The Overflowing Cup

By / Jun 22

The Overflowing Cup

 
“My cup runneth over.” — Psalm xxiii. 5.

 

THE psalm culminates in this expression. The poet can mount no higher. He has endeavoured to express the blessedness of his condition, in having the Lord for his shepherd, but after all his efforts he is conscious of failure. His sonnet has not reached the height of the great argument, nor has his soul, though enlarged with gratitude, been able to compass the immeasurable gifts of grace, and therefore in holy wonder at the lavish superfluities of mercy he cries, “My cup runneth over.” In one short but most expressive sentence he does as good as say, “Not only have I enough, but more than enough; I possess not only all that I am capable of containing, but I inherit an excess of joy, a redundancy of blessing, an extravagance of favour, a prodigality of love; — my cup runneth over.”

     We do not know when David wrote this psalm. There seems, however, to be no period of his life in which he could have used this expression in reference purely to his temporal circumstances. In his youth he was a shepherd boy and kept his father’s flock, and in such an occupation there were many hardships and discomforts, in addition to which he appears to have been the object of the ill-will of his brothers. He was not dandled on the knee of luxury, nor pampered with indulgences; his was a hardy life abroad, and a trying course at home, and unless he had been deeply spiritual, and therefore found contentment in his God, he could not have said, “My cup runneth over.” When he had come forth into public life, and lived in the courts of Saul, and even had become the king’s son-in-law, his position was far too perilous to afford him joy. The king hated him, and sought his life many times, and if it were not that he spoke of grace and not of outward circumstances, he could not then have said, “My cup runneth over.” During the period of his exile, his haunts were in the dens and caves of the mountains, and the lone places of the wilderness, to which he fled for his life like a hunted partridge. He had no rest for the sole of his foot; his thirst after the ordinances of God’s house was intense, and his companions were not such as to afford him solace: surely it could only have been in reference to spiritual things that he could then have said, “My cup runneth over.” When he came to be king over Israel, his circumstances, though far superior to any which he may have expected to reach, were very troublous ones for a long season. The house of Saul warred against him, and then the Philistines took up arms; he passed from war to war, and marched from conflict to conflict. A king’s position is in itself a thorny place, but this king had been a man of war from his youth up, so that, apart from the grace of God and the choice blessings of the covenant, he could not even on the throne have been able to say, “My cup runneth over.”

     In his later days, after his great sin with Bathsheba, his troubles were incessant, and such as must have well nigh broken the old man’s heart. You remember the cry, “O Absalom, my son, my son! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” That was the close of a long trial from his graceless favourite; a trial which had been preceded by many others, in which first one member of his family and then another departed from the paths of right; nor did it close the chapter of his adversities, for the troubles of his heart were enlarged even to the last, and the good old man had to say upon his deathbed that, though he rejoiced in the sure covenant of God, yet his house was not so with God as his heart could have desired. We cannot, therefore, take the text and say, “This is the exclamation of a man in easy circumstances, who was never tried; this was the song of a favourite of providence, who never knew an ungratified wish.” Not so. David was a man of troubles; he bore the yoke in his youth, and was chastened in all his old age. You have before you, not a Croesus whose long prosperity became itself a terror, nor an Alexander whose boundless conquests only excited new ambitions, nor even a Solomon whose reign was unbroken peace and commercial gain, but David, the man who cried, “Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts; all thy waves and thy billows have gone over me.” So did the spiritual outweigh the natural, that the consolations of the son of Jesse exceeded his tribulation, and even in his most troublous times there were bright seasons of fellowship with the Lord, in which he joyfully said, “My cup runneth over.”

     Let us think of some cups which never run over; and then consider, if ours runs over, why it docs so; and then, thirdly, what then?

     I. SOME MEN S CUPS NEVER RUN OVER. Many even fail to be filled because taken to the wrong source. Such are the cups which are held beneath the drippings of the world’s leaky cistern. Men try to find full satisfaction in wealth, but they never do. Pactolus fills no man’s cup, that power belongs exclusively to the river whose streams make glad the city of God. As to money, every man will have enough when he has a little more, but contentment with his gains comes to no man. Wealth is not true riches, neither are men’s hearts the fuller because their purses are heavy. Men have thought to fill their cups out of the foul pools of what they call “pleasure,” but all in vain, for appetite grows, passion becomes voracious, and lust, like a horse-leech, crieth, “Give, give.” Like the jaws of death and the maw of the sepulchre, the depraved heart can never be satisfied. At the polluted pool of pleasure no cup was ever yet filled though thousands have been broken; it is a corrosive liquor which eats into the pitcher, and devours the vessel into which it flows. Some have tried to fill their souls with fame: they have aspired to be great among their fellow-men, and to wear honourable titles earned in war, or gained in study. But satisfaction is not created by the highest renown; you shall turn to the biographies of the great, and perceive that in their secret hearts they never gained contentment from the grandest successes they achieved. Perhaps, if you had to look out the truly miserable, you would do better to go to the Houses of Parliament and to the palaces of those who govern nations, than to the purlieus of poverty, for awful misery is full often clothed in scarlet, and agony feasts at the table of kings. From the sparkling founts of fame no cups are filled. Young man, you are just starting in life, you have the cup in your hand, and you want to fill it, let us warn you (those of us who have tried the world) that if cannot fill your soul, not even with such poor sickly liquor as it offers you. It will pretend to fill, but fill it never can. There is a craving of the soul which can never be satisfied, except by its Creator. In God only is the fulness of the heart, which he has made for himself.

     Some cups are never filled, for the excellent reason that the bearers of them suffer from the grievous disease of natural discontent. All unconverted men are not equally discontented, but some are intensely so. You can no more fill the heart of a discontented man than you can fill a cup which has the bottom knocked out. A contented man may have enough, but a discontented man never can; his heart is like the Slough of Despond, into which thousands of waggon loads of the best material were cast, and yet the slough did swallow up all, and was none the better. Discontent is a bottomless bog into which if one world were cast it would quiver and heave for another. A discontented man dooms himself to the direst form of poverty, yea, he makes himself so great a pauper that the revenues of empires could not enrich him. Are you the victims of discontent? Young men, do you feel that you never can be contented while you are apprentices? Are you impatient in your present position? Believe me that, as George Herbert said of incomes in times gone by, “He that cannot live on twenty pounds a year cannot live on forty,” so may I say: he who is not contented in his present position will not be contented in another though it brought him double possessions. If you were to accumulate property, young man, until you became enormously rich, yet, with that same hungry heart in your bosom you would still pine for more. When the vulture of dissatisfaction has once fixed its talons in the breast it will not cease to tear at your vitals. Perhaps you are no longer under tutors and governors, but have launched into life on your own account, and yet you are displeased with providence. You dreamed that if you were married, and had your little ones about you, and a house, all your own, then you would be satisfied: and it has come to pass, but now scarcely anything contents you. The meal provided to-day was not good enough for you, the bed you will lie upon to-night will not be soft enough for you, the weather is too hot or too cold, too dry or too damp. You scarcely ever meet with one of your fellow-men who is quite to your mind: he is too sharp and rough-tempered, or else he is too easy, and has “no spirit;” your type of a good man you never see: the great men are all dead and the true men fail from this generation. Some of you cannot be made happy, you are never right till everything is wrong, nor bearable until you have had your morning’s growl. There is no pleasing you. I know men who if they were in Paradise would find fault with the glades of Eden, and would propose to turn the channels of its rivers, and shift the position of its trees. If the serpent were excluded, they would demand liberty for him to enter, and would grow indignant at his exclusion. They would criticise the music of the angels, find fault with the cherubim, and grow weary of white robes and harps of gold: or as a last resource they would become angry with a place so completely blessed as not to afford them a corner for the indulgence of their spiteful censures. For such unrestful minds the cup which runneth over is not prepared.

     Some, too, we know whose cup never will run over, because they are envious. They would be very well satisfied with what they have, but some one else has more, and they cannot bear it. If they see another in a better position in society they long to bring him down to their level. There are vices peculiar to the rich, but this is one of the ready faults of poverty. Now, surely, friend, if you find your own lot hard to bear you cannot wish another man to suffer it too: if your case be a hard one, you should be glad that others are not equally afflicted. It is a happy thing when a man gets rid of envy, for then he rejoices in the joy of others; and with a secret appropriation which is far removed from anything like theft, he calls everything that belongs to other men his own, for he is rich in their riches, glad in their gladness, and above all happy that they are saved. Some of us have known what it is to doubt our own salvation, and yet feel that we must always love Jesus Christ for saving other people. I charge you cast out envy! The green dragon is a very dangerous guest in any man’s home. Remember, it may lurk in the hearts of very good men. A preacher may not be able to appreciate the gifts of another preacher, because they seem to be more attractive than his own. Good people when they see another useful are too much in the habit of saying, “Yes, but he does not do this,” or, “She does not do that,” and the remark is made, “He is very useful but very crotchety;” as if there ever was a man who did anything in this world that was not crotchety. Their very crotchets (which are uncomfortable things) God often overrules to be the power of the men and women whom he means to employ in striking out new paths of usefulness. What you call imprudence may be faith, and what you condemn as obstinacy may only be strength of mind needful for persevering under difficulties. Bless God for gracious men as you find them, and do not want them to be other than they are. When divine grace has renewed them, help them all you can and make the best use you can of them, and if their bell does not ring out the same note as yours, and you cannot change its tone, and yet you feel that your note would be discordant to theirs, pray God to tune your bell to harmony with theirs, that from the sacred steeple there may ring out a holy, hallowed, harmonious chime, through the union of all the bells and all their tones, in the sole praise of God. Envy prevents many cups from running over.

     So, once more, in the best of men unbelief is sure to prevent the cup running over. You cannot get into the condition of the psalmist while you doubt your God. Note well how he puts it. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” He has no fears, or forebodings, or doubts; he has given a writing of divorce between his soul and anxiety, and now he says, “My cup runneth over.” What are you fretting about, my sister? What is the last new subject for worry? If you have fretted all your life, your husband, your children, and your servants have had a sad time of it. Your husband feels with regard to you, “Good woman, I know nothing in which I could find fault with her, except that she finds fault with others, and that she grieves when there is no cause for grieving.” May the Lord be pleased to string your harp so that it may not give forth such jarring notes as it now does, but may yield the joyful music of praise. Your great need is a more childlike faith in God. Take God’s word and trust it, and, good sister, your cup will run over too. What is your trouble, brother? You were smiling just now at the thought of how some women were troubled, for you thought, “Ah, they do not have the cares men have in business!” Little do you know. There is a burden for women to carry which is as heavy as that of their husbands and brothers. But what is your distress? Is it one that you dare not tell to God? Then what business have you with it? Is it one which you cannot tell to God? What is there in your heart that forbids your unburdening it? Is it one which you refuse to tell to God? Then it will be a trouble and a curse to you, and it will grow heavier and heavier till it will crush you to the earth. But, oh, come and tell your great Helper! You believe in God for your soul, believe in Him about your property; believe in God about your sick wife or your dying child; believe in God about your losses and bad debts and declining business. A bosom bare before the Lord is needful to perfect satisfaction. I have proved God, and I speak what I do know: I have had a care that has troubled me, which I could scarcely communicate to another without, perhaps, making it worse: I have done my best, and I have prayed over it but have not seen a way of escape, and at last I have left it with God, feeling that if he did not solve it, it must go unsolved. I have resolved that I would have nothing more to do with it, and when I have done that the difficulty has disappeared, and in its disappearance I have found an additional reason for confidence in God, and have been able again to say, “My cup runneth over.”

     We must walk by faith with both feet. Some try to walk by faith with the left foot, but their right foot they will not lift from the earth, and therefore they make no progress at all. Wholly by faith, wholly by faith must we live. He who learns to do that will soon say, “My cup runneth over.”

     I have not time to enlarge, although much more might be said, for there are cups which never have run over, and never will.

     II. But now, secondly, WHY DOES OUR CUP RUN OYER? Assuming that we have really believed in Jesus, and that not with a wavering faith, but in downright solemn earnest, then joy will follow our faith. Our cup runs over, first, because, having Christ, we have in him all things. “He that spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him, also, freely give us all things?”

“This world is ours, and worlds to come:
Earth is our lodge, and heaven our home.”

Between here and heaven there is nothing we shall want but what God has supplied. The promise is, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” As the old Puritan puts it, earthly comforts are like paper and string, which you need not go to buy, for you will have them given to you when you purchase more valuable things. Seek the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Our God is not like the Duke of Alva, who promised to spare the lives of certain Protestants and then denied them food, so that they died of starvation. He does not give us eternal life and then deny us that which is needful to the securing of it. He will give us manna all the way from Goshen to Canaan, and cause the gushing rock to follow us all the time we are in the wilderness. “No good thing will I withhold from them that walk uprightly.” “Thy shoes shall be iron and brass, and as thy days so shall thy strength be.” I had climbed a hill the other day, and as I went down the steep side a sharp stone made a tremendous gash in my shoe, and then I thought of that promise, “Thy shoes shall be iron and brass.” If the road be rough a strong shoe shall fit the foot for it. As with the Israelites, their feet did not swell, neither did their garments wax old upon them, so shall it be with you. You shall find all things in God and God in all things.

     But there is another reason why our cups run over. They run over because the infinite God himself is ours. “The Lord is my shepherd.” “My God,” the psalmist styles him. One of the most delightful renderings ever employed in a metrical translation of the Psalms is that of the old Scotch version of Psalm xlii.

“For yet I know I shall him praise,
Who graciously to me
The health is of my countenance;
Yea, mine own God is he.”

     I feel as if I could stop preaching and fall to repeating the words, “Mine own God,” “Mine own God,” for the Lord is as much my God as if there were no one else in the world to claim him. Stand back ye angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, and all ye hosts redeemed by blood! Whatever may be your rights and privileges, ye cannot lessen my inheritance. Assuredly all of God is mine — all his fulness, all his attributes, all his love, all himself, all, all is mine, for he hath said, “I am thy God.” What a portion is this! What mind can compass it? O, believer, see here your boundless treasure! Will not your cup run over now? What cup can hold your God? If your soul were enlarged and made as wide as heaven you could not hold your God; and if you grew and grew and grew till your being were as vast as seven heavens, and the whole universe itself were dwarfed in comparison with your capacity, yet still you could not contain him who is infinite. Truly, when you know by faith that Father, Son, and Spirit are all your own in covenant, your cup must run over.

     But when do we feel this? When do we see that our cup runs over? I think it is first when we receive a great deal more than we ever prayed for. Has not that been your happy case? Mercy has come to your house, and you have said, “Whence is this to me? I never dared to seek so great a boon.” “He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above what we ask or even think.” You knelt down and prayed God to deliver you in trouble; he has done it, but instead of just barely carrying you through he has set your feet in a large room, and you have said, “Is this the manner of man, O Lord God? Hadst thou delivered me by the skin of my teeth I had been grateful, but now my cup runneth over.” You asked the Lord to give you sufficient for the day, and, see, he has bestowed upon you a great many worldly comforts, and his blessing with them all. Must you not say, “My cup runneth over”? You asked him to save your eldest daughter; but in his infinite mercy he has been pleased to convert several of your children, perhaps all. You began to teach in the Sunday-school, and you prayed to the Lord to give you one soul. Why, he has given you a score. Will you not say, “My cup runneth over”? When I began to preach I am sure my little meeting-house seemed large enough, and my sphere sufficiently extensive; and if the Lord had said to me, “I will give thee a thousand souls as thy reward before thou shalt go to heaven,” I should have been overjoyed, and cried my eyes out with weeping for delight; but now how many thousands has he given me to be the seals of my ministry! My cup runs over! My God has dealt with me beyond all my expectations or desires! It is the way of him! He gives like a king! He has outstripped my poor prayers, and left my faith far in the rear. I am persuaded, beloved, that many of you know many things concerning God which you never asked to know, you possess covenant blessings which you never sought for, and you are in the enjoyment of attainments which you did not think it possible for you to gain; so that the cup of your prayer has been filled to the brim and it runs over. Glory be to the all-bounteous Lord.

     So has it been with the cup of our expectation, for we ask many things and then from want of expecting them we fail to receive them. But have you not indulged large expectations, some of you? Have you not had your day-dreams in which you pictured to yourself what a Christian might do? But the Lord has given you more than imagination pictured. You sat at mercy’s gate and said, “Would God I might but enter to sit among the hired servants;” but he has made you to sit at the table, and killed for you the fatted calf. You were shivering in your rags, and you said, “Would God I might be washed from this filthiness, and my nakedness clothed a little!” but he has brought forth the best robe and put it on you. You said, “Oh, that I had a little joy and peace!” But, lo! he has made music and dancing for you, and your spirit rejoices abundantly in the God of your salvation. I will ask any Christian here if Christ is not a good Christ? You know when Henry the Eighth married Anne of Cleves, Holbein was sent to paint her picture, with which the king was charmed, but when he saw the original his judgment was very different, and he expressed disgust instead of affection. The painter had deceived him. Now, no such flatteries can ever be paid to our Lord Jesus Christ, the painters, I mean the preachers, all fall short, they have no faculty with which to set forth beauties so inexpressibly charming, so beyond ail conception of mind and heart. The best things which have ever been sung by adoring poets, written by devout authors, or poured forth by seraphic preachers ail fall below the surpassing excellence of our Redeemer. His living labours and his dying love have a value all their own; there are great surprises yet in store for those who know the Saviour best. Jesus has filled the cup of our expectation till it runneth over. And I may say the same of every mercy that he has brought in his hand; it has been a richer mercy, a rarer mercy, a more loving mercy, a more rapturous mercy, a fuller mercy, a more lasting mercy than ever we thought it possible for us to receive.

     I speak to some who live by faith in their Lord’s service. You have learned to expect great things, my brethren and sisters, and you will learn to expect greater things still. But has not God always kept pace with our expectation? Has he not outrun us? Has he not prevented us with his kindness? The path of a man who lives by faith is like a gigantic staircase; it winds up, up, up, in God’s sight, into the clear crystal; but as far as we are concerned it seems to wind its way amongst dense clouds, full often dark as night. Every step we take we stand firmly on a slab of adamant, but we cannot see the next landing place for our foot; it looks as if we were about to plunge into an awful gulf, but we venture on, and the next step is firm beneath our feet. We have ascended higher and higher, and yet the mysterious staircase still pierces the clouds, and we cannot see a step of the way. We have found our Jacob’s ladder hitherto to be firm as the everlasting hills: and so we climb on, and we mean to do so, with the finger of God as our guide, his smile as our light, and his power as our support. The blessed voice is calling us, and our feet are borne upward by the summons, climbing on and on in the firm belief that when our flesh shall fail our soul shall find herself standing on the threshold of the new Jerusalem. Go on, beloved! God will do far more than you expect him to do, and you shall sing, “My cup runs over.”

     Sometimes, too, the text is true of the Christian’s joy, “My cup runneth over.” The other night as I sat among our young men in the ministry, and we were all singing, “I am so glad that Jesus loves me,” I did not wonder that the writer of that piece made them repeat that delightful truth over and over again. “I am so glad that Jesus loves me.” You can excuse monotonies, repetitions, and tautologies when that dear word is ringing in the ear “Jesus loves me,” “Jesus loves me,” “Jesus loves me:” ring that bell again and yet again. What need of change when you have reached a perfect joy? Why ask variety when you cannot conceive of anything more sweet? There is music, both in the sound and the sense, and there is enough of weight, and force, and power in the simple utterance of “Jesus loves me” to allow of its being repeated hundreds of times and yet never palling upon the ear. Now and then I hear of an interruption of a sermon by a person who has found the Saviour: how I wish we were often interrupted in that way! I wonder when men first learn that Jesus suffered in their stead that they do not shout and make the walls ring again. Surely it is enough to make them. What a blessing it would be if that old Methodist fire, which flamed so furiously in men’s souls that they were forced to let the sparks fly up the chimney in hearty expressions, would but blaze away in our cold, formal assemblies. Come, let us pour out a libation of praise from our overflowing cups, while we say again “I am so glad that Jesus loves me.” Have you not sat down when you have been alone and felt, “I am so happy because I am saved, forgiven, justified, a child of God, I am beloved of the Lord. This fills me with such joy that I can hardly contain myself”? Why, if anyone had come to you at such a time and said, “There is a legacy of ten thousand pounds left you,” you would have snuffed at it; and felt “What is that? I have infinitely more than that, for I am a joint heir with Christ. My beloved is mine and I am his. ‘My cup runneth over.’ I have too much joy. ‘I am so glad that Jesus loves me.’”

     At such times our gratitude ought to run over too. Our poet’s gratitude ran over when he wrote that remarkable stanza —

“Through all eternity, to thee
My grateful song I’ll raise;
But, oh, eternity’s too short
To utter half thy praise.”

     I have heard cold critics condemn that verse, and therein prove their incompetence to enjoy poetry. Would they cramp the language of love by the rules of grammar? May not enthusiasm be allowed a language of its own? It is true it is incorrect to speak of eternity as “too short,” but the inaccuracy is strictly accurate, when love interprets it. When a cup runs over it does not drip, drip, at so many drops per minute, it leaps down in its own disorderly fashion, and so does the grateful heart. Its utterances are as bold as it can make them, but they never satisfy itself. It labours to express itself in words, and sometimes it succeeds for a while, and cries, “My heart is inditing a good matter, I speak of the things which I have made touching,” but ere long its rushing overflow stops up the channel of its utterance and silence becomes both needful and refreshing. Our souls are sometimes cast into a swoon of happiness, wherein we rather live and breathe gratitude than feel any power to set it forth. As the lily and the rose praise God by pouring forth their lives in perfume, so do we feel an almost involuntary out-gush of our very selves in love which could by no artistic means tell forth itself. We are filled and overfilled, saturated, satiated with the divine sweetnesses.

“Thy fulness, Lord, is mine, for oh!
That fulness is a fount as free
As it is inexhaustible;
Jehovah’s boundless gift to me.
My Christ! O sing it in the heavens,
Let every angel lift his voice;
Sound with ten thousand harps his praise,
With me, ye heavenly hosts, rejoice!

     III. Now, thirdly, WIIAT THEN? The first tiling is, let us adore him who has filled the cup. If the cup runs over let it run over upon the altar. “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?” Remember, dear Christian friends, that preaching is not a result, it is a means to an end, and that end is the worship of God. The design of our solemn assemblies is adoration; that also is the aim and result of salvation, that the saved ones may fall down on their faces and worship the Lamb in his glory. Preaching and praying are like the stalks of the wheat, but hearty worship is the ear itself. If God has filled your cup, worship him in the solemn silence of your soul. Let every power, passion, thought, emotion, ability, and capacity, in lowest reverence adore the Lord of all, the Fountain whence flow the streams which have filled us to the brim.

     The next thing is, if your cup runs over pray the Lord to make it larger. Does not the apostle say, “Be ye also enlarged”? Does not David speak of having his heart enlarged? There is too much of narrowness in the largest-hearted man. We are all but shallow vessels towards God. If we believed more and trusted more, we should have more, for the stint is not with God. Pray like Jabez of old, “Oh, that thou wouldst bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast.”

     The next thing is, if your cup is running over, let it stop where it is. Understand my meaning: the cup stands under the spring, and the spring keeps running into it, and so the cup runs over, but it will not run over long if you take it from where the spring pours into it. The grateful heart runs over because the fountain of grace runs over. Keep your cup where it is. It is our unwisdom that we forsake the fountain of living waters and apply to the world’s broken cisterns. We say in the old proverb, “Let well alone,” but we forget this practical maxim with regard to the highest good. If your cup runs over hear Christ say, “Abide in me.” David had a mind to keep his cup where it was, and he said, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” When I preach abroad I always like to go to the same house in the town, and I say to my host, “I shall always come to you, as long as you invite me, for I do not think there is a better house.” If a man has a good friend, it is a pity to change him, the older the friend the better. The bird which has a good nest had better keep to it. Gad not abroad, I charge you, but let the Lord be your dwelling-place for ever. Many have been fascinated by new notions and new doctrines, and every now and then somebody tells us he has found a wonderful diamond of new truth, but which generally turns out to be a piece of an old bottle: as for me, I want nothing new, for the old is better, and my heart cries, “Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.” Until they find me a better fountain than the Lord has opened in Christ Jesus his Son my soul will abide in her old place, and plunge her pitcher into the living waters. Where my cup is filled there shall it stand, and run over still.

     Once more, does your cup run over? Then call in your friends to get the overflow. Let others participate in that which you do not wish to monopolise or intercept. Christian people ought to be like the cascades I have seen in brooks and rivers, always running over and so causing other falls, which again by their joyful excess cause fresh cascades and beauty is joyfully multiplied. Are not those fountains fair to look upon where the overflow of an upper basin causes the next to fall in a silver shower, and that again produces another glassy sheet of water? If God fills one of us, it is that we may bless others; if he gives his ministering servants sweet fellowship with him, it is that their words may encourage others to seek the same fellowship; and if their hearers get a portion of meat, it is that they may carry a portion home. If you get the water for your own mill and dam it up, you will find that it is overgrown with rank weeds, and becomes a foul thing. Pull up the sluices, man, and let it run! There is nothing in the world better than circulation either for grace or for money. Let it run! there is more a-coming, there is more a-coming. To withhold will impoverish you, to scatter is to increase. If you get the joy of God in your heart, go and tell it to poor weeping Mary, and doubting Thomas: it may be that God sent you the running over on purpose that those who were ready to perish might be refreshed.

     Last of all, does your cup run over? Then think of the fulness which resides in him from whom it all proceeds. Does your cup run over? Then think of the happiness that is in store for you when it always will run over in glory everlasting. Do you love the sunlight? Does it warm and cheer you? What must it be to live in the sun, like the angel Uriel that Milton speaks of! Do you prize the love of Christ? Is it sweet to you? What will it be to bask in its unclouded light? Oh, that he would draw up the blinds, that we might catch a glimpse of that face of his which is as the sun shining in his strength. What will it be to see his face, and to enjoy the kisses of his mouth for ever. The dew which distils from his hand makes the wilderness rejoice; what must it be to drink of the rivers of his pleasure? A crumb from his table has often made a banquet for his poor saints, but what will it be when the tree of life will yield them twelve manner of fruits, and they shall hunger no more? Bright days ought to remind our souls of heaven, only let us recollect that the brightest days below are not like the days of heaven, any more than a day in a coal mine when the lamp burns most brightly can be compared to a summer’s noon. Still, still, we are down below. The brightest joys of earth are only moonlight. We shall get higher before long, into the unclouded skies, into the land of which we read “there is no night there.” How soon we shall be there none of us can tell! The angel beckons some of us; we hear the bells of heaven ringing in our ears even now. Very soon — so very soon — we cannot tell how very soon, we shall be with Jesus where he is, and shall behold his glory. Brethren, the thought of such amazing bliss makes our cups run over, and our happiness overflows as we remember that it will be for ever, and for ever, and for ever. Eyes never to weep again, hands never to be soiled again, bones never to ache again, feet never to limp again, hearts never to be heavy again, but the whole man as full as it can be of delight ineffable, plunged into a sea of bliss, deluged with ecstatic joy, as full of heaven as heaven is full of Christ.

     Dear hearer, the last word I have to say is this, do you know what it is to be filled with the love of God? Unconverted hearer, I know you are not happy. You say, “I wish my cup would run over!” What are you doing with it? “I am trying to empty it of my old sins.” That will not make it run over. “I have been washing it with my tears.” That will not make it run over. Do you know the only way of having joy and peace in your heart? What would you do with an empty cup if you were thirsty? Would you not hold it under a fountain until it was full? This is what you must do with your poor, dry, empty soul. Come and receive of Jesus, grace for grace. “For as many as received him, to them gave the power to become the sons of God, even to as many as believed on his name.” Hold your empty cup under the stream of divine fulness which flows to the guilty through Jesus Christ, and you also shall joyfully say, “My cup runneth over.”

     The Lord pour his mercy into you, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.



The Soul’s Crisis

By / Jun 22

The Soul's Crisis

 

“Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.” — Luke xviii. 37.

