful. His ministry was rewarded and owned of God.

     There are two or three points in this narrative to which I shall call your attention to-night, making, however, the lame man the center of the picture. We shall notice, first of all, what preceded this lame man's faith; secondly, wherein lay his faith to be healed; and thirdly, what is the teaching of the miracle itself, and the blessing which the lame man obtained through faith.

     I. WHAT WAS IT WHICH PRECEDED HIS FAITH?

     That "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God," is a great and universal rule; but the hearing of what? Doubtless the hearing of the gospel is intended. On turning to your Bibles you will find it is written—"And there they preached the gospel." What, Paul, dost thou not change thy voice? Thou hast preached the gospel in the cities of Iconium and Antioch, where there were enlightened and intelligent hearers; if the gospel suited them, surely it will not do for these wolfish boors! Why go and preach to these poor, ignorant, superstitious fanatics the very same truths which you spoke to your enlightened Jewish brethren? But he does do so, my friends. The very gospel which he preached at Damascus in the synagogue he preaches here at Lystra in the market-place. He makes no difference between the education of his hearers in different places; he has the same gospel to preach to them both. You recollect that Paul went to Ephesus, and Ephesus, as a city, was besotted with a belief in sorcery. The people had given themselves up to practice magical arts. What is the right way to begin to preach at Ephesus? Deliver a course of lectures upon the impossibility and absurdity of such superstition? No, sir, nothing of the kind. Preach Christ, preach the gospel; and as Jesus Christ is lifted up they bring their magical books and make a bonfire of them in the open forum. But here is a polished governor, Sergius Paulus, sitting upon the judgment-seat. What shall be preached to him? Would it not be well to begin with a dissertation on politics, and to show that the Christian religion does not interfere with proper government, that it does not stir up the people to anarchy? No, sir, nothing of the kind. There is nothing for Sergius Paulus any more than there is for Elymas the sorcerer, but the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul goes to Athens. Now the Athenians are the most learned and philosophical of the whole race of men. What will Paul preach there? The gospel, the whole gospel, and nothing but the gospel. He may change his tones, but never his matter. It is the same remedy for the same disease, he the men what they may. He comes to Corinth, and here you have not only polished manners, but the very refinement of vice. It is a city, an emporium of trade, and a sort of central depot of sin. What then? Will he now, to please the trader, assume a different dialect? Not he! The Christ for Athens is the Christ for Corinth too. And now see him. He has come to Lycaonia, and is preaching at Lystra. Here is an ignorant set of people who worship an image. Why does he not begin by preaching of the deity? Why does he not talk to them of the Trinity in unity? Why does he not try and confute their notions about their gods? No, my dear sir, he will do nothing of the kind; that may be done incidentally, but the first and the last thing that Paul will do at Lystra is, there he will preach the gospel. O glorious gospel of the blessed God! Wherever we take thee thou art suited to the wants of men. Take thee to Persia with all its gems and jewels, and thou dost suit the monarch on his throne; or take thee to the naked savage with all his poverty and squalid filth, and thou dost suit him too. Thou mayst he preached, thrice glorious wisdom of God, to the wisest of men; but thou are not too great a mystery to be understood and believed even by the fools and the babes; the things which are not can receive thee as well as the things which are. Never, I pray you brethren, lose heart in the power of the gospel. Do not believe that there exists any man, much less any race of men, for whom the gospel is not fitted. Wherever you go, do not cut, and trim, and shape, and alter; hut just bring out the whole truth as God has taught it to you, and rest assured that you will be unto God a sweet savor of Christ in every place, both in them who are saved and in them who perish.

     What then, was this gospel which the apostle Paul did preach everywhere? Well, it was a gospel which had in it three things, certain facts, certain doctrines, and certain commands.

     It was a gospel of facts. Every time Paul stood up to preach he told the following unvarnished tale: God, looking upon the race of men, beheld them lost and ruined. Out of love to them he sent his only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was born of the virgin Mary, lived some thirty-two or thirty-three years a life of spotless innocence and perfect obedience to God. He was God: he was man. In due time he was delivered up by the traitor Judas. He was crucified, and actually put to death. Though he was the Lord of life and glory, who only hath immortality, yet he bowed his head and gave up the ghost. After three days he rose again, and showed himself to many of his disciples, so that they were well assured he was the same person who had been put into the grave; and when the forty days were finished he ascended up to heaven in the sight of them all, where he sitteth at the right hand of God, and shall also come ere long a second time to judge both the quick and the dead. These were the facts which Paul would state. God was made flesh and dwelt amongst us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the father, full of grace and truth. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." Briefly, these were the facts which Paul would preach, and if any one of these facts he preached doubtfully, or he left out of any ministry, then the gospel is not preached; for the foundations upon which the gospel rests have been removed, and then what can the righteous do?

     Following upon these facts, Paul preached certain doctrines, the doctrines flowing out of the facts. To wit, he preached that Jesus Christ had offered a full atonement to divine wrath for the sin of his people, so that whosoever would believe on him, and trust him, should be saved. The doctrine of the atonement would form the most prominent feature in the gospel of the apostle Paul, Christ also hath suffered for us, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. "God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly." Then would come the doctrine of pardon. Paul with glowing tongue would tell how God could be just, and yet the justifier of him who believeth; how all manner of sin and iniquity shall be forgiven unto men, the simple condition being that the man believes in Christ, and this not so much the man's own work, as a gift of the Holy Ghost. Everywhere Paul would he unmistakable in this—"Ye chief of sinners, look to the wounds of Jesus, and your sins shall he forgiven you." Equally clear would he be upon the doctrine of justification. "Christ," he would say, "will wash you; nay, more, he will clothe you; the perfect holiness of his character shall he imputed unto you, and being justified, you shall have peace with God, and there shall be no condemnation, because you are in Christ Jesus." I think I see the flashing eye of the apostle; methinks I listen to his earnest voice, while he pleads with men to lay hold upon eternal life, to look to Jesus Christ, to forsake the deeds of the law, to put their trust in nothing which cometh from man, but to look to Jesus, and to Jesus only. These great truths, atonement, pardon, and justification, with all the other truths connected with them, of which we cannot now speak particularly, were just the gospel which the apostle Paul preached.

     And out of these we said their sprung certain commands. The commands were these—"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." Nor do I suppose that the apostle for a moment stammered to preach that other command—"Arise, and he baptized." He would not preach half the gospel, but the whole of it—"He that believeth and is baptized shall he saved; but he that believeth not shall he damned;" and often after his hearers had cried, "What must we do to he saved," and they had believed in Christ, they would say to him—"See, here is water, what doth hinder me to he baptized?"

     The apostle then preached a gospel which was made up of certain authenticated facts, out of which there flowed certain most gracious evangelical doctrines, which were enforced and driven home with divine authority, by Christ's own commands. "Well," says one, "do you think the world will be turned upside down by this?" Sirs, it has been, and it will he again. In vain do those who seek after human learning, and who aim at dreamy sentiment or spurious science in preference to the standard teaching which is from above, attempt to find a nobler instrument. This is the great battering-ram which shall yet shake the bastions of error. This is the sword, the true Escalabar, which, if any man knoweth how to wield it, shall cut through joints and marrow, and make him more than a conqueror. He who getteth a hold of the gospel of Christ, and knoweth how to use it, hath that before which the devils tremble, and in the presence of which angels adore, which cherubs long to look into, and which God himself smiles upon as his noblest work. The truth we proclaim is not that which is discovered by us, but that which has been delivered to us. Do ye ask, then, where this man's faith came from? It came from Paul's preaching of the gospel.

     II. Now WHEREIN LAY THIS MAN'S FAITH?

     Paul looked at the man, we are told, and perceived "that he had faith to be healed." What meaneth this "faith to be healed?" In this man's case I think it was something like this. Poor fellow! As he listened to Paul's preaching, he thought perhaps—"Well, that looks like true; that seems to be the truth; it is the truth; I am sure it is true; and, if it is true that Jesus Christ is so great a Savior, perhaps I may be healed; these lame legs of mine, which never would carry me anywhere, may yet come straight; I—I—I think they may; I hope they may; I believe they may; I know it can be done if Christ wills it; I believe that, and from what Paul says of Christ's character, I think he must be willing to do it; I will ask the apostle; the first convenient season that I have I will lift up my cry, for I believe it can be done, and I think there is a perfect willingness, both in the mind of the apostle and of the Master that it should be done; I believe it will be done, and that I shall yet stand upright." Then Paul said to him, "Stand upright on thy feet," and he did so in a moment, for "he had faith to he healed."

     Do you think I am overstraining the probabilities of the case? You will perhaps say, "It does not appear that Paul had any communication with the poor cripple before the miracle was performed." Now I venture to draw quite an opposite inference. I know from my own experience that it is no uncommon thing for some one individual to arrest the preacher's attention. The group of countenances which lay before him in a large assembly like the present, might to the first glance of a stranger look confused and inexplicable, as a Chinese grammar does to those who know not the language. But you need not doubt that a practiced eye can learn to read the one as well as the other. The languor and indifference of some; the curious enquiring look of others; the cold, critical attention of a considerable number, and the countenances of those who are rather absorbed in a train of thought just awakened in their own minds—these have all a peculiar impressiveness, and form a picture which often reacts upon us, and kindles a vehement desire in our breasts to reach the souls of those who, for a brief hour, hang upon our lips. But there will sometimes be one who has faith dazzling in his very eyes, as they are fixed with an intentness, of which it were vain for me to attempt a description, seeming to drink in every word and every syllable of a word, till the preacher becomes as absorbed in that man as the man had been in the preacher. And while he pursues the discourse, gaining liberty at every step, till he forgets the formality of the pulpit in the freedom of conversation with the people, he perceives that at last this man has heard the very truth which meets his case. There is no concealing it. His features have suddenly relaxed. He listens still, but it is no longer with painful anxiety; a calm satisfaction is palpable on his face now. That soul of communion which is in the eye has unravelled the secret. Preacher and hearer, unknown to all the rest of the audience, have secretly saluted each other, and met on the common ground of a vital faith. The anxious one feels that it can be done. And I can readily conclude that the apostle perceived that feeling with greater certainty than he would have done had the man whispered it in his ears. So have I sometimes known that the exhortation to believe has become from these lips a positive command to the struggling conscience of some one, who has been brought to a point where the remedy is instantly applied, and the cure instantly effected.

     Most unquestionably there is such a thing as faith to be saved. I do not know how many here may possess it; but, thank God, there are hundreds of you here who have faith that you are saved. That is better; that is the ripest faith, the faith which knows you are saved and rejoices in hope of the glory of God. Alas! there are others who have no faith at all. But it is with those who have faith, and that only faith to be saved, not faith that you are saved, I am more particularly concerned at this moment.

     Shall I describe this "faith to he saved?" for I believe that there may be some here who may just now stand upright on their feet; some who may at this time leap for joy of heart because they are saved and did not know it. You have "faith," but you have not fully exercised it. Now, you believe that Jesus Christ is God's Son? "Yes." That he has made a full atonement for his people? "Yes." You believe that they are his people who trust him? "Yes." You believe he is worthy to be trusted? "Yes." You have nothing else to trust to? "No, sir." You depend on nothing which you have ever felt, or thought, or done? "No, sir, I depend on nothing but Christ." And you do, after a sort of fashion, trust Christ. You hope that one of these days he will save you, and you think, and sometimes you almost know, he will. You are ready to trust him. You do believe he is able, you do not think he is unwilling; you have got faith in his ability, and you have almost got faith in his willingness; sometimes you half think to yourself, "I am a child of God." But then, there is some ugly "but" comes in. Those lame legs again; those lame legs again. You are still afraid. You have "faith to he saved," but you have not the full assurance of faith which can utter forth this joyous psalm, "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not he afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation."

     Well now, I do not know whether I have picked you out, whether I have given a right description of you or not. I recollect the time when I was in that state. I can honestly say I did not doubt Christ. I then partly believed that he would save me. I knew he was worthy of my trust, and I did trust him as far as this, that I resolved, if I did perish, I would perish crying to him, and that if I was east away, it should be clinging to the cross. I believe I had "faith to be saved," and was for months in bondage, when there was no necessity that I should have been in bondage at all, for, when there is "faith to he saved," then the man only needs that gracious command—"Stand upright on thy feet," and forthwith he leaps out of his infirmity, and walks freely in the integrity of his heart.

     III. I shall not enlarge further upon this, because I want to go to THE SPIRITUAL TEACHING OF THE MIRACLE, AND OF THE BLESSING CONFERRED.

     Are there not many, who though they have "faith to be saved," are still entirely lame or painfully limping? The reasons may be different in different cases. Some have been so stunned by the grief which they have suffered on account of sin, and the frightful convictions through which they have passed, that while they do believe that Christ is able and willing to save, they cannot get a hold of the fact that they are saved; such is the faintness of spirit and the languishing of soul brought on by long despair. "Stand upright on thy feet," thou trembling sinner. If thou believest in Jesus, whatever thy fears may be, there is no cause for them. As for thy sins, they were laid on him, every one of them, and though thou hast been sore broken in the land of dragons, thus saith the Lord unto thee, "I have put away thy sin; thou shalt not die; I have blotted out like a cloud thy transgressions, and like a thick cloud thy sins." Rejoice, then, and he glad. If you do trust Christ, you are saved; though as yet it only looketh like faith which heralds the tidings of a salvation which has not yet arrived. Still, it is the grace of God which bringeth salvation which has enabled thee to believe; and he who believeth on the Son bath everlasting life. O receive the welcome message; spring up at the sound of the words; stand upright on thy feet and rejoice.

     Some are still lame, though they have faith, through ignorance. They do not know what being saved is. They entertain wrong expectations. They are trusting in Christ, but they do not feel any surprising emotions; they have not had any remarkable dreams, or visions, or striking ebullitions of excited joy, and therefore, though they have "faith to be saved," they have not the faith of a present salvation. They are waiting for something, they hardly know what, to embellish their faith, or to fortify it with signs and wonders. Now, poor soul, wherefore do you wait? These things are not necessary to salvation. In fact, the fewer you have of them, methinks, the better, especially of things which are visionary. I rather tremble for those who talk much about sensible evidences; they are too often the frivolities of unstable hearts. Beloved, though you may have never had any ecstatic joys, or suffered any deep depression of your spirits, if you are resting on Christ, it does not matter one whit what your feelings have been or have not been. Do you expect to have an electric shock, or to go through some mysterious operation? The operation is mysterious, too mysterious for you to discern it; but all that you have to do with is this—"Do I believe in Jesus? Am I simply depending upon him for everything?" If you do you are saved, and I pray you to believe this. Stand upright on your feet, and leap for joy; for whether you believe it or not, if you are now depending upon Christ, your sins are forgiven you; you are a child of God; you are an heir of heaven.

     How many, too, are kept lame because of a fear of self-deception. "I do trust Christ, but I am afraid lest I should deceive myself; suppose I were to get confidence, and it should he presumption! suppose I should think myself saved, and I am not!" Now, sir, if thou wert dealing with thyself there would be reason to be afraid of presumption, but thy faith hath to deal with God, who cannot deceive thee, and with Christ who will never tempt thee to be a deceiver. Doth not the Lord Jesus Christ himself tell thee that if thou believest in him thou art saved? Thou believest that, dost thou not? Then, soul, if thou believest on him, it is not presumption to say, "I am saved." Away with all that affectation of modesty, which some good people think to he so pretty—saying, "I hope;" "I trust;" but "I feel such doubts, such fears, and such gloomy misgivings." My dear sir, that is not humility: that is a vain unseemly questioning of God. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ tells you, and he gives his own unequivocal word for it, that if you rest upon Christ you rest upon a rock; that if you believe in him you are not condemned. Is it an evidence of the lowliness of your heart that you suspect the veracity of God, or the faithfulness of his promise? Surely this were no fruit of the meekness of wisdom. No, beloved; it may seem too good to he true, but it is not too good for my God to give, though it is too good for you to receive. You have his word for it, that if you trust his Son to save you, and simply trust him, and him alone, even if the pillars of the heavens should shake, yet you would be saved. If the foundations of the earth should reel, and the whole earth should like a vision pass away, yet this eternal promise and oath of God must stand fast.

     Others again, cannot stand upright on their feet, because they are afraid that if they did begin they would go back again, and so bring dishonor to Christ. This would be a very proper fear if you had anything to do with keeping yourselves. If you had to carry yourselves to heaven, it would he reasonable enough for you to despair of doing it. Of your own impotence it is impossible you can be too deeply convinced. You cannot do anything whatever, but Christ gives you his promise to preserve you even to the end. If you believe on him you shall be saved. He does not say you shall he saved for a year, or for twenty years, and then, perhaps, he lost at last. No; but "he that believeth and is baptized, shall he saved." If one man who believes in Christ is cast away, that promise of Christ is not true. Brethren, it is true, and it must he true, and let its glorious truth be sweetly familiar with you now—if you give your soul to Christ, putting simple faith in his person as the Son of God, and in his work as the Mediator between God and man, you shall as surely see his face within the pearly gates of heaven as your eyes see me to-night. There may he a question about your seeing me, but there can be no question about Christ fulfilling his promise and keeping his word. Now sit down in the dust no longer, thou doubting, mourning, trembling sinner. With a loud voice I say unto thee, as Paul did, "Stand upright on thy feet." Wherefore dost thou mourn? There is nothing to mourn about. Thy sin is forgiven; thine eternal salvation is secure; a crown in heaven is provided for thee, and a harp of gold awaits thee. If thou believest in Jesus none can lay anything to thy charge. Not even the principalities of darkness shall be able to prevail against thee. Eternal love secures thee against the malice of hell. Stand upright, then, on thy feet, for if thou believest thou art saved, completely saved, saved in time, and for eternal days, saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation.

     Then possibly there is one here who cannot stand upright because of his many sins. Ah! while I have been talking about Christ it may be something has been saying in your heart, "Ah! ah! what is it? Christ taking men's sins, suffering in their stead? That suits me. Is God doing this? Ah! then he must be able to save, and I am told that whosoever trusteth in him shall never perish; is it so? Why, here I am; I who have not been in a place of worship for months, for years, I have strayed in here to-night, and if what this man says be true, well then I will even venture my soul upon it; I have got nothing, I know, but he says there is nothing wanted; I am not prepared to trust Christ, but he says there is no preparation required, and if I trust Jesus Christ just as I am, Christ will save me; why, I will do it; by the grace of God I will do it; can he save me?" Then comes in the bitter reflection—"Look what a sinner I have been! why, I should be ashamed to say how foully I have sinned; he must shut me out; I have been too great a villain, too gross an offender; I have cursed and sworn at such a rate; he cannot mean that if I trust Christ I shall be saved; 1 believe he can save me; I see the fitness of the plan, and the excellency of it; I believe it, but see what a sinner I am!" Sinner, stand upright on thy feet, for "all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men." Return, thou wanderer, return to thy Father's house! He comes to meet thee. On thy neck he will fall, and thou shalt be his child for ever. Only believe thou in his Son Jesus Christ, and though this he the first time thou hast ever heard his Word, I would settle mine eyes upon thee earnestly, and say, "Stand upright on thy feet."

     Oh! how often I do wish that somebody had come to me when I was under depression of mind, and had told me about the simple gospel of Jesus Christ. I think I should have stood upright on my feet long before I did, but, alas! I kept hearing about what people felt before they believed in Christ—very proper preaching—and I was afraid I did not feel it, though now I know I did. I heard a great deal about what Christians ought to be, and a great deal more about God's elect, what they are in his esteem, but I did not know whether I was one of God's elect, and I knew I was not what I ought to be. O for the trumpet of the archangel, to sound the words, "Believe and live," as loud as the voice which shall wake the dead in their graves! and O for the quickening Spirit to go with voice, as it shall go with the ringing of the archangel's trump, when the graves shall open, and the dead shall arise! Go, you who know it, and tell it everywhere, for there are multitudes, I doubt not, who are really seeking Christ, and who have his Spirit in them, but it is like as the prophet hath it, "The children have come to the birth and there is no strength to bring forth." They have come to the very edge of light, and they only want one helping hand to bring them into noonday. They are slipping about in the Slough of Despond, and they are almost out of it, but they want just a helping hand to pull them out. This hand of help is stretched out by thus telling them, telling them plainly, it is in Jesus their help is found, and that trusting him, relying upon him, they shall never perish. neither shall any pluck them out of his hand.

     I would to God that some of you, who have been long hearing me, might be found in this class. I have been bowed down in spirit at some sad things which have been brought to my hearing of late. I know that there are some here, and there always have been some few attending my ministry, who have a personal affection for me, and who listen to the Word with very great attention, and who, moreover, are very greatly moved by it, but who have some besetting sin which they either cannot or will not give up. They do renounce it for a time, but either bad associates, or else the strength of their passions, take them away again. O sirs! I would ye would take warning. There was one of whom we had some sort of hope, who listened to our ministry. There came a turning point with him; it was this, either that he must give up sin, or else give up coming to the Tabernacle; and what—oh! what became of him? I could indicate the place where he sat. He died of delirium tremens! And I do not wonder. When you have heard the gospel preached Sabbath after Sabbath, when your response to the solemn appeals you have earnestly listened to has only been that you reject Christ and refuse eternal life—is it any marvel that in making the choice of your own damnation reason should resign its seat as director of your actions, and cease to curb your headstrong will, leaving the maddened passions to dash on with reckless fury, and precipitate your destruction. Am I clear of their blood? I have asked myself the question. I may not be in some things, but I know I am as far as my ministry is concerned. I have not shunned to declare unto any of you the whole counsel of God. When I have known any vice, or any folly—which of you have I been afraid of, or before whom of you all have I trembled? God is my witness; him have I served in the spirit; and if these turn aside unto their crooked ways, they have not done it without well knowing the consequences; nay, they have not done it without being warned and entreated, and persuaded to look unto Jesus Christ. And I do conjure some of you—you know to whom I refer—I do conjure those of you who have a conscience which is not seared, but who, nevertheless, persevere in your sins—I conjure you by the love of God, do me this one favor at the last: if you choose your own ruin, bear witness for me that I have not hesitated to warn you of it. I had infinitely rather, however, that you would do yourselves this great favor, to love your own souls. If you have anything to throw into the fire, throw it in, but let it not be your soul. If you have anything to lose, go and lose it, but do not lose your soul. Sirs, if you must play the fool, indulge your sport at a cheaper rate than this. If sin be worth having, then I pray you pay a cheaper price than your own souls for it, for it does seem to me so pitiful, so sorrowful a thing, that you who have been so short a time among us and are passing away before my very eyes, should still prefer the fleeting joy of the moment to the eternal joy, and risk everlasting torment for temporary mirth. By the tears of Jesus when he wept over Jerusalem, by the blood of Jesus which he shed for guilty men, by the heart of the eternal Father who willeth not the death of a sinner but had rather that he should turn unto him and live, I pray you he wise and consider your ways. Choose ye this day whom ye will serve, and may the Lord guide your choice. May you fall into the arms of divine mercy and say, "If thou wilt help me, Jesus, here I am; I give myself to thee." May my Master teach me how to address you if I do not know how to gasp the words of simplicity, tenderness, of terrible apprehension, but of persuasive power. If there were any words in any language that would melt you, this tongue is at your service to utter them. If there is any form of speech, though it should make me to be called vulgar, and subject me to the shame and hissing which once I endured, if the furnace could be heated seven times hotter than that, I would but laugh at it if I might but win your souls. Tell me, sirs, how shall I put the case? Would you have argument? I wish that I could reason with you. Would you have tears? There, let them flow! Ye dry eyes, why do ye not weep more for these perishing souls? Would you have God's Word without my word? Sirs, I would read it, and let my tongue he dumb if that would teach you. Would my death save you? That God who seeth in secret knoweth that to-night it were a joy to me to enter into my rest, and so it were little for me to talk of being willing to give a life for you, and it were, indeed, but a trifle to me. Oh! why will ye perish? Why should I plead with you, and you not care for yourselves? What is it that besets you? Poor moths! Are ye dazzled with the flames? Are ye not content to have singed your wings? Must they also consume body and soul? How can ye make your bed in hell? How can ye abide with eternal burnings? In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, I command you—for I can do no less—I command you to turn unto him and live. Believe on him and you shall he saved. But remember, at your hazard you reject the message to-night. It may he the last message that shall ever come to your soul with power, if ye cast this away—

 

"What chains of vengeance must they feel,

Who slight the bonds of love?"

 

I would have you saved just now. I cannot talk about to-morrow. I would have you decide it at once. Oh! you have come as far as this twenty times, and have you gone back again? You have been aroused, you have made vows and you have broken them, resolutions and you have belied them. O sirs, for God's sake do not lie to the Almighty again. Now be true this time. May the Spirit of God make you speak the truth, even though you should he compelled to say, through your wickedness, "I will not submit myself unto the Son of God." Do speak the truth. Procrastinate not. As Elijah said, "How long halt ye between two opinions?" so say I. If God he God serve him, but if Baal he God serve him. But do not keep on coming here and then going to the pot-house. Do not come and take your seat here and then go to the brothel. Sirs, do not this foul scandal for God's sake, and for your own sake. If you will serve the devil serve him, and he a true servant to him. If you mean to go to hell, go there; but if you seek eternal life and joys to come, give up these things. Renounce them. Why drink poison and drink medicine too? Have done with one or the other and be honest. Be honest to your own souls. May the Lord grant that tonight some may have given to them, not only "faith to be saved," but the faith which saves, for his name's sake. Amen.



The Sinner’s Friend

By / Jun 22

The Sinner's Friend

 

"A friend of publicans and sinners."—Matthew 11:19

     Many a true word is spoken in jest, and many a tribute to virtue has been unwittingly paid by the sinister lips of malice. The enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ thought to brand him with infamy, hold him up to derision, and hand his name down to everlasting scorn, as "a friend of publicans and sinners." Short-sighted mortals! Their scandal published his reputation. To this day the Savior is adored by the title which was minted as a slur. It was designed to be a stigma, that every good man would shudder at and shrink from; it has proved to be a fascination which wins the heart, and enchants the soul of all the godly. Saints in heaven, and saints on earth delight to sing of him thus—

 

"Savior of sinners they proclaim,

Sinners of whom the chief I am."

 

     What the invidious Jews said in bitter spleen, has been turned by the Holy Spirit to the most gracious account. Where they poured out vials of hate, odours of sacred incense arise. Troubled consciences have found a sweet balm in the very sound. Jesus, "the friend of publicans and sinners," has proved himself friendly to them, and they have become friends with him; so completely has he justified the very name which his enemies gave him in ribald affront.

     We shall take this title of Jesus to-night as an order of distinction which sets forth his excellency, and as God helps us, we shall try to exalt his name and proclaim his fame, while we attempt to explain how he was the friend of sinners; and how he shows that he is still the same.

     I. OUR LORD PROVED HIMSELF IN HIS OWN TIME TO BE THE FRIEND OF SINNERS.

     What better proof could he give of it than coming from the majesty of his Father's house to the meanness of Bethlehem's manger? What better proof could he give than leaving the society of cherubim and seraphim, to lie in the manger where the horned oxen fed, and to become the associate of fallen men? The incarnation of the Savior in the very form of sinners, taking upon himself the flesh of sinners, being born of a sinner, having a sinner for his reputed father—his very being a man, which is tantamount to being in the same form with sinners—surely this were enough to prove that he is the sinner's friend.

     When you take up the roll of his earthly lineage and begin to read it through, you will be struck with the fact that there are but few women mentioned in it; and yet three out of those mentioned were harlots, so that even in his lineage there was the taint of sin, and a sinner' s blood would have run in his veins if he had been the true son of Joseph; but inasmuch as he was begotten by the Holy Ghost, who overshadowed the Virgin, in him was no sin; yet his reputed pedigree ran through the veins of sinners. Tamar, and Rahab, and Bath-sheba are three names which bring to remembrance deeds of shame, and yet these stand in the records as the ancestors of the Son of Mary, the sinner's friend!

     As soon as Jesus Christ, being born in the likeness of sinful flesh, has come to years of maturity, and has commenced his real life-work, he at once discloses his friendship for sinners by associating with them. You do not find him standing at a distance, issuing his mandates and his orders to sinners to make themselves better, but you find him coming among them like a good workman who stands over his work; he takes his place where the sin and the iniquity are, and he personally comes to deal with it. He does not write out a prescription and send by another hand his medicines with which to heal the sickness of sin, but he comes right into the lazar-house, touches the wounded, looks at the sick; and there is healing in the touch; there is life in the look. The great Physician took upon himself our sicknesses and bare our infirmities, and so proved himself to be really the sinner's friend. Some people appear to like to have a philanthropic love towards the fallen, but yet they would not touch them with a pair of tongs. They would lift them up if they could, but it must be by some machinery—some sort of contrivance by which they would not degrade themselves or contaminate their own hands. Not so the Savior. Up to the very elbow he seems to thrust that gracious arm of his into the mire, to pull up the lost one out of the horrible pit and out of the miry clay. He takes himself the mattock and the spade, and goes to work in the great quarry that he may get out the rough stones which afterwards he will himself polish with his own bitter tears and bloody sweat, that he may make them fit to shine for ever in the glorious temple of the Lord his God. He comes himself into direct, personal contact with sin, without being contaminated with it. He comes as close to it as a man can come. He eats and drinks with sinners. He sits at the Pharisee's table one day, and does not rise because there is a crowd of people no better than they should be coming near him. Another day he goes to the publican's house, and the publican had, no doubt, been a great extortioner in his time; but Jesus sits there, and that day does salvation come to that publican's house. Beloved, this is a sweet trait about Christ, and proves how real and how true was his love, that he made his associations with sinners, and did not shun even the chief of them.

     Nay, he not only came among them, but he was always seeking their good by his ministry. If there was anywhere a sinner, a lost sheep of the house of Israel, Christ was after that sinner. Never such an indefatigable shepherd; he sought that which was lost till he found it. One of his earliest works of mercy we will tell you of in brief. He was once on a journey, and Samaria was a little out of his way; but there lived in a city of that country a woman—ah! the less said of her the better. She had had five husbands, and he whom she then had was not her husband, nor were any of the others either. She was a disgrace to that city of Samaria. But Jesus, who has a keen eye for sinners, and a heart which beats high for them, means to save that woman, and he must and he will have her. Being weary, he sits down on a well to rest. A special providence brings the woman to the well. The conventionalities of society forbid him to talk with her. But he breaks through the narrow bigotry of caste. A Samaritan by birth, he cares not for that; but will that most holy being condescend to have familiar conversation with her—a dishonor to her sex? He will. His disciples may marvel when they come back and find him talking with her, but he will do it. He begins to open up the Word of life to her understanding, and that woman becomes the first Christian missionary we ever hear of, for she ran back to the city, leaving her water-pot, and crying, "Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" And they came and believed; and there was great joy in that city of Samaria. You know, too, that there was another sinner. He was a bad fellow—I fear him. He had been constantly grinding the faces of the poor, and getting more out of them by way of taxation than he should have done; but the little man had the bump of curiosity, and he must needs see the preacher, and the preacher must needs love him; for I say there was a wonderful attraction in Jesus to a sinner. That sinner's heart was like a piece of iron: Christ's heart was like a loadstone; and wherever there was a sinner the loadstone began to feel it, and soon the sinner began to feel the loadstone too. "Zaccheus," said Christ, "make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house;" and down comes the sinner, and salvation has come to his house at that hour, Oh! Christ never seemed to preach so sweetly as when he was preaching a sinner's sermon. I would have loved to have seen that dear face of his when he cried, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;" or, better still, to have seen his eyes running with whole showers of tears when he said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not even!" or to have heard him preach those three great sermons upon sinners when he described the woman as sweeping the house and taking away the dust, that she might find the lost piece of her money; and the shepherd going from hill to hill after the wandering sheep; and the father running to welcome that rag-clad prodigal; kissing him with the kisses of love, clothing him with the best robe, and inviting him into the feast, while they did dance and make merry because the lost was found, and he who was dead was alive again. Why, he was the mightiest of preachers for sinners, beyond a doubt, Oh! how he loved them! Never mind the Pharisees: he has thunderbolts for them. "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees!" But when publicans and harlots come, he always has the gate of mercy ajar for them. For them he always has some tender word, some loving saying, such as this—"Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out." "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men;" or such like words of tender wooing. The very chief of sinners was thus drawn into the circle of his disciples.

     And you know, dear friends, he did not prove his love merely by preaching to them, and living with them, and by his patience in enduring their contradiction against himself, and all their evil words and deeds, but he proved it by his prayers too. He used his mighty influence with the Father in their behalf. He took their polluted names on his holy lips; he was not ashamed to call them brethren. Their cause became his own, and in their interest his pulse throbbed. How many times on the cold mountains he kept his heart warm with love to them! How often the sweat rolled down his face when he was in an agony of spirit for them I cannot tell you. This much I do know, that on that self-same night when he sweat as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground, he prayed this prayer—after having prayed for his saints, he went on to say—"Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word." Here, truly, the heart of the Savior was bubbling up and welling over towards sinners. And you never can forget that almost his last words were, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Though wilfully and wickedly they pierced his hands and his feet, yet were there no angry words, but only that short, loving, hearty prayer—"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Ah! friends, if there ever was a man who was a friend to others, Jesus was a friend to sinners his whole life through.

     This, however, is but little. As for the river of the Savior's love to sinners, I have only brought you to its banks. You have but stood on the bank and dipped your feet in the flood; but now prepare to swim. So fond was he of sinners that he made his grave with the wicked. He was numbered with the transgressors. God's fiery sword was drawn to smite a world of sinners down to hell. It must fall on those sinners. But Christ loves them. His prayers stay the arm of God a little while, but still the sword must fall in due time. What is to be done? By what means can they be rescued? Swifter than the lightning's flash I see that sword descending. But what is that in vision I behold? It falls—but where? Not on the neck of sinners; it is not their neck which is broken by its cruel edge; it is not their heart which bleeds beneath its awful force. No; the "friend of sinners" has put himself into the sinner's place! and then, as if he had been the sinner, though in him was no sin, he suffers, bleeds, and dies—no common suffering—no ordinary bleeding—no death such as mortals know. It was a death in which the second death was comprehended; a bleeding in which the very veins of God were emptied. The God-man divinely suffered. I know not how else to express the suffering. It was a more than mortal agony, for the divine strengthened the human, and the man was made vast and mighty to endure through his being a God. Being God and man he endured more than ten thousand millions of men all put together could have suffered. He endured, indeed, the hells of all for whom he died, the torments, or the equivalent for the torments, which all of them ought to have suffered—the eternal wrath of God condensed and put into a cup, too bitter for mortal tongue to know, and then drained to its utmost dregs by the loving lips of Jesus. Beloved, this was love. "Herein is love, that while we were yet sinners, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." This Christ has done, and he is, therefore demonstrated to be the friend of sinners.

     But the trial is over; the struggle is passed; the Savior is dead and buried; he rises again, and after he has spent forty days on earth—in that forty days proving still his love for sinners—he rose again for their justification; I see him ascending up on high. Angels attend him as the clouds receive him.

 

"They bring his chariot from on high,

To bear him to his throne;

Clap their triumphant wings and cry,

'The glorious work is done.'"

 

What pomp! What a procession! What splendor! He will forget his poor friends the sinners now, will he not? Not he! I think I hear the song, "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in." The bars of massy light are all unloosed; the pearly gates are all wide open flung; and as he passes through, mark you, the highest joy which swells his soul is that he has opened those gates, not for himself, for they were never shut on him, but that he has opened them for sinners. It was for this, indeed, he died; and it is for this that he ascends on high, that he may "open the kingdom of heaven for all believers." See him as he rides through heaven's streets! "Thou hast ascended up on high; thou hast led captivity captive; thou hast received gifts of men." Ah! but hear the refrain, for this is the sweetest note of all the hymn, "Yea, for the rebellious also—yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them." The scattered gifts of his coronation, the lavish bounties of his ascension, are still for sinners. He is exalted on high—for what? To give repentance and remission of sins. He still wears upon his breastplate the names of sinners; upon his hands and upon his heart does he still bear the remembrance of those sinners; and every day for the sinner's sake he doth not hold his peace, and for the sinner's sake he doth not rest, but cries unto God until every sinner shall be brought safely home. Every sinner who believeth, every sinner who was given to him, every sinner whom he bought with blood—he will not rest, I say, till all such are gathered to be the jewels of his crown, world without end.

     Methinks we cannot say more; and 1 think you will say we could not have said less concerning the way in which the Savior proved himself to be the sinner's friend. If there are any of you who dare to doubt him after this, I know not what further to advance. If there can be one who has proved himself your friend, surely Jesus did it, and he is willing to receive you now. What he has done he still continues to do. O that you might have grace to perceive that Jesus is the lover of your soul, that you might find the blessedness which all these tokens of friendship, of which we have been speaking, have brought for believing sinners.

     II. While we change the subject a little, we shall still keep to the text, and notice WHAT CHRIST IS DOING NOW FOR SINNERS.

     There is a deep principle involved here—a principle the Pharisee of old could not understand, and the cold heart of humanity is slow to embrace it to-day. I have two explanations to offer of the way in which Jesus personally discovers himself to be the friend of sinners, and I will just mention these before I come to the application of the subject I intend. Once upon a time a woman was brought to Jesus by the Scribes and Pharisees: she was an adulteress, she had been taken in the very act. They tell "the sinners friend" what sentence Moses would pronounce in such a case, and they ask him, how sayest thou? This they said tempting him. They were not much concerned about the unhappy creature; the accusation they were intent to lay was against the Man of Nazareth. You know how he disposed of the case, and put her accusers out of countenance. He did not bring the sinner up before the magistrate; nay, he would not act the judge's part, and pronounce sentence, rather would he act the neighbor's part; he acquitted himself as a friend. There is a proverb among a certain class of hard-dealing tradesmen, "We know no friendship in business;" and full well they carry it out, while they grind the faces of the poor without pity, and strive to over-reach one another without fairness. And there was in like manner no friendship, no mercy whatever, among those gentlemen of the long robe. Righteousness, to their idea, stood in exacting justice with rigid severity; and as for wickedness, it was only shameful when it was found out. She who was taken in the act must be stoned. They who had done it secretly must prosecute. The real friendship of Jesus appears in his singling out the object of pity; and where they accused him of winking at crime and harbouring the criminal, he was truly laying the axe at the root of the tree, and sheltering the victims while he upbraided the arrogant rulers, whose secret vices were the genuine cause of the wretchedness which had fallen upon the dregs of the nation. I commend this thought to your consideration. When it is said of him, he is a "friend of publicans and sinners," it was implied that he was not a friend of Scribes and Pharisees. Yet again, I want you to notice that the office which Christ came to fulfill towards sinners was that of pure, unmingled friendship. Let us give you an illustration. There is an awful story abroad: a murder has been committed; and the poor wretch who committed it has cut his own throat. The policeman and the surgeon are quickly on the spot. The one comes there in the interest of law, the other attends in the interest of humanity. Says the officer of police, "Man, you are my prisoner;" says the doctor, "My dear fellow, you are my patient." And now he lays a delicate hand upon the wound, he stanches the blood, applies soft liniments, binds it up with plasters, and, bending down his ear, listens to the man's breathing: taking hold of his hand, he feels his pulse: gently raising his head, he administers to him some wine or stimulant, takes him to the hospital, gives the nurse instructions to watch him, and orders that he shall be given nutritious diet as he is able to bear it. Day after day he still visits him, and uses all his skill and all his diligence to heal the man's Wounds. Is that the way to deal with criminals? Certainly it is not the manner in which the police deal. Their business is to find out all the traces and evidences of his guilt. But the medical attendant is not concerned with the man as an evil doer, but as a sufferer. So is it with the sinner. Moses is the officer of justice who comes to arrest him. Christ is the good Physician who comes to heal him; he says, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself but in me is thy help." He deals with the disease, with the wounds, with the sufferings of sinners. He is therefore their friend. Of course the parallel will only go a little way. In the instance of the murderer, the surgeon would hand his patient over to the officers as soon as his wound was recovered; but in the conduct of our Savior he redeems the soul from under the law, and delivers it from the penalty of sin, as well as restores it from the self-inflicted injuries. But oh! if I could but show thee that Christ treats the sinner with pity, rather than with indignation; that the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them; that his visit to our world was mediatorial, not to condemn the world, but to give his life a ransom for many; surely, then, thou wouldst see reason enough why the sinner should look to him as a friend indeed.

     Ah! then; I would go further. I would entreat thee to make the case thine own. Thou art a sinner; can I not convince thee that he is thy friend?

     You were sick the other day. The physician looked very grave, and whispered something to your wife. She did not tell you what it was, but your own life trembled in the scale, and it is a wonder you are here to-night. Shall I tell you why you are here? Do you see that tree yonder? It has been standing in its place for many years, but it has never yielded any fruit, and several times the master of the garden has said, "Cut it down." The other day the woodman came with his axe; he felt its edge, it was sharp and keen enough, and he began to cut, and the chips were flying, and he made a deep gash. But the gardener came by, one who had watched over the tree, and had hope of it even yet, and he said, "Spare it—spare it yet a little longer; the wound thou hast made may heal; and I will dig about it, and dung it, and if it bring forth fruit well; spare it another year, and if not then cut it down." That tree is yourself. The woodman is Death. That chipping at the trunk of the tree was your sickness. Jesus is he who spared you. You had not been here to-night—you had been there in hell among damned spirits, howling in unutterable woe, if it had not been that the friend of sinners had spared your life.

     And where are you to-night? Perhaps, my hearers, you are in an unusual place for you. Your Sunday evenings are not often spent in the house of God. There are other places which know you, but your seat there is empty to-night. There has been much persuasion to bring you here, and it may be that you have come against your will; but some friend has asked you to conduct him to the spot, and here you are. Do you know why you are here? It is a friendly providence, managed by the sinner's friend which has brought you here, that you may hear the sound of mercy, and have a loving invitation tendered to you. Be grateful to the Savior that he has brought you to the gospel-pool. May you—O, may you this night be made to step in and be washed from sin! But it is kind of him, and proves how true a friend he is of sinners, that he has brought you here. I will leave you now where you are, and I will tell you how he has dealt with other sinners, for mayhap this may lead you to ask him to deal the same with you.

     I know a sinner—while I live I must know him. Full well do I remember him when he was hard of heart and an enemy to God by a multitude of wicked works. But this friend of sinners loved him; and passing by one day, he looked right into his soul with such a look, that his hard heart began to break. There were deep throes as though a birth of a divine sort were coming on. There was an agony, and there was a grief unutterable; and that poor soul did not think it kind of Jesus; but, indeed, it was kindness too intense ever fully to estimate, for there is no saving a soul except by making it feel its need of being saved. There must be in the work of grace an emptying and a pulling down before there can be a filling and a building up. That soul knew no peace for many a year, and the sole of its foot had no rest; but one day

 

"I heard the voice of Jesus say,

Come unto me and rest;

Lay down, thou weary one, lay down,

Thy head upon my breast.

I came to Jesus as I was,

Weary, and worn, and sad,

I found in him a resting-place,

And he has made me glad!

I heard the voice of Jesus say,

Behold, I freely give

The living water, thirsty one,

Stoop down, and drink, and live.

I came to Jesus and I drank

Of that life-giving stream;

My thirst was quench'd, my soul revived,

And now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,

I am this dark world's light,

Look unto me, thy morn shall rise,

And all thy days be bright.

I look'd to Jesus and I found

In him my star, my sun

And in that light of light I'll walk,

Till travelling days are done."

 

     Ay, said I, Christ is the friend of sinners! So say I, and so will I say while this poor lisping stammering tongue can articulate a sound. And methinks God had a design of abundant mercy when he saved my soul. I had not then believed it, though a mother's loving accents might have whispered it in my ears. But he seems to remind me of it over and over again, till love and terror mingle in my breast, saying, "Woe is me if I preach not the gospel." O my blessed Master, thou dost trust my lips when thou dost bear witness to my heart. Thou givest charge to my tongue when thou constrained my soul. "Am I a chosen vessel?" It is to bear his name to sinners. As a full bottle seeks vent, so must my testimony pant for utterance. O sinner, if thou trustest him, he will be such a friend to thee; and if thou hast now a broken heart and a contrite spirit, these are his work; and it is a proof of his great love to thee if he has made thee to hunger and thirst after him.

     Let me impress upon you that Jesus is the friend of the friendless. She who had spent all her money on physicians without getting relief, obtained a cure gratis when she came to him. He who hath "nothing to pay" gets all his debts cancelled by this friend. And he who was ready to perish with hunger, finds not only a passing meal, but a constant supply at his hands.

     We know of a place in England still existing, where there is a dole of bread served to every passer-by who chooses to ask for it. Whoever he may be he has but to knock at the door of St. Cross Hospital, and there is the dole of bread for him. Jesus Christ so loveth sinners that he has built a St. Cross Hospital, so that, whenever a sinner is hungry, he has but to knock and have his wants supplied. Nay, he has done better; he has attached to this hospital of the cross a bath; and whenever a soul is black and filthy it has but to go there and be washed. The fountain is always full, always efficacious. There is no sinner who ever went into it and found it, could not wash away his stains. Sins which were scarlet and crimson have all disappeared, and the sinner has been whiter than snow. As if this were not enough, there is attached to this hospital of the cross a wardrobe, and a sinner, making application simply as a sinner, with nothing in his hand, but being just empty and naked, he may come and be clothed from head to foot. And if he wishes to be a soldier, he may not merely have an under garment, but he may have armor which shall cover him from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Nay, if he wants a sword he shall have that given to him, and a shield too. There is nothing that his heart can desire that is good for him which he shall not receive. He shall have spending-money so long as he lives, and he shall have an eternal heritage of glorious treasure when he enters into the joy of his Lord.

     Beloved, I cannot tell you all that Christ has done for sinners, but this I know, that if he meets with you to-night, and becomes your friend, he will stand by you to the last. He will go home with you to-night. No matter how many pairs of stairs you have to go up, Jesus will go with you. No matter if there be no chair to sit down on, he will not disdain you. You shall be hard at work to-morrow, but as you wipe the sweat from your brow he shall stand by you. You will, perhaps, be despised for his sake, but he will not forsake you. You will, perhaps, have days of sickness, but he will come and make your bed in your sickness for you. You will, perhaps, be poor, but your bread shall be given you, and your water shall be sure, for he will provide for you. You will vex him much and grieve his Spirit. You will often doubt him—you will go after other lovers. You will provoke him to jealousy, but he will never cease to love you. You will, perhaps, grow cold to him, and even forget his dear name for a time, but he will never forget you. You may, perhaps, dishonour his cross, and damage his fair fame among the sons of men, but he will never cease to love you; nay, he will never love you less—he cannot love you more. This night he doth espouse himself unto you. Faith shall be the wedding-ring which he will put upon your finger. He plights his troth to you,

 

"Though you should him ofttimes forget

His lovingkindness fast is set."

 

His heart shall be so true to you that he will never leave you nor forsake you. You will come to die soon, but the friend of sinners, who loved you as a sinner and would not cast you off when your sinnership kept breaking up, will still he with you when you come to the sinner's doom, which is to die. I see you going down the shelving banks of Jordan, but the sinner's friend goes with you. Ah! dear heart, he will put his arm beneath you, and bid you fear not; and when in the thick shades of that grim night you expect to see a fearful visage—the grim face of Death—you shall see instead thereof, you shall see his sweet and smiling face, bright as an evening star, by your soul, and you shall hear him say, "Fear not, I am with thee; be not dismayed; I am thy God." You will land in the world of spirits by-and-by; but will the sinner's friend forsake you then? No; he will be pleased to own you; he will meet you on the other side the Jordan, and he will say, "Come, my beloved, I have loved thee with an everlasting love, and have bought thee, though thou wast a sinner vile, and now I am not ashamed to confess thee before my holy angels; nay, come with me, and I will take thee to my Father's face, and will confess thee there." And when the day shall come in which the world shall be judged, he will be thy friend then. Thou shalt sit on the bench with him. At the right hand of the Judge shalt thou stand, accepted in him who was thine Advocate, and who is now thy Judge, to acquit thee. And when the splendours of the millennium shall come, thou shalt partake of them; and when the end shall be, and the world shall be rolled up like a worn-out vesture, and these arching skies shall have passed away like a forgotten dream; when eternity, with its deep-sounding waves shall break upon the mocks of time and sweep them away for ever—then, on that sea of glass mingled with fire, thou shalt stand with Christ, thy friend still, owning thee notwithstanding all thy misbehaviour in the world which has gone, and loving thee now, loving thee on as long as eternity shall last. Oh! what a friend is Christ to sinners, to sinners!

     Now do recollect, that we have been talking about sinners; there is a notion abroad that Jesus Christ came into the world to save respectable people, and that he will save decent sort of folks; that those of you who go regularly to a place of worship, and are good sort of people, will be saved. Now Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; and who does that mean? Well, it includes some of us who have not been permitted to go into outward sin; but it also includes within its deep, broad compass those who have gone to the utmost extent of iniquity.

     Talk of sinners! Walk the streets by moonlight, if you dare, and you will see sinners then. Watch when the night is dark, and the wind is howling, and the picklock is grating in the door, and you will see sinners then. Go to you jail, and walk through the wards, and see the men with heavy, over-hanging brows, men whom you would not like to meet out at night, and there are sinners there. Go to the Reformatories, and see those who have betrayed an early and a juvenile depravity, and you will see sinners there. Go across the seas to the place where a man will gnaw a bone upon which is reeking human flesh, and there is a sinner there. Go you where you will, and ransack earth to find sinners, for they are common enough; you may find them in every lane and street, of every city and town, and village and hamlet. It is for such that Jesus died. If you will select me the grossest specimen of humanity, if he be but born of woman, I will have hope of him yet, because the gospel of Christ is come to sinners, and Jesus Christ is come to seek and to save sinners. Electing love has selected some of the worst to be made the best. Redeeming love has bought, specially bought, many of the worst to be the reward of the Savior's passion. Effectual grace calls out and compels to come in many of the vilest of the vile; and it is therefore that I have tried to-night to preach my Master's love to sinners.

     Oh! by that love, looking out of those eyes in tears; oh! by that love, streaming from those wounds flowing with blood; by that faithful love, that strong love, that pure, disinterested, and abiding love; oh! by the heart and by the bowels of the Savior's compassion, I do conjure you turn not away as though it were nothing to you; but believe on him and you shall be saved. Trust your souls with him and he will bring you to his Father's right hand in glory everlasting.

     May God give us a blessing for Jesus' sake. Amen.



Mary’s Song

By / Dec 25

Mary's Song

 

“And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”—Luke 1:46-47. 

 

MARY was on a visit when she expressed her joy in the language of this noble song. It were well if all our social intercourse were as useful to our hearts as this visit was to Mary. “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend:” Mary, full of faith, goes to see Elizabeth, who is also full of holy confidence, and the two are not long together before their faith mounts to full assurance, and their full assurance bursts forth in a torrent of sacred praise. This praise aroused their slumbering powers, and instead of two ordinary village women, we see before us two prophetesses and poetesses, upon whom the Spirit of God abundantly rested. When we meet with our kinsfolk and acquaintance, let it be our prayer to God that our communion may be not only pleasant, but profitable; that we may not merely pass away time and spend a pleasant hour, but may advance a day's march nearer heaven, and acquire greater fitness for our eternal rest. 

     Observe, this morning, the sacred joy of Mary that you may imitate it. This is a season when all men expect us to be joyous. We compliment each other with the desire that we may have a “Merry Christmas.” Some Christians who are a little squeamish, do not like the word “merry.” It is a right good old Saxon word, having the joy of childhood and the mirth of manhood in it, it brings before one's mind the old song of the waits, and the midnight peal of bells, the holly and the blazing log. I love it for its place in that most tender of all parables, where it is written, that, when the long-lost prodigal returned to his father safe and sound, “They began to be merry.” This is the season when we are expected to be happy; and my heart's desire is, that in the highest and best sense, you who are believers may be “merry.” Mary’s heart was merry within her; but here was the mark of her joy, it was all holy merriment, it was every drop of it sacred mirth. It was not such merriment as worldlings will revel in to-day ay and to-morrow, but such merriment as the angels have around the throne, where they sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” while we sing “On earth peace, goodwill towards men.” Such merry hearts have a continual feast. I want you, ye children of the bride-chamber, to possess to-day and to-morrow, yea, all your days, the high and consecrated bliss of Mary, that you may not only read her words, but use them for yourselves, ever experiencing their meaning: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” 

     Observe, first, that she sings; secondly, she sings sweetly; thirdly, shall she sing alone?

     I. First observe, that MARY SINGS. 

     Her subject is a Saviour; she hails the incarnate God. The long-expected Messiah is about to appear. He for whom prophets and princes waited long, is now about to come, to be born of the virgin of Nazareth. Truly there was never a subject of sweeter song than this—the stooping down of Godhead to the feebleness of manhood. When God manifested his power in the works of his hands, the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy; but when God manifests himself what music shall suffice for the grand psalm of adoring wonder? When wisdom and power are seen, these are but attributes; but in the incarnation it is the divine person which is revealed wrapt in a veil of our inferior clay: well might Mary sing, when earth and heaven even now are wondering at the condescending grace. Worthy of peerless music is the fact that “the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” There is no longer a great gulf fixed between God and his people; the humanity of Christ has bridged it over. We can no more think that God sits on high, indifferent to the wants and woes of men, for God has visited us and come down to the lowliness of our estate. No longer need we bemoan that we can never participate in the moral glory and purity of God, for if God in glory can come down to his sinful creature, it is certainly less difficult to bear that creature, blood-washed and purified, up that starry way, that the redeemed one may sit down for ever on his throne. Let us dream no longer in sombre sadness that we cannot draw near to God so that he will really hear our prayer and pity our necessities, seeing that Jesus has become bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, born a babe as we are born, living a man as we must live, bearing the same infirmities and sorrows, and bowing his head to the same death. O, can we not come with boldness by this new and living way, and have access to the throne of the heavenly grace, when Jesus meets us as Immanuel, God with us? Angels sung, they scarce knew why. Could they understand stand why God had become man? They must have known that herein was a mystery of condescension; but all the loving consequences which the incarnation involved even their acute minds could scarce have guessed; but we see the whole, and comprehend the grand design most fully. The manger of Bethlehem was big with glory; in the incarnation was wrapped up all the blessedness by which a soul, snatched from the depths of sin, is lifted up to the heights of glory. Shall not our clearer knowledge lead us to heights of song which angelic guesses could not reach? Shall the lips of cherubs move to flaming sonnets, and shall we who are redeemed by the blood of the incarnate God be treacherously and ungratefully silent! 

 

“Did archangels sing thy coming?

Did the shepherds learn their lays?—

Shame would cover me ungrateful,

Should my tongues refuse to praise.” 

 

     This, however, was not the full subject of her holy hymn. Her peculiar delight was not that there was a Saviour to be born, but that he was to be born of her. Blessed among women was she, and highly favoured of the Lord; but we can enjoy the same favour; nay, we must enjoy it, or the coming of a Saviour will be of no avail to us. Christ on Calvary, I know, takes away the sin of his people; but none have ever known the virtue of Christ upon the cross, unless they have the Lord Jesus formed in them as the hope of glory. The stress of the virgin's canticle is laid upon God’s special grace to her. Those little words, the personal pronouns, tell us that it was truly a personal affair with her. “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” The Saviour was peculiarly, and in an especial sense, hers. She sung no “Christ for all;” but “Christ for me,” was her glad subject Beloved, is Christ Jesus in your heart? Once you looked at him from a distance, and that look cured you of all spiritual diseases, but are you now living upon him, receiving him into your very vitals as your spiritual meat and drink? In holy fellowship you have oftentimes fed upon his flesh and been made to drink of his blood; you have been buried with him in baptism unto death; you have yielded yourselves a sacrifice to him and you have taken him to be a sacrifice for you; you can sing of him as the spouse did, “His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me. . . My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.” This is a happy style of living, and all short of this poor slavish work. Oh! you can never know the joy of Mary unless Christ becomes truly and really yours; but oh! when he is yours, yours within, reigning in your heart, yours controlling all your passions, yours changing your nature, subduing your corruptions, inspiring you with hallowed emotions; yours within, a joy unspeakable and full of glory— oh! then you can sing, you must sing, who can restrain your tongue? If all the scoffers and mockers upon earth should bid you hold your peace, you must sing; for your spirit must rejoice in God your Saviour. 

     We should miss much instruction if we overlooked the fact that the choice poem before us is a hymn of faith. As yet there was no Saviour born, nor, as far we can judge had the virgin any evidence such as carnal sense requireth to make her believe that a Saviour would be born of her. How can this thing be? was a question which might very naturally have suspended her song until it received an answer convincing to flesh and blood; but no such answer had been given. She knew that with God all things are possible, she had his promise delivered by an angel, and this was enough for her: on the strength of the Word which came forth from God, her heart leaped with pleasure and her tongue glorified his name. When I consider what it is which she believed, and how unhesitatingly she received the word, I am ready to give her, as a woman, a place almost as high as that which Abraham occupied as a man; and if I dare not call her the mother of the faithful, at least let her have due honour as one of the most excellent of the mothers in Israel. The benediction of Elizabeth, Mary right well deserved, “Blessed is she that believeth.” To her the “substance of things hoped for” was her faith, and that was also her “evidence of things not seen;” she knew, by the revelation of God, that she was to bear the promised seed who should bruise the serpent's head; but other proof she had none. This day there are these among us who have little or no conscious enjoyment of the Saviour's presence; they walk in darkness and see no light; they are groaning over inbred sin, and mourning because corruptions prevail; let them now trust in the Lord, and remember that if they believe on the Son of God, Christ Jesus is within them; and by faith they may right gloriously chant the hallelujah of adoring love. What though the sun gleam not forth to-day, the clouds and mists have not quenched his light; and though the Sun of Righteousness shine not on thee at this instant, yet he keeps his place in yonder skies, and knows no variableness, neither shadow of a turning. If with all thy digging, the well spring not up, yet there abideth a constant fulness in that deep, which croucheth beneath in the heart and purpose of a God of love. What, if like David, thou art much cast down, yet like him do thou say unto thy soul, “Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. "Be glad then with Mary's joy: it is the joy of a Saviour completely hers, but evidenced to be so, not by sense, but by faith. Faith has its music as well as sense, but it is of a diviner sort: if the viands on the table make men sing and dance, feastings of a more refined and etherial nature can fill believers with a hallowed plenitude of delight. 

     Still listening to the favoured virgin's canticle, let me observe that her lowliness does not make her stay her song; nay, it imports a sweeter note into it. “For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.” Beloved friend, you are feeling more intensely than ever the depth of your natural depravity, you are humbled under a sense of your many failings, you are so dead and earth-bound even in this house of prayer, that you cannot rise to God; you are heavy and sad, while our Christmas carols have been ringing in your ears; you feel yourself to be to-day so useless to the Church of God, so insignificant, so utterly unworthy, that your unbelief whispers, “ Surely, surely, you have nothing to sing for.” Come, my brother, come my sister, imitate this blessed virgin of Nazareth, and turn that very lowliness and meanness which you so painfully feel, into another reason for unceasing praise; daughters of Zion, sweetly say in your hymns of love, “He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.” The less worthy I am of his favours, the more sweetly will I sing of his grace. What if I be the most insignificant of all his chosen; then will I praise him who with eyes of love has sought me out, and set his love upon me. “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that whilst thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, thou hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” I am sure, dear friends, the remembrance that there is a Saviour, and that this Saviour is yours, must make you sing; and if you set side by side with it the thought that you were once sinful, unclean, vile, hateful, and an enemy to God, then your notes will take yet a loftier flight, and mount to the third heavens, to teach the golden harps the praise of God. 

     It is right well worthy of notice, that the greatness of the promised blessing did not give the sweet songstress an argument for suspending her thankful strain. When I meditate upon the great goodness of God in loving his people before the earth was, in laying down his life for us, in pleading our cause before the eternal throne, in providing a paradise of rest for us for ever, the black thought has troubled me, “Surely this is too high a privilege for such an insect of a day as this poor creature, man.” Mary did not look at this matter unbelievingly; although she appreciated the greatness of the favour, she did but rejoice the more heartily on that account. “For he that is mighty hath done to me great things.” Come, soul, it is a great thing to be a child of God, but thy God doeth great wonders, therefore be not staggered through unbelief, but triumph in thine adoption, great mercy though it be. Oh! it is a mighty mercy, higher than the mountains, to be chosen of God from all eternity, but it is true that even so are his redeemed chosen, and therefore sing thou of it. It is a deep and unspeakable blessing to be redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, but thou art so redeemed beyond all question. Therefore doubt not, but shout aloud for gladness of heart. It is a rapturous thought, that thou shalt dwell above, and wear the crown, and wave the palm branch for ever; let no mistrust interrupt the melody of thy psalm of expectation, but— 

 

“Loud to the praise of love divine,

Bid every string awake.”

 

What a fulness of truth is there in these few words: “He that is mighty hath done to me great things.” It is a text from which a glorified spirit in heaven might preach an endless sermon. I pray you, lay hold upon the thoughts which I have in this poor way suggested to you, and try to reach where Mary stood in holy exultation. The grace is great, but so is its giver; the love is infinite, but so is the heart from which it wells up; the blessedness is unspeakable, but so is the divine wisdom which planned it from of old. Let our hearts take up the Virgin's magnificat, and praise the Lord right joyously at this hour. 

     Still further, for we have not exhausted the strain, the holiness of God has sometimes damped the ardour of the believer's joy; but not so in Mary's case. She exults in it; “And holy is his name.” She weaves even that bright attribute into her song. Holy Lord! when I forget my Saviour, the thought of thy purity makes me shudder; standing where Moses stood upon the holy mountain of thy law, I do exceeding fear and quake. To me, conscious of my guilt, no thunder could be more dreadful than the seraph’s hymn of “Holy! holy! holy! Lord God of Sabaoth.” What is thy holiness but a consuming fire which must utterly destroy me—a sinner? If the heavens are not pure in thy sight and thou chargedst thine angels with folly, how much less then canst thou bear with vain, rebellious man, that is born of woman? How can man be pure, and how can thine eyes look upon him without consuming him quickly in thine anger? But, O thou Holy One of Israel, when my spirit can stand on Calvary and see thy holiness vindicate itself in the wounds of the man who was born at Bethlehem, then my spirit rejoices in that glorious holiness which was once her terror. Did the thrice holy God stoop down to man and take man’s flesh? then is there hope indeed! Did a holy God bear the sentence which his own law pronounced on man? Does that holy God incarnate now spread his wounded hands and plead for me? Then my soul, the holiness of God shall be a consolation to thee. Living waters from this sacred well I draw; and I will add to all my notes of joy this one, “and holy is his name.” He hath sworn by his holiness, and he will not lie, he will keep his covenant with his anointed and his seed for ever. 

     When we take to ourselves the wings of eagles, and mount towards heaven in holy praise, the prospect widens beneath us; even so as Mary poises herself upon the poetic wing, she looks adown the long aisles of the past, and beholds the mighty acts of Jehovah in the ages long back. Mark how her strain gathers majesty; it is rather the sustained flight of the eagle-winged Ezekiel, than the flatter of the timid dove of Nazareth. She sings, “His mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.” She looks beyond the captivity, to the days of the kings, to Solomon, to David, along through the Judges into the wilderness, across the Red Sea to Jacob, to Isaac, to Abraham, and onward, till, pausing at the gate of Eden, she hears the sound of the promise, “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head.” How magnificently she sums up the book of the wars of the Lord, and rehearses the triumphs of Jehovah, “He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” How delightfully is mercy intermingled with judgment in the next canto of her psalm: “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.” My brethren and sisters, let us, too, sing of the past, glorious in faithfulness, fearful in judgment, teeming with wonders. Our own lives shall furnish us with a hymn of adoration. Let us speak of the things which we have made touching the King. We were hungry, and he filled us with good things; we crouched upon the dunghill with the beggar, and he has enthroned us among princes; we have been tossed with tempest, but with the Eternal Pilot at the helm, we have known no fear of shipwreck; we have been cast into the burning fiery furnace, but the presence of the Son of Man has quenched the violence of the flames. Tell out, O ye daughters of music, the long tale of the mercy of the Lord to his people in the generations long departed. Many waters could not quench his love, neither could the floods drown it; persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword—none of these have separated the saints from the love of God which is in Christ our Lord. The saints beneath the wing of the Most High have been ever safe; when most molested by the enemy, they have dwelt in perfect peace: “God is their refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Ploughing at times the blood red wave, the ship of the Church has never swerved from her predestined path of progress. Every tempest has favoured her: the hurricane which sought her ruin has been made to bear her the more swiftly onward. Her flag has braved these eighteen hundred years the battle and the breeze, and she fears not what may yet be before her. But, lo! she nears the haven; the day is dawning when she shall bid farewell to storms; the waves already grow calm beneath her; the long-promised rest is near at hand; her Jesus himself meets her, walking upon the waters; she shall enter into her eternal haven, and all who are on board shall, with their Captain, sing of joy, and triumph, and victory through him who hath loved her and been her deliverer.

     When Mary thus tuned her heart to glory in her God for his wonders in the past, she particularly dwelt upon the note of election. The highest note in the scale of my praise is reached when my soul sings, “I love him because he first loved me.” Well does Kent put it—

 

“A monument of grace,

A sinner saved by blood;

The streams of love I trace,

Up to the fountain, GOD;

And in his mighty breast I see,

Eternal thoughts of love to me.”

 

We can scarely fly higher than the source of love in the mount of God. Mary has the doctrine of election in her song: “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.” Here is distinguishing grace, discriminating regard; here are some suffered to perish; here are others, the least deserving and the most obscure, made the special objects of divine affection. Do not be afraid to dwell upon this high doctrine, beloved in the Lord. Let me assure you that when your mind is most heavy and depressed, you will find this to be a bottle of richest cordial. Those who doubt these doctrines, or who cast them into the cold shade, miss the richest clusters of Eshcol; they lose the wines on the lees well refined, the fat things full of marrow; but you who by reason of years have had your senses exercised to discern between good and evil, you know that there is no honey like this, no sweetness comparable to it. If the honey in Jonathan's wood, when but touched enlightened the eyes to see, this is honey that will enlighten your heart to love and learn the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Eat, and fear not a surfeit; live upon this choice dainty, and fear not that you shall grow weary of it, for the more you know, the more you will want to know; the more your soul is filled, the more you will desire to have your mind enlarged, that you may comprehend more and more the eternal, everlasting, discriminating love of God.   

     But one more remark upon this point. You perceive she does not finish her song till she has reached the covenant. When you mount as high as election, tarry on its sister mount, the covenant of grace. In the last verse of her song, she sings, “As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.” To her, that was the covenant; to us who have clearer light, the ancient covenant made in the council chamber of eternity, is the subject of the greatest delight. The covenant with Abraham was in its best sense only a minor copy of that gracious covenant made with Jesus, the everlasting Father of the faithful, ere the blue heavens were stretched abroad. Covenant engagements are the softest pillows for an aching head; covenant engagements with the surety, Christ Jesus, are the best props for a trembling spirit.

 

“His oath, his covenant, his blood,

Support me in the raging flood;

When every earthly prop gives way,

This still is all my strength and stay.” 

 

If Christ did swear to bring me to glory, and if the Father swore that he would give me to the Son to be a part of the infinite reward for the travail of his soul; then, my soul, till God himself shall be unfaithful, till Christ shall cease to be the truth, till God's eternal council shall become a lie, and the red roll of his election shall be consumed with fire, thou art safe. Rest thou, then, in perfect peace, come what will; take thy harp from the willows, and never let thy fingers cease to sweep it to strains of richest harmony. O for grace from first to last to join the Virgin in her song. 

     II. Secondly, SHE SINGS SWEETLY. She praises her God right heartily. Observe how she plunges into the midst of the subject. There is no preface, but “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” When some people sing, they appear to be afraid of being heard. Our poet puts it— 

 

“With all my powers of heart and tongue

I'll praise my Maker in my song;

Angels shall hear the notes I raise,

Approve the song, and join the praise.” 

 

I am afraid angels frequently do not hear those poor, feeble, dying whisperings, which often drop from our lips merely by force of custom. Mary is all heart; evidently her soul is on fire; while she muses, the fire burns; then she speaks with her tongue. May we too, call home our wandering thoughts, and wake up our slumbering, powers to praise redeeming love. It is a noble word that she uses here: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” I suppose it means, “My soul doth endeavour to make God great by praising him.’" He is as great as he can be in his being; my goodness cannot extend to him; but yet my soul would make God greater in the thoughts of others, and greater in my own heart. I would give the train of his glory wider sweep; the light which he has given me I would reflect; I would make his enemies his friends; I would turn hard thoughts of God into thoughts of love. “My soul would magnify the Lord.” Old Trapp says, “My soul would make greater room for him.” It is as if she wanted to get more of God into her, like Rutherford, when he says, “Oh! that my heart were as big as heaven, that I might hold Christ in it;” and then he stops himself—“But heaven and earth cannot contain him. Oh, that I had a heart as big as seven heavens, that I might hold the whole of Christ within it.” Truly this is a larger desire than we can ever hope to have gratified; yet still our lips shall sing, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” Oh! if I could crown him; if I could lift him higher! If my burning at the stake would but add a spark more light to his glory, happy should I be to suffer. If my being crushed would lift Jesus an inch higher, happy were the destruction which should add to his glory! Such is the hearty spirit of Mary’s song.  

     Again, her praise is very joyful: “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” The word in the Greek is a remarkable one. I believe it is the same word which is used in the passage, “Rejoice ye in that day and leap for joy.” We used to have an old word in English which described a certain exulting dance, “a galliard.” That word is supposed to have come from the Greek word here used. It was a sort of leaping dance; the old commentators call it a levalto. Mary in effect declares, “My spirit shall dance like David before the ark, shall leap, shall spring, shall bound, shall rejoice in God my Saviour.” When we praise God, it ought not to be with dolorous and doleful notes. Some of my brethren praise God always on the minor key, or in the deep, deep bass; they cannot feel holy till they have the horrors. Why cannot some men worship God except with a long face? I know them by their very walk as they come to worship: what a dreary pace it is! how solemnly proper and funereal indeed! They do not understand David's Psalm:— 

 

“Up to her courts with joys unknown,

The sacred tribes repair.”

 

No, they come up to their Father’s house as if they were going to jail, and worship God on the Sunday as if it were the most doleful day in the week. It is said of a certain Highlander, when the High-land landers were very pious, that he once went to Edinburgh, and when he came back again he said he had seen a dreadful sight on Sabbath, he had seen people at Edinburgh going to kirk with happy faces. He thought it wicked to look happy on Sunday; and that same notion exists in the minds of certain good people hereabouts; they fancy that when the saints get together they should sit down, and have a little comfortable misery, and but little delight. In truth, moaning and pining is not the appointed way for worshipping God. We should take Mary as a pattern. All the year round I recommend her as an example to fainthearted and troubled ones. “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” Cease from rejoicing in sensual things, and with sinful pleasures have no fellowship, for all such rejoicing is evil. But you cannot rejoice too much in the Lord. I believe that the fault with our public worship is that we are too sober, too cold, too formal. I do not exactly admire the ravings of our Primitive-Methodist friends when they grow wild; but I should have no objection to hear a hearty “Hallelujah!’’ now and then. An enthusiastic burst of exultation might warm our hearts; the shout of “Glory!” might fire our spirits. This I know, I never feel more ready for true worship than when I am preaching in Wales, when the whole sermon throughout, the preacher is aided rather than interrupted by shouts of “Glory to God!” and “Bless his name!” Why then one’s blood begins to glow, and one’s soul is stirred up, and this is the true way of serving God with joy. “Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice.” “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”

     She sings sweetly, in the third place, because she sings confidently. She does not pause while she questions herself, “Have I any right to sing?” but no, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.” “IF” is a sad enemy to all Christian happiness; “but,” “peradventure,” “doubt,” “surmise,” “suspicion,” these are a race of highwaymen who waylay poor timid pilgrims and steal their spending money. Harps soon get out of tune, and when the wind blows from the doubting quarter, the strings snap by wholesale. If the angels of heaven could have a doubt, it would turn heaven into hell. “If thou be the Son of God,” was the dastardly weapon wielded by the old enemy against our Lord in the wilderness. Our great foe knows well what weapon is the most dangerous. Christian, put up the shield of faith whenever thou seest that poisoned dagger about to be used against thee. I fear that some of you foster your doubts and fears. You might as well hatch young vipers, and foster the cockatrice. You think that it is a sign of grace to have doubts, whereas it is a sign of infirmity. It does not prove that you have no grace when you doubt God's promise, but it does prove that you want more; for if you had more grace, you would take God s Word as he gives it, and it would be said of you as of Abraham, that “ he staggered not at the promise of God, through unbelief, being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform.” God help you to shake off your doubts. Oh! these are devilish things. Is that too hard a word? I wish I could find a harder. These are felons; these are rebels, who seek to rob Christ of his glory; these are traitors who cast mire upon the escutcheon of my Lord. Oh! these are vile traitors; hang them on a gallows, high as Haman’s; cast them to the earth, and let them rot like carrion, or bury them with the burial of an ass. Abhorred of God are doubts; abhorred of men let them be. They are cruel Enemies to your souls, they injure your usefulness, they despoil you in every way. Smite them with the sword of the Lord and of Gideon! By faith in the promise seek to drive out these Canaanites and possess the land. O ye men of God, speak with confidence, and sing with sacred joy.

     There is something more than confidence in her song. She sings with great familiarity, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.” It is the song of one who draws very near to her God in loving intimacy. I always have an idea when I listen to the reading of the Liturgy, that it is a slave's worship. I do not find fault with its words or sentences, perhaps of all human compositions, the Liturgical service of the Church of England is, with some exceptions, the noblest; but it is only fit for slaves, or at the best for subjects. The whole service through, one feels that there is a bound set round about the mountain, just as at Sinai. Its Litany is the wail of a sinner, and not the happy triumph of a saint. The service gendereth unto bondage, and has nothing in it of the confident spirit of adoption. It views the Lord afar off, as one to be feared rather than loved, and to be dreaded rather than delighted in. I have no doubt it suits those whose experience leads them to put the ten commandments near the communion table, for they hereby evidence that their dealings with God are still on the terms of servants and not of sons. For my own part I want a form of worship in which I may draw near to my God, and come even to his feet, spreading my case before him, and ordering my cause with arguments; talking with him as a friend talketh with his friend, or a child with its father; otherwise the worship is little worth to me. Our Episcopalian friends, when they come here, are naturally struck with our service, as being irreverent, because it is so much more familiar and bold than theirs. Let us carefully guard against really deserving such a criticism, and then we need not fear it; for a renewed soul yearns after that very intercourse which the formalist calls irreverent. To talk with God as my Father, to deal with him as with one whose promises are true to me, and to whom I, a sinner washed in blood, and clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ, may come with boldness, not standing afar off; l say this is a thing which the outer-court worshipper cannot understand stand. There are some of our hymns which speak of Christ with such familiarity that the cold critic says, “I do not like such expressions, I could not sing them.” I quite agree with you, Sir Critic, that the language would not befit you, a stranger; but a child may say a thousand things which a servant must not. I remember a minister altering one of our hymns—

 

“Let those refuse to sing

Who never knew our God;

But favourites of the heavenly king

May speak their joys abroad.”

 

He gave it out—

 

“But subjects of the heavenly king.”

 

Yes; and when he gave it out I thought, “That is right; you are singing what you feel; you know nothing of discriminating grace and special manifestations, and therefore you keep to your native level, 'Subjects of the heavenly king.’” But oh, my heart wants a worship in which I can feel, and express the feeling that I am a favourite of the heavenly king, and therefore can sing his special love, his manifested favour, his sweet relationships, his mysterious union with my soul. You never get right till you ask the question, “Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” There is a secret which is revealed to us, and not to the outside world; an understanding which the sheep receive and not the goats. I appeal to any of you who during the week are in an official position; a judge, for instance. You have a seat on the bench, and you wear no small dignity when you are there. When you get home there is a little fellow who has very little fear of your judgeship, but much love for your person, who climbs your knee, who kisses your cheek, and says a thousand things to you which are meet and right enough as they come from him, but which you would not tolerate in court from any man living. The parable needs no interpretation. When I read some of the prayers of Martin Luther they shock me, but I argue with myself thus: “It is true I cannot talk to God in the same way as Martin, but then perhaps Martin Luther felt and realized his adoption more than I do, and therefore was not less humble because he was more bold. It may be that he used expressions which would be out of place in the mouth of any man who had not known the Lord as he had done.” Oh my friends, sing this day of our Lord Jesus as one near to us. Get close to Christ, read his wounds, thrust your hand into his side, put your finger into the print of the nails, and then your song shall win a sacred softness and melody not to be gained elsewhere. 

     I must close by observing that while her song was all this, yet how very humble it was, and how full of gratitude. The Papist calls her, “Mother of God,” but she never whispers such a thing in her song. No, it is “God my Saviour;” just such words as the sinner who is speaking to you might use, and such expressions as you sinners who are hearing me can use too. She wants a Saviour, she feels it; her soul rejoices because there is a Saviour for her. She does not talk as though she could commend herself to him, but she hopes to stand accepted in the beloved. Let us then take care that our familiarity has always blended with it the lowliest prostration of spirit, when we remember that He is God over all, blessed for ever, and we are nothing but dust and ashes; He fills all things, and we are less than nothing and vanity. 

     III. The last thing was to be—SHALL SHE SING ALONE? Yes, she must, if the only music we can bring is that of carnal delights and worldly pleasures. There will be much music to-morrow which would not chime in with hers. There will be much mirth to-morrow, and much laughter, but I am afraid the most of it would not accord with Mary's song. It will not be, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” We would not stop the play of the animal spirits in young or old; we would not abate one jot of your relish of the mercies of God, so long as ye break not his command by wantonness, or drunkenness, or excess: but still, when you have had the most of this bodily exercise, it profiteth little, it is only the joy of the fleeting hour, and not the happiness of the spirit which abideth; and therefore Mary must sing alone, as far as you are concerned. The joy of the table is too low for Mary; the joy of the feast and the family grovels when compared with hers. But shall she sing alone? Certainly not, if this day any of us by simple trust in Jesus can take Christ to be our own. Does the Spirit of God this day lead thee to say, “I trust my soul on Jesus?” My dear friend, then thou hast conceived Christ: after the mystical and best sense of that word, Christ Jesus is conceived in thy soul. Dost thou understand him as the sin-bearer, taking away transgression? Canst thou see him bleeding as the substitute for men? Dost thou accept him as such? Does thy faith put all her dependence upon what he did, upon what he is, upon what he does? Then Christ is conceived in thee, and thou mayest go thy way with all the joy that Mary knew; and I was half ready to say, with something thing more; for the natural conception of the Saviour's holy body was not one-tenth nth so meet a theme for congratulation as the spiritual conception of the holy Jesus within your heart when he shall be in you the hope of glory. My dear friend, if Christ be thine, there is no song on earth too high, too holy for thee to sing; nay, there is no song which thrills from angelic lips, no note which thrills Archangel's tongue in which thou mayest not join. Even this day, the holiest, the happiest, the most glorious of words, and thoughts, and emotions belong to thee. Use them! God help thee to enjoy them; and his be the praise, while thine is the comfort evermore. Amen. 



Good Works in Good Company

By / Dec 18

Good Works in Good Company

 

“Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth: there will I give thee my loves. The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.”—Solomon's Song 7:11-13. 

 

THE daughters of Jerusalem had been praising the Church as the fairest among women. They spoke of her with admiring appreciation extolling her from head to foot. She wisely perceived that it was not, easy to bear praise; and therefore she turned aside from the virgins to her Lord, making her boast not of her own comeliness, but of her being affianced to her beloved: “I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me.” Solomon has said, in his Book of Proverbs, “As the fining pot for silver, and the furnace for gold; so is a man to his praise:” meaning to teach us that praise is a serious ordeal. Very many men can bear censure and abuse, for their spirit rises so superior to it all, that they are even profited thereby; but to be flattered, or even duly honoured, is not so easy a thing to endure. The sun's warm beams made the traveller unbind his coat, when the wind made him wrap it the more closely about him: the warmth of praise may make us relax our integrity, unless we be very watchful. How many have been foolish enough, when standing upon a pinnacle, to look down and admire their own elevation, and then their brain has reeled, and they have fallen to their own shameful ruin. If we must at any time listen to the praises of our virtues, if we have served God so that the Church recognises and rewards our usefulness, it is well for us to listen just as long as we are obliged to do, but no longer; and then let us turn aside at once to something more practical and more healthful to our own spirits. The spouse seems abruptly to break off from listening to the song of the virgins, and turns to her own husband-Lord Lord, communion with whom is ever blessed and ever profitable, and she says to him, “Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages.” Communion with Christ is a certain cure for every ill. Whether it be the bitterness of woe, or the cloying surfeit of earthly delight, close fellowship with the Lord Jesus will take the gall from the one, and the satiety from the other. Live near to Jesus, Christian, and it is matter of secondary import whether thou livest on the mountain of honour or in the valley of humiliaton. Live near to Jesus, and the glowing coals of the furnace cannot consume you, nor the chill blasts of wintry affliction destroy you. Living near to Jesus, you are covered with the wings of God, and underneath you are the everlasting arms. If you read the three verses before us with attention, you will see that the Church all through anxiously desires fellowship with her Lord. It is “Come with me”—“let us.” She will do nothing except as she is near to her beloved and in the enjoyment of his company. 

     I think she desires three things in her words; first, she desires to practise self-examination: she would go and see whether the vine flourisheth, and whether the tender grape appear; but it is self-examination with him. She desires next to go into active service: it is to this end that she would lodge in the villages and go among the tender plants, that she may labour there, but it is with him, “Let us go!” “Come with me!” In the third place, she has a store of fruits laid up for him. Some things done and some things doing, things old and new, but they are all for him, and she will not mention them except for him, much less bring them out for them to be enjoyed by a rival. “They are laid up for thee, O my beloved.” Let us try to make a personal matter of the text, this morning, and may God hear the desire of our hearts that we may have true fellowship with his own dear Son.

     I. First, then, IN THE MATTER OP SELF-EXAMINATION.

     This is a most desirable and important business, but every believer should desire to have communion with Christ while he is attending to it. Self-examination is of the utmost importance. No trader who would wish to succeed would neglect to keep his books. No husbandman who wishes to prosper would be careless as to the state of his fields. No flock-master who would see his herds abundantly increase, would leave to his servants the care of them, and fail to tend them with a watchful eye. If thou wouldst have thy business prosper, see to it carefully thyself. In soul-business, it is of no use taking anything for granted where there are so many temptations to self-deception in our own hearts; where so many around us are deceived, and are willing to help us to be deceived too; and where Satan sedulously and craftily seeks to cry to us, “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace: it is of the first and last importance that we should search ourselves whether we be in the faith, and whether, being in the faith, our graces are growing, our faith increasing, and our love deepening. Well does the spouse suggest that she should see whether the vine flourished, whether the tender grape appeared and the pomegranates budded forth; for our spiritual vineyard needs perpetual watchfulness. While you are attending to this important business, see to it at the same time that you keep up your communion with Christ, for you will never know so well the importance of self-examination as when you see him. Mark him there! fastened to the accursed tree, wearing the thorn-crown own all set with ruby drops of his own blood; look at his griefs, if repenting tears do not blind you; behold his awful agonies; gaze into that visage more marred than that of any man, and stay awhile and listen to the heartrending shriek, “Eloi! Eloi! lama sabachthani?” And did Christ suffer all this that souls might be saved? Then surely, my soul, it should be thy chief business, to see that thou hast an interest in him. What! shall I miss that which is purchased with such a price? When such a crimson stream from Christ's own heart flows to cleanse away sin, shall I think it a matter of no account whether I am cleansed or no? When that head, which once was reverenced by angels, is now crowned with the thorns of mockery and cruelty, shall I not use all the thoughts of my head and brain, to find out whether I am one with Christ, and a partaker of his passion? That cannot be a little heritage which Christ hath purchased with such agonies: let me fear lest I should lose it. That cannot be a slight evil which cost my Saviour such griefs: let me search myself to see whether I am delivered from it. I am sure, beloved, you cannot have a better candle to look into the secret recesses of your soul, than a candle lit at the fire of Jesus' love. Know his love for you, and all his griefs on your behalf, and you will charge your own heart after this fashion—“See to it, that thou make sure work as to thine interest in Jesus, that thou be really one with him, that thy faith in him be genuine, and that thou shalt be found in him in peace at the day of his appearing.” 

     Self-examination, however, is very laborious work: the text hints at it. It does not say, “Let us go,” but “Let us get up” Self-examination is ever up-hill work. It is by no means a pleasant task; it is one from which flesh recoils, for the flesh cries, “Let well alone; you are easy and comfortable; you have a hope which affords you much solace; do not dig too deep, the house stands well enough just now; be not too anxious about the foundations; rest assured that it is all right; you would not have all these joys and present comforts if you had built upon the sand.” We need to school ourselves to perform a duty so irksome. But, beloved, if we attempt to examine this, feeling that Christ is with us, and that we are having communion with him, we shall forget all the labour of the deed. There I see him in the garden, sweating great drops of blood in prayer! Can I view him prostrate on that cold winter's night (when the ground was hard with frost), so burning with his soul's travail that huge gouts of blood-red gore are falling upon the frozen earth! and shall I think any toil too great to make sure of my interest in him? Does he, when the cup is put to him, say, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt,” and drink it up with resignation? and shall the far less bitter cup of self-examination, which is so much for my good, be refused by me? No, Saviour of the world, I have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin; but if it must be, if all my powers and members must be made to bleed, if my poor heart must be brayed as in a mortar, then let it be, so that I may but be found one with thee, washed in thy blood and covered with thy righteousness. Keep close to the Saviour and the difficulties of self-examination will vanish, and the labour will become light. 

     Self-examination amination should always be very earnest work. The text says, “Let us get up early.” It has been well observed that all men in Scripture who have done earnest work, rose up early to do it. The dew of the morning, before the smoke and dust of the world's business have tainted the atmosphere, is a choice and special season for all holy work. In this passage, getting up early signifies that the Church felt she must give her best hour to this necessary work; and as the work might be long, she gets up early that she may have a long day before her; that before the sun goes down, she may have examined every vine, and looked to every pomegranate, and examined all the mandrakes of the garden. So we must set to work earnestly about self-examination. This is no child's-play. If thou wouldst find out the trickery of thy deceitful heart, thou must be very careful and watchful. If thou wouldst know on what foundation thy hope is built, it is a labourer’s work to dig out the rubbish, and to find out where the foundation is laid. He who has to prove the title-deeds of his estate, doth not always find it an easy business: there are many manuscripts through which he must wade, and numerous title-deeds eds to be read, verified, and collated, before the case will be clear. And so it must be with you. The great matter, “Do I believe in Jesus,” needs no hours of deliberation, for if I do not, I will now begin again; but to know the growing state of one’s graces is not so easy. After all, you may be deceived; therefore come to it with a soul all glowing with zeal, saying, in earnest prayer, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Now, methinks, there is nothing which can make you do this earnest work so well as to say to your Master and your Lord, “Lord, come with me.” “While we examine ourselves, abide with us to help us in the work.” I cannot be careless when I hear Christ say, “My meat and my drink is to do the will of him that sent me.” I cannot be careless in my own Christian career when I see him straining every nerve that he may run the race and win the crown for me. When I see him sitting yonder, above all principalities and powers, pleading for my soul with never-ceasing intercession, I cannot be dull and sluggish. Wake up, ye drowsy powers; be stirred up, ye sleeping passions, to examine yourselves anxiously and carefully, since Christ for Zion’s sake doth not hold his peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake doth not rest.

     And yet again, self-examination, it seems to me (I may be wrong), is not the simple work that some people think, but is beset with difficulties I do believe that the most of self-examinations go on a wrong principle. You take Moses with you when you examine yourself, and consequently you fall into despair. He who looks at his own character and position from a legal point of view, will not only despair when he comes to the end of his reckoning, but he will be a wise man if he despair not at the beginning; for if we are to be judged on the footing of the law, there shall no flesh living be justified. The very brightest members of Christ's family, those who wear the most of the Saviour's image, and honour him best among men, may well shrink from the place where even Moses did “exceedingly fear and quake.” O brethren, remember to take Jesus with you, and not Moses, lest you dishonour the grace of God, and harbour suspicion against the faithfulness of God, when you ought rather to have suspected yourself. If I take Jesus with me, see on what different principles the examination is carried on! I do not ask, “Am I perfect?” That question Moses would suggest—“Am I perfect in myself ?” but I ask, “ Am I perfect in Christ Jesus?” That is a very different matter. I do not put it thus, “Am I without sin, naturally?” but thus—“Have I been washed in the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness?” It is not, “Am I in myself well-pleasing to God?” but it is, “Am I accepted in the beloved?” The Christian man sometimes looks at his evidences, and grows ashamed of them, and alarmed concerning his own salvation. “Why,” saith he, “my faith has unbelief in it, it is not able to save me.” Suppose he had looked at the object of his faith instead of his faith, then he would have said, “There is no failure in him, and therefore I am safe.” He looks at his hope: “Why,” saith he, “my very hope is marred and dimmed by an anxious carefulness about present things; how can I be accepted?” Yes, but if he had looked at the ground of his hope, he would have seen that the promise of God standeth sure, and that whatever our hope may be, that promise never faileth. Then he looks at his love: “Oh!” saith he, “surely I am condemned, for my love is so cold;” but if he had looked at Christ’s love, he would have said “No, never shall I be condemned; for many waters cannot quench his love, neither can the floods drown it, and, loving me as he does, he will never condemn me, nor cast me away.” I do not want you to look at Christ so as to think less of your sin, but to think more of it; for you can never see sin to be so black as when you see the suffering which Christ endured on its behalf: but I do desire you, dear friends, never to look at sin apart from the Saviour. If you gaze at the disease and forget the remedy, you will be driven to despair. If you look at the gathering gangrene and forget the all-gracious Surgeon who is able to remove it, you may well lie down and die. If you see your own emptiness and poverty, and forget his fulness, you will never glorify his name. If you are lost in a sense of your own corruptions, and forget the eternal glory which belongs to you in Christ, so that you arc even now raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in him, I say, if you forget this grace-given brightness, and only remember your native blackness, your spirit will turn aside from the path of faith, and you will hang your harp upon the willows, and fail to glorify your God. Examine yourselves, but let it be in the light of Calvary; not by the blazing fires of Sinai's lightnings, but by the milder radiance of the Saviour's griefs. Am I resting upon thee, thou Son of God? Are thy wounds my hiding place? Have thy nails nailed me to thy cross? Has thy spear pierced my heart, and broken it with grief for sin; and am I now crucified with thee to the world, buried with thee to the power of sin, risen with thee to newness of life, and, like thyself, waiting for the day of manifestation, when sin, death, and hell, shall be trodden under foot, and Jesus shall be all in all? Come, let us look to the vines and pomegranates, but let us make sure that our crucified Lord accompanies us; for else, we shall do the work amiss.

     It appears, from the words of the spouse, that the work of self-examination should be carried on in detail, if it is to be of real service, It is written, “Let us see if the vine flourish, the tender grape appear-and and the pomegranates bud forth.” We must not take a general view of the garden, but particularize, and give special attention to each point. If a candle be guarded on all sides, if there be but one place left open, the wind will find it out, and blow out the light. So in self-examination, if we find ourselves right in many points, it is not enough: we must seek to be right in all points. The main thing is your faith. Is that faith simple? Does it depend upon Jesus only? Is it real? Is it an active living faith? Does it work by love? Does it purify the soul? But when you have examined faith, you may possibly make a mistake; therefore go on to see what your love is. Do you love the Saviour? Can you truly say, “The very thought of thee with rapture fills my breast?” Can you hear the music of his name without feeling your blood leap in your veins? Oh! if you can, methinks, dear friend, you have reason for grave questioning. Try your active graces; go from one to the other, and search them all. The worm may be at the root just in that part of the soil where you have not upturned the sod. One leak may sink a ship, therefore search well the vessel before you launch her upon the stormy deep. It is by little, and by little, that backsliders fall; even Judas doth not betray his Master with a kiss at first. Men are schooled in the downward road. Let us be particularly anxious, therefore, that we do not fall by little and little; and let us watch that we do not suffer small sins to get force and head, till, like little sparks, they have kindled a great fire?

     If you wish to be exact in prying into every part and comer, you cannot do better than take Jesus with you. Tempted in all points like as we are, he will know all the points in which we are tempted; and, while we are earnestly examining, his gracious finger will point out the spots where our weakness may lie, and we shall thus fulfil the prayer we have often prayed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know mv thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” When boys are at school, and have to learn to write, every schoolmaster knows that at the first line they keep their eye upon the copy at the top; the next line they look at their own writing, and their penmanship is not quite so good; and the next line they probably look at the last they have written, and so they write worse and worse as they reach the bottom of the page, because they have been imitating themselves, and copying their own writing. It is well for the Christian, if he do not fall into this mistake. He must keep his eye upon his great Exemplar, not upon himself. He will be far more likely to see his own faults by looking to Christ, than by looking at any of his own attainments. What a delightfully white thing this snow is! When it has newly fallen, take the whitest linen you may have ever seen, and put it down, you will find it looks positively yellow by the side of it. Take the fairest sheet of paper that ever came from the mill, and compare it; it does not look white at all. There is no whiteness, that I know of, which can at all emulate the heavenly whiteness of the snow. So, if I put my character side by side with another man’s, I may say of it, “It will bear comparison;” but if I put it by the side of Christ's perfections, since his whole life is like the pure and spotless snow, I discover at once my own failures and spots. Oh! to have our great pattern ever before our eye! Jesus should not be a friend who calls upon us now and then, but one with whom we walk evermore. Thou hast a difficult road to travel; see, O traveller to heaven, that thou go not without thy guide. Thou hast to pass through the fiery furnace: enter it not, unless like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, there is a fourth with thee, like unto the Son of Man. Thon hast to storm the Jericho of thine own deceptions: attempt not the scaling until like Joshua, thou hast seen the Captain of the Lord's host, with his sword drawn in his hand. Thou hast to meet the Esau of thy many temptations: meet him not until at Jabbok's brook thou hast laid hold of the angel, and wrestled with him, and prevailed. In every case, in every condition, thou needest Jesus; but most of all, when thou comest to deal with thine own heart’s eternal interests. O, keep thou close to him, lean thy head upon his bosom, ask to be refreshed with the spiced wine of his pomegranate, and then there shall be no fear but that thou shalt be found of him at the last, without spot, wrinkle, or any such thing. Seeing thou hast lived with him, and lived in him here, thou shalt live with him for ever.

     II. THE CHURCH WAS ABOUT TO ENGAGE IN EARNEST LABOUR, and desires her Lord’s company.

     It is the business of God’s people to be trimmers of God's vines. Like our first parents, we are put into the garden of the Lord for usefulness. Observe that the Church, when she is in her right mind, in all her many labours desires to retain and cheerfully to enjoy communion with Christ. Some persons imagine that one cannot serve Christ actively and yet have fellowship with him. I think they are very much mistaken. I confess it is very easy to get into Martha's position, and to be cumbered with much serving; you may have to preach here and there so many times a week, to attend committees, to visit sick people, and to do so many other things, that you may really, unless you are careful, fritter away your own inward life in outward exercises; you may have to complain with the spouse, “They made me keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.” I do not think, however, that there is any reason why this should be the case except through our own folly. Certain is it that a person may do nothing at all, and yet grow quite as lifeless in spiritual things as those who are most busy. Mary was not praised for sitting still; no, but for sitting still at Jesus’ feet. And so, Christians are not to be praised, if they neglect duties, merely because they live in retirement, and keep much at home: it is not sitting, I say, but sitting at Jesus' feet. Had Martha been sitting still, or had Mary been sitting anywhere else, I doubt not that the Master would have given a word of rebuke; he would never have said that mere sitting still was choosing the good part. Indeed, I know some of you who are none the better for doing nothing, but a great deal the worse; for those who do nothing grow sour, and are always willing to find fault with the way in which others serve Christ. Do not think, therefore, that mere activity is in itself an evil: I believe it is a blessing. Taking a survey of Christ's Church, you will find that those who have most fellowship with Christ, are not the persons who are recluses or hermits, who have much time to spend with themselves, but they are the useful indefatigable labourers who are toiling for Jesus, and who in their toil have him side by side with them, so that they are workers together with God. Let me, then, try and press this lesson upon you, that when we as a Church, and each of us as individuals, have anything to do for Christ, we must do it in communion with him. We come up to his house, and what do we come for? It is said that among Church people the prayers are the main thing, and among Dissenters the sermon. I believe that in both cases this would be a fault. Praying should not eclipse preaching; for to preach or to listen to preaching, is as true an act of worship as to pray. We never worship God better than when we hear his Word, reverently receive it, and are moved thereby to love and gratitude. To hear preaching is, in a sense, praying; since the true effect of all preaching that is worth the listening to, draws us into a spirit of devotion, and makes us ready for prayer and every other form of worship. But what do we come here for? I am afraid there are some who come merely because it is the time to come, because the hour of worship has come round; and others come only because a certain preacher happens to stand upon the platform. Ah! this is not how God’s own beloved ones come up to his house! They desire to meet with him. Their prayer as they tread the hallowed courts of God’s house will be “My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” There is no hymn sung so well as when we really do praise Jesus in it. No prayer is so true as that prayer which really comes to the mercy-seat, and spreads itself before the all-seeing eye. There is no preaching like that which is full of Christ, which gives forth a savour of his good ointments. Worship is not to be commended because of the glorious swell of a Gregorian chant, or because of the equally majestic volume of sound which this great assembly may send forth from that sweet instrument, the human voice. A service is not to be commended because of the eloquence of the preacher, or because of the display of learning which he is able to make in expounding his discourse. No, to the Christian it is, “Was the Master there?” The question on the Sunday morning is, “What think ye, will he come up to the feast?” Coming to the Lord's table, the child of God’s business is not so much with the bread and the wine, as with his blood and with his flesh. May I feed on him? May I see him? And if I get to him, then it is well with me. If I have then to serve God in the public engagements of his house, let me say, “Come, my beloved, let us get up to the vineyards.” 

     You have other service to do, dear friends. This afternoon many of you will be occupied with your Sunday-school classes. There will be a knot of lads or girls around you. You will, perhaps, be conducting classes of hundreds of young men and young women. This evening, again, many will be occupied in preaching, or you will be engaged at home with your own children. Oh! how blessed it is to go to the classes, or into the pulpit, having the Master with you! It sometimes happens to the preacher that he is like the butcher at the block; he has a cleaver in his hand, and cuts off large pieces of meat as food for those present, but he himself gets none. But it is otherwise with him when he has his Master with him. Then, whether the rest of the assembly are fed or not, certainly he himself is satisfied as with marrow and with fatness. After what a blessed sort the teacher can teach when the love of God is shed abroad in his heart! You will bear with the rudeness of those boys; you will put up with the inattention of those girls; you will not be angry at the folly of that youth; you will not forget to be in earnest with that poor wanderer, when Jesus Christ stands by your side. A vision of the Crucified, my brethren, is that which we want. When we are toiling in his harvest-field, and sit down to wipe the sweat from our brow, we grow very weary; the harvest is plenteous, but the labourers are few: we feel that the edge of our sickle is growing very, very blunt, and we wish we could lie down under the spreading tree from the heat of the sun, and toil no longer; but just then we see the Crucified One coming forward with his mighty sickle, and as we mark the blood-drops ops streaming from his brow, and see the nail-print in the hand with which he grasps the sickle, when we see how he toils, and how he labours, with what an awful love he sacrifices himself, he has stripped off his very garments, and in all the nakedness of self-denial, gives himself up that he may save others while himself he cannot save; then we pluck up heart again, and take our sickle in the hand which once did hang down, saying, “Jesus, I will never be weary, for thou wast not weary; and when I shall be faint awhile, I will see thee, whose meat and drink it was to do thy Father's will, and I will make it my meat and my drink to serve thee.” Surely you cannot do God's work so well as when you have Jesus Christ with you.

     But it is possible, dear friends, that some of you may be engaged in the service of winning for God some one soul. I know those who have one soul laid upon their heart. Perhaps it is the most solemn work under heaven to have to pray for one soul. I have so many to look after, that I cannot but feel I may rightly excuse myself from any very sedulous attention to one; but there are some of you who have only one person to look after—one child, one friend, one soul. You tried to talk to that one person the other day: you burst into tears when you heard the answer you received. You have been praying for months, but instead of seeing any answer to your prayer, the person prayed for is growing worse. You are sure that he was never more vile than when you are most earnest. Friend, I should not wonder if Satan should whisper to thee, “Give it up!” but let me, I pray thee, urge thee never to do so; and if thou wantest something that will make thee never to give up praying for that soul, see yonder, the eternal Son of God, come into this world to save such a sinner as thou thyself art, and thou wilt never think thou art doing anything too hard, when trying to save thy fellow-man -man from destruction. O for a vision of the Saviour's face covered with the spittle! see him marred and bruised by the rough Roman soldiers! behold him as his back smarts beneath the thongs of the cruel whips! see him as Pilate brings him forth, and cries, “Ecce homo” Mark him as he treads the Via Dolorosa! See him while they lift him up on high, and dislocate his bones! Why, what is all that you can endure compared with this? When your soul swells with fearful grief, you do not feel such grief as this; you do but sip at the cup which the Saviour drained to the dregs; you do but feel a scratch from those nails which went right through his hands; you do not have but for a moment a flesh wound from that spear which pierced his heart. Courage, thou solitary labourer; let Christ's griefs solace thee. Come with me, my beloved; come with me, my Lord; and my toil shall be easy. 

     There are some Christians engaged in works of heroism, works of peculiar daring for Christ. I should not like to be misunderstood, but I really think that, amid the gross darkness of the Popish Church, there have been some who have caught the true idea of Christian life far better than the most of us. Let me tell you to what I refer. There have been some who have denied themselves all the comforts of life, and have lived in suffering and poverty out of love to Jesus, and from a sincere desire to benefit their fellow-men. There have been produced in that Church men whose passionate love no labour or persecution could extinguish, who have fed the poor and nourished the sick; and women who have gone into the hospitals, among diseases the most contagious, and have risked life and lost life for the sake of nursing the sick. There are those living at this present moment upon the tops of such mountain-passes as St. Bernard and the Simplon, spending the prime of their life in seclusion in inhospitable frost, where somebody must live, but where nobody ever would live if it were not for the sake of religion, simply that they may serve the poor weary traveller when he comes wading through the snow, or is likely to be lost in the snow-storm. No man shall take precedence of me in my abhorrence of the thrice accursed doctrines of the harlot of Rome; but from our enemies it is right to learn; and I do learn and would teach this, that self-denial and consecration are among the highest of the Christian virtues. I would to God that our people had the spirit of self-consecration in proportion to the light which they enjoy. I would to God we had true Sisters of Mercy who devoted themselves to going from house to house among the sick. We have some, but we want more; some who would be hospital nurses, and who would count it but a small sacrifice even if they gave up themselves for the good of others. Missionaries we want who will face the malaria and deadly fever; our societies cry out for such, but very few are coming forward. We want men of substance, who would take their substance and go out with it to a foreign land to evangelize; men who having prospered in business, would now count it an honour to spend the rest of their days in some new and special work of charity or piety. Oh! when I see the Saviour in all his agonies doing so much for us, I cannot but think that we as a Christian people do next to nothing for him. There are no stakes of Smithfield now, thank God; there are no dungeons of the Lollard's Tower; no crowns of martyrdom for suffering brows, but there are still special spheres of labour, where we could make the name of' Christ illustrious. Let me hold up for your imitation some in modern times, who by works of faith and labours of love, have made us feel that the old spirit of Christianity is not dead. Our beloved friend, Mr. George Muller, of Bristol, for instance. There burns a holy devotedness, an intensity of faith, a fervour of perseverance, which I would to God we all possessed. May we have more of this, and so by keeping close to Jesus, we shall produce better fruits, richer clusters and more luscious grapes than are commonly produced upon those vines which are in a less happy part of the vineyard yard. 

     III. And now let me close by remarking, that according to the text, THE CHURCH DESIRES TO GIVE TO CHRIST ALL THAT SHE PRODUCES. 

     She has “all manner of pleasant fruits,” both “new and old,” and they are laid up for her beloved. We have some new fruits. This morning, I hope we feel new life, new joy, new gratitude: we wish to make new resolves and carry them out by new labours. Our heart goes up in new prayers, and our soul is pledging herself to new efforts.

     But we have some old things too. There is our first love: a choice fruit that! and Christ delights in it. There is our first faith: that simple faith by which, having nothing, we became possessors of all things. There is our joy when first we knew the Lord; let us revive it. How happy then were we, when the candle of the Lord shone round about us. Old things! why we have the old remembrance of the promises. How faithful has God been! In that sickness of ours, how softly did he make our bed! In those deep waters, how placidly did he buoy us up! In that flaming furnace, how graciously did he deliver us, so that not even the smell of fire passed upon us. Old fruits, indeed! we have many of them, for his mercies have been more than the hairs of our head. Old sins we must regret, but then we have had repentances which he has given us, by which we have wept our way to the cross, and learned the merit of his blood. We have fruits, this morning, both new and old; but here is the point—they are all to be for Christ. 

     Do you not, after doing good service, detect yourself whispering, “I have done that well”? You intended that nobody should know it; you tried to do it as a secret act of devotion; you were half inclined to tell somebody when it was done; and though it came out, you say it was by accident; but you had a finger in that accident, and you did not altogether regret that you had some of the honour of it. Do not you find when you are really serving your Master, that if somebody does not pat you on the back, you grow cold? I know some Sunday-school teachers, who, if they are looked after and encouraged, can do well, but who, if they have no encouragement, could not keep on in their work. Oh! it is so easy for us to preach, when there are many souls being fed under us, and the Master honours us in the eyes of men. Would it be quite as easy to serve him without honour? I have known brethren who have met with a little bad feeling among their people, and perhaps they have not always been able to keep their own temper, and they have run away from their charge, left the sheep in the wilderness, because in their inmost heart they were serving themselves, at least to a derive. Truly, beloved, those are the best and most acceptable services, in which Christ is the solitary aim of the soul, and his glory without any admixture whatever, the end of all our efforts. Let your many fruits be laid up only for your beloved: bring them forth when he is with you: bless his name for them. Put jewels into his crown, but never say, “Unto me be honour, and unto my name be praise?” but “Sing unto Jesus, and to Jesus only be glory, while heaven endures.” 

     O that strangers to Jesus would believe our testimony concerning him. We are asked sometimes for proofs of our religion. There is one proof which we defy anyone to contradict, and this is the intense joy which the love of Christ gives to us. We are not fools, and I may add, we are not dishonest, and our witness is that there is a joy in love to Christ, and in the enjoyment of his presence, which could not possibly have come to us from any but a divine source. We do not speak because we have not tried other joys; some of us have had our fill of them. We can say of some, that their sweet is soon lost in bitterness; of others, that they cloy upon our taste. But communion with Christ has no after-bitterness in it. It never cloys; it is a sun without spots; it is a moon which never wanes; it is an ocean which never ebbs; it is a river which flows on for ever—it is all heaven and all bliss. Oh! if thou didst but know it, thou wouldst never doubt again: thy soul would rest implicitly upon Christ, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation for sin? and, remember, if you rest upon him and trust him, you are saved, and shall be with him where he is, to behold his glory evermore. May God bless these words for Jesus' sake. Amen. 



The Man with the Measuring Line

By / Dec 11

The Man with the Measuring Line

 

“I lifted up mine eyes again, and looked, and behold a man with a measuring line in his hand. Then said I, Whither goest thou? And he said unto me, To measure Jerusalem, to see what is the breadth thereof, and what is the length thereof. And, behold, the angel that talked with me went forth, and another angel went out to meet him, And said unto him, Run, speak to this young man, saying, Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein: For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her.”—Zechariah 2:1-5.

 

IT is evident that this vision and prophecy graciously reveal the future history of Jerusalem. You may spiritualize, if you will, and say that Jerusalem signifies the Church: but I pray you not to forget the literal meaning of such words as these in the twelfth verse—“The Lord shall inherit Judah his portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again.” Jerusalem is spoken of, and Jerusalem is meant. A man with a measuring line is about to measure the length and breadth of the city; he appears to be interrupted in his work by another angel, who foretells that so greatly shall Jerusalem extend, that she will be as a town without walls, for the number of men and cattle that shall be therein. This prophecy has not as yet been fulfilled: it may have had some partial fulfilment in those times of peace before the coming of the Saviour, but even then Jerusalem was surrounded by a triple wall; and though it is true that there was a large suburban population, yet the city was not even then “as towns without walls,” nor was the glory of God in the midst of her in any eminent degree. I believe this passage refers to a happy and glorious future yet to come, when the city of Jerusalem shall have no walls, except the protection of the Lord, but shall be extended far and wide. The Jewish people and their royal city shall remain the centre of the manifestations of divine glory, just as the city of London still remains the centre of the metropolis; but the nations of the earth shall be joined unto the Lord: so that while Jerusalem remains the city of the Great King, the faithful among the people of all nations shall be, as it were, a suburban population to the chosen city, and the kingdom of Messiah shall extend far and wide. Jerusalem will be rebuilt in more than her former splendour; the Jews will be restored to their own land; and Messiah will reign as a prince of the house of David. We cannot understand many portions of Scripture except upon this belief. If it be so, it appears according to this prophecy that God shall be the protection of this great city, and the glory in the midst of her. All her sons shall be gathered from their distant wandering places; and where they have associated themselves with Antichrist, they shall hear the voice which saith, “Deliver thyself, O Zion, that dwellest with the daughter of Babylon.” Christ himself shall fulfil his promise, “Lo, I come;” the nations shall be judged; God shall shake his hand over all lands and give them as a spoil unto his people; Zion shall sing and rejoice; her Lord and King shall dwell in the midst of her; many nations shall join themselves unto Jehovah, and He, from shore to shore shall reign, while all flesh is silent before him, because he is raised up out of his holy habitation.

     I am not given to prophesying, and I fear that the fixing of dates and periods has been exceedingly injurious to the whole system of pre-mill millennial teaching; but I think I clearly see in Scripture that the Lord Jesus Christ will come—so far I go, and take my stand—that he will come personally to reign upon this earth. At his coming it appears clear to me that he will gather together the Jewish people, that Jerusalem shall become the metropolis of the new empire which shall then extend from pole to pole, from the river even to the ends of the earth. If this be a correct interpretation of prophecy, you may read the whole of this chapter through and understand it; you have the key to every sentence: without such a belief, I see not how to interpret the prophet's meaning. 

     Dear friends, we may sometimes refresh our minds with a prospect of the kingdom which is soon to cover all lands, and make the sun and moon ashamed by its superior glory. We are not to indulge in prophesyings as some do, making them our spiritual food, our meat and drink; but still we may take them as choice morsels, and special delicacies set upon the table; they are condiments which may often give a sweeter taste, or, if you will, a greater pungency and savour to other doctrines; prophetic views light up the crown of Jesus with a superior splendour; they make his manhood appear illustrious as we see him still in connection with the earth: to have a kingdom here as well as there; to sit upon a throne here as well as in yonder skies; to subdue his adversaries even upon this Aceldama, as in the realm of spirits; to make even this poor earth upon which the trail of the serpent is so manifest, a place where the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. 

     If our view of prophecy be the correct one, it seems to be in perfect harmony with all the doctrines of the gospel. God certainly did elect his people the Jews; he made a covenant with his servant Abraham, and albeit you will remind us that this was only a temporal covenant, I would remind you that it was the type of the spiritual one, and it would be an unhappy reflection for us if the typical covenant should prove to be only temporary as well as temporal; if that came to an end, and if God cast away, in any sense, the people whom he did foreknow, it might augur to us the ill foreboding that mayhap he might cast away his spiritual seed also, and that those who were chosen as the spiritual seed of Abraham, might yet be cut off from the olive into which they had been grafted. If the natural branches are cast away for ever, why not the grafted branches too? But here is our joy, the God who sware unto his servant Abraham that to him and to his seed would he give the land for ever, hath not gone back from his word; they shall possess the land ; their feet shall joyously tread its fruitful acres yet again; they shall sit every man under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and none shall make them afraid; and so the spiritual seed to whom the spiritual heritage is given as by a covenant of salt, they also shall possess their heritage for ever, and of their rightful portion no robber shall despoil them. 

     Now, I think it cannot be said that I have avoided the immediate meaning of the passage before us, and that I have selected the vision as a text merely to accommodate it to my own purpose. You have now before you the intention and mind of the Spirit of God, so far as I am able to perceive it; and having spoken thus far upon it, I now feel at liberty to interpret the vision in what is commonly called a more spiritual sense, begging you, however, not to think that I make the spiritual sense override the sense I have already given, for the mind of the Spirit in the passage is ever to be respected far beyond any human accommodation; and though the accommodation may seem to be less historical and more suitable for Sabbath food to the people of God, yet remember, God's sense stands first, and our sense is only to be regarded and respected as it stands in harmony with other portions of Holy Writ. My heart is so taken up with the present state of my Church and congregation, that I feel moved to use my text in its application to us, and I think it may well bear such an application. May God teach it and bless it to us. 

     First, dear friends, I want you to lift up your eyes with Zechariah and see the man with the measuring line; secondly, to open your ears with Zechariah and hear the voice of the prophesying angel; and then, thirdly, I want you to go your ways and publish abroad the commands of this angel. 

     I. First, then, LET US SEE THE MAN WITH THE MEASURING LINE IN HIS HAND. 

     All Zechariah's visions are remarkably simple. They are not like Isaiah's when he saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; nor like Ezekiel's when he beheld living creatures with four faces, and wheels full of eyes. Zechariah had not imagination enough to be capable of beholding with due appreciation visions so complicated and mysterious. He was not the proper instrument of God for the revelation of these more mysterious matters; but the Lord had a place for him, and a vision for him too. How sweet to be a servant of God in any position! He sees simply a man, an ordinary architect, going forth with a measuring line to measure the city of Jerusalem—a very simple sight—and without any stretch of imagination you can all picture the man with his line. If this man in the text is to be viewed as an angel, commissioned by God to take measurements of that city, he would be sure to do it accurately, and his measurements would be instructive could he reveal them to us. Since they are hidden from our eyes, let it be enough for us to perceive that the city has measurements, has a settled length and breadth; that the measurements can be taken, and that we have divine authority for asserting that they have been taken. This leads us to contemplate the doctrine of predestinating love, with its line of grace, and its plans of wisdom. God's city of Jerusalem is not to be built at hap-hazard. The line marks out and measures how long the wall shall be, and where the corner shall be placed; and how far the other wall shall be carried, and where it shall come to an end. The towers are counted, the bulwarks are considered. Every single item and particular of the sacred architecture of the Church of God is written down in the decree of the Most High. Every man has his plan, and shall not the Most High God? He is esteemed to be a simpleton who begins to erect a building with no sort of idea how it will look at the close; who is waiting till the top-stone is brought out before he can conceive in his mind any sort of idea of what the building will be like. You would never employ such a person without foresight as an architect; and if a man were foolish enough to do this with his own building, all who heard thereof would make it the theme of laughter. It cannot be supposed, therefore, to be so with God. Your belief in his wisdom supposes that he has a plan, nay, necessitates that there should be a design in the divine mind. Moreover, you cannot separate the thought of omniscience from God. If God be omniscient, he knows the end from the beginning. He sees in its appointed place, not merely the corner-stone which he has laid in fair colours, in the blood of his dear Son, but he beholds in their ordained position each of the chosen stones taken out of the quarry of nature, and polished by his grace; he sees the whole from corner to cornice, from base to roof, from foundation to pinnacle. He hath in his mind a clear knowledge of every stone which shall be laid in its prepared space, and how vast the edifice shall be, and when the top-stone shall be brought forth with shoutings of “Grace! Grace! unto it.” Deny the decree of election, and what see you? You see the work of grace without God’s superintendence in it. What would creation be if God had not been absolutely present there? Can we conceive of a single creature formed without the creating purpose of God? Is there a fish in the sea, or a fowl in the air which was left to chance for its creation? Nay, in every bone, joint and muscle, sinew, gland, and blood-vessel, you mark the presence of a God working everything according to the design of infinite wisdom. Shall God be present in creation, ruling over all, and not in grace? Shall grace be left in a state of chaos while creation is ordered by the Most High? Look ye at Providence! Who knoweth not that not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father? Even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Every dark and bending line meets in the centre of thy love. It is our joy to believe that the measuring line is used in our trials and our troubles. If he ordain the number ten, who can make it eleven? If he fill the cup but half-full, even Satanic agency cannot fill it to the brim. God weighs the mountains of our griefs in scales, and the hills of our tribulation in balances. And shall there be a God in providence and not in grace? What! shall he ride in the chariot of the clouds, and put a bit into the mouth of the tempest, and rein in the wild steeds of the storm, and yet shall he leave the greater work of his grace, his third dominion, the grandest and the best, to the will of man, to the fickle choice of the creature? Shall he make the glorious salvation of Jesus an unsettled thing, to be kicked about as a foot-ball by the free agency of man? Shall divinity stand as lacquey to the creature's changeful choice? Never! He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy; he will have compassion on whom he will have compassion; and at last it shall be seen that in every chosen vessel of mercy, Jehovah did as he willed with his own, and in every separate instance of salvation, and in every part and portion of the work of grace, the Lord reigned as king for ever, and did as he willed, and glorified his own name. I see a man with a measuring line, and I rejoice to see him, and thank God that it is written, “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” 

     It is just possible that the man in the text was nothing but a man. At any rate, we may often see apparitions of men with measuring lines; and while I have an intense reverence to the angel with the measuring line, I must confess an entire dislike to the man with the measuring line. How often, brethren, have we seen men with the measuring line endeavouring to estimate the length and breadth of God's true Church. Some of them take a very long line, and they begin to calculate how many Protestants, Roman Catholics, and members of the Greek Church there may be throughout the world, and then they write down all these millions as being Christians. Now, we beg to differ from the estimate: we only wish we could agree with it; glad enough should we be to hope that these were true members of the Church of God: but when we remember the errors with which one section of the Church is polluted almost beyond hope, when we remark the absence of all spirituality in others, when we see how the mass of nominal Christians are living without God and without Christ, when we reflect upon the many criminals, harlots and open sinners who would, according to this rule, be called Christians, we beg to remind the man with the measuring line, “They are not all Israel which are of Israel;” and although they may all lie upon the threshing-floor, “What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord.” The field is the world, but among the wheat many tares are growing; multitudes are gathered here, not in the valley of decision, but in the plains of outward profession, and a separating day must come. If we were to measure in this way, we should certainly be deluded: we should find Christians whom we could not trust; Christians who did not know their creed; Christians who did not rejoice in the name of Christ: Christians without faith, without hope, and strangers to the commonwealth of Israel. Christians merely in name cannot be Christians, for “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

     Again, I very frequently see another man with a measuring line. He is of a very sad countenance, and looks out upon the universe through blue spectacles. He will never fall into the error of the first man, but delights in the opposite extreme. “Oh!” he says, as he wrings his hands in a kind of delicious misery, “the people of God are a handful, a remnant, a child might write them.” He likes right well that hymn—

 

“Dear Shepherd, of thy chosen few,

Thy former mercies here renew.”  

 

He wishes his minister to preach from, “Fear not, little flock,” or this one, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Sometimes Despondency takes the shape of a man's fearing that he himself shall not enter; now there is something humble about that, and therefore it is bearable, but in frequent instances, Despondency is married to Pride, and then it is not despondency about themselves, but about all the rest of the human family. They are doubtless the men, and “wisdom will die with them.” They hear of backsliders, and they conclude that all professors will backslide. They have read a story of some famous minister who stained his character, and they believe that all ministers are mere pretenders. They hear of Mr. Liberal, who was noted for his generosity, and for his zeal in the cause of Christ, and yet he turned out to be generous with other men’s money, and to be thought little better than a thief; and Despondency shakes her head, and says, “I told you so: all men are liars.” “Lord! are there few who shall be saved?” is the constant question of Despondency; and every day she lives, she keeps making the measuring line a little and a little shorter, till perhaps the day will come when Despondency shall prophesy the destruction of the Christian faith, the return of the Papacy, and the outpouring of the vials, and say, “The faithful fail from among men, Zion is under a cloud,” “A day of clouds and of thick darkness,” is the only description of the present age which this spirit allows to be correct. Perhaps Despondency herself may die in the dark, believing that she is not included in the line of the covenant of grace. Well, now, I must confess, I am thankful that God has not set our desponding brother to measure his Zion; I am grateful that he is pleased to keep that in his own hands, or it might be woe for ever to many of the brightest of the Lord’s people. 

     Certain men occasionally come across my path who carry a measuring line which was originally made either by one called Mr. False Experience, or Mr. Proud Experience. These brethren will not believe any to be Christians who have not experienced precisely the same emotions, doubts, fears, tremblings, horrors, terrors, ecstacies, delights lights or raptures, which they themselves have felt. They get hold of every Christian professor, and they do with him as Procrustes did with men in his day: they take him unto their bed-chamber, and there is their bed of experience, the exact length that it should be; if the brother to be judged be not long enough to reach from head to foot, then they have a rack ready for him, and they will pull his limbs a little; or, if he should happen to be rather longer than themselves, then their pride is more aggrieved still, and it is likely enough that a sharp two-edged sword of censure will take off his head so as to accommodate him to the length of the couch. Perhaps you know certain professors of this kind, and if you live in their midst, the only path of wisdom will be to hold your peace. They are supposed to have received information by special revelation from on high that their particular rut, and that rut alone, leads to the land where sorrow is unknown. See them put on their spectacles and sit as a sort of jury to investigate a candidate for Church-membership. This poor young man only professes to have been converted some three months. If they entertain his case at all it is with the decided determination ultimately to reject him. Thus they begin with him, “Have you ever experienced such-and-such law-work in your soul? Were you ever led to curse God., and to feel the awful corruptions of your nature, tempting you to blaspheme the Holy Ghost?” The poor young man can only say he knows himself to be a sinner, lost by nature and saved by grace through faith in Christ. They shake their heads and tell him it is a mere natural, notional faith. As he has not known the law-work which they have known, he is of no good whatever. They affect to hope for him, but they mean all the while that they do not believe in him an atom. Another class of emotional religionists steer by another star; they question the enquirer from another catechism, “Have you been carried up to the third heaven, like Paul? Can you say, 'Whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell; God knoweth?’” Such brethren sometimes will put such questions as this: “Do you feel any pleasure whatever when you are with your friends? Can you take a walk in the fields and find enjoyment in the singing of birds and in the foliage of the trees?” And if you answer “Yes, thank God, I can.” Ah! they are sickened at you; you are not spiritually-minded. If you can look at works of art and admire them; if you can view the works of God in creation and feel any pleasure, they are astonished at you, and think you carnal. As for themselves, they have attained to such a superfine degree of spirituality, that they have purified all the common sense out of themselves as well as the “sense” Dr. Watts says— 

 

"May purge ourselves from sense and sin,

As Christ the Lord is pure.”  

 

He meant by “sense” feeling, mere carnal feeling; but I am afraid that some have really purged themselves from sense in the ordinary acceptation of the term, and might very well claim that their spirituality was not at all akin to worldly wisdom, for it is remarkably akin to absurdity and cant. Now, I thank God that the measuring line is not in the hands of the experimentalists, and bless my Master that it is written, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God:” and “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.” 

     I have also seen the measuring line in the hands of others—Doctrinalists. Yes; and their line has five marks which were originally made by John Calvin; and if your opinions do not square exactly to the standard, you are cut off from all part and lot in the blessings of vital godliness. Zion is certainly built according to the arrangement of the five points, and therefore if any brother does not comprehend and receive them all, he is not a weak believer, but according to the measuring line of our rigid friends, he is not a believer at all. You know, brethren, that there is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer, I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it. But, my dear friends, far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none within her walls but Calvinistic Christians, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him, that while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitfield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness ness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one of whom the world was not worthy. I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ into their hearts, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist out of heaven. I thank God we do not believe in the measuring line of any form of bigotry. I remember meeting with one who knew, yes, he knew how many children of God there were in the parish where he lived: there were exactly Jive. I was curious to know their names, and much to my amusement he began by saying, “There is myself." I stopped him at this point, with the query whether he was quite sure about the first one. Since then, his character has gone I know not where, but certainly he will get on better without it than with it; yet he was the first on his own list, and a few others of his own black sort made up the five. There were in the other places of worship to which he did not go, men, whose characters for integrity and uprightness, ay, and for spirituality and prayerfulness, would have been degraded by being put into comparison with him; and yet he, he was set as judge in Israel, and was to know exactly how many people of God were in the village. Oh! I bless God that we have learned to have very little respect for the vision of the man with the measuring line. When we see an angel with it, if such be the intention of the vision, we are glad enough. “The Lord knoweth them that are his;” but when we see a man with it, we tell him that he must give us a warrant from God, and show us how he is to know the elect by any other method than that laid down in Scripture: “By their fruits ye shall know them!”  

     Notice that this vision soon departed. The prophet does not seem to have dwelt long upon it. Almost as soon as it appeared it disappeared. Perhaps it is not a good thing for the people of God at any time to be much engaged in numbering the people. It is a question what was the particular sin of David in numbering the people. I will not enter into it just now, but I do fear that it is hard for us to number the people at any time without committing a sin: either the greatness of their number may lift us up and inflate us with pride, or the littleness of their number may make us despond and doubt the strength of God. The vision of the man with the measuring line is only to be looked upon for a moment, and then it may depart. We, therefore, ask you to close your eyes to that, and open your ears to the voice of that covenant angel, who, interrupting the man, began to tell to Zechariah good things concerning times to come. 

     II. From my text it appears, dear friends, THAT WE ARE TO LOOK FOR A GREAT EXTENSION OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST. 

     I hope we are to look for it now. Jerusalem shall be inhabited “as towns without walls.” There are those in this place who remember when, if you crossed Blackfriars bridge, you scarcely met with a house; as soon as ever you had crossed the bridge from London, you were in the country at once. They still survive among us to see how this great city has not only swollen to this district, but has gone right on for miles, and threatens to absorb mile after mile of the country. Such an extension we are to expect in Christ's Church. It began with twelve apostles; it was soon swollen to some four hundred brethren; it was increased by three thousand more at the day of Pentecost; there were added afterwards to the Church daily of such as should be saved. The gospel was preached throughout all regions. The children of God were found in Athens and Corinth; in Derbe and Lystra; from all parts of the earth the elect were gathered out. The kingdom extended, the gospel was preached in Spain as well as Italy; it passed on to Gaul, it came to Great Britain. In these after days it still continues to spread. A new world has been discovered, the religion of Jesus has been carried there. The emigrants who are peopling great islands of the southern sea, bear with them the religion of Jesus Christ. Everywhe where the kingdom grows. There is, as it were, a little core and centre of believers from among the Jewish people, but all around these there spreads a vast multitude of whom I might almost say that no man can number them. In our portion of Christ’s Church it has been upon a small scale the same. Beginning with but a handful of men, God has been pleased to add hundred after hundred till he has extended our number to a great host; but I do trust that what it is now is only the nucleus around which there is to be built a yet mightier Church. I would to God that now he might open the windows of heaven and pour us out a blessing, and so multiply us that the present thousands of this Church might be altogether lost in the numbers yet added. Truly, I would not ask it for this Church alone, but that other Churches all around may derive health from our prosperity, that God may raise up out of our loins Churches which shall be our sons and daughters, which shall again beget spiritual children, so that the kingdom of Christ may come, and his name be exalted in the land. We are to look for an extension. I want to encourage our elders and deacons, and all our brothers and sisters, to be looking for it. We have prayed for God's blessing: if ever a people prayed, we have. There has been an earnestness, I am sure, about the most of the brethren here, which cannot be without its reward. We have pleaded the name of Jesus even unto tears, and God does not answer prayer if he does not send us a blessing. We have used his Son's ’s name, we have pleaded his own promise, we have asked in faith, nothing doubting, and the blessing must come. Let us look for it, and as sure as ever effect follows cause, so surely must we receive an extension of this Church.

     It appears from the vision that the supply for all the number shall be as great as is required. “Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein.” The cattle are the provisions for the population. What is to be done with so large a Church? How are the converts to be seen after? How are the members to be fed with spiritual food? “As thy day, so shall thy strength be.” Whatever provision the Church shall want, God will give it. Jehovah-jireh is his name. This city of London has not overgrown its supplies: while we may be astonished at the population, we may be equally astonished at the provision. It shall be so in the kingdom of grace. God will raise up in the midst of any growing Church the proper men to look after the converts and see to their spiritual health. We have no need to be under any alarm in this respect: “All needful grace will God bestow.” 

     Other friends are afraid that if there be so large an extension of the Church, there will be many added to it who are not believers, and that consequently the Church may be increased, but not really strengthened. That too, is supplied in the text. “I, saith the Lord, will be a wall of fire round about,” both to keep out her enemies and to protect her from the incoming of false friends. It is the Church's duty to see to it that she admits not unworthy persons knowingly, but her best guard is the presence of God. It is written “Of the rest durst no man join himself unto them.” You remember the death of Ananias and Sapphira. It came in opportunely, just at the time when the Church was rapidly increased. That solemn judgment set a wall of fire round about the Church, so that ungodly persons dared not hypocritically come to be united with them. And so will God do to his Church now. The traveller, when he wishes to keep out the wild beasts, makes a ring of fire, and then the lion is shut out; and God makes a ring of fire round his Church, and the enemy is kept at a distance. China is said to be protected by a wall of stone; Old England is shielded by her wooden walls; but the Church of God has a better wall still, for she has the divine wall of fire; her enemies cannot break through this to destroy the meanest of her citizens, and her false friends shall say to themselves, “Who among us can dwell with the eternal burnings?” and so shall start back from a Church which is visibly sheltered and protected by the presence of the Most High. 

     Observe, dear friends, while the Church is thus supplied and thus protected, she does not lack for glory. Her glory, however, does not lie in her numbers, nor in the provision made for them, but in the presence of God. “I will be the glory in the midst of her.” Let us never cease to pray for this. Let the Church distinctly recognise that the Holy Spirit is in the midst of the Church now. When we sing—

 

“Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,” 

 

we mean rightly enough, but the words must not be understood to mean that the Spirit of God is not here; for he is in the midst of his Church continually, and he dwells among his people as the Shekinah in the temple, and your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost: God dwelleth in you. Our prayer must be, “Thou that dwellest between the cherubim, shine forth! Stir up thy strength and come and save us.” The glory of a Church does not lie in the architecture of the place where she meets, nor in the eloquence of her minister, nor in the greatness of her number, nor the abundance of her wealth, nor the profundity of her learning; it lies in her God. “Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered.” “O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people, when thou didst march through the wilderness: theearth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God: even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel.” Here then lies the Church's best hope; let her make this the grand object of her prayer, that the Lord may be the glory in the midst. 

     To close up this point, let us observe that doubtless at such seasons, divine love shall be very sweetly enjoyed among all the members. For the eighth verse says—though I do not intend to push our investigations further than the text—“He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye.” We never know so much of our nearness and dearness to God as when we, in common with the rest of God’s people, are visited with the joy of his presence. How differently things look in the sunshine from the way in which they appear without it. Ride along this land of ours when the rain is pouring down, or the mists have gathered, and what a dull, dreary wilderness it seems; and these London streets, what a settlement for convicts they appear in the midst of our thick fogs! but let the sun shine forth as it did this morning, let the mists be scattered, and then even the leafless trees have a golden light upon them, and all nature rejoiceth, and the meanest and poorest landscape becomes, after its sort, sublime. So when our hearts are dull and heavy, and the Church of God is in the same state, how poor everything appears! but when the Lord shines forth, and the Sun of Righteousness arises with healing in his wings, then the doctrines of grace, how precious! then the ministry of the gospel, how effectual! then the means of grace, how dear! the people of God, how estimable! the things of God, how delightful! 0 that we may have this! We have a right to expect it! We do not deserve it, but God has promised it. Let us give him no rest till we have it! Stay your measurings, O Despondency! Stay your measurings, O Bigotry! Stay your censures, ye who cut off the people of God, and hearken while the angel prophesies that the kingdom of Christ shall grow and increase, till, like a city without walls, Jerusalem shall have for her glory the presence of the Lord, and for her boundary nothing but the will of the Most High. 

     III. I close with a few words on the third point, and but a few. Where is this increase to come from, this great increase? It is to come from two sources indicated in the sixth and seventh verses. MULTITUDES ARE TO COME OUT OF THE WORLD. “Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north, saith the Lord: for I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven, saith the Lord.” 

     God’s chosen people are scattered here and there. There are many of them in this assembly of whom we know nothing: but God knows them. The preaching of the gospel is a message to you to come forth; that message is this, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” It comes to every soul among you, with this commanding, but most consoling word, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” My hearers, you know what believing means; it is simply trusting upon what Christ has done for sinners. “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation:” if you now trust him, your many sins shall be forgiven you; you are a child of God and an heir of heaven. Like prodigals you may have spent all your substance: spiritual hunger has seized upon you; you would fain fill your belly with the vain pleasures of the world, but you cannot; the Holy Spirit whispers in your heart, “Arise, and go unto your Father.” Obey that heavenly whisper, and though thou be as yet a great way off, yet thy Father seeth thee; he runs to meet thee as thou art; he falls upon thy neck and kisses thee, just as thou art, undeserving and sinful. He cries to his servants, “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him.” Wilt thou trust that Father's love? Wilt thou confide in it as it is set forth in the bleeding sacrifice of the Lord Jesus? It is from you, O unconverted men and women, that we expect the greatest increase through the Spirit's power. We are looking for it, and praying for it. I hope that the people of God, this morning, will be looking after you, and when this sermon is done, I hope they will speak with you, or if they cannot do so, at least pray for you. “Ho, ho, come ye forth”—twice is the shout given, as if you were slumberers and needed to be awakened. “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters;” here there are two “Ho's,” as if you should be called with vehemence, with earnestness, with pleading—“Come ye forth.” The year is almost over: I pray God that a new year may not be begun by you in sin, but may God begin with you at the fall of the year, and bring you now to know his power to save.

     There is another class from which the Church is to get this increase, indicated in the next verse, Deliver thyself, O Zion, that dwellest liveliest with the daughter of Babylon.” There is a large number of this second class in this congregation. There are a number of you who do believe in Christ, but you dwell with the daughter of Babylon. If a census were taken of Christians according to the Church-roll, and I do not know that it could be taken better by mortal man, then you must be put down as being of the world. When the Lord's Supper is spread, and the Saviour says, “This do in remembrance of me,” you go away, or stay in the galleries; you practically say to the Lord Jesus, “Lord, I will not do this in remembrance of thee; I feel myself justified in disobeying thy command; I believe I have a valid reason for not doing what thy loving lips request me to do.” I do not know if I put it in that shape that you will quite agree with your own assertion, because how can a man really have a justifiable reason for not doing what the Lord Jesus Christ expressly tells him to do? That word “separation” needs to ring in the ears of Christians, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing.” Though this is to be done practically by your actions, yet first and foremost it should be done by a distinct avowal of your Lord Jesus Christ, and that avowal should be by baptism, and union with the Church. 

     May God bless these remarks both to saints and sinners, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.