Life Eternal

By / Jun 22

Life Eternal

 

“And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”— John x. 28.

 

SOME will say that this is a mixed congregation, and that such a doctrine as this should not be advanced in the presence of ungodly men and women. This shows how little such objectors read their Bible, for this very text was spoken by the Saviour, not to his loving disciples, but to his enemies. Read the thirty-first verse of the chapter, and you will see the temper of the congregation to whom Jesus Christ preached upon this subject— “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.” So that an indignant multitude of bigots had this hurled into their face by the Saviour, that although they might reject him, and because of their wilful obstinacy might miss the blessings of grace, yet those blessings were rich and rare. He would have them to know that what they lost was inexpressibly precious, and that his message was not to be despised without great damage to their souls. Thus, if there be a mixed multitude here — and I fear the allegation is true, that there are many here who cannot comprehend the preciousness of the things of God— yet, for the same reason which prompted the Saviour to preach of this doctrine to the wicked in his day, we will do the same now, that they may know what it is they lose by losing Christ, what those comfortable things are which they despise, and what are the inestimable treasures which those must miss who seek after the treasures of this world, and let their God, their Saviour go.

     We have no time to loiter, and let us therefore, as the bee sucks honey from the flower, seek after the sweet essence of the text, “I give unto them eternal life.” The connection tells us that the pronoun “them” refers to Christ’s sheep, to certain persons whom he had chosen to be his sheep, and whom he had also called to be such. Lest we should be in the dark as to whom they are, our Saviour has kindly put us in possession of the marks by which his sheep may be discovered. We cannot read the secret roll of election, nor can we search the heart, but we can mark the outward conduct of men, and the verse before the text tells us by what signs we are to know God’s people. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The marks are the hearing of Christ, and then the following of Christ, first, by faith in him, and then by an active obedience to his precepts. “Faith which worketh by love” is the mark of Christ’s sheep, and it is of true believers that he speaks when he says, “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” Would to God that all of us wore the livery of the elect, namely, active, sanctifying faith! Oh that we all listened to the Great Shepherd’s voice, that we received the truth which he delivers! and then resolved by his grace to follow him whithersoever he goeth, as the sheep follow the shepherd.

     Having thus explained to whom the text belongs, we will now handle it in a threefold manner. The text implies, first, somewhat concerning the past of these people; the text plainly states, in the second place, a great deal about the present of these people; and, thirdly, the text not obscurely hints at something about their future.

     I. In the first place, the studious reader will observe that the text implies SOMEWHAT CONCERNING THE PAST HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE or GOD.

     It is said, “I give unto them eternal life.” There is an implication, therefore, that they had lost eternal life. Every one of God’s people fell in Adam, and all have fallen also by actual sin; consequently, we came under condemnation, and Christ Jesus has done for us what Her Majesty the Queen has sometimes done for a condemned criminal— he has brought us a free pardon. He has given us life. When our own desert was eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord, Jesus Christ stepped in, and he said, “Thou art forgiven; the sentence shall not take place upon thee; thine offence is blotted out; thou art clear.” Nay, I think the text implies that there was something more than condemnation, there was execution. We were not only condemned to die, we were already spiritually dead. Jesus did not merely spare the life which ought to have been taken, and in that sense gave it to us, but he imparted to us a life which we had not before enjoyed. It is implied in the text that we were spiritually dead; nay, we are not left here to our own surmisings, nor even to our own experience, for the apostle Paul has said, “You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.” What, Paul, dead? Are you not mistaken? Perhaps they were only a little sick? Nay, we are ready to admit, O apostle, that they were sick and near to death, but surely they had a little vital energy, a little power to assist themselves! “No,” says the apostle, “you were dead, dead in trespasses and sins.” The work of salvation is tantamount, not only to the healing of the sick, but to the actual resurrection of a dead man from his grave. All the saints who are now alive unto God were once as dead as others, quite as corrupt and offensive as others, and as much an ill savour in the nostrils of Divine Justice by reason of their sins as even the most corrupt of their fellows. We had altogether gone out of the way; we had altogether become abominable, for “there is none that doeth good, no not one.” When we were all shut up under sin then Jesus Christ came into the region of death, and brought life and immortality to us. Life was forfeited by all the saints; spiritual life they had none: Jesus the Quickener has made them alive unto God.

     Is it not also very clearly implied that, so far from having any life, these people could not otherwise have obtained life except by its being given to them? It is a rule well known to all Biblical students, that you never meet in God’s Word with an unnecessary miracle, that a miracle is never wrought where the ordinary course of nature would suffice. Now, my brethren, the greatest of all miracles is the salvation of a soul. If that soul could save itself God would not save it, but would let it do what it could do; and if the spiritually dead could quicken themselves, rest assured, from the analogy of all the divine transactions, that Jesus Christ would not have come to give them life. I believe that it would be utterly impossible for any one of us to enter heaven, let us do what we might, unless Jesus Christ had come from heaven to show us the way, to remove the bolts and bars for us, and to enable us to tread in the path which leads to glory and immortality. Lost! lost! lost! The race of man was utterly lost, not partly lost, not thrown into a condition in which it might be ruined unless it worked hard to save itself; but so lost, that but for the interposition of a divine arm, but for the appearance of God in human flesh, but for the stupendous transaction upon Calvary, and the work of God the Holy Ghost in the heart, not one dead soul ever could come to life. Eternal life would not be the peculiar work of the Lord Jesus if man had a finger in it, but now man’s power is excluded and grace reigns.

     It is clearly to be seen in the text, by a little thought, that eternal life was not the merit of any one of God’s people, for it is said that it is given to us. Now, a gift is the very opposite of payment. What a man receives as a gift he certainly does not deserve. If it be given to us, then it is no more a debt, but if it be a debt then it can be no more a gift. None of us merits eternal life, or ever can merit it. Mere mortal life is a gift of divine mercy, we do not deserve it; and as for the eternal life spoken of in the text, it is a boon too high for the fingers of human merit to hope to reach it; if a man should work never so hard after it, yet upon the footing of the law it would be impossible for him to obtain it. Man merits nothing but death, and life must be the free gift of God. “The wages of sin is death;” that is to say it is earned and procured as matter of debt; “but the gift of God,” the free-grace gift of God, “is eternal life.” Now, this is a very humiliating doctrine, I know, but it is true, and I want you all to feel it Children of God, I know you do. You see the hole of the pit whence you were drawn? Do you see it? Or have you grown proud of late? Those fine feelings and prayings of yours have you stuck them like feathers in your cap? I pray you recollect what you were! You be proud! do not forget the dunghill where you once grew! Remember the filth out of which God took you, and instead of being scarlet with the garments of pride, your cheeks may well be scarlet with a blush! Oh! may God forbid, once for all, that we should glory, for what have we to glory in? What have we that we have not received?

     It is clear, too, from the text, that those who are now righteous would have perished but for Christ. Christ says, “they shall never perish.” Promises are never given as superfluities. There is a necessity, therefore, for this promise. There was a danger, a solemn danger, that every one of those men who are now saved would have perished eternally. Sin made them heirs of wrath even as others, so Scripture tells us; and justice must have overwhelmed them with the rest if distinguishing grace had not prevented. Even now it is solemnly true, that there is no reason why a truly righteous soul should not perish, except that Christ still prevents it. You are alive, but you would not be spiritually alive an hour, unless the Holy Spirit continued to pour his vital energy into your soul. You shall be preserved, but, mark you, it is stated as a promise, and therefore it is not at all a matter of natural necessity. Apart from grace you are in fearful danger of apostacy, and probably you have fears about it even now; like the apostle, who feared lest after having preached to others, he himself should be a castaway; a very proper fear, a fear which will often come upon sincere souls, who feel a holy jealousy of themselves. But we need have no fear when we come to the promise of God, for if we are really in Christ we have a guarantee of security, since Christ’s own word is, “They shall never perish.” The promise was certainly given because it was wanted. There is a danger of perishing; there are ten thousand risks of perishing; only Omnipotence itself keeps off the fiery darts of Satan; the blessed Physician gives the antidote or the poison would soon destroy us; he who swears to bring us safely home protects us from a thousand foes, who otherwise would work our ill. “They shall never perish.”

     It is also implied, that naturally the people of God have ten thousand enemies who would pluck them out of Christ’s hand. They were once in the hand of the enemy; they were once willing bond-slaves of Satan. All this they know, and all this they are willing to acknowledge. I would to God that some here would feel the truth of that which I have been saying. You self-righteous ones will say, “I am all right; I do my best, I go to a place of worship.” Now, soul, that is right enough in itself, but if thou boastest of it, it is an evidence that thou knowest neither God nor thyself. When I have heard of some who have boasted that they felt no inbred sin, I have wished that they would read the story of the Pharisee and the Publican. At the Fulton Street Prayer Meeting, a brother asked for the prayers of believers, because he felt so much the corruption of his own heart, the temptations of Satan, and especially the natural vileness of his own nature. A brother stood up on the opposite side of the hall, and said he thanked God that was not his experience; he did not feel any corruption, and his heart was not depraved. The other one made no reply, but a friend present read these words; “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” A sense of sin is a blessed sign either of pardon received, or of pardon to come. He that says he has no sin makes God a liar, and the truth is not in him. He who will not confess his sin shall never be absolved; but he who with a broken and a trembling heart goes to the foot of the cross shall find forgiveness there. This much, then, upon the past estate of the heirs of heaven.

     II. And now, to plunge at once into the subject. THE TEXT SHEDS A FLOOD OF LIGHT UPON THE PRESENT STATEOF EVERY BELIEVER.

     We shall have to give you hints rather than a long exposition; so kindly take the first sentence, which speaks of a gift received. “I give unto them eternal life.” This gift is, first of all, life. You will make strange confusion of God’s Word if you confound life with existence, for they are very different things. All men will exist for ever, but many will dwell in everlasting death; they will know nothing whatever of life. Life is a distinct thing altogether from existence, and implies in God’s Word something of activity and of happiness. In the text before us it includes many things. Note the difference between the stone and the plant. The plant has vegetable life. You know the difference between the animal and the plant. While the plant has vegetable life, yet it is altogether dead in the sense in which we speak of living creatures. It has not the sensations which belong to animal life. Then, again, if we turn to another and higher grade, namely, mental life, an animal is dead so far as that is concerned. It cannot enter at all into the mysterious calculations of the mathematician, nor revel in the sublime glories of poetry. The animal has nothing to do with the life of the intellectual mind; as to mental life it is dead. Now, there is a grade of life which is higher than the mental life—a higher life quite unknown to the philosopher, not put down in Plato, nor spoken of by Aristotle, but understood by the very meanest of the children of God. It is a phase of life called “spiritual life,” a new form of life altogether, which does not belong to man naturally, but is given to him by Jesus Christ. The first man, Adam, was made a living soul, and all his descendants are made like unto him. The second Adam is made a quickening spirit, and until we are made like the second Adam we know nothing of spiritual life. This body of ours is by nature adapted for a soulish life. The apostle tells us, in that wonderful chapter in Corinthians, that the body is sown— what? “A natural body.” The Greek is, “A soulish body”— “but it is raised”— what? “A spiritual body.” There is a soulish body, and there is a spiritual body. There is a body adapted to the lower life which belongs to all men, a mere mental existence; and there is to be a body which will belong to all those who have received spiritual life, who shall dwell in that body as the house of their perfected spirit in heaven. The life which Jesus Christ gives his people is spiritual life, therefore it is mysterious. “Thou hearest the sound thereof, but thou canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” You who have mental life cannot explain to the horse or the dog what it is, neither can we who have spiritual life explain to those who have it not what it is. You can tell them what it does and what its effects are, but what the “spark of heavenly flame” may be you yourselves do not know, though you are conscious that it is there.

     It is spiritual life which Jesus Christ gives his people, but it is more; it is divine life. This life is like the life of God, and therefore it is elevating. “We are made,” says the apostle, “partakers of the divine nature.” “Begotten again by God the Father, not,” says the apostle, “with corruptible seed, but with incorruptible.” We do not become divine, but we receive a nature which enables us to sympathize with Deity, to delight in the topics which engage the Eternal Mind, and to live upon the same principles as the Most Holy God. We love, for God is love. We begin to be holy, for God is thrice holy. We pant after perfection, for he is perfect. We delight in doing good, for God is good. We get into a new atmosphere. We pass out of the old range of the mere mental faculties; our spiritual faculties make us akin to God. “Let us,” said he, “make man in our own image, after our own likeness.” That image Adam lost; that image Christ restores, and gives to us that life which Adam lost in the day when he sinned, when God said to him, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” In that sense he did die; the sentence was not postponed; he died spiritually directly he touched the fruit; and this long-lost life Jesus Christ restores to every soul who believes in him.

     This life, you will gather from my remarks, is heavenly life. It is the same life that expands and develops itself in heaven. The Christian does not die. What does the Saviour say? “He that believeth in me shall never die.” Does not the mental life die? Yes. Does not the mere bodily life die? Ay, but not the spiritual life. It is the same life here which it will be there, only now it is undeveloped and corruption impedes its action. Brethren, nothing of us shall go to heaven as flesh and blood, but only as it is subdued, elevated, changed, and perfected by the influence of the spirit-life. Know ye not that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” Then what is the “I,” the “myself” that shall enter heaven? Why, if you be in Christ a new creature, then that new creature and nothing but that new creature, the very life which you have lived here in this tabernacle, the very life that has budded and blossomed in the garden of communion with God, that life which has led you to visit the sick, and clothe the naked, and feed the hungry, that life which has made tears of repentance stream down your cheeks, that life which has caused you to believe in Jesus,— this is the life which will go to heaven; and if you have not this, then you do not possess the life of heaven, and dead souls cannot enter there. Only living men can enter into the land of the living. “As we have borne the image of the earthy, so also shall we bear the image of the heavenly.” Even now the heavenly life heaves and throbs within us.

     I think it may also be inferred from all this that the life which Christ gives his people is an energetic life. If the spiritual life is poured into a man it raises him above his former state, and lifts him out of the range of merely carnal comprehension. He himself is discerned of no man. “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” You cannot expect the world to understand this new life. It is a hidden thing. It will be a mystery to yourselves, a wonder to your own hearts. But oh! how active it will be! It will fight with your sins, and will not be satisfied until it has slain them. If you tell me you never have a conflict within, I tell you I cannot understand how you can have the divine life, for it is sure to come into conflict at once with the old nature, and there will be perpetual strife. The man becomes a new man at home; his wife and family observe it; he is a different man in business; he is a changed man altogether, whether you view him in connection with his fellow-men or with his God. He is a new creature. He feels that the new and wondrous life which has been planted in him has made him of a different race from the common herd, and he walks amongst the sons of men feeling that he is an alien and a stranger. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

     I wish there were more time to describe the inward life, but this must suffice to indicate the blessing which Jesus gives to the believer by the work of the Holy Ghost.

     There is a word in the text which qualifies it: “I give unto them eternal life.” “Eternal” means “without end.” If Christ puts the life of God into a man that life cannot be taken away. It cannot die, that were impossible. When I have heard one say that you may be a child of God to-day but that next week may find you a child of the devil, I have supposed that the word “eternal” according to him could only have meant five or six days; but according to the dictionary I use, according to the mind of the Spirit, “eternal” means “without end.” If, then, a man says, “I had spiritual life once, but I do not possess it now,” it is clear that either he is mistaken altogether or he never had it at all. If Jesus had said, “I give unto them life which shall last for seven years, but which may perhaps be quenched and put out under temptation,” I could understand a man saying that he had fallen from grace; but if it be “eternal life,” then it must be “eternal;” there is no end to it, it must go on. The mere existence of the soul we believe will be never-ending, but it will be no boon to the ungodly that it will be so. It is not for Christ to give us mere immortality of existence, for that will be a fearful curse to some men. Lost souls would be glad enough if they could be rid of their immortal existence, but Christ gives an eternal, a holy life, a happy life which is infinitely more than existence. Existence may be a curse, but life is a blessing. This life begins here: “I give unto them.” Not, “I shall give,” but “I give.” Not, “I will give it to them when they die,” but “I give it them here, I give unto them eternal life.” Now, ray hearer, you have either got eternal life to-night, or you are still in death. If you have not received it you are “dead in trespasses and sins,” and your doom will be a terrible one; but if God has given you eternal life, fear not the surrounding hosts of hell nor the temptations of the world, for the eternal God is your refuge, and underneath you are the everlasting arms.

     This life is given as a free gift to every one of the Lord’s people, and is bestowed by the Lord and by none else.

     2. Let us turn now to the second part of the blessing. Here is preservation secured. “They shall never perish.” Certain gentlemen who cannot endure the doctrine of final perseverance manage to slip away from the next sentence, “Neither shall any pluck them out of my hands,” and suggest, “but they may get out themselves.” No, no, no, because the text says, “They shall never perish.” Our present sentence which we have now in hand puts aside all suppositions of every kind about the destruction of one of Christ’s sheep. “They shall never perish.” Take each word. “They shall never perish.” Some of their notions may, some of their comforts may, some of their experiences may, but THEY never shall. That which is the essence of the man, his true soul, his inward renewed nature, shall never be destroyed. See, then, Christian, you may be deprived of a thousand things without any violation of the promise. The promise is not that the ship shall not go to the bottom, but that the passengers shall get to the shore. The promise is not that the house shall not be burned; the pledge is that you who are in the house shall escape. “They shall never perish.” Take another word: “They shall never perish.” They shall go very near it, perhaps. They shall lose their joys and their comforts, but “they shall never perish.” The life in them shall never be starved out, nor beaten out, nor driven out. If you once get leaven into a piece of bread you cannot get it out; you may boil it, you may fry it, you may bake it, you may do what you like with it, but the leaven is in it, and you cannot get it out. Get the soul saturated with the grace of God, and you can never eradicate it. The man himself shall never perish. He may think he shall, the devil may tell him he shall, his comforts may be withdrawn, he may go to his death-bed full of doubts and fears about himself, but he shall never perish. Now, this is either true or it is not. You who think it is not true tell the Lord so; but I believe that it is a most sure and infallible fact, for Jehovah says it. I do not know how it is that they do not perish, it is a wondrous thing; but then it is all a marvel throughout from first to last. Now take the word “never.” We have shown how long the preservation endures: “They shall never perish.” “Well, but if they should live to be very aged, and should then fall into sin?” “They shall never perish.” Oh! but perhaps they may be assaulted in quarters where they least expect it, or they may be beleaguered by temptation.” They shall never perish.” “Well, but a man may be a child of God and yet go to hell.” How so, if he can never perish? Why, that “never” includes time and eternity, it includes living and dying, it includes the mount and the valley, the tempest and the calm. “They shall never perish.”

“In every state secure,
Kept by the eternal Hand.”

Beneath the wings of the Almighty God night with its pestilence cannot smite them, and day with its cares cannot destroy them; youth with its passions shall be safely passed;- middle age with all its whirl of business shall be navigated in safety; old age with its infirmities shall become the land of Beulah; death’s gloomy vale shall be lit up with the coming splendour; the actual moment of departure, the last and solemn article shall be the passing over of a river dryshod. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee, saith the Lord.” “They shall never perish.”

     There is a way of explaining away everything, I suppose, but I really do not know how the opponents of the perseverance of God’s saints will get over this text. They may do with it as they will, but I shall still believe what I find here, that I shall never perish if I am one of Christ’s people. If I perish, then Christ will not have kept his promise; but I know he must abide faithful to his word. “He is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent.” Every soul that resteth on the atoning sacrifice is safe, and safe for ever; “they shall never perish.”

     3. Then comes the third sentence, in which we have a position guaranteed — “in Christ’s hand.” We have not time to expound it: it is to be in a place of honour; we are the ring he wears on his finger. It is a place of love: “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.” It is a place of power: his right hand encloses all his people. It is a place of property: Christ holds his people; “all the saints are in thy hand.” It is a place of discretion: we are yielded up to Christ, and Christ wields a discretionary government over us. It is a place of guidance, a place of protection: as sheep are said to be in the hand of the shepherd, so are we in the hand of Christ. As arrows in the hand of a mighty man, to be used by him, as jewels in the hands of the bride to be her ornament, so are we in the hand of Christ. Now, what says the text? It reminds us that there are some who want to pluck us thence. There are those who, with false doctrine, would deceive, if it were possible, the very elect. There are roaring persecutors who would frighten God’s saints, and so make them turn back in the day of battle. There are scheming tempters—the panderers to hell, the jackals of the lion of the pit, who would fain drag us to destruction. Then there are our own hearts that would pluck us thence. You know in the text before us we need not read the word “man”, for it is not in the original. The translators have put the word “man” in italics to show that it is not in the Greek, and so we may read it— “Neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” Not only—any “man,” but any devil either. Nothing that is present shall do it, nothing to come; no principality, no power, nothing whatsoever that is conceivable. “None shall pluck them out of my hand.” It does not merely include men, who are sometimes our worst foes, for the worst that we have are they of our own household; it also includes fallen spirits; but none shall be able to pluck us out of his hand. By no possibility shall any be able, by any of their schemes, to remove us from being his favourites, his property, his dear sons, his protected children. Oh, what a blessed promise!

     Now, do you know, while I have been preaching to you about this, I have been thinking a little about my own history before I knew the Lord. One of the things that made me want to be a Christian was this. I had seen some young lads that I was at school with, they were excellent lads, and some of them had been held up as patterns of imitation to me and to others. I saw them, though only a very few years older than myself, turn out as vain and ungodly as well could be, and yet I knew them to have been excellently well disposed as boys, nay, to have been very patterns; and this kind of thought used to cross my young brain, “Is there not some means of being preserved from making a shipwreck of my life?” When I came 'to read the Bible, it seemed to me to be full of this doctrine: “If you trust Christ, he will save you from all evil; he will keep you in a life of integrity and holiness while here, and he will bring you safe to heaven at the last.” I felt that I could not trust man, for I had seen some of the very best wandering far from truth; if I trusted Christ, it was not a chance as to whether I should get to heaven, but a certainty; and I learned that if I rested all my weight upon him he would keep me, for I found it written, “The righteous shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall wax stronger and stronger.” I found the apostle saying, “I am persuaded that he that hath begun a good work in you will carry it on,” and such-like expressions. “Why,” I reasoned, “I have found an insurance office, and a good one too; I will insure my life in it; I will go to Jesus as I am, for he bids me; I will trust myself with him.” If I had listened to the Arminian theory I should never have been converted, for it never had any charms for me. A Saviour who casts away his people, a God who leaves his children to perish, were not worthy of my worship, and a salvation which does not save outright is neither worth preaching nor listening to. When I stand here and say to this assembled mass, Trust my Master, believe him, and it is no matter of question as to whether you shall be saved, for he has said that “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;” when I say that, I feel that I have something to say which is worth listening to. My dear hearer, with a new heart and a right spirit you will be a new man. As you now are, if you were to be pardoned to-night you would be condemned tomorrow, for the tendencies of your nature would lead you astray. But if God shall put a new nature into you, your old nature shall not be able to control it. The new immortal principle shall get the mastery; you shall be kept from sinning; you shall be preserved in holiness, and though you will have to mourn over your imperfection, yet you will feel that you have God’s own life in you; though you will realize that you are not perfect, yet you will wish you were, and this wishing to be so will be a sign of grace in your soul, and these wishes and desires will go on waxing stronger and stronger, till, having mastered sin by the power of the Spirit, the day shall come when this body shall be dropped off, and the new life, disencumbered of the vile rags which it was compelled to wear while it was here, shall leap in its disembodied existence into perfection, and then shall wait for the trumpet’s sound, and the body itself, purified and made fit for the new and higher life, shall be again inhabited, and so both the body and the soul, delivered from all sin, shall be an everlasting testimony to the promise of Christ, for those who rest in him shall have eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of his hand.

     III. I have anticipated the last point, as to THE OUTLOOK OF MY TEXT INTO THE FUTURE.

     If God has given you eternal life, that comprehends all the future. Your spiritual existence will flourish when empires and kingdoms decay. Your life will live on when the heart of this great world shall grow cold, when the pulse of the great sea shall cease to beat, when the eye of the bright sun shall grow dim with age. You possess eternal life. When, like a moment’s foam which melts into the wave that bears it, the whole universe shall have gone, and left not a wreck behind, it shall be well with you, for you have eternal life. You have an existence that will run parallel with the existence of the Deity. Eternal life! Oh! what an avenue of glory is opened by those words—Eternal Life! “Because I live,” saith Christ, “ye shall live also.” As long as there is a Christ there shall be a happy soul, and you shall be that happy soul. As long as there is a God there shall be a beatified existence, and you shall enjoy existence, for Jesus gives you eternal life. Spin on, old world, until thine axle is worn out. Fly on, Old Father Time, until thine hour-glass is broken, and thou shalt cease to be! Come, mighty angel! plant thy foot upon the sea and upon the land and swear by him that liveth that time shall be no more, for even then every Christian shall still live, because Christ gives unto them eternal life.

     Does not the next sentence also look into the future? — “They shall never perish.” They shall never cease to exist in perpetual blessedness! never cease to be like God in their natures; never. Think you have been in heaven a thousand years— can you realize it? A thousand years’ blessed communion with the Lord Jesus! A thousand years in his bosom! A thousand years with the sight of him to ravish your spirit! Well, but you will have just as long to be there as if you had never begun, for you shall never, never perish. When the millennium shall come, or when the judgment shall sit, and when all the great transactions of prophecy shall be fulfilled, these need not distress you, for if you trust Christ you shall never— oh! turn that word over— you shall never, never, never, never, NEVER perish! What an eternity of glory, what unspeakable delight is wrapped up in this promise— “They shall never perish!”

      Then, surely, this is another glance into the future— “And none shall pluck them out of my hand.” We shall be in his hand for ever, we shall be in his heart for ever, we shall be in his very self for ever— one with him, and none shall pluck us thence. Happy, happy is the man who can lay claim to such a promise as this!

     Oh! there are some of you to whom I wish this promise belonged! It is very rich, and very full of comfort; I wish it belonged to you. Dost thou say, “I wish it belonged to me”? Oh! friend, I am glad to hear thee say that! Dost thou know, soul, that there is but one key to open this precious treasure, and that is the key of the cross of the Lord Jesus? What sayest thou? Canst thou trust him? When one told me the other day she could not trust Christ, I looked her in the face and said, “What has he done that you should not trust him? Can you trust me?” “Yes,” she said, “I can trust my fellow-creatures, but I cannot trust God.” Oh! I thought, what terrible blasphemy! It was honestly spoken, and it was spoken by one who did not perceive the greatness of the offence in it, but I do not know that there is any worse thing that can be said than that— “I cannot trust God!” Well, sir, you have made him a liar then! That is the practical result of it; for if you believe a man to be honest you can always trust him. Can I trust my fellow-man, and not trust God? Oh! the horror of that thought! There is such an amount of blasphemy in it that I must not quote it again! Not trust Christ! “Well,” says one, “but may we not have a merely natural trust and so be deceived?” I do not know of any trust in Christ except a spiritual one, nor do I believe in any. If thou trustest Christ thou hast not done that of thyself. There was never a soul that did trust Christ unless he was enabled to do it by God the Holy Spirit, and if you wholly and simply trust Christ you need not ask any questions about natural trusting or spiritual trusting. If you trust the Lord Jesus wholly you are right. Rest on him then; rest on him only, wholly, and solely, and if you perish then I do not understand the gospel, and I cannot comprehend what the Bible means. I will tell you one thing, and then close. If you trust Christ and you perish, then I must perish most certainly, and so must all my brethren and sisters here who have believed in Jesus. It is all over with us if it is all over with you. When there is a storm, one passenger cannot very well go to the bottom, if he is in the ship, unless the whole of the ship’s company go too. We must go together. We have got into the life-boat, and if the life-boat goes down with you it must go down with all the saints, and ail the apostles, and all the martyrs too. They went to heaven resting upon Christ, and if you rest on Christ you will get there also.

     Oh! sinner, mayest thou be led to-day to rest on Jesus and on Jesus only, and then take the text. Do not be afraid of it — “I give unto my sheep eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.”



Salvation Altogether by Grace

By / Jun 22

Salvation Altogether by Grace

 

“Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”— 2 Timothy i. 9.

 

IF we would influence thoughtful persons it must be by solid arguments. Shallow minds may be wrought upon by mere warmth of emotion and force of excitement, but the more valuable part of the community must be dealt with in quite another manner. When the apostle Paul was desirous to influence his son in the faith, Timothy, who was a diligent and earnest student and a man of gifts as well as of grace, he did not attempt to affect him by mere appeals to his feelings, but felt that the most effectual way to act upon him was to remind him of solid doctrinal truth which he knew him to have believed. This is a lesson for the ministry at large. Certain earnest preachers are incessantly exciting the people, and but seldom if ever instructing them; they carry much fire and very little light. God forbid that we should say a word against appealing to the feelings; this is most needful in its place, but then there is a due proportion to be observed in it. A religion which is based upon, sustained, and maintained simply by excitement, will necessarily be very flimsy and unsubstantial, and will yield very speedily to the crush of opposition or to the crumbling hand of time. The preacher may touch the feelings by rousing appeals, as the harper touches the harpstrings; he will be very foolish if he should neglect so ready and admirable an instrument; but still as he is dealing with reasonable creatures, he must not forget to enlighten the intellect and instruct the understanding. And how can he appeal to the understanding better than by presenting to it the truth which the Holy Ghost teacheth? Scriptural doctrine must furnish us with powerful motives to urge upon the minds of Christians. It seems to me that if we could by some unreasoning impulse move you to a certain course of action it might be well in its way, but it would be unsafe and untrustworthy, for you would be equally open to be moved in an opposite direction by other persons more skilful in such operations; but if God enables us by his Spirit to influence your minds by solid truth and substantial argument, you will then move with a constancy of power which nothing can turn aside. The feather flies in the wind, but it has no inherent power to move, and consequently when the gale is over it falls to the ground— such is the religion of excitement; but the eagle has life within itself, and its wings bear it aloft and onward whether the breeze favours it or no — such is religion, when sustained by a conviction of the truth. The well-taught man in Christ Jesus stands firm where the uninstructed infant would fall or be carried away. “Be not carried about with every wind of doctrine,” says the apostle, and those are least likely to be so carried who are well established in the truth as it is in Jesus.

     It is somewhat remarkable — at least it may seem so to persons who are not accustomed to think upon the subject—that the apostle, in order to excite Timothy to boldness, to keep him constant in the faith, reminds him of the great doctrine that the grace of God reigns in the salvation of men. He gives in this verse—this parenthetical verse as some call it, but which seems to me to be fully in the current of the passage—he gives in this verse a brief summary of the gospel showing the great prominence which it gives to the grace of God, with the design of maintaining Timothy in the boldness of his testimony for Christ. I do not doubt but that a far greater power for usefulness lies concealed within the doctrines of grace than some men have ever dreamed of. It has been usual to look upon doctrinal truth as being nothing more than unpractical theory, and many have spoken of the precepts of God’s Word as being more practical and more useful; the day may yet come when in clearer light we shall perceive that sound doctrine is the very root and vital energy of practical holiness, and that to teach the people the truth which God has revealed is the readiest and surest way of leading them to obedience and persevering holiness.

     May the Holy Spirit assist us while we shall, first, consider the doctrine taught by the apostle in this text; and, secondly, the uses of that doctrine.

     I. Very carefully let us CONSIDER THE DOCTRINE TAUGHT BY THE APOSTLE IN THIS TEXT.

     Friends will remember that it is not our object to preach the doctrine which is most popular or most palatable, nor do we desire to set forth the views of any one person in the assembly; our one aim is to give what we judge to be the meaning of the text. We shall probably deliver doctrine which many of you will not like, and if you should not like it we shall not be at all surprised, or even if you should be vexed and angry we shall not be at all alarmed, because we never understood that we were commissioned to preach what would please our hearers, nor were expected by sensible, not to say gracious men, to shape our views to suit the notions of our audience. We count ourselves amenable to God and to the text; and if we give the meaning of the text, we believe we shall give the mind of God, and we shall be likely to have his favour, which will be sufficient for us, contradict us who may. However, let every candid mind be willing to receive the truth, if it be clearly in the inspired Word.

     1. The apostle in stating his doctrine in the following words, “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” declares God to be the author of salvation “Who hath saved us and called us.” The whole tenor of the verse is towards a strong affirmation of Jonah’s doctrine, “that salvation more is of the Lord.” It would require very great twisting, involving than ingenuity, it would need dishonesty, to make out salvation by man out of this text; but to find salvation altogether of God in it is to perceive the truth which lies upon the very surface. No need for profound enquiry, the wayfaring man though a fool shall not err therein; for the text says as plainly as words can say, “God hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling.” The apostle, then, in order to bring forth the truth that salvation is of grace declares that it is of God, that it springs directly and entirely from him and from him only. Is not this according to the teaching of the Holy Spirit in other places, where he affirms over and over again that the alpha and omega of our salvation must be found not in ourselves but in our God? Our apostle in saying that God hath saved us refers to all the persons of the Divine Unity. The Father hath saved us. “God hath given to us eternal life.” 1 John v. 2. “The Father himself loveth you.” It was he whose gracious mind first conceived the thought of redeeming his chosen from the ruin of the fall; it was his mind which first planned the way of salvation by substitution; it was from his generous heart that the thought first sprang that Christ should suffer as the covenant head of his people, as saith the apostle, “ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved.” Eph. i. 3— 6. From the bowels of divine compassion came the gift of the only begotten Son: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The Father selected the persons who should receive an interest in the redemption of his Son, for these are described as “called according to his purpose.” Rom. viii. 28. The plan of salvation in all its details sprang from the Father’s wisdom and grace. The apostle did not, however, overlook the work of the Son. It is most certainly through the Son of God that we are saved, for is not his name Jesus, the Saviour? Incarnate in the flesh, his holy life is the righteousness in which saints are arrayed; while his ignominious and painful death has filled the sacred bath of blood in which the sinner must be washed that he may be made clean. It is through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus that the people of God become accepted in the Beloved. With one consent before the eternal throne they sing, “Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his blood, unto him be glory;” and they chant that hymn because he deserves the glory which they ascribe to him. It is the Son of God who is the Saviour of men, and men are not the saviours of themselves.

     Nor did the apostle, I am persuaded, forget that Third Person in the blessed Unity— the Holy Spirit. Who but the Holy Spirit first gives us power to understand the gospel? for “the carnal mind understandeth not the things that be of God.” Doth not the Holy Spirit influence our will, turning us from the obstinacy of our former rebellion to the obedience of the truth? Doth not the Holy Ghost renew us, creating us in Christ Jesus unto good works? Is it not by the Holy Spirit’s breath that we live in the spiritual life? Is he not to us instructor, comforter, quickener, is he not everything, in fact, through his active operations upon our mind? The Father, then, in planning, the Son in redeeming, the Spirit in applying the redemption must be spoken of as the one God “who hath saved us.”

     Brethren, to say that we save ourselves is to utter a manifest absurdity. We are called in Scripture “a temple”—a holy temple in the Lord. But shall any one assert that the stones of the edifice were their own architect? Shall it be said that the stones of the building in which we are now assembled cut themselves into their present shape, and then spontaneously came together, and piled this spacious edifice? Should any one assert such a foolish thing, we should be disposed to doubt his sanity; much more may we suspect the spiritual sanity of any man who should venture to affirm that the great temple of the church of God designed and erected itself. No: we believe that God the Father was the architect, sketched the plan, supplies the materials, and will complete the work. Shall it also be said that those who are redeemed redeemed themselves? that slaves of Satan break their own fetters? Then why was a Redeemer needed at all? How should there be any need for Jesus to descend into the world to redeem those who could redeem themselves? Do you believe that the sheep of God, whom he has taken from between the jaws of the lion, could have rescued themselves? It were a strange thing if such were the case. Our Lord Jesus came not to do a work of supererogation, but if he came to save persons who might have saved themselves, he certainly came without a necessity for so doing. We cannot believe that Christ came to do what the sinners might have done themselves. No. “He hath trodden the winepress alone, and of the people there was none with him,” and the redemption of his people shall give glory unto himself only. Shall it be asserted that those who were once dead have spiritually quickened themselves? Can the dead make themselves alive? Who shall assert that Lazarus, rotting in the grave, came forth to life of himself? If it be so said and so believed, then, nay, not even then, will we believe that the dead in sin have ever quickened themselves. Those who are saved by God the Holy Spirit are created anew according to Scripture; but who ever dreamed of creation creating itself? God spake the world out of nothing, but nothing did not aid in the creation of the universe. Divine energy can do everything, but what can nothing do? Now if we have a new creation, there must have been a creator, and it is clear that not being then spiritually created, we could not have assisted in our own new creation, unless, indeed, death can assist life, and non-existence aid in creation. The carnal mind does not assist the Spirit of God in new creating a man, but altogether regeneration is the work of God the Holy Ghost, and the work of renewal is from his unassisted power. Father, Son, and Spirit we then adore, and putting these thoughts together, we would humbly prostrate ourselves at the foot of the throne of the august Majesty, and acknowledge that if saved he alone hath saved us, and unto him be the glory.

     2. We next remark that grace is in this verse rendered conspicuous when we see that God pursues a singular method, “Who hath saved us and called us.” The peculiarity of the manner lies in three things— first, in the completeness of it. The apostle uses the perfect tense and says, “who hath saved us.” Believers in Christ Jesus are saved. They are not looked upon as persons who are in a hopeful state and may ultimately be saved, but they are already saved. This is not according to the common talk of professors now-a-days, for many of them speak of being saved when they come to die; but it is according to the usage of Scripture to speak of us who are saved. Be it known this morning that every man and woman here is either saved at this present moment or lost, and that salvation is not a blessing to be enjoyed upon the dying bed and to be sung of in a future state above, but a matter to be obtained, received, promised and enjoyed now. God hath saved his saints, mark, not partly saved them, but perfectly saved them. The Christian is perfectly saved in God's purpose; God has ordained him unto salvation, and that purpose is complete. He is saved also as to the price which has been paid for him; for this is done not in part but in whole. The substitutionary work which Christ has offered is not a certain proportion of the work to be done, but “it is finished” was the cry of the Saviour ere he died. The believer is also perfectly saved in his covenant head, for as we were utterly lost as soon as ever Adam fell, before we had committed any actual sin, so every man in Christ was saved in the second Adam when he finished his work. The Saviour completed his work, and in the sense in which Paul uses that expression, “He hath saved us.” This completeness is one peculiarity—we must mark another. I want you to notice the order as well as the completeness; “who hath saved us and called us. What! saved us before he called us? Yes, so the text says. But is a man saved before he is called by grace? Not in his own experience, not as far as the work of the Holy Spirit goes, but he is saved in God’s purpose, in Christ’s redemption, and in his relationship to his covenant Head; and he is saved, moreover, in this respect, that the work of his salvation is done, and he has only to receive it as a finished work. In the olden times of imprisonment for debt, it would have been quite correct for you to step into the cell of a debtor and say to him, I have freed you, if you had paid His debts and obtained an order for his discharge. Well, but he is still in prison. Yes; but you really liberated him as soon as you paid his debts. It is true he was still in prison, but he was not legally there, and no sooner did he know that the debt was paid, and that receipt was pleaded before proper authorities, than the man obtained his liberty. So the Lord Jesus Christ paid the debts of his people before they knew anything about it. Did he not pay them on the cross more than eighteen hundred years ago to the utmost penny? and is not this the reason why, as soon as he meets with us in a way of grace, he cries, “I have saved thee; lay hold on eternal life.” We are, then, virtually, though not actually, saved before we are called. “He hath saved us and called us.” There is yet a third peculiarity, and that is in connection with the calling. God has called us with an holy calling. Those whom the Saviour saved upon the tree are in due time effectually called by the power of God the Holy Spirit unto holiness; they leave their sins, they endeavour to be like Christ, they choose holiness, not out of any compulsion, but from the stress of a new nature, which leads them to rejoice in holiness, just as naturally as aforetime they delighted in sin. Whereas their old nature loved everything that was evil, their new nature cannot sin because it is born of God, and it loveth everything that is good. Does not the apostle mention this result of our calling in order to meet those who say that God calls his people because he foresees their holiness? Not so; he calls them to that holiness; that holiness is not a cause but an effect; it is not the motive of his purpose, but the result of his purpose. He neither chose them nor called them because they were holy, but he called them that they might be holy, and holiness is the beauty produced by his workmanship in them. The excellences which we see in a believer are as much the work of God as the atonement itself. This second point brings out very sweetly the fulness of the grace of God. First: salvation must be of grace, because the Lord is the author of it; and what motive but grace could move him to save the guilty? In the next place, salvation must be of grace, because the Lord works in such a manner that our righteousness is for ever excluded. Salvation is completed by God, and therefore not of man, neither by man; salvation is wrought by God in an order which puts our holiness as a consequence and not as a cause, and therefore merit is for ever disowned.

     3. When a speaker desires to strengthen his point and to make himself clear, he generally puts in a negative as to the other side. So the apostle adds a negative: — “Not according to our works.""""" The world’s great preaching is, “Do as well as you can, live a moral life, and God will save you.” The gospel preaching is this: — “Thou art a lost sinner, and thou canst deserve nothing of God but his displeasure; if thou art to be saved, it must be by an act of sovereign grace. God must freely extend the silver sceptre of his love to thee, for thou art a guilty wretch who deserves to be sent to the lowest hell. Thy best works are so full of sin that they can in no degree save thee; to the free mercy of God thou must owe all things.” “Oh,” saith one, “are good works of no use?” God’s works are of use when a man is saved, they are the evidences of his being saved; but good works do not save a man, good works do not influence the mind of God to save a man, for if so, salvation would be a matter of debt and not of grace. The Lord has declared over and over in his Word, “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” “By the works of the law there shall no flesh living be justified.” The apostle in the epistle to the Galatians is very strong indeed upon this point; indeed he thunders it out again, and again, and again. He denies that salvation is even so much as in part due to our works, for if it be by work then he declares it is not of grace, otherwise grace is no more grace; and if it be of grace it is not of works, otherwise work is no more work. Paul assures us that the two principles of grace and merit can no more mix together than fire and water; that if man is to be saved by the mercy of God, it must be by the mercy of God and not by works; but if man is to be saved by works, it must be by works entirely and not by mercy mixed therewith, for mercy and work will not go together. Jesus saves, but he does all the work or none. He is Author and Finisher, and works must not rob him of his due. Sinner, you must either receive salvation freely from the hand of Divine Bounty, or else you must earn it by your own unassisted merits, which last is utterly impossible. Oh that you would yield to the first! My brethren, this is the truth which still needs to be preached. This is the truth which shook all Europe from end to end when Luther first proclaimed it. Is not this the old thunderbolt which the great reformer hurled at Rome — “Justified freely by his grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus”? But why did God make salvation to be by faith? Scripture tells us— “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace.” If it had been by works it must have been by debt; but since it is by faith, we can clearly see that there can be no merit, in faith. It must be therefore by grace.

     4. My text is even more explicit yet, for the eternal purpose is mentioned. The next thing the apostle says is this: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose.” Mark that word— “according to his own purpose.” Oh how some people wriggle over that word, as if they were worms on a fisherman’s hook! but there it stands, and cannot be got rid of. God saves his people “according to his purpose,” nay, “according to his own purpose.” My brethren and sisters, do you not see how all the merit and the power of the creature are shut out here, when you are saved, not according to your purpose or merit, but “according tote own purpose”? I shall not dwell on this; it is not exactly the object of this morning’s discourse to bring out in full the great mystery of electing love, but I will not for a moment keep back the truth. If any man be saved, it is not because he purposed to be saved, but because God purposed to save him. Have ye never read the Holy Spirit’s testimony: “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy”? The Saviour said to his apostles what he in effect says also to us, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye might bring forth fruit.” Some hold one and some another view concerning the freedom of the will, but our Saviour’s doctrine is, “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.” Ye will not come; your wills will never bring you; if ye do come, it is because grace inclined you. “No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” “Whosoever cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” is a great and precious general text, but it is quite consistent with the rest of the same verse — “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me.” Our text tells us that our salvation is “according to his own purpose.” It is a strange thing that men should be so angry against the purpose of God. We ourselves have a purpose; we permit our fellow creatures to have some will of their own, and especially in giving away their own goods; but my God is to be bound and fettered by men, and not permitted to do as he wills with his own. But be this known unto ye, O men that reply against God, that he giveth no account of his matters, but asks of you, “Can I not do as I will with mine own?” He ruleth in heaven, and in the armies of this lower world, and none can stay his hand or say unto him, “What doest thou?”

     5. But then the text, lest we should make any mistake, adds, “according to his own purpose and grace.” The purpose is not founded on foreseen merit, hut upon grace alone. It is grace, all grace, nothing but grace from first to last. Man stands shivering outside, a condemned criminal, and God sitting upon the throne, sends the herald to tell him that he is willing to receive sinners and to pardon them. The sinner replies, “Well, I am willing to be pardoned if I am permitted to do something in order to earn pardon. If I can stand before the King and claim that I have done something to win his favour, I am quite willing to come.” But the herald replies, “No: if you are pardoned, you must understand it is entirely and wholly as an act of grace on God’s part. He sees nothing good in you, he knows that there is nothing good in you; he is willing to take you just as you are, black, and bad, and wicked, and undeserving; he is willing to give you graciously what he would not sell to you, and what he knows you cannot earn of him. Will you have it?” and naturally every man says, “No, I will not be saved in that style.” Well, then, soul, remember that thou wilt never be saved at all, for God’s way is salvation by grace. You will have to confess if ever you are saved, my dear hearer, that you never deserved one single blessing from the God of grace; you will have to give all the glory to his holy name if ever you get to heaven. And mark you, even in the matter of the acceptance of this offered mercy, you will never accept it unless he makes you willing. He does freely present it to every one of you, and he honestly bids you come to Christ and live; but come you never will, I know, except the effectual grace which first provided mercy shall make you willing to accept that mercy. So the text tells us it is his own purpose and grace.

     6. Again, in order to shut out everything like boasting, the whole is spoken of as a gift. Do notice that; lest (for we are such straying sheep in this matter)— lest we should still slip out of the field, it is added, “purpose and grace which he gave us”—not “which he sold us,” “offered us,” but “which he gave us.” He must have a word here which shall be a death-blow to all merit, — “which he gave us”— it was given; and what can be freer than a gift, and what more evidently of grace?

     7. But the gift is bestowed through a medium which glorifies Christ. It is written, “which was given us in Christ Jesus.” We ask to have mercy from the well-head of grace, but we ask not even to make the bucket in which it is to be brought to us; Christ is to be the sacred vessel in which the grace of God is to be presented to our thirsty lips. Now where is boasting? Why surely there it sits at the foot of the cross and sings, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Is it not grace and grace alone?

     8. Yet further, a period is mentioned and added— “before the world began” Those last words seem to me for ever to lay prostrate all idea of anything of our own merits in saving ourselves, because it is here witnessed that God gave us grace “before the world began.” Where were you then? What hand had you in it “before the world began?” Why, fly back if you can in imagination to the ancient years when those venerable mountains, that elder birth of nature, were not yet formed; when world, and sun, and moon, and stars, were all in embryo in God’s great mind; when the unnavigated sea of space had never been disturbed by wing of seraph, and the awful silence of eternity had never been startled by the song of cherubim—when God dwelt alone. If you can conceive that time before all time, that vast eternity—it was then he gave us grace in Christ Jesus. What, O soul, hadst thou to do with that? Where were thy merits then? Where wast thou thyself? O thou small dust of the balance, thou insect of a day, where wert thou? See how Jehovah reigned, dispensing mercy as he would, and ordaining unto eternal life without taking counsel of man or angel, for neither man or angel then had an existence. That it might be all of grace he gave us grace before the world began.

     I have honestly read out the doctrine of the text, and nothing more. If such is not the meaning of the text I do not know the meaning of it, and I cannot therefore tell you what it is, but I believe that I have given the natural and grammatical teaching of the text. If you do not like the doctrine why I cannot help it. I did not make the text, and if I have to expound it I must expound it honestly as it is in my Master’s Word, and I pray you to receive what he says whatever you may do with what I say.

     II. I shall want your patience while I try to SHOW THE USES OF THIS DOCTRINE.

     The doctrine of grace has been put by in the lumber chamber. It is acknowledged to be true, for it is confessed in most creeds; it is in the Church of England articles, it is in the confessions of all sorts of Protestant Christians, except those who are avowedly Arminian, but how little is it ever preached! It is put among the relics of the past. It is considered to be a respectable sort of retired officer, who is not expected to see any more active service. Now I believe that it is not a superannuated officer in the Master’s army, but that it is as full of force and vigour as ever. But what is the use of it? Why, first then, it is clear from the connection that it has a tendency to embolden the man who receives it. Paul tells Timothy not to be ashamed, and he gives this as a motive: — How can a man be ashamed when he believes that God has given him grace in Christ Jesus before the world was? Suppose the man to be very poor. “Oh,” says he, “what matters it? Though I have but a little oil in the cruse, and a little meal in the barrel, yet I have a lot and a portion in everlasting things. My name is not in Doomsday Book nor in Burke’s Peerage; but it is in the book of God’s election, and was there before the world began.” Such a man dares look the proudest of his fellows in the face. This was the doctrine on which the brave old Ironsides fed; the men who, when they rode to battle with the war-cry of “The Lord of hosts!” made the cavaliers fly before them like chaff before the wind. No doctrine like it for putting a backbone into a man, and making him feel that he is made for something better than to be trodden down like straw for the dunghill beneath a despot’s heel. Sneer who will, the elect of God derive a nobility from the divine choice which no royal patent can outshine.

     I would that free grace were more preached, because it gives men something to believe with confidence. The great mass of professing have something confidence Christians know nothing of doctrine; their religion consists in going a certain number of times to a place of worship, but they have no care for truth one way or another. I speak without any prejudice in this matter; but I have talked with a large number of persons in the course of my very extensive pastorate, who have been for years members of other churches, and when I have asked them a few questions upon doctrinal matters it did not seem to me that they were in error; they were perfectly willing to believe almost anything that any earnest man might teach them, but they did not know anything, they had no minds of their own, and no definite opinions. Our children, who have learned “The Westminster Assembly’s Confession of Faith,” know more about the doctrines of grace and the doctrine of the Bible than hundreds of grown-up people who attend a ministry which very eloquently teaches nothing. It was observed by a very excellent critic not long ago, that if you were to hear thirteen lectures on astronomy or geology, you might get a pretty good idea of what the science was, and the theory of the person who gave the lectures; but that if you were to hear thirteen hundred sermons from some ministers, you would not know at all what they were preaching about or what their doctrinal sentiments were. It ought not to be so. Is not this the reason why Puseyism spreads so, and all sorts of errors have such a foothold, because our people as a whole do not know what they believe? The doctrines of the gospel, if well received, give to a man something which he knows and which he holds and which will become dear to him, for which he would be prepared to die if the fires of persecution were again kindled.

     Better still is it that this doctrine not only gives the man something to hold but it holds the man. Let a man once have burnt into him that salvation is of God and not of man, and that God’s grace is to be glorified and not human merit, and you will never get that belief out of him; it is the rarest thing in all the world to hear of such a man ever apostatizing from his faith. Other doctrine is slippery ground, like the slope of a mountain composed of loose earth and rolling stones, down which the traveller may slide long before he can even get a transient foothold; but this is like a granite step upon the eternal pyramid of truth; get your feet on this, and there is no fear of slipping so far as doctrinal standing is concerned. If we would have our churches in England well instructed and holding fast the truth, we must bring out the grand old verity of the eternal purpose of God in Christ Jesus before the world began. Oh may the Holy Spirit write it on our hearts!

     Moreover, my brethren, this doctrine overwhelms as with an avalanche all the claims of priestcraft. Let it be told to men that they are saved by God, and they say at once, “Then what is the good of the priest?” If they are told it is God’s grace then they say, “Then you do not want our money to buy masses and absolutions,” and down goes the priest at once. Beloved, this is the battering ram that God uses with which to shake the gates of hell. How much more forcible than the pretty essays of many divines, which have no more power than bulrushes, no more light than smoking flax. What do you suppose people used to meet in woods for in persecuting times, meet by thousands outside the town of Antwerp, and such-like places on the Continent, in jeopardy of their lives? Do you suppose they would ever have come together to hear that poor milk-and-water theology of this age, or to receive the lukewarm milk and water of our modern anti-Calvinists? Not they, my brethren. They needed stronger meat, and more savoury diet to attract them thus. Do you imagine that when it was death to listen to the preacher, that men under the shadows of night, and amid the wings of tempest would then listen to philosophical essays, or to mere moral precepts, or to diluted, adulterated, soul-less, theological suppositions? No, there is no energy in that kind of thing to draw men together under fear of their lives. But what did bring them together in the dead of night amidst the glare of lightning, and the roll of thunder— what brought them together? Why, the doctrine of the grace of God, the doctrine of Jesus, and of his servants Paul, and Augustine, and Luther, and Calvin? for there is something in that doctrine which touches the heart of the Christian, and gives him food such as his soul loveth, savoury meat, suitable to his heaven-born appetite. To hear this men braved death, and defied the sword. And if we are to see once again the scarlet hat plucked from the wearer’s head, and the shaven crowns with all the gaudy trumpery of Rome sent back to the place from whence they came— and Heaven grant that they may take our Puseyite Established Church with them— it must be by declaring the doctrines of the grace of God. When these are declared and vindicated in every place, we shall yet again make these enemies of God and man to know that they cannot stand their ground for a moment, where men of God wield the sword of the Lord and of Gideon by preaching the doctrines of the grace of God.

     Brethren, let the man receive these truths; let them be written in his heart by the Holy Spirit, and they will make him look up. He will say, “God has saved me!” and he will walk with a constant eye to God. He will not forget to see the hand of God in nature and in providence; he will, on the contrary, discern the Lord working in all places, and will humbly adore him. He will not give to laws of nature or schemes of state the glory due to the Most High, but will have respect unto the unseen Ruler. “What the Lord saith to me that will I do,” is the believer’s language. “What is his will that will I follow; what is his word, that will I believe; what is his promise, on that I will live.” It is a blessed habit to teach a man to look up, look up to God in all things.

     At the same time this doctrine makes a man look down upon himself. “Ah,” saith he, “I am nothing, there is nothing in me to merit esteem. I have no goodness of my own. If saved, I cannot praise myself; I cannot in any way ascribe to myself honour; God has done it, God has done it.” Nothing makes the man so humble; but nothing makes him so glad; nothing lays him so low at the mercy seat, but nothing makes him so brave to look his fellow man in the face. It is a grand truth: would God ye all knew its mighty power!

     Lastly, this precious truth is full of comfort to the sinner, and that is why I love it. As it has been preached by some it has been exaggerated and made into a bugbear. Why, there are some who preach the doctrine of election as though it were a line of sharp pikes to keep a sinner from coming to Christ, as though it were a sharp, glittering halbert to be pushed into the breast of a coming sinner to keep him from mercy. Now it is not so. Sinner, whoever you may be, wherever you may be, your greatest comfort should be to know that salvation is by grace. Why man, if it were by merit, what would become of you? Suppose that God saved men on account of their merits, where would you drunkards be? where would you swearers be? you who have been unclean and unchaste, and you whose hearts have cursed God, and who even now do not love him, where would you be? But when it is all of grace, why then all your past life, however black and filthy it may be, need not keep you from coming to Jesus. Christ receiveth sinners, God has elected sinners; he has elected some of the blackest of sinners—why not you? He receives every one that comes to him. He will not cast you out. There have been some who have hated him, insulted him to his face, that have burned his servants alive, and have persecuted him in his members, but as soon as even they have cried, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” he has given them mercy at once, and he will give it to you if you be led to seek it. If I had to tell you that you were to work out your own salvation apart from his grace it were a sad look-out for you, but when it comes to you thus: black, there is washing for you! dead! there is life for you! naked! there is raiment for you! All undone and ruined! here is a complete salvation for you! O soul, mayest thou have grace to lay hold of it, and then thou and I together will sing to the praise of the glory of divine grace.



Peter’s Three Calls

By / Jun 22

Peter’s Three Calls

 

“And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.” — John i. 37.
“And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” — Matt. iv. 18, 19.
“And he called unto him his twelve disciples . . . . the first, Simon, who is called Peter.” — Matt. x. 1, 2.

 

PERHAPS you are aware that there has always been a certain set of persons who have tried to disprove the gospel narrative by picking out what they suppose to be discrepancies, especially in the statements of Matthew and Luke. Four independent persons have each given us a separate story of the Life of Christ, each story being written with a distinct object. Of course, from the fact that each one was written with a distinct object, it was natural that one evangelist should give more attention to certain points in the history of Christ than the others, and it was natural for his eye to be fixed upon those things which most concerned the point which he had in hand, and for his ear to be most quick to catch those words which had a relation to the object he was driving at throughout the whole of his gospel. Now, these divergences and differences have been so many pegs upon which quibblers have hung their quibbles, and these men have constantly been saying, “How do you reconcile Matthew with John in a certain place, or how do you reconcile Mark, in such another place, with Luke?” Now, it is not always easy to harmonize the testimony of four perfectly honest witnesses upon the same subject. I will venture to say, that if there should be a simple accident upon the railway, and four persons present were to give their accounts of it with rigid exactness, yet they would each one be likely to mention some point not mentioned by the other, and, moreover, differ upon the points which they notice in common. Although we might be morally convinced that they all spoke the truth, yet it would be difficult to put the story together so as to make a harmonious whole of it. Sometimes it is not easy to put the stories of the Evangelists together, and many of the “Gospel Harmonies,” so called, which have been produced by very admirable writers, are not quite correct, but show at once the difficulty attaching to that which some brethren have been trying to attempt, and which perhaps will never be fully carried out, namely, the making of it into one harmonious idyl.

      It so happens, however, that the difficulty in the case before us is no difficulty at all. John tells us that Peter was called by Christ through the preaching of John the Baptist, who bore witness that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. Matthew, on the other hand, tells us that Peter and his brother were fishing, that Christ was walking by the lake of Galilee, and that as he passed by he saw these men fishing, called them by name, and said, “Follow me.” Now, the key to the whole may be found in the fact that there was yet a third call, and that afterwards Jesus called, not Peter and Andrew alone, but the whole twelve of his disciples, and set them apart to be apostles; and so we gather from this last call that the other two might perhaps have been different and distinct from each other. Coming to look at the subject we find that the first call was the call at Peter’s conversion, which called him to be a disciple while still at his daily avocation; the second was the call of Peter, not to be a mere disciple, but to be an evangelist; and the third was the call of Peter, not to be an evangelist or a common servant of the Master, but to be a leader, to take a yet higher grade, and to become one of the twelve who should be associated with Christ as the founders of the new system of religion, and witnesses of the life of Christ himself.

     I. I want you, then, just fora moment to bear in mind that we have under our consideration THREE CALLS: (1) the first is, that which Christ gave to Peter when he called him out of darkness into marvellous light, blessing to him at first the testimony of John, and then by manifesting himself to him; (2) the second is, the call by which the servant already converted, already willing, is bidden to put himself into closer relationship with his Lord, to come out and be no longer a servant whose allegiance is true but not manifest, but to show that fealty by following his Master; (3) and the third call is, that which the Saviour gives only to a few whom he has picked out and chosen to do some special work, who shall have fellowship with him more closely still, and become captains in the ranks of

“The sacramental host of God’s elect.”

     We shall speak of these three calls in the order in which they occur. Very briefly I shall go through the subject, speaking at length about the second call which Peter received.

     1. Notice the personal call to be a disciple. These three calls are given in a certain order. Observe where it begins. Peter was not called to be an evangelist before he was called to be a follower. Christ begins by first teaching us our own need of him, and our own sin, and then revealing himself to us as the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world. It is a presumption— what if I say an accursed, treason— against the Majesty of the great Head of the Church, if any man pretends to reverse this order. You must first be called yourselves into Christ before you may dare to even so much as think about being called into the ministry or into the service of Christ. You cannot serve him until first of all you have learned to sit at his feet. Before you can serve God you must have a new heart and a right spirit. The blind eye is not fit for the service of Christ. The eye must be illuminated, the understanding must be instructed. That stubborn will of yours cannot bear the yoke of Christ; it must be subdued. “Ye must be born again.” Should there be some among you here tonight who are teaching in Sunday-schools, distributing tracts, or in any other way are trying to serve God, and yet are not yourselves saved, I would very affectionately, but with great earnestness, entreat you to consider that you are reversing the natural and proper order of things. Your first business is at home, in your own soul and your own heart. I will not apply to you the words of the prophet, “Unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes?” But I think there is a spirit in those terrible words, which might well have an application to you. How can you be a guide until you are first able yourself to see, for “if the blind lead the blind, they shall both fall into the ditch”? How can you, diseased and leprous, begin to heal others, for it shall be said to you, “Physician, heal thyself”? How can you when the beam is in your own eye go abroad to point out the beams and the motes which are in other men’s eyes? Oh! take care, take care lest this very service to Christ, as you think it, be an injury to you, for you may serve Christ after a sort till you begin to think that you do so much, and do it so well, that you must be a Christian. You may spin for yourself a robe which shall seem sufficient to cover you withal, and you may go and dress in this cobweb, this mere figment of a fictitious righteousness, and persuade yourself that you are wearing the robe of Christ’s righteousness, whereas you shall be found at the last to be naked, and poor, and miserable. Oh! I pray you to understand those meaning words, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Behold him for yourselves, see him for yourselves. Do not talk about being a fisher of men; do not speak of being a servant whose loins are girt, and whose lamp is trimmed, until first you have become as a little child, for unless you so become you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.

     2. But, dear friends, after the first call has been received, it is very delightful to observe the Christian receiving the second. He is called into active service. Simon Peter became a disciple, but all that he meant by that was, “I acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah,” and he went away and continued with his good brother in the fishing business. It never, perhaps, entered into his head that he was to do anything more than to cultivate a quiet peaceful faith, and walk in a life consistent therewith. But on a sudden he sees this famous man of Nazareth walking by the sea-side, who addresses him by name, and says to him, “Follow me;” and in a moment, putting down his net, and leaving his relative with his two companions James and John, equally famous in the battle-roll of Christian heroes, he left all to follow Christ.

     Now. I may have some here to-night who are saved. You are the disciples of Jesus, but I regret to know that he has not yet been seen by you as calling you into his service. You have joined the church, and you have been baptized into the faith of Christ, and so far it is good; but as yet it has not struck you that you are to be actively engaged for Christ. Now, it is not in my power to call you to the service, nor to indicate to you what special form that service shall take; but, my dear friends, I do pray that you may have another revelation of the Lord Jesus yet more full and bright, and that he may say to you, “Come, man, thou art not thine own; thou art bought with a price; serve me; arise, gird up thy loins, and wait upon the Lord.” I trust that he may lay his hand upon you to-night, and say to you as he did to the assembled twelve, “ As my Father hath sent me into the world even so send I you;” and may you have grace to obey the mandate, and though it may be something which has been distasteful to you, some Christian engagement in which you have never been occupied before, may you have grace to say, “Here am I, Lord, send me,” whatever the business may happen to be. Ah! what would a church be if it consisted altogether of persons of this sort? What vigour should we have in the Christian army if every soldier felt called to fight! But some of you do not realize your duty in this respect. I would that you would take a farther step. I would that the spirit of service fell upon you, so that you did not merely wear the robe of righteousness but the mantle of service too. Oh! brethren, by the love which

“Saw you ruined in the fall,
Yet loved you notwithstanding all,”

by the love which gave up its honour and its glory, and took upon itself the form of a servant for your sakes; by the love which sweat great drops of blood in the garden, by the love which emptied out its heart that you might be redeemed from ruin, I pray you, hear Jesus saying to you, “Follow me;” and do follow him, follow him in active, industrious, persevering consecration, and from this day forth, if you have hitherto been but a sleeping partner in the great Christian firm, if you have been content to ride upon the gospel chariot, instead of drawing it or adding an impulse to its wheels, may you say, “My Lord, fill me with the zeal which possessed thee; kindle in me the same spirit of service which burned so brightly in thyself, and as thou didst call Peter, and Andrew, and James, and John, so do thou call me, and say, ‘Follow me.’” You notice, then, that this second call follows the first call, and it is a blessed thing when it does thus succeed and is obeyed.

     3. But in the third text which I gave you, you find Peter called to another service above that of an ordinary worker, that is to say, he is called to be an apostle.

     I will venture here to trace an analogy between this and the calling of the Christian minister. You will observe that this call comes last. The call to the apostleship does not come first. Peter is first the catechumen or disciple; secondly, the evangelist; and thirdly, the apostle. So, no man is called to be specially set apart to the ministry of Christ, or to have a share in the apostleship until he has first of all himself known Christ, and until, secondly, as an ordinary Christian he has fully exercised himself in all the duties which are proper to Christian service. Now, some people turn this topsy-turvy. Young men who have never preached are set apart to the ministry, those who have never visited the sick, never instructed the ignorant, and are totally devoid of any knowledge of gospel experience except the little of their own, are supposed to be dedicated to the Christian ministry. I believe this to be a radical and a fatal error. Brethren, we have no right to thrust a brother into the ministry until he has first given evidence of his own conversion, and has also given proof not only of being a good average worker but something more. If he cannot labour in the church before he pretends to be a minister, he is good for nothing. If he cannot whilst he is a private member of the church perform all the duties of that position with zeal and energy, and if he is not evidently a consecrated man whilst he is a private Christian, certainly you do not feel the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit to bid him enter the ministry. No man has a right to aspire to come into that office until, like the knights of old, he has first won his spurs, and has shown that he is really devoted to Christ by having served him as others have done. Let me say that it would be a very great mercy for this Christian church if some persons would not take this last place at all, but would be content to stop in the second one. There are many men who when set apart to the Christian ministry are a drag and burden to the churches as well as to other people, who if they had but given up themselves as ordinary members to Christian service might have been a very great blessing and honour to the church. One of the kindest pieces of advice I could give to some of our ministerial friends would be, “Go home, brother; take off your black coat and your white tie, and put yourself into some honest way of getting a living; just think whether you were not more serviceable to the church when you were a carpenter or a tradesman, and when you were earning a considerable sum of money at your own ordinary avocation, than you are now, when you are necessarily dependent upon the gifts and liberality of God’s servants without having the ability and the talent which are necessary to make you a leader in the Lord’s host.” I pray the day may come when we shall all see this, and never think of giving ourselves to the ministry before conversion, and even then aspire not after special work until first of all we have proved that we can serve the Lord in our ordinary life.