 

SUCH was the news of that day. As an exclamation, doubtless it was often repeated when our Lord made his journeys through the land of Palestine and its outskirts — “Jesus of Nazareth passeth by!” How quickly would the inhabitants of their cities and their villages be astir when the rumour reached them! What a curiosity there would be to see him, knowing that his fame was noised abroad everywhere! What an eagerness among the multitudes to get close enough to hear him! What an intense anxiety on the part of some to go themselves, and of others to take their sick and diseased friends that they might obtain health and cure! Oh, methinks there was enough in those words to make men forego awhile their farms and their merchandise, their labours and their pleasures, that they might feast their eyes and ears with the sight of his face and the sound of his voice— or much more, that they might obtain some grateful relief and get some substantial benefit from him who went about doing good. But, my dear brethren, I want you to catch the spiritual significance of these thrilling words. Did you understand them aright, you would rise up and shake off your lethargy. You would be eager to greet his presence, and anxious to learn his doctrine. That, however, which I am sure would stir you to the heart’s core, and excite all your passions is the vehement desire to have salvation, present salvation, from him. Surely you would be ready to receive him into your house, to welcome him to your heart, and to sit at his feet dissolved in wonder, love, and praise. And yet full many of you who join the throng and mingle with the families that come up to seek the Lord are as unconcerned for yourselves as though your sins were of no moment, and your souls in no immediate peril.

     Oh, it is high time that some here present were saved. In a short time you must be in another world. Hard by that column, on my right in yonder gallery, in that next pew, there have usually sat two attentive bearers, husband and wife, who early this morning were suffocated by the smoke of their own burning house, just under these eaves. I little thought that they would be preachers to us to-night— but they are so. The calamity, sudden and mysterious, which has removed them from our midst, sets “the uncertainly of life,” and the “preparation for departure,” so vividly before us, that we cannot refrain our emotions or restrain our sympathies. Their absence should speak loudly to those who occupy the seat they have vacated, asking them whether they are ready to depart. Not less loudly should it speak to all sitting here, raising the question in the hearts of some of you who are careless about your souls, how you could bear to pass out of this world if the arrow of death should overtake you unawares. A trifling, accident may prove fatal, a slight illness may be the precursor of speedy dissolution. Can you imagine your own remorse as you glance backwards at the gospel you have listened to but never embraced — the blood of sprinkling you have heard of, but has never been applied to your conscience— the Saviour whom you passed by with indifference when he passed by you, ready to be gracious, and you would not be his disciple? Ah! ye may turn from such questions with a faint smile now— ere long you will turn to them with a pale shudder.

     Are there any here present anxious to be saved? Let me have their solemn, earnest, and devout attention. I pray God that what I speak simply may just strike their consciences and touch their hearts. If they want their judgments informed, may the word come with light to their spirits, and in that light may they behold Christ and find salvation.

     Our text is taken from a little narrative of a blind man who sat by the highway side begging— not an inapt picture of you, my friends, who are solicitous of mercy, and anxiously desirous of salvation. Are you not as blind and poor spiritually as he was literally? I am sure that you will at once confess that you are blind. The eyes of your understanding are dim; your heart is wrapped in darkness. You cannot see what you want to see. You do not even see your sin, so as to repent of it with contrition. You have not yet seen the power of the precious blood of Jesus so as to believe in it as worshippers once purged and abundantly conscious that it has procured their remission. While you are as blind, I am quite sure that you will not be grieved or vexed with me if I say, too, that you are as poor as Bartimeus. His was poverty of pence, but yours is poverty of soul. You have no merit; you have no strength; you have no possibility of ever getting the means of spiritual livelihood for yourselves. You are as poor as the poorest beggar that ever asked a charity for God’s sake from the wayfarers. But you are sitting to-night in somewhat the same position as that blind man was, for he sat in the place of Jesus’ passing by, and you have come to the place where God’s mercy has often been revealed, where saints and sinners have passed by in crowds, and where— blessed be his name!— Jesus himself sometimes has also passed by. What if to-night you should be apprised and aware of his presence here, and should cry out to him, and he should stop and open those blind eyes of yours, and give you the light of life and the joy of eternal salvation? What if you should have to go home and say to your friends and kinsfolk, “I have had an experience to-night the like of which I never felt before; I have found a Saviour; I have received the forgiveness of my sins; I am a new creature in Christ Jesus”? Why you would make angels sing fresh hallelujahs in heaven, while on earth God would be glorified, and yourselves and your friends would be blessed by so lively an exercise of faith and so wonderful a participation of grace.

     I. Now, looking stedfastly that this may be the case, I wish to speak very pointedly to you about two or three things. First, when Jesus passed by the blind man it was to that man A DAY OF HOPE.

     He had given up all thought of ever being able to see, so long had his eyes been closed to the light. When Jesus passed by the case was different. He could perform any miracle, there was no limit to his healing power; therefore, why should not he open a blind man’s eyes? And you, my anxious friend, you have felt that you could not be saved. Of course, if it depended upon yourself you could not by any duties you discharged, or any services you performed, acquire merit enough to enter heaven, or even to procure the forgiveness of your sins on earth. But, if Jesus Christ has come into the world to save that which was lost, it is a totally different matter. He can certainly pardon the greatest offenders, and he can deliver from going down into the pit the most undeserving of rebels. It was an hour of hope to that blind man, and if Jesus passes by now this is an hour of hope to you.

     But, does he pass by? I answer – Yes. There are different respects in which this may be interpreted of our Lord’s conduct. In a certain sense he has been passing by some of you ever since you began to discern right from wrong. You have, some of you, been nurtured and bred up under the hearing of the gospel, and you cannot recollect the time when you did not know something, at any rate, of the facts and truths that pertain to Christianity. Well, all this while Jesus Christ has been slowly passing by you— halting, pausing, giving you space if perhaps you would call to him for mercy. O take heed, that passing by may soon be over; the candle of life may be blown out. Yet while the gospel rings in your ears, it is a day of hope to you: let not Satan or your own despairing heart persuade you to the contrary.

     More especially is it a time of Christ’s passing by when the gospel is preached with power. If this evening the gospel should so come to you as to win your attention and melt your heart, if you should feel a divine control exerted over you by it, the evidence will not be wanting that Jesus is passing by. Or, if the gospel, though it affect not you, should convey such an influence, and bring forth such fruits in others who are sitting in the same pew with you, that they should be saved, depend upon it the kingdom of God will have come nigh unto you. It will then have passed by and you will have received no blessing because you sought it not in faith. Yet responsibilities will have come upon you from which you will not be able to escape. Jesus will have passed by other blind men; and they will have asked for sight, and had it, while you will remain blind, not because Jesus cannot heal you, but because you have not asked his healing, but have continued still in your unbelief of him.

     I feel conscious within myself that this very night Jesus is, in an especial manner, present in this assembly. Sometimes the preacher hath yearnings within himself for the people as if he travailed in birth until Christ be formed in them; he wrestles with such an earnest longing after souls as if their peril and the conflict for their rescue were all his own; that is no slight omen of the coming blessing. He perceives, also, the same desire in many of his converted hearers. As he knows that they are praying God with much vehemence of spirit to bring in the sinner, the atmosphere of prayer becomes to him an indication of the time and the place where Jesus manifests himself, for where his people pray Christ is surely present. I encourage you then, dear hearers, with hopeful signs of heavenly grace. This is a hopeful hour. If you have lived up till now unsaved, I indulge the fervent hope that the hour has now come when you shall find salvation. Though you may hitherto have sought, and sought, and sought in vain, yet now surely the set time to favour you has come. Lord, grant it may be so, that it may be so to many, and we will bless thy name.

     II. Secondly, as it was a time of hope to that poor blind man, so was it especially A TIME OF ACTIVITY.

     You that anxiously desire salvation, regard attentively these words. A man cannot be saved by what he does; salvation is in Christ, yet no man is saved except as he seeks earnestly after Christ. This blind man did not open his eyes himself. What he did, did not help or contribute in any degree to his attaining sight. Nevertheless, he had to seek Jesus to have his eyes opened. There was enough in this to kindle all his passions, summon all his faculties and engage all his energies; but most certainly there was nothing in it to exercise his skill in discovering or applying a remedy, nothing to win him any honour, nothing to entitle him to any reward.

     Yet this man is a picture of what we should be if we desire to be saved. He listened attentively. He could not see, but he had ears. He could catch the sound of footsteps. The silence that was broken by crowds coming along the road to Jericho was peculiar, the tramp was of an unusual sort, and the tone of voices far different from those of wrangling or of revelry, or the songs of common travellers. He listened, yea, he listened with all his ears. So, dear hearers, whenever the gospel is preached, do not give it merely such a hearing as you might give to an ordinary story that is told you; but oh, hear it as God’s word, hear it with bated breath and profound reverence; drink it in as the parched earth drinks in the shower; hear it fearing to miss a single word, lest that should be the word that might have blessed you. I believe attentive hearers are the most likely people to get the blessing. Let none of us, therefore, when we go to the courts of the Lord’s house and hear a gospel sermon, suffer our thoughts to be wandering here and there, but let us give scrupulous heed, if so be we may detect the footsteps of the Lord by the converse of his disciples.

     But this man, after he had heard with discrimination, enquired with eagerness what it meant. Oh! how I wish our hearers would begin to ask, “What does it mean?” I can say that I put my words as plainly as I can. Oftentimes when there is a bunch of gaudy flowers of rhetoric that I fain would use, and could use, I have thrown them all on the dunghill, because they might have stood in some poor sinner’s way, and he might not have understood the plain truth so well. Ah! but still, for all that, talk as we may, the carnal mind understandeth not the things that be of God. It is a blessed sign when men begin to say, “What is it all about? What is the drift of this gospel? What does the man mean by sin and its heinousness? What does he mean by Christ and his precious blood? What is it all about?” O dear hearers, some of you only skim your Bibles when you read them. I wish you would stop and ponder, and ask of Christian people who have experienced these things, “What do these texts mean?” So, too, if there be anything in a sermon that baffles you, I wish you would seek out some godly and instructed Christian, and say, “Explain to me, father, what this thing signifieth?” I should have great hopes of you if you were thus enquiring after the plan of salvation. Is it not worth your while to ask the question, sirs? When a man has lost his way, he will ask twenty people sooner than he will continue to pursue a wrong course, and will you lose your way to heaven through not asking old travellers to direct you? Do, I pray you, be in earnest to learn, and it shall not be long before God shall teach you, for whenever lie makes a man conscious of his ignorance, and anxious to be taught, God the Holy Ghost is quite sure to instruct him ere long.

     When this man had asked the question, and had been told in reply that Jesus of Nazareth passed by, notice what he did next, he began to fray. We are told that he cried. His cry was a prayer, and his prayer was a cry. It took the form of a piteous and emphatic outburst of desire: “Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.” It was a short prayer. He did not want a book. Being a blind man he could not have used one if he had had it. Blessed be God, we want no book of prayers. We want such prayers as blind men can use quite as readily as those who can see. And what a comprehensive prayer it was— “Have mercy on me! Have mercy on me!” It was not the words of the prayer, it was the true desire and the believing confidence of the prayer that did the work. “Thou Son of David, have mercy upon me!” Now, my dear hearer, you tell me that you wish to be saved, that you are anxious, nay, enquiring, but do you pray? How can you expect mercy if it is not thought by you to be worth the asking for? What, will you have God give you it without your seeking it? He has done so sometimes, but the usual rule of grace, and the most proper rule, is that you should humbly sue for mercy at his feet. Will you not do it? What! Is hell so paltry a doom that you will not pray to escape from it? What, is heaven so trifling a destination that you will not pray that you may gain if? O airs, when heavenly mercy is to be had for the asking, will you not invoke the Almighty, and do obeisance to the Redeemer to obtain it? Then how richly you deserve to die I Being placed on pleading terms, you will not plead, and being bidden to seek the Lord while he may be found, you wilfully refuse to seek him! Yes, richly do you deserve to perish in your sin! But it must not be so with you. I cannot look you in the face, and think you will do such despite to God’s claims and your own interests. No, you will pray, I trust you will; you will cry with your whole heart to God. Be assured that never did a man really cry for mercy, and continue to do so with his whole heart, but sooner or later mercy came. There are no praying souls in hell. God never damns those who are suppliants for mercy. If you do but lay hold on the cross of Christ, and say, “I will not let this go except I get the blessing; I will not cease until Twin my soul’s desire,” you shall soon have the mercy that you seek. O that God would stir you up thus to pray!

     As this man prayed, there were some standing by who said, “Hush, hold your tongue! You disturb the preaching; we cannot hear the silvery tones of the orator; be still. It is not meet for a beggar-man like you, crawling in the street, to disturb respectable people by your harsh, croaking voice— be quiet!” But his heart being thus moved, there was no silence for his tongue. So much the more, a great deal, with increasing vehemence and force, he iterated and reiterated the prayer, “Thou Son of David, thou Son of David, have mercy on me! Have mercy upon me!” Now, if you desire salvation, and have begun to pray, Satan will say, “Ah, it is of no use; be quiet!” The flesh will say, “Why this ado? There is time enough yet.” Procrastination will come in and say, “When you grow old it will be time enough then to begin to seek the Lord.” A thousand difficulties will be suggested, but, O soul, if thou art indeed set upon salvation, and God has made thee in earnest, thou wilt say to all these: “Stand back! I cannot and will not be silenced by you; I must have mercy; it is mercy I want, and it is mercy I must have, or I perish for ever, and that I cannot afford; therefore I will cry the more.” I wish— but ah! it is not in my power— still I do wish that I could persuade you to importunate prayer. May the Holy Ghost lead you to pray. Well do I recollect my own prayers when I was seeking Christ. I prayed even for months, and sometimes in the chamber where I sought the Lord I felt as if I could not come away from the mercy-seat till I had an answer of peace, but I waited long before I got it. Still, it came at last, and oh! it is worth waiting for! If one had to plead for mercy by the twenty years at a time, yet if at last the silver sceptre were stretched out, it would well repay all the groanings and the tears of the most anxious spirits. Get to your chambers, then, or if you cannot get to your chambers, get to a saw-pit, a hay-loft, it matters not where, and pour out your heart before him, and do not rise from your knees until the Lord has said, “Thy sins which are many are forgiven thee.”

     After this man had thus pleaded, it is noteworthy that Jesus stood still and called him. I must call your attention to this matter. As soon as Jesus had called the blind man, the effect produced on him is startling. I think I see him sitting there by the wayside helpless. Jesus bids him come. He gets up, and in a moment he throws off that outer garment which had been so precious to him, in which he had so often wrapped himself up in cold nights, when he had to sleep beneath the open sky. That much prized, though all patched and filthy garment, he threw right away; it might have made him a minute or two slower, so off he threw it, and away he flung it. Ah! and it is a great mercy when a poor soul feels that it can throw away anything and everything to get to Christ. “Oh!” saith the sinner who really seeks a Saviour, “if there is any sin that I have indulged that prevents my finding mercy, only let me know it, and I will away with it; is there any habit I have which I do not even know to be sin, or a thing I do that gives me pleasure, but is objectionable in the sight of God, I will away with it: O Lord, if I must be poor, or if I must be sick, I will away with my health, and away with my wealth, if I may but find mercy.

“The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be;
Help me to tear it from its throne,
And worship only thee.”

I charge you, seekers of Jesus, let nothing stand between you and Christ. You must have salvation, man. You cannot afford to do without it. O fling away, then, everything that might impede you. Cast off the garment that might trip you up in the heavenly race. Lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth most easily beset you, and press to Jesus at once. To-night, I pray you, press to Jesus, with vehement speed, and be not content till you get the blessing!

     Once more. When this man had come to Jesus, and Jesus said to him, “What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?” the man returned a straightforward and intelligent answer, “Lord, that I might receive my sight.” Now, when you are at prayer to-night, any of you, do not merely pray a general prayer, but put it before the Lord in the plainest language. I could suppose, for example, the tenor of your confession and petition might be something like this— “Lord, here I am; I have lived all this time without regard to thee; I have been a hearer at the Tabernacle; sometimes I have been so deeply impressed, that I have shed many tears; but Lord, it has all come to nothing; sermons upon sermons have I heard, yet sermon after sermon has been lost upon me; I am afraid I am a gospel-hardened sinner; I think, Lord, that sitting as I do right opposite the preacher, he speaking so pointedly as he does to me, witnessing, as I do, how others have been saved, while I have been left unsaved, my heart must be like the nether millstone; yet, Lord, thou canst save. O have mercy on me yet! O melt this heart of stone; break this adamant; thaw this rock of ice! Lord, I know what it is that hinders me; there is that cherished sin; there is that vile companion; there is that lust of the flesh. O God, enable me to give it up! Now help me to pluck off the right arm, and tear out the right eye, for oh! I cannot perish; I cannot perish; I cannot bear thy wrath in the world to come; I am afraid because of it; therefore would I flee from it, and find refuge in Jesus!” Or perhaps your case may be quite a different one, and in pleading with God you may have to say, “Lord, I never was a keeper of thy Sabbath; I have been on all those holy days spending the time in sinful pleasure, and I do not know that I have any regard for thee, but I fell into the crowd at the Tabernacle gates just now, and got into the aisle, and, Lord, thy Word has found me out, and I feel as I never felt before; I do desire to be reconciled to thee.” Oh! you do not know how glad your heavenly Father will be to bear that, for, just as in the parable, the father ran and fell upon, the prodigal’s neck and kissed him, so will our Father who is in heaven run and fall upon your guilty neck, and give you the kiss of pardon and of acceptance, and you, even you, shall be saved. Glory be to God, there is none that press, and seek, and knock, and strive thus, but the mercy shall come unto them.

     Still, I cannot withhold one other remark. That which really brought salvation to this blind man was his faith, for Christ says, “Thy faith hath saved thee.” Now, here is the greatest point of all – faith! Faith; for work without faith is of little worth. Faith is the great saving grace; it is the real life-germ. “What is faith? sayest thou. Anxious enquirer, if thou wouldst know what faith is, understand that the other word for it is trust — belief. The faith that saves, is a belief that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, offered an atonement for sin, and then after a firm conviction, a simple trusting in that atonement for thy salvation. Canst thou this night— oh! I pray the Holy Ghost enable thee! — canst thou this night trust Jesus Christ? When I ask that question of an awakened sinner, it seems to me as if the answer should always be “Can I trust him? Ay, indeed! Such a Saviour, so divine, offering such a sacrifice as the death of his own self, surely I can trust him!” Here is a nail upon which you may well hang all the weight of the vessel. Here is a bridge over which tens of thousands of the weightiest sinners may cross safely. Come then, sinner, what sayest thou? Art thou resolved to trust Jesus? If so, thy faith hath saved thee already; go thou and wrestle in prayer till thou get thee an assurance of it.

     III. Time flies, and I must not tarry; therefore let me have a solemn word upon another point. When Jesus passed by, it was, as we have said, to the blind man an hour of hope, and it was an hour for bestirring himself; now we notice, thirdly, it was AN HOUR OF CRISIS.

     Did I not observe just now that while life lasts Jesus is passing by? That is true in one sense, but I do also believe that in many cases the hour in which they will ever be able to find mercy is past long before men die. There was a man who had listened to an earnest- gospel exhortation, and as he listened he felt that the preacher was speaking out his inmost heart to him. He thought within himself, “That is an important matter.” As he listened the importance of the matter seemed to strike him more and more. His tears began to flow, and he resolved that when he reached his home that night he would seek the Lord. As he went on his way, a companion met him, and said, “Come with me,” and he invited him to a certain ale-house.” He was revolted at the thought for the moment. He stood still, and the deliberation seemed to go on in his soul. “Which shall it be? Shall it be my jovial companion, or shall it be that earnest prayer on which I have resolved?” He hesitated a moment, and his better self, or rather the Holy Spirit within him, conquered, and that night as he knelt, light divine shone into his soul, and he became a Christian. On that same occasion there was another man who passed through precisely the same experience, and to whom the same temptation came, but he yielded to it, and he was never after that troubled with such another difficulty. He listened again to sermons, but he never felt under them as he did under that. They lost all interest for him; after a time he left off attending the means of grace, and he is at this time a blasphemer, though before he seemed to stand upon the very borders of salvation. Probably to this last man there will never come a day of grace again. He has now put himself beyond the reach of it as to the means; for he attends no place of worship, and gives no heed to anything of the kind. Religion has become a thing for him to laugh at, and its preachers the objects of his scorn. Here were the turning points of these two lives; grace decided the one, and the flesh decided the other; the one in all human probability is bound for heaven, and the other, alas! is bound for hell. Such a night as this may have come now. I do not know that young man, nor where he sits to-night, but he is here. He has, after this service is over, an engagement of a sort that if his sainted mother in the country could but know of it, it would make her very hair stand on end with horror, to think that her son should have come to that. I charge him by the living God to give up that sin, or else this night he may seal his own damnation. There sits here in this house a woman who will this evening, if the Lord shall make her fulfil the purpose of her heart, seek Christ and find him, but if the temptation that is now striving with her should overcome her, and the evening should be spent, after all, in idle chat, her conscience shall be seared as with a hot iron, and from this hour it shall not be possible for the shafts of the gospel to come at her. O that God may decide your case rightly for you, helping your will, your stubborn and wicked will, to yield and bow to the blessed instigation of his Holy Spirit in your hearts, for I am persuaded that this is an hour of crisis to many here.

     IV. Lastly, remember that this hour of Jesus passing by is AN HOUR THAT WILL BOON BE GONE.

     Did you notice that word, “Jesus of Nazareth passeth by”? He is not stopping, he is passing by, for he is going on towards the walls of Jericho to pass through its gates. Blind man I it is now or never, for he is passing by. He has come up to where you are; cry to him now! He has passed you, but cry to him. Now, man, he is long past, but he can yet hear you; cry to him now! Ah! but he is passed and is gone, and the man has not cried, and now there is no other who can open his eyes, neither will this Son of David, for he has passed by and been unasked, unsought to bless. You had Christ passing by when you were young. I would to God you had said to him then, “Have mercy on me!” but you waited till he came up to you in middle life, and yet you did not seek him. Alas, alas, for that! And now the grey hairs are stealing over you, and half-a-century of unbelief has hardened your heart. You are getting to sixty years of ungodliness, but he is not out of ear-shot yet. He will hear you now. O cry to him, I pray you cry, and may God’s Holy Spirit, who is the author of all true supplication, breathe in you now a cry that never shall be stopped until you get the answer, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”

     Now, it may be that some here to whom I am speaking think that this preaching is all child’s-play, and that our talking about these solemn things is very easy. I protest before God this night, that I feel it to be stern hard work. Not but what it is easy and delightful to preach the gospel, but I yearn over the souls of some of you. I cannot understand why you crowd here, and when I know that there are perhaps half as many outside as inside, clamouring for entrance, I know not why it is. I do nothing to attract you here, but speak right out my Master’s gospel. The truth is, if the Lord inclines your hearts and brings you within the sound of the gospel which I am eager to proclaim, I feel a responsibility about you which it were not possible for you to estimate. What if you should in the day of judgment be able to say, “We crowded to that house, and we listened to that man, but he did not tell us the truth, or he told it to us so coldly, that we thought it did not signify, and we put it off !” Oh! if you are lost, yet bear me witness that I would fain have you saved, and if persuasions could bring you to Christ, you should not perish for lack of them. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” This is the message, but, if you reject it, a weight falls on my spirit— it seems to crush me like a millstone now— the thought that you should be lost! For what is it to be lost? To be cast away from the presence of God, to be cast into hell, to have to suffer, and that for ever, all that the justice of God can demand, all that the omnipotence of God can inflict. Why, sirs, if I have but a headache, or a toothache for one brief hour, my patience can scarcely endure the torture; what must it be to suffer such pains for a century? Man, I cannot guess what it must be! What must it be to have ten thousand times worse pains than these for ever and ever? Why, to be dejected in mind, to be despairing, to be disconsolate— how bewildered it makes men! They take the knife or the poison in a fit of insanity, it may be they cannot bear their lives because of their anguish and desperation. But all the pangs, and racks, and abandonment from which men suffer here are nothing to be compared with the woes and mental anguish of the world to come. Oh, the agony of a spirit doomed, forlorn, accursed, upon which God shall put his foot in awful wrath and lift it up no more for ever! And there, as you lie, tormented to the quick, you will have this to be your miserable portion— I heard the gospel, but I would not heed it; Christ was put before me, but I would not acknowledge him; I was entreated to believe in his name and fly to him for salvation, but I hesitated, hung in suspense, demurred, and at length denied him. And all for what? For a little drink, a little dance, a little sin that yielded me but slight pleasure, or for worldly gain, or for low and grovelling vices, or for sheer carelessness and gaiety! Lost, lost, lost! and for nothing! A sinner damned! He lost his soul, but he did not gain the world. He gained only a little frivolous pleasure, even that poor pittance he spent in an hour, and then he was for ever cast away! May it not be so with you— not with one of you, old or young, but the Lord have mercy upon the whole assembly, for his dear name’s sake. Amen.

“There is a time, we know not when,
A point we know not where,
That marks the destiny of men,
To glory or despair.
There is a line, by us unseen,
That crosses every path;
The hidden boundary between
God’s patience and his wrath.
To pass that limit is to die,
To die, as if by stealth:
It does not quench the beaming eye,
Or pale the glow of health.
The conscience may be still at ease,
The spirits light and gay;
That which is pleasing still may please,
And care be thrust away.
But on that forehead God has set
Indelibly a mark,
Unseen by man— for man as yet
Is blind and in the dark.
And yet the doomed man’s path below,
Like Eden, may have bloomed;
He did not, does not, will not know,
Or feel that he is doomed.
He knows, he feels, that all is well,
And every fear is calm’d
He lives, he dies, he wakes in hell,
Not only doomed but damned.
O where is thy mysterious bourne,
By which our path is crossed,
Beyond which God himself hath sworn,
That he who goes is lost?
How far may we go on in sin?
How long will God forbear?
Where does hope end? and where begin
The confines of despair?
An answer from the skies is sent —
‘Ye that from God depart,
While it is called to-day, Repent!
And harden not your heart.’”

 



The Eye- A Similitude

By / Jun 22

The Eye- A Similitude

 

“Keep me as the apple of the eye.” — Psalm xvii. 8.

 

THIS prayer is fall of meaning, and is the outflow of a well-instructed mind. It is no parrot cry, but the upleaping of a living desire from a grace-taught and thoughtful heart. The man knows something of himself who sincerely offers this plaintive petition to his God, “Keep me” Is there not a deep and sorrowful confession implied in this brief utterance of the suppliant? as though he should say, “Preserve me from my own heart, for it is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: guard me from the uprising of my natural corruptions, for the carnal mind is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be: defend me from the turbulence of my own passions, those household foes which are the worst enemies to the peace and purity of my mind: keep me from that evil man, myself.” Has not the man who utters this request a clear perception of the evils surrounding him in his circumstances, and his relations, and his position in life? conscious of danger, he desires to be held back from pride, if he be in prosperity; and withheld from pining and unbelief, if he be in adversity; he would be restrained from sinning in public or transgressing in private; he desires that he may not be imperilled even by the objects of his joy and affection, lest they should become idols, and so provoke the Lord to jealousy, and cause him to withdraw his dear presence and sweet communings from the soul. The prayer has a singular sensitiveness, it seems to shiver like the leaves of the aspen, to shrink like the sensitive plant. Knowing that there are snares all around him, the pleading soul is desirous that God should at all times encompass his path— “Keep me.” The man has some idea of the craft and malice of Satan, therefore he appeals to God that he may be preserved from that fowler, who first decoys, and afterwards destroys unguarded souls. He sees his danger, feels his weakness, and seeks to the strong for help.

“Love and keep us, blessed Jesus,
Keep us from denying thee;
Keep our wayward feet from straying
Into paths of vanity;
Love and keep us, blessed Jesus,
Keep us from denying thee.”

An eye that has looked on the weakness and the wickedness of the little world within our bosom, bedews with briny tears the supplication, ‘Keep me.”

     But the man who prays thus intelligently must have some knowledge of the God he prays to. He has learned the vanity of all other reliances, and has left for ever the arm of flesh. The invocation is addressed to the Most High, for he is well aware that no other can respond to his call, or interpose for his aid. He who uses this prayer intelligently perceives the omniscience of Jehovah. “Thou seest all my dangers, thou foreseest all the attacks of my enemies, thou art acquainted with all my ways; to thee, therefore, I look for safeguard. Better than a hundred eyes art thou to me, thou who canst see all my foes, from whichever quarter they may come. Ever watchful guardian, keep thou me.” He believes also in God’s omnipotence, that there is no assailant so strong, but he who is his Israel’s refuge and fortress is stronger, nor is there any danger so imminent that he cannot anticipate and avert it. He relies, moreover, upon the love of God that lie is willing of his own heart to espouse his interests; upon the faithfulness of God that he will perform the mercy promised to the fathers, and upon the immutability of God that he will never turn back, but finally achieve the salvation of his servant through keeping him to the end.

     Thus, as I have said , the man who could first offer, and the man who can constantly appreciate this devout prayer, must know something of himself and something of his God. He who has learned these two things has mastered the elements of wisdom. “Man, know thyself,” said the heathen sage, and he uttered a goodly maxim. “Man, know thy God,” says the Christian, and he points to wisdom far more sublime. Put the two together! to know ourselves in our weakness and dangers, and to know our God in his glorious strength and willingness to protect us, is to have the seed of divinest knowledge implanted in our breasts. Knowing these two, we can not only pray this prayer with a fervent spirit, but there are many things which we shall be enabled to do by virtue of the good hand of the Lord our God upon us. Such, then, is the importunate request of the Psalmist, to which I am persuaded everyone that is godly among you will say, “Amen.” “Keep me as the apple of the eye.”

     Now, brethren and sisters, I intend only to touch upon one point, and that is the metaphor here used— not, perhaps, limiting myself entirely to the precise and definite meaning which it in this place presents, but uttering with more freedom and latitude some of the thoughts which it suggests.

     1. The keeping desired by the earnest Christian is of that kind which men accord to the apple of the eye. What sort of keeping is this?— First, the Psalmist as good as prays, Lord, keep me with many guards and protections. In the providence of God the apple of the eye is defended with peculiar care and transcendent skill. Those who have studied the formation of the pupil itself will tell you with how many coats the retina is preserved. Then the commonest observer knows how the eyebrows, the eyelashes, and the eyelids, are formed as outworks, fences, and barricades, to protect the pupil of the eye, which is thus made to dwell securely like a citizen within the entrenchments of a fortified town. God has bestowed extraordinary pains upon all that concerns the eye; being one of the tenderest organs of the physical frame, he has used many devices that it should be well preserved, notwithstanding its exceeding sensitiveness. Nor is it merely sheltered in its own fastness, but sentries keep ward lest it should be exposed to peril. Whenever it is threatened with even the appearance of danger no time is lost in consultation with yourself, but with agility so brisk that it seems almost involuntary, the arm is lifted up and the hand is raised to screen it from harm or to resist attack. If you are about to stumble, you naturally put out your hands to save your eyes. Instinct seems to teach you at once the value of eyesight, and your whole strength is put forth to preserve it. In fact, all the members of the body may be regarded as a patrol for the wardship of the eye; and all the incorporated powers of manhood are in constant vigilance to guard and protect that precious orb. Admiring then this beautiful arrangement to conserve the delicate organ of vision, we may pray, “Lord, keep thou me as the apple of the eye, with many protections. Thou hast been pleased with the strong bastions of thy providence to surround thy people: I ask for such protection. Lead me not into temptation; do not suffer the events of my career or the incidents of my daily life to entangle me so that I shall be unable to escape out of the perplexing snares. Let the powers of heaven fight for me as of old the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. Let me be in league with the stones of the field, and command the beasts of the forest to be at peace with me. Let my tabernacle be in peace; and let no plague come nigh my dwelling. Do thou, O God, visit my habitation; and so abide with me beneath that lowly roof that I may not by any means through outward circumstances or inward thoughts be led into sin. Guard me, O my God! by all the power of those mysterious wheels, whose motions I cannot understand, but of whose results thou hast said, ‘All things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to his purpose.’” And, Lord, be pleased to shield me by thy grace as well as by thy providence. Keep me as the apple of the eye with tutelage of thy restraining mercy. Teach me to sing—

“Oh, to grace how great a debtor,
Daily I’m constrained to be.”

Brethren, how wonderfully does grace preserve the heirs of heaven with operations marvellously diverse, but all fulfilling one loving purpose! Sometimes grace lowers me into the dust, at other times grace lifts me up to the throne. It is grace that empties and grace that fills my earthen vessel; grace that shows me my ignorance, and grace that makes me wise unto salvation. Let the manifold operations of thy grace, O thou God of all grace, be brought into full play to guard me as the apple of the eye. Whensoever I hear a sermon preached, may it keep me from stumbling, lest otherwise my feet should trip; whensoever I bow my knee in prayer, may it be a safeguard against some temptation or besetting sin, which otherwise might have been too strong to resist. When I read thy book, make its words to be as wholesome counsel and faithful warning, to deliver my soul from the paths of the destroyer. Grant unto me, Lord, that the ordinances of thy house— baptism, and the Lord’s-supper— yea, and whatever else thou hast enjoined to us by precept, or handed down to us with the example of thy holy apostles— things commanded and things set in order— let all these be used as auxiliaries to repel assault, and preserve our peace. From wandering into any false way, from staining the purity of a good conscience, from bringing dishonour upon the name of Christ, “good Lord, deliver us.” “Keep me as the apple of the eye” with the guardianship of thy Holy Spirit. O that the Divine Comforter might always dwell within me, so that when Satan comes to invade my heart, it may be like the house in which abideth the strong man armed who is stronger than the spoiler, and therefore keepeth his goods in peace; thus shall he drive away the thief who would break in to steal my possessions and make me his prey.

“Keep us, Lord, O keep us ever,
Vain our hope if left by thee;
We are thine, O leave us never,
Till thy face in heaven we see;
There to praise thee
Through a bright eternity.”

     Holy Spirit, I invoke thee, whether reproving or comforting, whether quickening or enlightening, whether chastening or sanctifying, whether humbling or perfecting me, be pleased to abide with me, and hold thou watch over me in all thy sevenfold power, in all thy diversified operations.

     And, O God, let thine angels have charge concerning me, to keep me in all my ways, for I need many guards, even as the eye has many bulwarks. Bid, then, those ministering spirits, who minister to the heirs of salvation, that they bear me up in their hands, lest I dash my foot against a stone. Brethren, do such appeals seem to you like a rhapsody? Do you forget the existence of angels, who excel in strength; or do you give no heed to the capacities with which they are endowed by him who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire? I am aft-aid we are wont to think too lightly of those blessed spirits. Is it necessary to remind you that the being of such an order of God’s creatures is not an allegory of the poets; no, not even of sacred inspired poets? Facts abound in both the Old and New Testaments to attest the reality of their services. Have ye never heard how that in the creation, when God laid the foundations of the earth, the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? And have ye not heard that when the law was given to Moses, it was received by the disposition of angels? You cannot be unaware of the comfort which Daniel found from the mission of Gabriel, when, while speaking in prayer, the angel appeared as a man flying swiftly, touched the prophet, talked with him, brought a message to him from heaven, and came forth to give him skill and understanding? Think, I beseech you, brethren, of the company of angels carolling that sweet hymn of the nativity on the plains of Bethlehem on that night wherein our Saviour was born. And never overlook their visit to the wilderness, where, after Jesus had been tempted forty days and forty nights, “behold, angels came and ministered unto him.” Yet again in the dark night of his betrayal, when our Lord was enduring the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, mind ye not that “there appeared to him an angel from heaven strengthening him”? After such things it may seem needless to tell how angels repaired to the tomb from which Jesus had risen, and there at the sepulchre cheered the hearts of the sorrowing women; or to recount to you the story of Peter, released by an angel of the Lord from the prison into which Herod, willing to please the Jews and vex the church, had cast him. But I must mention this one thing more. Angels were the bearers, not with black wands, methinks, but with flying colours, who carried Lazarus into Abraham’s bosom. Such guard I crave in life and death, I crave it of thee, O my God! My soul is enraptured at the multitude of thy lovingkindnesses and tender mercies. Keep me, with every provision for my safety, keep me with all thy hosts and holy troops, with cherubim and seraphim, with providence, and grace, and love. “Keep me as the apple of the eye.” In such sense, I think, the metaphor is not strained.

     2. Secondly, the prayer may be interpreted with a view to the constancy, the unintermitting continuance of that keeping which we require of the Lord.

     Is not the eye always guarded? You are not always thinking of it, it is true, for that would distract you from the duties of life; if you had to reckon the dangers and provide against the mishaps to which the eye is exposed, your mind would never rest; but to save you such care, the protections God has provided are always ready. If a grain of dust, perchance, should enter the eye, forthwith by some wonderful arrangement a watery humour is exuded in which, if you cannot extract the impediment, by-and-by it becomes dissolved, and is carried away. Though an intruding substance may pain you, the pain is a mercy, for it makes you restless till you get relief for the priceless eye. When you fall asleep, and are no longer able to protect the eyeballs, the curtains fall, the blinds as it were drop down, and the windows are shut up securely with lash and lid. How graciously does God preserve the health of the eye and renew its brightness! It must need many secretions, and they are all supplied. The fineness of its organisation, and the variety of its curious arrangements, require adequate provisions to keep it in proper condition, and these are all furnished; yes, and continue to be supplied when the eye’s functions are suspended in your times of slumber. Without care or thought on your part, at all times, asleep or awake, the eye is guarded like the bed of Solomon, about which were three-score valiant men. Right well doth the parable of the eye suggest the prayer of the text: Lord, keep me thus, as the apple of an eye is kept. Evermore, O Lord, watch over me. Brethren, permit me to remark here, that I believe at no season is a Christian more in danger than when he has just been in communion with God. Thus I have proved it myself. It is not very often I lose my temper, at least I think not, but it has happened sometimes; and I have noticed that when this sinful frailty has overtaken me, it has been just after I have been near to God in prayer. At such a time somebody has come right across my path and ruffled my spirit. Something has been said or done so cold, so cruel, so un-Christlike, so irritating, and withal on the part of myself so unexpected, that I have in horror spoken unadvisedly with my lips. Ah! I should not wonder if many of you have found the same surprising sin assail you. When you felt happy and blessed, beyond the reach of fear, the baneful action of the world has so grated upon your too susceptible feelings that you have felt as if it were well for you to be angry. Always beware when you are rich with grace in present possession. The footpads in olden times did not meddle with the farmers as they went to the market; it was when they were coming home, having sold their crops and bringing back their money-bags full, that they planned their attacks. When our ships of war went after the Spanish galleons, they did not attack them as they were going to America, but when they came back enriched with bars of gold— when they knew them to beloaded to the water’s edge— it was then they stormed the Spaniard to win his bullion. The devil may not make a dead set upon you when you are poor in grace and indolent, not trading with the merchandise of wisdom, or seriously engaged in the King’s business; but if you have had much spiritual commerce with heaven, whereby your soul has been enriched and your heart has been cheered, and your face has shone, then beware of temptation. In watchfulness and prayer, however, put it thus: “Keep me, Lord, alike in my high estate, and in my low estate. Keep me when I am engaged in business; that I fall not into the tricks of trade, or the excitements of desperate speculation; keep me when I am at the table, that I sin not against thee in the midst of social intercourse with my family or my friends. Lord, whither shall I go from the presence of sin, or whither shall I fly from the reach of temptation? If I seek the desert and become a lonely hermit, sin is there. If I plunge into the thick of the city, and find solitude among the crowds of men, behold, sin reigneth there. If I betake me to my chamber, sin can haunt me there; or if I go abroad into the fields, to listen to the voice of nature, I can be seduced to rebel against thee there in full view of all thy marvellous works. If I should take the wings of the morning, and fly unto the uttermost parts of the earth; if, like the shipwrecked, I lived on a desolate island of the main, and saw not the face of man, even there the face of sin would disquiet me, and rebellious thoughts would rise to taint my daily life.” You need keeping, then, always and at every moment. Seek protection, brethren, seek it constantly. Begin not the day without saying, “Keep me.” Finish it not without crying again, “Keep me.” All day long be not far away from the horns of the altar, to which you may run with the brief ejaculation, “Keep me, keep me, as the apple of the eye.” It means constant care, a perpetuity of divine guardianship. You want that. Seek it.

“Lord, we are blind, and halt, and lame,
We have no stronghold but thy name
Great is our fear to bring it shame.
Let us not fall. Let us not fall.

     3. “Keep me as the apple of the eye.” Does it not mean, “Keep me from little evils, the dust and grit of this evil world”?

     Your eye needs not to be guarded so much from beams as from motes. You would not say, “It is only a tiny grain of dust, therefore let it enter into my eyes.” By no means. The smallest grain that floats in the summer’s breeze will vex and irritate, and cause the scalding tears to flow, and you know by painful experience how much suffering you may endure from a grain of sand which you could scarcely see. Be this your prayer, then— “Lord, keep me from what the world calls little sins; Lord, keep me from what my callous conscience may make me think to be little sin! Save me, Lord, from thoughts or imaginations, for these are the eggs of which greater mischiefs are hatched. Keep me, Lord, from words which to carnal minds might seem but air, but which, in thy sight are weighty matters, especially as coming from thy children, who have been brought up to understand the law of thy mouth.” I like to see the Christian show the rigidity of that Puritan, who said that he could not even in a word swerve from the truth he believed, though there were a living or an opportunity of preferment to be got by complying. “Oh, but,” said another, “others have made long gashes in their consciences: could not you make a little nick in yours?” Ah, you know what those “little nicks in the conscience” always come to! When once you begin the rent, how swiftly it runs from the top to the bottom of your conscience! Beware of nicks of the conscience; let your prayer be, “Lord keep me! Keep away from me those sins the wrong of which I hardly know, but whose wickedness and woefulness are open before thee. Let me never trifle with a sin because it does not look so black or cause such shame as some other iniquities.” Christians will too often indulge wrong habits and tolerate doubtful customs, till transgressions seem to them as if they were unavoidable, and fain would they persuade themselves that they are harmless. There was an officer who kept in his house a leopard, a tame leopard, which had been born in captivity, and had never known what liberty was. It had grown up as tame as a domestic cat, till one day, when the master was asleep, it gently licked his hand. Now, it so happened that he had abraded the skin during the day, and a little blood oozed out as the creature’s tongue was drawn repeatedly over the wound. The taste of the blood roused the wild demon spirit of the beast at once, and had it not been promptly shot, its once loved master would have been its victim. In like manner those little household sins which look not like the fell destroyers that they are, will one of these days reveal their true nature, and you will have to chase them from your soul, and drive them to their native haunts. It is not meet that they should lodge under your roof. Chase them away before they put you into greater danger. They must be doomed or ye will have no peace. They must be destroyed, for your life is in jeopardy. When the thief cannot break in at the door himself, he finds a child, and puts him through the little window, and then the great door is speedily opened. Thus do little sins open the door for a great sin. Men who have appeared to be proof against open temptations to commit a crime, have often been inveigled by specious allurements. The temptations have come in the garb of virtue, and their disguise has not been cast aside until the way of escape has been cut off. “Keep me, then, as the apple of the eye,” means, “keep me from little things that defile, and little flaws that disfigure or utterly deface godliness of character.”

     4. Bo you not think, brethren, that the sensitiveness of the organ of vision may suggest another lesson to be drawn from this prayer, “Keep me as the apple of the eye”? That is to say, make my heart tender, and my conscience quick and impressible. There is nothing more sensitive than the eye. If anything were moved near your hand or arm in the dark, you might not feel its motion, but the eye is keenly perceptive even of a current of air. It is affected by anything passing near it, as you may readily notice for yourselves. God has made the apple of the eye thus sensitive for its own protection, that it may shrink from rash exposure. So, if we are kept as the apple of the eye, we shall be endowed with this peculiar faculty, a tender sensitiveness that shrinks with nervous trepidation from the presence of evil. If the eye grew dull and callous instead of being impressible, it would be in immediate danger, and probably would be soon destroyed. The sensibility of the eye is its own protection: it forecasts the peril and avoids it. Our hearts, my brethren, must in like manner to some extent carry within themselves, by God’s grace, their own instincts of self-protection. Wesley seized on this thought, and paraphrased it aptly when he wrote the verse

“Quick as the apple of an eye,
O God, my conscience make;
Awake my soul when sin is nigh,
And keep it still awake.”

Are there not some men whose senses are never exercised to discern good and evil? They walk in such darkness that they stumble on a sin before they detect it in their path, or a ponderous temptation will roll on them and overturn them without their once perceiving the headway it was making, and the necessity of making their escape. There are some nostrils that would not be disgusted at the foulest smells, nor would they be regaled though the daintiest perfumes were loading the air with their fragrance. But there are other nostrils quick and delicate, which soon perceive the noxious odour; it frets their sense while it pollutes the air. The insensitive are exposed to all kinds of miasma and pestilence because they perceive not the danger; while those to whom the effluvium is repulsive would shun it forthwith, and never rest till the noxious matter that might have bred disease is removed. We want a spiritual sensibility that shall be quick and apprehensive of the faintest smell of sin. Only feel that it is loathsome, and you will easily convince yourselves that it is dangerous. You will not require the minister to come down and admonish you of his suspicions, or exhort you to forbear the first indications of a wrong practice. You will not need a mother or father to say, “My dear child, that is a treacherous step you are about to take.” The conscience should be a ready indicator; if in good keeping it would be a wonderful tell-tale. It will startle you from your lethargy. It will arouse you as with an alarum, for it will cry aloud, “Thou art going astray; thou art falling into error; thou art wandering after evil; thou art setting thyself to do iniquity.” God give us this sensitiveness. I do delight to see it in young converts. Ah, some of us in the early stages. of' conviction were half afraid to put one foot before another for fear of doing wrong. O that you could keep up that tenderness of heart! It ought to increase. Do your diligence to keep the heart holy, for out of it are the issues of life. With some of you I fear there is a degree of dulness that does not betoken the refinement of your taste in spiritual things. We ought as we get nearer to heaven to become more and more jealous of approximation or contact with anything that defileth, abhorring the very trail of the serpent; shuddering at even the appearance of sin; loathing the atmosphere that is corrupted by evil conversation. Keep me, then, like as thou keepest the eye through its own sensitiveness.

     5. Should we not make it our prayer, too, that God will keep us as the eye ought to be kept? It should be single. “The light of the body is the eye: therefore, when thine eye is single, thy whole body is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy whole body is full of darkness.” Keep me single-minded, Lord, consecrated wholly, and devoted alone to thee. The eye should be clear. Any speck on its retina would obscure our view of the landscape. With “an inlet so small,” as one of the poets writes, “that a grain might close it,” the eye needs to be cleansed. God has provided arrangements for this without disturbing the beautiful mechanism of the little orb. Take heed, beloved, that the eye of faith is kept clear. We need to be sprinkled with the precious blood, and washed with clean water full often, that we may be always pure, consciously sanctified. The clean water you know is the cleansing water which came with the blood from the heart of Christ, who through the Eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God; thereby the conscience is purged, and the heart made clean, actively and passively sanctified unto God. The eye needs to be far-seeing. It is a great pity when the eye can only see a short distance. We strain our natural eye to see some ship far out at sea, that looks perchance like a speck on the horizon, or we want to stretch our vision far over mountain and valley, river and lake, from some lofty Alp, compassing the entire prospect at a glance. But oh! it is well when our soul can take a wide view, and embrace the grand perspective which revelation unfolds, free from cloud and vapour, not pestered with the cares of the day so as to obscure the immortal joys that await our arrival at the city of the blessed; not earth-bound, and absorbed by incidents that transpire within the tick of this clock, but prospecting the fields of light beyond, where moments, hours, days, years, and centuries of years are unknown. Raise your eyes, Christians. May be ye shall catch a glimpse of the better land,

“Where everlasting spring abides,
And never withering flowers;
Death , like a narrow stream, divides
That heavenly land from ours.”

May the Lord keep us as the apple of the eye, sensitive, clean, clear, single-eyed, and far-seeing.

     My brethren, the eye is kept and preserved as an ornament. Certainly the most expressive feature of the human body is the eye, and it is the most capable of making the countenance beautiful. Take away the eye from that fair face— that eye of hazel or of blue, or that black eye that looks you through and through and burns your heart as with coals of fire — how dull, unimpassioned, and senseless it would be! “A beautiful eye,” it has been somewhere said, “makes silence eloquent; a kind eye makes contradiction assent; and an enraged eye makes beauty itself to be deformed; for it is this little member which gives life to every part about us.” Take the sparkling eye away from the sweetest face, and how sadly you have marred it! Your marble statues— some of them almost speak— fail to convey the impression of life, because there is no eye. That lack of eye is lack of all that is lifelike. Let every Christian pray God that, as the eye is the ornament of the body, he may be kept as an ornament to the Christian church. What are the ornaments of the church of God? Are they the wealthy and respectable members? or are they the learned and intellectual members? These , my dear friends, are ornaments from man’s too carnal point of view; they will often secure the most notice among their fellows, but they are not ornaments from God’s point of view unless there is something higher to commend them than the accidents of rank or education. The greatest ornaments of the Christian church are those that labour most diligently, those that pray the most fervently, those that are most filled with love, those that are most Christ like in temper and disposition, the most humble, the most teachable, the most patient in suffering, the most persevering in service, those who commend the gospel of the grace of God by their entire life and conversation— such are the ornaments of the church of God. And the eye of faith sheds lustre on all other features of character. I tell you, that when spirits more pure than ours go round about the church and count the towers thereof, and mark well her bulwarks, it never enters into their thoughts that one part of the building was smeared with the yellow hue of wealth; or that another part of the building was decorated after the classic manner of Corinth and Athens; they only think of the jasper light and of the sapphire glow of spirituality and holiness as it flashes bright in the sunlight of God over hearts that have been sanctified by the Holy Ghost. Pray that you may be made an ornament of the church, your light shining before men, being kept as the apple of the eye to shed lustre on the saints around, and in your degree to irradiate this dark world.

     The eye is not only an ornament, but its function in the body is of the greatest usefulness. How sad a privation is the loss of sight, or to lose even a portion of its power how grievous the detriment! The eye is in some respects the most useful part of the mechanism of our bodies; it benefits all our limbs. So, brethren, ought we to be profitable and conducive to the good of others. When we pray, “Keep me as the apple of the eye,” it behoves us to remember the real interest that attaches to our preservation. Are we worth keeping? Not certainly if we are of no use. Who cares to spare and keep a tree that brings forth no fruit? or who is zealous to keep an eye that does not see? I suppose those who wear glass eyes would rather not lose them, but I would be bound to say they do not prize them as if they were as tributary to their pleasure and profit as ours are whose eyes are of God’s making, and answer his ends. A genuine Christian will pray to be useful— to be not like a glass eye, a mere counterfeit for appearance sake; but being of God’s workmanship in Christ Jesus, that he may be preserved with all his faculties in full vigour, lest his strength should be impaired and spoiled, and his capacity to show forth the praises of God, and minister to the welfare of the church, dimmed or utterly extinguished.

     My next remark you will perhaps think strange and quaint, but as I have not restricted myself to the immediate sense of the metaphor, as limited by the context, I may be allowed to speak of that which relates to the eye. It occurs to me that Solomon has made this shrewd remark, “The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness;” and I would venture to give this a spiritual turn, and, in beseeching the Lord to keep me as the apple of the eye, would entreat him to keep me in the head, that is, to preserve me in Christ Jesus. Of what use were the eye of a man if it were not in the head? It would have no vitality if it were taken away from the glorious position of honour which is given to it in the countenance of the living man. So if we could be divided from our living Head— if we, as members of Christ, could be separated from him, it were all over with us. When we are united to him, as the branch is to the vine, we flourish, we bring forth fruit; but if we are separated from him we are like the dead withered branches that are gathered up and cast behind the wall where all the rubbish is ignobly burned. The best believer in the world would be only fit for the burning if he were divided from Christ his living Head. “Because I live ye shall live also.” So it stands. Christ’s life is our life. The life of the brain is the life of the optic nerve; the eye lives because the brain lives, and because of its place in the Head. The life of Christ is the Christian’s life. You live because of your connection with Christ — because of your vital indissoluble gracious and eternal union with Jesus Christ your covenant Head. Be this then your prayer, “Lord, let me abide in Christ, and may his words abide in me. Let my thoughts abide in him; may I meditate much on him— may my meditation of him be sweet. Let my purposes and resolves abide in him. May I be determined to follow him whithersoever he goeth, to be and to do always in his strength. May my desires always be towards him, desiring to know him and to be found in him— he himself being the summit of all my hopes and the crown of all my delight. O let my whole soul be in him! Then shall I be useful, then shall I be an ornament of the body, then shall I be preserved and kept.”

     I commend this prayer to every believer here. You will often want it: you may want it to-night before you get home. Pray it in the pew now, that you may have protection from sin— even as you pass along the streets — that you may be preserved to your own door. I have met with persons who have broken their leg on their own stairs: mind you do not fall into sin in your own house, where you think you are safest, and at times when you could least suppose that you would be in danger. The Lord succour you, and keep you as the apple of the eye.

     Alas! there are some here to whom this prayer is nothing; they are not Christ’s, they have not believed in him. Here is another prayer for you. It is this: “Lord, save me, or I perish.” The fitness of the prayer is obvious, for the reflection appended to it is true. You are near perishing. If you died to-night you must perish for ever. “Lord, save me.” He can do it, he will if you pray to him. His precious blood is shed for the remission of sin. He is always willing to bless sinners. “Lord, save me, or I perish.” Once saved, you may pray to be kept; and he will keep you. “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”



Footsteps of Mercy

By / Jun 22

Footsteps of Mercy

 

“If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto men his uprightness: then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom.”— Job xxxiii. 23, 24.

 

WHEN God has distinct and definite purposes of mercy towards an individual, he often begins with stern discipline, and brings him low by affliction and sorrow. As the good husbandman cuts down the trees and makes a clearance of the soil before he sows the grain and prepares for a harvest, so does our God cut down all our goodly cedars, our pleasures, and our pride, in order that the heart may be afterwards ploughed, broken, harrowed, and made ready to receive the good seed of the word. Elihu describes this preparatory breaking-up process as being brought about by sickness. It is often so: I doubt not, that a sick-bed is one of God’s best orators to the sons of men. But God is by no means restricted to any uniform method; nor is the experience of the redeemed precisely similar in its details, though notwithstanding all its diversities, it leads to one and the same result. Sometimes a storm at sea has brought men to their senses, and aroused their conscience, and so they have cried to the Lord in their trouble. At other times serious losses in business have brought men into such distress of mind, that they have been driven to seek riches more enduring than silver and gold; a competence more to be relied on than the profits of trade or the stability of banks; and comfort more genuine and lasting than wealth, though it be the accumulation of years, can afford. Yea, and without either of these, the Holy Ghost has not unfrequently been pleased to convince men of their sin, and reduce them to utter self-despondency and abject self-abhorrence. This he has effected in such a way as neither sickness nor poverty could have done of themselves. He has brought the man very low, even to the gates of hell. In his own apprehension the man has been lost, and then it is that mercy has commenced her work, her blessed work that shall open to him the gates of righteousness, and bring the soul up to heaven itself.

     Now, I hope there are some here present whom God has been preparing for his grace— to such there will be good tidings in the sermon. I shall not delay you, but proceed at once to deal with the text in the natural order it suggests, as the welcome facts are marshalled before us. Does it not tell of a messenger— a message— a gracious disposition— a great deliverance— and an amazing ransom?

     I. When God has thus, in the way of providence, prepared any human heart for a work of grace, one of the first means of blessing the chosen man is TO SEND HIM A MESSENGER.

     I suppose the passage before us may be primarily referred to Christian ministers, who become, through God the Holy Ghost, interpreters to men’s souls. They should be men of a thousand, well taught; they should have high moral and spiritual qualifications; in fact, they should be the pick and cull of mankind. When God sends a faithful gospel-messenger to a man, it is a sign of great love to that man’s soul. I ask no honour for ministers as men, but this I do ask, that when they preach to you the gospel of Jesus Christ, they shall be accepted as God’s messengers, and that their message at least shall be treated with the respect which God’s word demands.

     But I prefer to believe, with many expositors, that the full meaning of these words will never be found in ministers of mortal race; we must rather refer it to the Great Messenger of the covenant, the Great Interpreter between Cod and man, whose presence to the sin-sick soul is a sure prophecy of mercy. Where God the Father sends his beloved Son to a man, where Christ comes to the man’s conscience and talks with him, showing the credentials of a Saviour, and constraining the faith of the sinner, there it is that salvation is obviously intended by the Lord, and will be effectually perfected in that man unto everlasting life. With this view I proceed, regarding our Lord Jesus Christ as the herald of mercy. Mark well the titles, a messenger, an interpreter, one among a thousand. Is there any other than Jesus to whom they so fitly belong? Let us contemplate him as a messenger. That is just what Jesus Christ is. Now, a messenger cometh not in his own name, he must be sent, and it is a great comfort to know that Jesus Christ did not come to save men merely on his own account, but he came commissioned by the Father, he was sent of God. God has appointed Christ to be the Saviour. Those who accept Christ, and trust in him, accept the very person God himself has ordained. Christ is no amateur Saviour, who comes without a commission. In his hands he bears the royal stamp of the divine authority. O trembling sinner, trust him whom God has trusted. Lay hold of him whom God has appointed.

     Another description that belongs to him, as I believe, is an interpreter. Jesus Christ is indeed a blessed interpreter. An interpreter must understand two languages. Our Lord Jesus understands the language of God. Whatever are the great truths of divine intelligence and infinite wisdom, too high and mysterious for us to comprehend or even to discern, Christ fully understands them all. He knows how to speak with God as the fellow of God, co-equal and co-eternal with him. His prayers are in God’s language. He speaks to God’s heart. He can make out the sighs, and cries, and tears of a poor sinner, and he can take up the meaning, and interpret them all to God. He understands the divine language, and thus he can communicate with God. Moreover, Jesus understands our language, for he is a man like ourselves, touched with a feeling of our infirmities, and smarting under our sicknesses. He can read whatever is in the heart of man, and so he can tell to God the language of man, and speak to man in the language of man what God would say to him. How happy we ought to be that there is so blessed a Daysman to put his hand upon us both, that he can be equal with God, and yet can be brother with poor simple men! The best of it is that our Lord is such an interpreter that he can not only interpret to the ear but also to the heart, and this is a great point. I, perhaps, might be enabled to interpret a Scripture to your ears, but, O beloved, when you have heard the letter you may miss the right, heavenly, and spiritual meaning. But our Lord can bring the word home to your soul. He can tell you of God’s mercy, not in words only, but with a sweet sense of mercy shed abroad in your heart. He can make the sinner feel the way of salvation, as well as know it; he can make him rejoice in it as well as listen to it; he can lead him to accept it as well as to understand it. Oh, blessed interpreter! mighty with God, so that the heart of God is affected with the woes and griefs of men; mighty with men so that the great love of God, which is an ocean without a bottom or a shore, is made intelligible to us, and even our poor stony hearts are softened, and the adamant is made to run like wax, while the divine interpreter talks to our inmost souls.

     This messenger, then, this interpreter, is he not “one among a thousand”? O peerless Jesus! who among the sons of the mighty can be compared with thee? Elihu may well be supposed to use a definite number when an indefinite is intended. What is one of a thousand, or one of ten thousand, when surely there is never the like of Christ between heaven and hell? All the range of the universe cannot find his equal, his equal as a Saviour, as a messenger, as an interpreter. Oh! but those who know him will tell you that no words can ever set forth his worth. Disciples of Jesus who have followed him and held communion with him for the space of twenty years and more, will tell you that his preciousness grows upon them by acquaintance. Whereas they thought him sweet at first, they think him sweetest and best of all now, the loveliest of all the lovely, the fairest of all the fair, the chief among ten thousand, yea, and the altogether lovely. I tell you that if there were a thousand Saviours, I would have none but Christ. If the gods of the heathen, and the saints of the papists could help them, if the ceremonies of our modern papists could deliver their souls instead of enthralling them, yet would we repudiate them, we would have nothing to do with them in whole or in part; but we would still cling to him who is the one mediator between God and men, for he is the chief among ten thousand to our souls. He is such a Saviour that there is no other can vie with him: all rivalry must prove abortive, seeing that other foundation can no man lay. He is the door of heaven, all the rest is hard wall, and there is no passing through – a light from God, and all other lights are darkness – very God come down to us in our flesh to save us, and where shall you find the match of this? O cherubim and seraphim, what Saviour could ye devise that should emulate the only-begotten Son of God? O ye angels, fairest among the goodly throng that salute Jehovah day and night with your ceaseless music, whom will je laud and magnify but Jesus in your jubilant worshipful songs? As ye survey the glorious company of the apostles, the noble army of the martyrs, and the radiant fellowship of the church redeemed, will ye chant any other name? Is he not in your esteem the chief among a thousand, the sole heritor of all blessing and praise? Accept him, sinner; receive him joyfully into thy spirit, for such a one will never woo thee as this precious one, the chosen of God. Who, save Jesus, then, should be chosen and precious to thy soul?

     It is a great sign of mercy whenever Christ comes to any sinner. But how, say you, can he come to a sinner? I will tell you. He has come to you now, to everyone of you. Jesus comes in the preaching of the gospel. There is never a gospel sermon preached but it is, in fact, Jesus coming with open arms of love to receive the sinner. He comes to you in these Bibles and New Testaments of yours. Every one of those volumes that lies in your house is a standing token of Christ’s mission, whispering to him that hath ears to hear that he is still ready to receive the sinner. And I trust he comes to some of you now, in the motions of the Holy Ghost upon your heart, saying to you, “Close in with him; reject him no longer, bow down thine ear and listen to him, lift up thine eye and look to him, concerning whom we sang so truly just now:—

“There is life for a look at the Crucified One,
There is life at this moment for thee.”
This is the first stage.

     II. Now, secondly, wherever this divine messenger comes, according to the text, HE REVEALS GOD S UPRIGHTNESS.

     A lesson, let me assure you, of deep interest and paramount importance; the occasion on which it is taught is peculiarly impressive. You remember Elihu has been describing a man greatly afflicted, chastened with pain, wasted with disease, reduced to a skeleton, and brought nigh to death. We have shown you that ere the Lord Jesus Christ comes in mercy to deal with a soul, such tribulation is dealt out by God to break up the fallow ground of the heart. No marvel that the sufferer is appalled with tokens of judgment. What message, then, can the divine messenger bring more suitable or more refreshing than that which reveals to man the uprightness of God in having afflicted him? You think, perhaps, that God has been very hard with you. In your distraction you say, “How long I have been ill! how long I have been out of work! how long my wife has been afflicted! how many of my dear children have died! what strokes God has laid upon me without intermission I” Now shall new views spring up, and comfortable thoughts arise. But who shall bridge the interval? When Christ comes to you as an interpreter he will make you discern the wisdom, and the love, and cause you to feel the pity and the tenderness of him, who as a father rebukes you, not in anger but in his dear covenant love. Instead of kicking against the pricks, you will Bay, “Ah! Lord, it is of thy mercy I am not consumed; I can see there is a hand of love in this; God would not let me go on in sin, and wander into endless woe; he is blocking up my road, he is putting massive chains across the broad way to stop me; he is digging pits in mv path that I may come to a pause, and so I will turn back from this.” Depend upon it, there is nothing more dreadful in the conclusion than a life that is happy in the commission of sin. If you have prosperity, and all that heart can wish, while pursuing an evil course, tremble, for it is likely enough that God will give you up; you are having your portion in this life. O ye unconverted! are any of you tried and troubled, vexed and disquieted? while I am sorry for your troubles, I hope God has designs of love towards you; if you look to Christ he will explain to you the heavenly moral of these earthly trials, and show you the uprightness of God in dealing thus severely with his rebellious child.

     Further than this, the gospel of Christ explains to the sinner the uprightness of God in the doom of the impenitent, even if he send him down to hell. Oh! a man may find fault with hell, and say, “Will God consign men to the devouring fire? Will he destroy their souls? Will he damn men for their offences?” but if once the Great Interpreter comes to you, you will wonder, not that God should destroy men for sin, but that he has not destroyed you long ago. Oh! I could have argued with a bold front against eternal punishment till I knew what sin meant, and then I gave in at once, and I wish that some of my brethren who seem to speak dubiously about the wrath of God, could feel, as some of us have felt, the horror of great darkness that sin brings across a soul when it is made to feel the righteous ire that encompasses and impends it; there is no cavilling then, the only cry is, “O my God, deliver me, for I deserve all thy wrath can bring upon me, and if thou shouldst smite me to destruction thou wilt be justified when thou judgest, and clear when thou condemnest.” Mark you, it is a blessed thing when Christ brings a sinner to plead guilty, when he is quite willing to plead guilty, and when, instead of railing at the justice of the sentence, he stands dumb with silence, feeling that God is upright, and would not be upright even if he did not thus condemn. There is hope, there is more than hope, there is confidence in our heart towards any sinner who is convinced of the uprightness of God in his present affliction or in any other that God may please to send upon him, either in this life or in the life to come. Ah! but this is learning to some profit for a man to see the uprightness of God in everything, and then by contrast to bewail his own ignorance and foolishness. Mercy is surely come to you when you can think of God’s holiness with reverence, and upbraid yourself with bitter reproach for what an unholy creature you have been. It is a rough wind, that north wind, but, O my brethren, what a healthy wind it is! It sweeps away the fevers of our pride, and drives away the mists of our self-righteousness. Selfrighteous, indeed! such wretches as we are, such offenders against God and truth as we have been, for us to talk of goodness when we are altogether vile, for us to boast of something hopeful in us when the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint the blessed interpreter comes and deals — graciously this is sheer with insanity the spirit. When, we confess that God is upright, but as for ourselves we have gone astray like lost sheep; we have done the things which we ought not to have done, we have left undone the things which we ought to have done, and there is no health in us. Oh, those visions of God, how humiliating they are! So Job himself made confession, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” This supplies us with the second stage in the experience of divine mercy— Christ is recognised, the uprightness of God is revealed and understood.

     III. The third stage is this— “THEN HE IS GRACIOUS UNTO HIM. God deals with convinced sinners in a way of grace. Every word here is weighty. “Then he is gracious unto him.” Marie the time — then! God is gracious to a man when, Christ having come to him as a messenger and an interpreter, he is led to discern his own sin and God’s uprightness. When he is humble, then God shows himself to be gracious. No debts are pronounced forgiven by the Great Master of all till they are owned, and no release from the pains of bankruptcy are granted until we feel that we have nought with which to pay. When a soul pleads total insolvency and is truly penniless, then there is free forgiveness. When men admit the justice of God if he should punish them, then, not till then, mercy comes in and the punishment is put away. It is not consistent with the holiness of God to pardon a sinner while he denies his guilt, or invents excuses to palliate his crimes; nor is it reasonable for a sinner to expect remission while he vaunts his self-righteousness. How shall the hardness of a man’s heart move the compassion of his judge? Come, poor soul, fall on thy knees, confess that God is upright, and then he will be gracious to thee.

     The way as well as the time demands your notice. It is through the messenger that God is gracious. Then— that is when the messenger comes. When Jesus interposes then God is gracious. You shall never taste of grace except out of the golden cup of Christ’s atonement. It is into that golden cup that God has poured the infinity of his grace. Drink of it, sinner, by simply trusting in Christ. Drink of it in any other way thou never canst. Narrowly observe what the text says, “Then he is gracious unto him.” All salvation comes by way of grace. The word “grace” as used by us in its Latin form explains its own meaning. We speak of “gratis ”— a thing free from cost; like the prescription of a physician if given without fee; or the medicine supplied at the dispensary without charge. All God’s mercy to a sinner is gratis. He never sells, he always gives. He asks no payment. He acts from no motives raised or suggested by anything in us, but because he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and he will have compassion on whom he will have compassion. Dear heart, it is a blessing for thee when thou canst see that nothing but Christ can serve thy turn, when thou hast done with appealing to justice, and all thy knocks are at mercy’s door. O sinner, you cannot be saved except by grace in the beginning, grace in the middle, and grace in the end. What but grace can pardon sins such as yours and mine? What but grace could take such as we are and make us God’s children? What but grace could snatch us from hell, and lift us up to heaven? When the man it humbled, and Christ is revealed to him, then it is that God deals graciously with the man, and then it is that he knows he has found grace in the eyes of the Lord. And I like the thought, that it does not say God ever leaves off being gracious to that man. Where we do not read that God ceases, we may believe that he continues. Does he once deal graciously with a sinner? he will always be gracious to that sinner. Never will he change. That sinner once blessed, shall be blessed through life, and blessed in death, and blessed in eternity, through the sovereign, overflowing, immutable grace which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

     Well, we have come a long way. We have found the sinner sick and near to die ; the interpreter has come; he has shown him the uprightness of God, and given him an assurance of God’s gracious disposition— now the sinner knows that Christ alone can save him.

     IV. Let us proceed to the next stage— GOD DELIVERS THE SINNER. “He saith, Deliver him from going down into the pit.” What shall we understand by this? Does it refer to “the grave” which is dug like a pit? Well, such an interpretation may harmonise with Elihu’s discourse as he describes the man whose soul draweth near to the grave and his life to the destroyers; but when delivered from going down into the pit, his flesh shall be fresher than a child’s, he shall return to the days of his youth. So the psalmist celebrates the lovingkindness of the Lord — “O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave; thou hast kept me that I should not go down into the pit.” What more shall we understand by the pit from which the soul is delivered? The pit is often used in Scripture as the emblem of great distress and misery. Captives in the East were frequently shut up in pits all night. So Isaiah says, “They shall be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison.” (Isaiah xxiv. 22.) And again in another place, “The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed, and that he should not die in the pit, nor that His bread should fail.” (Isaiah li. 14.) There is a bondage of soul, which involves depression of spirits, and failing of heart that may well be likened to confinement in a pit from which there appears no way of escape. But may we not understand still more by the pit? Alas! then, dear friends, we sometimes read of the pit, when the word is pregnant with deeper meaning, even of the pit that is bottomless, that place of torment prepared tor devils and lost souls. Oh, if there were time, what a picture we have before us! The pit, the bottomless pit – an awful representation, a horrible vision of the future wrath of God! The pit, black, dark, descending, adown which the soul slips and slides, and falls headlong! Going down into the pit— what a dreadful expression! Not going down as miners do to seek for ore, but being hurled by the strong hand of the avenging angel downwards into the abyss! There on the verge of the precipice you are; though not falling down that abyss yet, your feet have almost gone, your steps have well nigh slipped. At such a crisis the mercy of God comes to the sinner’s aid, and cries in thrilling tones, “Deliver him!” It is not a mere shout of warning, it is a voice that hath power in it, it is the clear silvery note of rescue, and the man is delivered just as he is about to sink to rise no more. Kings and emperors, when they have condemned men to die, can exercise the prerogative of mercy. Let the royal mandate issue concerning a prisoner, “Deliver him,” then the prison doors are opened, for the king’s pardon has been given. Just such a thing doth God with condemned sinners, when they bow down before him and confess the righteousness of the sentence. Through Jesus Christ, the heavenly messenger, he saith, “Deliver him! deliver him!” There is a legal pardon. The man is set free from the bonds of the jailer, instead of being given over to the hands of the executioner. Henceforth he shall live in peace and joy. “Deliver him!” Perhaps the three significations of the pit I have alluded to may be combined in one dark picture. Sickness brings the sinner to the immediate prospect, not of death only, but of his endless doom. The sorrows and remorse of his soul produce, as it were, a foretaste of that anguish which knows no abatement. And anon! Hell doth yawn at his feet “a universe of death ”— “worse than fables yet have feigned, or fear conceived.”

     How many witnesses we might call to speak to the truth of all this! Why, Elihu said, “Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man.” The anguish is real, and the joy of rescue is real likewise. Did not Hezekiah feel them both? The message came to him, “Thus saith the Lord, set thine house in order, for thou shalt die and not live.” Then he prayed vehemently, and he wept sore. Afterwards the word of the Lord came to him that his prayer was heard, that his tears were seen, and that his life should be spared. And this is what he said: “Behold, for peace I had great bitterness; but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption; for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.” What a shout of joy is that of David when he says, “He brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings”! In like manner Jonah speaks, “Thou hast brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.” Very memorable too is the sweet promise of God to the daughter of Zion, by the mouth of the prophet Zechariah, “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.” Yes, my dear friends, and I feel bound to say for myself, to the praise of my God—

“Thy love was great, thy mercy free,
Which from the pit delivered me.”

     Well do I remember when the sentence went forth to my soul, “Deliver him!” The time did indeed seem long first. I was years and years upon the brink of hell— I mean in my own feeling. I was unhappy, I was desponding, I was despairing. I dreamed of hell, my life was full of sorrow and wretchedness, believing that I was lost. But oh! the blessed gospel of the God of grace came to me at length with that soft voice, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth!” With it came a sovereign word, “Deliver him!” and I who was but a minute before as wretched as a soul could be, could have danced for very merriment of heart, and as the snow fell on my road home from the little house of prayer I thought every snow-flake talked with me, and told of the pardon I had found; for I was white as the driven snow through the grace of God. Oh! that word, “Deliver him!” It so restrains the temptations of Satan, and quells the strivings of conscience, that the poor soul has instantaneous liberty, and rejoices with joy unspeakable. Mark you, my dear friend, if ever you should look to Christ by simple faith, and God should say, “Deliver him;” that “Deliver him ” will last you for ever. God does not play fast and loose with sinners. If he pardons today he will not condemn to-morrow. He does not loose and then bind again. He openeth, and no man shutteth. Once he says, “Deliver him,” you may walk through all the earth, and who shall lay anything to your charge: for who is he that can arrest you and cast you into prison against this, “Deliver him”? There may have come into this place some great offender. It is impossible for me to discriminate among you, or single out any one of these thousands, but there may be here some one of the very blackest class of sinners. To you Christ’s gospel has come. I hope you have been led to feel that you are guilty, to confess your sin, and to own that you can only be saved through God’s grace and mercy. Well now, if you will but trust my Saviour, the Lord Jesus who once died on Calvary’s cross, and now lives enthroned in glory; if you will but trust him now, the sentence shall come from the throne, “Deliver him,” or “Deliver her, from going down into the pit.” Oh! there have been many outcasts in these very aisles, who have found grace and obtained remission of their sins. The harlot has heard the word, “Deliver her from going down to the pit.” The thief and the drunkard too, though in their own conscience on the very brink of hell, and all but sliding in, have heard it, and they are here among the happy worshippers that praise God. Some of us who never fell into those fouler vices, though depraved in our hearts as they, have heard that blessed sound, and we are here to express our soul’s desire that you all knew it. O that you all trusted Christ. O that you were all saved by that blessed mandate, “Deliver him from going down into the pit.”

     V. The last thing is that GOD EXPLAINS TO THE SINNER WHOM HE DELIVERS THE REASON OF HIS DELIVERANCE. “Deliver him from going down into the pit; I have found a ransom.”

     “I have found a ransom” — a covering. Catch the thought. There are your sins like a foetid slough, reeking with corruption , they are black ; like a huge pool of blood, they are scarlet. It is abhorrent to the pure eyes of God to look upon the heart that is a very reservoir of pollution. He must smite you if he look at it. Listen— “I have found a covering.” Christ comes in and covers it all. “Blessed is that man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” As the mercyseat covered the law, and was called a covering, so does the atonement of Christ cover the perfect law of God, and it puts out of God’s sight every sin of all those who trust in Christ.

     But take the word as we get it in the English version— a ransom. that means a price. When a man was in debt, he used to be, according to the old law, put into prison. Well, how did he get his discharge? He came out if the debt was paid, of course, at once. So God saith, “Deliver him; I have found a price, I have found a recompense, I have found a substitute, I have found a ransom.” The Lord Jesus Christ has suffered for us what God’s wrath demanded of us.

“He bore, that we might never bear,
His Fathers righteous ire.”

Christ stood in our stead that we might go free. I have told you this grand old tale so many times in this house, that sometimes as I am coming here I think to myself— “I can find no new metaphor to illustrate it, and no new words to rouse the languid attention; they will tell me that I am always harping on the same string.” Still, still, I must continue to expound and enforce this substitutionary suffering of Christ. I cannot help it. It is as much as my soul is worth to keep it back, for I am persuaded that it is the very essence of the gospel— the vicarious suffering of Christ. At any rate, I have no gospel to preach to you but this, that God has punished Christ instead of you that will believe on Christ, and therefore he cannot punish you; you are clear. Christ has paid your debts; the receipt is given; you are liberated. God has no claims upon you from his justice now; they are all discharged. Christ has discharged all your liabilities. “By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”

     Never listen, I entreat you, my dear hearers, to the derisive sneer of the scorner, as he attempts to cast discredit upon the righteousness of God in the imputation of our sins to the great Redeemer. I know that it is not in the power of sceptic, rationalist, socinian, or infidel to bring forth one argument that can refute the plain testimony which abounds in the Scriptures. But they can and they do ask if our moral sense of rectitude is not shocked at inflicting punishment on the innocent, and bestowing rewards as well as pardon on the guilty. Do they object to you that it were unjust on the part of God to make one man suffer personally for another man’s sin? Tell them, if they better understood the doctrine, they would see that instead of outraging the morality of men, it manifests the righteousness of God. Tell them, as one of our most famous Puritans did, that the Redeemer and redeemed have such an intimate relation, that what one doeth or suffereth, the other may be accounted to do or suffer; it is no unrighteousness, if the hand offend for the head to be smitten; Christ is our head, and we are his members. Tell them that he who suffered, the just for the unjust, had power to lay down his life and power to take it again: his submission therefore was voluntary. Tell them that he who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, agreed and stipulated to bear our iniquities; the whole matter was settled in covenant between the Father and the Son. Tell them once more that our Lord Jesus Christ counted the cost and estimated the recompense, when he for the joy that was set before him endured the cross ; he shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied; with honour and glory shall he be crowned. Because he humbled himself, therefore God also hath highly exalted him: and because he made himself of no reputation, to him is given a name which is above every name. Tell them his mediatorial glory surpassed thought. Bid them cease their pitiless clamour and leave us to our joys. It is the sweetest music out of heaven, and it is the source of the music of heaven. “I have found a ransom.” Christ’s ransom for enslaved sinners is the world’s good news. Tell it, then, and as you hear it, let your hearts rejoice.

     You notice these words, “I have found a ransom.” You do not find it for yourselves. You could not ever have discovered it, much less have brought it into the world. But God found it out. The infinite wisdom of God was needed to find out the way of salvation by a substitute. “I have found a ransom.” Now, since God has found it, and God is satisfied with it, let me, chief of sinners though I be, find rest in this divine satisfaction. Conscience says to me, “Well, but how can your sins be forgiven?” Again conscience thunders, “Recollect such a day, such a night, such an act, such a blasphemy. Dost thou think Christ can wash such a devil as thou art?” I answer, “Well, if God is satisfied, I am sure I will be.” If you owe a debt, and your creditor  takes the money of another, and he is quite easy about it, wist, man, do not you be uneasy about it; if he is satisfied you may be, and if God is content with Christ, so, poor sinner, let you and I be satisfied, and let us begin to sing—

“I will praise thee every day!
Now thine anger’s turn’d away,
Comfortable thoughts arise
From the bleeding sacrifice
Jesus is become at length
My salvation and my strength;
And his praises shall prolong,
While I live, my pleasant song.

O bless the dear name of him who suffered in your stead. O take his ransom-price; look at it; turn over every sacred drop of it in your memory and your gratitude. Be satisfied, and more than satisfied; rejoice and be exceeding glad to be delivered from going down into the pit. God has found an all-sufficient and a most blessed ransom for your souls, and therefore you are delivered.

     What more can I say to you, my dear hearers? I have told you the way of mercy, and I have described to you the footsteps of mercy in the experience of those who have proved its saving efficacy; but I cannot bring Christ to your souls, or when Christ comes nigh unto you, as he doth now in the ministry of his gospel, I cannot make you open the doors of your hearts to receive him. O ye who do not believe and are yet in your sins, what more can I do for you than thus to cry aloud in your ears, and proclaim to you the path of life? This one thing I can do: I can stand here and break my heart to think that you refuse him. But no; I cannot take leave of you thus. I must again beseech, and entreat, and implore you as you love your souls, turn not away from the divine messenger, from Jesus Christ the friend of sinners. He asks no great thing of you; he bids you not pass through ceremonies that will take you days and months, but now, one believing glance at yonder cross, one glance at him who died there for sinners, and it is done. Christ is honoured; God is satisfied; you are saved. Go your way and tell your friends what great things he has done for you, and God bless you. Amen.



The Way Everlasting

By / Jun 22

The Way Everlasting

 

“Lead me in the way everlasting.”— Psalm cxxxix. 24.

 

WE must all of us have a “way,” we must be journeying, for this is not our resting-place. We cannot abide in any one stay, “forward” is the word of command. As the round earth never pauses but perpetually revolves, as the stars never halt in their courses but traverse incessantly their ordained orbits, as the rivers evermore seek the sea, as the ocean waves unrestingly pursue each other, even so feel we the common motion, and ever must we move onward, onward through this life unto the next — onward for ever and ever. Since we must have a way, it is of the highest importance that our way should be a right one; important, because if it be not right we shall not long be happy in our course, since the happiness of those who follow the path of evil is fleeting as a meteor, mocking as a will-o’-the-wisp, deceptive as the mirage, frail as a bubble on the wave, and unsubstantial as a phantom of the night. To-day the path of sin leads us through flowery meads, and groves resounding with song of birds, but to-morrow it will wind among the desolations of many generations where souls and all their joys are withered as the green herb in the summer sun. The ways of righteousness are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace; the good is growing and the pleasure deepening where the wise in heart are walking, but nowhere else.

     We have need, then, to find the right way, that we may be happy pilgrims along it. We have need of the right way, also, because whatever the way we pursue, others will be affected by it. Little ones who gather around our knee will think “father’s way” must be the way for them. Servants, neighbours, brethren, sisters, and if we are very young, playmates and schoolfellows under our influence, any or all of these will be affected for good or evil by our choice; our following the wrong way will lead them to the wrong, and we shall become a ministry of evil unto them if we choose evil unto ourselves. More important still is it that we should choose the right way because of the right end. “All’s well that ends well but what if the way be such that it must end amiss— must lead to the blackness of darkness for ever, must land us “where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched”? Oh! then it will be terrible to have been found in such a way, terrible for our souls to meet such a doom. May it be yours, my dear hearers, to be led early in life through the gate of faith in Jesus, which leadeth into the straight and narrow way of life eternal! May it be yours to be kept in that way, your faith confirmed by following in it; yours to be found in that way when the summons shall come from the Master to render up your account; yours to win, through divine grace, the sure results of perseverance in the way of holiness, by reaching that blessed end that hath no end, the joy of the blessed in the land of the hereafter, at the right hand of the Most High.

     We shall take the text as a prayer, and point out to you three things in it which strike us as being somewhat remarkable. The first is a remarkable attribute of the right way, it is said to be “everlasting;” secondly, a remarkable confession implied in the language here employed; and then, thirdly, the remarkably comprehensive prayer contained in the words before us.

     I. First, then, A REMARKABLE ATTRIBUTE OF THE RIGHT WAY IT IS “THE WAY EVERLASTING.”

     It is most certain that the way of many men cannot be everlasting. The way of the sinful is not so. I hope with regard to some that their way will last but for a very little time, for it is the way of evil. May they soon turn from it! “It is a long lane that has no turning.” May their road be so hedged up by God’s providence and grace that they may be compelled to take another road. May their prayer be unto God, “turn thou me, and I shall be turned.” The way of the sinner ought not to be a way everlasting, for if it should be it must be a way of everlasting sorrow. The sinner’s way of pleasure is far from being everlasting, for even here the wine-cup of sin first yields the sweetness of intoxication, afterwards it becomes insipid with satiety, after that it grows bitter with remorse, and as for the dregs thereof, what a hell bums within them! The way of pleasure in sin is but as the way of foam on the breaker, seen but to disappear. The devil would fain persuade men that their life shall always be as it is, that they shall dance on for ever, for ever be the merry butterflies that need not toil, and that flit away the golden hours; he would have them forget the killing frosts that will blight for ever each idle wing. Death, and the justice of God, have decreed that the way of pleasure and the life of sin shall not be everlasting. An end must surely come to the card-built houses of carnal merriment, their bowing wall must lie level with the dust, their tottering fence must down to the ground.

     The way of the merely moral man is not a way everlasting. It may be that he is one who steadily pursues money- getting, conducting his business on the best principles, commanding the fullest confidence of the mercantile community, and the admiration of all who can appreciate tact and principle. The man manages to acquire wealth, it grows from day to day, his account is large at the bank, his capital is ample, and the stream of interest that flows in is every day more considerable. But this cannot last always. There may come disaster and loss, and that which was long in accumulation may very swiftly be swept away. At any rate, death will put an end to the filling of the money-bags. Like Jesus in the temple, death will enter and overturn the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sell doves, and with a voice of authority he will cry, “Take these things hence!” Men will find that they cannot barter and bargain, that they cannot accumulate and grow rich when the time has come to lay aside their mortal bodies, and face the Judge of all the earth. These things of time, however dear to them, those who are summoned to the land of spirits must leave. Bitter the parting, but it is inevitable. Naked came they forth, and naked must they return, let them have gained what they may. It may be that the man, instead of making money, finds it difficult to make ends meet, and his way is that of plodding hard and industriously, to rear a family as respectably as he can. This has in it much to be commended; but even then, unsanctified by nobler ends, it is not a way everlasting, for there is a land where they neither marry nor are given in marriage, and where, consequently, there shall be no wife nor children for whom to toil, and no avocation for the worker who lived by bread alone. There will be no sphere for the mere servant of men or master of men to occupy; in heaven the mere earth-server will be out of place, his way must come to an end. The arm must be paralysed that earned the bread, and the fingers that drove the pen or wielded the needle must rest in long repose; and when they are reanimated at the resurrection they cannot pursue their old toil; if they know nothing but the handicraft of earth, their way will have a wretched end. The way of the merely moral is not a way everlasting. It might be if it were consecrated by the grace of God. These commoner things might be the prelude to the everlasting service before the throne of God, but inasmuch as the life is unconsccrated, let it be spent as it may, the way is a way that cometh to an end.

     The way of the purposeless and dilletanti is not everlasting. How many a man’s life reminds you, instead of an everlasting way, of a mere cul-de-sac, a blind alley, as we say, down which you wander merely to come back again! Hundreds of men’s lives are like that like the famous king in the nursery rhyme, who led his troops up—a hill and then down again. They live and they die, and that is all that you can say of many. Their way is a vain show— it passeth and is gone, and we say, “Where is it?” Some remind me of those circular lanes which we have sometimes been lost in; you go round, and you come back to the same place again, and you are no forwarder. As the tramp of the blind horse going round the mill, such is the way of many; from morn till eve, from year to year, they are mere pendulums swinging to and fro. Their life would be, if they could exist for ever, an everlasting toil, but since they must die, it must come to an end, and their unhappy spirits must remain for ever in that pathless wilderness of woe, from which no traveller ever finds his way of escape.

     My brethren, let me remind you, also, that the way even of some religious people is not the way everlasting. I mean the path, for instance, of those who are hypocritical. They may put on the mask, and look like beauty itself, but death will rudely dash the vizor on one side, and let their face be seen. Like the veiled prophet, who wore over his leprous brow a mask of silver, such are many men. They may pass in the crowd as bright and beautiful, but when the time comes for them to be seen in the light of God, their loathsomeness will be discovered. The way of the Pharisees, again – who differs somewhat from the hypocrite – is not the way everlasting. He will not always dare to say, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men.”   Not always will he be able to boast “I fast twice in the week; I pay tithes of all that I possess.” The time will come when he will see all this outside washing of the platter to have been of no service, because his inward part was full of very wickedness. What will be his dismay and despair! No, brethren, neither the way of the hypocrite, the formalist, nor the Pharisee, is the way everlasting. Neither is any way but that which is according to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do not tell me that if you are sincere it will little matter which way you take. You know better. If you sincerely believe that you are going to St. Paul’s, or to London Bridge, when you leave this Tabernacle, and you turn to the right, you will probably find yourselves at Clapham or at Tooting, but not at St. Paul’s or London Bridge, with all your sincerity of misbelief. The sincere belief that you will be saved by your good works, will by no means avert your damnation, if you persist in refusing to trust in Jesus Christ.

     Faith in Jesus is the only way of salvation, and if I will not walk in that way, there is no other. Our Lord’s teaching leaves us no room to hope for the salvation of unbelievers. “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved but what of those who do not believe? May they not be sincerely mistaken? May they not be very good people after all, and be saved in their own way? Our Lord’s reply is sharp, clear, and decisive, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” He hath nothing else for them but that. Christ is too great and too honest to court popularity, as many do nowadays, by an affectation that right or wrong are much the same. The wicked charity of this age sickens us with its deceptive cant, as it whines out, “It will little matter what you believe; nothing nowadays is of very great consequence; believe what you like, and it shall be all right in the long run.” Nay, but according to the gospel of Jesus you must believe the truth, and have faith in the power of the truth, for a lie will not regenerate you, a lie will not fit you to see the face of God, a lie will not conduct you to heaven, but only that truth which hath the stamp and seal of God and of his Holy Spirit.

     I have thus shown you that there are many ways which are not everlasting, let us now notice that the right way— the way of faith in God and of a life that flows out of faith in God— the way indeed which Jesus trod, the way which we tread when we follow in Jesus footsteps, is the way everlasting, because it is a way which was mapped out upon everlasting principles. Truth will never die; the stars will grow dim, the sun will pale his glory, but truth will be ever young. Integrity, uprightness, honesty, love, goodness, these are all imperishable. No grave can ever entomb these immortal principles. They have been in prison, but they have been freer than before; those who have enshrined them in their hearts have been burned at the stake, but out of their ashes other witnesses have arisen. No sea can drown, no storm can wreck, no abyss can swallow up the everliving truth of God. You cannot kill goodness, and truth, and integrity, and faith, and holiness; the way that is consistent with these must be a way everlasting.

     Holiness is a way everlasting, because it is pursued by the possessors of a life that is everlasting. No man enters the way of truth, righteousness, faith, love to God, and love to his neighbour, but the man who has received the new birth. Now, the product of the new birth is not like the fruit of the flesh, which is mortal and perishable, but it is a living and incorruptible seed that liveth and abideth for ever, so that the man who is born again can no more die than God himself; he has received the life of Christ within him, and, according to the Scriptures, because Christ lives he shall live also. It is an everlasting way, then, because the pilgrims who tread it, though they be mortals to all appearance, are yet in the sight of God immortal, bearing within them a life unquenchable, whose endurance shall be coeval with the life of Jehovah himself.

     Godliness is a way everlasting, because no circumstances can by any possibility necessitate any change in it. The man who lives by policy is like a sailor in a gusty day, or who has a foul wind against him, and must tack about to reach first this point and then the other, and makes but slow progress after all in the direction which he really wishes to pursue. But the man who has the life of God, and follows the way of truth, is like the steam-vessel which ploughs its road straight on, wind or tide notwithstanding. Why needs it to tack? It bears its force within itself, and is not dependent upon the extraneous circumstances of winds and waves. Happy is that man who is in this condition! If he be poor, he may cheerfully pursue the way of truth, and find his poverty a blessing. If he be rich, the same immortal principles which guided him in poverty will suffice him now that he has come to the possession of wealth. If he were elected to a kingdom, such a man, having the law of God in his heart, would know how to walk and to behave himself right royally. His way is everlasting, because he has not to stop every morning and enquire, “How am I to behave to-day? What is the new rule by which I shall shape my course?” Your tricky politicians, who this day are one thing and that the other, as they fancy the public mind may change, these had need to consult their barometer to know what kind of weather the popular will ordains; but we, if we are taught of God to do the right thing, care not about the weather or the will of man. Whether it be fair or foul, whether the sun shine or not, we would still serve our God and do the right, and if the heavens should fall, expect to find a shelter still.

     Righteousness is the way everlasting, because such a way even death itself shall not terminate. The man who learns to live as God would have him live, will find death to be only a circumstance in his immortality. He will pass onward, with no more pause than the earth makes when the moon comes between her and the sun. As when the iron horse pursues his rapid way, he shoots through a tunnel and is out of it again, making the darkness but an interlude in his progress, even so is death a small matter to the converted and regenerate man. The man who walks in the way of God passes through death as through a temporary gloom, but he still pursues the even tenor of his way, what he did on earth he shall do in heaven, only he shall do it better and after a nobler sort. On earth he loved his God, in heaven he shall do the same; on earth he found his joy in a sight of Christ, in heaven he shall enjoy that sight more near and unveiled; on earth he loved the true, and the right, and the good, and in heaven he shall dwell in the midst of the city that is of pure gold, and whose light is brighter than the sun, where only holiness and perfection are admitted. He shall not even change his company, for the church militant in which he fought on earth is also the church triumphant with which he shall reign for ever and ever in heaven.

     You see, then, that the godly man’s path is a way everlasting. I might have said much more, but this shall suffice.

     II. Dear brethren, the next remarkable thing in the text is THE CONFESSION WHICH IS MADE.

     David says, “Lead me in the way everlasting.” David was a good man, a grace-taught man, a spiritual man, an eminently spiritual man, and yet he required to be led in the way— “Lead me in the way everlasting.” What is more, David was a deeply experienced man. This Psalm is towards the end of the book, and I suppose his hair was all grey when he wrote it. He had come to threescore years and ten, probably, and there he is, dear man, able to teach others, yet pleading “Lead me, lead me.” He was a ripe believer, for he had not only the years of age, but the experience of a much-tried life; in fact, David seems to have been an epitome of all men. You never had a trouble but what you could find something to suit you under it in the Psalms, and I think you never had a joy but what you discovered a verse that would help you to sing out your joy. David, somehow or other, seems to have known all the ups and downs, all the hills and all the valleys of Christian experience, and yet for all that he cries, “Lead me, lead me.” David was the man after God’s own heart, despite his slips. His sin was the soldier’s common sin— we must remember that; his position was an extraordinary one, such as ours can never be. He was a man after God’s heart because of his deep sincerity, his child-likeness, and his warmth of soul; and yet notwithstanding that, and all his eminence in grace, he saith, “Lead me, lead me.” What does this prayer teach us? Why, that the most mature Christian, if he judges aright, feels that he wants as much to be led in the right way as if he were only beginning the spiritual life. The word seems to me to be almost humiliating, “Lead me.” It is a little child saying, “Lead me, mother, lead me.” It is more than that; it is a blind man putting out his hand, he cannot see, he cannot find his way, and he is begging, “Lead me.” Such babes are we, such blind men are we, apart from the guiding grace of God. Oh! how dependent we are, then, and what confessions ought we to make who are so much less than David, so much younger the most of us, so much less experienced than he! How ought we to pray emphatically, “Lead me, Lord, for I am so little, so uninstructed, and have had such little experience, lead me in the way everlasting.”

     This remarkable confession and prayer should suggest two things— ignorance and impotence. When we say, “Lead me,” if it is a blind man, it means ignorance; he cannot see the way, and therefore he needs to be led, though he may be strong enough to walk if he only knew the way. “Lead me, Lord,” also signifies impotence if it be judged of as the child’s case; he needs to be led in another sense, because he has not strength enough in his little feet to go without the help of his mother’s hand. “Lead me in the way.” So, you see, our confession should be double, of our ignorance and of our impotence, of our want of knowledge and of our want of strength.

     1. First, our want of knowledge. “‘Lead me in the way everlasting,’ for I do not know that way everlasting; naturally, I know nothing of it, nor can I as a natural man until thou teach me— for only the spiritual man receiveth spiritual things, and the carnal mind cannot know the things of God, for they are spiritual, and must be spiritually discerned. O God, how dangerous is my case, and how hopeless, too, unless thou teach me! I pray thee, therefore, instruct me ; enlighten me; lead me in the way everlasting! O Lord, I may well confess that I need this instruction, because even though I be converted, and so know something of thy way, yet it often happens that I know not which is the right way through defect of judgment. If willing to do the right, yet it may sometimes happen that I may put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter; though anxious and even desirous to take the right road, yet I may come to a place where two ways meet which seem both of them to be the right one, and I may not know which way to choose. My judgment, Lord, is very imperfect, and apt to err; lead me, I pray thee. He that leaneth to his own judgment is foolish, and he that trusteth to his own heart is a fool; neither to my judgment nor to my heart would I trust, but say, ‘Lord, lead me.’”

     Moreover, in addition to a deficient judgment we ought to confess, and I hope we shall humbly do so, that we are apt to be misled by vitiated affections. There is a leaning in us all towards the evil way if we dare pursue it! Ah! how soon we touch the forbidden fruit! How doth the heart run after vanity, even when we have resolved by grace that we will even close our eyes to it! That man must have well listed his door who can keep out Satan’s temptations; but he who should have done that, and left no crack by which the old serpent could enter, would find a serpent within the core of his own heart, in his own corruptions. “Alas! then,  God, since my soul leans towards evil and will go amiss if it can, lead thou me, lest my depraved affections should further pervert my judgment, and I should leave the king’s highway.”

     In addition to this, all over this world there are influences which would make us take the wrong way, deceiving us into the notion that we are right. The air is not clear anywhere; there are mist and fog all around; the best of men often have to pause, and feel the hot sweat upon their brow through trembling anxiety as to the right course. Which is right? Which is wrong? This fog of custom— everybody does it; this fog of old practice – everybody has done it these hundreds of years; the dread of being singular, the dislike of being thought to be precise, and I know not what beside; all these cast a mist about us. Oh! how easy it is when we are travelling through a thick and murky atmosphere for us to mistake the way. Lead us, then, Lord, lead us in the way everlasting! Alas! how many have set out, as they thought under God’s guidance on the voyage of life, but they have not really received Christ nor his life within them; and so, being deluded by the false lights of wreckers, have soon come to everlasting shipwreck, believing all the while that they were sailing into the celestial haven. Dear brethren, judge not yourselves to be wise, or the Word will judge you to be foolish, but go now with a confession of your ignorance unto God in silent prayer, and lift up this petition, “Guide me, O thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this misty land; I am foolish, thou art wise; guide me with thy powerful hand, conduct me safely, let no enemy tempt me from the narrow way, but lead me in the way everlasting.”

     2. But, secondly, the confession also contains an admission of want of strength, for it is not merely “Show me,” which would suffice if the man were strong, but “Lead me;” which, as I have said before, is as the child that needeth its mother’s finger, or its father’s supporting hand. We not only want knowledge, but we need power to run in the right way. Morally and physically men can do right if they will. “It is as easy,” says one, “for a man not to get drunk as it is to open his hand,” and that is a fact, for if a man when he holds the intoxicating glass would only open his hand the liquor would fall to the ground, and the drink would not make a beast of him. So any other sin may easily be avoided, so far as the moral and physical power are concerned; but then there is a want of will in the man, and there is the point, and therefore we need to ask of God to give us will, which is the real power. Oh! how irresolute a man often is concerning a sin which he knows to be a sin, but which enchants him with its sweetness. Ah! how a man will say, “I must give it up, but I cannot!” How, like the serpent in the old story of Laocoon, sin will twist itself round and round a man, and if he tugs and pulls away one coil, yet there is another, and another, and another! Ah, how men dally with sin! When it comes to plucking off the right arm and plucking out the right eye, you say to yourselves, “We do not like losing this arm, we have not yet found the proper knife to take it off with.” Ah, if you had the proper knife yet you would be slow to make the gash, you would plead that it might be spared at least a little longer, that a little good work might yet be done with it. There will always be some excuse for delay in giving up sin, and if the surgeon do not interpose and take it off, the mortification of sin will spread through the entire body before the man will be willing to lose his limb. Sin dies hard; it makes a hundred excuses for itself, and pleads, “Is it not a little one? Is it not a sweet one?” O Lord, then, give me strength of resolution, and when I know that a thing is wrong, help me to have done with it; and when I perceive an action to be right help me to make haste and delay not to keep thy commandments. O my Lord, may I never try to patch up a peace between my conscience and myself by trimming and compromising. If I know a thing to be thy will, may I never parley nor question, for this is to rebel. The spirit that parleys is the essence of high treason. May I put away all questioning, and, obedient to thee, at once yield my will to thine. Lead me, Lord, lead me; uphold me with thine hand of grace, and give me strength and resolution to be holy.

     There are some who have strength and resolution enough by fits and starts, but then they have not stability enough to persevere. If heaven could be won by one great leap, how soon they would have it; but if to enter into the pearly gates one must go on pilgrimage all the way, then they cannot hold out to the end. Lord, lead me! How speedily do I begin to shrink! How soon would my rebellious heart draw back from thy service! O give me persevering grace, and when I would start aside, lead me forward ; draw, draw me, good Lord; ay, gently tug at my laggard soul, and when—

“My heart can neither fly nor go
To reach celestial joys,”

Then —

“Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly dove,
With all thy power divine;
Come, shed abroad a Saviour’s love,
And that shall kindle mine.”

Lead me, Lord!

     You see what is meant by the prayer, and I need not go further, though there is much room for enlargement. Want of knowledge and want of strength are both confessed in this remarkable verse.

     III. Let us close by noticing THE REMARKABLY COMPREHENSIVE PRAYER before us.

     I do not know many of the collects, or particularly wish to know them, but I will give you my text for a collect, and you shall never find its superior. Let this be your constant prayer, you may use it as long as you like, and as often as you please, for if it be but sincere it will never be a vain repetition— “Lead me in the way everlasting.

     1. Now, notice this prayer very carefully. First, observe how comprehensive it is, because of its object. Its object is the whole man. “Lead me – not half of me, not part of me. Lead me in the whole way- not in some part of the way, but in the whole way; that is to say, let my thoughts be led in the way, that I may not think unrighteously, that I may not believe the truth in part, but that I may be sound in the faith; that I may not believe false doctrine. Lord, lead my understanding and my intellect in the way of revelation; make me to know thy covenant truths and the great doctrines of grace. Let me not be satisfied to know half the truth, and think I know it all, but lead me into all thy truth. Let there not be one doctrine that I would erase, nor one precept that I would forget, nor one single word in thy Book that I would blot out. Lord, lead me as to my understanding, knowledge, and thoughts— lead me in the way everlasting.

     He means his emotions, too, as well as his intellectual part. “Lord, lead me in thy way, for well I know that if my head should go without my heart, yet were I all undone. Lord, help me to love not the world nor the things that are of the world, but lead me in the way everlasting. Let my best passions boil when Christ is the fire. Let my heart be in its best trim when Christ has come to see it, like a garden that is watered by his presence, and whose fruits are ripened by the sunlight of his love. He refers his tongue to the same leading. Lord, grant that my tongue may not be a slanderous tongue, or a trifling tongue, or a lascivious tongue, or a tongue that talks for mere talk’s sake; but, Lord, salt my tongue for me. Grant me grace so to speak that my conversation shall edify the hearer. Lead me in the way everlasting.

     He means, indeed, himself as to his actions. “I would keep thy way. O Lord, when I go to my chamber— not sinning there; and when T come down to my meals— not getting out of thy way by wrong eating or drinking; when I go to my shop, or to my work, to the field or to the market, to the streets and to the Exchange, let me not err in anything. Still, Lord, lead me in the way everlasting, and may no path of business, no path of recreation, no path of society, no path of solitude, ever take me out of thy way, but wherever I am let the whole of me be altogether and wholly in the whole of thy way.” You see what a full prayer it is as to its objects!

     2. But it is also a great prayer, if you consider it in the matter of its modes. “Lead me.” How does God lead? Brethren, he leads us by the law. The law tells us what we ought to do. The ten commands of the law are, as it were, ten sign-posts, all of them saying— “This is the way; walk ye in it.” He leads us, better still, by the example of Christ—

“We read our duty in thy Word,
But in his life the law appears
Drawn out in living characters.”

The law tells us what we should do, but Jesus has done it for us, and shown us how to do it. The whole life of Christ is a leading of us in the way. He leads us in the way by his Holy Spirit. The Holy Ghost enlightens the conscience, influences the will, guides the judgment, and sweetly leads the heart in the path of sanctity. Under God the Holy Spirit, the ministry often becomes our guide in the way everlasting. Some choice word from God’s servants, coming at a right time, may check us when we would do evil, may inspirit us when we would faint in the way of right. And then good books, and I know not what besides— the example of the saints, the hints of providence, the emotions of our own hearts when near to God — these are often promptings to guide and lead us in the way everlasting. So, you see, as to its modes the prayer of the text is very comprehensive.

     3. So it is, dear brethren, if you think for a minute of its issues. “Lead me in the way everlasting.” Oh! what a word is that word “everlasting!” Methinks I see before me the gate of pearl, as though this word “everlasting” were that glorious gate. With what soft radiance it beams upon my eye at this moment! And lo! it turns upon its hinges; it stands wide open, and what do I see? Everlasting! Everlasting! Why, I see before me the sea of glass, and the harpers standing on that waveless ocean “ where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.” And what do I hear? I hear their songs like the sound of many waters, yet sweet as harpers harping with their harps. And what see I as I gaze, but Jesus Christ, the sun and centre of heaven’s glory, and I behold his saints who trod this way everlasting on earth, continuing still to tread it, proceeding farther into the bliss of his presence, and into the ecstasy of his love, and into the experience of his fellowship; every day advancing in this way that hath no end, this way everlasting. Oh, what a prayer this is! I do, when I say, “Lead me in the way everlasting,” as good as ask for a holy life, a happy death, and a heaven to crown it all. I ask for all that is in the covenant, all that Christ came to give, all that God has laid up in store, and all that the Spirit works in men. It is a mighty prayer, indeed!

     4. The last remark is, the prayer is most comprehensive as to the persons who may fitly use it. It has but one stroke and aim. It is, “Lead me, lead me-f but it is suitable to thousands. It is a great prayer, and it is just suitable to your lips; yours, my brother; yours, my sister; yours, whom I could not address by either of those names; yours, O stranger to the grace of God. “Lead me.” Who is there here whom it would not suit? There are none too well grown in grace, and none too far gone in sin. “Lead me.” Is there one that is so far off from God and hope that she has given herself up to despair? When thy heart is overwhelmed within thee, he can lead thee to the rock that is higher than thou art, and bring thee out of the way of ruin into the way everlasting. Is there a man here whose backslidings have become so numerous that he dares no longer look up? Friend, thy prayer can still reach God’s ear, “Lead me in the way everlasting.” Poor prodigal, if thou canst not return, if thou feelest thyself too vile to hope, yet he can come to thee, even if to him thou canst not come. Breathe the prayer, “Lead me, Lord, even me; from the depths of hell cry I unto thee, like Jonah out of the whale’s belly; out of the hell of my despair, out of the hell of my infamous sin, I venture to ask thee— black-handed, black-mouthed, black-hearted as I am — lead me, O my God!” He will hear thee, sinner, through the intercession of Jesus; he will wash thee in the atoning blood ; he will guide thee, and bring thee, even thee, into the way everlasting. Let it not, then, be omitted by any one of us to make this our prayer before we leave this house. I charge you, let not this evening’s gathering be in vain, and I wot it will be in vain to each one present who is not led so to pray. Come, let us pray this prayer together, and the Lord hear us! [Then the people lowed their heads and worshipped, and said “Amen” to the following prayer.]

     O Lord, my God, lead me in the way everlasting. I need it. Thou hast made me to teach others, and my example influences many. Lead me in the way everlasting. And thy servants who gather around me, my beloved deacons and elders, whose example also will be potent for good if they be good, and for evil if they be evil— Lord, hear them as they say, “Lead us in the way everlasting.” And the members of the church, the many hundreds, yea, the thousands who are associated in church-fellowship here, who eat of thy bread and drink of thy cup— O hear them, such of them as are now present who shall now cry unto thee, “Lead me in the way everlasting.” Hear every brother in dilemma and difficulty, every sister in duty and danger, every heart that is weary, every soul that is sick. “Lead me in the way everlasting.” And Lord, hear the unconverted sinner as he breathes this desire towards thy throne of grace. Is there here one that has left the paths of virtue and of honesty, and does his lip tremblingly say, “Lead me in the way everlasting”? Lord, hear his supplication; Lord, hear it for Jesus’ sake. Wheresoever there standeth or sitteth in this Tabernacle one, old or young, rich or poor, learned or illiterate, moral or immoral— if there be such a one here, who in his heart sayeth, “Father, forgive me, and lead me in the way everlasting”— O do thou answer that prayer speedily, for thy dear Son’s sake. And now, once more, for Jesus’ sake we do each of us beseech thee, “Lead me in the way everlasting.” Amen.



Safe Shelter

By / Jun 22

Safe Shelter

 

“He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.” xci —Psalm xci. 4.

 

WHAT condescending words! I cannot express the sense I feel of the great lovingkindness of the Lord to us in using such a simile to set forth his protecting care of his people. Had any poet suggested the metaphor, we might have recoiled from it as unseemly, or rejected it as profane. It really is so familiar and so homely, that unless God himself had spoken it by the mouth of his Holy Spirit, we might have accounted it impertinent for any human being to have used the comparison. The Lord here compares himself to a hen covering her brood, and he speaks not only of the wing, which gives shelter, but he enters into detail, and speaks of the feathers, which give warmth, and comfort, and repose. “ He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust ” Using thus the maternal instinct as an emblem of his own parental tenderness, God compares himself to the mother bird, which fosters, cherishes, and protects her little ones.

     You have stood sometimes in the farmyard, and there you have noticed the little chicks as they cowered down under the hen. She has given some note of warning that betokened danger; perhaps your very presence discomposed her, and made her betray some little fluttering of fear. She called her little ones by her peculiar cry ; they came to her, and then stooping down and spreading out her wings, she covered them, and they were safe. You would have noticed that after they were safely nestled there, the warmth of her feathers made them seem peculiarly happy and at ease. You could hear them clacking to one another, and playfully pushing one another sometimes out of their places, but evidently cheerful, contented, and peaceful. It was something more than the protection which a soldier would give to a comrade: it was the protection of a mother of her young. There was love in it, there was homeliness, relationship, kindliness, heart- working in it all. It was not the relief merely that might supply a little cold comfort, but the breast feathers came down upon the little ones, and there they rested cosily and comfortably, serene and unmolested. Well now, that is precisely the idea that the text teaches. So, at least, I understand it. So, evidently, Dr. Watts thought, when he wrote the well-known paraphrase—

“Just as a hen protects her brood,
From birds of prey that seek their blood,
Under her feathers, so the Lord
Makes his own arm his people’s guard.”

There is even more fulness of meaning than the doctor has compassed. Not only is protection from danger vouchsafed; a sense of comfort and happiness is communicated, making the child of God feel that he is at home under the shadow of the Almighty; that he has all the comforts that he can want when he has once come to cower down under a blessed sense of the divine presence, and to feel the warm outflowing of the very heart of God, as he reveals himself in the tenderest relationship towards his weak and needy servants.

     Carrying this picture in your mind’s eye, may it often cheer and encourage you. Though I have nothing new, no bewitching novelty to introduce to you, I want to bring the old, old truth vividly before your minds, to examine it in detail, and press it home to your souls.

     I. Let our starting-point be a question—a question of paramount interest—WHEN MAY THIS TEXT BE RELIED UPON BY A BELIEVER? “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.”

     Well, it may be relied upon in cases of extreme peril. I do not doubt that servants of God in times of danger at sea, when the huge billows have roared and the tempest has raged, and the vessel seemed likely to go to pieces, have often cheered their hearts with such a thought as this— “Now, he that holdeth the waters in the hollow of his hand, will take care of us, and cover us with his feathers, and under his wings may we trust.” Perhaps at this very moment, down in some cabin, or amidst the noise and tumult, and the raging of the ocean, when many are alarmed, there are Christians with calm faces, patiently waiting their Father’s will, whether it shall be to reach the port of heaven, or to be spared to come again to land, into the midst of life’s trials and struggles once more. They feel that they are well-cared for, they know that the storm has a bit in its mouth, and that God holds it in, and nothing can hurt them; nothing can happen to them but what God permits. On the dry land, too, the same blessed text has often comforted the Lord’s people. Some are particularly timid in times of storm, when the thunder comes peal upon peal, and the lightning flashes follow each other, when it seems as if the very earth did tremble, and the skies fled away from the glance of an angry God. Oh! how it calms the anxious breast, stills the boding fears, and makes the heart tranquil, to feel that he covers us with his feathers, and that under his wings we may trust. I always feel ashamed to keep indoors when peals of thunder shake the solid earth, and lightnings flash like arrows from the sky. Then God is abroad, and I love to walk out in the open space, and to look up and mark the opening gates of heaven, as the lightning reveals far beyond, and enables you to look into the unseen. I like to hear my heavenly Father’s voice, but I do not think we could ever come to a state of peace in such times as those if we did not feel that he was near, that he was our friend, that he would not hurt the children of his own love. It would be contrary to his own nature, and altogether apart from the kindliness of his character, as well as the constancy of his covenant engagements, that he should suffer anything to touch his people that could do them real ill. Nor is it only from violent commotions in the physical world that you are liable to suffer shocks. Many of you have known times of disruption in the mercantile world, which have been the occasion of frightful horror. The wheels of trade have run off the tramline through some violent collision of opposing interests. Or on a larger scale the whole system of commerce may appear to have collapsed as with an earthquake. Great houses, whose very names were the bulwarks of credit, have suddenly tottered and fell. While curious eyes have looked on with marvel, many have been the humble people struggling hard for a bare livelihood who were involved in loss and disaster which paralysed all their efforts. What though panic has prevailed on every side, has it not been sweet, passing sweet, to find succour under the wings of the Almighty, and hear his voice saying to you, “Trust in the Lord, and do goody so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” I know that such calamities are heavy and hard to bear. Were it not so we should never have been furnished with such strong consolation. When the foundations of enterprise are slackened, and gigantic schemes burst like a bubble; when the mill is at rest, and looks like the hulk of a disabled vessel; when the workshops are closed, and the artisans skilled to labour, seek a pauper’s pittance at the gates of the union; or when the affliction falls upon the fields and the folds, a blight destroying the crops, and rhinderpest cutting down the oxen; these are the sorrows of the world, and chosen men of old have trusted in God nor found him to fail in straits like these. So said one, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” Yet more, brethren, who among you need be reminded of the fears that seize the breast when pestilence is spreading through the land, and rumours that it has approached your own doors have reached your ears. Neighbours or kinsfolk are smitten down without warning. With anxious looks and eager enquiries you listen for tidings that ’twere well nigh death to hear. Have you never counted the watches of the night, dreading every sound, and pondering every sensation you felt, as if it were an ominous portent? When the cholera has been raging, or the fever has been making havoc; when science has been baffled to find out the cause or cure of some insidious disease that walketh in darkness, and wasteth at noonday; when those who were wont to jeer at religion and laugh at prayer, have uttered pious ejaculations, and said, “This is no doubt a visitation of God.” Well, at such times has it not been good for you to seek the covert of his wings, and rely on the gracious promise, “Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling”? In all times of public calamity, in any season of domestic grief, and on every occasion of personal danger, I beseech you, do not cast away your confidence which hath great recompense and reward, for if your faith will not bear up under such trials as these, what is it good for? What anchorage is there for your soul? If you cannot bear these little alarms , how will you do in the swellings of Jordan, when grim death appears in view? And amidst the terrors of the world to come, when the very pillars of the universe shall reel, and all things shall pass away, how will you be able to stand calmly and serenely, if these things move you? Nay, beloved, let the weakest of you play the man, and as you have believed in your God, be ashamed of craven fear, as Ezra was when having once made a protest, he resolved to abide by it at all hazard. “The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him, and his wrath is against all them that forsake him.” Pluck up courage, and say within yourselves, “Now will I prove that promise true, ‘He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.’”

     But texts of Scripture like this are not made to be hung up on the nail and only taken down now and then in stress of weather. Blessed be God, the promise before us is available for sunshiny days, yea, for every hour of this mortal life. When you leave your house to-morrow morning, you will little know what peril may befal you during the day. “At least,” said an old divine, who was accustomed to spend the most part of his time in his study— “at least the studious man is safe from the accidents which shorten the lives of others.” So he vainly thought. The very day after he had used the expression, a stack of chimneys fell through his study, and had he happened to have been sitting where he customarily did, he must have been crushed to pieces. There are dangers everywhere, and the guardian care of God can never be safely dispensed with. If we walk aright, we shall never venture upon a single day without first seeking divine protection. How many who have escaped out of terrible storms, have nevertheless died in a calm! Where some have passed through battles without a scar, they have afterwards been killed by an accident so slight that they would utterly have despised a precaution to avoid it. You always need divine protection, and, believer in Christ, you shall always have it, for “he shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.” This is for you to-night when you strip off your garments and lay your weary frame upon your bed ; then you may say, “Now, Lord, cover me with thy feathers.” And it is for you to-morrow, when you are going out to your daily labour, not knowing what may befal you, you can use the same petition, “This day, O God, grant that under thy wings I may trust.”

     When —shall I ask again— may this promise be relied upon? Well, beloved, it may be particularly relied upon in times of temptation.  Earnest Christian men are not so much afraid of trials as of temptations. If you could extract the tempting element from our afflictions you would have rendered the gall devoid of at least half its bitterness. To suffer is little, but to be provoked to sin— this is the great cause of fear. “ Give me neither poverty nor riches,” said the wise man ; but why ? It was not because poverty would be inconvenient, but lest he should sin through poverty. “ Give me not riches,” said he ; not because riches might not be desirable, but lest he should sin through the deceitfulness of wealth. The great horror of a Christian is sin. Find him a place on earth where he could live without sin, and there he would fix his residence, not asking you whether it were a dungeon or a palace. If there were a place where my temper could never be ruffled, where I could never be agitated into pride or be silenced into cowardice; if I could find a spot where sloth would never molest me, or where earthly passions would never uprise for my casting down, thrice happy would I be to borrow the wings of a dove and fly thither at once. As your temptations are just the things which you dread, it behoves you to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” but recollect, if the Providence of God should at any other time constrain you to go where you are tempted, and must be tempted, you may then fall back upon this gracious word— “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.” Do you know, I have noticed that young people who are often exposed to severe temptations are very generally preserved from falling into sin; but I have noticed that others, both old and young, whose temptations were not remarkably severe, have been generally those who have been the first to fall. In fact, it is a lamentable thing to have to say, but lamentably true it is, that at the period of life when you would reckon, from the failure of the passions, the temptation would be less vigorous, that very period is marked more than any other by the most solemn transgressions amongst God’s people. I think I have heard that many horses fall at the bottom of a hill because the driver thinks the danger past and the need to hold the reins with firm grip less pressing as they are just about to renew their progress and begin to ascend again. So it is often with us when we are not tempted through imminent danger we are the more tempted through slothful ease. I think it was Ralph Erskine who said, “There is no devil so bad as no devil.” The worst temptation that ever overtakes us, is, in some respects, preferable to our being left alone altogether without any sense of caution or stimulus to watch and pray. Be always on your watch-tower, and you shall be always secure. In looking forward to the temptations of next week— you working men who labour side-by-side with sceptics; you young women living in graceless families; you merchants who have to go amongst others whose mode of conducting trade is not clean (you each and all know the temptations common to your own lot in the busy commonwealth), resolve in the strength of God that you will walk uprightly, and that as Christians you will not soil your garments, and then you may come to your heavenly Father for his protection, and say to him, “My God, I am more afraid of sin than I am of lightning, or of fire, or of the murderer’s dagger; keep me day by day from sin, defend me from evil, ‘cover me with thy feathers, for under thy wings will I trust.’”

     So, again, this text may be very blessedly applied to our souls, and I hope it will be, in times of expected trials. I do not know that it is right for us to anticipate trials at all. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” We ought never to sit down and begin fretting ourselves about what may happen, because the ill we dread may never come to pass. Many a true servant of God has said to himself— “What shall I do when I get old? I am just able now to pick up a living, but what shall I do when these withered limbs can no longer avail to earn my daily bread?” Do? Why, you will have the same Father then as you have now to succour you, and you will have the same Providence then as now to supply your wants. You thank God for your daily bread now, and you shall have your daily bread then, for he will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings shall you trust. Some of God’s servants who have been thus afraid have had no cause of complaint, for their latter days have been blessed, they have been placed in comfortable circumstances, and they have had to wonder at the liberal hand which furnished their table, and to chide the unbelief of their own fretful spirits. Others of them have been taken away from the ills they forecast and conveyed to heaven long before they had reached anything like the period of bodily infirmity or mental imbecility they dreaded. So with you, dear friends. God will take care of you; only rest on him. It is bad to make troubles. I always say of home-made troubles, that they are very like home-made clothes, they never fit well, and they are generally a long while before they are worn out. You had better take the troubles God sends you; they are more suitable for you; you will be able to carry them, and you will be able to get over them by his grace. Do not begin to think of what you will do in the year 1899. Why, Jesus Christ may come before then, or you may be absent from the body and present with him before then. But, if you are of such a nervous temper that you cannot help sometimes anticipating, or if you are BO speculatively disposed that you will carry your almanacs with you, and chronicle black days in the coming years, then just make a note of this in the margin, “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.” Let the unknown to-morrow bring with it what it may, it cannot bring us anything but what God shall bear us through. So let it come and let it go. The Lord’s name be praised. We shall bless his name in it and after it, and why not before it?

     There is another hour in which this text will be particularly consoling to us, and that is the hour of death. Ah! we may sing what we will, and say what we will, but dying is no child’s play. Thank God, it is going home; we know that it is not death in some respects. It is but a change in our mode of life. Absent from the body we are present with the Lord. But still we cannot think of that death-dew which will lie cold on our brow, the failing voice, and the glazing eye, without some natural shrugs. When we would fain go forth to meet it, we shrink back again to life— “Fond of our prison and our clay.”

     But what shall we do when we come to die, when the physician can no longer help us, and the beatings of the pulse wax faint and few? Why, then, “he shall cover us with his feathers, and under his wings shall we trust.” Oh! it will be so blessed to go cowering down right under the shadow of the Almighty, hiding ourselves as the little chickens do in the hen’s feathers; losing our own individuality in the realisation of our union to Christ; finding that it is not death to die, but coming nearer to God in very deed, in blissful experience, nearer than ever we were before. Looking forward into that unknown future, across the shoreless sea, and listening to the billows as we hear them sounding in the dark, we thank God that they are not billows of fire to us, that they are not waves of everlasting wrath, but that they are waves of eternal bliss. But, be they what they may, whatever there may be in the future, whatever may be meant by the millennium, and the burning of the earth, and the wreck of nature, whatever may be meant by vials and trumpets, and by all besides in the arcana of prophecy, “he shall cover us with his feathers, and under his wings shall we trust,” and amidst the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds, safe, safe, safe, and near our God, and blessed eternally shall we be. Beloved, in such an hour may such an oracle as this come rolling sweetly into your souls to cheer and comfort you.

     II. Having thus answered a first question, and told you when this promise may be relied upon, let us proceed to answer another question—HOW MAY WE EXPECT THE TEXT TO BE FULFILLED?

     It may possibly be verified to us by our being preserved altogether from the danger which we dread. God has often, as predicted in the present Psalm, in times of pestilence, and famine, and war, preserved his people by remarkable providences. Especially has this been the case in the experience of those of his people who have been lively in their faith, and careful to follow his instructions. Now, if there is one instruction that Jesus Christ has plainly given to a Christian, it is this— “I say unto you, Resist not evil.” Our brethren of the Society of Friends have been admirably firm and consistent in their declaration that they have no right to bear arms. In the times of the massacre in Ireland, when Protestants took a town, they generally cut the throats of the Catholics; and when Roman Catholics took a town, they always returned the compliment by killing the Protestants, but the cry always was— “Spare the Quakers! Spare the Quakers!” They had hurt no one; they had taken up no arms. Strange to tell, through that long and bitter warfare only three Quakers died, and those three had fled from their homes to find a refuge in a neighbouring castle with the troops. Of course they rested on an arm of flesh and it failed them. When the British bolts were flying through Copenhagen fast and furious, and the Danish town seemed given over to destruction by Nelson’s terrific bombardment, there was one house upon which not a shot or shell ever fell. Nelson and the British knew nothing of that house of course, but there it stood as safely as old Rahab’s house when the walls of Jericho fell down. It was the house of a Quaker, who when an order was given for all to defend their houses in a particular way, said he had nothing to do with fighting. The man rested in God, and God’s protection was wonderfully spread over him. In the literature of the Society of Friends, there is a large number of anecdotes showing how God has especially marked out times of peril for preserving those men, who scrupulously refused to defend themselves, and rested on the promise of their faithful God. We all know how singularly the Lord has shielded those who trusted in him in the times of pestilence. That old house, still standing in the High Street at Chester, is a lasting proof of the power of faith, with its old letters cut in the black wood “God’s Providence is mine inheritance.” When everybody else was flying out of Chester into the country, the man who lived in that house just wrote that inscription up over the door, and stopped in the town, depending on God that he should be preserved, and none in his house fell a victim to that black death which was slaying its thousands on all sides. Strong faith has always a particular immunity in times of trouble. When a man has really, under a sense of duty, under a conscientious conviction, rested alone in God, he has been enabled to walk where the thickest dangers were flying, all unharmed. He has put his foot upon the adder, and the young lion and the dragon hath he trampled under his feet. Having confidence in God, God has verified and vindicated his promise, and the child of God that could so trust has never been put to confusion.

     There are some dangers from which the Providence of God does not preserve the Lord’s people, but still he covers them with his feathers in another sense, by giving them grace to bear up under their troubles. It little matters, you know, whether a man has no burden and no strength, or a heavy burden and great strength. Probably of the two, if it were put to the most of us, we should prefer to have the burden and the strength. I know I should. Now, there is generally this for you, that if you have little trouble, you will have little faith; but if you have great faith, you must expect to have great trouble. A manly spirit would choose to take the trouble, and take the faith too. Well, then, God will give you this covert with his feathers— though you have to carry the load you shall have strength enough to carry it. Nay, you shall find, as a dear saint once said, that the sweetest thing next to Christ in all the world, was Christ’s cross, and that to carry Christ’s cross was the next best thing to beholding his glory. You shall find your afflictions become your mercies, and your trials become your comforts. You shall glory in tribulation, and find light in the midst of gloom, and have joy unspeakable in the season of your sorrow. Thus God covers us as with his feathers.

     In yet another way doth God set seal to this record when by his grace having sustained his servants in their trouble he brings them out of it greatly enriched thereby. Oh! it is a great blessing to be put through the fire, if you come out purified. It is a sweet mercy to have to go through the floods, if some filthiness may thereby be removed. The children of Israel went down to Egypt to sojourn there, but after hard servitude and cruel oppression they came up out of it with silver and gold, much enriched by their bondage. Did you ever notice that memorable passage, in which the Lord has borne witness to his gracious heed for them before he brought about their deliverance? “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac , and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them” Comment is needless. In the season of their direst grief God was all in all to them. And you, child of God, shall lose nothing by your losses; you shall be a gainer by them, a greater gainer than others by their gains; for all your losses and troubles shall not touch your immortal part. As bars of iron make not a prison or a cage to a free soul, so afflictions that are merely temporal and bodily shall not hamper or lessen the joy of an immortal spirit. Nay, we shall mount above the billows of our griefs, and sing as we lift our heads above the spray. We shall rise above the clouds of our present afflictions , and look down upon them as they float beneath our feet, rejoicing that the Lord has borne us, as upon wings, above them all, to bring us to himself.

     So you see, either by keeping us out of trouble, by helping us to bear it , or by bringing us through it with great gain to ourselves, “he shall cover us with his feathers, and under his wings shall we trust.”

     III. A third enquiry suggests itself to me, in responding to which I shall be very brief: WHY MAY WE BE QUITE SURE THAT IT SHALL BE SO?

     You may find a strong ground of personal assurance in the fact that faith enlists the sympathy of God. Faith seems to me to enlist everybody’s sympathy. There is a blind man going along, and he wants to get across the street, and he puts perfect confidence in you; though he cannot see you, and does not know you, he feels sure that you will lead him across. Now, I know you will. If there was a little child that had lost its way, and it came running up to you, big, tall man, and said, “O sir! I do not know my way home, nor where I came from, but I feel quite sure you will take care of me till I have found my mother.” Well, you would not any one of you turn round and spurn him away; you would feel as if you were firmly held with chains around you. Somehow or other, when others have faith in us we do not like, if we can help it, not to come up to their standard of opinion about us. We want to be as good as they think us to be, and we always try to be so. Now, it is a point with God that he always will be as good as you think him to be, ay, and a great deal better ; and if you but think that he will be a gracious and merciful God to you, and so rely on him as his child, it is not in the heart of God to turn away from a humble faith that dares to lay hold upon his skirts. Try it, dear friends, and you will prove it true.

     But, you may be quite sure that he will cover you with his feathers, because we have hundreds of promises to that effect. There is not time to quote them all, but there is one like this, “He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee;” and here is another, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” And then there is this, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God! I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” “Fear not ; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded.” There are hundreds of promises like these, and will he break them? You keep your promise to your child, and will not God keep his promise to you? O rest in him, then; he shall cover us with his feathers, for his own word declares it.

     Moreover, you are his child, and what will not a father do for his own dear child? Were he a stranger you might take little heed though he were in trouble, in danger, or in deep distress— but your child, your own child — oh! you cannot rest while he suffers. How agitated we are when our little ones are sick; how we get the best advice for them ; when they are in pain how willingly would we take their pain if we could relieve them, and spare those cries that seem to pierce our heart as well as our ears! if anybody hurts them, why the most placid of us find our temper soon roused. “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.” Though he bear long with their adversaries, yet will he come to the help of his own beloved ones, for he is fatherly in all the sensitiveness of his heart, as well as in all the judiciousness of his chastisements. He will protect his own.

     Remember there is one point of which God is always jealous, that is his own honour. There is no verse of any hymn we ever sing more scriptural than that one we were singing just now—

“His honour is engaged to save
The meanest of his sheep;
All that his heavenly Father gave
His hands securely keep.”

Christ must convoy even the smallest bark safe into the port of Paradise. He must not suffer one of these little ones to perish, for such is not the will of our Father who is in heaven. Come then, ye tremblers, ye doubters, ye little ones, ye that think ye cannot have a part in the promise, come now, come nestle down under those great wings which seem so close to you. The wings that are lined with the feathers of the Eternal will be strong wings, as though they were bars of iron, through which no storms of trouble can ever beat; through which the enemy, though he come from hell itself, shall not be able to drive his darts— strong wings, and yet so softly feathered, so tenderly lined with lovingkindness and affection, that the weakest and most trembling may find comfort there.

     And now, dear friends, although I have not said anything new, yet I know that this is full of comfort to God’s people. It must be so; at least, if I am one of them, I know it is, for it has often greatly cheered and gladdened me in the times of darkness and despondency (and I have plenty of such times), to feel that I could abide under the wings of my God, and all was well and all was safe. But what must it be to be without a God? Blessed be his name, we do not mean to try it, but what must it be? “Sam,” said a man once to his negro, “would you give up your religion and be made a king, or would you keep your Jesus Christ and be flogged to death?” “Oh! Massa,” said he, “give me Jesus Christ, and flog me to death twenty times if you will; I could never give him up; he is my joy and my comfort.” And truly we can say that. Give us but a sense of divine love, and we will not strike about our condition; only to know that God is our friend we will not ask who else is on our side, for having God we have all: let who will be our enemies, all must be well when God befriends us.

     What must you be without a God some of you? You may be trying to satisfy your soul with the love of kindred; your wife and children are your only inheritance under the sun. That is better than some men strive after. But they are dying comforts; there is a thorn in all these roses, sweet roses as they are. I do not think the dearest wife and the most beloved children can really fill the heart to satiety. I know you want something more sometimes: I know you do. Others of you have been trying to fill your hearts full with those idle associates of yours, those boon companions, those jolly fellows, just the sort you delight to spend an evening with. They are poor comforts when you are sick, and they will be poorer comforts still when you come to die. You must not suppose that if you loved Jesus Christ and put your trust in him, you would give up the joy of life. You would just have found it out. You would then begin to be happy, because you would have found what your soul wants to fill it. As quaint old Quarles says— “The heart is a triangle, and all the world is a globe, and you cannot fill a triangle with a globe. It is nothing but the Trinity that can fill the heart.” Let Father, Son, and Spirit, get into the heart by a living faith, and the heart is right full to the brim, and the man is content in all his trials. I would you had Christ to be yours. He is to be had, my friend. Whosoever trusts in him is saved. He is God— worthy to be trusted: moreover he died, the just for the unjust, bearing our sins. Depend upon the merit of that death of his, and you shall be saved.

     God bring you into a state of faith, and bless you now for Christ’s sake. Amen.



The Upper Hand

By / Jun 22

The Upper Hand

 

“For sin shall not have dominion over you : for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”— Romans vi. 14.

 

WHAT a golden sentence! But does it not begin with a hard word? A sad and sorrowful note is sounded in that word “sin.” ’Twas sin that blighted Eden and drove our first parents forth to toil in weariness outside its peaceful bowers. ’Twas sin that polluted all our blood, and left the leprosy still in our veins, as a legacy of ill to the latest generation. ’Tis sin that has been the parent of all our earthly sorrow. ’Tis sin that will be the cause of our everlasting misery unless we be delivered from it. Never has the world seen another tyrant comparable to this. Beneath its dragon-wings the light has been eclipsed, life has dwindled, joy has expired. Remember, you that fear the Lord, and are the servants of Jesus Christ, how many there are that are still the slaves of sin. There is no monarch who rules over so many souls as this tyrant iniquity. Millions that have departed now mourn for ever the thraldom from which they never shall escape; they have perished without Christ, and under the tyranny of sin they must live for ever. And millions more that are still upon the earth bow down to sin and suffer it to rule over them, and this fell monster lords it over the myriads of the human race. Sad contemplation! But, perhaps, Christian, it will be to yourself personally even sadder still, when you reflect that whatever you are now, you too were once the servant of sin. You now have the will to shake off that fetter, but you once hugged the chain. You now abhor the leprosy, but you once accounted the symptoms of your disease to be indications of health, and you were enamoured of yourself notwithstanding your revolting loathsomeness. There was a time when every affection of your nature went after evil, when you loved not the things of God nor served him. Yet now you are renewed in the spirit of your mind. Oh, what unspeakable joy! Though you were the servant of sin, you have now received the faith once delivered to the saints, and you have obeyed, from the heart, that form of doctrine which was delivered unto you. But remember the hole of the pit whence you were digged; be not exalted as though there were any goodness in your nature more than in that of other men, for had yon been left to yourself, you had still been the bond-slave of evil, and so you would have continued evermore.

     The prediction is encouraging. Although we have to encounter this horrible curse and deadly plague of sin, there is an immunity for believers; sin shall not have dominion over them. It sounds to me like the note of a celestial harper cheering on an earthly pilgrim. It rings out like a trumpet that proclaims a coming victory. Should not every soldier fight with dauntless valour; should not his spirit, faint and cowed, wax brave in contest with sin, when he hears as the argument of a holy apostle, as the oracle of inspired truth, such a sure word of prophecy— “Sin shall not have dominion over you”? You have been delivered from it once, and shall never come back to its slavery again; it shall never “have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law but under grace.”

     I intend to use the text in three ways; first, as a test; secondly, in its proper acceptation, as a promise; and thirdly, as an encouragement

     I. In these words we have an important TEST of our profession.

     Sin shall not have dominion over true believers. Has sin dominion over you? If so, then you are not a believer. I did not say, “Do you sin?”— “for if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” – but I did say, “Has sin dominion over you?”

     Would you answer the question? Would you try your own selves? Let me remind you of its deceitfulness. You may be under the dominion of sin, while yet there may be some forms of vice which you have successfully resisted. But it matters not what kind of transgression enslaves you, if you are after all in bondage. Whatever sin it may be that is the lieutenant in your heart, it does not signify; you are possessed of the devil. If there be but one sin that usurps authority, then sin has dominion over you. Satan does not send to all men the same temptations, nor does evil reign in every heart to gratify the same lusts or to satisfy the same propensities. The sin is adapted to the constitution, but if there is a single cherished sin in any one of you professors, which it is obvious you cannot conquer, and, perhaps, too apparent that you do not try, if you sit down quietly under the yoke of it, and cherish it as a friend rather than withstand it as a foe, then that sin has got dominion over you, and you are not in Christ, you are not a child of God.

     Does this appear unreasonably severe? I must speak the truth. There are some professors who are under the dominion of sin in the form of anger. All constitutions are not alike. Happy for those who are not troubled with the passionate temper that chafes, irritates, vexes and annoys everybody they are associated with, as servants or companions. What shall I say of those who have such a quick, hot temper? They are like the small pot that quickly boils over, and scalds terribly. There are others whose temper is rather slower in coming up, but when it has once risen it is horrible, and will last long, and make them sulky, so that perhaps they will never forgive. I know not how long malice will be burning in their hearts. Now, mark you, a man may have a very bad temper, and yet be a true Christian, but if any man says, “My temper is so bad that I cannot curb it; I do not try to restrain it, for it is impossible to keep it under control,” that temper has got dominion over him, and, according to my text, he is not a Christian. Do you ask “How can a man master his temper?” In reply, my brethren, I must ask, how can a man go to heaven if he does not? If the grace of God does not change us and help us to bridle that lion that is within us, what has it done for us? If a man says, “I cannot help it,” I cannot help telling him that if there be no help, nothing can remain for him but despair. Only in salvation from sin is there salvation from wrath. In the name of God, you must help it; you must overcome it, and get it down by God’s grace, or else it will cast you down, down, down, where hope and light will never come. Do you imagine that Christ’s gospel comes into the world and says “You may let that one sin alone”? My Lord Jesus Christ is no lover of sin, and makes no excuse for it. He will forgive your anger, if you repent of it, and renounce it, but if you allow it, and tolerate it within your spirits, then you are strangers to his grace. O sirs, I speak the truth of God, and lie not in this respect; I have seen the grace of God change lions into lambs. Men of hot and fierce temper have become calm, and quiet, and gentle. Although the old man has sometimes appeared with his old propensities, and they have had to blush for him and bite their lips to keep back the hard word, or even to walk away, perhaps, for fear they should say something which they know they would be sorry for afterwards, yet they have resisted the vile propensity and prevailed. They have mastered their temper, and so must you. You must not be content until you have done so, for if you sit down and say, “There, I shall yield myself up to it, and let it alone,” it is clear as daylight that it has dominion over you, and you cannot be a child of God, for over the children of God it shall not have dominion. It may break out sometimes and hurl you down, but you will never allow it to keep you down ; you will never say of it, “ I cannot overcome it,” but you will fight against it till you die, and when it does break loose it will make you wet your pillow with tears, and repair to God with a broken heart saying, “ 0 God, forgive me, and deliver me from this horrible sin which my soul loatheth!”

     In some men the sin that doth most easily beset, takes another shape. Their propensity is to murmur, of which the apostle speaks when he says “Neither murmur ye as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.” I know people— they are very uncomfortable people to live with – who are always grumbling at everything they meet with in this world. Trade is bad. According to the account of certain persons, who never were successful, if they ever were   industrious or enterprising, trade always was bad: it never has been good since they were born, or had anything to do with it. As for their meals — instead of being thankful to God that they have an abundance whilst so many are hungry, they are perpetually finding fault. No! everything must be done to a turn. If there is a little too much salt here, or a little too much pepper there, what a noise they make about such trifles I Their very garments are never to their minds. The weather never suits them: it is “awfully hot,” or it is “dreadfully cold.” They go through the world murmuring at everything. There are men who think that; his is no sin, but if it be a virtue to be thankful and contented, it is certainly a vice to be for ever rebellious and discontented with our lot, and at daggers drawn with every little thing that crosses our pathway. Why did the apostle put it so, “Neither murmur ye as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer”? Now if any man among you murmurs, he may be a Christian needing to be purged of this defilement, but if you say, “I cannot help murmuring,” then murmuring has got dominion over you, and you cannot be a child of God. You must wage war against it, for if you are a child of God, neither this sin nor any other shall have dominion over you. Here, brethren, I can speak from my own heart. I do not suppose there is any person in this assembly who ever has stronger fits of depression of spirits than I have myself personally. I feel at times when I come into this pulpit, that instead of addressing you cheerfully, I could be a very Jeremiah, with tears and sorrows. I scarce know why, but so it is; these constitutional mischiefs will happen to us. But shall I say I cannot help it? Think you I will give way to it? Nay, but in the name of God I dare not say it! I must contend against it, lest if I should speak murmuringly I should set an ill example unto others, and thus open their mouths to offend against God. This sin is hard to overcome, but conquered it must be, for it must never have dominion over us.

     With some other persons the peculiar reigning sin is covetousness. Oh! how tight those fingers are when they are once closed! How pleased they are when money accumulates! I do not say that they should be indifferent to business, when it behoves them to buy and sell and get gain. But why so penurious? how unhappy they are if there is a little demand made upon them for the poor, for the needy, for the church of God! How stingily they count out their three pences! How seldom it comes to fourpence they contribute! What manoeuvres they practise in limiting themselves to the minimum of charity! How they grudge all they part with, and how much it seems to cost them when they give anything! It is indeed a bleeding which reduces their vital force when anything is given to further the interests of their Lord! Now, this covetousness is smiled at— perchance ye say, “’tis a gentlemanly vice”— but I myself think it a grievous wrong, base as any fraud; for what hast thou that thou hast not received? And what hast thou received for which thou art not accountable? And what hast thou earned for which thou shouldst not pay tribute? Moreover my God has said of it, “Covetousness is idolatry.” I do not doubt but you may fall into fits of covetousness, and yet be Christians. If, however, you are habitually covetous, and say, “Well, I cannot help it,” then your covetousness has got dominion over you, and according to the text you cannot be a child of God, for in the children of God sin shall not have dominion. O sirs, turn that covetousness out of doors. Do as the good man did who had resolved to give a pound to some good cause, and the devil tempted him not to do it. Said he, “I will give two now.” The devil said, “Nay, you will be ruining yourself with your contributions.” Said he, “I will give four.” Another temptation came, and he said, “I will give eight; and if the devil does not leave off tempting me I do not know to what lengths I shall go, but I will be master of him, somehow.” Do anything my brethren, rather than let the golden calf run over you. Who can be a baser slave than he who bows his neck to the mammon god? he is not a manly god. Dost thou live as if the world were made for you and none beside? To get, to hoard, but not to enjoy: he who loves not others is himself unblest.

     It might so happen that some of my hearers never fell into that sin, it never reigned over them. Yet possibly another vice may be in the ascendant. Perhaps it is the sin of pride, as I have already told you, it does not matter what sin it is, if it has dominion over you, the text cuts you off from hope. Pride and arrogancy are an abomination to the Lord. Know ye not that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness, that is to say the arrogant bearing of men, shall be bowed down in that day when the Lord alone is exalted? Ah! I know some who are proud in this very manner. They treat all those they meet with, superciliously, as though they felt that they were altogether of a superior order. They do not deign to notice the common herd, the vulgar. Or, if not tossing their head and consequential in their manners— they are not quite so foolish as that perhaps— yet are they proud in everything else. Nobody can pray as they do; nobody can manage anything as they can. All other Christian people are very imperfect and poor things, but they themselves’ are quite of a superior class, casting their neighbours into the shade. Now, my dear friend, I do not say that you are no Christian because you occasionally forget the lowliness of heart and the modesty of demeanour that become you, but I do say that if pride reigns over you, and you tell me that you cannot help being proud, then you cannot be an heir of heaven, for if pride is your master, then Christ is not, and if pride reigns in your spirit and fashions your character, depend upon it Jesus Christ will despise your image.

     The dominant sin of many who profess and call themselves Christians is sloth — downright idleness. They have said to themselves, “Soul, take thine ease.” Henceforth their faculties have become dormant; as asleep they pass their lives in protracted insensibility. They never do anything for Christ. Their hands are folded, their heart is sluggish, their talents are hid. They have no zeal, no love for souls. Pleasures, profits, and private gratifications, take the place of duty and service. They like comfort remarkably much, but as to their ever enlisting in Christ’s army, it is not to be expected of them. They are an inglorious neuter to the church. Now, I will not say that the man who is sometimes slothful is not a Christian, for alas! we all have to contend with this disease, but the man in whom sloth rules cannot be a child of God, because no sin can have dominion over the man whom God has brought into the kingdom of grace.

     But enough of this, I have given you sufficient tests to try yourselves with. Will you, brethren, be honest enough to subject yourselves to selfexamination? As I desire to do with myself, so would I have you do with yourselves. Is there a reigning sin in your hearts? Never mind what it is — is there any sin that reigns and rules there? Then Jesus Christ cannot be in your soul, for—

“When he comes, he comes to reign,”

Nor can the Spirit of God dwell in you, for he is the Spirit of holiness.

     II. But now, let us take a more pleasant view of the text, regarding it as A PROMISE.

     To every true believer the promise is— “Sin shall not have dominion over you.” It does not say that sin shall not dwell in you. “We know that it will dwell in you while ye dwell in these corruptible bodies. In the holiest man there is enough sin to destroy him if it were not for the grace of God, which restrains its deadly operation. You cannot turn the old enemy completely out; he lurks, like aliens in a city, ever ready to do mischief. Nor are you told that you shall never fall into sin. Alas! Alas! Some of those who have walked very near to God have yet fallen very foully. Need I mention such as David? O may we never repeat in our lives the lapses that tarnished the reputation of such godly men! The word, however, is passed and the security is given, that “sin shall not have dominion over you.” The fair and lovely dove may fall into the mire, but the mire has not any dominion over it, for she rises up as quickly as she can, and away she flies and seeks to cleanse herself at some crystal fount. As for the duck, put that into the mire, and the mire hath dominion over its nature. So the believer may fall into sin that he hates, and defile his garments with uncleanness that he loathes. Let a sheep tumble into a ditch, and it scrambles out again, but let the swine go there, and it rolls in it, for the mire has dominion over its nature. There is nothing here to excuse you from watchfulness, no reason shown nor any pledge that sin may not sometimes terribly overcome you. It may carry the war right into the province of your spirit, and ravage it, and the whole of your nature may for awhile seem to be subdued, except the heart. Happily a limit is prescribed. Though the enemy may seem to conquer the territory of your manhood, yet it cannot establish a kingdom there, for it shall be driven out again in due time, and that before long. When the enemy cometh in as a flood, the Spirit of God will lift up the standard against him, and the enemy shall yet be worsted in the combat.

     Notice the reason that is assigned for the assertion of the text. “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for”— just look at that reason for a minute, when we have looked at a few others.

     Sin cannot get confirmed dominion over the child of God, because God hath promised that it shall not.  Sin shall not have dominion over you.” Oh! how I love these “shalls!” There seems something grand in them. “Sin shall not.” Ah! Satan may come with temptation, but when God says, “Sin shall not have dominion,” it is as when the sea comes up in the fulness of its strength, and the Almighty saith— “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther; here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” If there were no other promise in the Bible but this one, and I knew no more theology than that promise teaches me, I would be most happy. “Sin shall not have dominion.” O my God, if thou sayest it shall not, then I know it shall not. Hath he said, and shall he not do it? Hath he promised it, and shall it not stand good? If you trust in Jesus Christ, before sin can ever fully rule over you, God’s promise must be broken, and, beloved, that shall never be.

     Another reason is — sin shall not have dominion over you because you belong to Christ, and he bought you at such a price that I am sure he will never lose you. He paid for you in the drops of his own heart’s blood. As a believer you are Christ’s purchased possession. Do you think that he will permit evil to come and run away with the heritage that he bought at such a price? Ah, never! He that bought you will fight for you against every enemy, and preserve his blood-bought heritage unto himself.

     Sin shall not have dominion over you because the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in you. If you are a believer the Holy Ghost dwells in you as a king within his palace, and think you that he will be expelled thence by Satan and all his host of temptations?

“Sin is strong, but grace is stronger,
Christ than Satan more supreme.”

It is a hard struggle between you and Satan, but between the Holy Ghost and Satan it is an easy war. He can hold his own, and he will do it.

     Moreover, the Holy Ghost has begun a good work in you, and it is his rule never to leave his work unfinished. The work which his wisdom begins, the arm of his strength will complete. It shall not be said of the Holy Spirit as we say of foolish builders, that they began to build, but were not able to finish. The first stone of grace laid in a sinner’s heart secures the top-stone of the sacred edifice, let hell and sin say what they will. Is not this a safeguard to prevent you from falling under the dominion of sin?

     Further still, my brethren and sisters. There is in every Christian a new nature, a new nature which cannot die and which cannot sin. Christ, calls it “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” The apostle calls it “a living incorruptible seed, which liveth and abideth for ever.” Now, if this seed within you be incorruptible, then sin cannot corrupt it; if it abideth for ever, then sin cannot expel it. If the inner life be there, and it be indeed the very life of God within your spirit, sin shall not have dominion over you.

     There is another reason also, my dear brother, that specially applies to you as a Christian, your will is not the slave of sin, and never has been since your conversion. You sin, but if you could, you never would sin. To will is present with you. The bent and bias of your mind are towards righteousness if you are a Christian indeed. Now, if such be the case, sin can never get dominion over your whole nature, for the sovereignty of all your manhood lies with him who possesses the mastery of your will and your affections. As long as the blood-red flag of Christ’s cross floats over the castle of your heart, Satan may get possession of eye-gate, and ear-gate, and mouth-gate awhile, but Christ is still king; your will is still good towards righteousness— sin has not dominion over you. You know how John Bunyan represents poor Feeble-mind in the cave of Giant Slaygood. The giant had picked him up on the road, and taken him home to devour him at his leisure; but poor Feeble-mind said he had one comfort, for he had heard that the giant could never pick the bones of any man who was brought there against his will. Ah! and so it is. If there be a man who has fallen into sin, but still his heart crieth out against the sin; if he be saying, “Lord, I am in captivity to it; I am under bondage to it; O that I could be free from it!” then sin has not dominion over him, nor shall it destroy him, but he shall be set free ere long.

     We now come to the reason given in the text. I want you to observe it narrowly, for it is not at first sight easy of apprehension, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law but under grace” Look at this a minute. There are two principles in the world that are supposed to promote holiness. The one is the principle of law and duty, the other the principle of grace and faith. It is a popular notion that if you tell men what they ought to do, prove to them the authority or the law-giver, and show them the penalty of their wrong doing— this will enlighten their judgment, give a just bias to their inclination, and materially help to keep their conduct right. All the history of mankind goes to show that this pretext is without proof. Those who are under the law are always under sin. I will show you how it is so. The moment our mother Eve came under law, she was under law only on one point. She was not to pluck the fruit of one tree. She might eat as she liked of all the other fruits of the garden, and I do not know that she wanted to pluck any of them, or cared particularly to do so, but the prohibition to pluck that one, prompted her desire and excited an ardent craving for the forbidden fruit. On this very morning I talked with a person in great distress, who said to me, “I read in the Word of God such-and-such a text about a sin that was unto death, and no sooner did I begin to know what that sin was than I felt a fascination which made me want to do it.” Did you never notice the same in your children? You have a little garden you wish to keep private, and you accordingly forbid any of the children to go into it. Well, you had better give them leave to go in, and then perhaps they will be indifferent about it, but if you say, “Now, you may go anywhere else; but just inside that particular part of the garden you must not go,” why, they one and all want to go there at once. There is a kind of curiosity about us, that if there be a Blue-beard cupboard anywhere, we must go and try to find it out. The moment we are commanded not to do a thing, such is our perverse disposition, we try to do it. Men who are under law through the naughtiness of human nature, always get to be under sin too. There is a new crime lately come up. There is to be a communication in railway carriages between the passengers and the guard, and nobody must pull the rope unless there is sufficient reason for stopping the train. Now, I will be bound to say that somebody will be sure to do it. If you must not do it you want to do it. Such is our nature, the law instead of promoting holiness, does not promote it, but the flesh takes occasion to gratify its desires, lusts, and cravings, by infringing its precepts. Even the terrible penalties of hell have failed to inspire fear or promote holiness. When was there ever so much sheep stealing, and theft, and highway robbery, and forgery, as when men were hanged for these things? Then such sins were always being committed. When Draco wrote his laws in blood, and every sin was punished with death, crime was far more rife than it is even now. Law has proved its utter powerlessness to protect men from the dominion of sin.

     There is another principle, and it is steadfastly believed by some of us to be fruitful in every good word and work, a main instigator to righteousness and true holiness. Let me explain it; it is the principle of grace on the part of God, and operates by faith in the heart of man. It is on this wise. Grace does not say to a man, “You must do this or you shall be punished,” but it says this, “God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you all your sins; you are saved; heaven is yours, and you shall enter into the bliss of the angels ere long; now, for the love you bear to God, who has done this for you, what will you do for him?” This does not appear to furnish, at first sight, a very powerful motive, but it has been proved in the history of Christ’s church, to be the most potent creator of virtue that was ever heard of. God’s great love wherewith he loved us has been indelibly impressed on the heart. The wondrous sacrifice of Christ has been verily depicted before the eyes. A constraining power, strong as death, has availed to consecrate the lives of those who have felt the sacred rapturous spell. Dissolved by mercy unmerited and grace unexpected, they have surrendered themselves in terms like these:

“Now, for the love I bear his name,
What was my gain I count my loss;
My former pride I call my shame,
And nail my glory to his cross.”

Look at the lives of the apostles, and the martyrs, and those earnest confessors of Christ who did resist to blood striving against sin. Why, my brethren, Christ has had such servants as Moses never had. He has had such self-devotion, such consecration such zeal, purely and simply the result of gratitude as mere law and duty never could create. Now, because you are not under the law, yon Christian people, God does not say to you, “Do this, and I will save you; do not do that, and I will damn you but he says to you, “I have saved you beyond the fear of damnation: you are mine, my children, my favourites; now, what will you do for me?” Such is the motive power, such the irresistible instinct of love and gratitude, that sin shall never get dominion over you. I will give you an illustration. I rather think that I am indebted for it to a passage in Cowper’s works which I cannot at this moment recall. You have a servant who engages to do his allotted work for the wages that you give him, with no other motive than his stipend, and no further interest in his employment than to get over it as quickly as possible. He is under law. Notice how he watches your eye, that he may do while you are looking at him that which he must do. He renders you a service of a certain sort, but it is generally very poor and not much to be accounted of. But you have another servant, one who is old and tried, and honest to the backbone: he recollects you when a boy, and used to live with your father then. Now, if you could not pay him his wages it would not destroy his attachment to you, or his zeal for your interest. If you were to discharge him, I dare say he would tell you that if you did not know when you had a good servant he knew when he had a good master, and he meant to stick by you. Notice him how he watches your interests; he will not have anything wasted through neglect; he will not have you defrauded in anything for want of oversight; and if you were ill in the middle of the night, he would somehow or other discover it and be off for a doctor before you could call him. If he travelled with you, what care and attention he would pay you; he would be ready to risk his life for you. You could not buy such service as his for gold, you could not get it as a mere matter of duty. Love makes him do for you what mere duty never could. So, even if the law did make good servants, as it never does, yet it never could make so good a servant as grace and love. Indeed, the motive of love is always the strongest, and if it came to the pinch, and your man who serves you for your pay could make more out of betraying you than he could by being faithful to you, you know what he would do; but your other servant who serves you out of love would no more think of going beyond or imposing upon you than of sacrificing himself; he would, perhaps, be like the Roman slave, who was tortured to death sooner than he would run and point out where his master was concealed, because his master was sought in order to be slain. Love, love is the mighty principle. You Christian people are not under the law. It is true the moral law is your rule of life, but it has no tyrannous government over you. Christ fulfilled the law for you; it has been kept; you owe it no obedience as a matter of mere justice. You have been delivered from that, and being now under the law of love, and not under the law of force and duty, sin never shall have dominion over you.

     III. But I cannot tarry longer, as our time is gone. The last point is to view the text as AN ENCOURAGEMENT.

     In this assembly I fear there are not a few who are strangers to the holy jealousy which keeps a watch over the heart, and a guard upon the lips lest they should sin. I wish we were all so on the alert, that we all kept our garments scrupulously white. Dear brethren, cultivate a holy jealousy. Be very watchful, and let this text animate you— “Sin shall not have dominion over you.”

     In this assembly, too, there are some who are consciously very weak. You feel your depraved nature to be vigorous, and you are afraid that the grace within you is insufficient for the trials that beset you. My dear brethren, let this encourage you. Though you may be very weak, if you are a child of God, sin shall no more get dominion over the weak than over the strong. Though the life within you may be but a spark, it shall not be quenched; though it be but as a bruised reed, it shall not be broken. The text is for the weak as well as the strong – “Sin shall not have dominion over you.”

     In this company there may be those who just now are fighting with some great sin. We noticed last Monday night the prayer of a dear brother evidently coming out of the bitterness of his soul, when he said, “O God, help me, or I shall fall; help me, or I shall fall!” Ah! brethren, we all know what it is to get to the pinch, when it is hand-to-hand work with some inbred corruption. You that have not strong passions may be very thankful, for they that have a lusty manhood are often drifted by terrible winds, and have a hard fight to keep clear of the rocks of sin. But oh! you warring Christians, you believers who are fighting, here is consolation for you. Put this bottle of cool water to your lips, and be refreshed. “Sin shall not have dominion over you.” You shall conquer yet; fight on! Possibly there may be some here lately converted— some man who was a drunkard. Your chains are broken, but there are some links that are left hanging, and sometimes they will catch hold of a nail, and you will think you are tied up again. Oh! but, my brethren, if you have given your heart to Christ, sin shall not have dominion over you; you shall yet be helped. Probably there is a man here whose life was very bad before his conversion, and he says to himself, “I have to go and mix up with some of the people I used to sin with, and they laugh at me, and lay all sorts of traps for me. I am afraid I shall yet go back.” O cling to the cross; lay hold of the skirts of your dear Lord and Master, for if you trust him, though you be but a child lately born into the family, “Sin shall not have dominion over you.” Perhaps I address a backslider to-night. O my brother, you have gone into sin; you have awfully defiled your garments; perhaps the church of God has had to cast you out. But do you now hate your sin? Have you now again began to cry unto God for mercy? Does the Lord help you to look to the cross, and rest in the work of Jesus? If so, be of good courage still, for if you are his child sin may get a temporary advantage, but it shall never have permanent dominion. You have sinned very terribly; it is an awful thing; God have mercy upon you for it. You will have to go with broken bones all your life, but you shall still be saved, for sin shall not have dominion over you. And now, the last sentence is this, if there be any man here desirous to be saved from the reigning power of sin within his body, however much sin may now domineer over him, if he will come to Christ, my Lord and Master, and put his trust in him, he will take care to deliver him altogether from sin, beginning the good work in him this very night, and carrying it on till he at last brings him to heaven, without a spot or a sin, to see the face of God. And this is for every one of you who will trust Christ. O that you may trust in him now, and God shall have the glory while you will have the great salvation. Amen.



Preach, Preach, Preach Everywhere

By / Jun 22

Preach, Preach, Preach Everywhere

 

“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” — Mark xvi. 15, 16.

 

BEFORE our Lord gave his disciples this commission, he addressed them in tones of serious rebuke. You will observe that, appearing unto the eleven as they sat at meat, “he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart because, they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” So honourable an estimation did he set upon testimony; so marked a censure did he pronounce upon those who neglected it. The reprimand they received on such an occasion may well serve as a caution to us , for unbelief unfits the Christian for service. It is in proportion to our personal faith in the gospel that we become competent witnesses for the teaching of it to others. Each one of us who would get credit for sincerity, must say with David, “I believed, therefore have I spoken,” or else a want of faith of ourselves will effectually deprive our speech of all its power over our fellow men. There can be little doubt that one reason why Christianity is not so aggressive now as it once was, and exerts not everywhere the influence it had in apostolic times, is the feebleness of our faith in Christ as compared with the full assurance of faith exercised by the men of those days. In vain ye hide a timid heart behind a modest face, when the attitude we should show , and the living force that should constrain us is a bold reliance upon the power of the Holy Ghost, and a deep conviction of the might of the truth which we are taught to deliver. Brethren, if there is to be a revival of religion it must begin at home. Our own souls must first of all be filled with holy faith and burning enthusiasm, and then shall we be strong to do exploits and to win provinces for the sceptre of King Jesus.

     Having thus made a note upon the context, I want you to refer to a parallel passage in Matthew. There we learn that in delivering this commission our Lord assigned a remarkable reason for it, and one that intimately concerned himself. “All power,” he said, “is given unto ME in heaven and in earth, go YE therefore and teach all nations” These words were adapted to strengthen the faith of his disciples, of whom it had been just observed that “some doubted.” Do you not see the point of this announcement? Jesus of Nazareth, being raised from the dead, tells his apostles that he is now invested with universal supremacy as the Son of man. Therefore he issues a decree of grace, calling on all people of every clime and kindred, to believe the gospel with a promise of personal salvation to each and every one that believes. With such authority is this mandate clothed, and so imperative the duty of all men everywhere to repent, that they who do not believe are threatened with a certain penalty of damnation. This royal ordinance he will have published throughout the whole world ; but he enjoins it on all the messengers that those who bear the tidings should be thoroughly impressed with the sovereignty of him that sends them. Let the words then ring in your ears, “Go ye therefore.” They sound like the music of that glad acclaim which hails the Redeemer installed with power, holding the insignia of power in his possession, exercising the full rights of legitimate power, and entrusting his disciples with a commission founded on that power, “Go ye into all the world.”

     Yet another remark before we proceed to the text. The commission we are about to deal with was the last which the Lord gave to his disciples before he was taken away from them. We prize greatly the last words of his departing servants, how shall we sufficiently value the parting words of our ascending Master? Injunctions that are left us by those who have gone to glory have great weight upon our spirits ; let obedient lovers of Christ see to it that they act according to the last will and testament, the last desire expressed by their risen Lord. I claim for my text peculiar attention from every disciple of Jesus, not indeed as if it were a mournful entreaty, but rather as a solemn charge. You remember Christ’s own parable, “The kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.” Look at this as the last direction which Jesus gives to his stewards before “he went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.” It seems to me that as when the mantle of Elijah fell upon Elisha, Elisha would have been much to blame if he had not caught it up, so when these words fell from our ascending Saviour ere the clouds concealed him from the disciples’ sight, we ought to take them up with holy reverence. Since he has left them as Lis parting mantle they ought to be lovingly cherished and scrupulously obeyed.

     Come we, then, to invite your earnest heed to the command which the Saviour here gives: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” It was given to the apostles representatively. They represent the whole body of the faithful. To every converted man and woman this commission is- given. I grant you there is a speciality to those gifted, and called to surrender themselves wholly to the work of the ministry, but their office in the visible church offers no excuse for the discharge of those functions that pertain to every member of the body of Christ in particular. It is the universal command of Christ to every believer: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

     I. In thinking over this command, let us first consider WHAT IT IS THAT WE HAVE TO CARRY TO EVERY CREATURE— THE GOSPEL.

     There may be no need, my brethren, for me to tell you what the gospel is, but to complete our subject we must declare it. The “gospel,” which is to be told to “every creature,” it seems to me, is the great truth that “ God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them;” and that he “ hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” God has looked in pity upon sinful man. He has sent his Son to take upon himself the nature of man. His Son has come in the flesh. He has wrought out a perfect righteousness by his obedient life. He has died upon the tree, the just for the unjust, that whosoever trusteth in him might be forgiven. Then come the gospel’s point and barb—believe in him and be baptised, and you shall be saved; reject him, and your peril is imminent, for God declares it, you must be damned.

     When we preach the gospel, then, we must declare to the sons of men that they are fallen, they are sinful, they are lost, but Christ has come to seek and to save that which was lost; that there is in Christ Jesus, who is now in heaven, grace all sufficient to meet each sinner’s need, that whosoever believeth in him shall be forgiven all his sins, and shall receive the Holy Ghost, by which he shall be helped to lead a new life, shall be preserved in holiness, and shall be brought safely to heaven. To preach the gospel is to preach up Christ. It is not, as I believe, to preach any form of church government, or any special creed, although both of these may be needful to those who have heard and received the gospel. The first message we have to preach to every creature is that there is a Saviour: “Life for a look at the Crucified One, life at this moment,” for all who look to him. This is the gospel which we have to preach.

     Now, what is meant by the word “preach”? I take its meaning in this place to be very extensive. Some can literally preach— that is, act as heralds, proclaiming the gospel as the town crier proclaims in the street the message which he is bidden to cry aloud. The town crier is, in fact, the world’s preacher, and the preacher of the gospel is to be a crier, crying aloud and sparing not, the truth of Christ. I do not believe that Christ tells us to go and play the orator to every creature. Such a command would be impracticable to most of us, and useless to any of us. Of all the things that desecrate the Sabbath and grieve the Spirit, attempts at high-flown oratory and gorgeous eloquence in preaching I believe are about the worst. Our business is just to speak out the gospel simply and plainly to every creature. We do not actually preach the gospel to a man if we do not make him understand what we are talking about. If our language does not come down to his level, it may be the gospel, but it is not the gospel to him. The preacher should adopt language which shall be suitable to all his congregation—in preaching he should strive to instruct, to enforce, to explain, to expound, to plead and to bring home to every man’s heart and conscience, as in the sight of God, as far as his ability goes, the truth which beyond all argument or cavil has the seal and stamp of divine revelation.

     Though all the members of a church cannot literally preach in this ordinary acceptation of the term, yet if this command be for all, then must all bear that testimony to the world in some other outspoken manner. Their preaching may be in divers ways. Some must preach by their holy lives. Others must preach by their talking to the ones and twos, like the Master at the well, who was as much preaching when he conversed with the woman of Samaria as when he addressed the multitude on the banks of the lake of Gennesaret, and uttered doctrine as sublime in that little village of Sychar as he proclaimed at the beautiful gate of the temple. Others must preach by distributing the truth printed for circulation; and a right noble service this is, especially when the pure word of life, the Bible itself, is sown broadcast in this and other lands. If we cannot speak with our own tongue, we must borrow other men’s tongues; and if we cannot write with our own pens, we must borrow other men’s pens; but we must do it in some way or other. The gist of this command is that we must make the gospel known to every creature by some means or other— throw it in his way, make him know that there is a gospel, and challenge his very curiosity to learn what it means. You cannot make him accept it, or believe it—that is God’s work—but you can and must make him know of it, and plead with him to receive it, and do not let it be your fault if he does not welcome it. Do all, as much as within you lies, to make every creature know what the gospel is, so that if he will not accept it yet he shall have had the kingdom of God brought nigh to him. The responsibility of his accepting or rejecting it shall then be his business, and none of yours.

     This, then, is the commission of Jesus Christ to his disciples— “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

     Lest we should make a mistake about what I just now called the point and barb of the arrow, the force and pith of the gospel, Christ has put it in plain words, “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved.” That is to say, if a man would participate in the bounteous salvation which Christ has wrought, he must believe in Christ, he must trust Christ, he must believe Christ to be God’s appointed Saviour, and to be able to save him. He must act on that belief, and trust himself in the hands of Jesus, and if he does that he shall be saved.

     Further, the text says he must be baptised. Not that there is any virtue whatsoever in baptism, but it is a small thing for Christ to expect that the man trusting to be saved by him should own and avow his attachment to him. He that wishes to have Christ as his Saviour should be prepared openly to acknowledge that he is on Christ’s side. Baptism thus becomes the badge of discipleship, the outward token of inward faith, by which a man says to all who look on, “I confess myself dead to the world; I confess myself buried with Christ; I declare myself risen to newness of life in him make what you will of it, and laugh at it as much as you like, yet in the faith of Jesus as my Lord, I have taken leave of all else to follow him.” It is a point of obedience. Sometimes one has said in his heart, “What a pity it is that baptism should have been introduced into this place; it makes a baulk of wood into which men may drive their ritualistic hook.” But then the Son of God himself has put it here, and we cannot alter it. If it were not here I would not have put it here, but it is here, and being here, it is at thy soul’s hazard, man, to leave it out. I believe with all my heart that if you believe in Jesus Christ you will be saved, whether you are baptised or not, but I would not like to run the risk, mark you, for I have not got that in my text. It is, “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved,” and I would take the two commands together, and obey my Master’s will throughout, and not leave out that which did not suit my inclination, and accept only that which did. I am bound to leave out neither of them, but to take the two together. With thy heart thou must believe, and with thy mouth make confession, and if thou doest these sincerely thou shalt be saved.

     II. Having, then, clearly before us what our work is— to publish and make plain to every creature the gospel of Jesus Christ— let us solemnly consider (for it is a very solemn business, being incumbent upon every professor of Christ here) WHAT THE EXTENT OF THIS COMMISSION IS.

     Judging from the fact that there is no mention made of time, I gather that as long as there is a church in the world the obligation to preach the gospel will remain, and if that church should ever come to consist of but one or two, it must still, with all its might, go on promulgating the gospel of Jesus Christ. Preaching is to be for all time; and until Jesus Christ himself shall come, and the dispensation shall close, the mission of the church is to go into all the world— all of you— and tell out the gospel to every creature.

     I will not, however, dwell upon that, because it is not so much a practical point, but just notice that there is no limit to he put as to where this gospel is to be preached. It is to be preached in “all the world”— in Labrador, in Africa, where the Southern Cross shines high, or where Arcturus with his suns leads on the night; everywhere, in every place; no nation is to be left out because too degraded; no race is to be forgotten because too far remote. The mission of the church deals with the centre of Africa, with men who have never yet looked the pale man in the face. It deals with learned nations, as the acute and sceptical Hindoo, and with the degraded tribes, as the Hottentot in his kraal, the Bechuana and the Bushman. There is to be no omission anywhere. Our great Commander’s marching orders to his troops are— “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

     Even this is not so practical a point as the one I want to insist upon. It is the duty of the church, according to this command, to make known the gospel to every creature. Any one of you individually, of course, cannot make it known to every creature, but each one , at home and abroad, according to his sphere of action and his capacity, is to be striving at that. As soon as ever they can understand, you are to be ready with this gospel of Jesus Christ for them. The Sunday School does not want a direct text for its institution or foundation. It is a marvel that it was not instituted long before it was, for the very spirit of Sabbath School work lies in the words here— “every creature.” You are not, in looking after the children, to include only some privileged classes and exclude the ragged and the depraved: the City Arab is at least a “creature,” and you are as much bound to preach the gospel to him as to your own dear child, who is the object of your tenderest love. It is to every creature. Then the Christian church ought to aim at the rich. The rich want the gospel, perhaps, more than any other class in the community. They seldom hear it, and what they do hear of the gospel is poor diluted stuff. Their sins are not often told them to the face, neither are they rebuked as the poor are. They are to be sought for by the church; and though it is difficult to get at them, yet we have not done our duty till we have done what we can for them. But the poor are to be looked after. Their poverty must never make us say that it is not worth while to teach them. It is the glory of the gospel that the poor should have the gospel preached to them. Rich and poor are both creatures, and therefore the church has its duty concerning both. The gospel ought to be preached to those who habitually assemble on the Sabbath. It is a pleasure to remember that there are so many who are willing to come and listen to the gospel, but the responsibility of the minister and the church does not end with those who voluntarily congregate within four walls. We are to preach the gospel to every creature, therefore to those who lie in bed on Sunday mornings, to those who read Sunday newspapers, to those who take their walks in the evening with listless indifference, to those who do not know, perhaps, what Christian worship means. You have not done what your Master has told you to do till you have reached them, and made them know, forced them to know, what the gospel is. He would be a poor sportsman who should sit in his house and expect the game to come to him. He that would have it must go abroad for it, and he that would serve the Master must go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in.

     I need not say here, brethren, that I hope the Christian church is now alive to looking after every class of society, but what I want to bring home personally to ourselves is just this, that we, as a church here, with so many advantages, so many in numbers, have at least a part in this commandment, and must extend our efforts to as many of “every creature” as we can. Oh! we cannot discharge the work for which God has put us here, until we have looked into these alleys, these lanes, these courts, these dark places, and have tried our best to take Jesus Christ’s gospel to every dweller therein. I know you have your Sunday schools, and I am thankful you are doing your work there, but do not confine your aspirations to that class. I know I have with this congregation work enough, still I am not bound to limit myself to any parish or to any locality, but if I can, to do good, as much as lieth in me in all directions, and in all manner of places to make known the gospel to every creature. Have you been the means of the conversion of fifty? That is not “every creature,” press on. Were there a hundred added to this church the other day? That is not “every creature.” There are millions yet to whom Christ is not known. Preach the gospel everywhere then.

     The majesty of this command overwhelms one. Such a commission was never given before or since. O church of God! thy Lord has given thee a work almost as immense as the creation of a world; nay, it is a greater work than that; it is to re-create a world. What canst thou do in this? Thou canst do nothing effectively, unless the Holy Spirit shall bless what thou attemptest to do. But that he will do, and if thou dost gird up thy loins, and thy heart be warm in this endeavour, thou shalt yet be able to preach Jesus Christ to every creature under heaven.

     I must not enlarge, for time flies too quickly. It will suffice if I have put that thought into your hearts, that to the servant-girl and the duchess, the chimney-sweep and the peer, the man in the poor-house or in the palace, we must account ourselves debtors for Christ's sake to present the gospel to them according to our ability, never limiting the sphere of our enterprise where an opportunity can be found to carry the gospel to every creature.

     III. But now, thirdly, some of you will be asking the INDUCEMENTS TO ENLIST IN THIS SERVICE, AND OBEY THIS COMMAND.

     It shall be sufficient answer to many of you to say that the reason for preaching the gospel to every creature is, that God has said it. Oh, it was a grand shout— if it had been for a better purpose— when the hundreds of thousands gathered together listening to the burning eloquence of the hermit, when he bade them charge home against the Saracens, and deliver the holy sepulchre and the sacred places from the infidel. Then the shout went up, “Deus vult” “God wills it,” and in the strength of that belief, that God willed it, “a forest huge of spears was couched,” and ten thousand swords were unsheathed, and men dashed on to battle and to death. Oh! if the Christian church could but feel “Deus vult” “God wills it," that now, even in this year of grace 1869, every creature should hear the gospel! I believe we have enough Christians here in London to make London hear the gospel. I mean, we have enough converted men and women, if all bestirred themselves, to make London ring from end to end, as once did Nineveh. One man awoke Nineveh with his monotonous cry, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” Surely the thousands might yet be as firebrands in the midst of corn, if we were but in earnest about this great command, “Deus vult” believer; God demands this of thee, is not this enough?

     But, if we seek arguments, let us remember that the 'preaching of the gospel is everywhere a delight to God. Papists tell us that the offering up of what they call a “ sacrament,” is an acceptable oblation to God. They miss their mark. The preaching of Christ—that is the true oblation. God smelleth a sweet savour wherever the name of Jesus is rightly proclaimed. Listen unto these words, “We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ as well in them that perish as in them that saved.” Wherever Christ is preached, God is glad. He is honoured, Christ is honoured. Even if no result should come, (impossible supposition!) yet still the mere preaching of Christ is like the smell of evening incense which goeth up unto God, and he accepteth it.

     Moreover, remember that you are bidden to preach to every creature, each of you, as far as you can, because it is by this means that the elect are to be gathered out from among the sons of men. You know not who they are, therefore tell of Christ to every one. You know not who will accept it; you know not whose heart will be broken by the divine hammer. It is yours to try the hammer of truth on the hard heart. You are not the discoverer of God’s chosen, but the gospel is, and as the gospel is preached it will attract to itself, by its own power, through the Holy Spirit, such as God hath ordained unto eternal life.

     Brethren and sisters, I do pray you preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, for your own sakes, if there were no other reason. Depend upon it, your own spiritual vigour will be very much enhanced by your labours of love, and your zeal for the service of Christ. I have remarked it, as an invariable thermometer by which to gauge the spirituality of a man’s heart. Whether he is either doing or not doing something for Christ will tell upon his life and conversation. The tree is not only known by its fruit, as to what kind of tree it is, but also as to what its degree of life is. “If ye keep his commandments, and bring forth much fruit, ye are disciples indeed,” but if there be only a little fruit shrivelled there on the topmost bough, scarce worth the gathering, why then you are his disciples, but you can scarcely say that you are his disciples indeed.

     Did you ever feel the joy of winning a soul for Christ? If so, you will need no better argument for attempting to spread the knowledge of his name among every creature. I tell you, there is no joy out of heaven which excels it — the grasp of the hand of one who says, “By your means I was turned from darkness to light ; rescued from drunkenness, or reclaimed perhaps ' from the grossest vices, to love and serve my Saviour to see your spiritual children around you, and to say, “Here am I, and these whom thou hast given me.” Oh! the trials and griefs of life sit lightly upon a heart where the triumphs of grace are present. A man might well endure to stand and preach upon a burning fagot, if he could be sure that the burning of his body would secure the salvation of his congregation. Do, for your own happiness, sake, seek to teach to others what the Lord has first taught to you.

     I might multiply these reasons, but it will, perhaps, be best to come back to the first one of all — your Master wills it, and therefore preach his gospel to every creature. The day is coming when his gospel shall be known throughout the world. Many things have hindered it. Nights of darkness, years of oppression have lasted long, and the minds of men have been sitting in the valley of the shadow of death. But, as surely as God is God, better days are coming.

     “The light that shines from Zion’s hill ” shall gild the top of every mountain. Every land shall yet behold the feet of them that bring glad tidings, and that publish salvation. Spite of the prophecies of certain men in these days, I still* cling to the old faith of the church, that there shall be a universal triumph of our holy faith, ere yet the world is given up to the dissolving element. The gods of the heathen shall be shaken from their pedestals. The dispensation shall not end, till those things which men have worshipped shall be thrown to the moles and to the bats. God will yet drag the harlot of the Seven Hills from her bloodstained throne, and make the kings of the earth burn her as with fire. The day of the vengeance of our God for martyrs’ blood shall yet come, and Christ will not end this conflict till he has brought down the two-edged sword upon the very head of his adversary, and hath laid him prone in the dust. Have patience, sirs; have patience! Things are progressing well enough just now. Our hearts may well be encouraged. We have seen what God’s right hand hath done for freedom in this our land. Even now the great pulse of time beats heartily and soundly, and by God’s good grace and his gracious overruling providence, it shall by-and-by be seen that—

“The day of freedom dawns at length,
The Lord’s appointed day.”

But, if it is ever to come, according to the past, it must come through the efforts of God’s children, for he ever works by means, and will do so still. Up, ye servants of God, and do your duty diligently, perseveringly, continuing to preach the gospel to every creature, for ye are workers together with God; ye are God’s husbandry, his friends and fellow-helpers. Oh! if you would wish to share the joy of those brighter ages; if you would with blissful eye look adown the vista of time, and foresee the swords beaten into ploughshares, all prescient of the day when the oppressors’ thrones shall crumble in the dust— you cannot look with hopeful eye, with a strong nerve, on all this, unless you stretch forth your hand and say, “I will have a share in that; I will have a share in it to-day; I will put my little ounce of power into the church; I will throw my little drachm of might into her mission, and seek to tell to every creature of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

     IV. But now, closing up this address, we have our work before us, and our God to help us, and we accept the challenge. Brethren and sisters, I call you together just as a master workman when he has a work to do calls together his comrades, and says, “Now, this is what we have to do: WHAT POWERS HAVE WE TO WORK WITH, AND HOW CAN WE DO IT?”

     Those of us who are specially called to preach the gospel must take our part, and go on preaching it with all our might. Oh! it is blessed employment, and angels might well envy us, that we have such an office committed to us as to preach the gospel. But, brethren, you must not lay all the labour or all the responsibility on one man. A one-man ministry is, indeed, a curse to any church, if that be the only ministry of the church. All ministries must be used.

     But all have not the ability to preach. We have some who can teach the young. Are all who can teach the young engaged in that work? Any night there are schools all around here where there will be twice as many children as the teachers there present can instruct. It is not so with any institution of ours, but there are dozens of schools around that are inefficient simply for want of teachers. Our people are always engaged in their schools. I have always said, “Never mind what sect it is; if you can, go and teach there;” but I must say that over again, for I do not like to see these schools standing still for want of teachers. It is a very happy thing to hear a sermon, but if you can teach children, it is not your duty to prefer your pleasure to your class.

     Could not some of you do good in your own houses? Cottage-meetings, parlour-meetings, drawing-room meetings— these are all means of usefulness. Have you tried them? “How many loaves have ye?” So said my Master. I want to count the loaves and tell my Master, and I am of opinion that there are some loaves never brought out of the baker’s basket yet, some opportunities that have never yet been put to his service. Search and see.

     How much good could some of you do by writing letters to others concerning Christ? How many of you might do good by circulating the printed word— Bibles, and gospel tracts, and such sermons as will be most likely to profit certain people if they read them. To some of you, it may be, there is committed the talent of money. If you have not the golden tongue, be thankful that you have the golden purse. Speak with that. You are as much bound to speak with that as others with the golden mouth. Whatever gift you may have, put it out at interest, like a good steward, for your Master. Some of you may not be able to speak or to give, but let your holiness, and every power you have, according to your ability and opportunity, contribute to the great result of the gospel being preached to every creature.

     My joy and crown, my hope and my delight before God, are ye in the Lord, when I can perceive an earnest heart in you, O ye, the people of ray charge. There are some here of whom I am not ashamed to speak, whose piety is apostolic, whose generosity and zeal are like those of the early church; but there are others of whom we may well speak with hesitation, for if they be consecrated to Christ at all, the consecration seems to have taken but small effect. They are diligent enough in business, but as for fervency of spirit, where is that? In what respects can they be said to serve the Lord? Let each one begin to question himself, “What have I done to carry out the Master’s command?” and if you make up a sorrowful total, do not sit down and waste the time in vain regrets, but be humbled, and pray God that no man’s blood may be laid at your door. I do urge you— oh! how I would do it if my tongue had language such as I desire to possess! but let me urge you, every one of you, in the future to be putting out the fulness of your strength for him whose bloody sweat, and cross, and passion, have made you debtors to him for your very lives. By him who died on yonder tree, accursed for you, by him who went away to prepare a place for you, and who stands pleading still at God’s right hand with never-ceasing zeal for you, I come in his name and at his command to entreat, to exhort you to spend and be spent to glorify his name amongst the sons of men. Search ye out, and look what you can do, and whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do with all your might, for the grave will soon open for you, and there is no work nor device in the grave whither you are hastening. “Up, guards, and at them!” was said in the day of battle, and I may still say it to every Christian. In these days, when popery gathers her might, and infidelity shoots forth her poisoned arrows, let none of us be wanting in the day of battle, lest the angels should say, as said the angel of the Lord, “Curse ye, Meroz, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.” The best thing to do for truth and righteousness is to promote personal piety, and it will bring forth the outgrowth of personal effort. We shall not bless the world by big schemes, mighty theories, gigantic plans. Little by little grows the coral reef on which afterwards gardens are to be planted. Little by little must the kingdom come, each man bringing his mite and laying it down at Jesus’ feet. So breaks the light. Beam by beam it comes. One by one come the arrows from the bow of the sun, and at last darkness flies. So must break the everlasting mom. But let us be glad. If the work be slow it is sure. God will see the work accomplished, and when the morning cometh the night shall not succeed it, but it shall scatter the darkness for ever. The sun of righteousness goeth no more down. The day of the world’s morning shall not tarry. The time of her halcyon days shall come, when the light of the sun shall be as the light of seven days, and the Lord God shall dwell among men, and manifest his glory to the sons of men.

     This last moment shall be just used for us to say that there are some here whom we cannot tell to go and preach the gospel, for they do not know it themselves; and unto the wicked God saith, “What hast thou to do to declare my statutes?” To such we say, Incline your ear and listen. Jesus Christ has suffered that sinners might not suffer. He was God’s Son. He took the sins of believers. He was punished in their stead, and if thou wilt trust him thou shalt be saved. Trust him, sinner, trust him. May the Holy Ghost persuade thee, and give thee faith, and unto the Lord Jesus shall be the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.



A Serious Remonstrance

By / Jun 22

A Serious Remonstrance

 

“My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash and be clean?”— 2 Kings v. 13.

 

I AM somewhat myself in the position of Elijah, when Naaman, the Syrian, came dashing up with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of the prophet. There are before me in this house, I fear, many who are spiritually diseased. Your motive for coming up to this assembly should be to hear the gospel, and to discover the remedy by which your spiritual disease may be removed. But what, let me ask, are really the thoughts that occupy your minds? I can suppose that you are looking for different things from me. One, perhaps, imagines that something will be said odd and strange that shall provoke a smile: another imagines that I shall labour to make some display of elocution and speak tender words softly, like flakes of feathered snow melting as they fall, and so draw forth the silent, graceful tear. When both of these are alike disappointed, you will probably say to yourselves, “Well, it is only the old story we used to hear when we went to the Sunday-school; it is just what we have listened to Sunday after Sunday, till we turn away surfeited with it. It is, believe in Jesus Christ and live; there is nothing fresh or new to stimulate our intellect; nothing original to whet our curiosity. In whatever shape the preacher puts it, whatever illustrations he uses to enforce it, it comes to just what we have always heard—‘believe and live.’” Forthwith you take umbrage. Because it is so simple and so plain, you will not attend to it. I will therefore suppose myself to mingle in the crowd as you retire, and come up to you, one by one, and kindly take you by the hand, and say, “ If the preacher had told you of some new and strange thing, some difficult matter, you would have inclined your ear and devoted your heart to it ; how much more, then, when he has simply told you a plain matter, and laid before you a simple method by which you may obtain pardon for your sin, cleansing for your guilt, health and cure for your conscience ! If the intricate and the hard would have commanded your interest, how much more should the simple and the easy engross your attention? The thing I spoke of cannot be, wish it as I might. I cannot speak to every one of you individually. It remains that I stand here, returning the glance of each and all of you as best I can, while I converse with you freely and friendly, but firmly and truly, of the things that make for your peace.

     I. Our subject shall be full of remonstrance. First of all, let me notice the PRIDE OF MAN'S HEART.

     Stands there before your mind’s eye this great man, the Captain of the host of the king of Syria. He is a typical character, or to say the least, he is a representative man. His haughty bearing prompts the inquiry, “Who is this?” As you learn that he holds a high office, that he has served his country well, and that he enjoys the favour of his master, you will be apt to count him a man of mark, one to be admired. But look at him more narrowly; observe his pale face and his emaciated frame, and your pity is moved; now you ask with concern, what ails this mighty man of valour? The fatal secret is quickly told, he is a leper. Why then comes he thus with his splendid equipage to Samaria? Surely it is not to air his nobility, but to get relief from his debility that he takes this journey into the land of Israel. How better then could his distressing case be met than by the simple message which Elisha sent him? The manner disappoints his expectation; his temper is irritated by a method of treatment that he thinks beneath his station; and he indignantly rejects the faithful admonition of the prophet. The more you consider his circumstances, the more surprise you will feel at his conduct. Why, his own servants respectfully expostulate with him, “My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldst thou not have done it?” Ah! he thinks himself great, and therefore only a great thing will be becoming. If he be commanded to make some great sacrifice, or to do some great service, he will do it, do it willingly. It suits his high and lofty nature. I am not about to launch on a sea so wide as the theme of human pride in general— that would require many a sermon— but only this one point of human pride, which shows itself in wanting to do some great thing in order to obtain eternal salvation, concerns us now. It is a universal rule of the entire family of man, in every place and at every time, that man wants to do some great thing by which to restore himself to the favour of God. If you had asked the ancient heathen how men could win the favour of the gods, they would have told you that, like Socrates, they must drink the hemlock cup, and die with words of cheer upon their lips, or like the brave ten thousand under Xenophon, cut their way through innumerable difficulties, or die like victims for freedom at the pass of Thermopylae. For such men there would be quiet resting places in the Elysian fields, and perhaps some men might be caught up to high Olympus, to sit down in the circle of the celestials. That was the old heathen notion, and it is much the same in the present day. To obtain salvation, a man, amongst the Hindoos, must torture himself ; must lie down in the path of the car of Juggernaut to be crushed, or hold up his hand till it grows stiff, and he is unable to take it down. All forms of self-denial and of torture are practised to this very day in the heathen world, for man longs to do some great thing that he may be cured of his spiritual leprosy. This is the character of heathenism in every place.

     The Jews ought to have known better. They had a pure law put before them; they ought to have perceived the impossibility of their altogether keeping it, and in their constant sacrifices there was a very distinct intimation given to them that the salvation of man must depend upon the offering of a sacrifice given by another for his ransom. But in our Lord’s day the Jews had the idea that a man must make wide the phylactery to the hem of his garment, if he would enter into eternal life. He must fast on certain days of the week, must wash so many times a-day when he had been to the market-place, or had been with the multitude ; that he must, in fact, do some great thing or other in order that he might be healed of his sin. That was the Jewish notion everywhere.

     And this is the kernel of the Roman system. Stripped of its less important features, it comes to this, that thou must do some great thing if thou wouldst be saved and enter into eternal life— wearing hair shirts, abstaining from meat on Fridays, and shutting thyself up in a nunnery or a convent; or if thou wouldst do it perfectly, get up to the top of a pillar with Simon Stylites, and live there a noble specimen of humility in obscurity. This is what Romanism says in some form or other: “By doing some great thing, work out your own salvation, and work it out constantly.” I know the canon of inspiration is partly acknowledged; I know there is something said about the blood of Jesus Christ; I know the work of the Spirit is not entirely denied, but at the same time this is the main evil; there is a superscription written over the gospel— not that the tablet is summarily obliterated, but that the handwriting is written over, so that you cannot decipher the original record— “This do, and thou shalt live.”

     Nor less is it the current religion of this exceedingly Protestant country. Most of the men you meet with, if they have not been accustomed to attend on an evangelical ministry, and catch the phrases of religious society, you will find adhering to the doctrine, that goodness, virtue, morality, excellence, and subscriptions to charitable objects, will win for us eternal life. The trader has never been in the bankruptcy court, therefore he is clean from the great transgression, and he will be saved. The labourer who has always paid his way, and never had relief from the parish, is exemplary in the eyes of the poor law guardians, and he will be saved. Every man in his own order, and each with his mode of respectability. I do not know all the shapes that the certificate takes, but the general belief current everywhere is that good of all sorts are sure to be saved. You are to do some great thing; you are to be better than your neighbours, to keep yourselves above the common ruck, and you shall certainly without fail attain unto everlasting life. Though some have thought that we may preach the doctrine of justification by faith too nakedly, and affirm it too frequently, I have the fullest possible belief that we have not erred yet in that direction, we have need still to keep on hammering in the public ear that great truth, that by the works of the law shall no flesh living be justified; he that believeth hath everlasting life. We want to revive more clearly and fully the old testimony which Christ has left to us, that “he that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

     Here, then, is human pride always longing to do some great thing. I have mentioned several phases it assumes, but to make the description complete, I must bring home the censure to myself and to you. I honestly confess that before I knew Christ and the way of salvation by his finished work, I would have done anything in order to be saved. Such was my sense of guilt, and such my fear of the wrath to come, that no pilgrimage would have been too wearisome, no pain too intense, no slavery too severe, to appease my troubled conscience. I would gladly have laid down my life, if I might have saved my soul thereby. Times without number have I thought I wished I had never been born; and could there have been put before me any possible form of penance, though it might have consisted of excruciating agony, I am sure I would gladly have accepted it if I might be saved. Little did I think that it was done for me by another, and that what I had to do was to accept what had been done, and not to do anything but to trust in Christ. I appeal to any unprofessing unconverted persons here, whether you do not say inwardly when you hear a gospel sermon, “I do not understand this believing; I cannot make it out; it puzzles me; I wish the preacher would tell me straightway what I had to do, and I would do it”? Supposing you had to walk to John O’Groat’s house, you would start off to-night if your soul could thereby be saved. You would open your hearts to notice all the particulars of duty, and you would with those little pencils be jotting down every minute point of rite or custom, in order that you might make yourselves secure of salvation. It just suits us all, indeed it does. We all lean that way because we are proud, we do not like to be saved by charity, we cannot conceive it possible that so simple a thing as relying and trusting upon Christ can save our souls; and yet not only can it save us, but nothing else can. Not only is there salvation in Christ, but there is salvation in no other, for there is no other name given under heaven, among men, whereby we must be saved.

     II. We can all see in Naaman’s case, that IT WERE A GREAT PITY IF HE SHOULD BE SO PROUD AS TO GO HOME WITH THE LEPROSY ABOUT HIM.

     Would not he be a great fool? Would not his arrogance be manifestly the very highest form of madness, if it led him to reject the only method of cure? Make the case, however, your own, while I say a little about the folly of men who will not come and trust in Jesus Christ, because they want to be doing some great thing. This is a grievous infatuation, my dear friend, and I will try to show you how. The great things you propose to do, these works of yours, what comparison do they bear to the blessing which you hope to obtain? I suppose by these works, whatever they may be, you hope to obtain the favour of God, and procure a place in heaven. What is it, then, you propose to offer? What estimation could you bring to God? Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof for a burnt-offering. Would you bring him rivers of oil, or ten thousand of the fat of fed beasts? Suppose you were to empty Potosi of its silver, and Golconda should be drained of its diamonds; nay, count up all the treasures that couch beneath the surface of the earth: if you brought them all, what would they be to God? And if you could pile up gold reaching from the nethermost parts of the earth to the highest heavens, what would the mass be to him? How could all this enrich his coffers, or buy your salvation? Can he be affected by anything you do to augment the sum of his happiness, or to increase the glory of his kingdom? If he were hungry, he would not tell you. “The cattle on ten thousand hills,” saith he, “are mine.” Your goodness may please your fellow creatures, and your charity may make them grateful, but will God owe anything to you for your alms, or be beholden to you for your influence? Preposterous questions! When you have done all, what will you be but a poor, unworthy, unprofitable servant? You will not have done what you ought, much less will there be any balance in your favour to make atonement for sin, or to purchase for you an inheritance in the realms of light. O sirs, if you would but think of it, God’s value of heaven and yours are very different things. His salvation, when he set a price upon it, was only to be brought to men through the death of his own dear Son, and you think that your good works— oh, what mockery to call them so!— can win the heaven which Christ, the Son of God, procured at the cost of his own blood ! Would you dare to put your miserable life in comparison with the life of God’s obedient Son, who gave himself even to death? Does it not strike you that you are insulting God? If there be a way to heaven by works, why did he put his dear Son to all that pain and grief? Why the scenes of Gethsemane, with its bloody sweat? Why the tragedy on Golgotha, with its cross, and nails, and cries of “Lama sabachthani?” Why all this, when the thing could be done so easily another way? You insult the wisdom of God, and the love of God. There is no attribute of God which self-righteousness does not impugn. It debases the eternal perfections which the blessed Saviour magnified, in order to exalt the pretensions of the creature which the Almighty spurns as vain and worthless. The poor Indian may barter his gold for thy trinkets and glass beads, but if thou shouldst give all the substance thou hast to God, it would be utterly contemned. He will bestow the milk and the honey of his mercy without money and without price, but if thou comest to him trying to bargain for it, it is all over with thee; God will not give thee choice provisions of his love that thou knowest not how to appreciate.

     Further to show the folly of this, let me remind you that when you talk about doing better for the future, and saving yourselves by your works, you forget that you can no more do this in the future than you have done it in the past. You that are going to save yourselves by reforms, and by earnest tryings and endeavours, let me ask you, if a man could not perform a certain work when his arm had strength in it, how will he be able to perform it when the bone is broken? When you were young and inexperienced, you had not yet fallen into evil habits and customs. Though there was depravity in your nature then, you had not become bound in the iron net of habit, yet even then you went astray like a lost sheep, and you followed after evil. What reason have you to suppose that you can suddenly change the bias of your heart, the course of your actions, and the tenor of your life, and become a new man? Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Are there not ten thousand probabilities against one, that as you did sin before you will sin still? You found the pathway of evil to be attractive and fascinating, so that you were enticed into it, and you will still be enticed, and be drawn away from that path of integrity which you are now so firmly resolved to tread. O man, the way up to heaven by Mount Sinai is very steep and narrow, and by one wrong step a man is dashed to pieces. Stand at the foot and look up at it if thou darest. On its brow of stone there is the black cloud, out of which leaps the live lightning; while there is the sound of the trumpet that waxes exceeding loud and long. Dost thou not see Moses tremble? and wilt thou dare to stand unabashed where Moses doth exceedingly fear and quake? Look upwards, and decline the thought of climbing those steep crags, for no man hath ever striven to clamber up there in hope of salvation without finding destruction among the terrors of the way? Be wise, give up that deceitful hope of salvation which your pride leads you to choose, and your presumption would soon cause you to rue.

     Suppose you could do some great thing, which I am sure you cannot, were it possible that you could from henceforth be perfect, and never sin again in thought, or word, or deed, still how would you be able to atone for your past delinquencies? Shall I call for a resurrection in that graveyard of your memory? Let your sins start up for a moment, and pass in review before you. Ah, they may well frighten you, the sins of your youth; those midnight sins; those midday sins, those sins against light and knowledge, those sins of body, those sins of soul! You have forgotten them, you say, but God has not. Behold the file! they are all placed there, all registered in God’s day-book, not one forgotten— all to be read against you in the day of the last assize. How can future obedience make up for past transgression? The cliff has fallen, and though the wave washes up ten thousand tunes, it cannot set the cliff up again. The day is bright, but still there was a night, and the brightest day docs not obliterate the fact that once it was dark. Your sins, how are these to be blotted out? “Trifles,” say you, but they are not so to God, nor will they be to you in that day when your reason shall be taught right judgment, and you shall stand amidst the thunders of the last tremendous day, and receive according to the deeds done in your body, whether they have been good or evil.

“Could your tears for ever flow,
Could your zeal no respite know,
All for sin could not atone,
Christ must save, and Christ alone.”

This doing of great things is an empty conceit; nor could it avail you even if you had the power to put your grand resolutions into full effect, and fulfil the schemes that your folly doats upon.

     Ah! ye who seek salvation by your own doings, let the example of others warn you. All those who do thus labour for that which satisfieth not, lead a miserable life in this world, and in the world to come, their existence is without hope. I have seen many of those who hope to be saved by ceremonies, by prayers, and by holy services, as they think them to be, but I am sure when I have come to talk to them, I have never met with one of them that possessed perfect peace. How could they? The foundation is so rotten, that the house cannot stand fast. