The Best Cloak

By / Jun 22

The Best Cloak

 

“And was clad with zeal as a cloke.” — Isaiah 59:17.

 

THE solitary champion who is here spoken of, who looked and “saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor;” and therefore his own arm brought salvation unto him, and his righteousness it sustained him; this conquering hero we cannot fail to recognise as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Prince of the house of David, our Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever may have been the first and primary meaning of the text, we are persuaded that the ultimate reference of it is to that destroyer of death, the Captain of our salvation, by whose struggles the whole host of the elect have obtained the victory. Of him we may say beyond and above all others, that he “was clad with zeal as a cloak.”

     When a man has all other excellences, when the grace of God has wrought in him all other virtues, then zeal is still needed to elevate and perfect his entire manhood. Behold the altar, built of unhewn stones, and after God’s own law; behold the wood laid thereon; see the victim slain and the blood flowing; but you cannot make a sacrifice without fire — unless the fire from heaven shall perfect the sacrificial preparations, all will be useless. Behold in the altar the figure of the man; he has faith, courage, love, consecration; but if he lacks the fire of fervent zeal his life will be a failure; he will remain an offering unconsumed, and consequently worthless and unaccepted. By this, indeed, may you know the genuine from the false when other things might raise a question: the false is like the altar of Baal whereon there is much wood and a well fed bullock, and around it are active genuflexions and vigorous ritualisms, but there is no true fire from heaven; while the true is like the altar of Elias, upon which, in answer to fervent prayers, the hallowed flames descend. One of the first requisites of an earnest, successful, soul-winning man, must be zeal. As well a chariot without its steeds, a sun without its beams, a heaven without its joy, as a man of God without zeal.

     Taking the text, and coming to it at once, with eager expectation because the Lord is there, we shall first observe —how zeal is to be regarded — it is to be to the Christian man as a cloak; secondly, we shall joyfully show how our Lord Jesus Christ exhibited it; and then, thirdly, look for a few minutes at the secret springs which fed the zeal of our blessed Lord, and which in our case must also feed ours.

     I. First, then, according to the text, ZEAL IS TO BE REGARDED AS A CLOAK THAT COVERS ALL.

     The Christian man is to wear zeal as we wear an outward garment which covers all the rest of our garments — a flowing robe which encompasses the entire person.

     Zeal is all enveloping: zeal should envelope all the powers of the Christian. He is to invest himself with faith and love, with patience and perseverance, with hope and joy; but zeal must be over all these. We are not to be zealous with one part of ourselves, nor zealous in one particular duty only, nor zealous at one special season; but to be altogether zealous, for all Christ’s work, for all Christ’s truth: and at all times zealous not only in one good thing, but in all good things, wrapping ourselves up completely in zeal, by the power of God’s Spirit, just as the traveller in the snow-storm wraps himself up in his great coat or binds his cloak about him. Zeal is to envelope all.

     We are to wear holy zeal as a cloak, in order to preserve the different parts of our soul from danger. Zeal is preserving. The cloak covers the arm, the breast, the heart, and all the more delicate parts of the body. In order that when the rain comes down we may not so soon be chilled to the skin and suffer injury from cold, we are protected with a cloak, and find it to be a warm and welcome shelter; so our love needs to put on zeal as a protection against the coldness of the outside world; our faith needs to buckle on a garment of zeal as a defence, that when the storm of troubles comes as a blast against the soul, confidence may not be frostbitten. Zeal is to wrap up the whole man, so that when he is subject to a furious hail of persecution, or a biting wind of poverty, or a torrent of down-pouring griefs, the pilgrim to the skies may hold on his way, and bid all weathers brave defiance.

     Beloved, I am afraid that many of God’s children are sickening for want of wearing this cloak. They never rise to the point of being zealous; they are very proper, and with that doubtful virtue they remain content. Oh, that dreadful propriety, which is the death of all true godliness wherever its frosty sceptre sways its wintry dominion over a man! Thousands of our church-members are locked in the deadly arms of an Arctic propriety. They are proper, very proper. They are always afraid of being fanatical, even more than of being worldly or backsliding. When religious work is being done in earnest, they say it is exciting and irregular, and they therefore avoid it. They have heard of unwise excitement attending some religious meetings, and they at once conceive a great dread of everything like excitement, however holy and useful; and therefore in order to avoid as much as possible that which is at all unusual, they make to their tents, and shun the very angels of God, lest they should become too enthusiastic by conversing with them. So far am I from commending them for this, I am persuaded there is no cloak in which a man can be so well wrapped up against the trials of the world and the temptations of business as a cloak of zeal that covers him all over. The devil cannot so readily assail a zealous man. There is a point, of course, at which he can overthrow him by turning that zeal into unhallowed passion, fierce bigotry, or unbridled rant; but still, in the ordinary temptations of life the man who is thoroughly and heartily possessed by the spirit of true and thoroughly Christian zeal, throws off the blows of the enemy as the shields of the ancient warrior hurled off the fiery darts of the foe.

     Zeal is comforting, even as the cloak when wrapped about the traveller in the snow-storm, so must zeal be with us. Oftentimes the Christian minister, especially, will pass through a pelting, raging, whirling tempest and hurricane of difficulties, and in such times unless he be very zealous he may be inclined to succumb and to yield to the present distress; but he who says, “I am called of God to a work, and I will do it or I will die; I must win souls; God has called me to it, and I can lie in prison, or I can have my name cast out as evil, or I can suffer poverty, but I cannot give up ministering to poor souls and snatching them as brands from the burning.” Such a man dreams not of pausing in his career because old Boreas howls. The man who is possessed by an irresistible passion for carrying out his life-work, will gird this gracious ardour well around him, and let the snow-flakes come as they may, they will only fall, as it were, into a furnace, and will melt before they can injure. You who have zeal for God in your Sabbath school, will find it protect you from the numbing influence that will come over you in the class; after teaching for some months, and perhaps years, the routine of the school is apt to become a heavy toil, and you are apt to say, “I work hard all the week, and I really want my Sundays for rest;” and you will take them for rest unless zeal shall forbid; but wrapping yourselves in holy fervour you will look at your little ones, and feel that you cannot let them perish for lack of knowledge ; and out of love to them, and out of love to your Master, you will return to the class with extra devotion, and troubling nothing for the consequences, you will press on like a true hero, because your soul is warmed and comforted with zeal as a cloak, and, therefore your heart beats warm within however cold the world may be without.

     We may regard zeal as a cloak by reason of its adorning a man's character. Many a person looks all the more comely because of the garment in which he has arrayed himself. There is no more becoming garment to the Christian when he possesses all the virtues than an all-enveloping zeal. Do not tell me that the beauty of holiness consists in a mere stately, dull, sober, round of duties. It is not so. The beauty of holiness consists in that outbreaking of love towards God which is enamoured of holiness, and would rather suffer a thousand ills than do aught of evil. Brethren, you will not be as Christians thought beautiful in the eyes of angels and perfect intelligences (and these are the best judges of beauty), because you coldly pursue the regular rounds of duty; but you will be beautiful to them if you glow, and flame, and blaze with intense affection towards God. God, who is the greatest and highest example of all beauty, when he reveals himself, does so in a flaming fire: Sinai is altogether on a smoke; he touches the hills and they melt like wax, though they were granite before. God as a Spirit is a consuming fire, and the more we get to be like God the more shall we become like consuming fires. The half-animated lethargic state in which we sing —

“Our souls can neither fly nor go
To reach celestial joys,”

is earthly, gross, sensual. But oh! when we once receive the promised eagle-wings, and begin to mount, then are we spiritual; and when our soul, like a sharp sword, cuts through the scabbard, and the body seems as if it could not bear the indomitable energy that rules within, it is then that we are elevated to be like God. When God within us manifests the weight of Deity, and bows the weakness of our humanity into the dust, while the new-born nature is, in sublime ecstacy, made to stand forth, alone and away from the body, in the blaze of the divine presence, then it is that we are favoured of the Lord. I pray God that we may be evermore ardent as seraphs, made of God to be like those celestial ministers of his who are as flames of fire. The true God’s-man burns his way. His life is like the passage of a meteor across the sky. None can stay his onrush. He has omnipotence within him. He is launched like a thunderbolt from the eternal hand, and he must go forward till his career is run. He is not like yon half-awakened sons of the sluggard, who, having no strength from God, and possessing none of their own, crawl as the snail crawls, and melt as it melts, until there is nothing left of them. As Watts writes in his couplet —

“They trust their native strength,
And melt away, and droop, and die.”

Such as confide in God and in his might, clothing themselves with the holy ardour which God has given them, shall be beautiful in his sight, and beautiful to all eternity in the judgment of those who know how to estimate true beauty of character.

     Perhaps these four points may bring out the excellence of being clothed with zeal as a cloak. Zeal is to envelope all our powers; it is to preserve us in danger, it is to comfort us in affliction, it is to adorn us at all times.

     But I should like to say one or two other things on this subject. We must take care to put on zeal as a cloak and not as a hood. Some put it over their heads, and do not wear it over their bodies. Now, nobody wears his cloak over his head, and yet I have known some persons whose zeal has entirely blindfolded their judgment. They have taken zeal as men put a bandage over their eyes when they would be blinded, and then have gone headlong in evil or foolish work. Now the zeal that God would have us cultivate is wise and prudent, it does not heedlessly leap into the ditch, though it would swim a river, yea, and the Atlantic to boot, if it felt that God had bidden it do so. Zeal is like fire, which is said to be “a good servant but a bad master.” The fire in the grate, who shall say too much in its favour? But fire in the thatch of the house, who shall say too much against it? The fire, the flaming fire of zeal, burning and blazing in the soul, this is a Christian gift and virtue; but when zeal takes away the judgment, and the man is led hither and thither by the first loud talker, carried about by every wind of doctrine, and is first in love with this, and then with that, then the man does not wear zeal as a cloak, he makes a hood of it, and makes himself brother to a fool.

     Zeal, again, is a cloak, and therefore is not intended to supersede the other graces. We do not put on our great coats and leave off all our other clothes. We do not see the traveller climbing the Alps with nothing upon his body but his cloak — that would be most absurd; and so zeal cannot take the place of knowledge, or faith, or love, or holiness. It is a cloak, which is a great thing, it is true, but it is nothing more than a cloak, and the rest of the garments must be carefully attended to. When I have sometimes heard a zealous brother preaching, who evidently did not know anything of this subject, or of human nature, I have been pleased to see the cloak, but I wished that I could have seen some other garments, for decency’s sake. Ill is the case of those ill clad zealots who bawl with all their might, “Believe, believe, believe,” and thump the pulpit-cushion, and make great demonstration, when they cannot tell what is to be believed, nor expound the doctrine of the atonement — nor give an intelligent description of the plan of salvation. All such zeal is as rational as it would be for us all to go abroad bare of every rag, except a cloak. Modesty ought to keep such unclothed men out of sight. Go home, brethren — go home, you who have only your cloaks, and get other garments, and then we shall be glad enough to see you; for zeal is a cloak, but it is very far from being everything.

     Again, zeal is a cloak, and, therefore, we are not to regard it as an extraordinary robe to be worn only occasionally on high days and holidays. A man wears his great coat or his cloak when he wants it. He wears it not on Sundays only, but in going to and fro in his labour. He reckons his cloak, not to be a thing in which to walk in state with my lord through the streets, but as a portion of his ordinary working-day dress; and so ought our zeal to be. Zeal for God should be exhibited in workshops, should be worn in the market-house, in the senate, or wherever we may labour. Zeal should be worn in the homestead, and in the factory, by masters, by servants, by children, by parents. If it be genuine zeal it will be like the cloak which always hangs ready on the nail in the hall. Nay, since the storm is always on, and we are always pilgrims, it will be like the cloak which we cannot bear to lay aside. We shall try always to wear it for Christ’s sake.

     Brethren, while I say that zeal is not everything, recollect that the cloak covers everything, and do not let your zeal be such a scanty thing that it will only hang like a girdle round your loins, but let it be a great wrapper in which to enfold all your manhood, apparent everywhere; not secret and inward alone, but revealed and active.

     Our Lord is said to put on zeal as a cloak; he manifested and displayed his holy fervour. We have heard some boast that they were zealous, but you could not see it, for their zeal was deep in their hearts. Now, our Lord had not zeal in his heart merely, but he had zeal outwardly as well. It is all very well to have grace in the heart — that is the first and primary point; but where there is grace in the heart it soon shows itself in the life. It is useless for a man to say he has an abundance of wealth if he always dresses like a beggar, and his household is conducted on the most stingy system; so, a man must not claim to have zeal in his heart if he never shows that zeal in his conversation nor in earnest service of Jesus. Remember our Lord put on zeal. While the Christian religion is an internal thing, there is no religion in the world which shows itself so much externally. There is a remarkable piece of advice given by Paul, which sounds very strangely if you read it literally; he writes, “Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercy.” Now, surely, bowels are things to be worn within and not without; and yet he would have the Christian to be such a tender-hearted man, as to wear his very soul on his sleeve, so that he can be easily touched, moved, and affected by the woes of his fellow men. So must it be with zeal; it must be in the heart, but it must also shine, and flash, and sparkle throughout the whole of man’s outward life.

     II. Leaving that point, it is now for a few minutes our very pleasant duty TO OBSERVE HOW OUR LORD EXHIBITED THIS ZEAL.

     Beloved, we can but speak a few words where volumes would scarce suffice. In his earliest childhood, you have tokens of his inward zeal. He is found in the Temple, among the doctors, at an age when other children are shouting in the playground, or laughing amongst their toys. He is hearing the rabbis, and asking them questions, and when his anxious parents ask him why he has left them, he replies, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Yes, even at that early age, his soul was longing to commence his work. Eager for the baptism that he was to be baptised with, he was “straitened” even then “until it was accomplished.”

     In after life, you see his burning zeal in leaving all the comforts of life. What but his zeal brought him to such a condition, that he said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head”? He might, if he had chosen, have enjoyed the comforts of the domestic circle. There were those who loved him; there were hundreds, throughout Judea, who would have been but too glad to house him; for Martha, and Mary, and Lazarus, were but types of others whom Jesus loved, and who loved Jesus; and yet for love of souls, for love of God, he banishes himself from all domestic joys. Oh! blessed mirror of quenchless ardour, when shall we learn self-denial from thine example, and imitate thy passion to glorify God?

     His very dress showed his zeal, because it was not ostentatious, but m every way suitable for incessant labour and humble service. He wore nothing that could attract attention. The common smock-frock of the ordinary peasant was his outer dress. Nothing in his apparel distinguished him from others. He had given up all the dainties, ay, and all the comforts of life, for the one great object of accomplishing our redemption.

     He showed his earnestness in persevering in his work under all manner of rebuffs. He was constantly misrepresented. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. Though he was worthy to be beloved of all hearts, yet “he was despised and rejected of men,” still he never turned aside from his work. Once when the flesh would fain have shrunk from the cup of gall, how mightily did he put aside the temptation with, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt”! His path was always onward, and it mattered not who stood in the way, whether Pharisee or Herodian, he tarried for none. Whether the princes of this world, or the powers of the infernal lake opposed him, still onward he advanced to complete his victory.

     And, as a clearer proof of his zeal still, all the blandishments of the world could not attract him. The excited crowd would have taken him by force, and have made him a king, but such was his zeal for the one work he had in hand, that he counted royal honours to be less than nothing, and vanity. There was no temptation to him in all the pomp of a kingdom; he had received the offer of all earth’s thrones from the arch-enemy, and had refused them all: what then was one petty princedom to him! If all Jerusalem had clapped their hands, and said, “God save the King!” he would not have listened to the cry, nor have cared for it. He cared to wear the thorn-crown, and to give his hands to the nails, and his heart to the spear; but he had no heart and no hand for anything save the love of God and the well-being of men. Many and many a man has been very zealous for God till he has met with fierce persecutions, or bitter enemies, and then he has turned his back; and many more have been zealous in the highest degree until wealth came in their way, and the possibilities of honour, and then they have stooped, and have licked the world’s foot, and have been mere poodles of fashion; their ardour for truth has evaporated, and their zeal has fled. Jesus was turned aside neither by frowns nor by smiles, but onward still he went, “clad with zeal as with a cloak.”

     Look, my brethren, at his incessant labours. In the three years of Christ’s life, you behold epitomised three thousand years of ordinary existence. I do not know how it seems to you, but the life of Christ appears to me to be the longest life I ever read. It is such a condensed, massive, close-grained life! It is very short — in truth, it consists of only three years of labour, as the former part of his life was spent in obscurity — and there we leave it as God has left it — but the three active years of his earthly sojourn, how are they crowded with incident! Why, he is here, and there, and everywhere! All the day he is working, and all the night he is praying: you read of the cold mountains and the midnight air as witnessing the fervour of his prayer; and then, at morning light, he is healing the sick or preaching the gospel, never pausing, but constantly pressing on like a racer to the goal. We meet with incidents like this, “He had not time, no, not so much as to eat bread:” and at another time, “They took him even as he was into the ship,” implying that he could not walk down to the vessel because he was too faint, but they bore him away even as he was. On board the ship he was so weary, so utterly overcome, that when the storm came on, he slept; slept while the sea and the sky were mingled, and the ship was likely to go to pieces — slept from sheer weariness and want of rest. Remember, that all this was not merely work of the body, but that which I dare say some of you think very easy, but which, if you were to try it, you would find to be the most laborious work in the world — brain-work; and in our Lord’s case, it was brain-work of the most intense kind, for Jesus never preached a careless sermon, never produced a single address before the people that was uninstructive or shallow, and never delivered a speech in an inefficient manner, coldly and heartlessly. He was a man like ourselves, albeit he was God — and I am speaking of his humanity now — and that human soul of his achieved centuries of work in those three plenteous years. There is, perhaps, no such thing as time to the brain. When we sleep, a dream in which we think we have passed hours, may have only occupied a tick of a clock, or the winking of an eye. When Mahomet, in his absurd story, tells you of his traversing the seven heavens, and yet returning to earth again so quickly that the pitcher of water, which had been almost overturned by the angel’s wing when he started, had not had time for the water to spill, he does in quaint story but tell you what may happen to the mind. Men who have been rescued from drowning have stated that, though they were but a second or two going down in the water, they have yet in that time lived over again the whole of their lives, and their whole history, as in a panorama, has been unfolded before them. There is no time to the mind: and when this body shall drop from off us, eternity will be no novelty to the mind, but the soul will find itself perfectly at home. Our Lord Jesus Christ realised this fact, for in mental labour he condensed whole centuries of holy thought and desire into those three short years of his service for us. Nothing but zeal could have sustained that toil. Nothing but zeal could have upheld that perpetually labouring soul.

     Look at the Lord Jesus Christ, again, in his preaching, and you see his zeal. What words of love he uses! How gently he addresses the poor trembling ones, as he bids them come unto him, and they shall have rest. He does not utter those blessed invitations in a sleepy manner, but his heart goes out with every syllable, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And when he turns to sterner oratory, and addresses those enemies of the truth, the Scribes and Pharisees, how he thunders and lightens at them! Were ever such indignant words uttered as those of the Master, “Woe unto ye, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites”! Why, there stood the men. He was not speaking of them, as I might speak of people who are in Abyssinia or Japan; but there they were, before his eye, gnashing their teeth at him, looking indignant, and longing to tear him down and drag him off to death. But, “woe unto you!” came again from his lips, and yet again “woe unto you! For a pretence ye make long prayers; ye strain at a gnat, and ye swallow a camel.” No man could speak more plainly than he did in the face of these hypocrites, for zeal was girt about him as a cloak, and no fear of man could restrain him.

     Probably you see his zeal most of all in his prayers, for a man’s intensity of heart may eminently be judged of by his secret devotion before God. What prayers were those that were heard by the stars, and admired by the astonished angels at midnight, as they lingered on the mountain side! What cries and groans; what strong cryings and tears were those that shook the gates of heaven, as Jesus prayed and pleaded for the sons of men! Mighty Intercessor! It seemed as if this world were not a strong enough base for thee to rest the lever of thy prayer upon, when thou wert lifting up a greater weight than this world, even the weight of our infirmities, which then was heavy upon thy soul! Ah! if you seek a pattern of zeal, you must stand in the garden when the sweat is streaming from him, not the sweat of man that works for bread — the staff of life, but the sweat of a man toiling for life itself; see there, my brethren, lie sweats as it were great drops of blood filling down to the ground.

     Still his zeal was more manifest even than this, for having prayed and wrought so hard, he proved his zeal again by giving up himself, Having persevered alone when deserted by his friends, he persevered still when given over to his enemies. What zeal was that which makes him stand so silent before the bar of Pilate? He will not speak though strong is the temptation to defend himself; he will not speak for he must fulfil the prophecy, “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” It was a wonderful triumph of Christ thus to hold his tongue. A master speaker feels an intense longing to speak when great occasions demand his voice, but Jesus was greater than a master speaker, for he was a great master of silence, and by his divine energy he restrained himself, and uttered not a word. Then, when they scourged him, when they spat upon him, when they mocked him — why, a wish of his would have destroyed them all; but he bears their contumely in the patience of his zeal for us. And when they hound him through the streets of Jerusalem, along the Via Dolorosa, when they take him out to the mount of doom, and pierce his hands and his feet, and then stand around, and with many jests and jeers mock his griefs, when as I have said before, his wish could have annihilated all of them, and have put an end to all his bitternesses, was it not a matchless zeal which upheld him in majestic endurance? His zeal was with him when covered with his dying crimson: it was wrapped about his naked body as a cloak, so that the shame he despised and the cross he endured, looking forward to the recompense of reward.

     Ah! brethren, I am not able to speak to you concerning my Master’s zeal. It is too great a subject. There it is. Read it as the evangelists tell you the story; seek to enter into fellowship with it, and ask God to help you to imitate it, and then shall you best understand how he “was clad with zeal as a cloak.”

     Observe what his zeal was made of. It was zeal for God. He went into God’s temple, and saw the merchandise that was carried on there, and he did not deliberate, but seizing a scourge of small cords, flogged the buyers and sellers, and drove them all out — as it was written, “The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up.” He had not patience to tolerate making a gain of godliness; he had patience with sinners, when they bowed before him; but with those who trafficked in God’s own temple he grew indignant, and chased them forth.

     He had a zeal for God, which was also a zeal for truth. How indignantly he denounced the adversaries of the true and the good, and how constantly, and with what force, did he declare the gospel amongst the ignorant and perishing thousands!

     He had, above all things, a zeal for souls. He loved his church, and gave himself for it. He saved others, himself he could not save. No burden was too heavy, no suffering too severe for him, if he might deliver men from going down into the pit. Such was his zeal. O that all his followers were as their Lord!

     III. Lastly, WHAT WAS IT THAT THE ZEAL OF CHRIST FED UPON? WHAT WERE THE SECRET SPRINGS OF THE SEA WHICH FED THE OCEAN OF HIS ZEAL?

     We answer, that Christ' s zeal was based upon a defined principle. He had of old said, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” Our Lord’s was not a hurried, hasty zeal, excited in him by the earnest addresses of eloquent pleaders; it sprang from fixed and intelligent principles; for he had set his heart upon a great purpose, he had weighed it, counted the cost, looked at it on all sides, and now he was not to be turned from it. Beloved hearers, I would that all Christians possessed that intelligent zeal which does not arise from the mere excitement of our surroundings, but springs from our knowing what we are at, understanding the truth, and holding to it, because we are assured of it. Zeal without truth for its fuel is a mere will-o’-the-wisp. Jesus knew the soul and its value, the loss of a soul and its horror, the heaven of a soul and its glory, and therefore was he zealous; and if such fixed principles reign in you, they will be in you a well of water, springing up unto everlasting life; and your zeal will not cease, but continue to flow on for ever and ever.

     The zeal of our Lord Jesus Christ was occasioned by intense love. He loved his Father; he could not, therefore, but do his will. He loved his people; he could not, therefore, do otherwise than seek their good. Oh, how he loved the souls of men! It was a passion with him. Brethren, we need to get the same love. We do not love God as we should, or we should be more zealous; neither do we love our fellow men as ourselves, or we should be more heart-whole in our Christian work. O that the Christian church were baptised in zeal! There is much in that promise, “He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with fire;” not drops of the Holy Ghost, nor sparks of fire — we need to be plunged into it. We need that the fire should cover us as it does the gold when it consumes the dross, so that we may be like the three holy children in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, living amid flames, ourselves aglow, burning our way in our Lord’s business. May it be so by the Holy Ghost to the glory of God.

     Then the zeal of our Lord Jesus Christ had an eye to the recompense. “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame.” Christian, think of the recompense of the faithful servant — not of debt, but of grace. What joy, when you enter heaven, to be met by those who were converted to God through your means; to hear them hail you as their spiritual father or their spiritual mother! It is a great bliss, doubtless, to enter heaven alone, but it must be a greater joy still to hear the wings of others behind you as you enter, and turning round — so soon as you can do so after you have looked upon the blazing throne and the divine One at the right hand of the Father — turning round, what bliss to see hundreds who were called to glory and immortality through your ministry! Happy shall he be who has turned many to righteousness! He has his Master’s word for it that he shall shine as the stars for ever and ever. Beloved, seek after this. As men hunt after gold, as greedy misers search it out, and busy merchants compass sea and land to gain it, so seek ye after the souls of men.

     Count all things else but dross that you may win Christ, and having won Christ for yourselves, may bring others to him. I count that to be life wherein I serve Christ, but that is death wherein I am unprofitable. I count that day to be a day of true living in which I can tell out something of Jesus, build a single stone in his living temple, or carve a piece of cedar that may help to make the rafters of his house; but that day is nothing else than a mere pretence of life, it is a day of death, as though my body were sheeted and wrapped up in the cerements of the tomb, in which I have done nought, and thought nought, and prayed nought to my Master’s honour and the extension of his kingdom. O brethren, may God grant us grace more and more to have an eye to the coming reward, and to the “Well done, good and faithful servant!” that so zeal may be wrapped about us as a cloak.

     Last of all, our Lord Jesus Christ was so zealous because he had a greater spiritual discernment than you and I have. We are not zealous because we cannot see. We can see these houses, these streets, and this money. We can hear those people’s tongues, and we can look at these creature comforts. We hear the question, “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” But our ears are as though they were stopped up with wax, and our eyes as though they were blinded to better things. We do not hear true voices, nei her do we see real things, nor abiding, everlasting, and eternal things. Alas! how blind and deaf we are! But when Jesus was here he saw angels, and he beheld the spirits of men; he beheld not their bodies only, but their inner selves; and he looked upon men, not as flesh and blood, but as immortals. Best of all, he saw God. He could say, “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand I shall not be moved.” As Jesus Christ dwelt in this world he did not look on it as you and I often do, as though it were all earth, fire, water, wood, stone, trees, men, beasts; but he viewed it as a theatre for spiritual action. Devils came to tempt him; angels came to minister to him; the souls of bad men fought with him, though he fought not with his hand or his staff. The spirits of good men sought him, hung upon him, depended upon him. As for himself, his conversation was always heavenly. He was on the earth, and doing good on earth, but still his soul, his great, grand spirit, was always talking with his God. When he speaks aloud in prayer he says to his Father, “I know that thou hearest me always, but because of them that stood by I did it.” He had no need to use vocal sounds with God. His spirit was so near to God that he was always communing with God, breathing himself into God. What a source of zeal this must have been! He was brought nearer to God than we are, being indeed himself God; and speaking now of his manhood, as a man he abode very near to the Father. Yet we too have a wondrous nearness, for the Holy Ghost dwelleth in us. In these bodies, as in a temple, God dwells if we are believers, so that there is a marvellously intimate union between God and us; and if we can by his grace rise to a higher spiritual life, a life cognisant of spiritual things, familiar with spiritual personages, and dealing with spiritual realities, we shall attain unto somewhat of that mighty, omnipotent zeal which glowed in the bosom of the Redeemer, and in which he was clad as in a cloak.

     There are many here who have no faith in Christ, and therefore I cannot exhort them with respect to this zeal. Beloved friends, you have heard what I have been saying about zeal. Now, do you know one great reason why I want to have this zeal myself, and why I desire God’s people to obtain it, is because of you. We believe that when we are zealous it often happens that we are made the means of the conversion of others, and we should like to see you saved. Do you know the way of salvation? It is just this, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” To believe is to trust. Here is God’s word, “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved.” To believe is simply to rely upon Jesus, and when you have done that you are saved. God will never cast a soul away that leans all its weight on Christ. After you are saved remember it is written, “He that believeth and is baptised your baptism must follow your faith; it is to be to you a sign, and a means of fellowship with Christ. You are to regard yourselves as dead to the world, as dead in Christ, and to come, therefore, and be buried with him in baptism. May the Spirit of God bury you with Christ. May the Spirit of God give you a familiar acquaintance with what it is to be dead, and for your life to be hid with Christ in God. But to trust is the first great thing. “He that believeth on him hath everlasting life.” Baptism follows as an act of obedience, and you must not neglect it, but trust Christ, and you are saved.

     God grant you grace to trust him, for Jesus’ sake.



Joshua’s Obedience

By / Jun 22

Joshua's Obedience

 
“Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.” Joshua 1:7.

 

JOSHUA was very highly favoured in the matter of promises. The promises given him by God were broadly comprehensive and exceedingly encouraging. But Joshua was not therefore to say within himself, “These covenant engagements will surely be fulfilled, and I may therefore sit still and do nothing.” On the contrary, because God had decreed that the land should be conquered, Joshua was to be diligent to lead the people onward to battle. He was not to use the promise as a couch upon which his indolence might luxuriate, but as a girdle wherewith to gird up his loins for future activity.

     As a spur to energy, let us always regard the gracious promises of our God. We should sin against him most ungratefully and detestably were we to say within ourselves, “God will not desert his people; therefore let us venture into sin and we are almost equally wicked if we whisper in our own minds, “God will assuredly fulfil his own decrees, and give the souls of his redeemed as a reward to his Son Jesus, therefore let us do nothing, and refrain altogether from zealous Christian service.” This is not proper language for true children. This is the talk of the indolently ignorant, or of mere pretenders, who do but mock God while they pretend to reverence his decrees. By the oath, by the promise, by the covenant, and by the blood which sealeth it, we are exhorted continually to be at work for Christ, since we are saved in order that we may serve him, in the power of the Holy Ghost, with heart, and soul, and strength.

     Joshua was especially exhorted to continue in the path of obedience. He was the captain, but there was a great Commander-in-chief who gave him his marching orders. Joshua was not left to his own fallible judgment, or fickle fancy, but he was to do according to all that was written in the book of the law. So is it with us who are believers. We are not under the law, but under grace; yet still there is a gospel rule which we are bound to follow, and the law in the hand of Christ is a delightful rule of life to the believer. We are not to follow, in the service of God, our own fancies. We are not allowed to frame regulations according to our own conceptions, but our direction is, “whatsoever HE saith unto you, do it.” His servants shall serve him, his sheep follow his footsteps, his disciples obey their Lord, his soldiers fulfil his pleasure: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” If we are not obedient unto Christ, we may rest assured that we have not the spirit of Christ, and are none of his.

     I. In speaking upon the obedience which was enjoined upon Joshua. I would remind you that OBEDIENCE IS THE HIGHEST PRACTICAL COURAGE.

     Read the text, “Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee.” You supposed when you hoard the words, “Only be thou strong and very courageous,” that some great exploit was to be performed, and the supposition was correct, for all exploits are comprehended in that one declaration, “That thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee.” The highest exploit of the Christian life is to obey Christ. This is such an exploit, my brethren, as shall never be performed by any man, except he has learned the rule of faith, has been led to rest upon Christ, and to advance upon the path of obedience in a strength which is not his own, but which he has received from the work of the indwelling Holy Ghost. The world counts obedience to be a mean-spirited thing, and speaks of rebellion as freedom. We have heard men say, “I will be my own master; I shall follow my own will.” To be a free thinker and a free liver seems to be the worldling’s glory, and yet if the world could but have sense enough to convict itself of folly, upon indisputable proof being afforded it, it were not difficult to prove that a reviler of the obedient is a fool. Take the world’s own martial rule. Who is accounted to be the boldest and the best soldier but the man who is most thoroughly obedient to the captain’s command? There is a story told of the old French wars which has been repeated hundreds of times. A sentinel is set to keep a certain position, and at nightfall, as he is pacing to and fro, the emperor himself comes by. He does not know the pass word. Straightway the soldier stops him. “You cannot pass,” says he. “But I must pass,” says the emperor. “No,” replies the man, “if you were the little corporal in grey himself you should not go by,” by which, of course, he meant the emperor. Thus the autocrat himself was held in check by order. The vigilant soldier was afterwards handsomely rewarded, and all the world said that he was a brave fellow. Now, from that instance, and there are hundreds of such which are always told with approbation, we learn that obedience to superior commands, carried out at all hazards, is one of the highest proofs of courage that a man can possibly give; to this the world itself gives its assent. Then surely it is not a mean and sneaking thing for a man to be obedient to him who is the Commander-in-chief of the universe, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. He who would do the right and the true thing in cold blood in the teeth of ridicule, is a bolder man than he who flings himself before the cannon’s mouth for fame; ay, and let me add, to persist in scrupulous obedience throughout life may need more courage than even the martyr evinces when once for all he gives himself to burn at the stake.

     In Joshua’s case, full obedience to the divine command involved innumerable difficulties. The command to him was, that he should conquer the whole of the land for the favoured tribes, and to the best of his ability he did it; but he had to besiege cities which were walled up to heaven, and to fight with monarchs whose warriors came to battle in chariots of iron, armed with scythes. The first conflicts were something terrible. If he had not been a bold and able soldier, he would have put up his sword and desisted from the strife; but the spirit of obedience sustained him. Though you and I have no Hivites and Jebusites to kill, no cities to pull down, no chariots of iron to encounter, yet we shall find it no easy thing to keep to the path of Christian consistency. Count well the cost, you who have just enlisted under my Lord’s banner: you shall not find it to be child’s play to “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.” To put on the pilgrim’s dress of white linen, and then carelessly to bespatter it with unholiness, and anon to profess repentance only to fall again, and bemire it in the dirt, and then time after time to wash it, or say you have washed it — this is easy enough. Fits and starts of godliness many have who end their lives in despair. The Christianity of some people costs them little cross-bearing, much less any “resisting unto blood, striving against sin.” A merely nominal profession is easy enough to make and to maintain after the manner of the times; but to be a Christian indeed, through and through, to eat, and drink, and sleep eternal life, to live the life of God on earth— this is the work, this is the difficulty. You will need to have the strength of Samson, and something more, to pluck up the gates which block up your onward road: a strength divine must be yours if you are to keep the crown of the causeway against all comers.

     Moreover, Joshua had not only difficulties to meet with, but he made a great many enemies through his obedience. This was naturally so. As soon as it was known that Jericho had been taken, that Ai had been carried by assault, then we read of first one confederation of kings, and then of another, their object being to destroy the power of Joshua, since these kings well knew that he would crush them if they did not crush him. Now, the Christian man is in a like plight. He will be sure to make enemies. It will be one of his objects to make none; but, on the other hand, if to do the right, and to believe the true, and to carry out the honest, should make him lose every earthly friend, he will count it but a small loss, since his great Friend in heaven will be yet more friendly and reveal himself to him more graciously than ever. 0 ye who have taken up his cross, know ye not what your Master said? “I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” Christ is the great Peacemaker; but before peace, he brings war. Where the light cometh, the darkness must retire. Where truth is, the lie must flee; or, if it abideth, there must be a stem conflict, for the truth cannot and will not lower its standard, and the lie must be trodden under foot. If you follow Christ, you shall have all the dogs of the world yelping at your heels. If you mince matters, and hold with the hare and run with the hounds, you may be a Christian and a worldling too, after a sort; but if you would live so as to stand the test of the last tribunal, depend upon it the world will not speak well of you. He who has the friendship of the world will find that he is an enemy to God; but if you are true and faithful to the Most High, men will resent your unflinching fidelity, since it is a testimony against their iniquities. Fearless of all consequences, you must do the right. You will need the courage of a lion unhesitatingly to pursue a course which shall turn your best friend into your fiercest foe, but for the love of Jesus you must do it. For the truth’s sake to hazard reputation and affection, is such a deed that to do it constantly you will need a degree of moral principle which only the Spirit of God can work in you; yet turn not your back like a coward, but play the man.

     Yet, again, Joshua, in his obedience, needed much courage, because he had undertaken a task which involved, if he carried it out, long years of perseverance. After he had captured one city, he must go on to attack the next fortress. The days were not long enough for his battles. He bids the sun stand still, and the moon is stayed; and even when that long day has passed, yet the morning sees him sword in hand still. Joshua was like one of those old knights who slept in their armour. He was always fighting. His sword must have been well hacked, and often must his armour have been blood-red. He had before him a lifelong enterprise. Such is the life of the Christian, a warfare from end to end. As soon as you are washed in Christ’s blood and clothed in his righteousness, you must begin to hew your way through a lane of enemies, right up to the eternal throne. Every foot of the way will be disputed; not an inch will Satan yield to you. You must continue daily to fight. “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved;” not the beginner who commences in his own strength, aud soon comes to an end, but he who, girt about with divine grace, with the Spirit of God within him, determines to hold on till he has smitten the last foe, and never leaves the battlefield till he has heard the word, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Let the man who says that the Christian’s life is mean, and devoid of manliness, let him go and learn wisdom before he speaketh; for of all men the persevering believer is the most manly. Thou who boastest of thyself, of thy courage in sinning, thou yieldest to the foe; thou art a cringing cur; thou turnest tail upon the enemy; thou courtest the friendship of the world; thou hast not courage enough to dare to do the right and the true; thou hast past under the yoke of Satan and thine own passions, and to conceal thine own cowardice, thou art base enough to call the brave Christian man a coward. Out on thee,Tor adding lying to thine other vices!

     Oftentimes, if we follow Christ we shall need to be brave indeed in facing the world's customs. You will find it so, young man, in a mercantile house. You will find it so, husband, even in connection with your own wife and children, if they are unsaved. Children have found this so in the school. Traders find it so in the market-place. He that would be a true Christian had need wear a stout heart. There is a story told of Dr. Adam Clarke, which shows the courage which the youthful Christian sometimes needs. When he was in a shop in the town of Coleraine, they were preparing for the annual fair, and some rolls of cloth were being measured. One of them was too short, and the master said, “Come, Adam, you take that end, and I will take the other, and we will soon pull it, and stretch it till it is long enough.” But Adam had no hands to do it with, and no ears to hear his master’s dishonest order, and at last he flatly refused, whereupon the master said, “You will never make a tradesman; you are good for nothing here; you had better go home, and take to something else.” Now, that thing may not be done now, for men do not generally cheat in that open downright kind of way nowadays, but they cheat after more roguish fashions. The records of the bankruptcy court will tell you what I mean. Bankruptcies one after another of the same person are doubled-distilled thieving, generally; not old-fashioned thieving like that which once brought men to transportation and to the gallows, but something worse than highway robbery and burglary. The genuine Christian will every now and then have to put his foot down, and say, “No, I cannot, and I will not be mixed up with such a thing as that,” and will have to say this to his master, to his father, to his friend, whose respect he desires to gain, and who may be of the greatest possible assistance to him in life. But if it be your duty, my dear brother and sister, thus to do the right, do it if the skies fall. Do it if poverty should stare you in the face. Do it if you should be turned into the streets to-morrow. You shall never be a loser by God in the long run; and if you have to suffer for righteousness’ sake, blessed are you! Count yourselves to be happy that you have the privilege of making any sacrifice for the sake of conscience, for in these days we have not the power to honour God as they did who went to prison, and to the rack, and to the stake; let us not, therefore, cast aside other opportunities which are given to us of showing how much we love the Lord, and how faithfully we desire to serve him. Be very courageous to do what the Lord Jesus bids you in all things, and let men judge you to be an idiot if you will, you shall be one of the Lord’s champions, a true Knight of the Cross.

     II. Secondly, I learn from the text that THE EXACTNESS OF OBEDIENCE IS THE ESSENCE OF OBEDIENCE. “That thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left.”

     The world saith, “We must not be too precise.” Hypocritical world! The world means that it would be glad to get rid of God’s law altogether, but as it scarcely dares to say that point-blank, it cants with the most sickening of all cant, “We must not be too particular, or too nice.” As one said to an old Puritan once, “Many people have rent their consciences in halves: could not you just make a little nick in yours?” “No,” he said, “I cannot, for my conscience belongs to God.” “We must live, you know,” said a money-loving shopkeeper, as his excuse for doing what he could not otherwise defend. “Yes, but we must die,” was the reply, “and therefore we must do no such thing.” There is no particular necessity for any of us living. We are probably better dead, if we cannot live without doing wrong.

     The very essence of obedience, I have said, lies in exactness. Probably your child, if sometimes disobedient, would still, as a general rule, do what you told him. It would be in the little things that thoroughgoing and commendable obedience would appear. Let the world judge of this for itself. Here is an honest man. Do people say of him, “He is such an honest man that he would not steal a horse”? No, that would not prove him to be very honest; but they say, “He would not even take a pin that did not belong to him.” That is the world’s own description of honesty, and surely when it comes to obedience to God it ought to be the same. Here is a merchant, and he boasts, “I have a clerk, who is such a good accountant that you would not find a mistake of a single penny in six months’ reckoning.” It would not have meant much if he had said, “You would not find a mistake of ten thousand pounds in six months’ reckoning.” And yet if a man stands to little things, and is minute and particular, worldlings charge him with being too stringent, too strict, too straitlaced, and I know not what besides; while all the time, according to their own showing, the essence of honesty and of correctness is exactness in little things. If I profess to obey the Lord Jesus Christ, the crucial test will not be in great actions, but in little ones. My dear brethren, I wish the Christian church really thought this. There is so much in many churches of trifling with words— I mean by people professing to believe what is not believed— putting another meaning upon words than what is the plain natural sense, which is nothing better, I conceive, than lying in the sight of God. I know, too, members of churches who say, “I do not approve of a great deal that is in our creed,” and yet they remain members of such a church. I do not understand it. I cannot comprehend how a man can bear to partake in the doings of any church, whatever that church may be, when he knows those doings to be wrong — making it a part of his religion to do wrong; winking at and shutting his eye to what his own conscience tells him is not according to the will of God. If I thought that in any of our proceedings in this place we did not do according to God’s mind, I would humbly desire to alter at once; and I do pray that we, as a church, whenever we err, or in anything may not have acted according to Scripture, may be willing to bring ourselves to holy Scripture, and to be always schooling our minds to the will of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we may do that will in all things. The church may be wrong in a great many points, and yet be accepted before God, because the conscience of the church may not be enlightened ; but what I plead for is, that so far as our conscience is enlightened, we are bound to act up to it, and that we have no right to do anything about which we cannot be sure that we are right, and no right to be uniting ourselves to any body of professors who are not carrying out the Lord’s commands and laws in all things so far as we can judge. Not in some things, but in all things we are to be observant of the divine will. Is there any ordinance of Christ which some of you have never attended to? Have you attended to baptism and the Lord’s Supper? I charge you, before the living God, see to it as you value your own peace of mind. “He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.” I am not now speaking of the discipline of the law — the Christian is not under that— I am speaking, however, of the discipline of Christ’s own house, over which Christ is the Master, and this is the law of Christ’s house — if we will not be obedient we shall not abide in the comfortable enjoyment of his love, but we shall be chastened, and scourged, and smitten, until we become willing to yield ourselves up to the Lord’s mind. Through thick and thin, through fair and foul, through poverty or wealth, through shame or honour, Christian, cling close to your Master. Be you among those virgin-souls, who —

“Whithersoe’er the Lamb doth lead,
From his footsteps ne’er depart.”

Those are the men who shall be honoured of heaven, who have peace with God unspeakable within their souls to-day, and shall have the brightest crowns of immortality upon their brows to-morrow. The exactness of obedience is the very essence of obedience; let us keep to it, then.

     III. But now, thirdly, THE PATH OF OBEDIENCE IS GENERALLY A MIDDLE PATH. “Turn not from it, to the right hand or to the left.”

     There is sure to be a right hand, there is sure to be a left hand, and both are probably wrong. There will be extremes on either side. I believe that this is true in ten thousand things in ordinary life, and also true in spiritual things in very many respects.

     The path of truth in doctrine is generally a middle one. There are certain tremendous truths, such as divine sovereignty, the doctrine of election, covenant transactions, and so forth; and some men cast such a loving eye upon these truths that they desire to be, and are, quite blind to all other truths besides. These great and precious doctrines take up the whole field of their vision, and another and equally valuable part of God’s word is either left unread, or else twisted round into some supposed reconciliation with the first-named truths. Then, again, there are others who think much of man. They have deep sympathy with the human race. They see man’s sin and ruin, and they are much charmed with the mercy of God and the invitations of the gospel which are given to sinners, and they become so entranced with these truths in connection with the responsibility of man, and man’s free agency, that they will see nothing else, and declare all other doctrines, except these, to be delusions. If they admit the doctrines of grace to be true, they think them valueless, but they generally consider them to be untrue altogether. It seems to me that the path of truth is to believe them both; to hold firmly that salvation is by grace, and to hold with equal firmness that the ruin of any man is wholly and entirely his own fault; to maintain the sovereignty of God, and to hold the responsibility of man also; to believe in the free agency of both God and man; neither to dishonour God by making him a lacquey to his creatures’ will, nor, on the other hand, to rid man of all responsibility, by making him to be a mere log or a machine. Take all that is in the Bible, dear friends, to be true. Never be afraid of any text that is written by the sacred pen. Dear brethren, when you turn the pages over, I do hope you never feel as if you wish that any verse could be altered, I trust you never desire that any text might be amended so as to read a little more Calvinistic, or a little more like the teaching of Arminius. Always stand to it that your creed must bend to the Bible, and not the Bible to your creed, and dare to be a little inconsistent with yourselves, if need be, sooner than be inconsistent with God’s revealed truth. You will find the path of duty there, I think, to be neither to the right hand nor to the left.

     So I think it is in another respect, in which the tendency is to one of two extremes. Some people say of ministers, “These are God’s priests; they can distribute grace to us.” Others cry out, “No, they do not, and cannot; we are all equally able to dispense the truth; we need none to instruct us; we are all of us to be pastors, or rather, to be sheepish enough to think we are.” Now, there, I think, the safe path lies between the two. The minister is no priest, but still, God does enable some men by his Spirit to teach others. He does raise up pastors after his own heart. We will magnify the office, but we will not magnify it too much. We will not suffer any to speak against it, for we believe it to be a God-sent gift. On the other hand, we will not slavishly prostrate ourselves before any man, however gifted he may be.

     You will notice, in connection with the ordinances of God' s house, one extreme about sacraments is that they are channels of grace. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are saving ordinances, according to certain ignorant people. The opposite extreme is to leave ordinances alone altogether, and to say there is nothing in them, and that it is of no use to attend to them. Surely the proper thing is to believe that, as acts of obedience, they are acceptable to God; and as signs and tokens of great spiritual truths, they are instructive and edifying to the saints, and therefore not to be neglected. In this matter, I would have you “turn neither to the right hand nor to the left.”

     So, too, I think it should be in our general conduct With regard, for instance, to our words; the course of speech generally is, on the one hand to say too much, or on the other hand to say too little; to be silent when the wicked are before us, or else to be rash with our lips and betray a good cause through our rashness in defending it. There is a time to speak, and there is a time to be silent, and he that judgeth well will mark his opportunities and take the middle course. He will neither be garrulous with advice that is not required, nor will he be cowardly and dumb when he ought to bear testimony for his Master. The same holds good with regard to zeal. We have some abroad nowadays whose heads are very hot. They will be doing this, and that, and I know not what beside, all in the twinkling of an eye. They talk as if they would turn the world upside down, whilst it is their own brains that need first to be turned into a right condition. They foment revivals, but not revivals such as we should approve of — their revivals are blown up like bladders with mere human excitement and playing upon men’s passions, and this brings true zeal into contempt. Theirs is a fire which burns down the house instead of burning in the grate and warming the household. But shall we therefore not be zealous? God forbid! Shall we fall into the opposite extreme of those who fold their arms and say, “Why make this noise? God will do his own work; things will go well enough; let us be quiet; let us sleep as do others”? Brethren, there is a middle course of true, sensible, prudent zeal — adhering to the truth and never believing that people can be converted by lies, however earnestly bawled into their ears; walking within the bounds of God’s truth, and being persuaded that the best seed to sow is that which God puts into the basket of his word, and that sinners are not to be saved by rash statements nor by extravagant declamation, but that they are brought to Christ, as they were of old, by the simple telling out of the story of the cross affectionately, and by the power of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Here, again, “turn neither to the right hand nor to the left.”

     Brethren, this is a point we must take care to observe in the matter of our confidences. Neither to the right hand nor to the left must the Christian turn, with regard to the reliance of his soul, in the matter of his eternal salvation. “None but Jesus” must be the constant watchword of our spirit. Some will call us in this direction, and some in that. The wrecker’s beacons would entice us upon the rocks in a thousand directions, but let us steer by the sun or by the pole-star, and not trust to the treacherous guides of human fancy. Keep close to this, that “other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Rest in the finished work of the Lord Jesus, and put all your reliance upon him as crucified, risen, and pleading for his people. Settle it in your hearts that you are not to be led away from Jesus.

“Should all the forms that men devise,
Assault my faith with treacherous art,
I’d call them vanity and lies,
And bind the gospel to my heart.”

So in the matter of faith itself let us keep the middle place. Let us not be as some are — presumptuous, and refusing to examine themselves, declaring that they must be right. Let us remember that

“He who never doubted of his state,
He may — perhaps he may too late.”

Let us not fall, on the other side, into constant doubting, imagining that we never can be fully assured, but must always be raising the question —

“‘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?”

Let us ask God to guide us into the middle path, wherein we can say, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him until that day;” careful, watchful, prayerful, as much as if our salvation depended upon our own vigilance; relying upon the sure promise, and the immutable oath, knowing that we stand in Christ, and not in ourselves, and are kept by the mighty God of Jacob, and not by any power of our own. This middle path, wherein we turn not to the right hand of presumption, nor to the left hand of unbelief, is the path which God would have us tread.

     This rule, too, for I might continue to apply it in scores of ways, will also hold good with you in your daily life in the matter of your general cheerfulness or otherwise. Some people never smile. Dear souls! They pull the blinds down on Sunday. They are sorry that the flowers are so beautiful, and think that they ought to have been whitewashed; they almost believe that if the garden beds were of a little more serious colour, it would be advisable. I have known some, and some whom I very greatly respect, talk in this way. One good brother, whose shoe-latchet I am not worthy to unloose, said, on one occasion, that when he went up the Rhine, he never looked at the rocks, or the old castles, or the flowing river, he was so taken up with other things! Why, to me nature is a looking-glass in which I see the face of God. I delight to gaze abroad, and

“Look through nature up to nature’s God.”

But that was all unholiness to him. I confess I do not understand that kind of thing; I have no sympathy with those who look upon this material world as though it were a very wicked place, and as if there were here no trace whatever of the divine hand, and no proofs of the divine wisdom, nor manifestations of the divine care. I think we may delight ourselves in the works of God, and find much pleasure therein, and get much advanced towards God himself by considering his works. That to which I have thus referred is one extreme. There are others who are all froth and levity, who profess to be Christians, and yet cannot live without the same amusements as worldlings; must be now at this party, and then at that; never comfortable unless they are making jokes, and following after all the levities and frivolities of the world. Ah! the first is a pardonable weakness, in which there is much that is commendable, but this is a detestable one, of which I can say nothing that is good. The Christian, I think, should steer between the two. He should be cheerful, but not frivolous. He should be sustained and happy under all circumstances; have a friendly and a kindly word for all, and be a man among men as the Saviour was, willing to sit at the banquet, and to feast and rejoice with those that do rejoice; but still heavenly-minded in it all, feeling that a joy in which he cannot have Christ with him is no joy, and that places of amusement where he cannot take his Lord with him are no places of amusement, but scenes of misery to him. He should be constantly cheerful, happy, and rejoicing, and yet at the same time he should evince a deep solemnity of spirit which removes far from him everything that is sacrilegiously light and trifling.

     By the same rule, arrange your business. Some men in business act in such a way that from morning till night they can think of nothing but business. I have had to mourn over some Christians who, when they have had enough, did not know it — when they were doing as much as they could do with health to their souls, and had no more need of gain, yet they must needs launch out into something else that would take away all opportunities of serving God’s cause, and all time for reflection and thought, and that would thus bring barrenness and leanness into their souls. Others we have to complain of, who do not work enough at their callings. They are at a sermon when they ought to be behind the counter, or they are enjoying a prayer meeting when they ought to be mending their husbands’ stockings. They go out preaching in the villages when they had better be earning money to pay their creditors. There are extremes, but the true Christian is diligent in business, and is also fervent in spirit, seeking to combine the two. The believer would be like one of old, “a just man and devout;” not having one duty smeared with the blood of another duty. Having a due proportion of all the graces, he seeks in his life to follow out his calling as a man, as a parent, as a member of the church, or whatever else he may be.

     IV. Now we shall close, and our last remark is, that THE PATH OF RIGHT IS THE PATH OF TRUE PROSPERITY.

     Observe, the last paragraph of the text: “That thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.” Let no man be deceived with the idea that if he carries out the right, by God’s grace he will prosper in this world as the consequence. It is very likely that, for a time at least, his conscientiousness will stand in the way of his prosperity. God does not invariably make the doing of the right to be the means of pecuniary gain to us. On the contrary, it frequently happens that for a time men are great losers by their obedience to Christ. But the Scripture always speaks as to the long run; it sums up the whole of life — there it promises true riches. If thou wouldst prosper, keep close to the word of God, and to thy conscience, and thou shalt have the best prosperity. Thou will not see it in a week, nor a month, nor a year, but thou shalt enjoy it ere long. Hundreds have I seen, and I speak within bounds when I speak of that number, who in different times of dilemma have waited upon me, and asked my advice as to what they should do. Now, brethren, I have almost always noticed that those persons who temporise, or attempt to find out a policy of going between, and doing as little wrong as possible, but still just a little, always blunder out of one ditch into another, and their whole life is a life of compromises, of sins, and of miseries; if they do get to heaven they go there slipshod, and with thorns piercing their feet all the way. But I have noticed others who have come right straight out, and rent away the cords which entangled them, and they have said, “I will do the right, if I die for it;” and though they have had to suffer (I could mention some cases where they have suffered for years, very much to the sorrow of him who gave them the advice upon which they acted, not because he regretted giving them the advice, but regretted that they had to suffer), yet always there has been a turn somewhere or other, and by-and-by they have had to say, “I thank God after all, notwithstanding all my crosses and losses, that I was led to be faithful to my convictions, for I am a happier man, if not a richer man.’ In some cases they have absolutely been richer men, for after all, even in this world, “honesty is the best policy.” It is a very low way of looking at it, but right and righteousness do in the end, in the long run, get the respect and the esteem of men. The thief, though he takes a short way to get rich, yet takes such a dangerous way that it does not pay; but he who walks straight along the narrow road shall find it to be the shortest way to the best kind of prosperity, both in this world and in that which is to come.

     If not, beloved, if we get no outward prosperity here, I trust you and I, if we love Christ, and are filled with his Spirit, can do without it. Well, if we must be poor, it will soon be over, and in heaven there shall be no poverty. Well, if we must fight for it, in order to maintain our conscience, we did not expect to come into this world that we might

“Be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease.”

If it must come to this, that we must suffer hunger and even nakedness itself, we shall not be worse off than the apostles — better men than we; we shall not be brought lower than the martyrs — with whose names we are not worthy to have ours coupled. Let us, then, run all risks for Christ. He is no soldier who cannot die for his country; he is no Christian who cannot lose life itself for Christ. We must be willing to give up all things rather than sell the truth or sell the right, and if we come to this, we shall have such courage within our spirits, such a quiet consciousness of the presence of God the Holy Ghost, and such sweet smiles from the once suffering, but now reigning Saviour, that we shall have to bless God all our days for these light afflictions, which are but for a moment, which shall work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

     I may not have spoken much to the comfort of God’s people, but I shall be glad if I have said only half a word that may tend to nurture in the midst of our church earnest obedience, practical piety, real positive godliness carried out in ordinary life. We have plenty of doctrine, plenty of thinking, plenty of talking, but oh, for more holy acting! It is sickening to see the inconsistencies of some professors.  It is enough, indeed, to make the world ridicule the church to see how many profess to follow Christ, and then keep any rule rather than God’s rule, and obey anybody sooner than the Lord Jesus Christ.

     Brethren, let us pray to God that our hearts may be sincere in the Lord’s ways, and that we may be guided by his Spirit even to the end.



The Sieve

By / Jan 1

The Sieve

 

“For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.”— Amos. ix. 9.

 

“I WILL command, and I will sift ”— how easily the divine purposes become facts! The Lord has but to command and his will is done. Omnipotence has servants everywhere. If those who serve Jehovah cheerfully shall not suffice to carry out his will, the very devils themselves, and the most rebellious of spirits, shall be chained to the chariot of his divine decree and made to effect his designs.

“When God commands, who dare oppose,
Or ask him why or what he does?”

And if they, in their impudent obstinacy should oppose, their opposition is made to subserve the very purpose which it was designed to thwart; and all their ravings and their ragings, their rebellions and their strugglings, merge into a wonderful subserviency to the eternal plan by which divine wisdom and grace shall be displayed. We are led to make that remark by the text opening thus: “I will command, and I will sift,” as if the mere command was enough to effect the sifting. God hath but to speak, and it is done; and at his will his children shall be chastened with innumerable trials, or delivered in abundant mercies. The rills of comfort and the streams of woe, alike flow at his bidding, or at his word are dried.

     This prophecy is no doubt originally applicable to the long-afflicted seed of Israel. How terribly has it been fulfilled! Have not the sous of Jacob been sifted amongst all nations? They have been removed to and fro as a shepherd’s tent; they have known no abiding dwelling place. Since the day when, in answer to their cry, “His blood be on us, and on our children,” the firebrand of the Roman soldier set their temple on a blaze, and the plough of the Roman conqueror went over the bloodstained foundations of the beloved city: since that day, they have been a nation scattered and peeled, sons of the weary foot, a nation without a land, a people without a language. The sufferings of the Jews are almost unparalleled. From the time of the famous siege of Jerusalem down to days almost within memory, they have been a proscribed and persecuted people, their name has been a word of scorn, and their race a byword and a proverb. In almost every land they have been hunted like the partridges upon the mountain: he that killed them thought he did God service. The followers of that greatest of Jews, the meek and lowly Jesus, thought they displayed their Christianity by hounding to the death his brethren according to the flesh. Perhaps no chapter in human history shows more how near akin man may be to a devil, than the history of the Jews in Spain; but why instance one nation, all have been barbarous and inhuman: England had her share in their murder. As a frugal and industrious people they have flourished wherever they have been allowed to trade, but their wealth has been extorted from them by rapacious monarchs, or destroyed by lawless mobs. For them there were no laws except such as are made for the destruction of wolves and foxes. They could never be sure of life or limb. To mock them was the sport of children, to torture them was the amusement of kings and princes. Alas I poor Israel, what hast thou not suffered! What woes have been made to roll in billows over thee! Nation of God’s election, yet to be restored to joy, for whom a glorious future is certainly ordained– how hast thou been trodden as the mire in the street! The precious sons of God, comparable unto fine gold, how have they been esteemed as pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter! Israel hath forgotten her God and rejected her King, the Son of David, the crucified Jesus, and therefore long days of bitterness and centuries of grief have been appointed her. O God, how long? When wilt thou return and bid Judah’s Lion-standard once more wave in triumph? When shall the throne be restored unto Jerusalem, and the kingdom unto Judah? When shall the long-expected Messiah set up the kingdom which shall endure for ever?

     I intend, this morning, not to discuss those matters, but to take the text as it applies to the spiritual Israel. Undoubtedly all these prophecies have a double teaching, and while it is atrocious to overlook the literal meaning, and a doing despite to the Spirit of God to read literal passages as though they were altogether spiritual and figurative, yet after having once stated the literal meaning, we are allowed to go on, in the way of teaching, to the spiritual sense, as we shall now do, so far as the Spirit of all grace shall assist us. Two things there are in the text for God’s people to remember—the sifting and the saving. They shall be sifted every one of them, yet shall not the least grain fall to the ground. Tried much, but never forsaken, often near to death, but never suffered to perish!

     I. Let us begin with THE SIFTING. God has ordained that this side the Jordan there shall be no rest for his people as to their outward circumstances. The covenant of grace hath it for one of its clauses, “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” As long as the wheat lies on the threshing-floor, the flail must be kept in motion; and so long as the corn-heap of the church is a mingled mass of chaff and wheat, the winnowing-fan must not be laid aside. The church of God since its institution has never been perfectly pure. It has been the object of all true ministers, as the Lord’s watchmen, to keep his church pure; and the servants of God in every age have longed and desired that the tares might be rooted up from amongst the wheat, but it has never been so. The church has shared in the imperfection of everything else that is human, and hence upon God’s floor there has never been a heap of perfectly pure well-winnowed wheat, some chaff has always been introduced by some means or other. No matter how stringent your regulations, how scriptural your rules, how judicious your officers, how precise your examinations, yet, for all that, as certainly as Judas thrust himself in among the twelve, so will there creep in unawares among us ungodly men who were of old ordained unto this condemnation, who shall be as chaff in the midst of the wheat. Because of this we must expect, wherever and whensoever God has a church, to find that it is in the sieve. As long as the farmer’s corn is not clean, he will keep on sifting it; and as long as God’s church is not pure, he will continue to purify it; he will, in fact, fulfil the words of the text, “Sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve.”

     Now take this great fact in reference to the church at large, and you will see it worked out in her history. No sooner had the Lord a church after the time of his ascension, and that church had begun to multiply through the Pentecostal blessing, than Herod rose up, and, stronghanded tyrant as he was, took the sieve and sifted the church most terribly, till the saints of God were scattered, and many of them slain. Persecution set in as soon as the church appeared: the man-child was scarcely born into the world before the dragon began to pour forth floods out of his mouth, if perhaps he might utterly drown the woman’s seed. From that first day until now the page of history is crimson with the blood of the faithful. Notice the persecutions of the Pagan emperor— through what seas of blood the church swam in those cruel days! What horrors make the flesh to creep as we turn to Papal times! Surely the blood of saints, shed for the testimony of Jesus, might have filled the Mediterranean to its brim. I know not whether every drop of the Atlantic ocean might not have been incarminated if the warm blood of all the martyrs had been poured into its all but boundless deeps. So many were the saints of God that were offered, that arithmetic can scarcely compute their number, and time would fail us to narrate their torments and their triumphs. The church was sifted by these persecutions: the vain and light, the formal and the insincere, went off from her, too glad to earn inglorious safety by dastardly apostacy; they could not afford to lose their lives for truth’s sake; the cross was too heavy for their galled shoulder, and they turned aside. Yet not the least true grain fell to the ground; the church was never the worst for her fiercest persecution, in fact, she seemed to derive new vigour from her baptism of blood, and her voice was never so piercing and so potent as when it was uplifted from the rack and the stake. Her soldiers never fought so well as when the martyr’s ruby crown hung visibly before their eyes. Sifted she has been, but never injured: she has been a grand gainer through the grace of God by all her tribulations and afflictions. We need not suppose that the sacramental host of God’s elect has come to the end of persecution. We may have done so in this country; I cannot tell. This I know, I would not aid in maintaining an unjust law to escape from persecution. I would not deny to the Roman Catholic his natural rights, though I thought he would burn me and my fellow believers as soon as he had the power; I would do him no wrong under the pretext of preventing him from doing a wrong to me. God forbid that we should do evil that good may come. True Protestantism does not live upon political favouritism or national supremacy. Truth can afford to let justice be done, for she knows that the right can never hurt her. We who worship Jesus in spirit, can afford to do what is right and let consequences take care of themselves. My brethren, let the worst come, let violence again assail us, we have overcome in days gone by, and can overcome again; weak and feeble as we are to-day, when filled by the Holy Ghost we shall be strong, and shall form a fresh band of martyrs to illustrate the faithfulness of God again, but we cannot, we cannot do violence to our consciences and the rights of other men, even though it be to save our lives and preserve our liberties.

     Other sieves beside persecution have been used. Not long after the days of the apostles, yea, even in their days, God was sifting his church in the sieve of heresy. There arose men who taught contrary to the truth as it is in Jesus, cunning and smooth-spoken men, who by sleight of words and craftiness of argument, led aside many and perverted the faith of not a few. Ever since those times notorious heresies have at various seasons afflicted the church like epidemics among sheep— deadly and hard to cure. Professors have fallen before the hurricane of false doctrine like leaves in autumn. Thick as leaves in Vallambrosa have been the apostates who have been hurried hither and thither by the fitful winds of novel opinions, subtle refinings, and pestilent errors; denying the Lord that bought them, denying the cardinal doctrines of the faith, and so perishing in their iniquity. Doubtless the uprising of false doctrine is intended by God to be a test to the professing church. While men hear the truth and nothing but the truth, and it is the fashion to avow it, who shall judge between the pretended and the real? But when a strong party is made for error, then some son of Levi lifts up the banner of separation, and cries, “Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me!” then straightway there is a division in the camp, and it is known who has truth written in his heart and who has it merely on his tongue. By the fierce blasts of false teaching, which are apparently so injurious, a difference is made between the rotten boughs which only adhere to the tree from force of habit, and the living boughs which keep their hold because they suck their vital sap from the stem. We need not fear if even worse heresies should arise in these times than in the past, for God will defeat them. It seems to me very likely that Antichrist has yet more deceptive inventions to reveal: we have not yet fathomed all the depths of Satan. Puseyism, with its many attractions, is about as cunning a device as we could well imagine; it has outdone Rome itself in some respects; but yet there may be worse to come. If so, so be it, for God will overrule it for good. These devices of men and doctrines of devils are only so many sieves, by which the Lord will separate the chaff from the wheat, and make it to be known who are his elect and who are not.

     So, too, the uprising of new infidelities are intended to act as a test to the church. At divers times the public mind exhibits a stronger tendency towards unbelief. One wave rolls up black with superstition, and the next is pale with infidelity. The mind of man oscillates like a pendulum between believing a lie and believing nothing. Frequently the church is assailed by a crafty philosophy, and anon by a brutal ignorance. Every truth which she declares is exposed to the most violent and even ferocious assaults. She has been assailed from all quarters, at all points. In modern times she has been peculiarly attacked by criticism upon her book, which she upholds as the revealed will of God; and men have even been found calling themselves bishops and presbyters of the church, who have sought to undermine the foundations of the gospel by impugning the truthfulness of the word of God. This is no strange thing, it is but an old device. Those who have read the history of the church from the very beginning, will recollect how she had to contend with Atheism, Deism, Arianism, and all forms and shapes of doubts and scepticism, in her earliest days. This is no new conflict, O soldiers of the cross, neither is it one concerning which you have any ground for alarm. We have overcome Atheism in the past, and we shall vanquish it in the future. There will be benefit reaped by the church from sceptical attacks, and certainly no detriment shall accrue to her. She will come out of her trial, however fiery, like gold seven times purified; she shall shine with a clearer lustre because of the ordeals which she has triumphantly endured.

     I will mention one more sieve in which the church at large has been tested, it is that of providential examination by public opinion and sense of justice. You must never expect that any professing church of God will be for a long time flourishing if it abide exactly in the same state. Whenever our churches run for years in the same rut, little good is done. To many of our old established Baptist churches, it would be the greatest possible blessing if the chapel were burnt down, or if some disorderly zealot would break all their proprieties to shivers, anything to break the deadly stagnation under which they wither. As it is in small churches, so it is in the church at large – change and  stir are necessary. We must expect often to hear that the ship of Christ’s church is in a storm: there must not be smooth sailing for the vessel of the church; it must be tossed with tempest and driven to and fro. At the present juncture, all established churches are in the sieve. I believe there is much good corn in the established church, though intermixed with a sad amount of chaff; and now the whole is being sifted, and will be sifted yet more and more. I do not care who holds the sieve, whether it be a politician or an ecclesiastic, but I am persuaded that by God’s grace good will come of all this strife, and debate, and agitation. The public mind when it stirs itself about religion is often mysteriously guided to the right path, and even if it choose a wrong thing for a season, yet the wrong only plays itself out, and the right by-and-by comes to the fore, and wins the victory. God will not have his church in alliance with the state; and therefore though they settle down upon their lees, and are at quiet in an adulterous connection with the powers that be, the trying time must come, and the sieve must be used. The true friends of the church need not wish for the sifting to be withheld, for not one grain of precious truth will fall to the ground: all that will perish will be the chaff, which it is a signal blessing to lose. Purification will be the result of agitation. After the episcopal church is sifted, other churches will endure the same. All must take their turn; and those churches which have any mixture of tradition or man’s teaching, those churches which depart in anything from this book, will loose much by the sifting that they now hold to be precious; and a blessed loss it will be to them. We, as a denomination, shall have our sifting, how shall we come forth from it? It may not come yet, but the ordeal is surely ordained for us. Perhaps we shall rebel terribly at the trial of cherished prejudices, but our rebellion will be in vain. So long as the divine will shall be accomplished, what matters it! let us be content to abide what the Lord hath appointed.

“Let sects, and names, and parties fall,
And Jesus Christ be all in all.”

Let every turret of ecclesiastical citadels be cast down, however venerated they may be, if they are not of the Lord; let every graceful pile, though hallowed with the moss of ages, be hurled down, and not one stone left upon another if it be not of the Lord’s building. Lord, send through the camp thy sharp two-edged sword to kill error everywhere. Search us with candles, and try us as the refiner tries his gold, till thou hast consumed every false thing, and made thy people to be a scriptural church, a pure church, a living and perfect church, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, and terrible as an army with banners. Thus far we have spoken of the church of God at large, other matters call us onward.

     God’s truths are like crystals which bear one uniform shape, whether in larger masses or broken into fragments. Take, too, the great truth that the whole church shall be winnowed, and as you break it up you will see that each church and each individual Christian must be sifted too. The Lord will sift all his people, sift them most thoroughly and in all respects.

     Let us think of certain of the sieves in which you and I shall be tried. One is the preaching of the word. Wherever the gospel of Jesus Christ is faithfully preached, it acts as a discerner of spirits. There are certain searching and testing truths taught in God’s word, which when spoken in plainness and distinctness, cause mere professors to be angry and voluntarily to withdraw themselves; this is the design of such truths, that the vile may be separated from the precious. You remember when our Lord stated a certain doctrine, it is said that certain of them walked no more with him. It was not that he had done anything evil, or laid any hard duty upon them, but he had simply stated a deep truth; he had gone a little beyond his ordinary teaching, and at this deep truth they were straightway scandalised, and walked no more with him. So in the preaching of the gospel; if the minister declares the whole of the truth, certain persons will say, “I cannot receive that”— not because it is not scriptural, but because it does not jump with their prejudices, or suit their carnal tastes. Now, when such people go away, we have no cause to mourn except that they should be so foolish; our cause is rather for rejoicing that God has made his word to answer what always was its purpose, the separating of the precious from the vile. The gospel is like a two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit; it is intended to cut between the joints and the marrow, and to lay bare the very hear of man. I would scorn to come into this pulpit and utter personalities which should be needlessly offensive, but I do delight so to preach the gospel that the word shall find you out, and make you perceive that we are speaking of you. Every true preacher of the gospel will be sure to become a spiritual detective. He may not know anything of his hearers, but in the course of his ministry he will speak as if he had entered into the very chambers of their heart, and read the secrets of their soul. There are some who do not like close dealings, though that seems to me to be the very ministry every Christian ought to prefer, a heart-searching, rein-trying ministry. To many, plain preaching is very distasteful; they want to be patted on the back, and praised, and extolled, and they like to have human nature lifted on high, and have sweet things said unto them. They are like those of old, who said unto the prophets, “Prophesy smooth things unto us but the genuine gospel, wherever it comes with power, in this respect, acts like a sieve, for vain and foolish people are offended at that which searches and tries them, and so they fall to the ground with the chaff; while the precious wheat, under such a ministry, remains to the glory of God. I have known some young ministers dreadfully alarmed because a few of their hearers have been indignant, and threatened to withdraw when they have preached the doctrines of grace. This is the natural result of a faithful ministry— why then be alarmed? Nay, let the chaff blow off. If God’s gospel offend any man, let him be offended; or, rather, let divine grace come and change his heart, until he shall yield to it, for the word of God cannot yield to him.

     But, brethren, we shall have severer tests than these. Every professing child of God will be tested by temptation. Thou thinkest, young disciple, that thou shalt never fall; thou dost not know what traps there are, what gins, what pit-falls, what slippery places! How soon thou mayst be taken in them! She who lieth in thy bosom may lead thee into sin. He who has been thy instructor from thy youth up may be thy Ahithophel, and entrap thee by his subtlety. Thou canst not tell where thou shalt meet thy foe, but conclude that behind every bush there is an enemy, and underneath every tuft of grass a viper. It is very easy for us at first conversion to think that we have overcome our sins, and to imagine that they are dead and buried; but how soon we find that they are yet alive to be our pest and plague, and to keep up a constant warfare in our soul. Brethren and sisters, tens of thousands of fair vessels have floated from the docks, and have passed down the river with every colour flying, receiving every man’s good word, freighted with hope, and manned with resolution, and yet they have been wrecked most hopelessly. A shifting quicksand or a hidden rock has been their destroyer, and they have been heard of no more in the regions of the good. So may it be with you, young professor; tempted in the one point, which you have left unguarded, the enemy may attack you at the postern at which you have set no watchman, and you may fall a prey, even you who thought yourself so sure. The daily temptations of the shop, the house, the field, the street, yea, even of the church of God, are the discoverers of sincerity, the detectives of delusion, the exposers of hypocrisy, and the beacons of wisdom.

     Next to these come the trials of life. Believe me, these are severe enough to any of us: to some they are crushing, but to all sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. There are temptations in prosperity: that is a sieve which few men can pass. As the fining-pot for silver and the furnace for gold, so is a man to his praise: many men can bear lo be censured who cannot endure to be praised. Where one man has been ruined by adversity, ten thousand men have been destroyed by prosperity. Do we not see it? When men get into that sieve and become rich, they cannot attend the little meeting-house they once attended; they are too big for their former brethen; they go off to some other religion that shall be more fashionable, and forsake the simple faith of their fathers and the truth of God: so that the men, who in their prosperity ought to be pillars in God’s church, become the fiercest of her foes. Who are those most bitter against the truth but the sons of men who held it, who having grown rich, have despised their fathers’ faith, and their fathers’ God, and have gone over to the adversary! Few men can endure long-continued, undisturbed prosperity. Capuan holidays ruined Hannibal’s troops. Amid the luxurious ease of the valleys men degenerate, but among the mountains we find a brave and hardy race, for there the dangers of the crags and the cold of winter brace nerve and muscle till each becomes vigorous, and men are fit for acts of valour and deeds of heroism. It is in battle and service that veteran soldiers are bred. There is a sieve, then, in prosperity; and adversity acts in the same sifting manner. I know it has acted so in this church: some who were fervent among us are gone forth from us because they have not prospered in the world as they could have wished, and have been unable to endure the pinches of want, therefore have they drifted into wrong courses and doubtful dealings, and they are ashamed to show their faces among the people of God. Lord, deliver us from being filled with riches or stinted by poverty— from either extreme, save thou us! The prayer of Agur is a most wise one: “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” Whether rich or poor, we must look upon our condition as being a test by which God would make known to us and to his church whether we are solidly in Christ by the work of the Holy Ghost, or only superficial professors— having a name to live, whereas we are dead.

     Further tests, dear brethren, that the Lord uses are inward conflicts. Of these I have no doubt many of you are well aware. Ah! there are times with us when everything in us is salted with fire and weighed in the balances. We speak pretty boldly sometimes, but there are seasons when we cannot speak at all for very trembling of heart. Were it not for the infinite mercy of God, we should then give all up, sealing our own doom with the black seal of despair. The Lord sets a testing time for everything in the Christian; he does not let any part of him escape the proof-house. His faith is tested: he thought he did believe in God, but when wave upon wave rolls over him, till all God’s billows have passed over his head, he half suspects that he never knew what faith was; and if, at such an hour, he had not living and real faith, he would utterly perish as wax melteth in the fire. Our experience! why it often happens to me that every experience I have ever enjoyed of divine love and faithfulness is veiled in a cloud, and I fear lest it should have been all a delusion. I look back upon it all, and tremble lest I should have deceived myself; I ask whether such grace could have been shown to such a sinner. Most men’s experience, when it is put into the sieve, comes out very much less showy than when it went in. We thought, we thought, that we had experienced the deep things of the Spirit, but we found when we came to search, that we had heaped up much borrowed experience, many stolen plumes, and feathers plucked from others wings. Our good resolutions, how they shrivel when they are put into the sieve! “Lord, I will never deny thee,” said Peter, but when the cock had crowed, where was Peter’s steadfastness! When the soul is bruised and broken under a sense of past sins; when it is crushed and beaten small under a consciousness of present departure from God by unbelief, or the neglect of private prayer, or other spiritual mischiefs, then Satan will come in and tell us that God has forsaken us, and will be gracious no more, and he will shoot his fiery dart with such pertinacity and skill, that he will stick us all over in every part of our spiritual man with his fiery suggestions; ah! then you will find out whether grace within is real, or whether your love and faith are false and feigned. At such times, much tinsel and gilt are crumpled up by the heat, and we find that much of our spiritual beauty was but skin deep. Beloved, the most real thing about us is our sinnership, and I trust also our simple childlike dependence upon Jesus.

“I the chief of sinners am,
But Jesus died for me.”

     Let me sing that from my heart, and there is no sham in the song. You will have to be emptied of every particle and portion of self-righteousness, and to come to Jesus just as empty and vile as you did at the first, to throw yourself at his dear, bleeding feet, and find that his fulness and your emptiness are the two most real things in all the world.

“I’m a poor sinner, and nothing at all,
But Jesus Christ is my all in all.”

All experience beyond this is but the flower of grace, and may wither, but this is the root and abideth— all else is but as grass that springeth up in its season, fair and verdant, but is soon scorched in the summer s drought; but this is the eternal foundation which cannot be moved or shaken, world without end: “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners,” and “whosoever believeth in him shall never perish, but shall have eternal life.” How, often when sifted do we come to this as our ultimate resource! and, indeed, it is a blessed thing to come here and to remain here, and never to go beyond it, but abide ever in that precious truth, that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am chief. Then can we bless the silting, and admire the love which ordained it.

     There will come other siftings beside these. The hour of death has often served as a touchstone by which formality has been revealed. Men have felt the mask rudely plucked off when lying at death’s gate. They have been compelled to see the leprosy in their brow, which they had feared to think upon before; they have discovered then the foul and reeking pollutions concealed within their hearts, which aforetime they had filmed over with religious duties and virtues and professions. Sepulchre light is brighter than we think: the dying bed is a great revealer of secrets.

     And what a test the day of judgment will be! Ah! speak of this with bated breath, and speak of it with broken heart. Those scales in which we must all be placed! Shall it be said, “Mene, Mene, Tekel,” “Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting,” or shall we be accepted in the Beloved? There will be no escaping that last dread ordeal, nor will there be any deceiving the infallible Judge. How will it go with thee, professor? Soaring professor, if thy wings are not thine own, the sun will melt the wax, and thou wilt fall to thy destruction. Gifted professor, think not thy gifts can avail thee, for only grace, not gifts, shall stand thee in that last sifting, when Jesus shall divide the righteous from the wicked. We may have preached in the pulpit, or taught in the Sabbath-school; we may have been deacons or elders, may have sat at the Lord’s table, and eaten and drunk with his people; we may have been baptised and received into the church; we may have been the loudest and busiest talkers in the courts of the Lord, but we shall be cast away for ever unless we have a new heart and a right spirit, unless an effectual work of the Holy Ghost shall have been wrought in us, bringing us away from ourselves, and all other dependences, to the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. God grant that you and I may stand this test at the last; but in order to do so, we must stand these present tests, we must be steadfast and unmovable; and having done all, we must still stand steadfast in the truth of Christ. Thus have I, very feebly, brought before you the fact of the sifting.

     II. Let us now turn to THE SAVING — a few comforting words.

     Sifting is very far from being a pleasant experience for the wheat. Look into the sieve, for a minute the grain lies still and begins to make acquaintance with the chaff and the wheat around it, but lo, it is tossed aloft and all its associations broken; it mounts for awhile, but falls again to the bottom, not to rest, but to be continually tossed about. In the sieve the corn has no peace. And so may believers sing,

“We’ve no abiding city here.”

This is not your rest; you must not expect continuance on this revolving orb. You had at one time a delightful family circle round about you; it is broken up now, husband gone, friends gone, old associates gone. You who have your families around you now, must look upon them as only lent you for a time; you are in the sieve recollect, and nothing is stable. Never whisper, “My mountain stands firm, I shall never be moved;” no one talks like that but a mistaken one; you will be moved soon, for you are in the sieve. Yes, and you may have had many trials and changes, and been tossed from America to Australia, and from Australia to England, and back again to the Continent; you may have been tossed from house to house, from riches to poverty, from “pillar to post,” as we say, but the tossing is not over yet, there is more to come. Here is the matter that makes calamity of so long life that we get not to the end of the sifting till we come to our graves. We are still tossed up and down, still being for ever molested and disturbed in our earthly circumstances. But here arises the comfort, we are assured that no anger occasions our being put into the sieve. The farmer does not sift his wheat because he dislikes it, but just the opposite; he sifts it because it is precious. And thou, child of God, thy trials and changes, and constant catastrophes, and afflictions, are no proofs of want of affection on the part of the Most High, but the very contrary. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” It is because you are gold that you are in the crucible, and because you are wheat you are put into the sieve. Another man might have been much happier and more peaceful than you as to outward circumstances — I say not that he could have had a real peace like yours, which you possess within your heart, that is a different matter— but another man might have had eyes standing out with fatness; possessing more than heart could wish, he might have spread himself like a green bay tree, being prosperous in life and having no bands in death; whereas, you as one of God’s people are often chastened, afflicted, tried, and troubled. Well, so it must be, but you must reflect that there is great wrath in God’s apparent mercy to the wicked— God is but fattening them like bullocks for the slaughter; but as for you, there is no divine wrath in your tribulation, it is all sent in love; love is in every loss, every bereavement, every bodily pain; love, love, love— nothing but love, even when the cup is bitterest.

     There is another thought also that may cheer you, that it cannot be the purpose of the husbandman to destroy the grain when he puts it into the sieve. I never heard of any farmer so doing. If he meant to burn it or let it rot, he would not take the trouble to sift it: it cannot be his intention to destroy it if he sifts it. And so, thou poor, timid believer, the Lord does not intend to destroy thee by these trials. He has said, “I will not break the bruised reed.” He may bruise it, but not break it. “I will not quench the smoking flax.” He will chasten, but not destroy. He will bring you low, but he will yet appear for your deliverance, and lift you up. If the Lord had meant to destroy thee, he would have left thee in thy prosperity to run deeper into sin; he would have suffered thee to become rotten with pride, or polluted with base passion to thy destruction, but, no! it is because there is a needs be for it that be prunes the tree that he loves so well, purging it that it may bring forth more fruit, and that he may have the glory of it. I think I see you, poor believer, tossed about like that wheat, up and down, right and left, in the sieve, and in the air, never resting. Perhaps it is suggested to you, “God is very angry with me.” No, the farmer is not angry with his wheat when he casts it up and down in the sieve, and neither is God angry with you; this you shall see one day when the light shall show that love ruled in all your griefs.

     Then comes the promise, “There shall not the least grain fall to the ground.” And why is this? It is a great wonder that, when sifted so much, not one grain falls. I suppose he who usually handles the sieve now and then lets a little corn fall under foot; but God says that not even yonder small shrivelled corn shall perish; that half-developed grain shall not fall; the very least shall be preserved and kept from falling with the chaff. And why? It may be replied that the Lord’s people are preserved in some degree by their intrinsic weight— because the Holy Spirit gives them substance and solidity. The Holy Ghost has put into every believer a life that cannot die, making him a living and incorruptible seed that abideth for ever, so that the wind which sweeps away another man like chaff, cannot remove him because he is solid wheat. Where the Lord God himself dwells, there is a power to resist temptation, even such temptations as, apart from that power, would be our destruction. But the great defence of God’s people lies in this, that he who holds the sieve watches with an observant eye, and acts with an unlimited power. He sees that little grain as it moves up and down in the sieve. The least com of wheat he keeps his eye upon. He never sleeps, never for a moment forgets; and when it seems likely that a grain may fall, he knows how to catch it just at the falling moment and to preserve it still. “He giveth more grace.” “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all; he keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken.” “It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones should perish.” “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” “I give unto my sheep eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” Much sifted, but not lost; much tempest tossed, but never shipwrecked; much put into the fire, but never consumed. Blessed be God for all that.

     Now observe, the very least of God’s people is safe, because the love of Christ is as much set upon the least as the greatest; because Jesus has as much bought with blood the least as the greatest; because Christ is as much the Surety of the little saints as of the strong saints; because the least in the family is as dear to the heavenly Father as the elder sons; because the absence of the feeblest saint would make a gap in heaven quite as much as the loss of the greatest; because if Jesus should suffer one of his people to perish, he would as much break his suretyship engagements by losing the least as the greatest; because it would be as much dishonour to Christ to suffer the meanest as the best to fall, for Satan would say, “He kept the strong, but could not keep the weak; because Christ’s love encompasses the lambs as much as the sheep, and eternal grace makes as sure their salvation as that of apostles and martyrs. God will not be thwarted and Christ will not be robbed, the Holy Ghost will not be defeated, the covenant shall not be broken, the oath shall not fall to the ground, the blood shall not have been spilt in vain, and intercession shall not go up to heaven unheeded for any one of these little ones— they must, they shall be kept. Though earth’s old columns bow, not one of these shall be cast away. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but no word of Christ shall perish, and his word is, that “He that believeth and is baptised, shall be saved;” and therefore whosoever believeth must and shall be saved, be he little or be he great. God bless this present assembly, bring us all to trust in Jesus, and then give us this blessed salvation. Amen and Amen.



Joyful Transformations

By / Dec 27

Joyful Transformations

 

“I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.” — Isaiah 42:16

 

IN the pursuit of holiness the pilgrim is often surrounded with darkness: while in the pathway of evil the traveller is dazzled with a glare of light. It is the way of the tempter to make the downward path as attractive as possible with the flaring splendour of carnal pleasure. Sin is surrounded with a fascinating lustre which enchants the unwary seeker of pleasure, and leads him to his own destruction. Look at the palace of firewater, dedicated to the demon of drunkenness; it is brighter than any other house in the street! see how it glitters with abundant lamps, and mirrors, and burnished brass! Rich with colour are the flowers which bloom at the mouth of the old serpent’s den. As the sirens in the old classic fable enchanted mariners with their songs, so that, beneath the spell of their music, they turned the prows of their vessels towards the rocks of sure destruction, even so sin constrains the sons of men to make shipwreck of their souls. Evil seemeth to be surrounded evermore with a light that dazzles and fascinates, even as the brightness of the candle attracts the fly to its destruction. As for the way of righteousness and truth, it appears from the text that murky clouds frequently rest upon it, and the way appears rough and crooked, otherwise it were not necessary to say, “I will make darkness light before them;” neither were it needful that a divine hand should interfere to make the crooked straight. Brethren, the day of evil commences with a flattering morning and changes into tenfold night, but God’s day, the day of good, begins at eventide, like the primeval days of the creation, the evening and the morning were the first day. We who follow the Lord Jesus have our night first, and our day has yet to dawn, the sun of which shall no more go down. God for us keepeth the best wine until the last, while at the banquet of Satan they set forth the best wine, and afterwards that which is worse; yea, the dregs are wrung out in the end for the wicked of the earth to drink. As for the righteous, they have their draughts of wormwood here, before their high festival begins, to give them appetite and zest for the banquets where wines on the lees well refined shall satiate their souls.

     The subject of this morning is the great promise of God that, although his people shall sometimes be enveloped in gloom, their darkness shall be turned to light. Before the advance of faith the most terrible things lose their terror. We shall use this one truth in reference to believers first, and then briefly turn it to the encouragement of earnest seekers.

     I. First, in addressing THE BELIEVER, let us ring the bell of the text again, it has a sweet silver voice: “I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.”

     Believer, observe that before you often lies a grim darkness. Upon that darkness let us make these comforting observations— first, that much of the darkness is of your own imagining. As we feel a thousand deaths in fearing one, so do we feel a thousand afflictions in the fear of sorrows which will never come. Probably the major part of our griefs are born, nourished, and perfected, entirely in an anxious, imaginative brain. Many of our sorrows are not woven in the loom of providence, but are purely homespun, and the pattern of our own invention. Some minds are specially fertile in self-torture; they have the creative faculty for all that is melancholy, desponding, and wretched. If they were placed in the brightest isles of the blessed beneath unclouded skies, where birds of fairest wing poured out perpetual melody, and earth was rich with colour and perfume, they would not be content till they had imagined for themselves a sevenfold Styx, an infernal Tartarus, a valley of deathshade. Their ingenuity is stimulated even by the mercies of God; and that which would make others rejoice causes them to tremble lest the enjoyment should prove shortlived. Like certain painters, they delight in heavy masses of shade. My brother, you may, perhaps, have before your mind this very morning what seems a thick wall of horror, and yet it is nothing but a cloud. Waiting, you imagine the obstruction to increase, but plucking up courage and advancing to meet the imaginary horror, you will yet laugh at yourself, and at your foolish fears, and wonder how it was that you ever could have been cast down at nothing at all, and distressed by that which had no existence except in your dreams. I remember well, one night, having been preaching the word in a country village, I was walking home alone along a lonely footpath. I do not know what it was that ailed me, but I was prepared to be alarmed, when of a surety I saw something standing in the hedge, ghastly, giantlike, and with outstretched arms. Surely, I thought, for once I have come across the supernatural; here is some restless spirit performing its midnight march beneath the moon, or some demon of the pit. I deliberated with myself a moment, and having no faith in ghosts, I plucked up courage, and resolved to solve the mystery. The monster stood on the other side of a ditch, right in the hedge. I jumped the ditch, and found myself grasping an old tree, which some waggish body had taken pains to colour with a little whitewash, with a view to frighten simpletons. That old tree has served me a good turn full often, for I have learned to leap at difficulties, and find them vanish or turn to triumphs. Half our afflictions are only appalling in prospect because we do not know what they are; and if we will but in faith patiently await them, they will be but light and transient. Thus, by chasing away the gloom of our dark imagination, God often makes darkness light before us.

     Much, again, of the darkness which does really exist is exaggerated. There is some cause for alarm, but not one half the cause which your fancy pictures. “All these things are against me,” says Jacob: “Joseph is not, Simeon is not; and now ye will take Benjamin away.” There was something in this complaint. Joseph was not with his father, Simeon was kept in ward; but the old man had pictured Joseph devoured of an evil beast, and Simeon given up to be a perpetual slave in a foreign land. His fears had magnified the trouble which existed. And, believer, so probably it is with you. You shall find that the load which seems now to be far too ponderous for you to lift, shall be easily carried on the shoulders which divine grace shall strengthen if you have but confidence enough to venture upon the task. That cross is not made of iron, it is only a wooden one; it may be painted with iron colours, but iron it is not; it has been carried, ay, and a weightier one by far, has been carried by other men aforetime— shoulder it like a man, shoulder it like a man of God. Take up your cross daily, and go forward with your Master, and you shall find that mountains shrink to molehills, giants are seen to be but dwarfs, dragons and griffins are but bats and owls, and the leviathan himself a defeated foe.

     Remember, too, that in many cases, troubles disappear at the very moment when we expect them to be overwhelming. While we are anticipating them, they seem to block up the pathway completely, and leave no door of escape, but on our venturesome advance to them, they are not there at all, they have fled before us. See the host of Israel— they have escaped out of Egypt, but they are pursued by their taskmasters. They come to a spot where they are enclosed on either hand by mountains, while the chariots of Egypt are in the rear. How is it possible for them to escape? They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in. “Forward,” cries the prophet, “forward, hosts of God!” But how can they advance? The Red Sea rolls right in their path; but no sooner do the feet of the priests touch the waters of the sea than the depths are divided, the waters stand upright as a heap, for God has made a pathway for his people through the heart of the sea. No better road could be desired than that which they found in the sandy bed of the sea. The trouble, which certainly did appear insurmountable, became the subject of unwonted triumph; Miriam’s song and the voices of the daughters of Israel had in them a higher exultation than they could ever have known if they had not been able to cry aloud, “Sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” Brethren, your trials may, in a like case, vanish so soon as you arrive at them; you do not know what plan God has in store. He has an unused shaft which shall be the arrow of the Lord’s deliverance for you. The Lord has a counterplot for the plots of your enemies. You see but a part of his scheme, you have not as yet discovered the whole of his resources; and when he brings out his wonderful plan more fully, you will stand in amazement and even bless his name for the trial, because it furnished so noble an opportunity for revealing to you the faithfulness and the power of your God. The same thing which occurred at the Red Sea happened also to the hosts of God when they came to the Jordan, for Jordan was driven back, and fled at the presence of the God of Israel. If you should suffer trouble upon trouble, you too, shall experience deliverance upon deliverance. Think of that mighty instance in which it was proved that God can clear the darkest skies, and give us day for night! I refer to the case of Hezekiah. What a blasphemous and insulting letter was that which came from Rabshakeh! what reviling language was that which the foul-mouthed lieutenant of Sennacherib hurled at Judah’s king! Poor Hezekiah was a man of a holy and tender spirit, and was sore dismayed; but when he spread that wretched letter before the Lord, and bowed himself in sackcloth, little did he know how graciously God would prevent the sorrow from ever coming to him in any other shape but in that of talk and boasting. “Thus saith the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, he shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the Lord.” And so it was; and so, O child of God, may it be with the troubles which now block up your pathway— they shall vanish as you advance.

     Reflect, again, that where this does not exactly occur, and the trial does really come, yet the Lord has a way of making the trials of his people to cease when they reach their culminating point. As the sea, when it reaches the highest mark of flood, can advance no further, but after pausing for awhile to enjoy the fulness of its strength, must then return to its ebb, so with our most desperate sorrows, they reach the point designed, and then they recede. See Abraham, God had bade him sacrifice his son. Abraham probably mistaking the Lord’s meaning, thought that he was to slay the child of promise. He proceeds to Mount Moriah, piles the altar, takes with him the wood, binds his son, and places him upon the altar; but just as he has unsheathed the knife, and is about to perform the act of solemn obedience by sacrificing that which he held most dear, a voice is heard, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” At the nick of time God intervenes; but mark when that is— namely, when the patriarch has proved the complete renunciation of his own will, and given up everything to the will of God, then deliverance comes. So shall it be with you, O tried believer! When the trial has been submitted to in your own heart, and you have laid aside your self-will and obstinacy, and are no longer murmuring and repining and rebelling, then shall God take away the coals of the furnace, because the gold is purified. That is a grand story of Alexander’s confidence in his friend and physician. When the physician had mixed him a potion for his sickness, a letter was put into Alexander’s hand, warning him not to drink the medicine, for it was poisoned. He held the letter in one hand and the cup in the other, and in the presence of his friend and physician, he drank up the draught, and after he had drained the cup, he bade his friend look at that letter, and judge of his confidence in him. Alexander had unstaggering faith in his friend, which did not admit of doubt. “See now,” said he, “how I have trusted you.” This is the assurance which the believer should exercise towards his God. The cup is very bitter, and some tell us it will prove to be deadly; that it is so nauseous that we shall never survive the draught. Unbelief whispers in our ear, “Your coming tribulation will utterly crush you.” Drink it, my brother, and say, “If he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” It cannot be that God should be unfaithful to his promise, or unmindful of his covenant. Your trial, then, will cease when it culminates: he will make darkness light before you when the darkest hour of the night has struck.

     Brethren, there is one most encouraging reflection concerning the adversity which lies before us, namely, that every trial of our pilgrimage life was foreseen of God, and we may depend upon it that it has been forestalled. Many a besieged city has been captured because the siege was not expected, and therefore stores of provision and ammunition were not laid up for the evil day. But God who laid up seven years of food in Egypt against the seven years of famine which he foresaw, takes care to lay by in store for his saints against coming emergencies. How readily might Moses have been anxious about the commissariat of the tribes in the desert! “How shall such a host be fed? Where shall we find water? Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?” But in simple faith Moses led the chosen people into the wilderness, and lo, the heavens dropped with a rain of plenty, and the flinty rock gave forth its cooling streams, so that the host knew no lack for forty years, though they had neither gathered harvests nor vintage in all that space of time.

     Once more be it remembered, that if trial should come upon any one of us in its fullest force, and in no way should God mitigate the fury of the storm, yet we have his promise for it, and may rest confidently therefore therein, that as our days our strength shall be. I think I have aforetime remarked to you, that to be exempt from trouble would not be a desirable thing, for the life of a man who has no trial is uneventful, poor of incident, uninteresting, ignoble, barren; but the life of a man who has done business in great waters, hath something noble and manly in it; and considering that the grace is always proportioned to the trial, I think it were wise to choose the trial, for the sake of obtaining the grace which is promised with it. I noticed in a shop window last week, a little invention of singular interest. A small metal wire, with a circular disk at each end, was suspended by a thread, and continued without ceasing to oscillate between two small galvanic batteries, first touching one and then the other. A little card informed me that this piece of metal had continued to move to and fro between those two batteries for more than thirty years, and had during that time passed over six thousand miles. The whole affair was so inclosed within a glass case that nothing was likely to disturb it, and so it kept the even tenor of its way with a history which could be summoned up in two lines of plainest prose. To and fro, to and fro, for thirty years, and that was its whole monotonous history. Men’s quiet lives are much after the same order, they have gone to business on Monday morning and home at night, the same on Tuesday and all the days of the year; no dire struggles, no fierce temptations, no gracious victories, no divine experiences of heavenly love; their whole inner life meagre of interest, because so free from every trial. But look at the man who is subject to trials, temporal and spiritual, and acquainted with difficulties of every sort! he is like yon mass of iron on the prow of a gallant bark, which has crossed the Pacific, and bathed itself in the Atlantic; storms have dashed upon it, a myriad waves have broken over it; it has seen the terrors of all the seas, and gleamed in the sunlight of both hemispheres. It has served its age most gloriously, and when old and worn with rust, a world of interest surrounds it.

     Let us, if our trials multiply, recollect that grace abounding will be given with them, and the mingled trial and the grace will make our lives sublime, prevent our being mere dumb driven cattle, and give us kinship with those who through much tribulation have ascended to their thrones. The battle and the storm, the strife and the victory, the depression and the uplifting, and all else that betides us in a varied and eventful life, shall help to make our eternal rest and glory the more sweet to us. Let us leave these musings upon expected glooms, relying undoubtingly upon the promise that the Lord will make darkness light before us, by some means or other, and will in no wise fail us in the hour of need.

     For a minute or two, let me more especially invite you again, children of God, to dwell upon the promise, that the Lord will make your darkness light. How soon can Omnipotence accomplish this! It takes us much time to create light; we must form companies and erect machineries before we can turn the night of our great cities into a partial day; but to-morrow morning, however black the previous night may have been, the great Father of Lights will illuminate our whole nation in a few minutes, and make each wave of the sea, and each dewdrop of the lawn to gleam with silvery sheen. God has but to bid the sun accomplish his course, and the world is lit up and the shadows flee away. How perfectly the work is done! The illumination is unrivalled in lavish glory. All our means of enlightenment are poor when compared with the sunlight; and so scant that we must needs measure its cubic feet, and dole it out for gold, while the Lord pours his infinitely superior illumination in measureless oceans over hill and dale, field and city, gladdening the cottage as well as the palace, and burnishing the beetle’s wing as well as the eagle’s pinion. Even thus our heavenly Father can readily enough turn the deepest sorrows of his people into the sublimest joys, and he needs not to vex the sons of men with labour in order to achieve his purpose of pity; his own right hand, his own gracious Spirit, can pour forth a fulness of consolation in a moment.

     Notice for your comfort some of the ways in which the Lord of Love banishes the midnight of the soul. Sometimes he removes all gloom by the sun of his providence. He bids prosperity shine into the window of the hovel, and the poor grow rich; he lifts the beggar from the dunghill, and sitteth him among princes. The wings of angels bear healing to the sick, and the man long tossing on his bed walks forth to breathe the pure sweet air so long denied him. The great Arbiter of all events doth but turn the wheel of fortune, and those who were lowest are highest— the last are first and the first last. He can do the same for any of us, both in temporals and in spirituals, if so it seemeth him good. He hath but to ordain it so, and our poverty will be exchanged for plenty. Our Lord often cheers his people with the moon of their experience, which shines with borrowed light, but yet with a brightness calm and tranquil, well-beloved of the sons of sorrow. He bids us recollect the days of old, and our spirit maketh diligent search; we find that he has never left his people, neither to ourselves hath he been treacherous. We remember when we were in a like case to the present, we note that we were well sustained, and ultimately delivered, and so we are encouraged to believe that to-day shall be as the past, and yet more abundantly. Frequently our heavenly Father cheers his children by a sight of Jesus going before. That defile between overhanging rocks is so dark. I, a poor timid child, shrink back from it; but how is my courage restored as I see Jesus bearing the lantern of his love and going before me into the thick darkness! Hark! I hear him say, “Follow me;” and while he speaks I perceive a light streaming from his sacred person; every thorn of his crown gleams like a star; the jewels of his breast-plate flash like lamps, and his wounds gleam with celestial splendour. “Fear not,” saith he, “for in all your afflictions I have been afflicted. I was tempted in all points like as you are, though without sin.” Who can tell the encouragement given to the heir of heaven by the fact that the elder Brother has passed through all the dark passage which leads to the promised rest! God had one Son without sin, but he never had a son without chastisement. He who always did his Father’s will, yet had to suffer. Courage, my heart, courage; for if Jesus suffered— if that pang which tears thy heart, first was felt by him, thou mayst be of good cheer indeed.

     Better still is the comfort derived from the grand truth that Jesus is actually present in the daily afflictions of believers. Jesus knocks at my door, and says, “Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of the leopards!” I look ' forth from the window into the cold and dreary night, and I answer him, “The night is black and cheerless. I have put off my coat, how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them? I cannot arise and follow thee.” But the Beloved is not thus to be refused; he knocks again, and he saith, “Come forth with me into the fields, let us lodge in the villages; there will I give thee my loves.” Overcome by his love, I arise, and go with my heavenly Bridegroom. If the raindrops fall pitilessly upon me, yet it is most sweet to see that his head also is filled with dew, and his locks with the drops of the night. The howling wind tosses his garments as well as mine; his feet tread the same miry places as my own; and all the while he calls me his beloved, his love, his dove, his undefiled, and tells me of the land which lies beyond the darkness, and speaks of the mountains of myrrh and of the beds of spices, the top of Amana, Shenir, and Hermon. My soul is melted while my Beloved speaks, and my heart feels it sweet beyond expression to walk with him; for lo, while he is near me, the night is lit up with innumerable stars, the sky is aglow with glory, every cloud flames like a seraph’s wing, while the pitiless blast is all unable to chill the heart which burns within while he talketh with me by the way. In after years we are wont to speak to one another of that dark night and its marvellous brightness; of that cold wind that was so strangely tempered, and we even say to one another, “I would fain pass through a thousand nights in such company; I would be willing to go on a midnight journey evermore with that dearest of friends, for oh! where he is night is day; in his presence suffering is joy; when he reveals himself pains are pleasures, and earth blossoms with flowers of Eden.” Thus doth the Wellbeloved by his presence make our darkness light.

     Oftentimes you and I have known by experience how the Lord has made our darkness light, when in a moment a text of Scripture has flashed up before our eyes like a beacon fire. I bless God there are parts of this precious book which I do not only retain in my memory, but in my heart. They have been so applied to my soul in times of need, that to forget them would be utterly impossible; they have burned their way into my inner nature, and have become part and parcel of my consciousness. You cannot, of yourself, make a text so full of life and power by merely thinking of it, nor by praying over it, nor by studying the original, but the Holy Ghost quickens the word even as he quickens us. A word from the Lord will at times rise up from the page, as though it had lain there like a sleeping angel; it will grasp us by the hand, embrace us and revive us, till in wonder we cry out, “Oh, precious and inexhaustible word of God! Oh, sweet word fresh from the lip of Jesus, how is it I could have read thee so often, but never understood thy fulness and preciousness till now?” This is one of the ways of the Lord by which he maketh darkness light, by snatching a firebrand from the altar of his word and waving it as a torch before us, that we may advance in its light.

     Thus you see, beloved, God can readily turn our darkness into light. Now the text leads us a little further, and speaks of “crooked things.” So, Christian, for a moment think of the crooks of your lot. Like the pathway of the children of Israel through the wilderness, your course appears to be backward and forward, like the path which winds deviously through the wood among briers and thorns. The faithful Friend of pilgrims knows the way that you take— all your steps are ordered of the Lord, and in due time according to his word he will make them all straight for you. Perhaps the crookedness of your lot lies in your poverty. You never have more than barely enough. Food and raiment you have had, but still it has been dry bread, and scant raiment. So far from faring sumptuously, you have almost known the want of Lazarus at the rich man’s gate. You have reached thus far on your journey, but still yours has been a life of want and great distress. You thank God, you do not repine, still you know well that want is a crooked thing.

     Or, perhaps you have suffered some very crooked calamity. Your dear husband was taken away when the children needed most his training care, and when the labour of those strong arms was wanted to find sustenance for the little ones. Alas! poor widow, that was a very crooked loss for you. Or, perhaps yonder husband has buried his beloved wife, and feels that his loss is irreparable— a crooked thing which he cannot understand. He cannot guess why the all-wise God has permitted such a mother to be taken from children who needed her moulding hand. If some other people had died you could have comprehended the reason— they were ripe and ready; but here were the young and active, whose life appeared so necessary, and these have been taken away from you, leaving behind a fountain of perennial tears. This is the crooked thing in your lot. Perhaps during the late panic you suffered very severely; you had not been one of the speculators, and had not ventured beyond your depth, but still, incidentally, the fall of others dragged you down. You do not quite understand the reason for that heavy blow, it is a crooked thing altogether; you have looked at it this way and that way, but you cannot see the why and the wherefore; you believe that God is wise, but it remains a matter of belief in this case; you cannot as yet see it to be a wise thing. Possibly your crook lies in a trying family at home. Woe to those who have crooked sons; for sharper than an adder’s tooth is an unthankful child. Have you a graceless daughter? Alas, what a trial is yours! Have you an ill-tempered, vixenish wife, or a harsh, unchristian husband? Do you yourself love the truth of God, and have you a partner who hates good things? Will you go home to-day to hear the voice of blasphemy from your next of kin? Yours is a crook indeed.

     Worse than all, if you have no other crook, I am sure you will confess to a crooked self. If your own heart were not your plague, all the rest would matter little; but oh! what with our pride, our sloth, our evil desires, our angry temper, our doubts, and fears, and despondencies, self is the worst crook a man hath to carry. Then it may be you have crooked temptations, too. You are tempted to profanity; you hate the very thought of it, yet will the horrible suggestion haunt you; you are tempted to vices from which by grace you have been preserved, but towards which, as with a hurricane, Satan would whirl you. Your temptations abound day by day, you appear to yourself to be like a man beset with ten thousand bees; they compass you about, yea, they compass you about, and you know not how to destroy them. As many as your thoughts, so many your temptations seem to be. Well, these are all crooked things, and in such a fallen world as this, crooked things will always be very common.

     Now comes the promise, “God will make all the crooked things in the way of his people straight.” It may be that they are straight now, and that the making straight is only to make them seem so to us; for oftentimes that which we thought to be a misfortune was the best thing that could ever occur to us. We complain of our crosses, yet are not our crosses our best estates? How often we kick against our highest good! we tear up that herb in the garden which hath the noblest medicine in every leaf. O for grace to know that there is much real good in sorrow, and that our trials are only crooked because our eyes are asquint.

     The Lord also can bend the crooked straight, and what will not bend he can break. How often in a family the ungodly Saul has been made into a holy Paul! the crooked character has been bent straight; and where the man would not bend straight, the terrible judgment of God has taken away the crook out of the household, so that the righteous might have peace and comfort! Do not be afraid, believer, the Lord’s great axe can clear a way through the thick forests of your greatest trials. Do you not see the great Pioneer going before you; his goings forth were of old, and by the name of “The Breaker” is he known, since he breaks down all that can hinder the march of his people. Like the engineers in the advance of an army, those grand old sappers and miners who clear the way for the host, even so will the Lord cast up a highway for all his saints, until he shall bring them to the city that hath foundations whose builder and maker he is.

     If he do not this, he will give you power to overleap the difficulty, he will bid you, his servant, go straight on in the path of duty, and strength not your own shall be given you: so that you shall say with one of old, “By my God have I gone through a troop; by my God have I leaped over a wall.” You shall cry like Deborah, “O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.” If our pathway were always clear in the way of duty, where were our faith? but when we force our way to heaven through crowds of enemies, hewing a lane by main force through the squadrons of hell, then is our great Captain glorified, and his grace made resplendent. Let us be of good courage, then, for the Lord will make the crooked straight at the end.

     Two lessons, and then I shall turn to address a few words to the seeker. One is to the child of God. If God will thus make all your darkness light, and all your crooked things straight, do not forestall your troubles. They are darkness now; leave them alone man, they will turn to light. They are crooked now; well, leave them to ripen, and God will make them straight. Some fruit which you gather from your trees is of such a nature that if you were to try and eat it in the autumn, it would be very sour, and would make you very unwell; but just store it up a little, and see how luscious and juicy it becomes! It is a pity to destroy the fruit and pain yourself by premature use! It is just so with your troubles, they are all darkness now, do not meddle with them, leave them till God has ripened them and turned them into light. Yonder man is employed in carrying sacks of flour every day. He carries so many hundredweight each time, and in the day it comes to tons; and so many tons a day will come to an enormous mass in a year. Now, suppose, on the first of January, this man were to calculate the year’s load, and say, “I have all that immense mass to carry; I cannot do it you would remind him that he has not to carry it all at once; he has all the work-days of the year to carry it in. So we put all our troubles together, and we cry, “However shall I get over them?” Well, they will only come one at a time, and as they come, the strength will come with them. A man who has walked a thousand miles, did not traverse the thousand miles at a step, nor in a day, but he took his time and did it; and we also must take our time, and with patience we shall accomplish our work. A fine lesson for us all is that word wait, WAIT, WAIT.

     Our second remark is this, always believe in the power of prayer, for if God promises to make your darkness light, he will be enquired of to do it for you; and when you enquire of him to do it he will do it because he has so promised. I wish we did believe in prayer, I am afraid most of us do not. People will say “What a wonderful thing it is that God hears George Müller’s prayers!” But is it not a sad thing that we should think it wonderful for God to hear prayer? We are come to a pretty pass certainly when we think it wonderful that God is true! Much better faith was that of a little boy in one of the schools at Edinburgh, who had attended the prayer-meetings, and at last said to his teacher who conducted the prayer-meeting, “Teacher, I wish my sister could be got to read the Bible; she never reads it.” Why, Johnny, should your sister read the Bible?” “Because if she should once read it, I am sure it would dc her good, and she would be converted and be saved.” “Do you think so, Johnny?” “Yes, I do, sir, and I wish the next time there’s a prayer-meeting you would ask the people to pray for my sister, that she may begin to read the Bible.” “Well, well, it shall be done, John.” So the teacher gave out that a little boy was very anxious that prayers should be offered that his sister might begin to read the Bible. John was observed to get up and go out. The teacher thought it very unkind of the boy to disturb the people in a crowded room and go out like that, and so the next day when the lad came, he said, “John, I thought that was very rude of you to get up in the prayer-meeting and go out. You ought not to have done it.” “Oh! sir,” said the boy, I did not mean to be rude, but I thought I should just like to go home and see my sister reading her Bible for the first time.” That is how we ought to believe, and wait with expectation to see the answer to prayer. The girl was reading the Bible when the boy went home. God had been pleased to hear the prayer; and if we could but trust God after that fashion we should often see similar things accomplished. Do not say, “Lord, turn my darkness into light,” and then go out with your candle as though you expected to find it dark, but after asking the Lord to appear for you, expect him to do so, for according to thy faith so be it unto you.

     II. And now, just a few words, before we depart, TO THE SEEKER.

     Some here, have long been desirous of finding peace with God, but they are still troubled and tossed to and fro in their minds. Now, my dear friend, we have felt great joy in seeing your anxiety, but we are beginning to feel great sorrow to think that that anxiety should last so long, and that you should be so unbelieving as not at once to put your trust in the blessed Lord Jesus. He is able to save you, and he will save you now, if you trust him. It seems a very simple thing to rest alone on him: simple as it is, it is most effectual for the soul’s peace and joy. We are grieved to think that you have been so long refusing to give Christ the credit which he so richly deserves. Now, perhaps, it may be you are puzzled about some doctrinal question. You have been asking your friends to explain this and that to you, and you have not yet had all cleared up. Let me say, I am afraid you never will, for there are difficulties about our holy religion which will never be explained on this side the grave, and, perhaps, not on the other; for if our religion were within our comprehension, we should feel it did not come from God, but being greater than our brain can grasp, we see in this some traces of the infinite God, who in revealing himself, does not display all his glory, but only a part of it, to the sons of men. Dear friend, believe that God’s dear Son is able to save you, and trust in him, and when you have done that, all these doctrinal difficulties, so far as they are at all important, will vanish. He has said it, and you shall prove it true, “I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.” You shall say to yourself, “How could I have raised so many quibbles? How foolish it was of me to be always debating and questioning, when eternal mercy was freely presented to me!”

     Perhaps your darkness to-day arises from a very deep depression of mind. Your notion is that you can never believe in Jesus Christ till this depression is removed; but let me tell you your notion is wide of the truth, for the fact is, you are not at all likely to rise out of your depression until you first believe in Jesus. Sad and sorrowful as you are, what doth hinder you to believe in the infinite Son of God as able to put away your sin? He must be able. The death of such a one must have an amount of merit in it not to be limited. Oh! if thou canst do him the honour to trust him, though thou be like a poor smoking flax, he will not quench thee, though thou be worthless and weak as a bruised reed, yet if thou canst trust him thou art saved. 0 rely on him, I pray thee, for thy soul’s sake rest in the precious blood, and thou shalt find thy depression vanish, thy darkness shall be light, thy crooked things shall be made straight. “Ah,” sayest thou, “but I labour under a load of sin!” Truly there is enough in thy sin to make thee troubled were it not that for this purpose was Christ born and came into the world, that he might take away sin. Wherefore that great sacrifice on Calvary’s tree if not for great offences? Seest thou not that it is the very blackness of thy sin that makes thee need a Saviour; knowest thou not that Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance? In due time he died for the ungodly, such as thou art. O throw thy weary soul into his arms. Why dost thou look about after this and that? Why art thou deceived with “Lo here, and lo there!” looking to this and that for comfort? Come thou to him, empty, naked, filthy, come to be made everything that is good through him. “Ay, but,” you say, “my nature is so evil,” well, but your depravity is known, and provided for in the text. Your sinfulness, like the crookedness mentioned in the text, shall be made straight. The Lord can overcome your natural disposition. Whatever the peculiar form of your besetting sin, the Holy Ghost is more than a match for it. Though you have sinned very foully, he can forgive; and though you feel a strong temptation to sin in the same way again, he can correct the tendency in your nature, and give you new longings which shall overcome the old. O that my Lord had his due of you, then would you not doubt him! Blessed Saviour, King of kings, and Lord of lords, deigning to stoop to suffer and to die, how can men doubt thee? How can they look into thy dear face, and yet distrust thee? See thy blessed hands and feet and riven side, and yet suspect thee? O sinner, cast thyself on Jesus, and thou shalt have joy and peace given thee to-day.

     Three things I want you to notice in the text, and I have done. That which saves us is not what is, but what will be. “I will make darkness light.” “I will make crooked things straight.” The crooked thing is really crooked now, but there is a transformation in store. Sinner, it is not what you are now that is to be your salvation; you are dark and crooked, but your salvation shall yet be given you. You shall be light in the Lord, and upright through his grace.

     Note, secondly, it is not what you can do, but what God can do. “I will make darkness light;” not the sinner shall turn his darkness into light, but “I,” Jehovah; I who can do all things. I, who can create and can destroy, “I will make darkness light before thee, and crooked things straight.”

     Notice again, that this work may not be yours at once, hut it shall be It does not say “I will make darkness light to-day,” still it does say “I will.” Ah! then, let us look forward to the brightness which we cannot yet see, and rejoice in the straightness which as yet we do not discern; for God will keep his word to the minute, and his eternal “shalls” and “wills” shall never fall to the ground.

     I pray God bless the word to you who are tried believers, to give you peace and confidence; and to you who are seeking sinners, that you may trust in Christ and find salvation. The Lord bless you richly, for his name’s sake. Amen.



Good Cheer for Christmas

By / Dec 20

Good Cheer for Christmas

 

“And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.”— Isaiah 25:6.

 

WE have nearly arrived at the great merry-making season of the year. On Christmas-day we shall find all the world in England enjoying themselves with all the good cheer which they can afford. Servants of God, you who have the largest share in the person of him who was born at Bethlehem, I invite you to the best of all Christmas fare—to nobler food than makes the table groan—bread from heaven, food for your spirit. Behold, how rich and how abundant are the provisions which God has made for the high festival which he would have his servants keep, not now and then, but all the days of their lives!

     God, in the verse before us, has been pleased to describe the provisions of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although many other interpretations have been suggested for this verse, they are all flat and stale, and utterly unworthy of such expressions as those before us. When we behold the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose flesh is meat indeed, and whose blood is drink indeed — when we see him offered up upon the chosen mountain, we then discover a fulness of meaning in these gracious words of sacred hospitality, “The Lord shall make a feast of fat things, of fat things full of marrow.” Our Lord himself was very fond of describing his gospel under the selfsame image as that which is here employed. He spoke of the marriage-supper of the king, who said “My oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready;” and it did not seem as if he could even complete the beauty of the parable of the prodigal son without the killing of the fat calf and the feasting and the music and dancing. As a festival on earth is looked forward to and looked back upon as an oasis amid a desert of time, so the gospel of Jesus Christ is to the soul its sweet release from bondage and distress, its mirth and joy. Upon this subject we intend to speak this morning, hoping to be helped by the great Master of the feast.

     Our first head will be the feast; the second will be the banqueting hall — “in this mountain;” the third will be the Host — “The Lord shall make a feast; and the fourth shall be the guests—he shall make it “unto all people.”

     I. First, then, we have to consider THE FEAST.

     It is described as consisting of viands of the best, nay, of the best of the best. They are fat things, but they are also fat things full of marrow. Wines are provided of the most delicious and invigorating kind, wines on the lees, which retain their aroma, their strength, and their flavour; but these are most ancient and rare, having been so long kept that they have become well refined; by long standing they have purified, clarified themselves, and brought themselves to the highest degree of brightness and excellence. The best of the best God has provided in the gospel for the sons of men.

     Let us attentively survey the blessings of the gospel, and observe that they are fat things, and fat things full of marrow.

     One of the first gospel blessings is that of complete justification. A sinner, though guilty in himself, no sooner believes in Jesus than all his sins are pardoned. The righteousness of Christ becomes his righteousness, and he is accepted in the Beloved. Now, this is a delicious dish indeed. Here is something for the soul to feed upon. To think that I, though a deeply guilty one, am absolved of God, and set free from the bondage of the law! To think that I, though once an heir of wrath, am now as accepted before God as Adam was when he walked in the Garden without a sin; nay, more accepted still, for the divine righteousness of Christ belongs to me, and I stand complete in him, beloved in the Beloved, and accepted in him too! Beloved, this is such a precious truth, that when the soul feeds on it, it experiences a quiet peace, a deep and heavenly calm, to be found nowhere on earth besides. This is a kind of honey which never cloys, to be assured by the word of God, and by the witness of the Holy Ghost within you, that you are reconciled and brought nigh by the blood and the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This is a choice mercy. This is a fat thing indeed; but this is not all, it is a fat thing full of marrow too. There is an inner lusciousness in it when you reach the heart and soul of the matter, transcendent in richness; for remember that this righteousness, this acceptance, this justification, becomes ours in a perfectly legal way, one against which Satan himself cannot raise a demurrer, for our Substitute has paid our debt, therefore are we righteously discharged. Christ has fulfilled the law, and made it honourable for us, and therefore are we justly accepted and beloved. Here is marrow indeed when we perceive the truth and reality of the substitution of Jesus, and grasp with heart and soul the fact of our great Surety standing in our stead at the bar of justice, that we might stand in his stead in the place of honour and love. What bliss it is to cry with the apostle, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Come hither, all ye whose spiritual tastes are purified by grace, and feed upon this choice provision, which shall be sweet to your taste, sweeter, also, than honey and the honeycomb.

     Meditate upon a second blessing of the covenant of grace, namely, that of adoption. It is plainly revealed to us, that as many as have believed in Christ Jesus unto the salvation of their souls, are the sons of God. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.” Here, indeed, is a fat thing. What, shall a worm of the dust become a child of God? A rebel be adopted into the heavenly family? A condemned criminal not only forgiven, but actually made a child of God? Wonder of wonders! “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God!” To which of the kings and princes of this earth did he ever say, “Thou art my son”? He has not spoken thus to the great ones and to the mighty, but God hath chosen the base things of this world and things that are despised, yea, and things that are not, and made these to be of the seed royal. The wise and prudent are passed over, but babes receive the revelation of his love. Lord, whence is this to me? What am I and what is my father’s house, that thou shouldst speak of making me thy child? This gloriously fat thing is also “full of marrow.” There is an inner richness in adoption, for, “if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” Well does the apostle remind us that if children, then heirs, for we are thus assured of our blessed heritage. “All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Here are royal dainties of which the Word has said most truly, “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house.”

     Passing on from the blessing of adoption, let us remember that every child of God is the object of eternal love without beginning and without end. This is one of the fat things full of marrow. Is it so, that I, a believer in Jesus, unworthy as I am, am the object of the eternal love of God? What transport lies in that thought! Long before the Lord began to create the world, he had thought of me. Long ere Adam fell or Christ was born, and the angels sung their first choral over Bethlehem’s miracle, the eye and the heart of God were towards his elect people. He never began to love them, they were always “a people near unto him.” Is it not so written, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore, with lovingkindness have I drawn thee”? Some kick at the doctrine of election, but they are ill advised, since they labour to overturn one of the noblest dishes of the feast; they would dam up one of the coolest streams that flow from Lebanon; they would cover over with rubbish one of the richest veins of golden ore that make rich the people of God. For this doctrine of a love that hath no commencement, is the best wine of our Beloved, and “that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of them that are asleep to speak.” How joyously doth the heart exult and leap for very joy when this truth is brought home by the witness of the Spirit of God! then the soul is satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the Lord.

     Equally delightful is the corresponding reflection that this love which had no beginning shall have no end. He is a God that changeth not. “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Where he has once set his heart of love upon a man, he never turns away from doing him good. He saith by the mouth of his servant the prophet, that he hateth putting away. Though we sin against him often, and provoke him to jealousy, yet still, as the waters of Noah, so is his covenant to us; for as the waters of Noah shall no more go over the earth, so he swears that he will not be wroth with us nor rebuke us. “The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.” “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.” Why, beloved, this indeed is a fat thing; and I may add that it is full of marrow when you remember that not merely has the Lord thought of you from everlasting, but loved you. Oh! the depth of that word “love,” as it applies to the infinite Jehovah, whose name, whose essence, whose nature is love! He has loved you with all the immutable intensity of his heart, never more and never less; loved you so much that he gave his only begotten Son for you; loved you so well that nothing could content him but making you to be conformed into the image of his dear Son, and causing you to partake of his glory that you may be with him where he is! Come, feed on this, ye heirs of eternal life, for here are fat things full of marrow.

     We should not, beloved, have completed this list if we had omitted one precious doctrine, which needs a refined taste perhaps, but which, when a man hath once learned to feed on it, seemeth to him to be best of all — I mean the great truth of union to Christ We are plainly taught in the word of God that as many as have believed are one with Christ: they are married to him, there is a conjugal union based upon mutual affection. The union is closer still, for there is a vital union between Christ and his saints. They are in him as the branches are in the vine; they are members of the body of which he is the head. They are one with Jesus in such a true and real sense that with him they died, with him they have been buried, with him they are risen, with him they are raised up together and made to sit together in heavenly places. There is an indissoluble union between Christ and all his people: “I in them and they in me.” Thus the union may be described: —Christ is in his people the hope of glory, and they are dead and their life is hid with Christ in God. This is a union of the most wonderful kind, which figures may faintly set forth, but which it were impossible for language completely to explain. Oneness to Jesus is one of the fat things fall of marrow. For if it be so, indeed, that we are one with Christ, then because he lives we must live also; because he was punished for sin, we also have borne the wrath of God in him; because he was justified by his resurrection, we also are justified in him; because he is rewarded and for ever sits down at his Father’s right hand, we also have obtained the inheritance in him and by faith grasp it now, and enjoy its earnest. Oh, can it be that this aching head already has a right to a celestial crown! That this palpitating heart has a claim to the rest which remaineth for the people of God! That these weary feet have a title to tread the sacred halls of the New Jerusalem! It is so, for if we are one with Christ, then all he has belongs to us, and it is but a matter of time, and of gracious arrangement when we shall come into the full enjoyment thereof. Truly, in meditation upon this topic, we may each of us exclaim, “My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips.”

     I cannot bring forth all the courses of my Lord’s banquet; one serving man cannot bear before you the riches of such a surpassing feast; but I would remind you of one more, and that is the doctrine of resurrection and everlasting life. This poor world dimly guessed at the immortality of the soul, but it knew nothing of the resurrection of the body: the gospel of Jesus has brought life and immortality to light, and he himself has declared to us of Jesus, that he that believeth in him shall never die. “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet should he live.” Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Not the soul only, but the body also shall partake of immortality, for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. We expect to die, but we are assured of living again. If the Lord come not, we know that our bodies shall see corruption; but here is our comfort, we dread no annihilation, that dark shadow never crosses our spirits; we dread no hell, no purgatory, no judgment— Christ hath perfected for ever them that are set apart; none can condemn whom he absolves. The saints shall judge the angels, and sit with their Lord in the day of the great assize. To us the coming of Christ will be a day of joy and of rejoicing: we shall be caught up together with him; his reign shall be our reign, his glory our glory. Wherefore comfort one another with these words, and as ye see your brethren and your sisters departing one by one from among you, sorrow not as those that are without hope, but say unto each other, “They are not lost, but they have gone before,” for, “blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.” Here are fat things full of marrow, for ours is a glorious hope, and full of immortality. Our expected immortality is not that of mere existence, it is not the barren privilege of life without bliss, existence without happiness— it is full of glory; for “we shall be like him when we shall see him as he is;” we shall be with God, at whose right hand there is fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore. He shall make us to drink of the river of his pleasures; songs and everlasting joy shall be upon our heads, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

“Oh, for the no more weeping,
Within that land of love!
The endless joy of keeping
The bridal feast above!

Oh, for the hour of seeing
My Saviour face to face!
The hope of ever being
In that sweet meeting-place.”

     Thus I have set before you a few of the fat things full of marrow which the King of kings has set before his guests at the wedding feast of his love.

     Changing the run of the thought, and yet really keeping to the same subject, let me now bring before you the goblets of wine, “Wines on the lees — wines on the lees well refined.” These we shall consider as symbolising the joys of the gospel. What are these? I can only speak of those which I have myself been permitted to sip at. One of the dearest joys of the Christian life is a sense of perfect peace with God. Oh, I tell you when one is quiet for awhile, and the din and noise of business is out of one’s ears, it is one of the most delicious things in all the world to meditate upon God, and to feel he is no enemy to me, and I am no enemy to him. It is beyond comparison cheering, musingly to feel, I love him. If there be anything that I can do to serve him, I will do it. If there be any suffering which would honour him, if he would give me the strength to endure it, it should be my happiness, though it caused me to die a martyr’s death a thousand times. If I could but honour my God, my Father, and my Friend, all should be acceptable to me. There is nothing between the Lord and me by way of difference or alienation; I am brought nigh through the blood of his dear and only begotten Son. He is my God, my Father, and my all, and I am his child. Some of us have tried the imaginary happiness of laughter; we have mixed with the giddy throng, and tasted the wines of the house of carnal merriment, but our honest experience is that one single draught from the cup of salvation is worth rivers of worldly mirth.

“Solid joys and lasting pleasures
Only Zion’s children know.”

A quiet heart, resting in the love of God, dwelling in perfect peace, hath a royalty about it which cannot for a moment be matched by the fleeting joys of this world.

     Our joy sometimes flashes with a brighter light, but even then it is not less pure and safe. You may look upon this wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it moveth itself aright, for there is no woe, no redness of the eyes reserved for those who drink even to inebriation of this sacred wine. This sacred exhilaration is caused by a sense of security. A child of God, when he has looked well to his Redeemer, and seen the merit of the precious blood, and the power of the never-ceasing plea, feels himself safe, perfectly safe. I do not understand the child of God reading his Bible and yet being afraid of being cast into hell. I can understand that the fear may cross his mind lest after all he should prove a castaway; but as he approaches once again to the foot of the cross, and looks up to Jesus, he feels that it cannot be. None were ever cast away who stood at the cross foot; for it is written, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” A child of God, with no hope but what he finds in Christ, has no cause to think his eternal state to be insecure. All are safe who are in Christ, even as all were safe who were in Noah’s ark. No flood, no storm could hurt the man of whom it was said, “The Lord shut him in.” The Lord has shut in all his people in Christ, and they are eternally safe in Christ. When the spirit knows that “there is, therefore, now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus,” then is it replenished with delight. When one feels that live or die, or work or suffer, all is well, how free from care is the heart! How divinely joyful to know that if one should lose all his earthly substance, the Lord will provide; that if one should be tempted, tempted greatly, yet with the temptation the way of escape shall be made! here is assurance rich with consolation. When one feels that all is safe, all safe eternally, for life or death all secured, I tell you that this is wine on the lees, wine on the lees well refined, and he who wins a draught thereof need not envy the angels their celestial banquets.

     This joy of ours will sometimes rise to an elevation yet more sublime, when it is caused by communion with God. Believers, while engaged in prayer and praise, in service and in suffering, are enabled by the Holy Spirit to hold high converse with their Lord. Do not imagine that Abraham’s speech with God was an unusual privilege. The father of the faithful did but enjoy what all the faithful ones participate in according to the grace given them. We tell to God our griefs; discoursing upon our sorrows not in fiction, but declaring them in real conversation, as when a man speaketh with his neighbour: meanwhile the Lord’s Spirit whispers to us with the still small voice of the promise, such words as calm our minds and guide our feet. Yes, and when our Beloved takes us into the banqueting-house of real conscious fellowship with himself, and waves the love-banner over us, our holy joy is as much superior to all merely human mirth, as the heavens are above the earth. Then do we speak and sing with sacred zest, and feel as if we could weep for very joy of heart, for our Beloved is ours and we are his. His left hand is under our head, and his right hand doth embrace us, and our only fear is lest anything should grieve our Beloved and cause him to withdraw himself from us; for it is heaven on earth, and the fair antepast of heaven above to see his face, to taste his love. Communion with Christ is as the wine on the lees well refined.

     We will place on the table one goblet more, of which you may drink as much as you will. We have provided for us the pleasures of hope, a hope most sure and steadfast, most bright and glorious— the hope that what we know to-day shall be outdone by what we shall know to-morrow; the hope that by-and-by what we now see, as in a glass darkly, shall be seen face to face. We shall say, as in heaven, as the Queen of Sheba did in Jerusalem, “The half hath not been told us.” We are looking forward to a speedy day when we shall be unburdened of this creaking tabernacle, and being absent from the body shall be present with the Lord. Our hope of future bliss is elevated and confident. Oh, the vision of his face! Oh, the sight of Jesus in his exaltation! Oh, the kiss of his lips— the word, “Well done, good and faithful servant” from that dear mouth! and then forever to lie in his bosom. Begone, ye cares, begone, ye sorrows; if heaven be so near, ye shall not molest us. The inn may be a rough and poverty-stricken one, but we are only travellers, not tenants upon lease. This is not our place of resting; we are on our journey home! Beloved, in the prospect of the quiet resting-places in the land which floweth with milk and honey, you have wines on the lees well refined.

     If we were not limited to time this morning, as, alas! we are, I should have reminded you that these joys of the believer are ancient in their origin, for that is shown in the text. Old wines are intended by “wines well refined;” they have stood long on the lees, have drawn out all the virtue from them, and have been cleared of all the coarser material. In the East, wine will be improved by keeping even more than the wines of the West! and even so the mercies of God are the sweeter to our meditations because of their antiquity. From old eternity, or ever the earth was, the covenant engagements of everlasting love have been resting like wines on the lees, and to -day they bring to us the utmost riches of all the attributes of God. I should also have reminded you of the fulness of their excellence, because the wine on the lees holds its flavour, and retains its aroma; and there is a fulness and richness about the blessings of divine grace which endears them to our hearts. The joys of grace are not fantastical emotions, or transient flashes of a meteoric excitement, they are based on substantial truth; are reasonable, fit, and proper. They belong not to the superficial and frothy emotions of mere feeling, but are deep, solemn, earnest motions, justified by the clearest judgment. Our bliss is not of the foam and the surge, it dwells in the innermost caverns of our heart. I would also remind you of their refined nature. No sin mingled with the joys of the gospel and the delights of communion — they are well refined. Gospel joys are elevating, they make men like angels. As in the gospel God comes down to men, so by the gospel men go up to God. I might also have shown you how absolutely peerless are the provisions of grace. There is no feast like that of the gospel, no meat like the flesh of Jesus, no drink like his blood, no joys like that which crowns the gospel feast.

     II. I can say no more: the table is before you, and now we must pass on with great brevity to notice THE BANQUETING-HALL.

     “In this mountain.” There is a reference here to three things— the same symbol bearing three interpretations. First, literally, the mountain upon which Jerusalem is built. I do not doubt that the reference is here to the hill of the Lord upon which Jerusalem stood; the great transaction which was fulfilled at Jerusalem upon Calvary hath made to all nations a great feast. It was there where that centre cross bore upon it One who joined earth and heaven in mysterious union; it was there where amidst thick darkness the Son of God was made a curse for men; it was there where sorrow culminated that joy was consummated. On that very mountain where Jews and Gentiles met together, and with clamorous wrath cried, “Let him be crucified”— it was there in the giving up of the Only-begotten, whose flesh is meat indeed, and whose blood is drink indeed, that the Lord made a feast of fat things. Everything I have spoken of this morning is found in Christ. He is the resurrection and the life: in him we are justified, adopted, and made secure; every drop of joy we drink streams from his flowing veins.

     A second meaning is the church. Frequently Jerusalem is used as the symbol of the church of God, and it is within the pale of the church that the great feast of the Lord is made unto all nations. I am in the truest sense a very sound churchman. I am indeed a high churchman; a most determined stickler for the church. I do not believe in salvation outside of the pale of the church. I believe that the salvation of God is confined to the church, and to the church alone. “But,” says one, “what church?” Ay! that’s the question: God forbid I should mean by that either the Baptist church, or the Independent church, or the Episcopalian church, or the Presbyterian, or any other— I mean the church of Jesus Christ, the company of God’s chosen, the fellowship of the blood-bought, the family of believers, be they where they may, for them is provided the feast of fat things. Whatever outward and visible church they may have associated themselves with, they shall drink of the wines on the lees well refined; but the feast is only to be found where they are found who put their trust in Jesus. There is but one church in heaven and earth, composed of men called by the Holy Ghost, and made to live anew by his quickening power; and it is through the ministry of this church that an abundant feast is spread for all nations, a feast to which the nations are summoned by chosen herald, whom God calls to proclaim the good news of salvation by Jesus Christ.

     But, brethren, the mountain sometimes means the church of God exalted to its latter-day glory. This mountain is to be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it. This text will have its grandest fulfilment in the day of the appearing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Then shall the glory of the gospel be unveiled more clearly than at this present. Men shall have a fuller perception of the glory of the Lord, and a deeper enjoyment of his grace; while happiness and peace shall reign with unmolested quiet. Soon shall come the golden age which has been so long foretold, for which we cry with unceasing expectation. The Lord send it speedily, and his be the praise.

     III. Thirdly, let us think of THE HOST of the feast.

     “In this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things.” Mark well the truth that in the gospel banquet there is not a single dish brought by man. The Lord makes it, and he makes it all. I know some would like to bring a little with them to the banquet, something at least by way of trimming and adornment, so that they might have a share of the honour; but it must not be, the Lord of hosts makes the feast, and he will not even permit the guests to bring their own wedding garments— they must stop at the door and put on the robe which the Lord has provided, for salvation is all grace from first to last, and all of him who is wondrous in working, and who doeth all things according to the counsels of his will. Out of all the precious truths which I spoke of at the beginning of this sermon, there is not one which comes from any source but a divine one; and of all the joys which I tried feebly to picture there is not one which takes its rise from earth’s springs; they all flow from the eternal fount. The Lord makes the feast; and, observe, he does it, too, as Lord of hosts, as a sovereign, as a ruler, doing as he wills amongst the sons of men, preparing what he wills for the good of his creatures, and constraining whom he wills to come to the marriage-feast. The Lord provides sovereignly as Lord of hosts, and all-sufficiently as Jehovah. It needed the all-sufficiency of God to provide a feast for hungry sinners. No other than the infinite “I AM could provide a feast substantial enough to supply the wants of immortal spirits; but he has done it, and you may guess of the value of the viands by the nature of our entertainer. If God spread the feast it is not to be despised; if the Lord has put forth all the omnipotence of his eternal power and Godhead in preparing the banquet for the multitude of the sons of men, then depend upon it it is a banquet worthy of him, one to which they may come with confidence, for it must be such a banquet as their souls require, and such as the world never saw before. O my soul, rejoice thou in thy God and King. If he provides the feast, let him have all the glory of it. “Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory.” O King immortal, eternal, invisible, thou feddest thy children in the wilderness with manna which dropped from heaven, and with water that flowed out of the flinty rock, and they gave thanks unto thy name; but now thou fillest us with nobler food. They did eat manna and are dead, but we live on the immortal bread, even Jesus, and therefore we can never die. They drank of the water which flowed from the rock, and yet they thirsted again, but we shall never thirst, but for ever abide near to thyself, while the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed us, and lead us unto living fountains of water. Therefore, blessed by thy name, yea, a thousand times blessed be thy name, O thou Most High! Let all heaven say “Amen” to the praises of our hearts, and let the multitude of thy children here on earth, for whom this feast is spread, laud and magnify and bless thy name from the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same.

     IV. Lastly, a word or two upon THE GUESTS.

     The Lord has made this banquet “for all people.” What a precious word this is! “For all people.” Then this includes not merely the chosen people, the Jews, whose were the oracles, but it encompasses the poor uncircumcised Gentiles, who by Jesus are brought nigh. The barbarian is invited to this feast; the Scythian is not rejected. The polished Greek finds an open door; the hardy Roman shall meet with an equal welcome. Caesar’s household, if they come, shall receive a portion, and so shall the beggar’s brethren. Blessed be God for that word, “unto all people,” for it permits missionary enterprise in every land; however degraded a race may be, we have here provision made for it. This feast of fat things is made as much for the Sudra as for the Brahmin; the gospel is as much to be preached to the degraded Bushman as to the civilised Chinese. Dwell on that word, “all people,” and you will see it includes the rich, for there is a feast of fat things for them, such as their gold could never buy; and it includes the poor, for they being rich in faith shall have fellowship with God. “All people.” This takes in the man of enlarged intelligence and extensive knowledge; but it equally encompasses the illiterate man who cannot read. The Lord makes this feast “for all people;” for you old people, if you come to Jesus you shall find that he is suitable to you; for you young men and maidens, and you little children, if you put your trust in God’s appointed Saviour, there shall be much joy and happiness for you— “For all people”? Methinks, if I were now seeking and had not laid hold on Christ, this word, “all people” would be a great comfort to me, because it gives hope to all who desire to come. None have ever been rejected of all who have ever come to Christ and asked for mercy. Still is it true, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Some very odd people have come to him, some very wicked people, some very hardened people, but the door was never closed in any one’s face. Why should Jesus begin hard dealings with you? He cannot, because he cannot change. If he says, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” make one of the “hims” that come, and he cannot cast you out. There is another thought, namely, that between the covers of the Bible there is no mention made of one person who may not come. There is no description given of a person who is forbidden to trust Christ. I should like you to look the book through, you who dream that Jesus will reject you, and find where it is said, “Such a one I will reject; such a one I will refuse.” When you find such a rejecting clause, then you will have a right to be unbelieving, but till you do I beseech you do not needlessly torment yourself. Why needlessly sow doubts and fears? There will be enough of them without your

Making them for yourself. Do not limit what the Lord does not limit I know he has an elect people; I rejoice in it— I hope you will rejoice in in it too one day; and I know that his people have this marrow and fatness provided for them and for them alone; but still this does not at all conflict with the other precious truth that whosoever believeth in the Son of God hath everlasting life. If you believe in Jesus Christ, all these things are yours. Come, poor trembler, the silver trumpet soundeth, and this is the note it rings, “Come and welcome, come and welcome, come and welcome.” The harsher trumpet of the law which waxed exceedingly loud and long at Sinai had this for its note, “Set bounds about the mount: let none touch it lest they die.” But the trumpet for Calvary sounds with the opposite note; it is, “Come and welcome, come and welcome, sinner, come! Come as you are, sinful as you are, hardened as you are, careless as you think you are, and having no good thing whatsoever, come to your God in Christ!” O may you come to him who gave his Son to bleed in the sinner’s stead, and casting yourself on what Christ has done, may you resolve, “If I perish, I will trust in him; if I be cast away, I will rely on him.” You shall not perish, but for you there shall be the feast of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. The Lord bless you very richly, for his name’s sake. Amen.



Consecration to God – Illustrated by Abraham’s Circumcision

By / Dec 13

Consecration to God—Illustrated by Abraham’s Circumcision

 
“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.” — Genesis 17:1-2.

 

WE commenced our exposition of the life of Abram with his calling, when he was brought out of Ur of the Chaldees, and separated unto the Lord in Canaan. We then passed on to his justification, when he believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness; and now you will bear with us if we continue the same subject to a further stage, and attempt to describe the fuller development of Abram’s vital godliness in the open and clear revelation of his consecration to God. In the chapter before us we see his sanctification unto the Lord, his ordination to service, and purification as a vessel fitted for the Master’s use. All the called are justified, and all the justified are by a work of the Holy Ghost sanctified, and made meet to be afterwards glorified with Christ Jesus.

     Let me remind you of the order in which these blessings come. If we should speak of sanctification or consecration, it is not as a first thing, but as an elevation to be reached only by preceding stepping-stones. In vain do men pretend to be consecrated to God before they are called of God’s Spirit; such have yet to be taught that no strength of nature can suffice to serve the Lord aright. They must learn what this meaneth, “Ye must be born again,” for assuredly until men are brought into spiritual life by the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit, all their talk about serving God maybe answered in the words of Joshua, “Ye cannot, serve the Lord.” I speak of consecration, but it is not as a first thing, nor even as a second thing, for a man must be justified by faith which is in Christ Jesus, or he will not possess the grace which is the root of all true sanctity; for sanctification grows out of faith in Jesus Christ. Remember holiness is a flower, not a root; it is not sanctification that saves, but salvation that sanctifies. A man is not saved by his holiness, but he becomes holy because he is already saved. Being justified by faith, and having peace with God, he walks no longer after the flesh, but after the Spirit, and in the power of the blessing which he has received by grace he dedicates himself to the service of his gracious God. Note then the due order of heavenly benefits, consecration to God follows calling and justification.

     Recalling your minds to Abram’s history, let me remind you that thirteen years had elapsed after the time in which God had said that Abram’s faith was counted to him for righteousness, and those thirteen years, so far as we can gather from Scripture, were not at all so full of brave faith and noble deeds as we might have expected them to have been. How sure is that truth that the best of men are but men at the best, for that very man who had accepted God’s promise and had not staggered at it through unbelief, within a few months afterwards, or perhaps a few days, was taken with a fit of unbelief, and at the instigation of his wife, adopted means which were not justifiable, in order that he might obtain the promised heir. He used means which may not be so vicious to him, as they would be in men of modern times, but which were suggested by an unbelieving policy, and were fraught with evil. He takes Hagar to wife. He could not leave it to God to give him the promised seed; he could not leave it with God to fulfil his promise in his own time, but justifies himself in turning aside from the narrow path of faith to accomplish by doubtful methods the end which God himself had promised and undertaken to accomplish.

     How shorn of splendour is Abram seen when we read of him, “and Abram hearkened unto the voice of Sarai!” That business of Hagar is to the patriarch’s deep discredit, and reflects no honour at all upon either him or his faith. Look at the consequences of his unbelieving procedure! Misery soon followed. Hagar despises her mistress; Sarai throws all the blame on her husband; the poor bond-woman is so hardly dealt with that she flees from the household. How much of real cruelty may be meant by the term “dealing hardly,” I cannot tell, but one marvels that such a man as Abram allowed one who had been brought into such a relationship with him, to be heedlessly chased from his house while in a condition requiring care and kindness. We admire the truthfulness of the Holy Ghost that he has been pleased to record the faults of the saints without extenuating them. Biographies of good men in Scripture are written with unflinching integrity, their evil recorded as well as their good. These faults are not written that we may say, “Abraham did so-and-so, therefore we may do it.” No, brethren, the lives of these good men are warnings to us as well as examples, and we are to judge them as we should judge ourselves, by the laws of right and wrong. Abram did wrong both in taking Hagar to wife and in allowing her to be badly used.

     In after years the child of the bond-woman mocked the child of the free-woman, and an expulsion of both mother and child was needful. There was deep sorrow in Abram’s heart, a bitterness not to be told. Polygamy, though tolerated under the Old Testament, was never approved; it was only endured because of the hardness of men’s hearts. It is evil, only evil, and that continually. In the family relationship there can be opened no more abundant and fruitful source of misery to the sons of men than want of chastity to the marriage-bond made with one wife, disguise that unchastity by what name yon will. All these thirteen years, so far as Scripture informs us, Abram had not a single visit from his God. We do not find any record of his either doing anything memorable or having so much as a single audience with the Most High. Learn from this, that if we once forsake the track of simple faith, once cease to walk according to the purity which faith approves, we strew our path with thorns, cause God to withhold the light of his countenance from us, and pierce ourselves through with many sorrows.

     But mark, beloved, the exceeding grace of God. The way to recover Abram from his backsliding was that the Lord should appear to him; and, consequently, we read in our text that at ninety-nine years of age Abram was favoured with a further visit from the Most High. This brings to my remembrance the words in the book of Revelation, concerning the church in Laodicea: “Thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” — a very solemn declaration; but what follows? “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me,” which means just this, that for recovery out of a horrible state of languishing and lukewarmness there is no remedy but the coming of Jesus Christ to the soul in near and dear intercourse. Truly it was so with Abram. The Lord would bring him out of his state of distrust and distance into one of high dignity and sanctity, and he does it by manifesting himself to him, for the Lord talked with Abram.

“Midst darkest shades, if he appear,
My dawning is begun;
He is my soul’s bright morning star,
And he my rising sun.”

Breathe a prayer, my brethren and sisters. “Lord, reveal thyself to my poor backsliding, languishing spirit. Revive me, O Lord, for one smile from thee can make my wilderness blossom as the rose.

     On the occasion of this gracious manifestation, God was pleased to do for Abram what I think is to us an admirable and instructive illustration of the consecration of our redeemed spirits entirely to his service. I shall, this morning, as God may help me, first lead you to observe the model of the consecrated life; secondly, the nature of the higher life; and, thirdly, its results.

     I. First, then, let us notice in the words of God to Abram, THE MODEL OF THE SANCTIFIED OR CONSECRATED LIFE.

     Here it is: “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.” For a man to be thoroughly sanctified to the Master’s service, he must first realise the almightiness and allsufficiency and glory of God, Brethren, the God whom we serve filleth all things, and hath all power and all riches. If we think little of him we shall render little trust to him, and consequently little obedience, but if we have grand conceptions of the glory of God, we shall learn to confide in him most thoroughly, we shall receive mercies from him most plentifully, and we shall be moved to serve him most consistently. Sin at the bottom of it very frequently has its origin in low thoughts of God. Take Abram’s sin; he could not see how God could make him the father of many nations when Sarai was old and barren. Hence his error with Hagar. But if he had remembered what God now brings to his recollection, that God is El Shaddai, the allsutficient One, he would have said, “No, I will remain true to Sarai, for Ged can effect his own purposes without my taking tortuous means to accomplish them. He is allsufficient in himself, and not dependent upon creature strength. I will patiently hope, and quietly wait, to see the fulfilment of the Master’s promises.” Now, as with Abram; so with you, my brethren and sisters. When a man is in business difficulties, if he believes that God is allsufficient to carry him through them, he will not practise any of the common tricks of trade, nor degenerate into that shiftiness which is so usual among commercial men. If a man believes, being poor, that God is a sufficient portion for him, he will not grow envious of the rich or discontented with his condition. The man who feels that God is an all-sufficient portion for his spirit, will not look for pleasure in the pursuits of vanity; he will not go with the giddy multitude after their vain mirth. “No,” saith he, “God hath appeared unto me as God all-sufficient for my comfort and my joy. I am content so long as God is mine. Let others drink of broken cisterns if they will, I dwell by the overflowing fountain, and am perfectly content.” O beloved, what glorious names our Lord deservedly wears! Whichever of his names you choose to dwell upon for a moment, what a mine of wealth and meaning it opens up to you! Here is this name, “El Shaddai;” “El,” that is, “the strong one,” for infinite power dwells in Jehovah. How readily may we who are weak become mighty if we draw upon him! And then, “Shaddai,” that is to say, “the unchangeable, the invincible.” What a God we have then, who knows no variableness, neither shadow of turning, against whom none can stand! “El,” strong; “Shaddai,” unchangeable in his strength; always therefore strong in every time of need, ready to defend his people, and able to preserve them from all their foes. Come, Christian, with such a God as this why needest thou abase thyself to win the good word of the wicked man? why gaddest thou abroad to find earthly pleasures where the roses are always mixed with thorns? Why needest thou to put thy confidence in gold and silver, or in the strength of thy body, or in aught that is beneath the moon? Thou hast El Shaddai to be thine. Thy power to be holy will much depend upon thy grasping with all the intensity of thy faith the cheering fact that this God is thy God for ever and ever, thy daily portion, thine all-sufficient consolation. Thou darest not, canst not, wilt not, wander into the ways of sin when thou knowest that such a God is thy shepherd and guide.

     Following up this model of the consecrated life, notice the next words — “walk before me.” This is the style of life which characterises true holiness; it is a walking before God. Ah! brethren, Abram had walked before Sarai; he had paid undue respect to her views and wishes; he had walked, too, in the sight of his own eyes and the inclinations of his own heart when he was allied to Hagar; but now the Lord gently rebukes him with the exhortation, “Walk before me.” It is remarkable that on the former divine visit to the patriarch (which we tried to interpret last Lord’s-day), the Lord’s message was “Fear not.” He was then, as it were, but a child in spiritual things, and the Lord gave him comfort, for he needed it. He is now grown into a man, and the exhortation is practical and full of activity — “walk.” The Christian man is to put out and use the strength and grace which he hath received. The pith of the exhortation lies in the last words, “Walk before me,” by which I understand an habitual sense of the presence of God, or doing the right thing and shunning the wrong, out of respect to the will of God; a consideration of God in all actions, public and private. Brethren, I deeply regret when I see Christian men, even in religious societies, in their calculations leaving out the greatest item in the whole calculation — namely, the divine element, the divine power and faithfulness. Of the most of mankind I may say, without being censorious, that if there were no God their course of action would not be different from what it is, for they do not feel themselves either restrained or constrained by any sense of the divine presence. “The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes.” But this is the mark of the truly sanctified man of God, that he lives in every place as standing in the presence chamber of the divine Majesty; he acts as knowing that the eye which never sleeps is always fixed on him. His heart’s desire is that he may never do the wrong thing, because he has respect to worldly greatness, and may never forget the right thing because he is in evil company, but may reckon that God being everywhere, he is always in company where it would be impudent rebellion to sin. The saint feels that he must not, dare not, transgress, because he is before the very face of God. This is the model of the sanctified character, for a man to realise what the Lord is, and then to act as in the immediate presence of a holy and jealous God.

     The next words are, “and be thou perfect.” Brethren, does this mean absolute perfection? I shall not controvert the belief of some, that we may be absolutely perfect on earth. Freely do I admit that the model of sanctification is perfection. It were inconsistent with the character of God for him to give us any other than a perfect command,, and a perfect standard. No law but that of absolute perfection could come from a perfect God, and to give us a model that were not absolutely perfect, were to ensure to us superabundant imperfections, and to give us an excuse for them. God sets before his servants no rule of this kind, “Be as good as you can,” but this, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Hath any man ever attained to it? Truly we have not, but for all that, every Christian man aims at it. I would far rather my child had a perfect copy to write by, though he might never write equal to it, than that he should have an imperfect copy set before him, because then he would never make a good writer at all. Our heavenly Father has given us the perfect image of Christ to be our example, his perfect law to be our rule, and it is for us to aim at this perfection in the power of the Holy Spirit, and, like Abram, to fall upon our faces in shame and confusion of face, when we recollect how for we have come short of it. Perfection is what we wish for, pant after, and shall at the last obtain. We do not want to have the law toned down to our weakness. Blessed be God, we delight in the perfection of that law. We say with Paul, “The law is holy, and just, and good, but I am carnal, sold under sin.” The will of God is that which we would be conformed unto; and ii we who are believers had but one wish, and it could be granted to us at once, it should be this, to make us perfect in every good work to do his will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in his sight. However, the word “perfect,” as I have said, bears commonly the meaning of “upright,” or “sincere” — “walk before me, and be thou sincere.” No double dealings must the Christian man have, no playing fast and loose with God or man; no hypocritical professions, or false principles. He must be as transparent as glass; he must be a man in whom there is no guile, a man who has cast aside deceit in every shape, who hates it, and loathes it, and walks before God, who sees all things with absolute sincerity, earnestly desiring in all things, both great and small, to commend himself to the conscience of others as in the sight of the Most High.

     Brethren, here is the model of the consecrated life. Do you not long to attain to it? I am sure every soul that is moved by God’s grace will do so. But if your feeling about it is like mine, it will be just that of Abram in the text, “Abram fell on his face before the Lord.” For oh, how far short we have come of this! We have not always thought of God as all-sufficient; we have been unbelieving. We have doubted him here, and doubted him there. We have not gone to work in this world as if we believed the promise, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” We have not been satisfied to suffer, or to be poor, and we have not been content to do his will without asking questions. We might often have had addressed to us the rebuke, “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short? Is his arm shortened at all? Is his ear heavy, that he cannot hear?” Brethren, we have not always walked before the Lord. If one may speak for the rest, we do not always feel the presence of God as a check to us. There are angry words perhaps at the table; there is wrong-doing in the place of business; there are carelessness, worldliness, pride, and I know not what beside of evil to mar the day’s labour; and when we come back at night we have to confess, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep, I have forgotten my Shepherd’s presence. I have not always spoken and acted as if I felt that thou wast always looking upon me.” Thus it has come to pass that we have not been perfect. I feel ready to laugh, not the laugh of Abram, but that of thorough ridicule, when I hear people talk about their being absolutely perfect. They must be of very different flesh and blood from us, or rather they must be great fools, full of conceit, and utterly ignorant of themselves; for if they did but look at a single action, they would find specks in it; and if they examined but one single day, they would perceive something in which they fell short, if there were nothing in which they had transgressed. You see your model, brethren, study it in the life of Christ, and then press forward to it with the zeal of the apostle who said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but. this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”

     II. Secondly, THE NATURE OF THIS CONSECRATION as illustrated in this chapter. On each point briefly.

     Genuine spiritual consecration begins with communion with God. Note the third verse: — “Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him.” By looking at Christ Jesus, his image is photographed upon our mind, and we are changed from glory to glory, as by the presence of the Lord. Distance from God’s presence always means sin: holy familiarity with God engenders holiness. The more you think of God, the more you meditate upon his works, the more you praise him, the more you pray to him, the more constantly you talk with him, and he with you, by the Holy Ghost, the more surely are you upon the road to thorough consecration to his cause.

     The next point in the nature of this consecration is that it is fostered by enlarged views of the covenant of grace. Read on: “As for me, behold my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.” This is said to help Abram to walk before God and to be perfect; from which we conclude that to grow in sanctification a man should increase in knowledge, and also in the tenacity of the faith which grasps the covenant which God has made with Christ for his people, which is “Ordered in all things and sure.” With your Bibles open, notice attentively that Abram was refreshed as to his own personal interest in the covenant. Note the second personal pronoun, how it is repeated: “As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.” Take the sixth verse, “I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee…. to be a God unto thee, and to thy Beed after thee.” Thus Abram has the covenant brought home to himself; he is made to feel that he has a part and a lot therein. If you are ever to be sanctified unto God’s service, you must get a full assurance of your interest in all the covenant provisions. Doubts are like wild boars of the wood, which tear up the flowers of sanctification in the garden of the heart; but when you have in your soul a God-given assurance of your interest in the precious blood of Jesus Christ, then shall the foxes which spoil the vines be hunted to death, and your tender grapes shall give a good smell. Cry to God, beloved brethren and sisters, for strong faith to “Read your title clear to mansions in the skies.” Great holiness must spring from great faith. Faith is the root, obedience the branch; and if the root decays the branch cannot flourish. Ask to know that Christ is yours, and that you are his; for here you will find a fountain to' water your consecration and make it yield fruit to Christ’s service. Some professors act as if this were not the case. They foment their doubts and fears in order to perfect holiness. I have known Christians, when they are conscious that they have not lived as they ought to live, begin to doubt their interest in Christ, and, as they say, humble themselves in order to reach after fuller sanctification of life. That is to say, they starve themselves in order to grow strong; they throw their gold out of window in order to become rich; they pull up the very foundation-stone of their house to make it stand secure. Beloved believer, sinner as thou art, backslider as thou art, still believe in Jesus, let not a sense of sin weaken thy faith in him. He died for sinners, “in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” Cling to that cross still: the more furious the storm the more need of the life-buoy — never leave it, but make your hold the firmer. Confide alone in the virtue of that precious blood, for thus only will you slay your sins and advance in holiness. If you say within your heart, “Jesus cannot save such a one as I am; if I had marks and evidences of being God’s child, I could then trust in Jesus,” you have thrown away your confidence which hath great recompense of reward; you have cast away your shield, and the darts of the tempter will wound you terribly. Cling to Jesus even when it is a question whether you have a grain of grace in your hearts. Believe that he died for you, not because you are consecrated or sanctified, but died for you as sinners, and saves you as sinners. Never lose your simple trust in the Crucified, for only by the blood of the Lamb can you overcome sin and be made fit for the Lord’s work.

     Note, in reading these words, how this covenant is revealed to Abram peculiarly as a work of divine power. Note the run of the passage, “I will make my covenant between me and thee.” “I will make thee fruitful.” “I will establish my covenant.” “I will give unto thee.” “I will be thy God,” and so on. Oh! those glorious “wills” and “shalls.” Brethren, ye cannot serve the Lord with a perfect heart until first your faith gets a grip of the divine “will” and “shall.” If my salvation rests upon this poor, puny arm, upon my resolves, my integrity, and my faithfulness, it is shipwrecked for ever; but if my eternal salvation rests upon the great arm which bears up the universe, if my soul’s safety is altogether in that hand that wheels the stars along, then blessed be his name, it is safe and well; and now out of love to such a Saviour I will serve him with all my heart. I will spend and be spent for him who has thus graciously undertaken for me. Mark this, brethren, be very clear about it, and ask to have the divine working made apparent to your soul, for that will help you to be consecrated to God.

     Further, Abraham had a view of the covenant in its everlastingness. I do not remember that the word “everlasting” had been used before in reference to that covenant, but in this chapter we have it over and over again. “I will establish my covenant for an everlasting covenant.” Here is one of those grand truths which many of the babes in grace have not as yet learned, namely, that the blessings of grace are blessings not given to-day to be taken back to-morrow, but eternal blessings. The salvation which is in Christ Jesus is not a salvation which will belong to us for a few hours, while we are faithful to it, and will then be taken away, so that we shall be left to perish. God forbid, “He is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent.” “I am God,” saith he, “I change not: therefore, ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” When we put ourselves into the hands of Christ, we do not confide in a Saviour who might suffer us to be destroyed, but we rest in one who hath said, “I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” Instead of the doctrine of the security of the saints leading to negligence of life, you will find that, on the contrary, where it is thoroughly well received in the heart by the power of the Holy Ghost, it begets such a holy confidence in God, such a flaming gratitude to him, that it is one of the best incentives to consecration. Treasure Up these thoughts, dear brethren, and if you would grow in grace and in conformity to Christ, endeavour to perceive your personal interest in the covenant, the divine power which guarantees its fulfilment, and the everlastingness of its character.

     In considering the nature of this consecration, I would observe next, that they who are consecrated to God are regarded as new men. The new manhood is indicated by the change of name — he is called no longer Abram, but Abraham, and his wife is no longer Sarai, but Sarah. Ye, beloved, are new creatures in Christ Jesus. The root and source of all consecration to God lies in regeneration. We are “born again,” a new and incorruptible seed is placed within us which “liveth and abideth for ever.” The name of Christ is named upon us: we are no longer called sinners and unjust, but we become the children of God by faith which is in Christ Jesus.

     Note further that the nature of this consecration was set forth to Abraham by the rite of circumcision. It would not be at all fitting or decorous for us to enter into any detail as to that mysterious rite, but it will suffice to say that the rite of circumcision signified the taking away of the filthiness of the flesh. We have the apostle Paul’s own interpretation of circumcision in the verses which we read just now in his epistle to the Colossians. Circumcision indicated to the seed of Abraham that there was a defilement of the flesh in man which must for ever be taken away, or man would remain impure, and out of covenant with God. Now, beloved, there must be, in order to our sanctification to Christ, a giving up, a painful relinquishing of things as dear to us as right eyes and right hands. There must be a denying of the flesh with its affections and lusts. We must mortify our members. There must be self-denial if we are to enter upon the service of God. The Holy Spirit must pass sentence of death and cutting away upon the passions and tendencies of corrupt humanity. Much must perish which nature would cherish, but die it must, because grace abhors it.

     Notice, with regard to circumcision, that it was peremptorily ordained that it should be practised on every male of the race of Abraham, and if it were neglected, death followed. So the giving up of sin, the giving up of the body of the filth of the flesh is necessary to every believer. Without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Even the babe in Christ is as much to see death written upon the body of the filth of the flesh as a man who, like Abraham, has reached advanced years and come to maturity in spiritual things. There is no distinction here between the one and the other. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord;” and where a supposed grace does not take away from us a love of sin, it is not the grace of God at all, but the presumptuous conceit of our own vain natures.

     It is often said that the ordinance of baptism is analagous to the ordinance of circumcision. I will not controvert that point, although the statement may be questioned. But supposing it to be, let me urge upon every believer here to see to it that in his own soul he realises the spiritual meaning both of circumcision and baptism, and then Consider the outward rites; for the thing signified is vastly more important than the sign. Baptism sets forth far more than circumcision. Circumcision is putting away of the filth of the flesh, but baptism is the burial of the flesh altogether. Baptism does not say, “Here is something to be taken away,” but everything is dead, and must be buried with Christ in his tomb, and the man must rise anew with Christ. Baptism teaches us that by death we pass into the new life. As Noah’s ark, passing through the death of the old world, emerged into a new world, even so, by a like figure, baptism sets forth our salvation by the resurrection of Christ; a baptism of which Peter says, it is “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.” In baptism, the man avows to himself and others that he comes by death into newness of life, according to the words of the Holy Spirit, “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” The most valuable point is the spiritual meaning, and on that we experience what it is to be dead to the world, to be dead and buried with Christ, and then to be risen with him. Still, brethren, Abraham was not allowed to say, “If I get the spiritual meaning, I can do without the outward rite.” He might have objected to that rite on a thousand grounds a great deal more strong than any which the hesitating have urged against baptism, but he first accepted the rite, as well as the thing which it intended, and straightway was circumcised; and so I exhort you, men and brethren, to be obedient to the precept upon baptism, as well as attentive to the truth which it signifies. If you be indeed buried with Christ, and risen with him, despise not the outward and instructive sign by which this is set forth. “Well,” saith one, “a difficulty suggests itself as to your views,” for an argument is often drawn from this chapter, “that inasmuch as Abraham must circumcise all his seed, we ought to baptise all our children.” Now, observe the type and interpret it not according to prejudice, but according to Scripture. In the type the seed of Abraham are circumcised; you draw the inference that all typified by the seed of Abraham ought to be baptised, and I do not cavil at the conclusion; but I ask you, who are the true seed of Abraham? Paul answers in Romans ix.8, “They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” As many as believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, are Abraham’s seed. Whether eight days old in grace, or more or less, every one of Abraham’s seed has a right to baptism. But I deny that the unregenerate, whether children or adults, are of the spiritual seed of Abraham. The Lord will, we trust, call many of them by his grace, but as yet they are “Heirs of wrath, even as others.” At such time as the Spirit of God shall sow the good seed in their hearts, they are of Abraham’s believing seed, but they are not so while they live in ungodliness and unbelief, or are as yet incapable of faith or repentance. The answering person in type to the seed of Abraham is, by the confession of everybody, the believer; and the believer ought, seeing he is buried with Christ spiritually, to avow that fact, by his public baptism in water, according to the Saviour’s own precept and example. “Thus,” said Christ, “it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness,” as he went down to the river Jordan. At the Jordan was he sprinkled? Why go down to a river to be sprinkled? Why went he down into the water to be sprinkled? “Us.” Did he mean babes? Was he a babe? Was not he, when he said “us,” speaking of the faithful who are in him? “And thus it becometh ns to fulfil all righteousness,” that is, all his saints. But how does baptism fulfil all righteousness? Typically thus: — It is the picture of the whole work of Christ. There is his immersion in suffering; his death and burial; his coming up out of the water represents his resurrection; his coming up the banks of Jordan represents his ascension. It is a typical representation of how he fulfilled all righteousness, and how the saints fulfilled it in him. But, brethren, I did not intend to go so far into the outward sign, because my soul’s deepest desire is this, that like as Abraham by the outward sign was taught that there was a putting away of the filth of flesh, which must be, or death must follow, so are we taught by baptism that there is an actual death to the world, and a resurrection with Christ, which must be to every believer, however old or however young, or he hath not part or lot in the matter of consecration to God, or, indeed, in salvation itself.

     III. I have a third head, but my time is gone, and, therefore, just these hints. THE RESULTS OF SUCH A CONSECRATION.

     Immediately after God’s appearing to Abraham, his consecration was manifest, first, in his prayer for his family. “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” Men of God, if you are indeed the Lord’s, and feel that you are his, begin now to intercede for all who belong to you. Never be satisfied unless they are saved too; and if you have a son, an Ishmael, concerning whom you have many fears and much anxiety, as you are saved yourself, never cease to groan out that cry, “O that Ishmael might live before thee!”

     The next result of Abraham’s consecration was, that he was most hospitable to his fellow men. Look at the next chapter. He sits at the tent door, and three men come to him. The Christian is the best servant of humanity in a spiritual sense. I mean that for his Master’s sake he endeavours to do good to the sons of men. He is of all men the first to feed the hungry and to clothe the naked, and as much as lieth in him to do good unto all men, especially unto such as be of the household of faith.

     The third result was, Abraham entertained the Lord himself for amongst those three angels who came to his house was the King of kings, the infinite One. Every believer who serves his God doth, as it were, give refreshment to the divine mind. I mean this, God took an infinite delight in the work of his dear Son. He said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” and he takes a delight also in the holiness of all his people. Jesus sees of the travail of his soul, and is satisfied by the works of the faithful; and you, brethren, as Abraham entertained the Lord, do entertain the Lord Jesus with your patience and your faith, with your love and your zeal, when you are thoroughly consecrated to him.

     Once more, Abraham became the great intercessor for others. The next chapter is full of his pleadings for Sodom. He had not been able to plead before, but after circumcision, after consecration, he becomes the King’s remembrancer, he is installed into the office of a priest, and he stands there crying, “Wilt thou not save the city? Wilt thou destroy the righteous with the wicked?” O beloved, if we do but become consecrated to God, thoroughly so, as I have attempted feebly to describe, we shall become mighty with God in our pleadings. I believe one holy man is a greater blessing to a nation than a whole regiment of soldiers. Did not they fear more the prayers of John Knox than the arms of ten thousand men? A man who lives habitually near to God is like a great cloud for ever dropping with fertilising showers. This is the man who can say, “The earth is dissolved, I bear up the pillars thereof.” France had never seen so bloody a revolution had there been men of prayer to preserve her. England, amidst the commotions which make her rock to and fro, is held fast because prayer is put up incessantly by the faithful. The flag of old England is nailed to her mast, not by the hands of her sailors, but by the prayers of the people of God. These, as they intercede day and night, and as they go about their spiritual ministry, these are they for whom God spareth nations, for whom he permitteth the earth still to exist; and when their time is over, and they are taken away, the salt being taken from the earth, then shall the elements dissolve with fervent heat, the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burnt up; but not until he hath caught away the saints with Christ into the air shall this world pass away. He will spare it for the righteous’ sake. Seek after the highest degree of sanctity, my dear brethren and sisters, seek for it, labour for it; and while you rest in faith alone for justification, be not slack concerning growth in grace, that the highest attainments be your ambition, and God grant them to you, for his Son’s sake. Amen.



Justification by Faith- Illustrated by Abram’s Righteousness

By / Dec 6

Justification by Faith—Illustrated by Abram's Righteousness

 

“And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” — Genesis 15:6.

 

You will remember that last Lord’s-day morning we spoke upon the calling of Abram, and the faith by which he was enabled to enter upon that separated life at the bidding of the Most High. We shall today pass from the consideration of his calling to that of his justification, that being most remarkably next in order in his history, as it is in point of theology in the New Testament; for, “whom he called, them he also justified.”

     Referring to the chapter before us for a preface to our subject, note that after Abram’s calling his faith proved to be of the most practical kind. Being called to separate himself from his kindred and from his country, he did not therefore become a recluse, a man of ascetic habits, or a sentimentalist, unfit for the battles of ordinary life — no; but in the noblest style of true manliness he showed himself able to endure the household trouble and the public trial which awaited him. Lot’s herdsmen quarrelled with the servants of Abram, and Abram with great disinterestedness gave his younger and far inferior relative the choice of pasturage, and gave up the well-watered plain of Sodom, which was the best of the land. A little while after, the grand old man who trusted in his God showed that he could play the soldier, and fight right gloriously against terrible odds. He gathered together his own household servants, and accepted the help of his neighbours, and pursued the conquering hosts of the allied kings, and smote them with as heavy a hand as if from his youth up he had been a military man. Brethren, this every-day life faith is the faith of God’s elect. There are persons who imagine saving faith to be a barren conviction of the truth of certain abstract propositions, leading only to a quiet contemplation upon certain delightful topics, or a separating ourselves from all sympathy with our fellow creatures; but it is not so. Faith, restricted merely to religious exercise, is not Christian faith, it must show itself in everything. A merely religious faith may be the choice of men whose heads are softer than their hearts, fitter for cloisters than markets; but the manly faith which God would have us cultivate, is a grand practical principle adapted for every day in the week, helping us to rule our household in the fear of God, and to enter upon life’s rough conflicts in the warehouse, the farm, or the exchange. I mention this at the commencement of this discourse, because as this is the faith which came of Abram’s calling, so also does it shine in his justification, and is, indeed, that which God counted unto him for righteousness.

     Yet the first verse shows us that even such a believer as Abram needed comfort. The Lord said to him, “Fear not.” Why did Abram fear? Partly because of the reaction which is always caused by excitement when it is over. He had fought boldly and conquered gloriously, and now he fears. Cowards tremble before the fight, and brave men after the victory. Elias slew the priests of Baal without fear, but after all was over, his spirit sank and he fled from the face of Jezebel. Abram’s fear also originated in an overwhelming awe in the presence of God. The word of Jehovah came to him with power, and he felt that same prostration of spirit which made the beloved John fall at the feet of his Lord in the Isle of Patmos, and made Daniel feel, on banks of Hiddekel that there was no strength in him. “Fear not,” said the Lord to the patriarch. His spirit was too deeply bowed. God would uplift his beloved servant into the power of exercising sacred familiarity. Ah, brethren, this is a blessed fear — let us cultivate it; for until it shall be cast out by perfect love, which is better still, we may be content to let this good thing rule our hearts. Should not a man, conscious of great infirmities, sink low in his own esteem in proportion as he is honoured with communion with the glorious Lord?

     When he was comforted, Abram received on open declaration of his justification. I take it, beloved friends, that our text does not intend to teach us that Abram was not justified before this time. Faith always justifies whenever it exists, and as soon as it is exercised; its result follows immediately, and is not an aftergrowth needing months of delay. The moment a man truly trusts his God he is justified. Yet many are justified who do not know their happy condition; to whom as yet the blessing of justification has not been opened up in its excellency and abundance of privilege. There may be some of you here to-day who have been called by grace from darkness into marvellous light; you have been led to look to Jesus, and you believe you have received pardon of your sin, and yet, for want of knowledge, you know little of the sweet meaning of such words as these, “Accepted in the Beloved,” “Perfect in Christ Jesus,” “Complete in him.” You are doubtless justified, though you scarcely understand what justification means; and you are accepted, though you have not realised your acceptance ; and you are complete in Jesus Christ, though you have to-day a far deeper sense of your personal incompleteness than of the all-sufficiency of Jesus. A man may be entitled to property though he cannot read the title-deeds, or has not as yet heard of their existence; the law recognises right and fact, not our apprehension thereof. But there will come a time, beloved, when you who are called will clearly realise your justification, and will rejoice in it; it shall be intelligently understood by you, and shall become a matter of transporting delight, lifting you to a higher platform of experience, and enabling you to walk with a firmer step, sing with a merrier voice, and triumph with an enlarged heart.

     I intend now, as God may help me, first to note the means of Abram’s justification; then,  secondly, the object of the faith which justified him; and then, thirdly, the attendants of his justification.

     I. First, brethren, HOW WAS ABRAM JUSTIFIED? We see in the text the great truth, which Paul so clearly brings out in the fourth chapter of his epistle to the Romans, that Abram was not justified by his works. Many had been the good works of Abram. It was a good work to leave his country and his father’s house at God’s bidding; it was a good work to separate from Lot in so noble a spirit; it was a good work to follow after the robber-kings with undaunted courage ; it was a grand work to refuse to take the spoils of Sodom, but to lift up his hand to God that he would not take from a thread even to a shoe latchet; it was a holy work to give to Melchisedec tithes of all that he possessed, and to worship the Most High God; yet none of these are mentioned in the text, nor is there a hint given of any other sacred duties as the ground or cause, or part cause of his justification before God. No, it is said, “He believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Surely, brethren, if Abram, after years of holy living, is not justified by his works, but is accepted before God on account of his faith, much more must this be the case with the ungodly sinner who, having lived in unrighteousness, yet believeth on Jesus and is saved. If there be salvation for the dying thief, and others like him, it cannot be of debt, but of grace, seeing they have no good works. If Abram, when full of good works, is not justified by them, but by his faith, how much more we, being full of imperfections, must come unto the throne of the heavenly grace and ask that we may be justified by faith which is in Christ Jesus, and saved by the free mercy of God!

     Further, this justification came to Abram not by obedience to the ceremonial law any more than by conformity to the moral law. As the apostle has so plainly pointed out to us, Abram was justified before he was circumcised. The initiatory step into the outward and visible covenant, so far as it was ceremonial, had not yet been taken, and yet the man was perfectly justified. All that follows after cannot contribute to a thing which is already perfect. Abram, being already justified, cannot owe that justification to his subsequent circumcision — this is clear enough; and so, beloved, at this moment, if you and I are to be justified, these two things are certain: it cannot be by the works of the moral law; it cannot be by obedience to any ceremonial law, be it what it may — whether the sacred ritual given to Aaron, or the superstitious ritual which claims to have been ordained by gradual tradition in the Christian church. If we be indeed the children of faithful Abraham, and are to be justified in Abraham’s way, it cannot be by submission to rites or ceremonies of any kind. Hearken to this carefully, ye who would be justified before God: baptism is in itself an excellent ordinance, but it cannot justify nor help to justify us; confirmation is a mere figment of men, and could not, even if commanded by God, assist in justification; and the Lord’s-supper, albeit that it is a divine institution, cannot in any respect whatsoever minister to your acceptance or to your righteousness before God. Abram had no ceremonial in which to rest; he was righteous through his faith, and righteous only through his faith; and so must you and I be if we are ever to stand as righteous before God at all. Faith in Abram’s case was the alone and unsupported cause of his being accounted righteous, for note, although in other cases Abram’s faith produced works, and although in every case where faith is genuine it produces good works, yet the particular instance of faith recorded in this chapter was unattended by any works. For God brought him forth under the star-lit heavens, and bade him look up. “So shall thy seed be,” said the sacred voice. Abram did what? Believed the promise — that was all. It was before he had offered sacrifice, before he had said a holy word or performed a single action of any kind that the word immediately and instanter went forth, “He believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Always distinguish between the truth, that living faith always produces works; and the lie, that faith and works co-operate to justify the soul. We are made righteous only by an act of faith in the work of Jesus Christ. That faith, if true, always produces holiness of life, but our being righteous before God is not because of our holiness in life in any degree or respect, but simply because of our faith in the divine promise. Thus saith the inspired apostle: “His faith was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if wo believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”

     I would have you note that the faith which justified Abram was still an imperfect faith, although it perfectly justified him. It was imperfect beforehand, for he had prevaricated as to his wife, and bidden Sarai, “Say thou art my sister.” It was imperfect after it had justified him, for in the next chapter we find him taking Hagar, his wife’s handmaid, in order to effect the divine purpose, and so showing a want of confidence in the working of the Lord. It is a blessing for you and for me that we do not need perfect faith to save us. “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove.” If thou hast but the faith of a little child, it shall save thee. Though thy faith be not always at the same pitch as the patriarch’s when he staggered not at the promise through unbelief, yet if it be simple and true, if it confide alone in the promise of God— it is an unhappy thing that it is no stronger, and thou oughtst daily to pray, “Lord, increase my faith” — but still it shall justify thee through Christ Jesus. A trembling hand may grasp the cup which bears a healing draught to the lip — the weakness of the hand shall not lessen the power of the medicine.

     So far, then, all is clear, Abram was not justified by works, nor by ceremonies, nor partly by works, and partly by faith, nor by the perfection of his faith — he is counted righteous simply because of his faith in the divine promise.

     I must confess that, looking more closely into it, this text is too deep for me, and therefore I decline, at this present moment, to enter into the controversy which rages around it; but one thing is clear to me; that if faith be, as we are told, counted to us for righteousness, it is not because faith in itself has merit which may make it a fitting substitute for a perfect obedience to the law of God, nor can it be viewed as a substitute for such obedience. For, brethren, all good acts are a duty: to trust God is our duty, and he that hath believed to his utmost hath done no more than it was his duty to have done. He who should believe without imperfection, if this were possible, would even then have only given to God a part of the obedience due; and if he should have failed, in love, or reverence, or aught beside, his faith, as a virtue and a work, could not stand him in any stead. In fact, according to the great principle of the New Testament, even faith, as a work, does not justify the soul. We are not saved by works at all or in any sense, but alone by grace, and the way in which faith saves us is not by itself as a work, but in some other way directly opposite thereto.

     Faith cannot be its own righteousness, for it is of the very nature of faith to look out of self to Christ. If any man should say, “My faith is my righteousness,” then it is evident that he is confiding in his faith; but this is just the thing of all others which it would be unsafe to do, for we must look altogether away from ourselves to Christ alone, or we have no true faith at all. Faith must look to the atonement and work of Jesus, or else she is not the faith of Scripture. Therefore to say that faith in and of itself becomes our righteousness, is, it seems to me, to tear out the very bowels of the gospel, and to deny the faith which has been once delivered to the saints. Paul declares, contrary to certain sectaries who rail against imputed righteousness — that we are justified and made righteous by the righteousness of Christ; on this he is plain and positive. He tells us (Romans v. 19) that, “as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” The Old Testament verse before us as a text this morning, gives us but as it were the outward aspect of justification; it is brought to us by faith, and the fact that a man has faith entitles him to be set down as a righteous man; in this sense God accounts faith to a man as righteousness, but the underlying and secret truth which the Old Testament does not so clearly give us is found in the New Testament declaration, that we are accepted in the Beloved, and justified because of the obedience of Christ. Faith justifies, but not in and by itself, but because it grasps the obedience of Christ. “As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” To the same effect is that verse in the second epistle general of Peter (first chapter, first verse), which runs in our version as follows: “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” Now, everybody who is at all familiar with the original knows that the correct translation is “through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.” The righteousness which belongs to the Christian is the righteousness of our God and Saviour, who is “made of God unto us righteousness.” Hence the beauty of the old prophetic title of the Messiah, “The Lord our Righteousness.” I do not wish to enter into controversy as to imputed righteousness this morning, we may discuss that doctrine another time; but we feel confident that this text cannot mean that faith in itself, as a grace or a virtue, becomes the righteousness of any man. The fact is, that faith is counted to us for righteousness because she has Christ in her hand; she comes to God resting upon what Christ has done, depending alone upon the propitiation which God has set forth; and God, therefore, writes down every believing man as being a righteous man, not because of what he is in himself, but for what he is in Christ. He may have a thousand sins, yet shall he be righteous if he have faith. He may painfully transgress like Samson, he may be as much in the dark as Jephtha, he may fall as David, he may slip like Noah; but, for all that, if he have a true and living faith, he is written down among the justified, and God accepteth him. While there be some who gloat over the faults of believers, God spieth out the pure gem of faith gleaming on their breast; he takes them for what they want to be, for what they are in heart, for what they would be if they could; and covering their sins with the atoning blood, and adorning their persons with the righteousness of the Beloved, he accepts them, seeing he beholds in them the faith which is the mark of the righteous man wherever it may be.

     II. Let us pass on to consider THE PROMISE UPON WHICH HIS FAITH RELIED when Abram was justified.

    Abram’s faith, like ours, rested upon a promise, received direct from God. “This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.” Had this promise been spoken by any other, it would have been a subject of ridicule to the patriarch; but, taking it as from the lip of God, he accepts it, and relies upon it. Now, brethren, if you and I have true faith we accept the promise, “He that believeth and is baptised, shall be saved ” as being altogether divine. If such a declaration were made to us by the priests of Rome, or by any human being on his own authority, we could not think it true; but, inasmuch as it comes to us written in the sacred word as having been spoken by Jesus Christ himself, we lean upon it as not the word of man, but the word of God. Beloved, it may be a very simple remark to make, but after all it is needful, that we must be careful that our faith in the truth is fixed upon the fact that God has declared it to be true, and not upon the oratory or persuasion of any of our most honoured ministers or most respected acquaintances. If your faith standeth in the wisdom of man, it is probably a faith in man; it is only that faith which believes the promise because God spake it which is real faith in God. Note that and try your faith thereby.

     In the next place, Abram’s faith was faith in a promise concerning the seed. It was told him before that he should have a seed in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed. He recognised in this the selfsame promise which was made to Eve at the gates of Paradise, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed.” “Abraham saw my day,” says our Lord, “he saw it and was glad.” In this promise Abram saw the one seed, as saith the apostle in Galatians iii.16, “He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” He saw Christ by the eye of faith, and then he saw the multitude that should believe in him, the seed of the father of the faithful. The faith which justifies the soul concerns itself about Christ and not concerning mere abstract truths. If your faith simply believeth this dogma and that, it saveth you not; but when your faith believes that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing unto them their trespasses; when your faith turns to God in human flesh and rests in him with its entire confidence, then it justifies you, for it is the faith of Abram. Dear hearer, have you such a faith as this? Is it faith in the promise of God? Is it faith that deals with Christ and looks alone to him?

     Abram had faith in a promise which it seemed impossible could ever be fulfilled. A child was to be born of his own loins, but he was nearly a hundred years old, and Sarai also was said to be barren years before. His own body was now dead as it were, and Sarai, so far as childbearing was concerned, was equally so. The birth of a son could not happen unless the laws of nature were reversed; but he considered not these things, he put them all aside; he saw death written on the creature, but he accepted the power of life in the Creator, and he believed without hesitation. Now, beloved, the faith that justifies us must be of the same kind. It seems impossible that I should ever be saved; I cannot save myself; I see absolute death written upon the best hopes that spring of my holiest resolutions; “In me, that is, in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing;” I can do nothing; I am slain under the law; I am corrupt through my natural depravity; but yet for all this I believe that through the life of Jesus I shall live, and inherit the promised blessing. It is small faith to believe that God will save you when graces flourish in your heart, and evidences of salvation abound, but it is a grand faith to trust in Jesus in the teeth of all your sins, and notwithstanding the accusations of conscience. To believe in him that justifieth not merely the godly but the ungodly. (Romans iv. 5.) To believe not in the Saviour of saints, but in the Saviour of sinners; and to believe that if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous; this is precious, and is counted unto us for righteousness.

     This justifying faith was faith which dealt with a wonderful promise, vast and sublime. I imagine the patriarch standing beneath the starry sky, looking up to those innumerable orbs. He cannot count them. To his outward eye, long accustomed in the land of the Chaldees to midnight observation, the stars appeared more numerous than they would to an ordinary observer. He looked and looked again with elevated gaze, and the voice said, “So shall thy seed be.” Now he did not say, ‘Lord, if I may be the father of a clan, the progenitor of a tribe, I shall be well content; but it is not credible that countless hosts can ever come of my barren body.” No, he believed the promise; he believed it just as it stood. I do not hear him saying, “It is too good to be true.” No; God hath said it — and nothing is too good for God to do. The greater the grace of the promise, the more likely it is to have come from him, for good and perfect gifts come from the Father of Lights. Beloved, does your faith take the promise as it stands in its vastness, in its height, and depth, and length, and breadth? Canst thou believe that thou, a sinner, art nevertheless a child, a son, an heir, an heir of God, joint-heir with Christ Jesus? Canst thou believe that heaven is thine, with all its ecstacies of joy, eternity with its infinity of bliss, God with all his attributes of glory? Oh! this is the faith that justifies, far-reaching, wide-grasping faith, that diminishes not the word of promise, but accepts it as it stands. May we have more and more of this large-handed faith!

     Once more, Abram showed faith in the promise as made to himself. Out of his own bowels a seed should come, and it was in him and in his seed that the whole world should be blessed. I can believe all the promises in regard to other people. I find faith in regard to my dear friend to be a very easy matter, but oh! when it comes to close grips, and to laying hold for yourself, here is the difficulty. I could see my friend in ten troubles, and believe that the Lord would not forsake him. I could read a saintly biography, and finding that the Lord never failed his servant when he went through fire and through water, I do not wonder at it; but when it comes to one’s own self, the wonder begins. Our heart cries, “Whence is this to me? What am I, and what my father’s house, that such mercy should be mine? I washed in blood and made whiter than snow to-day! Is it so? Can it be? I made righteous, through my faith in Jesus Christ, perfectly righteous! O can it be? What! For me the everlasting love of God, streaming from its perennial fountain? For me the protection of a special providence in this life, and the provision of a prepared heaven in the life to come? For me a harp, a crown, a palm branch, a throne! For me the bliss of for ever beholding the face of Jesus, and being made like to him, and reigning with him! It seems impossible. And yet this is the faith that we must have, the faith which lays on Christ Jesus for itself, saying with the apostle, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.” This is the faith which justifies; let us seek more and more of it, and God shall have glory through it.

     III. In the third place, let us notice THE ATTENDANTS OF ABRAM S JUSTIFICATION.

     With your Bibles open, kindly observe that after it is written his faith was counted to him for righteousness, it is recorded that the Lord said to him, “I am Jehovah that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.” When the soul is graciously enabled to perceive its complete justification by faith, then it more distinctly discerns its calling. Now, the believer perceives his privileged separation and discerns why he was convinced of sin, why he was led away from self-righteousness and the pleasures of this world, to live the life of faith; now he sees his high calling and the prize of it, and from the one blessing of justification he argues the blessedness of all the inheritance to which he is called. The more clear a man is about his justification the more will he prize his calling, and the more earnestly will he seek to make it sure by perfecting his separation from the world and his conformity to his Lord. Am I a justified man? Then will I not go back to that bondage in which I once was held. Am I now accepted of God through faith? Then will I live no longer by sight, as I once did as a carnal man, when I understood not the power of trusting in the unseen God. One Christian grace helps another, and one act of divine grace casts a refulgence upon another. Calling gleams with double glory side by side with the twin star of justification.

     Justifying faith receives more vividly the promises. “I have brought thee,” said the Lord, “into this land to inherit it.” He was reminded again of the promise God made him years before. Beloved, no man reads the promises of God with such delight and with such a clear understanding as the man who is justified by faith in Christ Jesus. “For now,” saith he, “this promise is mine, and made to me. I have the pledge of its fulfilment in the fact that I walk in the favour of God. I am no longer obnoxious to his wrath; none can lay anything to my charge, for I am absolved through Jesus Christ; and, therefore, if when I was a sinner he justified me, much more, being justified, will he keep his promise to me. If when I was a rebel condemned, he nevertheless in his eternal mercy called me and brought me into this state of acceptance, much more will he preserve me from all my enemies, and give me the heritage which he has promised by his covenant of grace. A clear view of justification helps you much in grasping the promise, therefore seek it earnestly for your soul’s comfort.

     Abram, after being justified by faith, was led more distinctly to behold the power of sacrifice. By God’s command he killed three bullocks, three goats, three sheep, with turtle doves and pigeons, being all the creatures ordained for sacrifice. The patriarch’s hands are stained with blood; he handles the butcher’s knife, he divides the beasts, he kills the birds he places them in an order revealed to him by God’s Spirit at the time; there they are. Abram learns that there is no meeting with God except through sacrifice. God has shut every door except that over which the blood is sprinkled. All acceptable approaches to God must be through an atoning sacrifice, and Abram sees this. While the promise is still in his ears, while the ink is yet wet in the pen of the Holy Spirit, writing him down as justified, he must see a sacrifice, and see it, too, in emblems which comprehend all the revelation of sacrifice made to Aaron. So, brethren, it is a blessed thing when your faith justifies you, if it helps you to obtain more complete and vivid views of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The purest and most bracing air for faith to breathe is on Calvary. I do not wonder that your faith grows weak when you fail to consider well the tremendous sacrifice which Jesus made for his people. Turn to the annals of the Redeemer’s sufferings given us in the Evangelists ; bow yourself in prayer before the Lamb of God, blush to think you should have forgotten his death, which is the centre of all history; contemplate the wondrous transaction of substitution once again, and you will find your faith revived. It is not the study of theology, it is not reading books upon points of controversy, it is not searching into mysterious prophecy which will bless your soul, it is looking to Jesus crucified. That is the essential nutriment of the life of faith, and mind that you keep to it. As a man already justified, Abram looked at the sacrifice, all day long and till the sun went down, chasing away the birds of prey as you must drive off all disturbing thoughts. So must you also study the Lord Jesus, and view him in all his characters and offices, be not satisfied except you grow in grace and in the knowledge of your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

     Perhaps even more important was the next lesson which Abram had to learn. He was led to behold the covenant. I suppose that these pieces of the bullock, the lamb, the ram, and the goat, were so placed that Abram stood in the midst with a part on this side and a part on that. So he stood as a worshipper all through the day, and towards nightfall, when a horror of great darkness came over him, he fell into a deep sleep. Who would not feel a horror passing over him as he sees the great sacrifice for sin, and sees himself involved therein? There in the midst of the sacrifice he saw, moving with solemn motion, a smoking furnace and a burning lamp, answering to the pillar of cloud and fire, which manifested the presence in later days to Israel in the wilderness. In these emblems the Lord passed between the pieces of the sacrifice to meet his servant, and enter into covenant with him. This has always been the most solemn of all modes of covenanting; and has even been adopted in heathen nations on occasions of unusual solemnity. The sacrifice is divided and the covenanting parties meet between the divided pieces. The profane interpretation was, that they imprecated upon each other the curse that if they broke the covenant they might be cut in pieces as these beasts had been; but this is not the interpretation which our hearts delight in. It is this. It is only in the midst of the sacrifice that God can enter into a covenant relationship with sinful man. God cometh in his glory like a flame of fire, but subdued and tempered to us as with a cloud of smoke in the person of Jesus Christ; and he comes through the bloody sacrifice which has been offered once for all through Jesus Christ on the tree. Man meets with God in the midst of the sacrifice of Christ. Now, beloved, you who are justified, try this morning to reach this privilege which particularly belongs to you at this juncture of your spiritual history. Know and understand that God is in covenant bonds with you. He has made a covenant of grace with you which never can be broken: the sure mercies of David are your portion. After this sort does that covenant run, “A new heart also will I give them, and a right spirit will I put within them. They shall be my people, and I will be their God.” That covenant is made with you over the slaughtered body of the Son of God. God and you cross hands over him who sweat, as it were, great drops of blood falling to the ground. The Lord accepts us, and we enter with him into sacred league and amity, over the victim whose wounds and death ratify the compact. Can God forget a covenant with such sanctions? Can such a federal bond so solemnly sealed be ever broken? Impossible. Man is sometimes faithful to his oath, but God is always so; and when that oath is confirmed for the strengthening of our faith by the blood of the Only-begotten, to doubt is treason and blasphemy. God help us, being justified, to have faith in the covenant which is sealed and ratified with blood.

     Immediately after, God made to Abram (and here the analogy still holds) a discovery, that all the blessing that was promised, though it was surely his, would not come without an interval of trouble. “Thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years.” When a man is first of all brought to Christ he often is so ignorant as to think, “Now my troubles are all over; I have come to Christ and I am saved: from this day forward I shall have nothing to do but to sing the praises of God.” Alas I a conflict remains. We must know of a surety that the battle now begins. How often does it happen that the Lord, in order to educate his child for future trouble, makes the occasion when his justification is most clear to him the season of informing him that he may expect to meet with trouble! I was struck with that fact when I was reading for my own comfort the other night the fifth chapter of Romans; it runs thus — “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” See how softly it flows, a justification sheds the oil of joy upon the believer’s head. But what is the next verse — “and not only so, but we glory in tribulation also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience,” and so on. Justification ensures tribulation. Oh! yes, the covenant is yours; you shall possess the goodly land and Lebanon, but, like all the seed of Abraham, you must go down into Egypt and groan, being burdened. All the saints must smart before they sing; they must carry the cross before they wear the crown. You are a justified man, but you are not freed from trouble. Your sins were laid on Christ, but you still have Christ’s cross to carry. The Lord has exempted you from the curse, but he has not exempted you from the chastisement. Learn that you enter on the children’s discipline on the very day in which you enter upon their accepted condition.

     To close the whole, the Lord gave to Abram an assurance of ultimate success. He would bring his seed into the promised land, and the people who had oppressed them he would judge. So let it come as a sweet revelation to every believing man this morning, that at the end he shall triumph, and those evils which now oppress him shall be cast beneath his feet. The Lord shall bruise Satan under our feet shortly. We may be slaves in Egypt for awhile, but we shall come up out of it with great abundance of true riches, better than silver or gold. We shall be prospered by our tribulations, and enriched by our trials. Therefore, let us be of good cheer. If sin be pardoned, we may well bear affliction. “Strike, Lord,” said Luther, “now my sins are gone; strike as hard as thou wilt if transgression be covered.” These light afflictions which are but for a moment, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Let us make it the first point of our care to be justified with Abraham’s seed, and then whether we sojourn in Egypt or enjoy the peace of Canaan,, it little matters: we are all safe if we are only justified by faith which is in Christ Jesus.

     Dear friends, this last word, and I send you home. Have you believed in God? Have you trusted Christ? O that you would do so to-day! To believe that God speaks truth ought not to be hard; and if we were not very wicked this would never need to be urged upon us, we should do it naturally. To believe that Christ is able to save us seems to me to be easy enough, and it would be if our hearts were not so hard. Believe thy God, man, and think it no little thing to do so. May the Holy Ghost lead thee to a true trust. This is the work of God, that ye believe on Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. Believe that the Son of God can save, and confide thyself alone in him, and he will save thee. He asks nothing but faith, and even this he gives thee; and if thou hast it, all thy doubts and sins, thy trials and troubles put together, shall not shut thee out of heaven. God shall fulfil his promise, and surely bring thee in to possess the land which floweth with milk and honey.



Effectual Calling – Illustrated by the Call of Abram

By / Nov 29

Effectual Calling – Illustrated by the Call of Abram

 
“They went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.” — Genesis 12:5.

 

IF you desire to know the character of a child, you will probably learn much about it from observing the father. The young bird flies and sings as its father did before it If we would know the life of the child of faith, we should study the history of the "father of the faithful.” Abraham, the man of faith, is a type of all believing men, and the narrative of his life, if rightly considered, is the mirror of the history of all the saints of God. The commencement of his career of faith, when he first became separated from his own country and went into the land of Canaan, is a most instructive representation of our effectual calling, when we are, by a work of omnipotent grace, separated from the world, and made to obey the great precept, “Come ye out from among them, be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters.” The life of the believer is as Abram’s was, a separated life, a life regulated by other affections than those which arise from the relationships of flesh and blood, a life of walking in the unseen, in which God’s command, presence, and approval are paramount considerations, and faith guides the soul, sitting like a pilot at the helm of the vessel. Abram denied the flesh, took up the cross, went without the camp, became sanctified unto the Lord, and lived and died the friend of God, and a stranger among men. The commencement of his separated life is a lively picture of the commencement of the same life in ourselves. The calling of Abram is a representation of our calling, and to that matter I shall ask your earnest attention this morning.

     I. First, EFFECTUAL CALLING IS ILLUSTRATED IN THE CALL OF ABRAM.

     We have been reading the whole of the story, and therefore I shall only need to refresh your memories with it. Read carefully the last verses of chapter eleven, and the whole of chapter twelve, and get the thread of the story. Abram’s call was, in the first place, the result of the sovereign grace of God. The world, as a whole, was lying in heathenism. Men had gradually gone astray from the one God to the worship of graven, images. Here and there there might be an exception, as in the case of a Job or a Melchisedec, but thick darkness covered the people. God determined that he would select one family which should afterwards grow into a distinct nation, to be the conservators of the true faith. Why he selected Abram, he himself only knows, for we know that Terah, the father of Abram, had declined into the worship of false gods. “Your fathers,” Joshua tells us in his twenty-fourth chapter, and second verse, “dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abram, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods.” That family, if not quite so corrupt as the rest of mankind, had at any rate become corrupted; and we find the teraphs in the house of Laban, their descendant. Yet the sovereign grace of God pitched upon the household of Terah, and out of that favoured family the Lord of Hosts made a divine selection of the person of Abram. Why, I say again, why, remains in the inscrutable purposes of God, a thing unrevealed to us, though doubtless the choice was made by the Lord for the wisest and most Godlike reasons. Abram was a man with faults. “A man also with many virtues.” you reply. Yes, but those virtues given to him of God’s Spirit, and not the cause of his election, but the result thereof. He is an instance of the sovereignty of God carrying out the divine declaration, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” The prophets often spoke of Abraham as though the Lord’s mercy to him was a matter to be admired, and they by no means ascribed his favoured position to any personal merit in the patriarch. “Look,” saith Isaiah, “unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged. Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.” Here he is compared, as it were, to a quarry, or to a pit, out of which the nation was digged, and to this pit they are bidden to look as to a sight that will humble them; consequently, I gather, not to the merit of their fathers, but to the grace of God. And again, “A Syrian ready to perish, was your father.” Called a Syrian, as if to show that by nature he was as others; and as the Syrians were idolaters, even was he. “A Syrian ready to perish,” by which I understand not perishing with physical hunger or disease, but through spiritual darkness, and declension from the true God. “Ready to perish,” and yet the eternal mercy looked on him and saved him! Yes, whether men will accept it or not, that truth stands fast for ever, that “whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called.” Effectual calling in all cases, follows the eternal purpose; predestination, according to the divine good pleasure, is the well-head of all the covenant blessings which the believer enjoys.

“Ne'er had ye felt the guilt of sin,
Nor sweets of pardoning love,
Unless your worthless names had been
Enroll’d to life above.”

     The call of Abram, in the next place, was divinely applied and enforced. We neither read that an angel called him, nor a prophet, nor that he came out of Ur of the Chaldees by the motion of his own mind spontaneously. “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham,” says Stephen, in his dying address, “when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran.” There was made to his mind a remarkable revelation of the existence and the character of the one only true God; and then after he had been enlightened, so that he knew in his inmost soul the existence and glory of Jehovah, then the message came, perhaps in audible sounds, perhaps by a forcible impression upon his mind, “Get thee out hence from thy kindred and from thy fathers house.” Now mark, that in every gracious call by which a man is truly saved, the call comes immediately from God himself. Agents are generally used— the minister speaks, the Book becomes a living light, the providence is a warning which is not misunderstood; but neither minister, nor Book, nor providence, can call a man effectually apart from the direct manifestation of the divine power in the heart of each individual. Ah! my brethren, we may labour after souls, but until God puts his hand to the work, nothing is done. Our calls to dead souls leave them still in their sleep, but the voice of Jesus brings Lazarus out of the tomb. I would have you who are listeners to the truth never be satisfied with the use of the means merely. Look to the God of the means; ask him to reveal his arm and the power of his grace in you. And, oh! never be content with that which only penetrates to the outward ear, or abides upon a merely verbal memory, but ask that it may go into the heart, and abide in the innermost spirit through the effectual working of God the Holy Ghost. “Christ in you” is the power of God, but there must be an inward receiving of him by the Holy Spirit, or all will be in vain. There must be a supernatural work, or you cannot be saved. Much as I wish to preach a free salvation, I cannot forget that “ye must be born again,” and “no man can come to Christ except the Father draw him.” Mere nature at » its best falls short of eternal life; its bow is too weak to shoot to the mark; its puny arm too feeble to work so divine a change. Effectual calling, then, springs from the divine purpose, and is wrought by the divine energy. Dear hearers, be this your prayer to the Lord who alone can save you.

“With softening pity look,
And melt my hardness down;
Strike with thy love’s resistless stroke,
And break this heart of stone!”

     In the case of Abram, again, the call was personal, and it grew more personal as it proceeded. At first, when Abram was called in Ur of the Chaldees, he probably thought that he could persuade Terah his father and the rest of the family to accompany him; and he appears to have prevailed to a degree, for they went as far as Haran, but there, for reasons not known, the family stopped for a long time. How frequently is it so with us! When God begins to work in our souls, we would fain have others go with us, and we are led perhaps ourselves to make a kind of compromise with them to stop half way if they will come half way. We vainly conceive that we may bring all of them to feel and act as we do, whereas if the effectual call does not come to them as it does to us, there must be a division. Love may wish otherwise, but carnal nature and the renewed spirit cannot agree, the Lord hath set a difference; and we must still expect to see him take one of a city and two of a family and bring them to Zion, while others refuse to come. After awhile the message came to Abram again, “Get thee out from thy kindred,” not with thy kindred, “and from thy father’s house and so Abram this time is obliged to leave Haran, the halting-place, and to push forward resolutely, and finally for Canaan. Beloved, you and I, if ever we are to be the Lord’s, must have a distinct personal call. All the hearing of the gospel in which I listen for other people, and am but one of a crowd, comes to nothing; but when I hearken for myself and the truth comes home to me, describing my case, revealing my misery, inspiring my desire, enkindling my hope, then it is that it becomes the power of God unto salvation to my spirit. O dear hearer, I beseech you individualise yourself; put yourself, even in this great throng, into a mental solitude, and let the voice of God come to you, even to you, like the bean dropped into the hole in the earth which the husbandman has dibbled on purpose for it, that there it may swell and germinate and bring forth fruit. Nothing but a direct, distinct personal call coming home to heart and conscience will be of any avail.

     This call to Abram was a call for separation. The separation must have been exceedingly painful to him, for it was so complete. “Get thee out of thy country”— expatriate thyself, be an alien, a stranger, and a foreigner. “Get thee out from thy kindred;” let the ties of nature yield to the ties of grace. Form new relations and yield to bonds that are not of the flesh. “Get thee from thy father’s house,” from the place of comfort and rest, the place of heirship and affection; acknowledge another father, and seek another house. “Get thee unto a land that I will show thee,” which thou couldst not find of thyself, but which I must reveal to thee. Observe, then, the effectual call, wherever it comes to a man, is a separating sword, cutting him off from old associations. It makes him feel that this world is not his country; he lives in it as a stranger lives in a foreign land; he is in the world, but he is not of it, for the apostle saith, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” We become citizens of another city, and are aliens in these cities of earth. For Christ’s sake the Christian man is henceforth obliged to be separated in many respects from such of his family and kindred as remain in their sins. They are living according to the flesh, they are seeking this world; their pleasure is here, their comfort below the skies. The man who is called by grace lives in the same house, but lives not under the influence of the same motives, nor is he ruled by the same desires. He is so different from others that very soon they find him out; and, as Ishmael mocked Isaac, so the sons of the world mock at the children of the resurrection. The call of grace, the more it is heard the more it completes the separation. At first, with some believers, they only go part of the way in nonconformity to the world; they are only partly conformed to Jesus Christ’s image, and partly led out of worldly influences. Indeed, this is the case with most of us; but as we ripen in the things of God, our decision for God becomes more complete, our obedience to the law of Christ becomes more perfect, and there is a greater division set between us and the world. Oh! I wish that all Christians would believe this great truth, and carry it out, that “ye are not of the world, even as Christ was not of the world.” To try to be a worldly Christian or a Christian worldling, is to attempt an impossible thing. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” “If God be God serve him, and if Baal be god serve him.” Which is the true and the right, give your heart to it, but attempt no compromises. The very essence of the Christian faith is separatedness from the world; not the separation of the monastic life — we are neither monks nor nuns, nor would God have us so be. Jesus Christ was a man among men, eating and drinking as others did, professing no asceticism, never separating himself from the rest of mankind, but a man among men to perfection. Yet how separate from sinners was he! as distinct a man from all others as though he had been an angel amongst a troop of devils. So must you and I be. Go ye to the farm and to the merchandise, to the family and to the mart, but with all your minglings with mankind, still mingle not in their principles nor yield obedience to the demon that rules them. “I pray not,” says our Lord, “that thou wouldest take them out of the world, but that thou wouldest keep them from the evil.” Being kept from the evil, you will be carrying out spiritually what Abram did literally, you will be coming out from your kindred and your father’s house, under the influence of the effectual call.

     The call of Abram was made effectual in his heart and will, and I call your attention for a minute to his obedience thereto. It was an obedience which involved in his case great sacrifice. It must have been hard to tear himself away from his kinsfolk. At first, indeed, it seemed to have been too hard for him, for he stopped with his father Terah till he died at Haran. Brethren, it is no child’s play to be a Christian. “If any man love father or mother more than me,” saith Christ, “he is not worthy of me.” In many cases the greatest foes to religion are our best friends. Many a man has found his soul’s worst enemy lying in his bosom. Many a child has found that the father who nourished its body has done his best to destroy its soul. “A man’s foes shall be they of his own household,” saith Christ. But no relationship is to stand in the way of our obedience to Christ. The fondest connection must sooner be severed than we must give up the faithfulness of our loyalty to our great Lord and King. Take heed that you form no new association which may take you aside from him. Be ye warned, Christian men and women, against being unequally yoked together with unbelievers, either in marriage or in any form of partnership, for it will bring you grievous sorrow. Let none but those who are in the favour of God be in your favour; and as you would not wish to be separated eternally from the beloved of your bosom, take care that you do not begin a union with those who are already separate from Christ Jesus your Lord. But if, being converted, you find yourself in connection and relationship with the ungodly, as may be very probably the case, love them, love them more than ever you did; be kinder than ever, more affectionate than ever, that so you may win them, but never to please them submit yourself to sin, nor pollute the chastity of your heart, which belongs to Christ alone. Whatever it may cost you, if you are truly called by grace, come out and leave all behind. Sing with Jane Taylor: —

“Ye tempting sweets, forbear;
Ye dearest idols, fall;
My love ye must not share,
Jesus shall have it all:
Though painful and acute the smart,
His love can heal the bleeding heart!”

     It must have required in Abram’s case much faith to be so obedient. He set out to find a land which he had never seen. He is only told in which way to steer, and God will show him where it is. Recollect that in those olden times a journey such as Abram took was a much more formidable thing than now. Those venerable men were rooted to the soil in which they grew. We can make a journey to America or Australia, and think but little of it; but even our grandfathers thought it a most awful thing to go out of the county in which they lived, and looked upon it as going to the moon if any talked of emigrating to a foreign country. The further back you go you will discover a greater tenacity in men holding them to the family rooftree. Well, Abram must be unrooted, at more than seventy years of age he must become an emigrant. He might have asked what kind of country, but he did not: it is enough for him God appoints the journey, and away the pilgrim goes. So, beloved, we must always unhesitatingly follow the guidance of our heavenly Father. If we are called by divine grace we shall have abundant need to exercise faith. If you could understand the dealings of God with you, if everything went smoothly, if in all respects you prospered as the result of your religion, you might fear that you were not in the track of the people of God, for their track is marked with tribulations. It is through much tribulation that they inherit the kingdom. But if it requires all the faith that you can summon, and more, yet still hold on, for the promise of God will justify itself in the long run. If God bids thee do a thing, though it should seem to be the greatest folly conceivable, yet do thou it, and the wisdom of God will glorify itself in thine experience.

     I must still keep you for a few minutes longer attentive to Abram’s obedience, for I want to notice that while it involved much loss, and required a vast amount of faith, yet it was based upon a very great promise — a promise most vast and unexampled. All were to be blessed who blessed him, and he was to become a blessing to the whole universe. Here is a strong inducement to obey, if faith can but believe the promise true; and, brethren and sisters, when we venture for Christ’s sake to strike out into the path of separation, and to walk by faith, what a multitude of promises we have to cheer us onward — “Certainly I will be with you;” “No good thing will I withhold from them that walk uprightly “Trust in the Lord, and do good: so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed;” “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee “He that believeth in him shall never be confounded;” “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved;” “For all things are yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” Behold, brethren, the crown which is held forth to you! it is no other than everlasting life! Behold your reward! it is the city whose gates are pearls, and whose streets are gold. Your unrivalled portion is bliss ineffable, to be with Christ, to dwell with him in ecstatic bliss, world without end. Be of good courage, then, since for all you lose by following Jesus you shall obtain a hundredfold in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting. Be of good courage, if yon forsake the world and lose friends for the truth’s sake, you shall obtain the friendship of immortal spirits, angels shall become your servitors, and the blood-washed shall be your brethren, Christ himself your friend, and God your Father. Onward you may well proceed, if you can but believe the promise true; you have everything to gain, and that which you have to lose compared with it is less than nothing; the present light affliction incident to a godly life is not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in you. See, then, brethren, and rejoice as you see it, if we have Abraham’s difficulties we have also Abram’s encouragements.

     Now, having thus shown you what this effectual calling is, and the obedience it brings, I would only remind you that Abram never stopped until he actually arrived at Canaan; and so a child of God, when effectually called by grace, never gets peace or rest until he lays hold on Jesus, and so by believing enters into rest.

     Abram may be held up as an example to us in obeying the divine call, because he went at once. He did not pause to ask a single question; he was bidden to go to Canaan, and to Canaan he went. He did his work very thoroughly: he set out for Canaan, and to Canaan he came. Having once left Haran, he did, as it were, break down the bridge behind him. He had given up all thoughts of ever returning again. If he had wished to return, he could have done so, the apostle tells us; but he had given up for ever all his old associations, he was bound for the promised kingdom, and on to the kingdom and the unseen blessing would he speed. O that God’s Spirit may call every one of us after this same fashion, give us grace to be obedient in the same style, and to declare that if we had to give up all we have, and even life itself, yet without demur it should be done, for Jesus leads the way.

“The God of Abraham praise,
At whose supreme command,
From earth I rise, and seek the joys
At his right hand: I all on earth forsake,
Its wisdom, fame, and power;
And him my only portion make,
My shield and tower.

He by himself hath sworn,
I on his oath depend;
I shall, on eagles’ wings upborne,
To heaven ascend:
I shall behold his face,
I shall his power adore,
And sing the wonders of his grace,
For evermore.”

     For a minute, I beg you to observe the difference betiveen the Lord's effectual call, and those common calls which so many receive. Brethren, there are many here, I fear me, who have been called to glory and immortality, but the calling was of man and by man. Perhaps some of us who are professors have been called not by the grace of God, but by the eloquence of a speaker, or by the excitement of a revival meeting. Beware, I pray you, of that river whose source lies not at the foot of the throne of God. Take care of that salvation which does not take its rise in the work of God the Holy Ghost, for only that which comes from him will lead to him. The work which does not spring from eternal love will never land us in eternal life. The call of many men is such that when it comes to them, they raise many questions as to whether they shall obey it or not. The truth was earnestly and pathetically spoken, and they cannot help feeling somewhat of its power, but they enquire what it involves, and finding that to be a Christian they must give up many of the things they love, like Lot’s wife, they look back and perish. Like Pliable, they travel as far as the Slough of Despond, but they like not the miry way, and therefore they scamper out on the side nearest home, and go back again to the city of destruction. Many have I known who have had a call of a certain sort, who have tried to go to Canaan and yet to stop at Haran. They would fain serve God and yet live as they used to live. They think it possible to be a Christian and yet to be a servant of the world. They attempt the huge impossibility of yoking the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the lion of the pit in the same chariot, and driving through the streets of life therewith. Ah, sirs! the call which comes from God brings a man right out, while the call which only comes to your fleshly nature leaves us with the rest of mankind, and will leave us there to be bound up in the same bundle with sinners, and cast into the same fire. Many come out of Egypt but never arrive at Canaan, like the children of Israel who left their carcasses in the wilderness, their hearts are not sound towards the Lord. They start fairly, but the taste of the garlic and the onions lingers in their mouth, and holds their minds by Egypt’s fleshpots still. Like the planets, they are affected by two impulses: one would draw them to heaven, but another would drive them off at a tangent to the world; and so they revolve, like the mill-horse, without making progress; continuing still nominally to fear the Lord, and yet to serve other gods practically and in their hearts. Beware, dear friends, of the call which makes you set out, but does not lead you to hold out. Pray that this text may be true to you, “They went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and to the land of Canaan they came.” Do not be content with praying to be saved, never be satisfied until you are saved. Do not be content with trying to believe and trying to repent; come to Christ, and both repent and believe, and give no slumber to your eyelids till you are a penitent believer. Make a full and complete work of your believing. Strive not to reach the strait gate, but to enter it. For this you must have a call from the Lord of heaven. I can call you as I have called many of you scores of times, and you have gone a little way, and you have bidden fair to go the whole way; but when your goodness has been as a morning cloud and as the early dew, it soon has been scattered and has gone. God grant you yet to receive the call of his eternal Spirit, that you may be saved.

     II. There are a few minutes remaining which I shall occupy by changing the subject. If our text may very well illustrate effectual calling, so may it PICTURE FINAL PERSEVERANCE.

     “They went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and to the land of Canaan they came.” That is true of every child of God who is really converted and receives the faith of God’s elect. Oh, that miserable doctrine, which says that the saints set out for Canaan but never reach the place! it is enough to make a believer’s life a very hell upon earth. No matter how happy I might be, that doctrine would poison all my peace of mind. The doctrine which denies that the pilgrims to glory go from strength to strength until every one of them in Zion appeareth before God, but which teaches that sheep of Christ may be rent by the wolves, that the stones in the spiritual temple may be scattered to the four winds, that the members of Christ may be rent away from his sacred body, and that the spouse of Christ may be mutilated, shocks my reason, my experience, my faith, my entire spiritual nature. I believe in the final perseverance of every man in whom the regenerating grace of God has wrought a change of nature. If he has been born of God he cannot die; if the living seed is in him the devil cannot destroy it, for it liveth and abideth for ever. Because Christ lives, every believer who is one with Jesus must live also.

     We set forth, then, to the land of Canaan, and, blessed be God, to the land of Can aan we shall come. God has purposed it. He purposes that the many sons should all be brought to glory by the Captain of their salvation; and hath he said it and shall he not do it? We shall reach our resting-place, for the armour-bearer who leads the way, is no other than Jesus Christ, the Covenant Angel, mighty to save; we shall be preserved, for round about us is a wall of fire, and above us is the shield of the Eternal and Immutable, even of Jehovah, whose love is everlasting. The way shall not weary us: he shall give us shoes of iron and brass, and as our days so shall our strength be. The roughness of the road shall not cast us down; he will bear us as upon eagles’ wings ; he will give his angels charge over us, lest we dash our foot against a stone. The arrows of hell shall not destroy us, for he gives us armour of proof — there shall no evil befall us. The snares of the devil shall not entrap us, for his wisdom shall surely make a way of escape out of every temptation that shall happen to his children. Glory be to God, it is not in the power of earth and hell put together to stop a single one of the Lord’s pilgrims from reaching the Celestial City. “Who shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord?” “I am persuaded that he which hath begun a good work in you, will carry it on.” For the path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”

“Each object of his love is sure
To reach the heavenly goal;
For neither sin nor Satan can
Destroy the blood-wash’d soul.

Satan may vex, and unbelief
The saved one may annoy,
But he must conquer; yes, as sure
As Jesus reigns in joy.

The precious blood of God’s dear Son
Shall ne’er be spilt in vain;
The soul on Christ believing, must
With Christ for ever reign.”

As you turn over this text, this afternoon, I should like you to think of these three things: — We have set forth for the land of Canaan; we know where we are going. Think much of your haven of rest. Study that precious Scripture which reveals the new Jerusalem. Be familiar with angelic harps. Come ye unto the general assembly and church of the first-born. Let your Sabbath contemplations be of the everlasting Sabbath so soon to dawn.

     In the next place, we know why we are going. We are going to Canaan because God has called us to go. He gives us strength to go, puts the life-force within us that makes us tend upward towards the eternal dwelling-place, the happy harbour of the saints.

     And we know that we are going; that is another mercy. We do not hope we are going to heaven, but we know that we are going there. Christ is the road, the banner of love leads us, the fiery cloudy pillar of providence directs us, the promise sustains us, the Holy Spirit dwells in us; of all this we are confident. Blessed be God, we doubt not these things.

     Notice two or three thoughts in this text worth remembering. “They went forth.” Energetic action! Men are not saved while they are asleep. No riding to heaven on feather beds. “They went forth to the land of Canaan.” Intelligent perception! They knew what they were doing. They did not go to work in a blundering manner, not understanding their drift. We must know Christ, if we would be found in him. It must be given us to look to him, and trust to him, understanding what is meant by so doing. Men are not to be saved through the blindness of an ignorant superstition. “They went forth to the land of Canaan, and to the land of Canaan they came.” Firm resolution! They could put up with rebuffs, but they would not be put off from their resolves. They meant Canaan, and Canaan they would get. He that would be saved, must take heaven by violence. “To the land of Canaan they came.” Perfect perseverance! “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.” Not a spurt and a rest, but constant running wins the race. All these thoughts cluster around the one idea of final perseverance, which the text brings out.

     But, ah! dear friends, how many there are who set out to go to Canaan, but unto Canaan they come not! Some are stopped by the first depression of spirits that they meet with; like Pliable, they run home with the mud of Despond on their boots. Others turn aside to Selfrighteousness. They follow the directions of Mr. Worldly Wiseman, and resort to Doctor Legality, or Mr. Civility, and Sinai falls upon them and crushes them. Some turn to the right hand with Hypocrisy, thinking that to pretend to be holy will be as good as being so. Others go on the left hand to Formality, imagining that sacraments and outward rites will be as effectual as inward purity and the work of the Spirit in their hearts. Many fall down the silver mine where Demas broke his neck. Hundreds get into Despair’s castle, and leave their bones there, because they will not trust Christ and so obtain eternal life. Some go far apparently, but, like Ignorance, they never go really, and when they come to the river they perish at the very last. Some, like Turn-away, become apostates, and are dragged away by the back door to hell, after all their professions. Some are frightened by the lions, some are tempted by By-path Meadow. Some would be saved, but they must make a fortune. Many would be saved, but they cannot bear to be laughed at. Some would trust Christ, but they cannot endure his cross. Many would wear the crown, but they cannot bear the labour by which they must attain to it. Ah! ye sons of men, ye will turn aside to Madame Wanton, and to Madame Bubble; ye will be bewitched with this, and that, and the other, which ensures your destruction, but the beauties of the glorious Saviour, the lasting joys, the real happiness which he has to give, these are too high for you; they are above you, and ye reach not after them; or if ye seek them for awhile, the dog returns to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. The stone thrown up mounts not to heaven, for the attraction of earth brings it back again. O that God would be pleased to send grace into our hearts from his own self, that we too might set out in the spirit of humility in confidence in Christ, in the power of the Spirit, to the land of Canaan, and to the land of Canaan may we truly come, and the Lord shall have the praise. Amen.



The Angelic Life

By / Nov 22

The Angelic Life

 

“For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” — Matthew 22:30.

 

WE must all of us develop one way or the other. Manhood, as we see it here, is but the green blade, or, at the best, the corn in the ear: the full corn in the ear will only be seen in the world to come. We must either descend or ascend: none of us can remain in the position which he occupies to-day. Some are sliding every hour downward, descending by the force of evil habits; more and more do they become the serfs and slaves of the devil; and by consequence, more and more developed into his image, and find their doom written in these words, “Depart into everlasting fire in hell, prepared for the devil and his angels. You followed Satan, you grew more and more like him, and now receive the heritage appointed for him.” On the other hand, he who by repentance and faith is brought into the fellowship of the gospel, receiveth grace upon grace; he advances from glory to glory, in a more perfect resemblance to heavenly beings, and, at the last, angels having rejoiced over his repentance, angels to whom he had become like, carry his soul into the bosom of God. Which shall it be with thee, man? Wilt thou ripen for the golden sickle and for the harvest-home of heaven, or wilt thou blacken for the scythe of iron which shall mow thee down, to be bound up in the bundle with thy fellows and consumed as tares? One or other it must be. O may infinite grace overcome our natural tendencies, and may we be amongst those who go from strength to strength, until they ascend into the hill of the Lord, and are made like unto the angels.

     Without further preface, the subject of this morning’s discourse will be in what respects the life of spirits before the throne is like to that of angels; and then, secondly, we may have, perhaps, a few practical thoughts about the commencement of the angelic life while yet here below.

     I. First, then, IN WHAT RESPECTS ARE THOSE SAINTS WHO HAVE PASSED THE STREAM OF DEATH LIKE UNTO THE ANGELS?

     The likeness, though it lieth in many points, more or less prominently may be seen, I think, distinctly in five particulars.

     1. The saints of God are like unto the angels as to the qualities of their persons. In one matter they always were alike, namely, that both angels and saints are creatures of God, and must by no means be looked upon in any higher light. A false church has commanded its votaries to pay religious homage to angels, contrary both to the example and the express precept of Holy Writ. The angels are no more to be adored than saintly men, and neither the one nor the other can be worshipped without incurring the sin of idolatry. Take two parallel cases. When John, seeing an angel, taking him for his Lord, bowed down to worship him, the answer was, “See thou do it not, for I am of thy fellow servants, the prophets. Worship God.” When the heathen, at Lystra, brought forth bullocks and sheep, and were about to do sacrifice unto Paul and Barnabas as unto Mercury and Jupiter, these holy men rent their clothes, and declared that they were men of like passions with others. Angels and holy men refuse all kinds of worship; they unanimously sing, “Not unto us, not unto us, but unto the name of Jehovah be all the praise.” Oh! the longsuffering of God in tolerating that apostate and accursed church, which hath dared to set up both saints and angels, men and women, and I know not what besides, as objects of reverence in rivalry of the Lord of Hosts.

     That is but incidental, however. The saints of heaven are like the angels in their persons, in the fact that sex is for ever obliterated there. “They are neither married nor given in marriage” — from which I do not gather that so much as may be spiritual in the feminine character, or anything that is mental in the masculine character, will be destroyed, but that in the bodily frame all that which divided the sexes will be no more. I imagine that saints before the throne may some of them exhibit that exquisite tenderness, that heroism of affection, which will indicate them to have been holy women here below, and that other spirits in their special force and vigour, courage and zeal, may reveal, even in glory, the fact that in the church militant they were among the valiant men of Israel. Why not? Yet all else that is carnal in male and female must be gone, and we shall be one in Christ Jesus, in whom there is neither male nor female. Marriage will be out of the question. This is linked with a further likeness, namely, that the spirits above are like to angels in their immortality. They cannot die. Such a thing as a funeral knell was never heard in heaven. No angel was ever carried to his grave — though angels have been in the sepulchre — for there sat two, at the head and the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain; they were visitors, not dwellers there. There is nothing about angels upon which the death-worm can feed; no sepulchre could encase their free spirits, and the bonds of death could not hold them for a moment. So is it with the freed ones who have passed through the grave and are now with Christ — they cannot die: ages upon ages may roll on, eternity’s ceaseless cycles may continue, but there shall be no grey hairs of decay upon the heads of the immortals; celestials shall never decay. For this reason, therefore, the population of yonder realms needs never to be repaired by births. Here it is a perpetual struggle, life contending with death, death marking its universal victory, scarring the face of the earth with tombs, but life triumphant still, ever sending little children to gather flowers above the graves. The flood of life, though apparently drunk up by the Behemoth of death, still rolls on, a broader and deeper torrent than before. Therefore are they like the angels in heaven, since there is no death, and consequently no necessity of birth to repair the waste of population.

     We have reason to believe, also, that since these spirits before the throne are like the angels even when the resurrection trumpet shall be sounded, and the spirits, disembodied for a time, shall be again clothed upon, they shall be like the angels in the fact of the maturity of their being. In heaven babes will be no longer babes. He who was a babe here shall be fully developed there. Neither shall there be in heaven the weary old man tottering on his staff, he shall not carry there his failing eye and trembling knee; he shall be in the glory of his purified manhood, and feel no decay. The child shall be as though he were a hundred years old, and the aged man shall wear more than the honours of his youth. I read not of angels either as youthful or waxing old: they stand ever in a blessed perfection; and so shall the saints of God ever be both physically and spiritually. “Thou hast the dew of thy youth,” O Jesus, and that same dew falls upon all the plants of thy right-hand planting. We suppose, too, that all the spirits before the throne are like angels in the matter of their beauty. The disembodied saints are fair in the eyes of Jesus, even as they are; and when their spiritual bodies shall rise all radiant with “the glory of the celestial,” then shall their comeliness be seen of all.

      “It is sown in dishonour,” says the apostle; “it is raised in glory.” Whatever of dishonour there might have been in the uncomely features of the poor creature whom we committed to the earth, there shall be no deformity to mar the countenance of the nobler thing which shall rise from the sepulchre at the bidding of God. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be,” but that we shall be lovely beyond expression is most certain, “for we shall be like him when we shall see him as he is.” There will be a glory about risen saints which will even transcend the glory of angels, for unto them he has never said that they should be made like unto the Only Begotten. But this is the portion of all the blood-bought and blood-washed, that they be fashioned in the likeness of Christ, when they shall see him face to face.

     As we shall resemble the angels in beauty, so no doubt we shall also equal them in strength: “Bless the Lord, ye his angels that excel in strength.” Thus saith the apostle, “It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.” What kind of power that will be we may guess. There will be an enlarged mental capacity, a far more extensive spiritual range. So far as the new body is concerned, there will be an amount of power in it of which we have no conception. What we shall be, beloved, in the matter of strength, we cannot tell, but this we know, that we shall not need so constantly to stretch our weary frames upon the bed of rest, and to lie half our time in unconsciousness, for we shall serve him day and night in his temple; and this indicates a degree of unweariedness and physical endurance to which we are total strangers now. We shall in this also be as the angels of God.

     Just then for a minute let your thoughts foresee that blessed personality which shall be yours when this present age is past. You suffer to-day, you are to-day despised and rejected; but as from yonder creeping caterpillar, or from this dried up chrysalis, there will arise a lovely creature with wings coloured like the rainbow, so from your poor groaning humanity there shall come forth a fair and lovely being; while your spirit also shall cast off the slough of its natural depravity, be rid of all the foulness and damage of its sojourn here below, and your whole man shall be restored a goodly fabric — a temple glorious to look upon, in which God shall dwell with you, and in which you shall dwell with God.

     2. Now, secondly, there will be a likeness between the angels and glorified saints in the matter of character. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” teaches us that angels do the will of God perfectly, cheerfully, instantly, unweariedly, with the highest possible alacrity. So do those blessed spirits to whom it is given to see Jehovah’s face: it is their delight to do the will of their Father who is in heaven. Whatever the Lord may charge them to do, it is their heaven to perform, for in heaven the will of the Lord is the will of his people. Here below, my brethren and sisters, to will is present with us, but how to perform that which we would we find not. We would be holy, but we find another law in our members warring against the law of our minds. We sigh and cry by reason of the sin that dwelleth in us, till we say, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” But angels know not what it is to be fallen; they have never fought with any temptations from within, though once assailed by the great temptation from without, by which Satan and his followers fell from happiness. They carry about with them no inbred sin. They find no heavy clay to clog their celestial ardours; they have not to lament lascivious desires, or covetous cravings; they have no proud thoughts which must be cast down, no depressions of spirit, no tauntings of unbelief, no motions of self-will. They serve God without a slur in their obedience. No thought of sin ever taints their soul; no syllable of evil ever falls from their holy lips; no thought of transgression defiles their service. So is it with the saints who dwell in glory with them. They too are without fault before the throne of God. They have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, and the Spirit of God, like a refining fire, has purged out of their nature everything that is evil, and they are this day as pure as God himself in the righteousness of Christ, and in the inwrought purity which is the work of the Holy Ghost. Do you not long to be with them, if it were only for the sake of this purity? — for deliverance from sin will be an escape from all sorrow, and the obtaining of perfect holiness will be the climax of delight. Oh, if we could but perfectly serve God we would make no conditions about place! Perfection in a dungeon were infinitely better than the least sin in a palace. If one could be quite delivered from all evil, and it were possible that such a spirit could suffer physical pain, yet the joy of being rid of sin would make amends for all the torment that could possibly be heaped upon the body. Brethren and sisters, this portion is yours and mine. Fighting to-day with sin against deadly odds, and often tempted to fear that we shall be defeated, we may rest assured that we shall conquer through the blood of the Lamb. Yonder is the crown — let your faith grasp it. Persevere courageously, for all things are possible to him that believeth. The most inveterate habit may be broken, the lust that overcame us yesterday shall overcome us no more if we rest in the power of the indwelling God, and in the might of the reigning Saviour. Only be of good cheer, for through Jesus you shall overcome, and the crown shall be yours, world without end.

     3. Thirdly, the souls of the blessed are like to angels as to their occupation. Angels we read bend around the throne in sacred worship. They cast their crowns before the throne upon the glassy sea, and worship the Lamb for ever and ever. There is never a moment, whether earth is swathed in light or clothed in darkness, in which the Son of God is not adored by ten thousand times ten thousand of these celestial spirits. Cherubim and seraphim veil their faces before the ever-living Son of God. Worship is their perpetual avocation. Even so is it with all those whom Christ has redeemed with blood. They too are for ever worshipping. Unto Jesus they pay their perpetual love. The elders are represented as standing before the throne with their vials full of odours sweet, and their golden harps, representing the perpetual and acceptable praises of the glorified church. Oh, how sweet worship often is on earth, but what must it be in heaven! We love our Sabbaths, and the place of our assembling becomes very dear to us, because it is no other than the house of God to our souls; but oh, to worship perfectly, without distracting thoughts and wandering minds – how blessed will it be! Such service is to be our portion soon.

     Angels are described in Scripture as being occupied in holy song. John heard the voice of an innumerable company of angels. They join in the strain which goeth up before the throne, ascribing honour, and glory, and majesty to the Lamb once slain. In this selfsame chorus the glorified spirits eagerly unite, and even sweeter is their note, for angels cannot praise the Lord Jesus for having washed them in his blood, and this is the loudest of all the notes. The blood-washed contribute peculiar richness to the strain, as their joyous hearts lift up the chorus, “Worthy is the Lamb! for he was slain, and hast redeemed us unto God by his blood! The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.” Oh, that heavenly song! Would that some stray notes would visit my ears even now, that I might learn how to speak thereof! Hear what John saith of it: “And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: and they sung as it were a new song before the throne and before the four beasts.” Glory be unto Christ to-day, though we cannot join in the seraphic song as we would desire, we send up our contribution of heartfelt praise to him that liveth and was slain.

     In addition to adoration and praise, we have much reason to believe that angels spend their existence in a wondering study of the ways of God, especially of God’s gracious acts. “These things,” said the apostle, “the angels desired to look into.” That they are not perfect in knowledge is quite certain, for “of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven.” They are continually increasing in knowledge, and it appears from the book of Daniel, that they ask questions and long to be instructed. That vision which Jacob saw, in which the angels of God were ascending and descending upon the ladder, pictures to us the contemplations of divine spirits who are ascending and descending in meditation upon Jesus; studying the glories of the incarnate God, his descending into the tomb, and his triumphant ascent to his Father’s throne. Their contemplations are constantly hovering about the cross and the doings of the incarnate God. Such surely will be the occupation of the blessed. The difficulties to-day which stagger us will be explained to us in heaven. “What ye know not now, ye shall know hereafter.” Mysteries too deep for our present plumb-line will yield up their treasure to us in another state; for here we know in part, but there shall we know even as we are known. Truths but dimly guessed at and perceived in shadow, shall be seen in clearer light — “for now we see but as in a glass darkly, but then face to face.” Scholars in Christ, how will you grow in knowledge there! Ye loving students of the inspired page, how will you revel in divine teachings there! The best of commentaries shall be the Author’s own explanation. He who wrote the Scriptures shall be with you, and you shall ask him, “What meanest thou by this dark saying?” Or, perhaps, we shall get altogether beyond the letter, and needing no more the words and sentences, but shall feed on the opened Spirit, the celestial meaning of the heart of God. Certainly we shall be like the angels, since our studies will be all absorbed in devout and divine things.

     The angels of heaven gaze upon the face of God. This is a scriptural expression, not mine, for our Lord says that “in heaven there angels do always behold the face of your Father, who is in heaven.” And what must that be? Brethren, you are not to give a carnal meaning to these words, as though God could be seen with eyes either angelic or human, for he is not to be seen with these dull optics; God is a spirit, and spirit only discerns God by thought and mental apprehension; but what an apprehension of God that must be which is intended by the expression, “They do always behold the face of God!” Moses, the master spirit of the old dispensation, asked to see God, but he was only indulged with a sight of what our version calls his back parts, but which should more fittingly be described as the flowing train, the skirts of the Almighty’s splendour. This was all he could see, though his eye was more strengthened than that of any man under the legal dispensation. But, brethren, we in heaven, like the angels, shall see his face, and his name shall be in our foreheads.

“Father of Jesus, love’s reward,
What raptures will it be,
Prostrate before thy throne to lie,
And ever gaze on thee!”

     Still we have not exhausted the occupations of the angels. These which I have already mentioned are rather contemplative — worship, song, study, and beatific vision; but the flaming ones above have occupations which are connected with earth. For instance, they feel sympathetic joy. We should not have known this if Jesus had not said, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” I believe this, that the souls of men redeemed will have the same kind of joy; and I can imagine the soul of the believer rejoicing over the child that was left unconverted, saved after its parent’s ascent into heaven — saved through the prayers which a mother left behind her, bequeathing them upon her dying bed as her best and most sacred legacy. Many fathers have seen their posthumous spiritual children born to them through prayers they offered on earth, but not fulfilled until after the prayer had been exchanged for praise. I sometimes think — it may be fancy — that if in glory I ever shall with draw my eye from the sight of ray Lord, if ever I may stay the song to my Wellbeloved for a moment, it shall be to gaze over the battlements of heaven, to see how the church on earth amongst which I laboured may be prospering. Surely those venerated men who aforetime ministered to this flock, must feel a peculiar joy in our prosperity; and as the news is telegraphed from earth to heaven, that hundreds have been born to God, and that the word among us has been quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, if the angels rejoice, I cannot believe but what the glorified spirits, far more akin to repenting sinners than angels are, must have a yet deeper sympathy, and feel a yet more exultant mirth.

     Still, I must pass on. Angels are engaged in heaven, we are told, in untiring service. Gabriel flies, at his Lord’s word, whether it is to Mary, or to the shepherds, or to the King. It matters nothing to the angel whether he descends to smite the hosts of Sennacherib, or to be the guardian of a little child. It has been well said that if two angels were despatched to earth, and the one were to rule an empire, amidst all terrestrial splendour, and the other were to perform the drudgery of a scullion, the angels would have no choice, so long as they knew their Lord’s mind. Whichever God wills, they will. For those bright spirits consider not themselves, but only the good pleasure of their God. We little know what they do for us. There is a wondrous guardianship exercised secretly by them over all the seed royal of heaven. They are always engaged; they are never idle. They are never to be found where Satan offers mischief still for idle spirits to perform; but day without night they serve their God.

     Lastly on this point, they are constant attendants at the courts of heaven. Wherever Jesus is, we have the angels round about him. “When he shall come, in the glory of his Father, with all his holy angels with him.” When the prince moves, the courtiers go with the king. Wherever the king may be, there are the gentlemen-at-arms; there are his body-guards; so wherever King Jesus is, there are his angels. “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them.” The great King immortal and eternal, who girdeth his sword upon his thigh and rideth out to battle, goeth not forth alone; legions of angels follow at his feet. When he maketh war against the devil and his angels, all these, his watchers and holy ones, the flaming cherubim and fiery seraphim are at his right hand, like veteran bands. Such shall be the engagements of each glorified soul. We know not what may be our sacred tasks in yonder skies — it were vain for us to surmise; but we shall not be idle, for it is written, “They serve him day and night in his temple.” I have thought that as angels are but the servants, they are sent out of doors to do the Master’s field-work in the far-off portions of the universe, but we, who are his children, shall serve him day and night in his temple at home; for is it not written, “They shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever”? Ours shall be house-work, home service in the immediate presence. We shall be like that angel who stood in the sun; we shall dwell for ever in the full blaze of the presence of the infinite God. We shall be equal to the angels, and made like unto them then, in the respect of occupation, as well as in that of character and person.

     4. Lest I weary you, I will add but a few words on the fourth point, though I think it a very important one. We shall be like the angels in heavenliness. Here we come to the vital meaning of the text. They are not married or given in marriage; they have other things to think of, and they have other cares and other enjoyments; they mind not earthly things, but are of a heavenly spirit. So is it with the blessed before the throne. To eat and drink, to be clothed – these are things which fret their minds no more. To keep the house, to maintain the children, to thrust the wolf from the door — such anxieties never trouble celestial spirits. Brethren, this is one of the things which makes the great change so desirable to us, that after death our thoughts, our cares, our position, our desires, our joys, will all be in God. Here we want externals, here we seek after carnal things; for we must needs eat and drink, and be clothed and housed. Here we must be somewhat hampered by the grosser elements of this poor materialism, but up yonder they have no wants like our own; they consequently have no desires of an earthly kind — their desires are all concerning their God. No creature drags them downward. They are free to bow before the Creator, and to think alone of him; to

“Plunge into the Godhead’s deepest sea,
And bathe in bis immensity.”

     Oh, what a deliverance that must be! because if now for a minute or two we soar to sublimer things, and climb as upon the top of Pisgah, to look down upon the world, we are called to descend again into the valley amid the noise and dust of the battle; but there for ever and ever we shall abide in the loftiness of heavenly things, absorbed with the glory which shall then be revealed.

     5. Lastly, we shall be like the angels, when in glory, as to our happiness. The bliss of angels and the glorified is complete. They possess always the divine approval — this is a fountain of joy. They know they have complete security — this is another well-spring of peace; and they have suitable engagements with which to occupy their existence — and this is a well-head of happiness. They have unbroken rest; yea, their service is rest, and rest is bliss. They have great capacities for knowing, and understanding, and enjoying; and an enlarged capacity, well filled with so grand a subject, ensures perpetual felicity. We shall be such. My words would utterly fail, and therefore I shall not attempt to describe the bliss of heaven. Whatever it may be, it will be ours if we are believers. Least of all the family, yet believing in the precious blood, it is thine; for it is not of some, but of all it is said, “They are as the angels of God in heaven.”

     Now, unhappily for me, my time is nearly gone, and I wanted to enlarge upon the second head. The subject is too large for a single sermon. I must, therefore, give you an outline of what might have been said of the second part.

     II. I would speak of THE ANGELIC LIFE ON EARTH.

     If we are to be like the angels of God in heaven, it will be well to have an outline of it here — to give ourselves to the commencement of angelic life even here. We ought to do so. Our Lord is called an angel. He is the angel of the covenant — we ought to be like him now; therefore, we ought to have a present resemblance to angels. Ministers are especially called to this, for this is one of their names. John writes to the angels of the seven churches. Ministers are the messengers of God to the sons of men. They should be like that angel who flew in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to every creature; and, as the angel sounded that trumpet, so, as often as the time comes, and the assembly is gathered together, the Christian minister should have his trumpet ready, and that trumpet should give no uncertain sound. That we may be like angels here below is a certain fact, for we read of Stephen that his face shone, and even they who stoned him saw him as an angel of God. Why should we not be like angels, for did not men in the wilderness eat angels’ food, and may we not spiritually live on angels’ meat to-day; nay, may we not sing —

“Never did angels taste above,
Redeeming grace and dying love”?

Yet these are the daily meat and the daily drink of all the saved souls.

     We can be like angels in our occupations. First, be it ours, as it was theirs, to declare the word of God. We read of the word published by angels; we read of the angels flying through the midst of heaven with the everlasting gospel. Men and brethren, according to your ability, be like the angels of God in this, and publish abroad the plan of salvation. Each man of you, according to his ability, tell to others the salvation of Jesus Christ. You will never be more angelic than when God makes you the messengers of his Holy Spirit to the hearts of men.

     Be it ours to imitate the angels in fighting a good fight while we are here. We read that Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels, and the dragon was cast down. The fight is going on every day. Michael is the Lord Jesus, the only Archangel. We, like Aim, and under him, must stand as champions for the truth, never to surrender, but being prepared to suffer, even unto blood, striving against sin. With undaunted courage, and a conscience that cannot be violated, let us stand fast for the one Lord, the one faith, and the one baptism, until he shall come who shall call us to the reckoning, and shall say, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” Like angels, then, let us teach, and like angels fight, for the cause and for the crown of Christ.

     Ours, too, let it be, like angels, to oppose the way of rebels. When Balaam was on his road to attempt to curse Israel, an angel stood with a fiery sword, and made him pause. How often may a good man do that with the ungodly! Wicked men have frequently felt, in the presence of gracious spirits, that they could not speak profanely, nor sin desperately. A good man’s presence has cast an awe over the whole company. You ought, by your example, to say to the world, “Rebel not against God.” Even if you speak not with your tongue, the eloquence of your life should be a constant check upon the aboundings of sin.

     Not content with this, let it be ours to be the means of setting free those who are the prisoners of hope — God’s prisoners. The angel came to Peter, smote him on the side, knocked off his chains, opened the gate, and led him out into the street. May you and I do this to some of those who, under conviction of sin, arc smarting and suffering, but have no liberty. Go you to-day, if you have opportunity, and try to smite some sleeper on the side, and speak an earnest word; say to him, “Why sleepest thou, with death and judgment so near?” and when thou seest him aroused, bid him follow thee, as thou shalt open door after door of gracious promise to him, and bring him into the wide street of liberty in Christ by a simple faith. You can all be angels of this kind. It needs not that you be preachers. If you find out the disconsolate, you may bring them to Jesus in the house as well as in the great assembly.

     And, then, beloved, let us also imitate the angels in our ministering comfort to those who are saved. When Elijah was faint under the juniper tree, an angel appeared to him and pointed to a cake that was baked upon the coals. An angel said to Paul when he was on shipboard, “Fear not.” Often have angels visited godly men with this message, “Fear not.” O you that love the Lord, and are happy in him yourselves, be angels in this — comfort others with the same comfort wherewith God has comforted you this day. This very day there may be sitting near you some weeping Hannah who needs a message from God, which can only come to her poor broken heart through your lips. Tell others of the goodness of God, as shown in your experience. Bear your witness to the goodness and lovingkindness of the Shepherd who faileth not his flock, and in this way you shall be angels of mercy to tens of thousands if the Lord spare you and give you opportunity.

     We may imitate angels in another respect— namely, that we may always be watching over souls. You Sabbath-school teachers ought always to be angels. Do we not read of the little ones whom Christ took into his arms and said, “See that ye despise not one of these little ones, for in heaven their angels do always behold the face of God”? Sunday-school teachers, this is your mission — see that you act it out. Angels bear us up in their hands, lest at any time we dash our foot against a stone. “For the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him.” Believers, learn to camp round about your fellow Christians. Help to save them from temptation and sorrow. Bear up in your hands of sympathy such as you can assist. Take away the stumbling-block from the way of any who are apt to fall; bear them up in your hands lest they dash their feet against a stone. You can thus be angels of God here below.

     In addition to all this, is it not written, “Bless the Lord, ye his angels”? “Let all the angels of God worship him”? Well, then, you can be like the angels now by being always in a state of praise. Let no murmur escape your lips; let no complaining dwell on your heart. Praise God, though the sun shines not; praise him though the mists and fog are thickening; praise him though the winds should howl and the rain descend. You are not to be ruled by circumstances. Angels praise him in the night as well as in the day: do you the same.

“Praise him while he lends you breath,
And when your voice is lost in death
Let praise employ your nobler powers.”

     Thus have I set before you the attainments to which we shall come, and the opportunities we have even now by the Holy Ghost’s effectual power of forestalling those attainments. May you be desirous of beginning the angelic life; and remember, the door to it is at Christ’s cross. Go where angels gaze with wonder, and gaze you with repentance. Go with your eyes full of tears for sin, and trust in him who died for sinners, and the Lord of angels shall be your Lord, and the palace of angels shall be your home for ever and ever. Amen.



Crowding to Touch the Saviour

By / Nov 15

Crowding to Touch the Saviour

 

“For he had healed many; insomuch that they pressed upon him for to touch him, as many as had plagues.” — Mark 3:10.

 

OUR Lord had been persecuted, and therefore he put forth many proofs of his power. When opposition attends the gospel it will be the more triumphant; the warnings of the devil prognosticate the success of the word.

     When our Lord Jesus had done much, he was under a sacred necessity to do more; for every one who was healed busied himself in spreading abroad the fame of the beloved Physician, and others labouring under similar infirmities hastened at once to receive the like cure. The more we do for Christ the more we may do, and I think usually the more we must do. If we hold back from Christian labour we may think that but little is required of us; but as soon as we once enter heart and soul into the Master’s service, we shall feel as if we wanted a thousand hands and a hundred lives to overtake the growing demands upon us. I gather from the case before us in the text, that as it was with the Master so will it always be with the servants; their pace of usefulness will increase in geometrical proportion, like that of a falling stone. Healed multitudes will act as willing decoys to attract multitudes of their unhealed friends. If there be any here who have received the grace of God, it will be natural for them to induce others to listen to the word of life, that so they also may find salvation in our exalted Saviour. Thus it is that more and more the kingdom grows, until the strongholds of sin are overthrown and the gates of hell are shaken. The little cloud no bigger than a man’s hand increases till it darkens all the skies, and at last deluges the earth with blessing. Let us take care that we prove not an exception to this blessed rule, never let us by unholy silence rob our Master of one of his best weapons, and the church of her greatest joy. You who are healed should publish abroad in every place the fame of the Friend of Sinners, it is your privilege and your duty.

     In calling your attention to the text, I shall notice the parallel which actually exists, and the fuller parallel which might he expected between the present times and those of the text. I shall then briefly notice the sins which prevent the parallel being carried out. Thirdly, I shall dwell a little upon the grace which invites us to complete the likeness; and then, lastly, utter some cautions which may be useful.

     I. First, the PARALLEL which exists at this moment between these times and the text, and which might be expected more fully to exist.

     Thus it is in the text: Jesus had healed many; these had informed other afflicted ones; these afflicted ones, anxious to obtain the boon, pressed around the Saviour in a mighty throng — every one striving to touch him that he might obtain immediate healing. At this present time, Jesus Christ has healed many. Spiritual sickness is as rife to-dav as bodily sickness was in the period of our Lord’s earthly sojourn; and he is at this hour graciously occupied in healing all kinds of moral deformity and moral disease. To our knowledge some great sinners have been saved. Some who were diseased with drunkenness, with dishonesty, with lasciviousness, have believed in Christ, and have been restored to virtue and to holiness. Surely, this ought to encourage others to hope that better things are possible to them through the Saviour’s healing power.

     The gospel has had free course in the slums of St. Giles; it has worked graciously in the mansions of Bloomsbury: the gospel has been found mighty in Bethnal Green, and it has been victorious in the Westend. A few have been saved of the highest in the land; and not some only, but many of the poor in these last days have found Jesus mighty to save. Many who were lost to all spiritual things have been saved of late; during this last week many believed and were changed in heart. Every Sabbath souls are saved. We may not blazon it in the newspapers, nor parade the work of the Lord in the magazine, but, for all that, God is giving us week after week to see evil men made good. We can assure you that those of us who are pastors, and watch for souls, constantly see Jesus at his gracious work with sin-sick souls. He is to-day healing men of the maladies of their souls.

     Those whom Jesus has healed, have been most thoroughly and effectually restored. The drunkard has not merely been reclaimed for a time, but he has become throughout life a sober, excellent citizen. The depraved and the debased have not been lifted up into a transient hypocritical profession of a religion which they did not understand, but we confidently testify that they have been made new creatures in Christ Jesus, and are now amongst the most honourable members of society. Looking back upon our own observation during a course of years, those of us who are occupied in preaching the gospel, earnestly bear witness that in these degenerate times, as men usually call them, Jesus Christ exalted in the highest heavens is still delivering men from spiritual infirmities, saving them from gross vices and inveterate habits.

     So far the parallel exists, and it would be natural to expect to see it completed. Since many diseased in soul have been healed, it might be reckoned on that great multitudes of men would desire to be saved too. There are crowds of sick folk in every direction; there are many here this morning who are spiritually sick, with eyes that see not God, hearts that throb not with love to him, knees that bow not in earnest prayer, hands withered for all holy service, consciences seared, judgments unbalanced, imaginations perverse. All around us spiritual sicknesses of one kind or another meet our eye; even this house of God is crowded with diseased souls like a huge hospital. Ag for the great outlying population who fear not God, what a scene of plague meets the spiritual eye; what pestilence stalks in public; what disease festers in private! Soul sickness being thus prevalent, and Jesus being still engaged in healing, how is it that the sick folk do not throng to him? How is it that every house in which Christ is preached is not crowded to the doors? Why do not men struggle and thrust one another to hear the glad tidings of redemption from their sins? How is it that they are not earnestly engaged in prayer? One would have thought that every house would have had its sighs, its tears, its groans, until Christ should reveal himself, and the inhabitants should be healed. One would have expected to find whole families engaged in supplications, even to the neglect of worldly business for a time, until their souls were healed. Men lie by awhile with bodily sickness, why not with soul-sickness? We might have imagined that as we walked the streets men would run after us crying, “Men and brethren, what must we do to be saved?” The need of healing is great, the Physician is present — how is it that men sleep on and neglect gracious opportunities which concern their eternal destinies? The parallel is not carried out. Men care nothing about the word of their salvation. If they hear it, they forget it; if some of them remember it, they do not practise it; if for awhile they practise it, their goodness is “as the morning cloud and as the early dew.” The mass of mankind are content to be spiritually blind, and halt, and maimed, and talk as if their wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores, were marks of honour and ensigns of health.

     Now, this would not be wondered at if there were reasonable doubts as to whether Jesus did really heal the souls of men. But there is no doubt on the minds of those who have watched the various cases. Some of us have ourselves been healed, and therefore speak from assured experience. Here standeth a man before you, who by the space of five years was secretly bowed down with despondency and depression of spirits of an unusual sort — one whose life was spent at the very gates of hell, through sorrow of heart when but a youth; yet, in one moment was he lifted into perfect peace, a peace which he would not change with any man beneath the stars; and all that by a simple looking to him who was crucified upon the cross. That one form of healing is a type of others; for all other evils are overcome in the same manner. Jesus can heal you of your pride; he can deliver you from anger; he can cure you of sluggishness, he can purge you from envy, from lasciviousness, from malice, from gluttony, from every form of spiritual malady. And this he can do, not by the torturing processes of penance, or the exhausting labours of superstitious performance, or the fiery ordeals of suffering; but the method is simply a word from him, and a look from you, and all is done. You have but to trust in Jesus and you are saved; saved this morning, made a new creature in an instant; set on your feet again to start upon a new life, with a new power within you, which shall conquer sin. We who bear this testimony claim to be believed; we are not liars. Not even for God’s honour would we palm a pious fraud upon you. We have felt in ourselves the healing power of Christ. We have seen it, and do see it every day, in the cases of others, in persons of all ranks, and of all ages. All who have obeyed the word of Jesus have been made new creatures by his power. It is not one or two of us who bear this witness, there are hundreds who certify to the selfsame fact; not of ministers alone, but of other professions and callings. There are tradesmen here, there are gentlemen here, there are working men here, there are persons high and low here, who could, if this were fitting, rise and say, “We too are witnesses that Christ can heal the soul.”

     Here, then, is the marvel, that those who know this do not immediately throng to Christ to obtain the selfsame blessing. “’Tis strange, ’tis passing strange, ’tis wonderful!” The course of those of whom we read in the text was a rational one. They heard that Christ had healed many, and the true practical logic was, “Let us be healed too!” Where is he? Let us reach him. Are there crowds about him? Let us jostle one another, let us force our way into the mass until we touch him, and feel the healing virtue flowing forth from him.” But men seem to have taken leave of their reason now. They know that the blessing is to be had, an eternal blessing not to be weighed with gold, nor compared with diamonds ; and yet they turn their backs upon it! Selfishness usually attracts men to places where good things are to be had; but here is the chief of all good, the possession of a sound soul, the gaining of a new nature which will fit a man to be a partaker with angels of light in glory, to be had, and to be had freely, yet man, untrue to himself, not even letting a right-minded selfishness govern him, turneth away from the fountain of all goodness, and goeth his way into the wilderness to perish of eternal thirst.

     II. Secondly, and very solemnly, WHAT ARE THE SINS WHICH PREVENT THE CARRYING OUT OF THIS PARALLEL?

     Painful is it to remember that one of the first sins which prevent men from pressing and thronging to touch Christ is ignorance; the sin of wilful ignorance, not knowing what they might know, not knowing in very truth what they have learned in theory. My dear hearers, many of you this morning are unconverted; you are just what you always were, men diseased by sin. You know that Christ is healing souls, and yet you have no desire to be healed, or the desire does not lead you practically to press to him for the blessing. I say one cause of this is your ignorance; you do not know your disease. You do not know the true meaning of these three letters — S, I, N. If I were to put you through a few questions, you would admit the truth that you are sinners, but you do not know the meaning of your own confession. You would confess that you were bora in sin, but then the true meaning of sin has never occurred to you, and the confession is, therefore, good for nothing. If I were to read the bottom of your soul, I should discover deeply engraven there the belief that you are not very guilty, and that all your sins put together amount to nothing very serious. If you had indulged in some gross external act of iniquity you might, perhaps, have perceived its vileness; but you do not see any particular heinousness in those common-place transgressions into which you have fallen, and you are quite ignorant of the evil which lies hidden within them. You are at rest, though God is angry with you. You remain at ease though you bear an unclean disease about you which will shut you out of Paradise. If a man were quite sure that he had a cancer in his breast, and knew that a medicine was to be found which would heal it, if he did not seek the medicine, you would feel confident that he did not know what a cancer meant. So is it with you; you do not know what sin means; you do not know that the smallest sin is the beginning of hell, a spark of the infernal fire, the first cause of that unutterable torment, the smoke of which goeth up for ever and ever. O poor souls, to be so ignorant, where not to know is to be for ever undone. May God’s eternal Spirit shine like the sun into your dark spirit, and reveal yourself to yourself. If I might pray one prevailing prayer for every unconverted one here this morning, it should be this, “Lord, make them to know their present state, and to tremble at it. Oh! if you did but know your danger, and knew the sweetness and efficacy of the remedy; if you did but know the punishment which is coming, and the blessedness of escaping from it, you would be amongst the first to press and throng about the Saviour to obtain healing from him. But ignorance holds many back.

     Akin to ignorance is insensibility. Many men know, but do not feel. The mass of our hearers, the unconverted I mean, have but very little feeling; indeed, spiritually they have none at all, for they are “dead in trespasses and sins.” You may stab a dead man in a thousand places, but he will not cry out. So is it with ungodly men. You may tell them of the love of Christ, the story of which might surely melt a rock, and make the adamant dissolve ; but if they feel any emotion it is but for a moment — a little superficial feeling, no sooner begun than ended, and they go their way to forget it all. The love of the bleeding Immanuel is an idle tale to them. Then the preacher may bid Sinai thunder with all its mighty peals; God himself may be heard in judgments loud and terrible; but, while the forests bow and the rocks are shivered, the obdurate heart remains unmoved. Defiance is hurled by unbelief against Omnipotence itself. In vain we talk of the terrors of God and the judgment to come! In vain we poor preachers endeavour to convey our warning messages in the most affectionate and pathetic terms! Charm we ever so wisely, the deaf adder will not hear, and we go back to our Master and lament, “Who hath believed our report, to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” An awful insensibility has stolen over the natural heart of man, and, therefore it is, that though poisoned through and through with the venom of sin, with Jesus waiting to heal, men crowd not to find the remedy.

     In addition to this insensibility, there grows over unrenewed hearers of the gospel a sad indifference about it all. I do not hear them speak out this indifference openly, but they might almost as well avow it, for they really feel it. There is this kind of indifference: “Well, well, why make so much to do about it? If I am to be saved, I shall be saved ; these things will happen in due time. Meanwhile, why make so much fuss about the soul? Our souls do not pay as a present investment, and we do very well with them as they are. We are at the desk from Monday to Saturday, we are in the shop or in the exchange all day long; really, a man must look to the main chance, and mind his business, or else nowadays he will soon go to the wall.” There is a tacit persuasion among men that the soul does not matter, although few men would have the hardihood to say as much. Yet he who soberly calculates, cannot but know that the soul is of the utmost consequence; for as the life is more than meat, and the body more than raiment, so must the soul be more precious than the body, especially viewing it in the light of immortality. “What can it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” When that funeral bell begins to toll, what avail shall it be to a man that he was learned and famous? that he made so much money and died, as men say, worth so many thousands? How can his wealth serve him if his soul, in all its naked deformity, is bound to stand before its God, its wounds unstanched, its filth unwashed, covered from head to foot with the loathsomeness of its sin? To hear the Judge say, “Get thee hence, thou hast no portion with the blessed, thou art sick unto death, get thee to the abode of the unclean for ever,” will be the everlasting death-knell of all hope. O sirs, you will then wish that you had given up all the world to have found Christ. You will then curse yourselves that you spent your lives in gaining an infinite loss, and hoarded and scraped up mere smoke and ashes. How will you mourn that you gave your minds to things which are not bread, and your labour for that which profiteth not, while you suffered your soul’s weightiest affairs to go by default! Indifferent we may be now; it will be hard to be so indifferent on a dying bed; it will be impossible to be so before the bar of God. Here we may place earth first, but when we come to die, we shall find all mortal things recede. After death what a speck will earth appear! Time’s fleeting concerns will have vanished from our thoughts, except as they linger in our regrets, and add fiercer pangs to our pains. Oh, I pray you give your thoughts to heaven, for your immortal natures demand this of you. Pause awhile! Be sober! Give scope and room to sound judgment! Trifle not with eternity. If you must forget any part of your manhood, let it be the part which shall so soon be worm’s meat, and melt back to mother earth; but, O rob not your souls, defraud not your spirits, be not indifferent to your own best welfare.

     Men press not to Christ as we should expect they would, because they procrastinate so inveterately. Delay is the devil’s great net. All men mean to repent. Alas! they will repent one day that they did not repent at once. Most men intend to believe in Jesus; but they put off believing till there will be no Saviour in whom to trust. It is always to-morrow with men. Archias, the Grecian ruler, was met one night by a friendly messenger, who brought a communication informing him that he was to be assassinated at a feast. Archias, being in a merry mood, would not read the letter just then. Why should he, as he was going to a banquet? “But,” said the messenger, “it contains serious things.” “Well, well,” said he, “serious things to-morrow.” He died, bearing about him the message which would have saved his life if he had read it. Thousands are saying, “Serious things to-morrow!” and so they die, and what is more, they are damned bearing the warning about them which was meant to arouse them. Why will men thus go blindfolded to destruction? God forgive some of you for having delayed so long, and may you be moved by his eternal love to persevere no longer in such a course! Hear, I beseech you, the word which saith, “To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts “To-day is the accepted time, to-day is the day of salvation!”

     There is another reason: men come not to Christ to seek healing for their souls because they really love the disease. It is a part of the madness of sin and the folly of iniquity that it fascinates men into a love of itself. If men did not love unrighteousness they would not be unrighteous; if men did not love in their hearts disobedience to God, and the pleasures of the flesh, they would no longer be disobedient, but would yield to God at once. When we have to deal with sinners about their souls, there is this difficulty, that instead of desiring to be saved, with many of them, this is the last thing they would wish for. If to be saved meant to be delivered from going down to hell, they would like that well enough; but since it means something more, namely, being saved from their sins, saved from being any longer slaves to their lusts, they care not for such a salvation. They would rather be spiritually crooked, and blind, and lame; they do not desire the holy sanity of spiritual manhood; they would rather bear about them the deformity of sin, because their perverted minds have gathered a taste for that which destroys them; and they perceive, or think they do, light in that which is darkness, and sweetness in that which is bitter. Will not the drunkard take the cup at all hazards? Ah! have I not seen him poison himself wilfully with his excess? When year after year he has undermined his constitution, and is at death’s door, will he not grieve, and even shed tears if from poverty, sent in mercy to him, he is unable to get that drink which is ruining him? And will not men who have given way to their passions, when they know that mischief will follow, when they have already smarted from it, go on in sin like the sheep which follows the butcher into the very shambles? Oh! the madness, the raving madness of men. The basilisk eyes of the old serpent enchant poor foolish humanity, so that it sits still to be devoured and has no will to escape. Men hug their chains and kiss their fetters; they talk of happiness when they are standing over the mouth of hell, and in a few short months or days will fall into the devouring fire. Madness reigns in the human heart. O God, remove it; remove it from each one of my hearers this morning, that not one may choose his own delusions, and select for himself a course which must inevitably end in unmeasured misery.

     Thus I have tried as best I could, to point out the sins which prevent men from thronging to Christ. But I feel that I speak too coldly upon a theme which charms my heart, and I fear you listen to this matter, you unconverted ones, as though it were of no great concern to you — when oh! within the next hour or two, it may receive an importance which you have not dreamed of yet. Poor dying creatures that we are, at our very longest so short-lived and so apt to be caught away in a moment, how is it that we can sport and trifle with the things which more concern us than all else beside? For what are houses and lands, what are stocks and exchanges, what are all our belongings, what even the body itself, and these eyes, and hands, and this tongue, compared with the soul, which is our essential self, our very being? If our souls be unsound, if our spirit be rotting with the disease of sin, if we be therefore as lepers shut out from heaven and God forever, oh! misery of miseries — what can make up for this, if it were but for an hour? But when it is for eternity, and the soul is lost for ever, what can compensate? Ah! dear hearers, run not the risk, but crowd to the Saviour to-day who is so willing to receive you now.

     III. This brings me, in the third place, to notice THE GRACE WHICH INVITES us this morning to complete the parallel of the text.

     Christ is healing souls. Grace invites us to do as the text saith, namely, to press upon him to touch him, as many of us as have plagues. Think now what facts invite you to come to Christ! In the first place, dear hearers, you are spared in this world; and with some of you this is no small wonder. You have passed, it may be, through great perils; you were sick of the fever; you were laid low with cholera; you have been in shipwreck; you have escaped from a calamitous fire; you have been in eminent peril many and many a time. It is a wonder to all who know you that you are alive, and it is most of all a wonder to yourself. Account that the longsuffering of God is salvation, and is meant to lead you to repentance. He has spared you that you might not die until you had found mercy. Thus his eternal mandate ran: “Spare that man till he hath yielded me his heart, for I have loved him with an everlasting love, and I will not suffer death and hell to take him; he is mine and he shall live till he repent.” Is it not so? May not God have sent me here this morning to tell you that it is so? You have been suffered to live where others have perished, because God has a special regard for you. I talked with one some years ago who rode in the charge of Balaclava, when the shots were emptying the saddles all around, as in obedience to orders, the troops galloping on to death’s mouth. I could not but look upon him with awe, hoping that he was one for whom God had a peculiar regard. Now, you aged men who have been spared till now, your companions have fallen on the right hand and on the left; how death has emptied the saddles of those around you! Those who kept shop in the same street; those who went to school with you, your playmates, your relatives, your brothers, your cousins; they are nearly all gone, and you are here! What are you here for? Why, methinks, to say this morning, “I will arise, and go unto my Father; I will tell him I have sinned against him; I will ask his mercy.” Let the fact of your being spared induce you to seek Christ.

     There is another encouragement for you in the fact that you are spared to hear the gospel. You did not always hear it, and you do not, even now, always hear it; but you are brought this morning to listen to one who would fain, by the Holy Spirit’s power, bring you to Christ, and who, speak as he may, desires to speak out of love to your soul. It is a great mercy that you have been permitted to hear the gospel after having so many times repelled its warnings and forgotten its admonitions.

“Still doth his good Spirit strive,
With the chief of sinners dwell.”

I do not believe that the gospel has been sent into this place this morning to be preached for nothing. I will not believe that my Master directed me to stand in this pulpit and address you without intending that some of you should, by his Spirit’s power, comply with the divine request which is so much for your own profit. The gospel is preached unto you, and God has not sent it with the intention that after you have heard it you should seek mercy and not find it. Oh! no, God does not tantalise, he does not mock the sons of men. He bids you come to him. Repent and believe, and you shall be saved. If you come with a broken heart, trusting in Christ, there is no fear that he will reject you; else he would not have sent the gospel to you. Beloved, there is nothing that so delights Jesus Christ as to save sinners. I never find that he was in a huff because they pressed about him to touch him. Nay, but it gave him divine pleasure to give forth his healing power. You who are in trade are never happier than when business is brisk; and my Lord Jesus, who follows the trade of soul-winning, is never happier than when his great business is moving on rapidly. What pleasure it gives a physician when at last he brings a person through a severe illness into health! I think the medical profession must be one of the happiest engagements in the world when a man is skilful in it. Our Lord Jesus feels a most divine pleasure as he bends over a broken heart and binds it up. It is the very heaven of Christ’s soul to be doing good to the sons of men. You misjudge him if you think he wants to be argued with and persuaded to have mercy; he gives it as freely as the sun pours forth light, as the heavens drop with dew, and as clouds yield their rain. It is his honour to bless sinners; it makes him a name, and an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. I know I once belied him: when I felt my sins to be a great burden, I said within myself, “I will go to Jesus, but perhaps he will reject me;” I thought I had much to feel and to do to make myself ready for him ; and I therefore did this and that, but the more I did the worse I became. I was like the woman who spent her money on physicians, and was nothing better, but rather grew worse. At last I found it was of no use , and when I fully understood that there was life in a look at Christ, that all which was wanted was for me simply to trust, to come as I was and put my case into his dear pierced hands, and leave it there — I could not think it could be so; it seemed so simple — how could it be true? Was that all? I thought when I came to him he would say to me, “Sinner, you have rejected me so long, you have mocked me by saying prayers which you did not feel; you have been a hypocrite and joined with God’s people in singing my praises when you did not praise me in your heart.” I thought he would chide me, and bring ten thousand sins to my remembrance. Instead of that, it was but a word, and it was all done. I looked to him , the burden was gone. I could have sung, “Hosanna! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, with pardon in his right hand and acceptance in his left, with abundant blessings to the least deserving of the sons of men.” Now, my dear hearers, I have to tell you that Jesus Christ abides in the same ability to save as he had in the days of his flesh. He ever liveth to make intercession for sinners, and is therefore able to save to the uttermost them that come unto him: and it is still true that him that cometh he will in no wise cast out. There has never been an instance of a man that trusted Christ and perished, and there never shall be an instance. Murderers have tried it, and blood-red murder has been washed out by the crimson blood of Jesus. Harlots have tried it, and have sat at the feet of Jesus and washed them with their tears for very joy. Thieves have tried it; the adulterer, the whoremonger, the most debauched and depraved have come to the cross, and have obtained mercy through the precious blood. None are excluded who desire to come and who sincerely trust in Christ to save them. I pray you, therefore, listen to our tearful invitation, and stand not back through shame or fear, for Jesus still is able and willing to save all who trust him.

     Do I need to enlarge upon this? Perhaps so; but our time fails. I know if you are insensible to your need of Jesus, and do not care about being made whole, you are not likely to come for any drawings of mine; but if you are awakened in any degree by the Holy Spirit, let me take hold of your hand and say, My dear friend, do not delay trusting Christ; do not entertain a hope that it will ever be easier to trust Jesus than it is now; do not think that you will ever be in a better state for coming than you are in now. The best state in all the world for washing is to be filthy; the best state in all the world to obtain help from a physician is to be sore sick; the best state for asking alms is to be a beggar. Do not try to patch up those rags, nor to improve your character, nor to make yourself better before you come to Christ. Come in all your poverty and vileness, just as you are, and say to him, “My Lord and my God, thou hast suffered as a man for all the sins of all those who trust thee: I trust thee; accept me, give me peace and joy.” And tell the world, I pray you, whether he accepts you or no. If he casts you away you will be the very first — then let us know of it; but if he receives you, you will be but one among ten thousand who have been thus accepted — then publish it to the confirming of our faith.

     IV. Lastly, I have one or two CAUTIONS to mention, which seem to me to be needful in such a case. “He had healed many, insomuch that they pressed upon him to touch him as many as had plagues.” Our first caution is When there is a gracious — never be content in with merely pressing upon Christ. When there is a gracious season in a church, and persons are converted, many rest satisfied because they have been in the congregation where works of mercy have been performed. It is dreadful to reflect that we have in all our assemblies men and women who are perfectly satisfied with having spent the Sunday in a place of worship. Now, suppose the case of a man having the leprosy, who goes to the place where Jesus is; he sees the people thronging to get near, and he joins in the press; he pushes on for a certain length of time, and then he comes back perfectly content because he has joined with the crowd. The next day the great Master is dispensing healing virtue right and left, and this same man joins in the throng, and once more elbows himself tolerably near to the Saviour, and then retires. “Well,” he says, “I got into the crowd; I pressed and squeezed, and made my way, and so I was in the way, perhaps I might have got a blessing.” Now that would be precisely similar to the condition of hundreds and thousands of people who go to a place of worship on Sunday. There is the gospel; they come to hear it; they come next Sunday, there is the gospel again; they listen to it, and they go their way each time. “Fool!” say you to the man with the leprosy, “why, you did nothing; getting into the crowd was nothing; if you did not touch the Lord who dispensed the healing, you lost all your time; and besides, you incurred responsibility because you got near to him, and yet for want of putting out your hand to touch him, you lost the opportunity.” So you, good people, who come to this chapel, or go to any other place of worship where Jesus Christ is faithfully preached, you come and go, and come and go continually; and what fools you are, what gross fools, to get into the throng and to be satisfied with that, and never touch Christ! Tell me of your church-goings and your chapel-goings! They are not a morsel of use to you unless you touch the Saviour through them. Your occupying of that pew for a space of twenty years, your going to a place of worship twice every Sunday, your attendance on the weeknight, all this is only so much responsibility, but not a grain of blessing to you unless you are really come to Jesus Christ. You are right to come to the services, just as they were right to press into the crowd; but you are wrong if you stop there, just as that leprous man would have been had he been foolishly content to have pressed into the throng without getting near to Christ. And yet, is not this the conduct of a great many of you? It is getting serious too. You have been chapelgoers, perhaps, for thirty or forty years; and are you a bit the better? Your mother took you in her arms to the sanctuary; you went to the Sunday-school; you have been always in the way of the means of grace; and yet, for the lack of one thing, a real trusting in Christ, you are perishing in your sin. Living water flows at your feet, but you do not drink; living bread is upon the table, but you have not eaten ; divine pardon is before you, and you will not put out your hand to take it; heaven’s gate is set wide open, and you are content to turn your back upon it.

     I must caution you, again, not to be content with touching those who are healed. There were many in the crowd, who, having touched the Master, clapped their hands and said, “Glory be to God, my withered arm is restored,” “My eyes are opened,” “My dropsy has vanished,” “My palsy is gone.” One after another they praised God for his great wonders; and sometimes their friends who were sick would go away with them and say, “What a mercy! Let us go home together.” They would hear all about it, and talk about it, and tell it to others; but all the while, though they rejoiced in the good that was done to others, and sympathised in it, they never touched Jesus for themselves. It is very dangerous work for some of you Sunday-school teachers, when you are the means of bringing dear children to Christ, and yet do not come yourselves. Noah’s carpenters built the ark, but were all drowned. Oh, I pray you, be not satisfied with talking about revivals, and hearing about conversions, get an interest in them. Let nothing content any one of us but actual spiritual contact with the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us never give sleep to our eyes or slumber to our eyelids, till we have really looked to that great sacrifice which God has lifted up for the sins of men. Let us not think of Christ as another man’s Saviour, but be passionately in earnest till we get him for our own. If he be not ours to-day, to-day let us lay hold on him. I cannot endure the thought of your going out of this house of prayer before you are saved. Remember, salvation work does not require months and years. If you look to Christ at this very moment, you shall have your sins as much forgiven as if you were seventy years a Christian, for there is no difference here between the new-born babe in Christ, and the most advanced veteran in the Christian army. If thou only lookest now, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt this day begin the new life, and God shall be glorified in that new life until he takes thee up to dwell with himself for ever. Dost thou know what it is to trust Christ? I do not know how to explain it better than by dwelling on the word itself — trust. It is a reliance, a dependence. The old divines used to call it a recumbency. It is a leaning all your weight on Christ, giving up your own power and depending on him. Dr. Watts puts it thus —

“A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall;
Be thou my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus and my all.”

But still, people will not understand us. A young man once said to me, “I want to know what I must do to be saved.” I reminded him of that verse. He said, “Sir, I cannot fall.” “Oh,” said I, “you do not understand me. I do not mean a fall which wants any strength in you; I mean a fall caused by the absence of all strength.” It is to tumble down into Christ’s arms because you cannot stand upright. Faint into the arms of Christ; that is faith. Just give up doing, give up depending upon anything that you are, or do, or ever hope to be, and depend upon the complete merits, and finished work, and precious blood of Jesus Christ. If you do this you are saved. Anything of your own doing spoils it all. You must not have a jot or a tittle of your own; you must give up relying upon your prayers, your tears, your baptism, your repentance, and even your faith itself. Your reliance is to be on nothing but that which is in Christ Jesus. Those dear hands, those blessed feet, are ensigns of his love — look to them. That bleeding, martyred, murdered person is the grand display of the heart of the ever blessed God. Look to it. Look to the Saviour’s pangs, griefs, and groans. These are punishments for human sin. This is God’s wrath spending itself on Christ instead of spending itself on the believer. Believe in Jesus, and it is certain that he thus suffered for you. Trust in him to save you, and you are saved. God grant you the privilege of faith, and the boon of salvation. Amen.