     Occasionally I have brethren come to me asking to be received into our College, and one singular reason which some of them give me why they believe that they are called to the ministry is this: “You see, sir, I could not get on at anything else, and therefore I thought Providence must have ordained me to be a minister.” I never say a word about that, but I am very clear that if a man is such a fool that he can do nothing else but preach, it is a great pity that he should be allowed to do that; and when a brother tells me that, I sometimes venture to ask him if he thinks that God wants the biggest fools to serve him, whether there should not rather be given up to God’s service the very pick, and prime, and flower of the Christian church, those men who, if they had addicted themselves to commerce, might have taken the lead therein, or who, if they had given themselves to the bar or to the profession of surgery or medicine, would have stood in the front rank? I believe, brethren, we want strong men to take such a position, and that the Lord Jesus Christ has a keen eye, and when he does call a man he calls him to something that he is fit for. Take the cases of Peter and Paul. Peter was a fisherman, it is true; but a fisherman of such a peculiar breed that it would be well if God would find us more of the same sort, who would become fishers of men; and as for Paul, he was one well skilled and learned in all matters, and just fitted and adapted to the work which the Master gave him to do.

     II. I have thus noticed these three calls; but I want now to direct your earnest and particular attention to the second call, because of the lessons to be learnt from the CHARACTER OF THE MEN CHOSEN, and the NATURE OF THE WORK entrusted to them.

     The second call is recorded in the fourth chapter of Matthew and the eighteenth verse; and it deserves our attention, because we perceive that these brethren were called to the service of Christ whilst they were engaged in their ordinary avocations.

     It seems to have been early in the morning, for Peter was just starting on his work, and was casting his net into the sea; and in the twenty-first verse we find that James and John were mending their nets, so that they were all industrious in their ordinary calling. There is a notion abroad amongst some persons that they cannot serve God unless they neglect their ordinary work. This used to be a complaint brought against the Methodists in the olden time. I believe it was a great falsehood; but it was stated that they were so earnest in listening to sermons that they made bad servants and bad tradespeople. If it was so it was a very grievous fault, but I do not think it ever was the case. However, let none of us fall into it. If I were a Christian and a fisherman, I should like to catch more fish than anybody else. If I were a Christian and a shoeblack, I should desire to clean people’s boots so that they shone better than any other shoeblack could make them shine. If I were a Christian master, I should desire to be the best master, and if a Christian servant the best servant. Our Christianity, I think, shows itself more, at any rate to the world, in the pursuits of daily life, than it does in the engagements of the house of God. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.” I scarce need give that exhortation here, but when you do assemble yourselves together, come not up to God’s house having the blood of other duties upon your spirits. You are a mother with little children, and it is probably your duty to be at home rather than to be at the prayer meeting. It may sometimes be your business, as a husband, to take turns with your wife, and let her come out to the house of God, instead of always taking the privilege yourself. It may be the case with some of you that your trade may absolutely require you to be behind the counter both on lecture and on prayer-meeting night, and though I would have you here if possible, and if you do go anywhere go to the house of God, yet do not let it ever be said, or even whispered, that you did not attend to your business, and that you came to grief because the things of God were cared for, and your business in consequence neglected. I think it never should be so. I like to recollect that after Jesus Christ had gone away; after he was crucified, died, had been buried, and had risen again, where did he find Peter? Why, he found him fishing again! That is right, Peter. Follow Christ by all manner of means when he bids you, but when there is nothing to do in the service of Christ come back to fishing again. Oh! but some people seem to think that hard work in attending to ordinary business is not spiritual-minded in a Christian. Nonsense! Out with that difficulty, if any of you are troubled by it. Just ask the Lord to clear your brains, and brush away such cobwebs as these, for we shall never have genuine Christianity in the world while such nonsense remains. Nonsense about giving up the world, meaning thereby living in laziness! The truest Christian is the working man, who so labours for God that he does not neglect the common duties of life. The best form of Christianity is found in the Christian who is a Christian behind the counter, a Christian on ’Change, a Christian in the street, a Christian in the marketplace, a Christian anywhere; and who, wherever and whenever he may be found, is like his Master— “diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”

     I think no man will ever serve Christ aright who does not show some energy in other things. I think the Saviour chose these two men, not only out of sovereign grace unto salvation, but also because he saw about them a zeal in the pursuit of fishery which seemed to mark them out as being the very men to be made useful in his own cause. Notice the character of the men who were thus called to work for Christ; they were active, diligent men, engaged in their own calling. Notice what their occupation was. When Christ called them he said, “You are fishers, and you shall be fishers all your lives; but you are fishers of fish now, and I want you to be fishers of men.” He mentions their vocation, and the work he is going to give them. O my brethren and sisters, if you are saved I pray that Jesus may give you that second call, so that you may be earnest “fishers of men”!

     There is a great deal in that sentence, “fishers of men,” a very great deal more than we can bring out now. A fisherman, you know, must be acquainted with the sea. Peter knew the Lake of Galilee; I dare say there was not a creek or an inlet in it with which he was not acquainted; he knew the deep places where some kinds of fish were to be found, and the shallow places where others could be caught. And so if you would serve Christ you must know a good deal about men; you must study human nature, and you must watch your opportunities of doing good. You know there are some places where you can meet with more sinners than in others, and there is a certain way of dealing with one disposition, and quite another way of dealing with another. If you are to be a “fisher of men,” you must take good stock of the neighbourhood where you live. If you would be a “fisher of men” in the Tabernacle, I hope you will know the people near whom you sit, for as you know them, and their pursuits in daily life, and their characters and dispositions, you will be more likely to be blessed, by the help of God’s Spirit, in bringing them to a knowledge of the truth. A fisherman must be acquainted with the locality where he has to work.

     A fisherman must also know how to allure the fish. I saw on Lake Como, when we visited Bellagio, some men fishing. They had torches burning in their boats, and the fish were attracted to them by the glare of the light. You must know how to get the fish together. You know there is such a thing as the ground-bait for the fishes. You must know how to allure men. The preacher does this by using images, symbols, and illustrations. You must know how to catch the fish, throwing out first, perhaps, not a remark directly to the point, because that might be unwise, but a sideway remark, which shall lead to another, and yet another. If you are to be a “fisher of men” you will want your wits about you. It will not do to blunder over men’s souls. Fish are not caught by every boy who chooses to take a pin and a piece of cotton and make his way to the pond. Fish want a fisherman, and there is a sort of congruity between the fish and the man who catches them. I do not wonder that Izaak Walton could catch fish. He seems to have been born and made on purpose for it, and so there are some men who are made on purpose for winning souls. They naturally care for their fellows, and they have such a way of putting the truth, that as soon as they speak men say, “Here is a man come who knows all about me, and knows how to deal with me,” and they at once yield to his influence. Oh that I had hundreds of such in this church! I have a good share of them, and I bless God every time I remember them. God has called them, and has made them true fishers of men; they know about men, and also how to allure them.

     The fisherman must be a man who can wait with patience. Oh the patience of a fisherman! “We have toiled all night,” said the disciples, “and have taken nothing.” You cannot be a fisherman unless you are willing to sit and watch, especially if you angle. There you may sit for hours and hours together, and at last when the float begins to move you think you have got your fish, but probably it is only a weed or a frog, and you may watch, and watch, and watch again, and nothing will come of it. Ah! but it is harder work still to wait in Christ’s service, to preach twenty times and have no conversions, perhaps to go on teaching in a Sunday school and to see no heart-breaking work done, no sinners crying, “What must I do to be saved?” but to have to go to your knees and say, “Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” You will want something within to help you to wait thus; you will want the Holy Spirit of grace himself dwelling in you to supply you with divine patience, or else you will throw up your work, give away your nets, and say, “I will do something that pays me better than this.”

     A fisherman, too, is one who must run hazards. Especially was this so on the Lake of Galilee, for that, like many other lakes, was subject to fierce storms. The winds sometimes came rushing down from the mountains, and before the fisherman could take in his sail his boat would be upset. And truly every worker for Christ must expect squalls and stormy weather. Do not think, dear friends, to serve Jesus Christ in those kid gloves and in that nice dainty style of yours. That is not the way in which fish are caught out at sea; it is rough work, and requires a man who can let the wind howl about him without being afraid of his fine curls, or of having the perfume taken out of them. It needs a man that has a bold face and a brave heart, and who when the storm comes looks up to the God of Storms, and feels that he is on his Master’s service, and may therefore count upon his Master’s protection. May the Lord call many members of this church to such work as this, and when the Master shall drag home our net full of big fishes, we shall have a rich reward for all the toils of Christian labour.

     The fisherman, once again, must be one who has learned both how to persevere and how to expect. The fisherman goes on, and on, and on, and fishes, not sometimes but continually. As Christ’s good sower must take the precept, “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand,” so also must his fisherman. “We have toiled all night and taken nothing; nevertheless, at thy command we will let down the net.” But I said he must also learn to expect. He must have twinkling in his soul, like a bright particular star, the hope that he shall drag his net to land full of fishes at the last. Beloved, we shall not labour in vain; we shall not spend our strength for nought. We may not live to see the result of the truth which we proclaim, but

“The precious seed shall ne’er be lost,
For grace ensures the crop.”

We must learn to believe in the indestructibility of every truthful testimony, in the immortality of every good deed, in the resurrection of every buried word to live in the sight of God. We must

“learn to labour and to wait.”

There are three words which have been running in my mind for the last few days, and have seemed to work themselves into me, and I hope I may long keep them. One word is Work, another is Wait, and the other is Pray. Work, work, work! Wait, wait, wait! Pray, pray, pray! I think that these three words will enable a man to be, under God, a true and successful fisher of men.

     I have thus described the sort of men who were called, and the work which Christ gave them to do over and above the work in which they were engaged.

     I now want you to notice the prompt obedience of Peter to this call.

     I wonder how it was that Peter came directly Christ said, “Follow me” We know that Peter was a disciple, and consequently, his heart was ready to receive the word which called him to be a servant. It is of no use for me to call some of you to follow Christ, and work for him as “fishers of men;” for if you were to obey, you could not do it acceptably, because you are not the children of God. But you who are saved have something in your hearts that will echo to the exhortation, “Follow me” so that methinks you need only to have a good work set fairly before you, and to know what it is that the Master requires of you, and you will say at once, “Lord, I will do it,” for

“’Tis love that makes our cheerful feet
In swift obedience move.”

When the heart loves Christ, then the path of duty, which before was rough and rugged, becomes straight and smooth, if not flowery, and the soul says, —

“Help me to run in thy commands,
’Tis a delightful road;
Nor let my heart, nor feet, nor hands,
Offend against my God.”

Beloved friend, very much of the excellence of our service to Christ will depend upon the instantaneous way in which we do it when we know it to be a duty. I believe that debating with one’s-self about duty is a very dangerous thing. David said, “I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.” Peter did not say, “ Lord, let me stop and dry these nets, and hang them up, and bring the boat to shore, and then cast anchor and leave it right,” nor did James and John say, “ Master, let us go home and kiss that dear mother of ours, and let us see that Zebedee has somebody to take our place;” but immediately they left their nets, and followed Christ. May I urge upon you the habit of falling into the line of duty instantly. When soldiers are being drilled I like to see the way in which the word of command is obeyed the instant it is given. “Right about face!” and the whole line turns right about at once. The thing is done, we say, mechanically. It should be so with us. But I know how it is; we get a right good thought of something we ought to do, but we stop and say, “ Now, shall I do it, and when shall I do it?” and for the first hour or two we mean to do it, but by the next day we think it possible that we will decline it, and perhaps when a week is over we give it up altogether. I believe that this is so with many, many Christians in the matter of believers’ baptism: to give one instance out of many, they say, “ Well, I used to think of it when I was young, and I then believed it was my duty, and I think it is my duty now, if I really came to consult the Word of God about it, but I have put it off so long; well, perhaps I may see to it one of these days,” while there is another and far more likely “ perhaps,” namely, that having procrastinated so long over that one duty, they will suffer it to go by default. Do not toy with Christian service, brethren. There would have been more earnest Whitfields in the world, more Wesleys, more devoted Brainerds and Martyns, if men obeyed the call of God instead of taking counsel of flesh and blood, and considering this, that, and the other, and then resolving not to obey. Remember, it is possible for us to have grace in the heart, and yet to be disobedient. We have many such mournful specimens. We cannot but hope that they will enter heaven, for they are washed in the precious blood, and clothed in the Saviour’s righteousness, but they do little, if anything, for Christ, because they have tampered with his calls, they have violated convictions, and have started back from duties in the exercise of their unbelief, instead of pressing forward in the glory and the majesty of a simple faith in Christ Jesus. If you feel that you have anything to do, do it directly. If God calls you to preach before you go home, do it in the street, I pray you, and if there is anything which claims your immediate attention, if there is a poor person you ought to relieve, if there is anyone to whom you ought to speak before leaving this place, I beseech you do not trifle with the conviction, but as faithful servants of Jesus Christ, being saved, and professing to love him, I pray you, instantly, to do whatever you feel you ought to do for him. I have heard of the question being asked in a school, what was the meaning of the text. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” One said, it meant that it should be done truthfully; and another, that it should be done unanimously; but a third said, it meant, that it should be done without asking any questions, and the answer was a good one, for we who do know and love Christ, should be willing to do his will without asking any questions.

      I must not, however, keep you much longer. I will notice, lastly, that when the call came to Peter in the shape of “Follow me,” it must have suggested to him many thoughts; for it contained, in addition to mere service, privilege as well as duty. There was a book written not many years ago, by an excellent divine, to which I cannot quite subscribe, I mean Dr. Bushnell’s “Higher Life.” I cannot subscribe to all that is in it, but I believe that there is a period in the life of some Christians when they rise to a platform elevated above ordinary Christianity, almost as much as ordinary Christianity is elevated above the world. I think that in addition to the first call by which we are brought out of nature’s darkness into God’s marvellous light, there does come to the Christian, when the Spirit of God works mightily with him, another call by which he is brought into greater familiarity with the Lord Jesus, taught more of conformity to him in his sufferings, and made to be more fully a partaker of the height, and depth, and breadth, and length, of that love which passeth all understanding. Such a call seems to me to be imaged in this call of Peter. Have you been living, my dear sister, at a distance from Christ? Have you been obliged to sing the hymn—

“’Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought—
‘Do I love the Lord, or no?
Am I his, or am I not?’”

I do pray for you, as one of the greatest privileges I could ask God for on your behalf, that Christ may come to you afresh now, and be formed in your heart anew, the hope of glory, in such a way that you may follow him into close practical fellowship, and earnest unstaggering faith. Believe me, it is life to believe in Christ however little, but it is life in health and vigour to believe in Christ with a faith that does not blench. To have Christ and not to see him is salvation, but to have him and to see him is salvation rapturously enjoyed. To be saved and not to know it, is a small privilege, but to be saved and to know it, nay, to know him who is the resurrection and the life, and to sit with him, and sup with him, and to feel that his shadow yields a great delight, and that his fruit is sweet unto one’s taste, this is a way of living which angels might almost envy the favoured men who possess it. May the Master call you in that sense now! Pray that prayer which Watts has put into rhyme: —

“Draw me away from flesh and sense,
One sovereign word shall draw me thence;
I would obey the voice divine,
And all inferior joys resign.”

May you get a call from the Master, “Follow me unto the Mount of Transfiguration to see my glory, and share in it, and abide with me in sacred, rapt, secret fellowship which the world knoweth nothing of.”

     But this was not merely a call to fellowship, but to practical fellowship. It seemed to say, “Peter, put down thy net, and take up the cross; I am to be despised, come and be despised with me; I am going without the camp, I shall be scorned, and cast out from society; come, Peter, come without the camp with me.” Oh may Christ give you such a call as that! You are saved, but still to a great extent you are in the world. Oh that you might have a separating call— “Come ye out from among them; be ye separate; touch not the unclean thing.” May you feel now as if you had got a new life over and above the life you have already; that you have fresh blood poured into the veins of your piety, that you might rise to something better. Come out and avow your Master; avow him by nonconformity to the world in all respects.

     To conclude. When Christ said, “Follow me,” did he not mean that Peter was to follow him in everything and in all things? May the Master call you and me to follow him in that consecration to his Father’s will, which made him say— “My meat and my drink is to do the will of him that sent me.” Oh! there are so many of you professors, whose meat and drink are found in trade, or the making of money, or the reading of books, or the study of this and of that. May he call you to make himself the first thing, to make his honour your grand object, and to make his church your true mistress, the lady of your heart reigning in your spirit. Oh! to be wholly given up to Christ, to be a sacrifice upon the altar, smoking, burning, utterly consumed, a living sacrifice, which is your most reasonable service. No, you need not shut up shop; oh no! but you will go and make money for Christ, and give it to his cause. No, you need not give up your daily labour, but you will be a priest unto God, even while you are wearing the garments of your trade. No, you must not dare to think of such a thing as withdrawing from your present position, and your little ones round about you, but you must keep where you are, and glorify Christ there, feeling now that you have been called to the work of God, but that that service is to be done just where you are; that you are not to be stargazing and looking aloft for some great thing, but to stand and do a day’s work in a day, in the sphere where Providence has called you, and where grace has blessed you.

     Now, you see, I have put all this on the right footing. I have told none of you to serve Christ till you are saved, but when you are saved, I hope and pray that you and I may see Christ calling on us to be “fishers of men.”

     May the Lord call some who have never been called at all. May it come to pass that this very evening some may look to the Lamb of God, dying, bleeding, and suffering. Sinner, he is the Sin-bearer. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. That face was marred with sorrow, and there must you find your hope. Look to him. That bleeding man is also the immortal God; trust him, and you are saved. That one act of trust is the means of eternal salvation to everyone that exercises it. Then, being saved, may Christ call you, fishermen or whatever you may be, to serve him until he cometh to take you unto himself.

“Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see;
And what I do in anything,
To do it as for thee!

All may of thee partake;
Nothing so small can be,
But draws when acted for thy sake,
Greatness and worth from thee.

If done beneath thy laws,
E’en servile labours shine;
Hallowed is toil, if this the cause,
The meanest work divine.”



Turning Back in the Day of Battle

By / Jun 22

Turning Back in the Day of Battle

 

“The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.”— Psalm lxxviii. 9.

 

I DO not think that it has ever been clearly ascertained to what particular historical event Asaph here refers, but I do not find that any of the commentators mention a very obscure passage in the First Book of Chronicles, which I venture to suggest may give us the explanation. In the first Book of Chronicles, the seventh chapter and the twentieth verse, you read: — “And the sons of Ephraim, Shuthelah, and Bered his son, and Tabath his son, and Eladah, and Tabath his son, and Zabad his son, and Shuthelah his son, and Ezer, and Elead, whom the men of Gath that were born in that land slew, because they came down to take away their cattle. And Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him.” This event appears to have occurred while the children of Israel were still in Egypt. It has been supposed by some that these sons of Ephraim made a raid upon the promised land, and attacked the men of Gath. Believing the land to be theirs by promise they went to take it before they had divine authority so to do. They made God’s decrees the rule of their life instead of God’s revealed will, and so they soon fell into trouble, — as those people always do who make that mistake, — and their father Ephraim mourned over them many days. But it appears to have been rather an attack made upon them by some men of Gath. The people seem some of them to have been of Egyptian origin, and they probably made an attack upon the cattle of the men of Ephraim. These young men defended their cattle for a time, but at last—if this be the event which this Psalm refers to—it would appear they turned their backs and so fell slain. That may or may not be. Still there are other passages in history which might serve to illustrate the text. You are aware that Joshua was of the tribe of Ephraim, and probably on account of this, the ark of God was first placed at Shiloh. On the occasion when Hophni and Phineas were slain, the children of Israel, we are told, fled. It appears to have been the peculiar duty of the men of Ephraim, in whose tribe Shiloh was, to guard the ark. It may be possible that they were set around the ark as a body-guard to it, but fled at the approach of the Philistines, or fell slain together with Hophni and Phineas on that terrible and disastrous day. If this is the event alluded to you will find the history of it in the fourth chapter of the First Book of Samuel. Perhaps, however, reference is made to the whole history of the tribe of Ephraim, that though they were well armed and were dexterous men in the use of the bow, yet on many occasions they turned their backs in the day of battle. Whether any of these explanations interpret the historical reference or not, the subject in itself will furnish us with a theme for meditation.

     I. We will first consider for a little while WHAT THESE MEN DID.

     They turned their backs. When the time for fighting came they ought to have shown their fronts. Like bold men they should have kept their face to the foe and their breast against the adversary, but they dishonourably turned their backs and fled. This, I am sorry to say, is not an unusual thing amongst professing Christians. They turn back; they turn back in the day of battle. Some do this at the first appearance of difficulty. “There is a lion in the way,” saith the slothful man, “I shall be slain in the streets.” They hear that there is some trouble involved in Christian service, or that some persecution may be met with in the pursuit of truth, and straightway they look before they leap, as the world hath it, and turn back from the way which they supposed to be that of safety. Timorous and Mistrust come running down the hill crying, “The lions! the lions!” and thus may a pilgrim turn back towards the City of Destruction.

     Others are somewhat braver. They bear the first brunt. When the skirmishers begin these are as bold as any; they can return blow for blow, and you hear them boast, as they buckle on their armour, at such a rate, that you would suppose, if you did not know that boasters are seldom good at fighting, that they must certainly be victorious. During the first thrust they stand like martyrs and behave like heroes, but very soon, when the armour gets a little battered, and the fine plume on their helmet a little stained, they turn back in the day of battle.

     Some professors bear the fight a little longer. They are not to be laughed out of their religion; they can stand the jeers and jests of their old companions. When- they find that they have got the cut direct in the society which once loved them so much they can put up with that, and they are very much complimented by themselves on having done it. “Cowards,” say they, “are those who flee; but we shall never do this.” But by and by the skirmishers have done their work, and it comes to a hand-to-hand fight; the struggle begins to be somewhat more arduous, and now shall we see what metal they are made of. The enemy gets hold of them, and

“That desperate tug their soul might feel
Through bars of brass and triple steel.”

Then they find that they are being hugged in the wrong place; they are touched in a tender part, and so they also turn back in the day of battle!

     And, alas! sad as it is to say it— firmly as we believe that every child of God is safe, yet is it true that many who profess to be so, after having fought so long that you would suppose the next thing would be for them to rest upon their laurels and receive their crown, just at the very last they fall and turn back! We have seen grey-headed apostates as well as juvenile ones. There have been those who seemed to wear well for a time, but at last one crushing blow came which they could not bear, and they gave way before it! Oh, brethren, it is only those who persevere to the end that will be saved, and only those who have a true faith in Jesus Christ have a sure evidence of their election of God; these be they who shall be clothed with white raiment, and shall sit down upon his throne for ever. But, how many who bade fair to do this, after all turn back!

     I may be describing— I hope I am not— some actual case here. Some of you may say as you turn the thought over in your minds, —

“My feet had almost gone;
My steps had well nigh slipped.”

That young man over yonder was so much jeered at the other day by those with whom he works, that he felt it was very unkind, and he did think something about renouncing his religion altogether. And my other brother yonder, who has had so many losses, has lately had such a time as he never had before, and he thinks nobody else ever had', and he cries, “God has forsaken me.” He cannot just now say, “Though he slay me yet will I trust in him;” but he thinks, “Surely I had better turn to the world; I had better leave my religion and give it up, for I am encompassed about with such a terrible conflict that I shall never win the victory!” Ah! brethren, these are often the trials that God sends, and it is by these that he separates the chaff from the wheat, and lets us see who are true soldiers, and who are only the lacqueys who wear regimentals, but have not the soldier’s heart pulsing beneath the scarlet. God grant us grace to be found at last men that turned not back in the day of battle.

     If I take the history of the children of Ephraim, I should say that they turned their backs and failed to defend the ark. There are some who, when they are defending the truth, shun controversy. They are of such a timid disposition— a loving disposition they call it— that as soon as ever the war-trumpet sounds they find it to be their duty to attend to the baggage in the rear. They are very brave men indeed in that particular quarter of the conflict where it does not happen to rage; but there in the van, where the corpses are piled on heaps, and where the battle-axes drip with gore, they never will be found, because they have not the courage to fight and to conquer for Jesus. As far as they are concerned the ark of God may be taken by the Philistines, because they turn their backs.

      These Ephraimites ought, too, as Joshua had set them the example, to have conquered Canaan, and to have driven out the Canaanites still left. Ah! my brethren, there are some of you whose sins still live, because you have turned your backs upon them, but not in the right sense, for you have turned your backs against contending with sin. There is that bad temper of yours—you have given up trying to curb it now. You say, “Well, you know many of God’s children have bad tempers,” whereas you know that this is very wicked talking. You ought to slay that Agag. You have no business to tolerate a bad temper. You must never have any peace with that spiteful temper, or that hasty temper of yours; you must down with it, or else it will down with you, and if you do not overcome it, it will overcome you. Rest assured that you are guilty, and that you turn your back if you do not fight with it. So too with that worldliness of yours and that want of a prayerful spirit. If you say, “Well, I will be content to be as I am; I will not try after a high state of piety,” you turn your backs, my brethren. You ought to slay all these Canaanites, and you must in Christ’s name do it, and not spare so much as one of them, but say, “they compass me about, like bees, yea, they compass me about, but in the name of the Lord will I destroy them.”

     And then, when these people turned their backs, Canaan was not won. So it is with you. The Lord’s kingdom is not yet fully extended, and just when you ought to be pushing far and wide the conquests of the cross, and be letting this great city of ours know that the King reigneth mighty to save, you turn back in the day of battle. There are some Christians here who are doing nothing. I should not say this, perhaps, if I were preaching on Sunday, for I thank Cod that I could not in my own heart say it of my own members; the most of them are doing, I believe, as much as lieth in them, or if not, I hope they very soon will be. But I am persuaded that there are many other Christians who are not doing what they should do, but are shrinking from practical service. They come in here, perhaps, on a Thursday night, and get a little bit, and they go elsewhere on other evenings of the week and pick up sweet morsels and crumbs. They like feeding very well, but they do not like work so much. There is a certain little company that come here on week-day evenings, into whose ears I should like to whisper, and ask them what they are doing for Christ. They are spiritual vagrants who go from one place to another, but have no settled home where they work for the Master, and they are of very little credit to anybody. We must all of us have a sphere of labour, and though I am glad to see all of you, as many as like to come, yet I pray you do have your own place for your own work, and do not be like the children of Ephraim who “turned back in the day of battle.”

     II. Having thus observed what these men of Ephraim did, we come to look at the inopportune time WHEN THEY DID IT.

     They turned back, and their doing so would not have mattered much had they done it in a day of feasting. They could always be spared then, but that was not when they did it. They always had their faces to the front when there was any feasting to be done. They turned back; when? On holidays, when the banners waved high and the silver trumpets sounded? No; they were in the front then! Exeter Hall! May meetings! How many people are in the front there and then? When there is something sweet to feed upon they do not think of turning back. But these people turned back on rather a different occasion; they turned back in the day of battle. They turned back, it seems then, just when they were to be tried. Ah! how much there is we do that will not stand trial! How much there is of godliness which is useful for anything excepting that which it is meant for! It is all in vain for me to say, if I have bought a water-proof coat, that it is good for everything except keeping the water out. Why, then it is good for nothing, and so there are some Christians who have pot a religion that is good for every day except the day when it has to be tested, and then it is good for nothing. An anchor may be very pretty on shore, and it may be very showy as an ornament when it lies on the ship’s deck or hangs from the side, but what is the good of it if it will not hold when the wind blows and the vessel needs to be held fast? So, alas! there is much of religion and of godliness, so called, that is no good when it comes to the day of trial. The soldier is truly proved to be a soldier when the war-trumpet sounds and the regiment must go up to the cannon’s mouth. Then shall you know, when the bayonets begin to cross, who has the true soldier’s blood in him; but ah! how many turn back when it really comes to the conflict, for then the day of trial is too much for them!

     They turned back at the only time when they were of any sort of use. A man who has to fight is not of any particular use to his country, that I know of, except when there is fighting to be done. Like a man in any other trade, there is a season when lie is wanted. Now, if the Christian soldier never fights, of what good is he at all? That is a very remarkable passage in one of the prophets, where the Lord compares his people to a vine, and then he says of them, in words of which I will give the sense, “If the vine bears fruit it is very valuable, but, if it bears no fruit, then it is good for nothing at all.” An oak without fruit is valuable for its timber, and even thorns are useful, for you may make a hedge of them. Smaller plants may be used for some medicinal purposes, but the vine, if it bear no fruit, is absolutely good for nothing. “Will a man even make a peg of it, whereon to hang a vessel?” saith the prophet. No; it is of no service whatever. So is it with the Christian. If he be not thorough and true he is no good at all; you can make nothing of him whatever; he is, to use Christ’s expressive words, “Neither fit for the land nor even for the dunghill, and men cast him out.” Who would enlist a soldier that knew he would turnback? and who amongst us would like to be in his regiment? Take off his colours, play “The Rogue’s March,” and turn him out of the barracks! And this is what will come to some professors who turn back in the day of battle! Their regimentals will be torn off, and they will be excluded from the church of God because they turned back in the day of trial and at the time when they were needed.

     They turned their backs, too, like fools, in the day when victory was to be won. The soldier wants to distinguish himself; he wants to rise out of the ranks; he wants to be promoted. He hardly expects an opportunity of doing this in time of peace; but the officer rises when in time of war he leads a successful charge. And so it is with the Christian soldier. I make no advance while I am not fighting. I cannot win if I am not warring. My only opportunity for conquering is when I am fighting. If I run away when there is a chance of winning the crown, then I am like the ship that does not come out of harbour when there is a fair wind, or like the man who does not avail himself of the high tide to get his vessel over the bar at the harbour’s mouth. I cannot win without fighting, and therefore I thank God when the trial comes, and count it a joy when I fall into manifold temptations, because now I may add to my faith one virtue after another, till my Christian character is all complete. To throw away the time of conflict is to throw away the crown. Oh simple heart! Oh silly heart! to be afraid of suffering for Jesus! You are, in fact, afraid of reigning with him, for you must do the one if you would do the other. You, young woman, who are so alarmed at a little laughing, recollect you cannot go to heaven without being laughed at sometimes in the circle in which you move, or the family in which you live. He that will live a godly life in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution. Since, then, this is the way to heaven, why do you turn from it? Be not like these children of Ephraim who turned back when there was a crown to be won.

     They turned back, once more, when turning back involved the most disastrous defeat. The ark of God was taken. “Ichabod,” the enemy cried, for the glory was departed from Israel, because the children of Ephraim turned back in the day of battle. And so, dear friends, unless God gives you preserving grace to stand fast to the end, do you not see that you are turning back to— what? To perdition. You do not turn back merely to the world. That is what it looks like, perhaps, to you, but you really turn back to hell. If, after having once put your hand to the plough, you look back, you are unworthy of the kingdom; but what are you worthy of? Why, those “reserved seats” in hell! Did you ever think of that? There are such, and let me quote a passage which proves it. We are told in one place of darkness “reserved” for some who were “wandering stars, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever!” When you turn back you turn back to those reserved places where the darkness is more black and the pain more terrible. Oh! may God save you from ever turning back in the day of battle! This, then, is when they did it— they turned back in the day of battle.

     III. But now let us notice, WHO THEY WERE THAT TURNED BACK.

     They were “children of Ephraim,” and they are described as “being armed and carrying bows,” or bows throwing forth sharp arrows. They were men of a noble parentage. They were the children of Ephraim. Joshua was of that line, and he was the greatest of conquerors, who led the people into the promised land. And you professors, you profess to be descended from our Joshua, — Jesus the Conqueror, and will you turn back? Are you followers of the Saviour who gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair, and are you afraid or ashamed of anything? He gave his face to be spat upon, and will you hide your faces at the mention of his name, because fools choose to laugh at you? Followers of Joshua, and yet afraid? Followers of Jesus, and yet blush? God grant that we may never blush, except when we think that we ever blushed at the thought of his Son! Oh! thou dear, despised, and persecuted One, I see thee on thy way amidst the scoffers. One plucks thy beard; another pulls thy hair; a third casts his accursed spittle into thy face; another beats thee; another cries, “Let him be crucified.” They mock thee with all forms of mockery. Taunt and jeer they heap upon thee. They fill thy mouth with vinegar, and give thee gall to drink. They pierce thy hands and thy feet, and yet thou goest on along thy way of kindness and of mercy! And I— what have I ever suffered compared with thee? And these thy people— what have any of these endured, or what can they endure, compared with all thy griefs? Thy martyrs follow thee. Up from their fiery stakes they mount to their thrones. Confessors follow thee; from dungeons and from racks their testimony sounds. And, shall we, upon whom the ends of the earth are come, in these softer and gentler times, shall we turn back, and say we know not the Man? O God, forbid! but do thou keep us faithful unto thee, that we, the sons of Ephraim, may not turn back in the day of battle.

     Then, again, they were armed, and had proper weapons, weapons which they knew how to use, and good weapons for that period of warfare. And as Christians, what weapons have we? Here is this “Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” Here is a quiver, filled with innumerable arrows, and God has put into our hands the bow of prayer, by which we may shoot them, drawing that bow by the arm of faith against our innumerable foes. What weapons of holy warfare do you want better than those which this sacred armoury supplies? Read the last chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, and see how the apostle, with a triumphant glorying, takes you through God’s armoury, and bids you look at the various pieces of armour, and the various weapons that are provided for you. If you lose the battle, it is not for want of being armed, and if you desert from the ranks, it is not for the want of bows.

     But what is more. Another' translation seems to show that these Ephraimites were very skilful in the use of the bow, and yet they turned back. Oh! may God grant that none of us who have preached to others, and preached to others with fluency and zeal may ever have our own weapons turned against us. I may make a confession here now. I have read some of my own utterances and have trembled as I have read them, and afterwards I have wept over them, not wanting to alter them, not regretting them, but fearing and trembling lest I should have my own words used in judgment against me at the last great day, for there can be no more dreadful thing than for a man to have known and taught the Word to others, and then to hear the Master say,— just listen to it,— “Thou wicked servant! Out of thine own mouth will I condemn thee!” O God! Condemn me out of anybody’s mouth rather than out of my own. It will be a dreadful thing to have known how to use the bow, and yet not to win the victory one’s-self; to have been a sort of drill-sergeant to God’s people, showing them how to use the weapons, and then not to have fought the battle one’s-self! This will be a terrible thing! Some of you know how to use this Bible. You are acquainted with it, you have studied its doctrines, you know the points of divinity and theology, you are well read up in the teachings of God’s Word; you know how to use the bow. And some of you pray very sweetly at prayer-meeting. Ah! beloved, what I said about myself may well apply to you. Some of you are Sunday-school teachers and others tract distributors, and you all know how to use the bow. I hope I can say to you who sit here that I have, like Saul, taught you to use the bow. We have sought to teach you young men to use God’s Word both in prayer and in other exercises of your holy faith; but, beloved, if you turn back, the art which you have learned shall rise up in judgment against you to condemn you! If as professors taught the use of God’s Word you are marched out to fight, but have not courage enough for the conflict, and turn your backs and slink into inglorious ease or into vain-glorious self-righteousness, or into false glorious pleasure, oh! how terrible must be your ruin at the last! May you not be like the children of Ephraim, who, though skilled in the use of the bow, yet turned back in the day of battle! This, then, is who they were.

     IV. And ask ye now WHY DID THEY DO IT?

     Why did they, indeed? We might well have been at a loss to tell, for they were armed and carried bows. What then was the reason? The Word of God tells us and gives us three reasons. You will find them in the verses following the text. “They kept not the covenant of God and refused to walk in his law, and forgat his works, and his wonders that he had showed them.”

     “They kept not the covenant.” Oh! that great covenant, “ordered in all things and sure,” when you can fall back upon that how it strengthens you! When you can read in it eternal thoughts of divine love to you, and can hear Jesus say, “I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” How it encourages you to go forward! You cannot be killed, you are invulnerable, you have been dipped in the covenant stream that makes you invulnerable from head to foot. Why, then, should you fear to face the foe? If you forget that covenant you will soon turn back, and so prove that you are not in it; but the remembrance of it gives strength to God’s people to persevere, since they feel that God’s purpose is that they shall persevere, and so win the victory. The covenant, however, not only secures safety, but it also provides all sorts of blessings. If a Christian always had his eye on the covenant storehouse he could never desert his God for the world. Will a man leave a treasury that is full of gold to go to a beggar’s cottage for money? Will a man turn from the flowing stream that comes cool and fresh from Lebanon’s melting snow to go and drink of some filthy stagnant pool? No, not he, and when a man knows the treasures of grace that are in Christ Jesus, and remembers that it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell, and that he hath made him a covenant for the people, will such a man turn back? Assuredly not, but every promise of the covenant will enable him to face his foes and prevent his turning back in the day of battle. Perhaps, however, the covenant which we forget is the covenant we feel we made with Christ in the day when we said, “My beloved is mine, and I am his,” when we give ourselves up in a full surrender, body, soul, and spirit, to God. Oh! let us never forget that covenant! Supposing we should lose our character for Christ’s sake? Did we not give Christ our character to begin with? You are of no use in the ministry, my dear brother, if you are not quite willing to be called a fool, to be called a thief, or even to be called a devil! You will never be successful if you are afraid of being pelted. The true minister often finds his pulpit to be a place but little preferable to a pillory, and he is content to stand there, feeling that all the abuse and blasphemy which may come upon him are only the means by which the world recognises and proves its recognition of a God-sent man. Oh! to rest upon the covenant which is made in grace, and to hold fast the covenant which Christ has compelled us to make with him, resolved that even should he take all away, our joy, our comfort, and our ease, we will still stand to it, and still keep the covenant.

     Another reason why they turned back was that “they refused to walk in his law.” When we get a proud heart we very soon get beaten, for with the face of a lion, but the heart of a deer, such an one is afraid of the world. If I am willing to do what God tells me, as he tells me, when he tells me, and because he tells me, I shall not turn back in the day of battle.

     They also seem to have turned back because they had bad memories. “They forgat his works, and the wonders that he had showed them.” My dear friends, we the members of this church have seen many of God’s wonders, and have rejoiced in them, and if we were to forget these we should lack one means of comfort in our own darkness. Some of you have had very wonderful manifestations of the Lord’s kindness, and if you forget all these I should not wonder if you should prove to be a mere professor and turn your back, for God’s true people are like that Mary, whom all generations call “blessed,” they treasure these things in their hearts. We ought to stir up our remembrances of God’s loving-kindness, for if we do not it will soon be a powerful reason for our turning back in the day of battle. Oh! have we not fought in days gone by, and shall we now be afraid? Have we not slain old Giant Grim? Did we not fight with dragons and with lions? Have we not gone through the Valley of the Shadow of Death? Have we not had a conflict with Apollyon himself loot to foot, and shall Giant Despair or his wife Mrs. Diffidence make us afraid? No, in the name of God we will use the good old sword, the true Jerusalem blade that we wielded aforetime, and we shall yet again be more than conquerors through him that loved us. Let us, then, not forget God’s works in the days of yore, lest we fail to trust him in the days that are to come. This was why they turned back.

     V. And now the last enquiry is WHAT WAS THE RESULT OF THEIR TURNING BACK?

     One result of their turning back was, that their father mourned over them. We are told, in the passage I quoted first, that “Ephraim their father mourned for them many days.” What a lamentation it brings into the Christian church when a professor falls! There is one heart which feels it with peculiar poignancy— the heart of him who thought he was the spiritual father of the person so falling. There are no griefs connected with our work like the grief of mourning over fallen professors, especially if these happen to be ministers, men who are armed and carry bows, for when they turn back, well accoutred and well skilled in war, it is heart breaking work indeed! I do not exaggerate, but I know I only speak the sober truth, when I say that if I could submit to any form of corporeal torture that I have ever heard of, I would be willing to bear it sooner than submit to the torture I have sometimes felt over members of this church, or what is worse, over young men educated in our College, or what is worse still, over ministers who have been for some time settled over their flocks. If at any time you desire to be malicious towards the man whom you look upon as your spiritual father; if you would send an arrow through his very liver and smite him with a dagger in the core of his heart, you have nothing to do but I to turn back in the day of battle and you have done it. It were better that you had never been born than that you should go back to the world. It were better that you should be taken out of this house a corpse than that you should live to disgrace the profession which you have espoused, especially those of you who stand in a prominent place. O God, keep us who witness before the multitude, keep us by thine eternal power, keep us as the apple of thine eye, hide us beneath the shadow of thy wings, or else we who are chief and foremost, though armed and carrying bows, shall yet turn back in the day of battle.

     Another result, which you perhaps will think more important far, was that owing to their turning back the enemy remained. Owing to many Christians not doing what they ought to do in the day of battle, Romanism is still in this land, and infidelity is rife. If in the days of Elizabeth and Cranmer men had acted up to the light they then had, we should not be as we now are, a semi-Popish nation. Had Luther himself been faithful to some of the light to which he shut his eyes, he might have inaugurated a more perfect Reformation than that for which we are still devoutly grateful to God and for which we always cherish his memory. There was a want of thoroughness even in that day. And at the present moment, if some of our brethren were but faithful to their own convictions, they would not be bolstering up an alliance of the State with a depraved Church; they would not dare to perform some ceremonies which are atrociously bad, and many of us, if we acted according to our inward monitor, would not do many things which we are now doing. Oh! may God give us grace to smite the foe! What has sin to do in this world? Christ has bought the world with his blood, and oh! for grace to clear sin out of Christ’s heritage! The earth is the Lord’s, and the kingdoms thereof, the world and they that dwell therein; and if we were but faithful to God we should not turn back in the day of battle, and Rome and all our foes would be slain.

     Then, again, if we did not turn our backs, the country would be conquered for Christ. I do not like the way in which some brethren say, that if we were more faithful half London would be saved. I say that I believe God’s purpose is achieved, but still we are bound to speak of our sins according to their tendencies, and the tendency of our want of confidence in God, and our not boldly persevering, is to destroy souls. Paul talked once of destroying with meat him for whom Christ died, that being the tendency to destroy such souls if they could be destroyed. So humanly speaking, the darkness of the world at present is owing to the unfaithfulness of the church, and if the church had been as true to Christ as she was in the first century, long ere this there would not have been a village without the gospel, nor a single empire in the world in which the truth had not been proclaimed. It is our turning back in the day of battle that leaves Canaan unconquered for our Lord.

     But, worse than this, the ark itself was actually taken. My dear friends, those of you who are armed and carry bows, men of learning, men who understand the Scriptures, I do pray you, do not turn back just now, for just now seems to be a time when the ark of God will be taken. It can never really be so, but still we must mind that it be not the tendency of our actions. We are in great danger from what some people will not believe, but what is most certainly a fact, and that is the marvellous increase of Popery in this land. There are certain brethren who are always harping upon this one string, till we have grown sick of the theme, but, without at all endorsing their alarm, I believe there is quite enough for the most quiet and confident spirit to be alarmed at. The thing has become monstrous, and there is need to awaken the anxious care and the earnest efforts of God’s church. You need not be long without good evidence of this. Every nerve is being strained by Rome to win England to itself, and, on the other hand, while we have less neology, and less of all sorts of scepticism throughout the whole country, I am afraid that we have more of it than we used to have inside the church itself. There are many doctrines that are now matters of question which I never heard questioned ten years ago. I am not altogether sorry for this, but rather glad, because there are some doctrines which are not preached now, but which will be preached more in future in consequence of doubts being thrown upon them. But it is a very ominous sign of the times, that most of those truths which we have been accustomed to accept as being the received and orthodox faith of Christendom are now being questioned, and questioned too by men who are not to be despised, men who from their evident earnestness, from their deep knowledge, and from their close attention to the matter, deserve a hearing in the forum of common sense, even if they do not deserve it from spiritual men. We must all of us hold fast the truth now. If there is a man who has got a truth, let him draw his bow and shoot his arrows now, and not turn back in the day of battle. Now for your arrows! Now for your arrows! The more our foes shall conspire against Christ, the more do you make war against them. Give them double for their double; reward them as they reward you. Spare no arrows against Babylon. “Happy shall he be that taketh thy little ones and dasheth them against the stones.” Happy shall he be who slays the little errors, who kills the minor falsehoods, who does battle against Popery in every shape and form, and against infidelity in all its phases! If we do not come to the front now, the ark of God, as far as we are concerned, will be taken!

     And then, worst of all, we shall hear the Philistines shouting while God’s church is weeping! The Philistines are good hands at shouting. They shout rather loudly about nothing, but when they get a little they bark loudly enough then. If they see but one Christian turn back what rejoicing there is! They ring the bells and make great mirth over the fall of the very least among us, but if those of us who are armed and carry bows should turn back in the day of battle, oh “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon, lest the daughters of Philistia rejoice, lest the sons of the uncircumcised triumph!” God grant that we may never make mirth for hell. If Satan must have merriment may he find it anywhere rather than in us. Oh! may we stand at last, and, having done all, may we still stand.

     To conclude, brethren. If we do not stand fast, you know what will come of it. Supposing the churches of which we are members do not stand fast, what will come of you and what of me? What became of Shiloh? What became of Ephraim? Instead of the ark being any longer in the custody of Ephraim it was taken away from Shiloh, and God transferred the custody of it to Judah, audit rested upon Mount Zion under the government of King David. So, mark you, whenever a church becomes unfaithful, and turns back in the day of battle, God takes away from it the keeping of his ark and entrusts it to others. “I have looked upon a neighbour of thine,” saith he, “who is better than thou,” and so he takes the sword and gives it to David, and thus perhaps may he do with us. There are many churches that were once flourishing but now are deserted altogether. So it may be with us individually, and with the churches at large unless we are faithful to God.

     Now, I have said nothing to the unconverted. My drift seemed to be to speak to professing believers. Some of you say you never went to this war, and therefore you will not turn back; you never made a profession. Ah! dear friends, it will be a very poor excuse at the last great day to say, “I never made a profession.” Did you ever hear of a thief being brought up at the Mansion House before the Lord Mayor who said, when he was accused of being a thief, “Why, my Lord, I am not a very honest man; I never professed to be; I never professed that I would not pick people’s pockets; I never professed that I would not steal a watch if I had the chance; I was regularly known as a thief; I never professed to be anything else, therefore you cannot blame me.” If a man should make such a defence as that, I should think it very likely that the Lord Mayor would give him an extra six months, and I think it would serve him very well right. You smile at this, but the very same argument may be applied to you. “ Well,” you say, “ you know I do not make any profession of religion;” that is to say, you do not make any pretence of serving and loving the God who made you, who gave you life, and has kept and preserved you in it; you do not make any profession of being washed in the precious blood of Christ; you do not make a profession of being on the road to hell. Well, may God save you from that excuse, and may he give you grace to look it in the face and say, “Well, I do not dare even to hope that I am saved; I know I am not.” Then, my brother, if you are not saved, you are lost. I would like to stop while you turn that thought over, and when you have done so I would say, “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

     May God’s eternal mercy seek and save you, and, if it be his will, may he find you, and lead you to put your trust in Jesus Christ, and resting upon him, and looking to his cross, you shall not, as the children of Ephraim did, “turn back in the day of battle.”



Eyes Opened

By / Jun 22

Eyes Opened 

 

“And God opened her eyes.”— Genesis xxi. 19.

 

THERE w a s a well of water close to Hagar all the while though she saw it not. God did not cleave the earth and cause new waters to gush forth, nor was there need. The well was there already, but for all practical purposes it might not have been there, for she could not see it. The water was spent in her bottle, her child was dying with thirst, and she herself was ready to faint, and yet the cool spring was bubbling up hard by the spot. It was needful that she should see the well, quite as needful as that the well should be there, and therefore the Lord in great compassion led her to see it, or as the text puts it, “God opened her eyes.”

     This was a small matter compared with the creation of a new fountain, but our God does very little things as well as very great things when there is need for them. The same God who divides the Red Sea, and makes the Jordan to be dried up, opens a poor woman’s eyes. The same God who came with all his chariots of fire to Paran, and with all his holy ones to Sinai, and made the mountain utterly to smoke in his presence, is he of whom we read, “and God opened Hagar’s eyes.” The infinite Lord is at home in doing little things; he counts the stars, but he also numbers the hairs of our heads. Remember that the same God who moulded the orb on which we dwell also fashions every tiny dewdrop, and he who makes the lightning bolt to fly through the midst of heaven wings every butterfly and guides every minnow in the brooklet. He prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, but he also prepared a little worm to destroy the gourd. How condescending he, is, since he carefully attends to minor matters for his children, and not only kills for them the fatted calf, but puts shoes on their feet. Sometimes very little things become absolutely necessary, for they act as the hinges of history, the pivots upon which the future turns. How frequently the whole course of a man’s career has been affected by a moment s thought. The word of a child has affected the destiny of an empire: the chance expression of a speaker, as men talk of chance, has fired races with a new passion, and changed times and shaken kingdoms. The Lord worketh gloriously by agents and events small and despised. God, by opening Hagar’s eyes, secured the existence of the Ishmaelitish race, which even to this day remaineth: from the little cometh the great.

     There may be persons present who want but very little to enable them to enter into eternal life: they need only that their eyes should be opened. May the Lord grant them that favour. O that he may now bid many a Hagar see his salvation. Why should the thirsty souls wait any longer? Everything is ready: they are on the borders of salvation, but they need that their eyes should be opened. Our subject at this time shall be the opening of eyes, taking rather a wide range, because it is a wide subject, and hoping that both to those who see and to those who cannot see there may come a gracious opening of the spiritual eye.

     I. Our first head shall be that IF OUR EYES WERE FURTHER OPENED THE RESULT TO ANY ONE OF US WOULD BE VERY REMARKABLE. We are at present limited in our range of sight. This is true of our natural or physical vision, of our mental vision, and of our spiritual vision; and in each case when the range of sight is enlarged very remarkable discoveries are made. God has been pleased to open the natural eyes of mankind by the invention of optical instruments. What a discovery it was when first of all certain pieces of glass were arranged in connection with each other, and men began to peer into the stars! What a change has come over the knowledge of our race by the invention of the telescope! How much of truly devout, adoring thought, and of deep, intense, unutterable reverence has been born into the world by the Lord’s having in this sense opened men’s eyes! When he turned his telescope upon the nebulas, and discovered that these were innumerable stars, what a hymn of praise must have burst from the reverent astronomer's heart. How infinite thou art, most glorious Lord! What wonders hast thou created! Let thy name be had in reverence for ever and ever.

     Equally marvellous was the effect upon human knowledge when the microscope was invented. We could never have imagined what wonders of skill and of taste would be revealed by the magnifying glass, and what marvels of beauty would be found compressed within a space too small to measure. Who dreamed that a butterfly’s wing would display art and wisdom, and a delicacy never to be rivalled by human workmanship. The most delicate work of art is rough, crude, raw compared with the commonest object in nature; the one is the production of man, the other the handiwork of God. Spend an evening with the microscope, and if your heart be right, you will lift your eye away from the glass to heaven, and exclaim, “Great God, thou art as wonderful in the little as thou art in the great, and as much to be praised for the minute as for the magnificent.” While we say, “Great art thou, O God, for thou madest the great and wide sea, and the leviathan whose lot it is to play therein”; we feel that we can also say, “Great art thou, O Lord, for thou madest the drop of water and hast filled it with living things innumerable.” Our physical eyes thus opened by either glass reveal strange marvels, and we may infer from this fact that the opening of our mental and spiritual eyes will discover to us equal wonders in other domains, and thus increase our reverence and love towards God.

     Suppose, dear brethren, that our eyes could be opened as to all our past lives. We have seen them, for we have travelled through them; but it was very cloudy when I went that way; I do not know how it was with you. None of us have our eyes thoroughly opened yet; we have hitherto been travelling through life as men who journey in a mist. Even the things which have come close to us, and have most affected us, have been hidden, as it were, in that which is not light, but darkness visible. And now, if we could look back upon the whole length of life, forty, or fifty, or sixty, or seventy years, with our eyes opened, how singular it would look! Our childhood— how different that period would now appear with God’s light upon it. Those early struggles for a livelihood: we thought them hard, but we already begin to see what discipline there was in them, and how necessary they were for us. Those losses and crosses,— why even with our present partial sight we can see how much they were for our good. Yet there remain in life some singular things which we cannot as yet explain. Why was the favourite son taken away just when all our hopes were to have been fulfilled in him? Why was the husband struck down when the little children were so dependent? Why was the wife removed when a mother’s care was most needed? Why fell that daughter sick so suddenly? Why were we ourselves balked in the moment of success? If our eyes could be opened so that we could see what would have been if things had gone differently we should all of us thank God that our lives were ordered as they have been. Have you never heard of one who was grievously lamenting the death of his favourite son, and falling asleep dreamed that he saw his boy alive again and that he beheld the life which that son would have led. It was such a life that he wept in his dream, and waking he blessed God that his son could never act according to what he had seen in vision; it was better that he should be dead. Repine no more, my sorrowing friend, for that which you would have kept in your bosom might have turned into a viper, that which you thought a treasure might have burned in your heart like coals of fire. Providence has ordered all things wisely, and if our eyes were opened we should bow in adoring reverence and magnify the God who hath done all things well. Our vision will be strengthened one day, so that we shall see the end from the beginning, and then we shall understand that the Lord maketh all things work together for good to them that love him.

     And now suppose, again, our eyes should be opened upon the future. Ay, would you not like to spy into destiny? My curiosity is, probably, as great as yours, but still it is balanced by another faculty, and I protest that if I could see into to-morrow I would refuse to look. There is a desire in man to know what lines are written for him in the book of fate— whether they shall be bright or dark. Ah, dear friend, if your eyes could be opened as to all that is to happen, what would you do? If you were wise, and knew your future, you would commit it unto God: commit it to him though you do not know it. If you were wise you would wish to spend that future in his service if you knew it: spend it in his service though it is hidden from you. If you knew what would happen you would feel great need for faith; you do not know what will happen, but your need of faith is precisely the same. Trust you in God, come what may. This thing is certain— that to live unsaved, and unforgiven, is a very dangerous condition; God help you to get out of it at once by flying to Jesus for present salvation, and finding it on the spot. If you knew the future, it might make you idle, but it ought to make you diligent; if you knew the future, it might make you vain, but it should make you humble; if you knew the future, it might make you despondent, but it should make you trust. At any rate, knowing nothing at all about it, obey the voice of the Holy Ghost, who saith, “Commit thy way unto the Lord: trust also in him and he shall bring it to pass: and he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noon-day.”

     If our eyes were opened, again, on another point, as to the existence of angels, we should see marvels. We will enter into no speculations; but what a sight would be before us if suddenly we could behold all the creatures that are round about us. The prophet of old prayed for a young man that his eyes might be opened, and immediately he saw horses of fire and chariots of fire round about Elisha. So do angels encircle the people of God. “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him.” “He shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways: they shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them that are heirs of salvation?” Millions of spiritual creatures walk this earth, both when we sleep and when we wake, and, if we were more like those pure spirits and more familiar with their Master, we should feel more gratitude to him for setting them round about us. Fear not, you are not alone, O child of God; your Father never calls off your body-guard. The evil spirit comes to tempt you, but the Lord has set his angel-sentinel to keep watch and ward that no ill may approach you. If the Lord opened the eyes of his greatly beloved servants to see how many of these mighty intelligences are silently guarding them, they would cease to complain of loneliness while in the midst of such a thronging ministry of willing friends.

     And what, once more, if your eyes could be opened to look into heaven? Where it is we do not know. It is not very far away. At any rate, the glorified know what we do here, for they rejoice over one sinner that repents. Evidently, too, it takes not long to travel thither, for it was eventide when Jesus told the thief that he should be with him in paradise that very day, and you may be sure he was there. Oh, that we could see the place of unveiled glory and unmingled bliss as we shall see it in an instant when our Father’s messenger, called death, shall strike the scales from our eyes, or rather, remove these dim optics with which we blunderingly see, and let our naked spirit gaze on the reality of things without these hindering eyes, which do but inform us of their outward show. Oh, what glories shall we then see! What splendour, above the light of the sun! What music, sweeter than harpers harping with their harps! What glory! Solomon knew not the like of this. There is the light of all lights, the delight of all delights, the heaven of heavens, the sun of our soul, our all in all, — Jesus upon the throne! What bliss to be with him— with him for ever and ever. Break, thou eternal morning! Break e’en now! Would God that, at least for once, till the day break and the shadows flee away, we had our eyes opened to see the glories beyond; then this poor world would be despised by us, we should forget its pains and pleasures, we should rise superior to all its influences, and we should rise to be heavenly ourselves. Wait awhile, brethren. Wait for a very little while. Wait a “wee and dinna weary,” as the Scotchwoman said, and you shall see it all.

“Just when thou wilt, O Bridegroom, say,
‘Rise up, my love, and come away!’
Open to me thy golden gate
Just when thou wilt, or soon or late.”

     So far, I have wandered from the text, but now in my second head I will come back to it.

     II. IN SOME THINGS OUR EYES MUST BE OPENED. Those I have spoken about are desirable in a measure, but these are absolutely necessary. For instance, as to the divine salvation, our eyes must be opened. Hagar’s case is a strange one. Picture it. She is thirsty, and her boy is dying: her instincts are quickened by her love to her child, and yet she cannot see a well of water. There it is! Close to her! Do you not see it? Just there. She cannot see it till her eyes are opened. It is as plain as a pikestaff, but she does not perceive it. Now, this is a graphic representation of the position of many a seeking sinner. There is the way of salvation, and, if there is anything plain in the world, it is that road of life. The act that twice two make four is not plainer than— believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. Look unto the Son of God and live: what can be more simple? And yet nobody ever did understand the doctrine of “believe and live” till God opened his eyes. The well is there, but the thirsty soul cannot see it. Christ is there, but the sinner cannot see him. There is the fountain filled with blood, but he does not know how to wash in it. There stand the words, “Believe and live,” simple words that need no explanation, legible by their own light, and so plain that the wayfaring man, though a fool, may comprehend them; yet, till the eternal light flashes upon the darkened eyeballs of the sinner, he cannot, and he will not perceive the self-evident truth.

     Whence this inability to see? I suppose Hagar’s eye was somewhat darkened by her grief. She was broken-hearted, poor woman, and therefore her eye was not so clear as usual. So some souls have such grief for sin, such sorrow for having offended God, such fear of wrath to come, that they cannot perceive the truth which would comfort them. What aileth thee, poor soul? What aileth thee? It is well that thou dost grieve for sin, but Christ has come to put it away. It is well that thou dost mourn thy lost estate, but Christ has come to save thee, and there he is right before thee if thou canst but see him.

     It was unbelief, too, that darkened Hagar’s eyes. God had appeared to her years before, you remember, when she was in very much the same plight, and he had then given her a promise that he would make of her son that was to be born a great nation. She might have reflected that this could never happen unless the boy’s life was preserved, and since he could not live without a drink of water, she should have felt confident that water would be forthcoming. She was unbelieving, but it is not ours to judge her; for, alas, we are unbelieving too. Anxious soul, is that thy case? Oh, if thou couldst believe! Truly, thou hast good cause. It should not be hard to believe what God says, for he cannot lie; but, still, unbelief darkens many an eye.

     There are many who cannot see because of self-conceit. When great self feasts his eye upon his own good works or religious performances, of course he cannot see the way of salvation by Christ alone. The Lord take these scales from thy eyes, poor sinner, for self is a great maker of darkness. Nothing more surely holds a soul in gloom than a conceit of its own powers. How I wish I could so put the gospel as to win men from self. I preach the plan of salvation as plainly as ever I can. I use very homely metaphors. I have sometimes even employed what the more refined call vulgar expressions: I would be more vulgar still, if I could thereby help a soul to see Christ. I tell you Jesus is near to you, and within your reach, and that salvation is close at your foot. You have but to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved. But I know that, after all is said and done, if you ever see Christ it will be because the Holy Spirit opens your eyes. I cannot open them, nor any other mortal man; for since the world began it hath not been known that any man has opened the eyes of one that was born blind. Oh, that the Lord would be pleased now to open the eye of every sinner here to see salvation in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

     III. I must leave that point, and finish with one more. IN OUR PRESENT CASE IT IS VERY DESIRABLE THAT OUR EYES SHOULD BE OPENED. To many it is imperatively needful at this very moment, for if not now recovered from their blindness they will die in their sins. In this great throng there are some to whom it is pre-eminently desirable that their eyes should be opened at once to see what the inevitable result of their present mode of life will be, for their blindness is the source of great peril to them. That young gentleman who is spending his money upon the racecourse and loose society, I should think he might see with half an eye what will come of his conduct. The devil never runs express trains to hell: there is no need for it, for you can go there fast enough by race-horses. The turf has furnished to many an express method of ruining their fortunes and their souls. Get into that line of things, and all it means, and all the society that goes with it, and your future needs no prophet. Many young men do not think till it is too late to think. I wish I could put a cool hand upon that hot brow and stop that young man and make him stand still and consider. O that the Lord would open his eyes. And that young woman who has begun to look (not much, as yet) on what is called gaiety. Ah, the Lord stay thee, my sister, and open thy eyes ere thou goest one step farther, for one step farther may be thy ruin. And that tradesman who has begun— no, he has not quite begun as yet,— but he is thinking about a course of trade which will land him in something more shameful than bankruptcy, I pray the Lord to open his eyes that he may see matters in the true light. I see a man before me who is about to commit moral suicide. O for a gleam of light just now, and a touch of that finger which can open blind eyes. I cannot particularize and go into every case, but I have upon me a strong impression that I am speaking to some young man whose future depends upon his prudent pausing and careful consideration before he puts his foot down again. One step more, and you fall. I beseech you, stand still and hear what God would speak to you now. Turn thee, turn thee from thy sin and seek thy Saviour now, and he will be found of thee at once, and there shall be a life honourable and bright before thee to his glory. But if thou go one step farther in the way in which the tempter’s charms, like siren music, would entice thee, thou art lost for ever. God help thee, therefore, to stop, and may it be said of thee, “God opened his eyes.”

     Now, leaving all these themes of thought, I would remind you that we are about to gather at the communion table and there we would sit with opened eyes. Those who love the Lord cannot endure to sit as blind men in his palace, but they long for all the sight which grace can give them.

     First, we would have opened eyes that we may see Jesus to be very near us. Do not think of him just now as if he were far away in heaven. He is there in his glorious personality, but his spiritual presence is here also. Did he not say, “Lo, I am with you always;” and “If I go away I will come again”? He abides with us by his Spirit for ever. Come, let us sit while this sacramental feast is going on, and sing—

“Amidst us our Beloved stands,
And bids us view his pierced hands;
Points to his wounded feet and side,
Blest emblems of the Crucified.
“If now with eyes defiled and dim,
We see the signs but see not him,
Oh may his love the scales displace,
And bid us see him face to face!
“Our former transports we recount,
When with him in the holy mount,
These cause our souls to thirst anew,
His marr’d but lovely face to view.”

     We desire that you may have your eyes opened to see what you are in Christ. You complain that you are black in yourselves; but you are most fair in him. You lament that you are so wandering: yes, but you are fixed in him. You mourn that you are so weak; yet you are strong in him. A good man went the other day to visit a poor child who was dying, a child whom the Lord had taught many things; and the dear little fellow as he put out his wasted hand said, “So strong in Christ.” He could hardly lift a finger, and yet he knew that his weakness was clothed with power in Christ. We are poor puny things, but we can do all things through Christ. We are poor foolish things, but we are wise in Christ. We are good-for-nothing things, but yet we are so precious in Christ, so dear to God in Christ, as to be numbered with his jewels, and known as the Lord’s peculiar portion. We are sinful creatures in ourselves, and yet we are perfect in Christ Jesus and complete in him. These are strong expressions, but as they are scriptural, they are assuredly true. How blessed we are in our covenant Head! The Lord open our eyes to see this.

     Lastly, dear friend, may the Lord open your eyes to see what you will be in him. Ah, what will you be in Christ? In a very little while we shall be with him. Many of our members have gone home to Jesus, and one very earnest brother, very diligent in working for the Master’ a young man of whom we expected much, has been swept away by the receding tide while bathing in the sea, but he has gone to his rest, I doubt not. Older friends have also ascended to God just lately, rejoicing to enter into the joy of the Lord. Between now and next month’s communion some of us will, probably, have departed to the Father. Let our eyes be opened to behold by faith the glory soon to be revealed. It may almost make you laugh for joy to think of your head wearing a crown— that poor head of yours. These poor aching knees, and weary feet, there will be no more toil for them. That poor scantily furnished room, and hard fare, and narrow means, and weary labour will all be exchanged for mansions of rest, bread of bliss, and new wine of delight. You know each pavement stone between here and your house, for you come so often to the Tabernacle, but you will be walking the streets of gold before long to the eternal temple above. Instead of noisy streets you will traverse paths of rest, amid the songs of seraphs and the psalms of the redeemed, and that, perhaps, within a month. Yes, in less than it takes the moon to fill her horns you shall be where the Lord God and the Lamb are the eternal light. Certain of us are nearer heaven than we think. Let our hearts dance for joy at the bare thought of such speedy felicity. Let us go on our way blessing and magnifying him who has opened our eyes to see the glory which ho has prepared for them that love him, which shall be ours ere long.

     God bless you for Christ’s sake.



The Garden of the Soul

By / Jun 22

THE GARDEN OF THE SOUL.

 

“A place called Gethsemane.”— Matthew 26:36.

 

THOUGH I have taken only these few words for my text, I shall endeavour to bring the whole narrative before your mind’s eye. It is a part of the teaching of Holy Writ that man is a composite being; his nature being divisible into three parts— “spirit,” “soul,” and “body.” I am not going to draw any nice distinctions to-night between the spirit and the soul, or to analyse the connecting link between our immaterial life and consciousness and the physical condition of our nature and the materialism of the world around us. Suffice it to say, that whenever our vital organization is mentioned, this triple constitution is pretty sure to be referred to. If you notice it carefully, you will see in our Saviour’s sufferings on our behalf that the passion extended to his spirit, soul, and body; for although at the last extremity upon the cross it were hard to tell in which respect he suffered most, all three being strained to the utmost, yet it is certain there were three distinct conflicts in accordance with this threefold endowment of humanity.

      The first part of our Lord’s dolorous pain fell upon his spirit. This took place at the table, in that upper chamber where he ate the Passover with his disciples. Those of you who have read the narrative attentively, will have noticed these remarkable words in the thirteenth chapter of John and the twenty-first verse: “When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.” Of that silent conflict in the Saviour’s heart whilst he was sitting at table no one was a spectator. Into any man’s spiritual apprehensions it were beyond the power of any other creature to penetrate; how much less into the spiritual conflicts of the man Christ Jesus! No one could by any possibility have gazed upon these veiled mysteries He seems to have sat there for a time like one in the deepest abstraction. He fought a mighty battle within himself. When Judas rose and went out it may have been a relief. The Saviour gave out a hymn as if to celebrate his conflict; then, rising up, he went forth to the Mount of Olives. His discourse with his disciples there is recorded in that wonderful chapter, the fifteenth of John, so full of holy triumph, beginning thus, “I am the true vine.” He went to the agony in the same joyous spirit like a conqueror, and oh! how he prayed! That famous prayer, what a profound study it is for us! It ought, properly, to be called “The Lord’s Prayer.” The manner and the matter are alike impressive. “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.” He seems to have been chanting a melodious paean just then at the thought that his first battle had been fought, that his spirit, which had been troubled, had risen superior to the conflict, and that he was already victorious in the first of the three terrible struggles. As soon as this had occurred there came another hour, and with it the power of darkness, in which not so much the spirit as the soul of our blessed Lord was to sustain the shock of the encounter. This took place in the garden. You know that after he had come forth triumphant in this death-struggle he went to the conflict more expressly in his body, undergoing in his physical nature the scourging, and the spitting, and the crucifixion; although in that third case there was a grief of spirit and an anguish of soul likewise, which mingled their tributary streams. We would counsel you to meditate upon each separately, according to the time and the circumstance in which the pre-eminence of any one of these is distinctly adverted to.

     This second conflict which we have now before us well deserves our most reverent attention. I think it has been much misunderstood. Possibly a few thoughts may be given us to-night which shall clear away the mist from our understanding, and open some of the mystery to our hearts. It seems to me that the agony in the garden was a repetition of the temptation in the wilderness. These two contests with the prince of darkness have many points of exact correspondence. If carefully pondered, you may discover that there is a singular and striking connection between the triple temptation and the triple prayer. Having fought Satan at the first in the wilderness, on the threshold of his public ministry, our Lord now finds him at the last in the garden as he nears the termination of his mediatorial work on the earth. Keep in mind that it is the soul of Jesus of which we now have to speak, while I take up the several points consecutively, offering a few brief words on each.

     THE PLACE OF CONFLICT has furnished the theme of so many discourses that you can hardly expect anything new to be said upon it. Let us, however, stir up your minds by way of remembrance. Jesus went to the GARDEN, there to endure the conflict, because it was the place of meditation. It seemed fit that his mental conflict should be carried on in the place where man is most at home in the pensive musings of his mind—

“The garden contemplation suits.”

As Jesus had been accustomed to indulge himself with midnight reveries in the midst of those olive groves, he fitly chooses a place sacred to the studies of the mind to be the place memorable for the struggles of his soul —

“In a garden man became
Heir of endless death and pain.”

It was there the first Adam fell, and it was meet that there

“The second Adam should restore
The ruins of the first.”

He went to that particular garden, it strikes me, because it was within the boundaries of Jerusalem. He might have gone to Bethany that night as he had on former nights, but why did he not? Do you not know that it was according to the Levitical law that the Israelites should sleep within the boundaries of Jerusalem, on the Paschal night? When they came up to the temple to keep the Passover they must not go away till that Paschal night was over. So our Lord selected a rendezvous within the liberties of the city, that he might not transgress even the slightest jot or tittle of the law. And again, he chose that garden, amongst others contiguous to Jerusalem, because Judas knew the place. He wanted retirement, but he did not want a place where he could skulk and hide himself. It was not for Christ to give himself up— that were like suicide; but it was not for him to withdraw and secrete himself — that were like cowardice. So he goes to a place which he is quite sure that Judas, who was aware of his habitudes, knows he is accustomed to visit; and there, like one who, so far from being afraid to meet his death, pants for the baptism with which he is to be baptized, he awaits the crisis that he had so distinctly anticipated. “If they seek me,” he seemed to say, “I will be where they can readily find me, and lead me away.” Every time we walk in a garden I think we ought to recollect the garden where the Saviour walked, and the sorrows that befell him there. Did he select a garden, I wonder, because we are all so fond of such places, thus linking our seasons of recreation with the most solemn mementoes of himself? Did he recollect what forgetful creatures we are, and did he therefore let his blood fall upon the soil of a garden, that so often as we dig and delve therein we might lift up our thoughts to him who fertilised earth’s soil, and delivered it from the curse by virtue of his own agony and griefs?

      Our next thought shall be about the WITNESSES.

      Christ’s spiritual suffering was altogether within the veil. As I have said, no one could descry or describe it. But his soul-sufferings had some witnesses. Not the rabble, not the multitude; when they saw his bodily suffering, that was all they could understand, therefore it was all they were permitted to see. Just so, Jesus had often shown them the flesh as it were, or the carnal things of his teaching, when he gave them a parable; but he had never shown them the soul, the hidden life of his teaching, this he reserved for his disciples. And thus it was in his passion; he let the Greek and the Roman gather around in mockery, and see his flesh torn, and rent, and bleeding, but he did not let them go into the garden with him to witness his anguish or his prayer. Within that enclosure none came but the disciples. And mark, my brethren, not all the disciples were there. There were a hundred and twenty of his disciples, at least, if not more, but only eleven bore him company then. Those eleven must cross that gloomy brook of Kedron with him, and eight of them are set to keep the door, their faces towards the world, there to sit and watch; only three go into the garden, and those three see something of his sufferings; they behold him when the agony begins, but still at a distance. He withdraws from them a stone’s cast, for he must tread the wine-press alone, and it is not possible that the priestly sufferer should have a single compeer in the offering which he is to present to his God. At last it came to this, that there was only one observer. The chosen three had fallen asleep, God’s unsleeping eye alone looked down upon him. The Father’s ear alone was attent to the piteous cries of the Redeemer.

“He knelt, the Saviour knelt and pray’d,
When but his Father’s eye
Look’d through the lonely garden's shade
On that dread agony:
The Lord of all above, beneath,
Was bow’d with sorrow unto death!”

      Then there came an unexpected visitor. Amazement wrapped the sky, as Christ was seen of angels to be sweating blood for us. “Give strength to Christ,” the Father said as he addressed some strong-winged spirit.

“The astonish’d seraph bow’d his head,
And flew from worlds on high.”

     He stood to strengthen, not to fight, for Christ must fight alone; but applying some holy cordial, some sacred anointing to the oppressed Champion who was ready to faint, he, our great Deliverer, received strength from on high, and rose up to the last of his fights. Oh. my dear friends, does not all this teach us that the outside world knows nothing about Christ’s soul sufferings? They draw a picture of him; they carve a piece of wood or ivory, but they do not know his soulsufferings; they cannot enter into them. Nay, the mass of his own people even do not know them, for they are not made conformable to those sufferings by a spiritual fellowship. We have not that keen sense of mental things to sympathize with such grievings as he had, and even the favoured ones, the three, the elect out of the elect, who have the most of spiritual graces and who have therefore the most of suffering to endure, and the most of depression of spirits, even they cannot pry into the fulness of the mystery. God only knows the soul-anguish of the Saviour when he sweat great drops of blood; angels saw it, but yet they understood it not. They must have wondered more when they saw the Lord of life and glory sorrowful with exceeding sorrowfulness, even unto death, than when they saw this round world spring into beautiful existence from nothingness, or when they saw Jehovah garnish the heavens with his Spirit, and with his hand form the crooked serpent. Brethren, we cannot expect to know the length and breadth and height of these things, but as our own experience deepens and darkens we shall know more and more of what Christ suffered in the garden.

      Having thus spoken about the place and the witnesses, let us say a little concerning THE CUP ITSELF.

     What was this “cup” about which our Saviour prayed— “If it be possible let this cup pass from me”? Some of us may have entertained the notion that Christ desired, if possible, to escape from the pangs of death. You may conjecture that, although he had undertaken to redeem his people, yet his human nature flinched and started back at the perilous hour. I have thought so myself in times past, but on more mature consideration, I am fully persuaded that such a supposition would reflect upon the Saviour a dishonour. I do not consider that the expression “this cup” refers to death at all. Nor do I imagine that the dear Saviour meant for a single moment to express even a particle of desire to escape from the pangs which were necessary for our redemption. This “cup,” it appears to me, relates to something altogether different—not to the last conflict, but to the conflict in which he was then engaged. If you study the words— and especially the Greek words— which are used by the various evangelists, I think you will find that they all tend to suggest and confirm this view of the subject. The Saviour’s spirit having been vexed and having triumphed, there was next an attack made by the Evil Spirit upon his mental nature, and this mental nature became inconsequence thereof most horribly despondent and cast down. As when on the pinnacle of the temple the Saviour felt the fear of falling, so when in the garden he felt a sinking of soul, an awful despondency, and he began to be very heavy. The cup, then, which he desired to pass from him was, I believe, that cup of despondency, and nothing more. I am the more disposed so to interpret it, because not a single word recorded by any of the four evangelists seems to exhibit the slightest wavering on the part of our Saviour as to offering himself up as an atoning sacrifice. Their testimony is frequent and conclusive: “He set his face to go towards Jerusalem;” “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished;” “The Son of Man goeth, as it is written of him.” You never hear a sentence of reluctance or hesitancy. It does not seem to be consistent with the character of our blessed Lord, even as man, to suppose that he desired that final cup of his sufferings to pass away from him at all.

      Moreover, there is this, which I take to be a strong argument. The apostle tells us that he was “heard in that he feared.” Now, if he feared to die, he was not heard, for he did die. If he feared to bear the wrath of God, or the weight of human sin, and really desired to escape therefrom, then he was not heard, for he did feel the weight of sin, and he did suffer the weight of his Father’s vindictive wrath. Thus it appears to me that what he feared was that dreadful depression of mind which had suddenly come upon him, so that his soul was very heavy. He prayed his Father that that cup might pass away; and so it did, for I do not see in all the Saviour’s griefs afterwards that singular overwhelming depression he endured when in the garden. He suffered much in Pilate’s hall, he suffered much upon the tree; but there was, I was almost about to say, a bold cheerfulness about him even to the last, when for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross; yea, when he cried, “I thirst,” and, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” I think I notice a holy force and vigour about the words and thoughts of the sufferer which not the weak and trembling state of his body could extinguish. The language of that twenty-second Psalm, which seems to have struck the key-note, if I may so speak, of his devotion on the cross, is full of faith and confidence. If the first verse contains the bitterest of woe, the twenty-first verse changes the plaintive strain. “Thou hast heard (or answered) me” marks a transition from suffering to satisfaction which it is delightful to dwell upon. Now, perhaps some of you may think, that if this cup only meant depression of the spirits and dismay of the soul it was nothing of much moment or significance, or at least it weakens the spell of those unwonted words and deeds which twine around Gethsemane. Permit me to beg your pardon. Personally I know that there is nothing on earth that the human frame can suffer to be compared with despondency and prostration of mind. Such is the dolefulness and gloom of a heavy soul, yea, a soul exceeding heavy even unto death, that I could imagine the pangs of dissolution to be lighter. In our latest hour joy may light up the heart, and the sunshine of heaven within may bear up the soul when all without is dark. But when the iron entereth into a man’s soul, he is unmanned indeed. In the cheerlessness of such exhausted spirits the mind is confounded; well can I understand the saying that is written, “I am a worm and no man,” of one that is a prey to such melancholy. Oh that cup! When there is not a promise that can give you comfort, when everything in the world looks dark, when your very mercies affright you, and rise like hideous spectres and portents of evil before your view, when you are like the brethren of Benjamin as they opened the sacks and found the money, but instead of being comforted thereby said, “What is this that God hath done unto us?” when everything looks black, and you seem, through some morbid sensitiveness into which you have fallen, to distort every object and every circumstance into a dismal caricature, let me say to you, that for us poor sinful men this is a cup more horrible than any which inquisitors could mix. I can imagine Anne Askew on the rack, braving it out, like the bold woman she was, facing all her accusers, and saying—

“I am not she that lyst
My anchor to let fall;
For euery dryzzling myst
My ship’s substantial,”

but I cannot think of a man in the soul-sickness of such depression of spirits as I am referring to, finding in thought or song a palliative for his woe. When God touches the very secret of a man’s soul, and his spirit gives way, he cannot bear up very long; and this seems to me to have been the cup which the Saviour had to drink just then, from which he prayed to be delivered, and concerning which he was heard.

      Consider for a moment what he had to depress his soul. Everything, my brethren, everything was draped in gloom, and overcast with darkness that might be felt. There was the past. Putting it as I think he would look at it, his life had been unsuccessful. He could say with Isaiah, “Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” And how poor was that little success he did have! There were his twelve disciples; one of them he knew to be on the way to betray him; eight of them were asleep at the entrance to the garden, and three asleep within the garden! He knew that they would all forsake him, and one of them would deny him with oaths and curses! What was there to comfort him? When a man’s spirit sinks he wants a cheerful companion; he wants somebody to talk to him. Was not this felt by the Saviour? Did not he go three times to his disciples? He knew they were but men; but then a man can comfort a man in such a time as that. The sight of a friendly face may cheer one’s own countenance, and enliven one’s heart. But he had to shake them from their slumbers, and then they stared at him with unmeaning gaze. Did he not return back again to prayer because there was no eye to pity, and none that could help? He found no relief. Half a word sometimes, or even a smile, even though it be only from a child, will help you when you are sad and prostrate. But Christ could not get even that. He had to rebuke them almost bitterly. Is not there a tone of irony about his remonstrance? “Sleep on now and take your rest.” He was not angry, but he did feel it. When a man is low-spirited he feels more keenly and acutely than at other times; and although the splendid charity of our Lord made that excuse— “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” yet it did cut him to the heart, and he had an anguish of soul like that which Joseph felt when he was sold into Egypt by his brethren. You will see, then, that both the past and the present were sufficient to depress him to the greatest degree. But there was the future; and as he looked forward to that, devoted as his heart was, and unfaltering as was the courage of his soul (for it were sacrilege and slander methinks to impute even a thought of flinching to him), yet his human heart quailed; he seemed to think— “Oh! how shall I bear it?” The mind started back from the shame, and the body started back from the pain, and the soul and body both started back from the thought of death, and of death in such an ignominious way: —

“He proved them all— the doubt, the strife,
The faint, perplexing dread;
The mists that hang o’er parting life
All gathered round his head:
That he who gave man’s breath might know
The very depths of human woe.”

Brethren, none of us have such cause for depression as the Saviour had. We have not his load to carry; and we have a helper to help us whom he had not, for God who forsook him will never forsake us. Our soul may be cast down within us, but we can never have such great reason for it, nor can we ever know it to so great an extent as our dear Redeemer did. I wish I could picture to you that lovely man, friendless like a stag at bay, with the dogs compassing him round about, and the assembly of the wicked enclosing him; foreseeing every incident of his passion, even to the piercing of his hands and his feet, the parting of his garments, and the lots cast upon his vesture, and anticipating that last death-sweat without a drop of water to cool his lips! I can but conceive that his soul must have felt within itself a solemn trembling, such as might well make him say, “I am exceeding sorrowful even unto death.”

     This, then, seems to me to be the cup which our Lord Jesus Christ desired to have passed from him, and which did pass from him in due time.

     Advancing a little further, I want you to think of the AGONY.

     We have been accustomed so to call this scene in the garden. You all know that it is a word which signifies “wrestling.” Now, there is no wrestling where there is only one individual. To this agony, therefore, there must have been two parties. Were there not, however, mystically speaking, two parties in Christ? What do I see in this King of Sharon but, as it were, two armies? There was the stern resolve to do ail, and to accomplish the work which he had undertaken; and there was the mental weakness and depression which seemed to say to him, “You cannot; you will never accomplish it.” “Our fathers trusted in thee, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee and were delivered; they trusted in thee and were not confounded;" “but I am a worm and no man, a reproach of men, and despised of the people;” so that the two thoughts come into conflict— the shrinking of the soul, and yet the determination of his invincible will to go on with it, and to work it out. He was in an agony in that struggle between the overwhelming fear of his mind and the noble eagerness of his spirit. I think, too, that Satan afflicted him; that the powers of darkness were permitted to use their utmost craft in order to drive the Saviour to absolute despair. One expression used to depict it I will handle very delicately; a word that, in its rougher sense, means, and has been applied to, persons out of their mind and bereft for awhile of reason. The term used concerning the Saviour in Gethsemane can only be interpreted by a word equivalent to our “distracted.” He was like one bewildered with an overwhelming weight of anxiety and terror. But his divine nature awakened up his spiritual faculties and his mental energy to display their full power. His faith resisted the temptation to unbelief. The heavenly goodness that was within him so mightily contended with the Satanic suggestions and insinuations which were thrown in his way that it came to a wrestling. I should like you to catch the idea of wrestling, as though you saw two men trying to throw one another, struggling together till the muscles stand out and the veins start like whip-cord on their brows. That were a fearful spectacle when two men in desperate wrath thus close in with each other. But the Saviour was thus wrestling with the powers of darkness, and he grappled with such terrible earnestness in the fray that he sweat, as it were, great drops of blood: —

“The powers of hell united prest,
And squeezed his heart, and bruised his breast,
What dreadful conflicts raged within,
When sweat and blood forced through his skin!”

     Observe the way in which Christ conducted the agony. It was by prayer. He turned to his Father three times with the self-same words. It is an index of distraction when you repeat yourself. Three times with the self-same words he approached his God— “My Father, let this cup pass from me.” Prayer is the great cure-all for depression of spirit. “When my spirit is overwhelmed within me, I will look to the rock that is higher than I.” There will be a breaking up altogether, and a bursting of spirit, unless you pull up the sluices of supplication, and let the soul flow out in secret communion with God. If we would state our griefs to God they would not fret and fume within, and wear out our patience as they are sometimes wont to do. In connection with the agony and the prayer there seems to have been a bloody sweat. It has been thought by some that the passage only means that the sweat was like drops of blood; but then the word “like,” is used in Scripture to signify not merely resemblance but the identical thing itself. We believe that the Saviour did sweat from his entire person, great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Such an occurrence is very rare indeed among men. It has happened some few times. Books of surgery record a few instances, but I believe that the persons who under some horrifying grief experience such a sudor never recover; they have always died. Our Saviour’s anguish had this peculiarity about it, that though he sweat as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground, so copiously as if in a crimson shower, yet he survived. His blood must needs be shed by the hands of others, and his soul poured out unto death in another form. Remembering the doom of sinful man— that he should eat his bread in the sweat of his face, we see the penalty of sin exacted in awful measure of him who stood surety for sinners. As we eat bread this day at the table of the Lord we commemorate the drops of blood that he sweat. With the perspirings on his face, and huge drops on his brow man toils for the bread that perishes; but bread is only the staff of life: when Christ toiled for life itself to give it to men he sweat, not the common perspiration of the outward form, but the blood which flows from the very heart itself.

     Would that I had words to bring all this before you. I want to make you see it; I want to make you feel it. The heavenly Lover who had nought to gain except to redeem our souls from sin and Satan, and to win our hearts for himself, leaves the shining courts of his eternal glory and comes down as a man, poor, feeble, and despised. He is so depressed at the thought of what is yet to be done and suffered, and under such pressure of Satanic influence, that he sweat drops of blood, falling upon the cold frosty soil in that moon-lit garden. Oh the love of Jesus! Oh the weight of sin! Oh the debt of gratitude which you and I owe to him!

“Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all,”

     We must proceed with the rich narrative to meditate upon our SAVIOUR CONQUERING.

     Our imagination is slow to fix upon this precious feature of the dolorous history. Though he had said, “If it be possible let this cup pass from me;” yet presently we observe how tranquil and calm he is when he rises up from that scene of prostrate devotion! He remarks, as though it were in an ordinary tone of voice he announced some expected circumstance, — “He is at hand that shall betray me; rise, let us be going.” There is no distraction now, no hurry, no turmoil, no exceeding sorrow even unto death. Judas comes, and Jesus says, “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” You would hardly know him to be the same man that was so sorrowful just now. One word with an emanation of his Deity suffices to make all the soldiery fall backwards. Anon he turns round and touches the ear of the high priest’s servant, and heals it as in happier days he was wont to heal the diseases and the wounds of the people that flocked round him in his journeys. Away he goes, so calm and collected that unjust accusations cannot extort a reply from him; and though beset on every hand yet is he led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. That was a magnificent calmness of mind that sealed his lips, and kept him passive before his foes. You and I could not have done it. It must have been a deep profound peace within which enabled him to be thus mute and still amidst the hoarse murmur of the council and the boisterous tumult of the multitude. I believe that having fought the enemy within, he had achieved a splendid victory; he was heard in that he feared, and was now able in the fulness of his strength to go out to the last tremendous conflict in which he met the embattled hosts of earth and hell; and yet unabashed after he had encountered them all, to wave the banner of triumph, and to say, “It is finished.”

      What, then, let us ask in drawing to a conclusion, is the LESSON FROM ALL THIS?

      I think I could draw out twenty lessons, but if I did they would not be so good and profitable as the one lesson which the Saviour draws himself. What was the lesson which he particularly taught to his disciples? Now, Peter, and James, and John, open your ears; and thou, Magdalene, and thou, Mary, and thou, the wife of Herod’s steward, and other gracious women, listen for the inference which I am going to draw. It is not mine; it is that of our Lord and Master himself. With how much heed should we treasure it up! “What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” “Watch;” and yet again, “Watch and pray lest ye enter into temptation.” I have been turning this over in my mind to make out the connection. Why on this particular occasion should he exhort them to watch? It strikes me that there were two sorts of watching. Did you notice that there were eight disciples at the garden gate? They were watching, or ought to have been; and three were inside the garden; they were watching, or ought to have been. But they watched differently. Which way were the eight looking? It strikes me that they were set there to look outwards, to watch lest Christ should be surprised by those who would attack him. That was the object of their being put there? The other three were set to watch his actions and his words; to look at the Saviour and see if they could help, or cheer, or encourage him. Now, you and I have reason to look both ways, and the Saviour seems to say as we look upon the agony — “You will have to feel something like this, therefore watch;” watch outwards; be always on your watch-tower, lest sin surprise you. It is through trespasses that you will be brought into this agony; it is by giving Satan an advantage over you that the sorrows of your soul will be multiplied. If your foot slip your heart will become the prey of gloom. If you neglect communion with Jesus, if you grow cold or lukewarm in your affections, if you do not live up to your privileges, you will become the prey of darkness, dejection, discouragement, and despair; therefore, watch, lest ye enter upon this great and terrible temptation. Satan cannot bring strong faith, when it is in healthy exercise, into such a state of desolation. It is when your faith declines and your love grows negligent, and your hope is inanimate, that he can bring you into such disconsolate heaviness that you Bee not your signs, nor know whether you are a believer or not. You will not be able to say, “My Father,” for your soul will doubt whether you are a child of God at all. When the ways of Zion mourn, the harps of the sons and daughters of Zion are unstrung. Therefore, keep good watch, ye who like the eight disciples are charged as sentinels at the threshold of the garden.

      But ye three, watch inward. Look at Christ. “Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself.” Watch the Saviour, and watch with the Saviour. Brethren and sisters, I should like to speak this to you so emphatically that you would never forget it. Be familiar with the passion of your Lord. Get right up to the cross. Do not be satisfied with that, but get the cross on your shoulders; get yourself bound to the cross in the spirit of the apostle when he said, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live.” I do not know that I have had sweeter work to do for a long time than when a few weeks ago I was looking over all the hymn-writers and all the poets I knew of for hymns upon the passion of the Lord. I tried to enjoy them as I selected them, and to get into the vein in which the poets were when they sung them. Believe me, there is no fount that yields such sweet water as the fount that springs from Calvary just at the foot of the cross. Here it is that there is a sight to be seen more astounding and more ravishing than even from the top of Pisgah. Get into the side of Christ; if is a cleft of the rock in which you may hide until the tempest is overpassed. Live in Christ; live near to Christ; and then, let the conflict come, and you will overcome even as he overcame, and rising up from your sweat and from your agony you will go forth to meet even death itself with a calm expression on your brow, saying, “My Father, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

“My God, I love thee; not because
I hope for heaven thereby,
Nor because they who love thee not
Must burn eternally.
Thou, O my Jesus, thou didst me
Upon the cross embrace;
For me didst bear the nails and spear,
And manifold disgrace;
And griefs and torments numberless,
And sweat of agony;
Yea, death itself— and all for me
Who was thine enemy.
Then why, O blessed Jesu Christ,
Should I not love thee well?
Not for the hope of winning heaven,
Nor of escaping hell;
Not with the hope of gaining aught,
Nor seeking a reward;
But as thyself hast loved me,
O ever-loving Lord.
E’en so I love thee, and will love,
And in thy praise will sing;
Because thou art my loving God,
And my Eternal King.”

     I hope that this meditation may be profitable to some tried Christians, and even to impenitent sinners likewise. Oh that the pictures I have been trying to draw might be seen by some who will come and trust in this wondrous man, this wondrous God, who saves all who trust in him. Oh, rest on him! “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Do but trust him, and you are saved. I do not say you shall be saved another day, but you are saved to-night. The sin which was on your shoulder heavy as a burden when you came into this house shall all be gone. Look now to him in the garden, on the cross, and on the throne. Trust him; trust him; trust him now; trust him only; trust him wholly;

“Let no other trust intrude;
None but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.”

      May the Lord bless you, every one in this assembly, and at the table may you have his presence. Amen.



Obedience Better than Sacrifice

By / Jun 22

Obedience Better than Sacrifice

 

“Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22.

 

SAUL had been commanded to slay utterly all the Amalekites and their cattle. Instead of doing so, he preserved the king, and suffered his people to take the best of the oxen and of the sheep. When called to account for this, he declared that he did it with a view of offering sacrifice to God; but Samuel met him at once with the assurance that such sacrifices were no excuse for an act of direct rebellion, and in so doing he altered his sentence, which is worthy to be printed in letters of gold, and to be hung up before the eyes of the present generation: “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”

     I think that in this verse — and here I shall dwell mainly— there is first a voice to professing Christians, and then, secondly, to unconverted persons.

     I. First, I will speak to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, and who have made a PROFESSION of your faith in him.

     Be it ever in your remembrance, that to obey, to keep strictly in the path of your Saviour’s command, is better than any outward form of religion, and to hearken to his precept with an attentive ear is better than to bring the fat of rams, or anything else which you may wish to lay upon his altar.

     Probably, there are some of you here to-night who may be living in the neglect of some known duty. It is no new thing for Christians to know their duty, to have their conscience enlightened about it, and yet to neglect it. If you are failing to keep the least of one of Christ’s commands to his disciples, I pray you, brethren, be disobedient no longer. I know, for instance, that some of you can see it to be your duty, as believers, to be baptized. If you did not think it to be your duty, I would not bring this text to bear upon you; but if you feel it to be right, and you do it not, let me say to you that all the pretensions you make of attachment to your Master, and all the other actions which you may perform, are as nothing compared with the neglect of this. “To obey,” even in the slightest and smallest thing, “is better than sacrifice,’* and to hearken diligently to the Lord’s commands is better than the fat of rams. It may be that some of you, though you are professed Christians, are living in the prosecution of some evil trade, and your conscience has often said, “Get out of it.” You are not in the position that a Christian ought to be in; but then you hope that you will be able to make a little money, and you will retire and do a world of good with it. Ah! God cares nothing for this rams’ fat of yours; he asks not for these sacrifices which you intend to make. “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” Perhaps you are in connection with a Christian church in which you may see much that is wrong, and you know that you ought not to tolerate it, but still you do so. You say, “I have a position of usefulness, and if I come out I shall not be so useful as I am now.” My brother, your usefulness is but as the fat of rams, and “to obey is better than” it all. The right way for a Christian to walk in is to do what his Master bids him, leaving all consequences to the Almighty. You have nothing to do with your own usefulness further than to keep your Master’s commands, at all hazards and under all risks. “I counsel thee to keep the King’s commandments,” and “whatsoever he saith unto thee, do it.” Sit at his feet with Mary, and learn of him, and when thou risest up from that reverent posture, let it be with the prayer—

“Help me to run in thy commands,
’Tis a delightful road;
Nor let my head, nor heart, nor hands,
Offend against my God.”

Possibly, too, dear brother, there may be some evil habit in which you are indulging, and which you excuse by the reflection, “Well, I am always at the prayer meeting; I am constantly at communion, and I give so much of my substance to the support of the Lord’s work.” I am glad that you do these things; but oh! I pray you give up that sin! I pray you cut it to pieces and cast it away, for if you do not, all your show of sacrifice will be but an abomination. The first thing which God requires of you as his beloved is obedience; and though you should preach with the tongue of men and of angels, though you should give your body to be burned, and your goods to feed the poor, yet, if you do not hearken to your Lord, and are not obedient to his will, all besides shall profit you nothing. It is a blessed thing to be teachable as a little child, and to be willing to be taught of God; but it is a much more blessed thing still, when one has been taught to go at once and carry out the lesson which the Master has whispered in the ear. How many excellent Christians there are who sacrifice a goodly flock of sheep so as to replenish the altar of our God, who nevertheless are faulty because they obey not the word of the Lord. Look at our Missionary Society’s list of subscribers, and ask yourself the question, Do all these help the spread of the gospel by obedience to the precept, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature”? There you see in the money gift the sacrifice, but better far to have obedience. Both ought to be joined together; but of the two, better is the act of obedience than of giving. Noah’s sacrifice sent up a sweet savour before God, but in God’s sight the obedience which led him to build the ark and enter in with his family was far more precious; and for this his name is written amongst the champions of faith, and handed down to us as a word of honour and renown.

     Moreover, brethren, to obey is better than sacrifice in the matter of caring for the sick and needy of all classes. We rejoice in the number of hospitals which adorn our cities. These are the princely trophies of the power of our holy religion. To these we triumphantly point as amongst the ripe fruits of that Christianity which is for the healing of the nations, chiefly in a spiritual, but also in the physical aspect of man’s diseased and woe-begone state. There are no nobler words in our language than those inscribed on so many walls— “Supported by voluntary contributions.” We glory in them. Rome’s monuments, Grecian trophies. Egyptia’s mighty tombs, and Assyria’s huge monoliths, are dwarfed into petty exhibitions of human pride and vanity before the sublime majesty of these exhibitions of a God-given love to our fellow men ; but all these homes of mercy and healing become evils to ourselves though they are blessings to the distressed, if we contribute of our wealth to their exchequer and neglect personally to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, to feed the hungry, to care for the sick, and do not, like the Master, go about doing good. Give as God has given to you; but remember God acts as well as gives. “Go thou and do likewise.” Sacrifice, but also obey. A cup of cold water given to a disciple in the name of a disciple, and in obedience to the Lord, is a golden deed, valued by our heavenly Master above all price, more precious in his sight than silver, yea, than much fine gold. May I put this very earnestly to the members- of this church, and, indeed, to all of you who hope that you are followers of Christ? Is there anything that you are neglecting? Is there any sin in which you are indulging? Is there any voice of conscience to which you have turned a deaf ear? Is there one passage of Scripture which you dare not look in the face, because you are living in neglect of it? Then let Samuel’s voice come to you, and set you seeking for more grace; for “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”

     II. But my main business to-night is with the UNCONVERTED; and may the Master give us grace to deal with them affectionately, faithfully, and earnestly!

     My hearer, in the first place, God has given to you in the gospel dispensation a command. It is a command in the obeying of which there is eternal life, and the neglect of which will be and must be your everlasting ruin. That command is this: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” The gospel does not come to you as the law does, and say, “This do, and thou shalt live;” but it speaks as in the language of Isaiah the prophet, and says, Hearken diligently unto me; hear, and your souls shall live.” It tells you that whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and it bids the heralds of the cross go out and cry, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.” To use the expressive language of the beloved apostle John, “This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” To believe is to trust, to trust with your whole heart; and whosoever trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ with his whole heart has the promise of eternal life; nay, if that act be sincere, it is the result of eternal life already given. God, the just One, must punish sin, therefore he must punish you; but Jesus Christ became man, and stood and smarted in the sinner’s place, that whosoever trusteth in him might neither smart nor suffer, because God punished Christ in the stead of every man who comes to Christ and rests upon him. To trust in Jesus, therefore, is God’s first and great commandment of salvation. Now, hark thee, sinner! God commands thee to keep this, and surely he has a right to do so. If he wills to save, he has a sovereign right to choose his own way of saving. If a man gives to the poor he may do so as he wills, whether he gives at this door or at that, or through the window; and so God is pleased to use the door of simple faith as the only door through which to bestow mercy on the sons of men.

     And not only has he a right to choose this way, but it is the only way that would suit you. If God determined to save none but those who kept his law, what would become of you? If he only gave grace to the holy and to the good, where would you be? But the way of faith suits, and readily suits one who has broken God’s commands. Though a sinner be dying, though he may be on the cross like the dying thief, yet, as the way of salvation is but a looking at Christ, there is hope for him even in the last extremity that he may still be able to look and live. Why should you kick against God’s way when it is the best to suit you, when none can be more suitable, none more simple? He has chosen it because it is a way which honours his dear Son. Your trusting Jesus gives glory to Jesus, and therefore God delights in your faith. And, besides, it brings a blessing to your own soul. To trust in Christ is in itself a boon. It is humbling, but it is comforting. It empties you, but it fills you; it strips you, but it clothes you. Faith has a double action like a two-edged sword. It kills pride, but at the same time it heals the wound it gave by giving to the sinner trust in Jesus. To confide Jesus is the best conceivable way I can imagine by which a sinner can be reconciled unto God through the blood of the great Redeemer. I pray thee, therefore, be not thou angry because God is gracious, and be not thou rebellious when the still small voice saith, “Look, sinner, look to him who died upon the tree, and by that look thou shalt live.”

     Now, this first point being clear, that God has given a command, the second remark is that the most of men, instead of obeying God, want to bring him sacrifice. They suppose that their own way of salvation is much better than any that the Almighty can have devised, and therefore they offer their fat of rams. This takes different forms, but it is always the same principle. One man says, “Well now, I will give up my pleasures; you shall not see me at the ball-room, you shall not catch me at the theatre, I will forsake the music-hall, you shall not discover me in low company; I will give up all the things that my heart calls good, and will not that save me?” No, it will not. When you have made all this sacrifice, all I shall or can say of it is, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” “Well, but suppose 1' begin to attend a place of worship? Suppose I go very regularly, and as often as the doors are opened? Suppose I go to early matins, and to the even-song? Suppose I attend every day in the week where the bell is always going? Suppose I come to the sacrament, and am baptized? Supposing I go through with the thing, and give myself thoroughly up to all outward observances; will not all this save me?” No, nor will it even help you to being saved. These things will no more save you than husks will till your hungry belly. It is not the husks you want, you want the kernels; and so, poor soul, you do not want external ceremonies, you want the inward substance, and you will never get that except by trusting Jesus Christ. There was a time when doctrine was far more highly valued than is now the case with some Christians. You will often meet with those who seem to value men by their contributions to church funds rather than by their soundness in the faith. Now, if I am to judge men at all, I prize the man who hearkens to God’s voice far more than the one who can bring the “fat of rams” to the altar of God’s house. A rich heretic I would reject and put from me, while the poor but obedient God-fearing disciple I would welcome with all my heart. An ear ever open to listen to God’s voice, a heart ever soft to receive the impress of God’s teaching, — these are far more precious than a hand full of silver and gold, and a mouth promising large things. For “to hearken is better than the fat of rams.” All the costly gifts cast into the treasury are valuable chiefly as representing an inner spirit of devotion, and of self-consecration. They may exist as outward acts without the living spirit which gives them value in God’s eyes. We need therefore to cultivate the soul, and to see that that sacred spirit of devout submission dwells within us which dwelt in him, who not only sacrificed himself on the cross, being obedient unto death, but ever lived in that state of heart which was embodied in his prayer, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” Would the washing of the windows of a house make the inhabitants thereof clean? Yea, does the painting and ornamenting of the exterior of a mansion make the dwellers in it healthier or holier men? We read of devils entering into a clean swept and garnished house, and the last end of that man was worse than the first. All the outward cleansing is but the gilding of the bars of the cage full of unclean birds; the whitewashing of sepulchres full of rottenness and dead men’s bones. Washing the outside of a box will leave all the clothes inside as foul as ever. Remember therefore that all that you can do in the way of outward religion is nothing but the sacrifice of the fat of rams; and “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”

     “Yes,” says another, “but suppose I punish myself a good deal for all that I have done? I will abstain from this, I will deny myself that, I will mortify myself in this passion, I will give up that evil.” Friend, if thou hast any evil give it up; but when thou hast done so do not rely upon that, for this oughtest thou to have done, and not to have left the other undone. God’s command is “Believe,” and if thou shouldest go about to sacrifice thy lusts till they lie bleeding like a hecatomb of bullocks upon the altar, yet I must say to thee, as Samuel sternly said to Saul, “To obey is better than to sacrifice, and to hearken to the gospel message is better than all this fat of rams.”

     But it is thought by some if they should add to all this a good deal of generosity, surely they will be saved. “Suppose I give money to the poor, build a lot of alms-houses, and help to build a church, suppose I am generous even beyond my means, will not this help me?” Sinner, why wilt thou ask such a question? God has set before thee a door, an open door, and over it is written, “Believe and live,” and yet thou goest about and gaddest abroad to find another door! What is all thy gold worth, man? Why, heaven is paved with it! All the gold thou hast would not buy a single slab of the eternal pavement, and dost thou think to enter there by dint of thy poor giving? If he were hungry he would not tell thee, for his are the cattle on a thousand hills, and his are the mines of silver, and the sparkling ores of gold. The diamond, and the topaz, and the chrysolite, are all his own, and his eye sees them hidden in their secret veins and lodes, and dost thou think to bribe the Eternal with thy paltry purse? Oh! Do thou understand that “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”

     “Yes, but,” saith the sinner, “if I could add to all this a great deal of confidence in those good men who are recognised by the world as priests? Suppose I put myself into their bonds? I would not go to the Roman Catholics, for I do not like them much, but supposing I go to the Episcopalians— for they have priests too, and sprinkle children with holy water, and bury the reprobate dead,' in ‘sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection to everlasting life’— could not they do something for me? Or suppose I go to some Dissenting minister, and put myself under his care, cannot he help me?” No, sir, there is nought in us that can help you one jot. We hate the very thought of being priests; I would sooner be a devil than be a priest, with the exception of being what all Christians are— priests unto God. Let me justify that strong remark; of all pretensions on earth, there is none so detestable as the pretence of being able to bestow grace upon men, and of standing between their souls and God. Beloved, we are your servants for Christ’s sake, but as for any priestly authority to give grace to you, we shake off the imputation as Paul shook off the viper from his hand into the fire. We speak to men of our own kith and kin, we talk to you out of warm earnest hearts, but we can only say to you, “Do not trust in us, for you will be fools if you do. Do not trust in any man, for though you might make a sacrifice of your reason by so doing, yet remember that “to obey is better than sacrifice.” God demands of you, not submission to your fellow-men, whoever they may be; he requires of you not to listen to the pealing of organs, not to attend gorgeous ceremonies where the smoke of incense goes up in gaudy palaces dedicated to his service; but he requires this, that you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and then he tells you that you shall live. Trust the Saviour and you shall not perish, neither shall any pluck you out of his hand. But if you refuse this way of salvation, then there is none other presented to you, and you must perish in your sins.

     “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” And now I have to show that it is so. Men are always setting up these ways of salvation of their own, and they will run anywhere sooner than come to Christ and do as God tells them. Let me show how to obey is better than sacrifice, and how to hearken is better than the fat of rams.

     It is better in itself. It shows that you are more humble. There are persons in the world who say that to trust Christ to save us from sin is not to be humble. Now, is it not always humility on the part of a child to do exactly what its parent tells it without asking any questions? I think it is so. Some poor Papists go down on their knees, and even lick the dust to do penance, and they think that this is being humble. Now, suppose one of your children has offended you, and you say to him, “Come, my dear, I freely forgive you; come and give me a kiss, and it is all over.” He shakes his head, and says, “No, father, I cannot kiss you," and he runs away upstairs and shuts himself up. You knock at the door, and say, “Come, my child, come and kiss me, and it is all forgiven.” But he shakes his head and says, “No, never.” He shuts himself up there all alone, and he thinks he is doing more to put away your anger by so doing than by obeying your command. You say to him solemnly, “My child, I will chasten you again for disobedience if you do not come and accept the forgiveness which I offer to you if you will but kiss me.” The child sullenly says, “No, father, I will do something else that is more humbling;” and then you feel in your soul that that is an unhumbled child or else he would at once do what his father told him, without thinking whether it would be a humiliating thing or not. It would be a humbling thing because his father told him to do it, and if he were a right-minded child he would do it from a spirit of obedience. Now, you may think it very humble on your part to want to feel a great deal of conviction, and to shed a great many tears, and to pray a great many prayers, but the most lowly thing you can do is to perform what the Master tells you. “Trust me,” saith he; “do not go over there to weep; come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Do not stand at the swine’s trough saying, “ I will not arise and go to my Father, for I am not fit to go till I have suffered a great deal more;” but hear the voice which bids thee say, “ I will arise and go unto my Father, and what I have to say I will say unto him, and if I have to weep I will weep with my head in his bosom , while I receive the kisses of his love.” Come, poor sinner, do not set up thy proud humility in the teeth of God; but, since he bids thee look and live, oh! give up thy prayers, and even thy tears, and thy repentings, and thy convictions— have done with them all as grounds of confidence, and look to Jesus Christ, and to Jesus Christ alone.

     But in the next place, it is really a more holy thing. There are some soldiers here to-night. Now, suppose one of these received orders from the commanding officer to keep guard at such and such a door. All of a sudden he thinks to himself, “I am very fond of our commander, and I should like to do something for him.” He puts his musket against the wall, and starts out to find a shop where he can buy a bunch of flowers. He is away from his post all the while, of course, and when he comes back he is discovered to have been away from the post of duty. He says, “Here is the bunch of flowers I went to get;” but I hear his officer say, “To obey is better than that; we cannot allow you— military discipline would not permit it— to run off at every whim and wish of yours and neglect your duty, for who knows what mischief might ensue?” The man, however much you might admire what he was doing, would certainly be made to learn by military law that “To obey is better than sacrifice.” It is a holier and a better thing to do one’s duty than to make duties for one’s self and then set about them. Now, does it not seem a very pretty thing when a man puts on a very handsome-looking gown with a yellow cross down his back, and something else in pink, and I know not what colours, and ministers in a place decorated with flowers, and where there are such sweet things, incense smoking from silver censers and choristers all in white, is not that man serving God? When he preaches he does not say to the people, “Believe and live;’’ but begins to talk about “The blessed sacrament of the altar,” or some other such stuff? Is he not serving God when he does this? I will appeal to this old Book. Where inside these leaves and covers is there a word about burning this smoking incense? When did Christ ever say anything about it? Where have we anything about that decorated font, or about that pulpit that looks so very glorious? Why, the man has been making up a spiritual pantomime for himself, and he has left out altogether the soul of the matter. He has left out Christ, and therefore he has not done his work. He has done twenty other things, I dare say very sincerely,, and with a very pure desire, but after all he wants to be made to learn the meaning of this passage, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams;” and better than smoking incense, and flowers, and gilded crosses, and chasubles, and albs, and dalmatics, and all such things as could possibly be brought together. If he had God’s Word for it it would be right, but without God’s Word it is a mere invention of man to which God can have no regard. It is a more holy thing to do what God bids you, than to do what you yourselves invent. When I have done what I have invented, however pretty it may be, however venerable it may seem, yet what does it come to? Suppose I worship God in one of those smart robes, is my worship a bit the better? Suppose I should go home to-night and spend the night on my knees, and think that by that means I should satisfy God? What should I have done but made my knees ache? Supposing I had filled this place with incense, what should I have done but probably have made you cough? Suppose I had decorated myself and this place, some of you might have been pleased, but what connection on earth can there be between flowers and holiness, or between gilding and millinery and glorifying God? If our God were like to some of the fabled deities of Greece and Rome, he might be delighted with these pretty things, but our God is in the heavens, and when he does show his splendour he scatters stars broadcast across the sky with both his hands, and what are all your prettinesses to him? What is your swelling music and all your pretty things to him who built the heavens and piled the earth with all its rugged splendour of forest, and mountain, and stream? “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams?”

     But while I remark upon these things, let me also say that to obey the precept “Believe and live” is certainly a great deal more effectual to the soul’s salvation than all the sacrifice and all the fat of rams which you can offer. Let me give you a picture by way of illustration. Naaman was a leper. He desired healing. The prophet said to him, “Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thou shalt be clean.” Now Naaman thought within himself, “I dare say; wash! does he think me to be some filthy wretch who wants washing? He says I must wash seven times! Does he really think that I have not washed for so long that it will take seven washings to get me clean? He says I must wash! What a simple thing! I have washed every day, and it has done me no good. He says I must wash in Jordan! Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Jordan? Why cannot I wash in them and be clean?” This is just what some of you say about believing. You say, “Well, but sacraments there must be something in them! Believing in Christ— why it is such a simple thing! I am such a respectable person. This is a very good religion to preach to thieves and so on, but surely you forget that I have a great many good works of my own; cannot I think of them? You say I must trust in Christ, as though you thought nothing of my good works.” Well, you are near the mark, sir. I do not think anything of them; I would not give a penny for a waggon-load of them. The whole of them are just what Paul calls them — “refuse.” He says, “I count them but dung that I may win Christ, and be found in him.” All your best works are but so much rubbish to be carted out of the way, and if you trust in them they will be your ruin, and all we say to you is, “BELIEVE AND LIVE.” Now Naaman was in a great rage, and he went away, but his servant said to him, “My father, if the prophet had bidden thee do some great thing wouldest thou not have done it? Much rather, then, wilt thou not do what he tells thee when he says, Wash and be clean?” Now, if my Master were to say to you to-night, Walk to the city of York barefoot and you shall be saved;” if you believed it, the most of you would start off to-night; but when the message is, “Believe and live,” oh! that is too simple! What! just trust Christ and be saved on the spot? Why, it cannot be, you think. If we bade you do some great thing you would do it, but you refuse to do so simple a thing as to believe. But if Naaman had gone to Abana and Pharpar he would not have been healed, and if he had sought out all the physicians in Syria and paid away all his money, he would have been white with leprosy still. There was nothing but washing in Jordan that would heal him. And so with you, sinner, you may go and do fifty thousand things, but you will never get your sins forgiven, and you never, never shall have a hope of heaven unless you will obey this one precept: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” but if you do this you shall find that “to obey is better than sacrifice" indeed, and “to hearken than” all “the fat of rams.”

     But now we must close with a remark which we have made over and over again during this discourse, namely, that not obeying and not hearkening to the gospel, sinner, you must perish. I know that some think it rather hard that there should be nothing for them but ruin if they will not believe in Jesus Christ, but if you will think for a minute you will see that it is just and reasonable. I suppose there is no way for a man to keep his strength up except by eating. If you were to say, “I shall never eat, I will not take refreshment,” you might go to Madeira, or travel to all the climates, (supposing you lived long enough!) but you would most certainly find that no climate and no exercise would avail to keep you alive if you refused to eat; and would you then say, “Well, it is a hard thing that I should die because I refused to eat”? It is not an unjust thing that if you are such a fool as not to eat, you must die. It is precisely so with believing. “Believe, and thou art saved.” If thou wilt not believe, it is no hard thing that thou shouldst be damned! It would be harder if it were not to be the case. There is a man who is thirsty, and there stands before him a fountain. “No,” he says, “I will never touch a drop of moisture as long as I live; cannot I get my thirst quenched in some other way?” We tell him, no; he must drink or die. He says, “I will never drink, but it is a hard thing that I must therefore die, a very hard thing” No, it is not, poor simpleton; it is nothing but an inevitable law of nature. Thou must drink or die; why play the fool at such a cost as that? Drink, man, drink! And so with Christ. There is the way of salvation, and thou must trust Christ or perish; and there is nothing hard in it that thou shouldst perish if thou dost not. Here is a man out at sea; he has got a chart, and that chart, if well studied, will, with the help of the compass, guide, him to his journey's end. The pole-star gleams out amidst the cloud-rifts, and that, too, will help him. “No,” says he, “I will have nothing to do with your stars; I do not believe in the North Pole; I shall not attend to that little thing inside the box; one needle is as good as another needle; I do not believe in your rubbish, and I will have nothing to do with it; it is only a lot of nonsense got up by people on purpose to make money, and I will have nothing to do with it.” The man does not get to shore anywhere; he drifts about, but never reaches port, and he says it is a very hard thing, a very hard thing. I do not think so. So some of you say, “Well, I am not going to read your Bible; I am not going to listen to your talk about Jesus Christ; I do not believe in such things.” You will be damned, then, sir! “That’s very hard,” say you. No, it is not. It is not more so than the fact that if you reject the compass and the pole-star you will not get to your journey’s end. There is no help for it; it must be so; you say you will have nothing to do with these things, and you pooh-pooh them. You will find it a very hard thing to laugh these matters down when you come to die, when the cold, clammy sweat must be wiped from your brow, and your heart beats against your ribs as if it wanted to get out and get away to God. Oh soul! you will find then, that these Sundays, and these services, and this preaching, and this old Book, are something more and better than you thought they were, and you will wonder that you were so simple as to neglect them, the only guides to salvation; and above all, that you neglected Christ, that Pole-star which alone shines aloft to guide the mariner to the port of peace. Now, where do you live to-night? You live, perhaps, the other side of London Bridge, and you have to get over there to-night as you go home; but while you have been sitting here you have got a fancy into your head that you do not believe in bridges, and you do not believe in boats, and you do not believe in water. You say, “I am not going over any of your bridges; do not tell me; I shall not get into any of your boats; if there is a river, I am not going over it; I do not believe in crossing rivers.” You go along, and you come to the bridge, but you will not cross it; there is a boat, but you will not get into it; there is the river, and you say you will not cross that anyhow, and yet you think it is very hard that you cannot get home. Now, I think you must have got something that has over-balanced your reasoning powers, for you would not think it so hard if you were in your senses. If a man will not do the thing that is necessary to a certain end I do not see how he can expect to gain that end. You have taken poison, and the physician brings an antidote, and says, “Take it quickly, or you will die; but if you take it quickly, I will guarantee that the poison will be neutralised.” But you say, “No, doctor, I do not believe it; let everything take its course; let every tub stand on its own bottom; I will have nothing to do with you, doctor.” “Well, sir, you will die, and when the coroner’s inquest is held on your body, the verdict will be, ‘Served him right!’ So will it be with you if, having heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, you say, “Oh! pooh-pooh! I am too much of a commonsense man to have anything to do with that, and I shall not attend to it.” Then, when you perish, the verdict given by your conscience, which will sit upon the King’s quest at last, will be a verdict of “Felode-se"— “he destroyed himself.” So says the old Book— “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself!”

     But when I quote that text I must not stop there, for the next line is, “but in me is thy help found.” Oh! my dear hearer, what a mercy it is that there is help in God! There is help in God for you. There is help in God for the worst of you. I cannot tell who there may be here to-night. There may be some who have sinned very greatly, but there is help laid upon one who is “mighty to save.” Where are you, big sinner? Here is a great Saviour able to put all your sins away. Have you grown grey in wickedness? Ah! my Master can put away seventy years of sin by a moment’s application of his precious blood. See him bleeding on the cross in agonies so great, that angels might have wept to gaze upon him.

“See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”

There must be merit in such mighty agonies. If thou trustest in the merits of that precious blood thou shalt one day be with him in Paradise. God give thee to trust Jesus, to trust Jesus now, and then we shall meet again where they sing, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

“Behold the Lamb of God!
Behold, believe and live;
Behold his all-atoning blood,
And life receive.

Look from thyself to him,
Behold him on the tree;
What though the eye of faith be dim?
He looks on thee.

That meek, that languid eye,
Turns from himself away;
Invites the trembling sinner nigh,
And bids him stay.

Stay with him near the tree,
Stay with him near the tomb;
Stay till the risen Lord you see,
Stay ‘till he come.'"



Faith versus Sight

By / Jun 22

Faith versus Sight

 

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” — 2 Cor. 5:7.

 

I THINK the apostle is here explaining how it was he could say, that whilst lie was at home in the body, he was absent from the Lord; and through what means he felt that this was not the state in which he wished ever to be. Having been possessed, and actuated, and moved by the principle of faith, he was not content to tabernacle in a body which could only be dwelt in satisfactorily through the influence of the faculty of sight.

     The apostle, however, mentions here a great general principle— “We walk by faith, not by sight;” and, in talking upon this text this evening, we shall — without pretending to go into it fully— speak, first of all, upon the posture mentioned; then upon the two principles contrasted; and then upon a certain caution which is here implied.

     I. First, a word or two about THE POSTURE MENTIONED.

     Paul, speaking of believers, says: “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Walking is, of course, a posture which implies the possession of life. You can make a dead man sit in a certain position, or even stand in a chosen attitude; but to walk necessitates the possession of inward life. It becomes with us, therefore, a question in the first place, whether we have the life of God within us. In the sense in which the term “walk” is here used, the ungodly man does not walk at all. He hastens after his own lusts, and he treads in the way of the flesh; but in a spiritual sense he is, and always must be, a stranger to “walking” until God has quickened him. When we shall see corpses walking along our high-roads, and pass them at eventide in our streets, then shall we expect to see Christian feelings, Christian emotions, and Christian character exhibited by unconverted men, but not till then. There must first be an inward life, before there can be the outward sign of it.

     But, walking is a position which also signifies activity. You would suppose, from the way in which some Christians deport themselves, that their whole life was spent in meditation. It is a blessed thing to sit

“With Mary at the Masters feet;”

but we walk as well as sit. We do not merely learn, but we practise what we know. We are not simply scholars, but, having been taught as scholars, we go on to show our scholarship by working in the vineyard, and wherever else the Master may be pleased to place us. The quietists and mystics are a class of people who have a peculiar attraction for my mind; and I suppose the mention of such a name as that of Madame Guyon, who, among females, stands at the very head of the school, will awaken in many of you many sweet remembrances of times enjoyed in reading her blessed hymns, and her sweet and admirable life. But, after all, it is not the highest style of Christian living to be a mystic or a quietist. “We walk.” Some Christians seem as if they always sat; but “we walk.” You would gather, indeed, from what others say, that the whole life of a Christian is to be spent in prayer. Prayer, it is true, is the vitality of the secret parts of Christian life, but we are not always on our knees, we are not constantly engaged in seeking blessings from heaven. We do “continue in prayer,” but we are also engaged in showing forth to others the blessings which we have received, and in exhibiting in our daily actions the fruits which we have gathered on the mountain-top of communion with God. “We walk” and this implies activity. Oh! I would that some Christians would pay a little attention to their legs, instead of paying it all to their heads. When children’s heads grow too fast it is a sign of disease, and they get the rickets, or water on the brain. So, there are some very sound brethren, who seem to me to have got some kind of disease, and when they try to walk, they straightway make a tumble of it, because they have paid so much attention to perplexing doctrinal views, instead of looking, as they ought to have done, to the practical part of Christianity. By all means let us have doctrine, but by all means let us have precept too. By all means let us have inward experience, but by all means let us also have outward “holiness, without which no man can see the Lord.” “We walk” This is more than some can say. They can affirm— “We talk; we think; we experience; we feel;” but true Christians can say, with the apostle Paul, “We walk.” Oh that we may ever be able to say it too! Here, then, is the activity of the Christian life.

     In the posture of walking there is also implied progress. A man does not walk unless he make some headway. We are not always practising the goose-step; we are not always lifting our foot, and then putting it down in the same place. This may do very well for the beginners in the awkward squad at drill, and I am afraid that a great many of us are still in that squad; but the Christian, who has got through his childhood, and has grown somewhat, makes progress. There are some who will tell you that they do not know that they have made any progress; or, if they do not say this, you can see that they have made none. They are as bad-tempered as when they first joined the Church. They are as changing, as illiberal, as captious, as easily “carried about with every wind of doctrine” as they were at first. Such persons give some cause for suspicion as to whether they know much about the divine life at all, because they who have the divine life truly in them can say— “We walk.” They go from strength to strength; every one of them appeareth in Zion before God. They are not satisfied with being in the way; they desire also to walk in the way. God does not say to us— “This is the way,” and then stop; but he says— “This is the way, walk ye in it.” We are always to be making advances; we are to be going from faith in its beginnings to faith in its perfections: from faith to assurance; from assurance to full assurance; from full assurance to full assurance of hope; from fall assurance of hope to the full assurance of understanding; and thus onward, waxing stronger and stronger. There is a progress to be made in every Christian grace; and he who carefully marks the terms used about Christian graces will discover that there are degrees in all of them, while each of them are degrees one above the other. Walking implies progress; and the genuine Christian, when he is in a healthy state, may truthfully say— “We walk.”

     Walking also implies perseverance. When a man goes along a step or two and then stops, or returns, we do not call that walking. The motion of the planets, as seen by the eye, has been described by the poet as “progressive, retrograde, and standing still.” I am afraid there are many people of whom this would be a true description, but the true Christian keeps on; and though there may often appear to be times when he stops, and seasons when he goes back, yet the Scripture is not broken where it says that “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” The Christian’s motto is, “Upward and onward.” Not as though he had already attained, either were already perfect, he presses forward to the mark for the prize of his high calling in Christ Jesus. We are not true Christians if we stop, or start, or turn aside. As an arrow from a bow that is drawn by some mighty archer speeds straightway towards its goal, such is the Christian life as it is, such is it as it always should be. We make progress, and we persevere in so doing.

     I think, however, that by the term “walk” the apostle meant to signify, that, in the ordinary and customary actions of life, we are actuated by faith. You know, walking is the common way of moving. You do not often talk of a child’s walking. You do speak of it, of course; but you generally say, “There are the little ones running about the house;” you do not say that they are “walking about the house,” because the way of moving with the young is generally running, inasmuch as they have a great deal of extra life, and have not yet got into the wear and tear of life. You do not find lambs walking at all, in the ordinary way in which sheep do. Now, it is very easy, in the beginning of the Christian life, to run in the ways of the Lord with rejoicing; but running, after all, is not the most manly form of progress; it is not that which can be kept up for long, for running fatigues and tires you; but walking is that kind of progress in which a man continues hour after hour; and after his night’s rest he rises again to walk on as before, and until he reaches his goal. In Scripture we often read of men who, by faith, did great exploits. “By my God I have broken through a troop; by my God I will leap over a wall.” Now, this is a very great thing to do; and some Christians are always fixing their eyes upon exploits of faith. The apostle Paul did cut through troops and leap over walls, but in this place he speaks of the common actions of life. It is as if he said: — “I not only leap walls by faith, but I walk by faith; I not only break through troops by faith, but I go and do my business by faith.” That man has not yet learned the true spirit of Christianity who is always saying, “I can preach a sermon by faith.” Yes, sir, but can you make a coat by faith? “I can distribute tracts, and visit the district by faith.” Can you cook a dinner by faith? I mean, can you perform the common actions of the household, and the daily duties which fall to your lot, in the spirit of faith? This is what the apostle means. He does not speak about running, or jumping, or fighting, but about walking; and he means to tell you that the ordinary life of a Christian is different from the life of another man; that he has learned to introduce faith into everything he does. It was not a bad saying of one who said, that he “did eat and drink, and sleep eternal life.” We want not a home-spun religion, but a religion that was spun in heaven, and that will do to wear at home and about the house. “We walk by faith.” The Mohammedan worships God at the “holy hour;” the true Christian calls all hours “holy,” and worships always. Some set apart the seventh day of the week, and therein do well, but in setting apart all the seven days, and living to God, and entering into rest throughout them all, we do better still. When our souls cannot keep our religion for the Tabernacle, and the pew, and the closet, and the open Bible, and the bended knee ; but when that religion becomes the atmosphere in which we live, the element in which our soul breathes, when God dwelleth in us, and we dwell in him, when we feed upon Christ, not as a special dainty, but as “ the bread of heaven,” and drink of him, not as a luxury, but as “ the water of life;” when we wear our piety, not as some holiday garment, but as our every-day dress, then it is that we get into the spirit of true religion.

     Summing up all, then, the whole of the Christian life, which is implied in the term “walk,” is here spoken of, and it is influenced by the principle of faith, which we are now about to speak of.

     II. And now, secondly, in the text we have TWO PRINCIPLES CONTRASTED.

     There is walking by faith, and there is walking by sight.

     The most of men, all men, indeed, naturally walk by sight. They have a proverb that “Seeing is believing,” and they are wise men, for they trust people as far as they can see them, and no further. The world thinks itself uncommonly knowing in always depending upon its own sight. The highest degree of worldly wisdom seems to be just this — see everything for yourself, and do not be taken in; do not be led by the nose by anybody, but follow your own understanding. This is the text which the world’s Solomons always preach from— “Self-made Men”— that is the title of their book; self-reliance— that is the name of their principle, and, according to the world, the best and grandest thing that a man can do is to have faith in himself! Their maxim is— “Know things for yourself; look after the main chance; make money—make it honestly if you can, and honourably if possible, but if not, make it anyhow, by hook or by crook.” “Take care of Number One,”— this is the world’s learned dictum. Now the Christian is the very opposite of this. He says— “ I do not care about looking after the things that are seen and are temporal; they are like dissolving views, or the scenes from a child’s magic lantern; there is nothing in them ; they are but phantoms and shadows; the things that are not seen influence me, because they are eternal; they endure, remain, abide, and therefore they affect a creature which has learnt that it has, not mortality alone, but immortality, and who expecting to live for ever, therefore seeks for things which will be coeval with its own existence.”

     Now, since the world thinks itself so very wise for holding everything it can, and thinks the Christian such a great fool for giving up what he can see for what he cannot see, in contradiction to the world’s proverb, that “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,”— let us just see wherein the wisdom of this matter is, and wherein it is not.

     In the first place, we notice that walking by sight is a very childish thing. Any child can walk by sight, and so can any fool too. We know how a child feels when it looks at a mountain, and we have all felt the same when we have gone to Switzerland and other places. I had a friend with me, who said of a certain mountain— “I will undertake to be at the top in half-an-hour.” It took us five hours and a half steady toiling, and we did not go slowly either. Of course my friend judged by his sight, and, not being accustomed to mountains, and not knowing that sight is a very different thing when it comes to deal with different landscapes— not knowing that a judgment which would be pretty accurate in England would be totally wrong in the mountains of Wales, and still more erroneous in Switzerland— not knowing all this, I dare say he would be startled at eventide, expecting to find himself at the top before the sun went down, whereas he would not have reached it till the middle of the night. A child always judges of everything by what he sees. You give him a number of coins; they are all spurious, but he is so pleased with them that he does not care about having real sovereigns; he is just as glad to have those he has, for they look quite as good; you offer him sixpence, and when he is yet a youngster he will give you your sixpence back for a penny, because the penny is the larger of the two. He judges by sight, which, you see, is a childish principle altogether. When a man grows up he no longer judges so much by sight. He has learned a great many things in this world, and he has discovered that his eyes may be very greatly mistaken at times. He needs to correct his eyes. The child says— “How quickly these stars move! How fast the moon hastens through the cloud!” The man says— “No, no; it is the clouds that are moving.” The child says that the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, and admires its motion; but the man knows that the sun does not move at all, and that it is the earth that is moving. He believes this, and thus in a certain degree he has faith, because he cannot see the world move. Hodge once said he would not believe the world moved at all, because he found that his house still stood in the same place, and Hodge proved himself to have been thus only a big child. But it is a very manly thing to believe something which you cannot see. Even in common philosophy it is so. The children all sat at home in England, and in Spain, and in France, and they said— “Oh! this is all the world, this is,” and they had their Mediterranean Sea in the middle of the earth. But there was A MAN amongst them who said he did not believe it, but thought the world was round, and that there was another half to it. “You are a fool,” said they. “Fool or not,” he replied, “I believe it;” and Columbus stood up, head and shoulders taller than the rest of his fellows, and got a few to go with him and started— a company of fools they were called. They could not see anything! They sailed on, and on, and on, for many weary days, and the unbelievers said they had better go back. There were several pieces of sea-weed floating about which looked as if they came from some other shore, or had been washed down some not far distant river. Columbus did not care much for these sea-weeds, because he believed, and believed firmly, that there was another half of the globe; and when the land-birds came and lighted on his ship, though they gladdened his heart, yet they did not make him believe any the more. And when he saw America, and stood on the strand of the land of gold, he still only had to keep on as he had done. He had walked by faith before, and he could continue in the same course now. When he came back everybody said— “What a wonderful man is Columbus!” Just so; all the rest were children, and he was the only true man amongst them. Now the Christian is a man; I mean to say he is “a man” in the scriptural sense of the term. He has become a full-grown man in Christ Jesus, and while the worldling saith— “This is all the world; ‘let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die;’ to get money, and to spend it and enjoy ourselves, this is the end of the world:” “No,” says the Christian; “there must be another half to the world; I am sure there must be another land beyond the sea, so I will loose my anchor, and turn my helm, and try to find it. I will leave this world to you children, and will seek another and a more heavenly one.” So we sail away, and by-and-by we see the bits of sea-weed, and when at last the angelic messengers come, like birds of Paradise, and light upon the masts of our vessel, then we thank God that we were ever enabled, with true manly courage, to loose our anchor, to set out upon our voyage, and to turn our helm towards the sea, because we believed in God, and were actuated by a noble principle of faith, compared with which the world’s wisdom is but the folly of the child.

     This, then, is the first thing we have to say about these true principles, that the one is childish while the other is manly.

     Again, the one is grovelling while the other is noble. I think the world must be pretty well ashamed of itself if it still considers this poor earth to be all that a soul has to live for. I feel as if I could not talk upon the matter. Solomon tried everything there was in this world— riches, power, pleasure— every sort of delicacy and delight he had even to satiety, and what was his verdict upon it all? — “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” A man earning his bread all day long— what is he? Is he better than the donkey that I saw a little while ago at Carisbrook Castle, pumping up water and always going round? What more is he than that? “Well, but he makes money, and acquires houses and land.” Yes, and there is only so much more probate-duty to be paid when he dies, and I suppose the worms know no difference between a man who died worth three hundred thousand pounds, and a poor wretch who was buried by the parish! It does not come to anything more than that! The children go to the sea-side with their little wooden spades and build up a pier of sand, but the tide comes and washes it away, and this is just what men do. They build with heavier stuff, which gives them more care, and not half so much merriment in piling up as the youngsters have in digging up their sand, but the end is just the same; only the children live to build again, while these big children, these grovellers, are washed out to sea with all their works, and perish everlastingly. You have walked upon the beach, I dare say, when the sea has gone down. I do not mean the beach at Ramsgate where everybody goes, but a long way out in some quiet spot; if you have, you will have seen what hundreds of little mounds there are all over the beach, where the worms have come up and made a number of small heaps? That is all we do, and it is all that the world is— just a big place covered all over with little heaps of dirt, that we have all piled up. but where have we gone? If there be not another world to live for, I must say that this life is a most unutterably empty kind of thing. It is noteworthy of a man! But oh! to believe what God tells me, that there is a God, but that God became flesh to bear me up to himself, to believe that I am God's son, that I have an immortality within myself which will outlast the stars, that I shall one day see his face, and sing his praise for ever with cherubim and seraphim— why, there is something here. The man who believes this feels as if he began to grow; he bursts the poor engrossments of his flesh, and expands into something worthy of a man who is made in the image of the Most High. The principle of seeing everything, and of liking only to get what I can see, and touch, and handle, is the poor instinct of beasts and birds, but the principle of living upon what I cannot see, and upon something that I can believe, is one worthy of a man. As much as man is higher than the beast, so much and yet more a thousand-fold, is the life of faith superior to that of mere sight and feeling.

     Again; there is something exceedingly ignorant about believing only what I can see. What, then, shall I believe? Even in common life the man who walks by sight must necessarily be a fool— I say necessarily, because nine out of ten things in the world that are the most wonderful and potent cannot be seen, at least not by the eyes. A man who will not believe in electricity— well, what can you make of him in these days? Such a man will believe in the vapour that puffs from the steam-engine, but since nobody ever did or could see steam, inasmuch as it is an invisible agent, he cannot ever believe in that. He lives in the midst of a great world, and he cannot account for most things in it because he will not believe in anything beyond what he sees; and if he carries this principle out, the marvels of other countries, and the wonders of other ages, are all shut out from his poor purblind mind. And this is most decidedly the case with regard to spiritual things. If you only walk by sight, and only believe what you see, what do you believe? You believe that while you are living here it is a good thing to make the best you can of it, and that then you will die and be buried, and there will be an end of you! What a poor, miserable, ignorant belief this is! But when you believe in what God reveals, and come to walk by faith, how your information expands! Now, riddles are all unriddled, and enigmas are all solved, and now you begin to comprehend things in a way which you never could have done had you walked only by sight. Now you can understand those trials and troubles that come to you; now you can understand the complexity of your nature, and the inward conflicts that you feel within you. You could never have done this on the principle of sight, but, believing what God says, you have got into a state in which you shall be educated and taught till you become wise, and able to have fellowship with the only wise God.

     Let me say, again, that walking by sight is such a very deceptive way of walking. After all the eye does not see anything; it is the mind that sees through the eye. The eye in every man has some sort of defect in it; it needs to be educated for a long time before it tells the truth, and even then there are a thousand things about which it does not always speak truly. The man who walks by his eye will be deceived in many ways. The angler baits his hook, and casts his fly upon the water, and the silly fish, which jumps by sight, has the hook in its jaws in a moment. You can evermore, if you will, go from bad to worse in unseen danger if you will judge according to the sight of the eyes. The world is wise enough to say that “Honesty is the best policy.” The world was not quite itself when it said that, for mostly it is present gain that Satan sets before us, and present pleasure. “Snatch the hour as it passes,” says Satan; “these things are sure; you do not know what may come afterwards.” And so is the poor soul deceived by judging according to what he thinks he sees; whereas the man who has a God to go to, and to believe in, is never deceived. The promise to him always stands fast; the person of Christ is always his sure refuge, and God himself is his perpetual inheritance.

     Let me add, again, that the principle of sight is a very changeable one. You can see well enough, you know, in the day, but what will you do in the night, when you cannot see? It is well enough to talk of walking by sight in the light, but what will you do when the darkness comes on. It is very well to talk about living on the present while you are here, but when you go upstairs and lie on your dying-bed, what about the principle of living for the present then? When you cannot stop here any longer, when, notwithstanding all the ties which held you to earth, Death begins to drag you away, and you cry to him, “Let me stop; I cannot leave wife, and children, and business yet;” but when Death remorselessly tears you away from all that is dear to you— how about the principle of sight then? It is a strange principle to die with, but, let me say, on the other hand, that the principle of faith does best in the dark. He who walks by faith can walk in the sunlight as well as you can, for he walks with God-enlightened eyes, but he can walk in the dark as you cannot, for his light is still shining upon him. He trusts in the unseen and in the invisible, and his soul rejoices when present things are passing away.

     We will not tarry longer upon this point, except to say one thing, namely, that those who walk by sight walk alone. Walking by sight is just this— “I believe in myself;” whereas walking by faith is— “I believe in God.” If I walk by sight I walk by myself; if I walk by

Faith then there are two of us, and the second one—ah! how great, how glorious, how mighty is he—the Great All-in-all—God-all-sufficient! Sight goes a warfare at its own charges, and becomes

bankrupt, and is defeated. Faith goes a warfare at the charges of the King’s Exchequer, and there is no fear that Faith’s bank shall ever be broken. Sight builds the house from its own quarry, and on its own foundation, but it begins to build and is never able to finish, and what it does build rests on the sand and falls. But faith builds on the foundation laid in eternity, in the fair colours of the Saviour’s blood, in the covenant of grace. It goes to God for every stone to be used in the building, and brings forth the top-stone with shoutings of “Grace, grace unto it.” Beloved, when you say “I will do so-and-so,” you may be very proud, but when you can say, “God will do so-and-so, and I believe it,” then you will be humble, and yet you may glory and boast as much as you will, because there are two of you together. It is not “the sword of Gideon,” but “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon,” and Jehovah cannot be defeated. “The life that I live I live not, but Christ liveth in me,” and this is the grand advantage. In living by sight you have to get your own wisdom, your own judgment, your own strength, to guide you, and when you get into trouble you must be your own deliverer, and your own comforter, and your own helper, or else you must run to somebody as weak as yourselves, and who will only send you deeper down into the mire. But when you walk by faith, should there seem to be a mistake you have not made it; should anything seem to go wrong, you did not steer the ship; and if the ship should run aground, you are not answerable, and will not be blamed. It is yours to be watchful and careful, and to believe that all things work together for the good of those who love God, and are the called according to his purpose. But besides this, we know that nothing can go wrong while God is in the vessel. Blessed be God, when Christ is on Gennesaret’s lake, there may come a stormy night, but every vessel gets safe to port, and we can always sing, —

“Begone, unbelief, my Saviour is near,
And for my relief will surely appear;
By faith let me wrestle, and he will perform,
With Christ in the vessel I smile at the storm.”

 

III. And now, having contrasted the two principles, I am about to close by noticing THE CAUTION IMPLIED in the text.

     The apostle says positively, “We walk by faith,” and then he adds negatively, “not by sight.” The caution, then, is — NEVER MIX THE TWO PRINCIPLES.

     Some of you will not know what I am talking about, but I will try to make you understand it. Some of you are actuated in- what you do by something that you can see. You can see your children, and you will work for them; you can see money — you will strive for that; you can see such and such temporal good — you will seek after that. Now, the Christian believes in God, and he lives to God. He lives as if there were a God, and you live as if there were no God. He believes in a hereafter, and you say you do; but you live as if there were no hereafter, while the Christian lives as if there was one. He believes in sin, and so you say you do, and yet you never weep about it; while the Christian lives as if sin was a real disease, and he could not bear it. You say you believe in Christ the Saviour, but you live as if you did not believe in him. The Christian lives upon his belief that there is a Saviour. All that he does is affected and acted upon, not by what he sees, but by what he does not see, and yet believes, and he walks according to that faith.

     Now, the thing that neither you nor I can understand is this; how is it that the man who has once learned to walk by faith can be so stupid as ever to mix the two principles together? Yon may go a journey by land, or you may go by water, but to try to swim and walk at the same time would be rather singular. A drunken man tries to walk on both sides of the street at once, and there is a sort of intoxication that sometimes seizes upon Christians, which makes them also try to walk by two principles. They cannot do it; it is like trying to go due east and due west at the same time. The principles themselves are antagonistic to one another, and yet there are some Christians who attempt it.

     Shall I show I you what I mean by this? You say — “I believe God loves me; I have prospered in business ever since I have been a Christian.” Yes; the first part of that is faith; but the second part of it is sight. Suppose you had not prospered in business, what then? Why, according to your way of reasoning, you would have said — “I do not believe that God loves me, for I have not prospered in business since I have been a Christian;” so that, you see, you would really be walking by sight. Genuine Christian reasoning is this — “I have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ; he says that as many as receive him are the sons of God; I have received him, and I am therefore a son of God. Now, whether my Father kisses me or flogs me, I know that I am his son; I am not going to be guided by my state and condition, but by my faith as to the promise of the Word; he says that if I have received Christ, I have the privilege to be a child of God; then, whether I am rich or poor, whether I am sick or healthy — all these are matters of sight. I do not bring them into the calculation; I take the naked word as it stands, that I am God’s child; if he slay me I am his child; if he lets me go to prison, if he should suffer me to rot in a dungeon, or to burn at the stake, I am still his child; I do not look upon circumstances as at all affecting my position.” Oh! beloved, if you once begin calculating your position before God according to your temporal circumstances, where will you be? Do not talk any more of believing; you have given it up, and you are really walking by sight.

     Perhaps many of you do not make precisely this mistake, but there is another way of doing it. “Now,” says one, “I have believed in Jesus Christ, but I am afraid I am not saved, for I feel to-night so depressed in spirits, and so unhappy.” “Oh,” says another, “you need not tell me that I have trusted in Jesus Christ, for I am sure I am saved, because I feel so happy.” Now you are both wrong, as wrong as wrong can be. When you said you trusted you in Christ — so far, so good; but when you said you were afraid you were not saved, because you were so unhappy; or, on the other hand, that you were sure you were saved because you were so happy — that is walking by sight. You see you are mixing up the two principles, which will no more go together than fire and water. If I have believed in Jesus Christ, I may at this moment, through disease of body, or some other present temporal affliction, be very heavy in spirit, but I am saved notwithstanding. “He that believeth on him is not condemned.” I may be very troubled; I may see a great deal in myself that may make me distressed, but if I believe, I am not condemned, and cannot be. Or, if I have strong faith and am possessed of great joy, that is no proof of my being saved. It is my believing that is the proof of that. I do not hang upon my feelings, I rely simply upon Christ; and I must learn the difference between feeling and believing, or else I shall always be blundering and making mistakes. You sometimes get taken by the Lord to the mountain-top, and you have such sweet communion with him, and then you say — “My mountain standeth firm, I shall never be moved.” Ah! poor simpleton, you do not know what you are saying, for in a short time you may go down into the depths and cry — “All thy waves and thy billows have gone over me.” You think that God has forgotten to be gracious, and you begin to write bitter things against yourself; whereas that is the very time to “have faith in God.”

“When we in darkness walk,
Nor feel the heavenly flame,
Then is the time to trust the Lord,
And wait upon his name.”

     You think that you will use your candle in the day-time, but candles were made for the night. Faith is not meant for sweet frames and feelings only, it is meant for dark frames and horrible feelings. Do you think that the minister has no changes? If he had no changes within he would know himself to be a Moabite and not an Israelite, for it is Moab that is settled on his lees. What, then, is the way to maintain peace when there are changes within the soul; when we are sometimes taken up to heaven and are anon cast down? Why, the only way is never to be unduly elated by prosperity without or within, and never to be unduly depressed by adversity or by doubts and fears, because you have learned to live neither upon things without nor upon things within, but upon things above, which are the true food for a new-born spirit. What is your title for heaven, Christian? Every evidence will one day be taken from you except that which is comprised in these three words: “It is written.” The genuine foundation upon which I may rest for salvation is this: “God hath said it,” not “I have experienced it,” for there will often be times when I shall be afraid that my experience is a delusion; but if “God hath said it,” we can never be afraid. On the oath and covenant of the Most High we must, every one of us, come and build, and if we do that, all shall be well with us. But this is a work so far above human nature that human nature does not even understand it; and though I have tried to speak very plainly, I am conscious that I have spoken in riddles to many of you. God himself must open the eye to understand what living faith means, and then he must give that living faith and perpetuate it; or else, as Israel went back in their hearts to Egypt, so shall we go back to the garlic and onions of the things that are seen, and have but little of the manna which comes from an unseen heaven.

     And now, in closing, I would affectionately bid you take heed to one thing. You must mind if you do walk by faith, that you walk by the right faith. I mean you must mind that it is faith in Jesus Christ. If you put faith in your dreams, as some of you still do, or in anything you thought you saw when you were walking, or in a voice you thought you heard from the clouds, or in texts of Scripture coming to your mind — if you put faith in anything else but Christ – I do not care how good it may be or how bad it may be–you must mind, for such a faith as that will give way. You may have a very strong faith in everything else but Christ, and yet perish. There was an architect who had a plan for building a lighthouse on the Eddystone Rock. It quite satisfied his mind, and as he sat by the fire looking at his plans, he was quite sure that no storm that ever came could shake the building. He applied for the contract to build the lighthouse, and did build it, and a very singular-looking place it was. There were a great many flags about it and ornaments, and it looked very promising. Some shook their heads a little, but he was very, very firm, and said he should like to be in it himself in the worst wind that ever blew. He was in it at the time he wanted to be, and he was never heard of again, nor was anything more ever seen of his lighthouse. The whole thing was swept away. He was a man of great faith, only it happened to be founded on mistaken principles. Now, sometimes, because there is a way of talking which looks very much like assurance, you may say, “I am not afraid; I never had a doubt or a fear; I know it is all right with my soul; I am not afraid of the test of the day of judgment.” Weil, whether you wish it or not, that test for the labour of your lighthouse will come, and if it should prove that you built it yourself, it will be swept away, and you with it. But if your soul takes God’s Word, and reads that Word, believing it, and being willing to be taught its inward meaning, — if you take that Word as it stands, and rest upon it, and act upon it with all your heart and soul, the worst storm that ever blew shall never shake your rock and refuge, nor you either; but you shall be safe when earth’s old columns bow, and all her wheels shall go to wreck and confusion.

     Rest thou in the Lord Jehovah. Depend on the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ for all that thou needest, and rest wholly in him with the whole weight of thy soul and spirit, and then there shall be no fear but what thou shalt see God’s face with acceptance.

     May God teach us faith on the right principle, and may we walk by it, and not by sight, and then the Lord shall give us that reward which is given to those who walk by faith in the living God.



The Mighty Arm

By / Sep 17

The Mighty Arm

 

“Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.”— Psalm lxxxix.13.

 

WHEN the soul is perfectly reconciled to God, and comes to delight in him, it rejoices in all his attributes. At the first, perhaps, it dwells almost exclusively upon his love and his mercy, but it afterwards proceeds to find joy in the sterner attributes, and especially delights itself in his holiness and in his power. It is a mark of the growth of Christian knowledge when we begin to distinguish the attributes and to rejoice in God in each one of them. It betokens meditation and thought when we are able thus to discern the things of God and to give to the Lord a psalm of praise for each one of his glories; and it also indicates a growingly intimate communion with the great Father when we begin to perceive his adorable character, and to rejoice so much in all that he is, that we can take the attributes in detail, and bless, and praise, and magnify him on account of each one of them. Under the Jewish law there were forms of the sacrifices which were of the simplest kind, such as the offering of turtle doves or young pigeons, which were simply cleft asunder and burned upon the altar; but there were other and more elaborate rules for the sacrifices which were taken from the flock and the herd; these were rightly divided, and the parts laid in their places— head, the fat, the inwards, and the  legs, and so on, as if to show that the although some believers only know the atoning sacrifice as a whole and after a superficial manner, there are others still further instructed, who look deeper into divine mystery, and see the various forms which the great truth assumes. It is a saving thing to know the Lord at all with the heart; but I would, beloved, that ye knew all the varied rays of his pure light, that ye beheld the many glories of his crown, and could rejoice in each distinct excellence of his infinite perfection.

     The subject of this morning is the power of God as the subject of adoration. Here, dear brethren, we have large scope for thought, for the power of God is manifested in connection with all his other attributes; it is the cause of all his works, and the basis and working force by which his kingdom is maintained and himself revealed. How clearly is his power beheld in creation: there indeed, O Lord, “thou hast a mighty arm.” We injure ourselves and dishonour our Creator when we pass over his works as if they were beneath the notice of spiritual minds. It is perverse on our part to forget the exhortation, “What God has cleansed, call not thou common.” The psalmist sang concerning the creating might of God in verses eleven and twelve of the psalm before us— “The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them. The north and the south thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name.” David did not divide between revelation and nature; he loved the word and meditated therein day and night, but at the same time he triumphed in the works of God’s hands. In the hundred and fourth Psalm he found music in rocks and rills, in fowls and fir trees, and rejoiced that the glory of the Lord shall endure for ever, the Lord shall rejoice in his works. In the eighth Psalm he considered the heavens, and burst forth with the exclamation, “O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” With the same feeling I led you to sing this morning that child’s hymn in which the power of God is reverenced—

“I sing the almighty power of God,
Which made the mountains rise,
Which spreads the flowing seas abroad,
And built the lofty skies.”

The Lord made Job and his friends remember his power as seen in creation; indeed, it was by revealing that one attribute that Job’s friends were silenced, and the patriarch himself was led to cry, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee?” We ought not to overlook that which had so salutary an influence upon others. It is a pity when people become so spiritual that they have no eye whatever for the Lord’s power in rivers and mountains, in seas and storms; for God has made them all, and as in his glass he is darkly to be seen in them. “The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.” I can understand the feeling of some who say, “I prefer spiritual preaching, and I delight most to read the spiritual parts of the word of God rather than the historical records, and to think of his grace rather than of his wisdom in nature”; but there is a fault about such a preference, excellent as it is in one way. It is as though you had a friend who was a great artist, and a master in statuary, able to make the marble almost live and speak with his magic chisel. You are accustomed to call upon this eminent sculptor, and it gives you great pleasure to talk with him, and to associate with his children, but you have never gone into his studio, for his masterpieces do not interest you. Now, this is poor-fellowship, and if ever you get to be in perfect sympathy with your friend, you will be interested in that which interests him, and charmed with the various proofs of your friend’s powers in design and execution. You will study his works for his sake, and love him all the more because of those wonders of beauty and joy which his hand produces. If the Lord thinks fit to display the hand of his power in the visible universe, it “would ill become any one of his children to close his eyes thereto. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” “All thy works praise thee, O God; but thy saints shall bless thee.”

     So, too, the power of God is to be seen in providence; in the overruling hand which controls common events. Our sweet singer writes in verse 9, “Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise thou stillest them.” God’s power is seen in the great phenomena of nature, and even in the lesser matters of every-day life. His hand guides the fall of every sere leaf, and adorns each blade of grass with its own drop of dew; but chiefly his way is in the whirlwind, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. The mighty hand of the Lord is to be seen in the events of human history; his power is manifest in courts and armies, in the rise and fall of empires, in the growth of nations, or in their overthrow. Behold how he broke Egypt in pieces as one that was slain, and scattered his enemies with his strong arm. His people did not refuse to sing of his great power when he smote great kings and slew famous kings, because his mercy to his people endureth for ever. It ought to be a subject of great joy to all righteous souls that the world is not left to itself, or to tyrants: the might is with the right after all, for power belongeth unto God. There is a Governor and Ruler who is Lord of all, and all power is in his hand. Have you not often wished more power to the arm of the man who attacks insolence and cruelty? Be glad, then, that all power is in the hand of the Judge of all the earth, who must and will do right. He will not leave bloodshed unavenged, nor suffer wanton cruelty and horrible brutality to go unpunished; and if the great ones of the earth pass by with indifference, or wink the eye in wicked policy, there is an eye that sees, and a hand that will mete out vengeance stern and sure. In patience possess your souls, O ye people of God, for “God reigneth over the heathen, he sitteth upon the throne of his holiness.” The needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the oppressed for ever trodden down, for verily the Lord reigneth, and his power shall defend the cause of right.

     It is another subject for which we have reason also to adore God, that his power is seen in the ultimate judgment of the wicked, a terrible subject upon which I will not enlarge, but one which should prostrate us in the dust before his awful majesty. There are two flaming jewels of Jehovah’s crown which will be terribly seen in hell; his wrath and his power. “What if God, willing to show his wrath and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction?” Righteous indignation and omnipotence will be glorified together in that last tremendous act of judgment in which he will separate the righteous from the wicked, and apportion to the unbelievers their due. “Who knoweth the power of thine anger?” What must be the strength of an angry God! Who shall stand against him when once he stirreth up his indignation, when he shall break the nations with a rod of iron, and shiver them like potters’ vessels? Beware, saith he, “ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.” Who shall stand against this great and terrible God in the day of his wrath? Who shall endure in that day when mercy’s day is over, and justice alone sits on her burning throne.

     Neither of these, however, is the subject of this morning, though we should not have completed the topic without alluding to them. The subject is the power displayed in connection with the mercy of God, for so Ethan begins this noble covenant psalm: “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.” Power in alliance with grace is our one theme. First, we shall consider the mighty power of God in his grace, as revealed in our experience; secondly, divine power, as displayed in Christ Jesus; and, thirdly, we shall endeavour to reflect upon the same power, and consider how it should be practically recognized. We must be short on each point, for our time is scanty.

     I. First, the mighty arm of God displayed in the way of grace, as MANIFESTED IN OUR EXPERIENCE.

     First, beloved, remember the divine longsuffering. What a mighty arm of grace it must have been which held back the anger of God while we were in a state of rebellion and impenitence. For God to rule the angry sea seems nothing to me compared with the power which he exercises upon himself when he endures the provocations of ungodly men, the hardness of their hearts, their rejection of Christ, and oftentimes their blasphemous speeches and their unclean deeds. O sinner, when thou art sinning with a high hand and with an outstretched arm, is it not a wonder of wonders that God does not cut thee down, and end thy insolence? He saith, “Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries is it not a marvel that he has not eased himself of you, and taken you away with a stroke? You know how it is with some men, a word and a blow; but it has not been so with God. There have been many words of love and many deeds of kindness. He has waited long, and is waiting now, stretching out his hands all the day to a disobedient and gainsaying people. What power is this which restrains its own power, the power of God over his own omnipotence, so that he does not let his anger flame forth at once and devour the ungodly, nor suffer the sword of execution to smite down the rebel in the midst of his provocations? Glory be unto thy lovingkindness and thy longsuffering, O God, for in them we see thy mighty self restraining power. But, next, we saw the power of God so as to recognize it when the Lord subdued us by his mighty grace. What omnipotence is displayed in the conquest of every rebellious sinner! By nature the sinner stands out very stoutly against God, and will not obey his voice. Often he is bulwarked round with prejudices; and you and I, who seek to convert him, are quite unable to reach him. Prejudice is an earthwork into which you may fire with the heaviest cannon, but without avail, for the balls are buried in the earth, and no result follows. When men will not see, no light can help them, for they wilfully close their eyes. When they will not hear, the charms of the gospel avail not, for they have resolutely closed their ears. It is a wonder of wonders when at last God conquers prejudice, and the man finds himself where he would have sworn he never could be, melted down and penitent at Jesus’ feet. If a prophet had told him it would ever be so, he would have said, “Thou art mad, this cannot be: I abhor the very name of it.” Thou hast a mighty arm, O God, when prejudiced Saul of Tarsus falls down at thy feet, and rises to become thine apostle.

     Men are surrounded often with a granite wall of obstinacy: they will not yield to the power of divine love. Preach as you may, they are not to be moved, but remain like an impregnable fortress, frowning from its own inaccessible rock, defying all assaults. You can find no way to get You would he willing almost to die if you could capture their hearts for Christ, but they are neither to be taken by threatening nor by wooing. They are like leviathan whose scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal. “Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons, or his head with fish spears?” They appear to have no joints to their harness through which the arrow of conviction may penetrate: but thou hast a mighty arm, O God, and thine enemies are made to feel thine arrows; those who were exceeding stout against thee have, nevertheless, come crouching at thy feet and have become thy servants. Glory be to God, the northern iron and the steel become wax at his bidding.

     We have seen some, also, who have been rooted in their habits of sin, altogether severed from their old sins. Wonder of wonders, the Ethiopian has changed his skin, and the leopard has lost his spots: for he who was accustomed to do evil has learned to do well. Behold a miracle of mighty grace. The sinner has grown old in sin: like an old oak he has become rooted to the earth by a thousand roots. To transplant him seemed impossible, it were far easier to cut him down. Yet the giant hand of grace has taken hold of that ancient tree and shaken it to and fro by conviction of sin, and at last it has by conversion been drawn from its place right up by the roots, so that the place which once knew it knew it no more. The rock and soil in which it had been imbedded for, perhaps, half a century were made to give way before the upheaving, uprooting force, and the man, divided from his former life, has been a proof of what the Lord can do. The Lord knows how to cleave the mountain and divide the sea, and therefore he can separate men from their darling lusts, and teach them to cut off right arms and pluck out right eyes rather than perish in sin. Truly, Lord, thou hast a mighty arm.

     Satan teaches men to defend themselves against grace by bulwarks of pride. They say, “Who is the Lord that we should obey his voice?” They lift up their horn on high, and speak with a stiff neck. They are self-righteous, they are sure that they have done no ill; the gospel is powerless upon them because they are so lofty in their looks and insolent in their thoughts. But thou hast a mighty arm, O Lord, thou layest proud sinners very low; thou makest them hungry and thirsty, and then they cry unto thee in their trouble. Thou hast a mighty arm amongst the proud, and thou bringest down their heart with labour, they fall down and there is none to help. “He hath put down the mighty from their seats.” Nebuchadnezzar, from saying, “Behold this great Babylon that I have builded,” learned to confess that those who walk in pride the Lord is able to abase.

     Equally mighty is the Lord to overcome despair, for this is another one of the fortresses in which sinners intrench themselves against divine grace. “There is no hope,” say they, “therefore will we give up ourselves to our iniquities,” and it is almost idle to attempt to convert those who are wilfully despairing. They resent the consolations of the Bible, and reject the promises of God; and yet the Lord can break the bars of iron and cut the gates of brass in pieces, and bring up the at the captives from the dungeons of despair, and set them on a rock, and put a new song into their mouths, and make them praise his name for evermore. From the iron cage the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, can set the captives free. All glory be unto his name, when God resolves to save the sinner he will have his will without violating the will of man. In a sweet, soft, gentle manner, in which the power lies in the gentleness, and the force lies in the tenderness, the Lord can conquer the most obstinate. He makes the lion to lie down with the lamb, so that a little child shall lead it. Thus the power of God is seen in the conquest of sinners.

     That power is equally seen in their transformation; for is it not a marvel that God should be able to make old and corrupt rebels into new creatures in Christ Jesus? Every conversion is a display of omnipotence. To create the world was but half a wonder compared with the creation of a right spirit; for there was nothing to hinder when God spake and the world began; but when God speaks to ungodly men there is a resisting force, which impedes the work and even defies the great worker. There is a darkness and a death, there is a force of evil and an inability towards good which must be overcome, yet the Lord maketh all things new, and causeth the new creation to arise in the hearts of his people. Verily he hath a mighty arm. Glory be to the Lord who only doeth great wonders with a high hand and an outstretched arm.

     Conversion is also called a resurrection. It will be a great feat of power when dead carcases shall live at the sound of the last trumpet, but it is an equal wonder when the dry bones of dead sinners come to life, when those who were scattered at the grave’s mouth, the hopeless, graceless, Christless, nevertheless are made to live at the sounding of God’s word by the power of his Spirit. Oh, you that have been new created and quickened into newness of life, adore his power to-day! Who but a God could have made you what you are? Consider what you were, and reflect upon the glorious position to which the Lord has brought you by the blood of the cross. Think what rebels you were, and how set on mischief your nature was; and now, subdued by sovereign grace, your spirit longs for his embrace, you follow after holiness and seek to have it perfected in the fear of God. What a revolution is this! What a turning of things upside down! To turn the wilderness into springs of water and the desert into a flowing stream is nothing compared with turning the dead, cold, dry heart of man into a mighty wellspring of love springing up unto eternal life. Glory be to thy power, oh thou infinitely mighty Jehovah, thou hast a mighty arm.

     That same power is seen, dear friends, in the various deliverances which the Lord gives to his people at the outset, when their enemies come against them so fiercely. Behold, my brethren, how strong was the hand of God which delivered us from the bondage of our first doubts and fears, when conscience accused and the law condemned, when we thought ourselves only waiting for the death warrant and the execution. Behold the Lord has routed our despair, he has set us free from fear and brought us into the liberty wherewith Christ makes men free. We were slaves to sin, too, and oh how sin marshalled all its armies against us at the first, if haply it might cut off our earliest hopes. But mighty was that Christ of God who put all our sins to the rout, and drowned them in the Red Sea of his blood. “There brake he the arrows of the bow, the shield, and the sword, and the battle.” Then Satan came forth with the most horrible temptations, and roared upon us like a lion, for he will not willingly lose his subjects. He sought to cast about us all his nets, that he might hold us captive, and prevent our flying to the divine refuge. But, behold, the prey has been taken from the mighty, and the lawful captive has been delivered, and we are this day rescued from the power of sin and Satan. Even the law itself hath now no power over us to condemn us, for Christ has satisfied it, and we are free. Mighty is thine arm, O God! Thine own right hand, and thy holy arm have gotten thee the victory.

     And since then, beloved, in the continual upholding of the saints, in their final perseverance which is guaranteed, how much of the power of God is seen. You have passed through many troubles, some of you, troubles most heavy and sore, but they have not prevailed against you nor overthrown you. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” Fierce were the foes that gathered against us many a time, and had not the Lord been on our side they had swallowed us up quick; but thou, O Lord, hast a mighty arm, and in thy name have we found a refuge. They compassed us about like bees, yea, they compassed us about, but in the name of the Lord have we destroyed them. Out of what sins and temptations have we come forth victorious! With some of you your path has been through the wilderness, and through one continuous scene of warfare. Snares and traps have been thickly strewn all along your pathway; trials and discouragements have fallen like a storm of hail perpetually beating; and yet you are not overthrown. He keepeth the feet of his saints. The life of anyone Christian is a world of wonders, but in some believers their experience consists of a series of great miracles. “O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.” How has our soul escaped as a bird from the fowler’s snare! The mighty adversaries have been overcome by him who is mightier than they all! The divine strength has been manifested in our weakness. My brother, is it not a wonder that being such a poor worm as you are, yet you have never been crushed? Is it not a marvel that though your faith has been as a bruised reed it has not been broken, and though your piety has been like smoking flax it has never been quenched? Kept alive with death so near, preserved when enemies have been so fierce, will you not say indeed “Thou hast a mighty arm, strong is thy right hand”?

     Brethren, the end cometh, but it will all be right at last, for unless the Lord shall come, we have yet to meet the last grim adversary, but we are not afraid, because our brethren who have gone before us have set us an example of how to die triumphantly. How gloriously have they triumphed in their last hours. We have stood by their side, seen the brightness of their eye when all around was deathshade, and heard their exulting songs when all that looked upon them wept at the thought of their departure. Blanched their cheek? Far from it. They have been as jubilant in their dying hour as the warrior when he divides the spoil. As the bride rejoiceth in her bridal, they have looked forward to the coming of their great Lord and to their being blessed for ever in his embrace. We have been ready to cry out with them, “O death, where is. thy sting! O grave, where is thy victory!” Truly, Lord, when thy poor, weak, suffering people die triumphantly, we see that thou hast a mighty arm. When flesh and heart are failing, when friends cannot help, when every earthly comfort vanishes, for the heart still to rejoice and triumph— this is to see the arm of the Lord made bare, and this causes us to bless and magnify his holy name.

     I would to God that I had more ability to set forth this majestic subject; but I have done my best, and I ask your meditations in the quiet of this afternoon to assist me, that you may really adore and bless the power which is so conspicuous in every vessel of mercy, so revealed in your own self if you be indeed a child of God. O Holy Spirit, make known to us the exceeding greatness of his mighty power, to usward who believe.

     II. Secondly, let ns behold the mighty arm of God as specially DISPLAYED IN THE PERSON OF CHRIST JESUS; and here will you kindly follow me in the psalm itself, for there you will see that the power of God is displayed in Jesus Christ, in the choice of him, and the exaltation of him, to be a Prince and a Saviour. See verse 19: “I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people.” Christ is the incarnation of the power of divine grace, in him dwells the power of God to save the sons of men; and yet in what weakness it dwelt. He was a man despised and rejected, lowly and meek, poor, and without worldly honour. His was the weakness of shame and suffering, poverty and dishonour; but the power of God was upon him, and is upon him now. It is a grand thing to know that God by the weakness of man, taking it into connection with his own nature, has routed sin, Satan, death and hell. The battle in the wilderness was between Satan and a man, tempted as we are; but oh, how gloriously that matchless man overthrew the tempter and prevailed. The agony in the garden of Gethsemane was that of a man: it was a man, though God, who sweat great drops of blood, and uttered strong crying and tears, and won the victory by which evil is dethroned; and he that met the powers of evil on the cross, and stood alone and trod the wine-press till there remained not an uncrushed cluster, was a man. It is by his power, even the power of the man of Nazareth, that all the powers of evil have been for ever blasted and withered; so that, though they rebel, it is but a struggling gasp for life. As surely as God sits on his throne, the foot of the seed of the woman shall be upon the serpent’s head, to crush it for ever; for mighty as were the hosts of evil, God hath exalted one chosen out of the people, and laid help upon him, that he may eternally vanquish all the hosts of darkness. Strong is thy right hand, O Saviour, for by weakness and suffering and death thou hast overthrown all thy people’s foes.

     His power was seen, next, in our Lord’s anointing. “I have found David my servant, with my holy oil have I anointed him.” You know how in his preaching there went out of his mouth a sharp two-edged sword with which he smote sin, because the Spirit of God was upon him. On the day of Pentecost the Spirit bore witness in the entire body of Christ, making all his servants speak with tongues of fire the word of the gospel. The Spirit of God is with Christ on earth still in his church, so that, feeble though the speech of his ministers may be, a secret power attends it, irresistibly subduing the forces of evil. Rejoice ye this day, beloved; for the anointing rests still in the church of God, and the anointed Redeemer must be victorious in every place. Thanks be unto God which causeth his word to triumph in every place by the power of the eternal Spirit. We ought therefore to adore Jesus Christ as having the power of God, because the Holy Ghost is always with him and with his word, and he is therefore mighty to save.

     We must equally magnify the power of God because of the continuance of the empire of Christ in the world. As saith the Psalmist: “with whom my hand shall be established mine arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him, and I will beat down his foes before his face and plague them that hate him.” These eighteen hundred years every effort has been put forth to root up the church of Christ; The devil and all his servants on earth have conspired to overthrow the growing kingdom of our Lord; but they have never succeeded. Think, my brethren, what the power of God must be which has kept the church alive under fiery persecutions, rescued it from the fangs of the Inquisition, preserved it from the poison of heresy, and the pestilence of infidelity, and, what is worse, enabled it to survive the horrible dragon of Popery which has threatened altogether to carry away the church with the floods which it pours out of its mouth. Yet the chosen seed live on and are multiplied in the land, even as it is promised in the thirty-sixth verse of the Psalm before us; “His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me.” The establishment and continuation of the church is an extraordinary proof of divine power..

     So are all the conquests of Christ; some of which we have seen, and more of which are to come. “I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him,” is the divine promise, “I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. I will set his hand also in the sea and his right hand in the rivers.” Glory be to God, Christ is triumphant still. Still in the preaching of his truth he rides forth conquering and to conquer. The gospel has not lost its old force, but whenever it is preached in faith it wins the day. See what power it has in drawing together the multitudes and holding them in breathless attention: a man has nothing to do but to preach Christ simply, and with all his might, and the people will hear it. We want no endowment of the state, we seek no acts of parliament to help us. Give us a clear stage and no favour, an open Bible and an earnest tongue, and the people shall yet be aroused and the multitude shall bow before the people’s King. Jesus Christ is still the mightest name which can be pronounced by mortal tongue; its all-subduing power shall yet be felt in the remotest regions of the earth.

     Beloved, I have not time to do more than say that the great power of God’s grace is embodied in Christ’s mighty intercession. See verse 26: “He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.” This makes him mighty to save— “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” I should like to have an hour to expatiate upon the gracious power of God as seen in the intercession of Christ. Omnipotence dwells in every plea that falls from those dear lips, as the eternal Son pleads his own merits with the everlasting Father. Beloved, the power of Christ is well known to many of you. Did it not call you from the dead? Has not it kept you from going down into the pit? Is there not such power in his name that it makes your heart to leap? If we speak of anything else, you listen to it and glide into sleep; but if you hear about him, does it not stir the very deeps of your soul? Have you not often, when you felt faint and weary, sprung to your feet with exultation at the very thought of him? Has not his presence made your sick bed soft, and what you thought your dying couch to be a throne whereon you sat and reigned as in the heavenly places?

“Jesus, the very thought of thee
With transport fills my breast.”

You know it is so. The power of Jesus’ name, who can measure it? and what will be your sense of his power when you reach another world; when he shall have brought you into his rest, even you who were so unworthy; when he shall reveal in you all the majesty of his goodness; when heaven shall be yours, and all its boundless plains and golden streets,— and when, looking around, you shall find all your Christian brethren there without exception, as many as loved the Lord below, all safely gathered into the fold at last? What a shout shall sound throughout heaven when the armies of the living God shall assemble and find not a soldier missing; when they shall read the muster-roll, and Little Faith shall be found there, and Ready-to-Halt shall be there without his crutches, and Miss Much-afraid shall be there, and Mistress Despondency shall be there, each able to answer to his or her own name and say, “Here am I.” Satan has not devoured a single lamb of all the flock, nor slain a single man of all the host. All along the line Jesus has been victorious! When you shall see the whole host assembled, and remember the struggles through which each one of them came, the much tribulation through which they waded to their crowns, you will exclaim with rapture, “Thou hast a mighty arm, strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.” All glory be to Jehovah Jesus, our almighty Saviour!

     III. Now this brings me to my conclusion, and here we have to answer the question— HOW IS THIS POWER TO BE PRACTICALLY RECOGNIZED? If you will practically carry out what I say, a few words will suffice.

     First, if the power of God be so great, yield to it. Man, do you hope to resist God? Hast thou an arm like God’s, and canst thou thunder with a voice like his? Throw down those weapons, and cease to wage a hopeless war. Capitulate at once, surrender at discretion. Oh, if there be a man here who is the enemy of God, I beseech him to count the cost before he continue the war, and see whether he is able to brave it out with God. Shall wax fight with the fire, or tow contend with the flame? He would go through a host of such as thou art, O man, as fire burneth up the stubble, and or ever thou hast time to think of it, thou shalt be utterly destroyed. “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry -and ye perish from the way when his wrath is kindled but a little.”

     The next practical use is this— is God so strong? then trust him to save you. Never say again that he cannot snatch you from perdition: never doubt his power to save, even in extremity. I have shown you that he has treasured up his gracious power in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, therefore look unto Jesus Christ and be ye saved. All power lies with him, he can forgive all sin, and he can also subdue all iniquity, change the most depraved heart, and implant every grace in the soul. “Trust ye in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.”

     Next, if he be so strong, then trust him in everything. Oh, you that are his people, never dare to distrust him. Is his arm shortened? Cannot the Lord deliver you? Bring your burdens, your troubles, your wants, your griefs, pour them out like water before him, let them flow forth at the foot of the Almighty, and they shall pass away and you shall sing, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation,”

     Is God so strong, then shake off all fear of man. Who art thou that thou shouldst be afraid of a man that shall die? Man is but grass, withered in an hour, wherefore should you tremble at his frown? He is crushed before the moth; why then fear him? Let not the faces of proud men confound you. Trust in God and fear not, for the mighty God of Jacob is with us, and greater is he that is for us than all they that can be against us.

     And now as to thy service, to which thou art called by the Lord. If he be so strong, do not think of thine own weakness any longer, except as being a platform for his strength. Hast thou only one talent? God’s Holy Spirit is not limited in power. He can make thy one talent as fruitful as another man’s ten. Art thou weak as water? Then rejoice this day, and glory in infirmity, because the power of God shall rest upon thee. Think not of what thou canst do— that is a very small affair, but consider what he can do by thee. He can strengthen the feeble against the strong. Behold, this day he saith unto thee, “Behold I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument, having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shall fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them.”

     Last of all, with regard to all the future which lies before you,— is God so strong? then commit to it his hands. You have a great you trouble to face to-morrow, are expecting a greater trouble still at the end of the week. Now, be not afraid, for the Lord liveth to deliver thee. What! Dost thou fear? Is thy Counsellor perished? Has thy Helper failed thee? How canst thou sink in the deep waters when underneath thee are the everlasting arms? The mighty God is thy refuge, how canst thou be in danger? Wherefore dost thou look into the future at all? Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. God is the God of to-morrow as well as the God of to-day. Cease from thy troubling, for it weakens thee, but cannot help thee; it dishonours thy God, thy Saviour, and thus it is evil. In patience and quietness wait for the fulfilment of his promise: rest in him and be at peace. Stand thou still, and see the salvation of God. O Lord, glorify thyself this morning in both saint and sinner, by manifesting the greatness of thy power, for thou hast a mighty arm, strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.



A Message from God to His Church and People

By / Dec 16

A Message from God to His Church and People

 

“O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.”— Habakkuk 3:2.

 

“O LORD, I have heard thy speech!” This is the language of reverent obedience, and is a fit preface to a fervent prayer. If we are not willing to hear God’s voice, we cannot expect him to hear our voice. It is an admirable preparation for prayer, first to hearken diligently to what God the Lord shall speak, and then to be obedient to his commands. He who would hear God speak needs not to wait long, for God speaks to men continually by the Scriptures, which are given to us by inspiration. Alas that we should be so deaf to its teachings! This wonderful volume, so full of wisdom, is so little read that few of us could dare to gaze upon its pages and say, “O Lord, in this Book I have heard thy speech.” At other times, the Lord speaks by providence; both national providences and personal providences have a meaning; providences that are afflicting, and providences which are comforting, all have a voice; but, alas! I fear that oftentimes to us providence is dumb because we are deaf. How often, in our stubbornness, we are like the horse and the mule, which have no understanding, and when God speaketh to us we do not regard him; he therefore multiplies our afflictions, and holds us in with the bit and bridle of adversity, because we will not be governed by gentler means. Look, my brethren, at the providence of God throughout the whole of your lives, and I am afraid few of you can say of it, “O Lord, in providence I have heard thy speech.” The God of heaven speaks to men by his Holy Spirit. He does this, at times, in those common operations of the Spirit upon the ungodly which they resist, as did also their fathers. The Spirit strives with men; he calls, and they refuse; he stretches out his hands, and they regard him not. The unregenerate man is like the deaf adder that will not hear, charm we never so wisely. Even when the Holy Spirit speaks to us his people, we are not always willing and obedient; but though we have ears to hear, we frequently quench the Spirit; we grieve him, we neglect his monitions, and, if we do not despise his teachings, yet too often we forget them, and listen to the follies of earth, instead of regarding the wisdom of the skies. I am afraid that in looking into our own hearts and studying them in connection with the operations of the Holy Spirit, not one of us could dare to say, without exception, “O Lord, I have heard thy speech." In the text before us we meet with a prophet whose ear had been spiritually opened, and who therefore heard the still, small voice of Jehovah, where others perceived neither sound nor utterance. There are times even with us when, being under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we hold near communion with our God; then are our hearts like wax to his seal, receiving the impress of the Divine Mind. Are you not conscious of having been in such a state? It must be so, dear hearer, in a measure, with all the Lord’s servants; but especially must it be often so with those of us who are called to bear his messages to the people. I have most solemnly sought to hear the speech of Jehovah in my own soul before I came into this pulpit, and I pray that his divine power may enable me to convey that speech to you. I have been afraid this week, as I have heard the voice of God in this land; trembling has taken hold upon me, as Jehovah has spoken in thunderclaps, and made the whole land to echo with his terrible accents. I may be to some of you as an interpreter, and you who are spiritual men, you will discern and judge whether I have heard the speech of God or not. If you shall find it to be God’s voice to you, I hope you will be led to the farther carrying out of the language of the text in that much-needed prayer, “O Lord, revive thy work.”

     There are three things in the text; an alarming voice, an appropriate prayer, and a potent argument — “in wrath remember mercy.”

     I. Hear, with solemn awe, THE ALARMING VOICE. The speech of God demands your humblest attention. We need not enter into particulars of the heavy tidings which came to the ear of Habakkuk when he set him upon the tower, and watched to see what the Lord would say unto him. Our business this morning is to tell you, in all solemnity, what the voice of God has been saying to us. In my lonely meditations I heard a voice, as of one that spake in the name of the Lord. I bowed my head to receive the message, and the voice said, “Cry,” and when I said, “What shall I cry?” the answer came to me as to Isaiah of old, “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass.” Then I thought I saw before me a great meadow wide and far reaching, and it was like to a rainbow for its many colours, for the flowers of summer were in their beauty. In the midst thereof I marked a mower of dark and cruel aspect, who with a scythe most sharp and glittering, was clearing mighty stretches of the field at each sweep, and laying the fair flowers in withering heaps. He advanced with huge strides of leagues at once, leaving desolation behind him, and I understood that the mower’s name was Death. As I looked I was afraid for my house, and my children, for my kinsfolk and acquaintance, and for myself also; for the mower drew nearer and nearer, and as he came onward a voice was heard as of a trumpet, “Prepare to meet thy God.” Moreover, as I mused on I heard a rumbling in the bowels of the earth, as though the destroyer were traversing the dark pathways which the miner has digged, and doing his fearful work among the stones of darkness which lie at the roots of the mountains. I wondered with sore amazement, and behold there came up from the mouth of the pit a thundering cloud of vapour, of smoke and fire, and dust, and rushing whirlwind, which told to wailing women that they were widows and their children fatherless; and the angel of death again cried in mine ears, “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.” I have come here this morning sore afraid, and much bowed down because of the mortality of man, and the certainty of death. We shall soon be gone, every one of us to his grave; if not by such an alarming catastrophe as that which has amazed and troubled us during this week, yet by the common processes of decay. Ye whom I now see before me are the meadows, and death is in your midst. Ye are the flowers, and I hear the terrible blast, which, alas! must wither even you. I see you, but there is no joy in my eye, for the cheek of beauty shall pale, and the eye of youth shall grow dim, and the sinews of the strong shall fail them, and the arms of the mighty shall be powerless in the tomb. As the autumn leaves are gone, so are our fathers; and as the floods hasten to the ocean, even so are we hastening away. An irresistible torrent hurries us to our doom; a mighty wind from the Lord sweeps us for ever onward. While we thus quietly consider it the great mystery is being enacted, a thousand graves are being digged, and a thousand corpses are being laid in new-made sepulchres. At this moment hundreds are wading into the cold, chill stream of Jordan; passing into the disembodied state to hear the judgment of the Great King.

     As I thought upon this matter, and desired to hear God’s speech therein, I saw a precipice, whose frowning steep overhung a sea of fire. Leading up to its brink I saw a road exceeding broad, a road which was crowded from side to side with a thronging multitude, who pressed and trod one upon another in their raging zeal to reach the summit of the crag. They went gaily on, merrily laughing, singing to sprightly music, many of them dancing, some of them pushing aside their fellows that they might reach sooner than was imperative upon them the end of what they knew so little. As I looked at that end which none of them could see, I saw a cataract of souls, falling in ceaseless, headlong stream into depths unutterably profound. As the crowd came on rank by rank to the edge of this precipice, they fell, they leaped over, or were dashed from the treacherous crag, and descended amid cries and shrieks surpassing all imagination into a lake of fire, wherein they were submerged with an everlasting baptism, overwhelmed with destruction from the presence of the Lord. I thought I heard their groans and moans their shrieks and sighs as they first caught sight of the terrible abyss and would have shrunk back from it, but were quite unable, for the time to pause was past. Even now I see before my eyes that terrific Niagara of souls descending by thousands every hour into the gulf unknown. This is the broad road of which we had heard so often, wherein multitudes delight to walk. “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many are they that go in thereat.” Sure and terrible is the doom of every one who treads therein. Oh that men would forsake it at once and forever! Alas! alas! are not the great mass of our fellow citizens, beneath the sceptre of our Queen, travelling in this broad road? Even if we could conceive that all who attend the places of worship were in the narrow way that leadeth unto life eternal, if we could be charitable enough to believe that, yet look at the multitude of outsiders! Look at this city, with far more than a million for whom the sound of the church-going bell is meaningless; who know not God, neither regard him, to whom the name of Christ is but a word to curse with or to ridicule: they are going, my brethren, men of the same country as yourselves, men of the same race and tribe, speaking our own language, they are going downward to destruction! Among them your own children, mayhap your wives, your husbands, your sons, your daughters, your parents, going in that motley crew, onward, swiftly onward, towards their dreadful end. My God will cast them away; their end will be destruction; they will be driven from the presence of the Lord. Let these two thoughts, my brethren, burn in your souls until all coldness and indifference are consumed. Men die, and their souls are lost. Men die and their bodies are laid in the grave, but their souls descend into hell. Scarcely were the first death a thing to be mourned over, if it were not for the second. It might be superfluous to shed so much as a single tear for all the men that died, if we knew that they rested in the arms of Jesus, and were for ever blessed; but this is the sting of death, its bitterness, its wormwood and its gall, that sinners are condemned by justice, and driven by vengeance from the presence of mercy into the place where hope can never follow them. Christian men and women, hear ye this voice of God and be afraid.

     Over and above all this, there came upon me a horror of great darkness as I perceived something even more terrible than this. You will Bay to me, “How more terrible?” In certain aspects so it seemed to me. Hear it and judge. What if it be true that within the last twelve months the church of the living God has scarcely made the slightest approach to an advance? What if this be true as respects a far longer period? Let the first sad fact rise before us with its proof. For the last twelve months no apparent increase has been made to the number of professed disciples of the Lord Jesus. Do you ask me for the proofs? I can prove it alas! too surely. Our own body, the Baptist denomination, is upon the whole, and all things considered, in as sound and healthy a state as any Christian community now existing; I am persuaded that in some respects it is more sound and more healthy; but do you know what will have been the increase during the twelve months of the entire denomination in England, Scotland, and Ireland, so far as we can ascertain it? Well, with the exception of London and the county of Glamorgan, in Wales, there will be no increase worthy of the name. In many parts of Wales, where we are strongest, there will be a positive decrease; and I think, in fifteen counties of England, we shall have lost numbers instead of making any advance, and when the whole are put together, the good with the bad, and this London of ours, wherein God has greatly blessed us of late, is counted with the rest, our entire increase for all the churches with all their ministers will not make up four thousand souls. It is true that our statistics are not very accurate, but it they were more accurate I believe the result would be more unfavourable. This is the more fearful to me to contemplate, because the increase of the denomination, which by God’s grace we might naturally look for merely from the increase of population, should have been very much more than this. If other Christian churches have not increased more, and I am persuaded that most of them have increased less, far less than we have, then I am correct in saying that positively the Church of God in Great Britain and Ireland, instead of making any real advance, has, in proportion to the increase of population, absolutely gone back, and I believe it would be accurate and truthful, and could be borne out by statistics, that if at this day there were taken a census of the number of persons who commune at the Lord’s table, it would be found to be smaller instead of larger than the number at the corresponding period of last year. As for abroad, what have our missions done? Brethren, if there were but one soul we ought to rejoice, but the result of missions has been of late so terribly little as to call for great searchings of heart. Is it not a fact that there are missionaries of ten years’ standing who never had a convert? Is it not also a sad fact that the number of members in all our native churches is probably less now than it was twelve months ago? Where is the nation that has been born in a day in this year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-six? Where are the kings that have bowed down before King Jesus? Where are the nations that have called him “Blessed”? Is there so much as one little tribe, however insignificant, that has owned Christ during the past year? Not one, not one! There has been no visible advance. The armies of the living God have rather suffered a repulse than gained a victory, and instead of the morning coming and the light arising, and the sun advancing to a noonday height, it seems as though at the best he stood still, if the light did not even retrograde. Surely there is a voice from God here, and as I hear it I am afraid.

     Meanwhile, what kind of an age has this been in which we have lived? Is it so impassive and thoughtless that progress is impossible? Are we living in one of those dark ages in which mind is rocked to sleep and the soul is stupified? Has this last year been one in which the somnolence of the human intellect has prevented our presenting the truth to the sons of men? I think not. I believe, brethren, that this year has been one of the most wakeful in the annals of human history. At this moment London is like the city of which the prophet said, “It is full of stirs.” There are political stirs in which the Christian minister finds no theme for sorrow, for when men’s minds are but awake for anything there is then an opportunity for the propagation of truth. Truth dreads nothing so much as a sleepy audience. Give her but minds on the wing, and she will train them to the skies. This has been a year in which both upon politics and religion the human mind has been active, and had the Christian churches been filled with the Spirit, and therefore zealous and faithful, I cannot comprehend that she would at the close of the year have had to cry, “Who hath believed our report?” We have indulged the fancy that we have had a general revival, and that our churches are in a healthy state, but is it so? Let our non-success answer the question.

     In the meantime, while truth slumbereth, the legions of evil spirits cease not their mischievous endeavours. How swiftly have the locusts of priestcraft ascended from the smoke of the bottomless pit and covered the land! While we are compelled to fear that evangelical truth has made no advance, we cannot say this of ritualism, for its progress has been perfectly astounding. Though a prophet should have told us that this Anglican Popery would have made so great an advance in so short a time, we should have said, “Impossible! England is soundly Protestant; she will never bear to have incense smoking under her nose, and to see the millinery of the Church of Rome flaunted before her face;” but she has borne it, and she likes it well. Despite much that has been said concerning Puseyism being non-English, we are inclined to question the statement. Where are the greatest crowds in the Establishment? Are they not at the feet of these priests of Baal? Do not rank and fashion gather most readily in those places where their senses are delighted while their souls are deluded? Yes, through the means of our Popish establishment there has been an onward rush of error which is perfectly appalling. Watchman, when they ask thee, “What of the night?” canst thou say, “the morning cometh”?

     Ye that love the Saviour, will you open your ears to catch the meaning of all these things? Men dying, men perishing, the church slumbering, and error covering the land — doth not God say something in all this? Do you not hear out of this thick darkness the voice saying, “O my people, I have somewhat against you” Did I not hear the Lord saying, “They shall perish, but their blood will I require at the watchman’s hand?” I saw the church of God folding her hands, given to slumber, saying, “I am rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing;” and all the while she was suffering multitudes to perish for lack of knowledge, leaving the banner of truth to be moth-eaten, or to be trailed in the mire, and permitting the friends of error to ride roughshod over all the land. As I saw her thus I said within my heart, Surely the Lord will chasten such a people as this, and I feared that he would send judgments upon his church, and perhaps take away her candlestick out of the place, and give the light unto another people that might serve him more faithfully. Then I felt as Habakkuk did, I heard the voice of the Lord, and I was afraid. I was afraid for my fellow-men, thinking of the multitudes of them that had already gone beyond recall to the land of darkness and to the regions of doom, and for the millions hastening to the same end. I was afraid for the Christian church, lest it should have a name to lire and be dead, lest the Lord should give up the church in Britain as he did his church in Shiloh, of which he said, “Go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.” I feared lest he might do for the church in Britain as he has to the church in Rome — given it over to become an antichrist, and an abomination before the eyes of God and men. I was afraid with exceeding great fear for my fellow ministers, for I feared that all this people could not have perished without their being guilty of some of their blood! How could all this ignorance have remained in this land if the preachers had been faithful? I fear that the blood of souls will be required at the hands of many a minister. What do I see? A gathering of ministers. And what is this I see upon their garments? I see blood on them. I see blood sprinkled on grey heads, and alas! I see blood upon the brows of young men who have but lately entered, into the work — blood upon them all. Herein do I much fear for myself, lest I also, addressing this multitude so constantly, should have much blood upon my skirts because of my many responsibilities! O God! it is enough to make us afraid. Why look, my brethren; when God’s servants were truly active, as the first twelve were, did the cause stand still? Did they win here and there a soul, and have now and then a conversion? Did the cause of Christ go back like an army put to the rout? On the contrary, did they not as soon as ever they received the truth, use it like a fire-brand to set the nations on a blaze? They met with persecutions which do not stand in our way; they were assaulted by threats of death which we have not to brave, and yet nothing could stand against their indomitable zeal, the omnipotence of the Holy Ghost rested on them, and they went on conquering and to conquer! And what are we? Oh we are cold and dead where they were full of fire and life. We are the degenerate sons of glorious fathers. Do you think the church could have had it said that she remained a year without increase if there were not blame somewhere? You may remind me of divine sovereignty, if you will, but I remember that divine sovereignty always acts with wisdom and with love, and that the Lord has not said to us, “Labour in vain.” If we had laboured, and if all the Christian church had laboured as they should have laboured, I believe the promise would have been proved, “Your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

     II. When one is thus bowed down with the voice of God, the most natural prompting of the regenerate soul is to pray; so we turn to the second part of the text which has in it AN APPROPRIATE PRAYER. I wish I had power this morning to make you feel the weight of what I have already brought before you. I know I have not put it in such language as I should have chosen, but it seems to me to be perfectly dreadful that there should be this constant dying, this constant ruin, this constant spread of error, and no progress in the church. I am sure when I heard it, if a messenger had told me that I was a beggar, that I had lost everything on earth, I would have been more pleased with such an announcement than to know that God’s church had not increased by the space of twelve months. It seems to me to be a thing to mourn over, a thing to make us go to God with a humble heart, and to feel as if one had been sorely chastened by the Most High. For the Lord knoweth some of us have worked with all our might, and we hope it is not pride when we say the blame does not rest with us, and yet the question must go to us all. We must deal faithfully with ourselves and not be flattered. We would honestly enquire, How much of this lies at my door? How much of this burden of God ought I to bear today? Certainly enough to lead us to such prayer as that before us.

     Habakkuk, being bowed down, first turns himself to God. His first word is, “O Lord.” To the Most High we must carry both our own and our church’s troubles. Habakkuk turns not to another prophet to ask of him, “My brother, what shall we do;” but he turns to the Master, “O Lord, what wilt thou do?” It will be well for us to confer with one another as to the causes of defeat and the means for securing success, but all conference with flesh and blood is idle unless it be preceded by solemn conferences with God. For God’s church, God is needed; for God’s work, God’s own arm must be made bare. Is it not delightful to notice how heavy trials drive us to God when we might not have gone to him else? The little child, when walking abroad runs before his father, but if he meets some strange man of whom he is afraid, he runs back and takes his father’s hand directly; so should it be with us. If God had prospered all our churches, and everything had gone on as we had desired, we might perhaps have grown self-confident, and have said, “O Lord, thou hast given us power in ourselves;” but now, that we see the contrary, let us run back to closer fellowship and nearer communion with our God than ever, and taking hold upon the arm of his strength, let us stir him up by our continued and fervent prayers.

     Notice next, that the prayer of Habakkuk is about God’s church. He knew that there were dark days coming over Palestine, but he does not pray about that land in particular. “O Lord,” saith he, “revive thy work.” Certain would-be prophets tell us, that many wonders will occur in 1866 and 1867, though I notice a propensity to postpone the whole business to 1877. Is this postponement intended that there may be ten years longer in which to sell their books? But whatever is to come, whether the Turkish empire is to be destroyed, or Louis Napoleon is to annex Germany, whether Rome is to be swallowed up by an earthquake, does not seem to me to matter so much as the turn of a button. The great thing to a Christian is, not the fate of earthly empires, but the state of the heavenly kingdom. As to what is to become of this principality or that empire, what have you and I to do with these things? We are the servants of a spiritual King, whose kingdom is not of this world. Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth, and break each other as they will; our business is with King Jesus and his throne. It is delightful to see the prophet rising beyond the narrow range of the Jew, getting out of nationalities, and praying, “O Lord, revive thy work.” That is the one ship we care for in the storm, that one vessel in which Jesus Christ is riding at the helm, the Captain of salvation, and the Lord High Admiral of the seas. Let the nations mix in dire confusion as they will, God ruleth over all, and bringeth out his church in triumph from all the strife of earth. The one anxiety of our souls should be, the blood-stained banner of the cross; will it wave high? Will King Jesus get to himself the crown, for we have neither will nor wish beyond. So, Christian men, if you have heard God’s voice in the great judgments that are abroad, let those judgments lead you to pray, “Lord, remember thy church— thy church— thy church in England, thy church in America, thy church in France, thy church in Germany, thy church anywhere, thy church everywhere. O God, look upon thine elect ones; let the separate ones, scattered through all nations, receive of thy benediction; as for all else, in providence, we leave it to thy will, for thou knowest what is best.”

     Observe next that the prophet uses a word which is singularly discriminative: “O Lord, revive thy work.” He does not say, “Lord, prosper my work.” How often do I go to God in concern about the work that is going on in this Tabernacle! I am thankful for all the blessing we have seen, and I grow increasingly anxious lest the Lord should withdraw his hand; but when one looks abroad upon the world, and upon all the Lord’s people in different denominations, one cannot pray, “Lord, prosper my work;” at least, one can pray that, and then cover that over with another— “O Lord, revive thy work.” For what about my work? Well, as far as it is mine it is very faulty. And what about the work of the Baptists? Well, there is doubtless much that is wrong about it. And what about the work of the Methodists, and the work of the Congregationalists, and so on? May God prosper them according as they walk in his truth! but the way to come to the core of our prayer is to cry, “O Lord, revive thy work; whatever is of thee, whatever is thy truth, whatever is thy Spirit’s work in the hearts of men, whatever is genuine conversion and vital godliness— Lord, revive it.” Cannot you, dear friends, in the presence of death which we have been speaking of, and in the presence of judgment, and in the presence of the fact that the Christian church has not been increased these twelve months, shake off all the bitterness of everything that has to do with self, or with party, and now pray, “ Lord, revive thy work, and if thy work happen to lie more in one branch of the church than in another, Lord, give that the most reviving. Give us all the blessing, but do let thine own purposes be accomplished, and thine own glory come of it, and we shall be well content, though we should be forgotten and unknown. ‘O Lord, revive thy work.’”

     Note that the particular blessing he asks for is a revival of God’s work, by which we mean in our time that there should be a revival of the old gospel preaching. We must have it back. It comes to this— our ministers must return to the same gospel which John Bunyan and George Whitfield preached. We cannot get on with philosophical gospels: we must bring together all these new geological gospels and neological gospels, and semi-Pelagian gospels, and do with them as the people of Ephesus did with the books— we must burn them, and let Paul preach again to us. We can do without modern learning, but we cannot do without the ancient gospel. We can do without oratory and eloquence, but we cannot do without Christ crucified. Lord, revive thy work by giving us the old-fashioned gospel back again in our pulpits. It is to be lamented that there are so many who are considered not to be bad preachers who scarcely ever mention Christ’s name, and are very loose concerning atonement by his precious blood. You will hear people say they have gone to such and such a chapel, and whatever the sermon might have been about it certainly was not about the gospel. Oh may that cease to be the case! May our pulpits ring with the name of Jesus; may Christ be lifted up, and his precious blood be the daily theme of the ministry! Oh that thousands might be brought to put their trust in the Lamb slain, and to find salvation by faith in him whom God has appointed to be the Saviour of men!

     This, however, would not bring back a revival unless there came with it a revival of the gospel spirit. If you read the story of the Reformation, or the later story of the new Reformation under Whitfield and Wesley, you are struck with the singular spirit that went with the preachers. The world said they were mad; the caricaturists drew them as being fanatical beyond all endurance; but there it was, their zeal was their power. Of course the world scoffed at that of which it was afraid. The world fears enthusiasm, the sacred enthusiasm which love to Christ kindles, the enthusiasm which is kindled by the thought of the ruin of men and by the desire to pluck the firebrands from the flame, the enthusiasm which believes in the Holy Ghost, which believes that God is still present with his church to do wonders; this is what the world dreads, and what the church wants. Pray for it, pray to be baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire. O Lord, send forth this unconquerable spirit! O God, revive thy work!

     You perceive that the prophet desires this boon at once. He does not say, “at the end of the years,” but “in the midst of the years;” his prayer is for a present and immediate revival of genuine religion. Let it be ours, not from the teeth outward but from the heart outward to pray for revival; let us long for it with heart and soul and strength, and God will give it to us. Once more note that the prayer of Habakkuk is a very intelligent one, for he indicates the means by which he expects to have it fulfilled; in the midst of the years make known. It is by making known the gospel that men are saved, not by mere thumping of the pulpit and stamping of the foot, but by telling out something which the understanding may grasp and the memory may retain. To publish the doctrine of a reconciled God, to tell men that the Lord has laid help upon Jesus by punishing him instead of us; to proclaim that there is life in a look at the Crucified One, to tell them that the Holy Ghost creates men new creatures in Christ Jesus, to give a full and comprehensive view of the doctrines of grace; this is one of the surest ways, under God, of promoting a revival of religion.

     I cannot talk to you but I think I could pray to God, and I hope many of you will do so to-day. 0 God, send us a revival; this will purge the blood of souls from our skirts, nothing else will. This will roll back the tides of error, nothing else can. This will give to the Christian church triumph of an unusual kind; this will cover the earth with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the deep, but nothing else can or will. Thou gracious God, revive thy work.

     III. And now we close with A POTENT ARGUMENT. He uses the argument of mercy — “in wrath remember mercy.” If God were to say to the churches in England, “I will have nothing to do with you; you have been so idle, so worldly, so purse-proud, so prayerless, so quarrelsome, so inconsistent, that I will never bless you again, the churches of God in England might remain as astounding monuments of the justice of God towards the people who forsake his ways. Sorrowfully, not wishing to be an accuser of the brethren, it does seem to me that considering the responsibilities which were laid upon us, and the means which God has given us, the church generally, (there are blessed exceptions!) has done so little for Christ that if “Ichabod " were written right across its brow, and it were banished from God’s house, it would have its deserts. We cannot therefore appeal to merit, it must be mercy. O God, have mercy upon thy poor church, and visit her, and revive her. She has but a little strength; she has desired to keep thy word; oh, refresh her; restore to her thy power, and give her yet to be great in this land.

     Mercy is also wanted for the land itself. This is a wicked nation, this England; its wickedness belongs not to one class only, but to all classes. Sin runs down our streets; we have a fringe of elegant morality, but behind it we have a mass of rottenness. There is not only the immorality of the streets at night, but look at the dishonesty of business men in high places. Cheating and thieving upon the grandest scale are winked at. Little thieves are punished, and great thieves are untouched. This is a wicked city, this city of London, and the land is full of drunkenness, and the land is full of fornication, and the land is full of theft, and the land is full of all manner of Popish idolatry. I am not the proper prophet to take up this burden, and to utter a wailing; my temperament is not that of Jeremiah, and therefore am I not well called to such a mission; but I may at least, with Habakkuk, having heard the Lord’s speech concerning it, be afraid, and exhort you to pray for this land, and be asking that God would revive his work, in order that this drunkenness may be given up, that this dishonesty may be purged out, that this great social evil may be cut out from the body politic, as a deadly cancer is cut out by the surgeon’s knife. O God, for mercy’s sake, cast not off this island of the seas, give her not up to internal distraction, leave her not in darkness and blackness for ever, but “revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.”

     While I have been addressing Christians, my object has been to bless the ungodly too, and I do trust that some here who are not converted will enquire, “What then is God’s voice to me?” May you be led to seek salvation, and remember you shall find it, for whosoever trusts Christ shall be saved. If there be a man, woman, or child among you who will now humble himself under the hand of God, and look to the crucified Saviour, you shall not perish, neither shall the wrath of God abide upon you, but you shall be found of him in peace in the day of his appearing. God accept this humble weak testimony for Jesus’ sake. Amen.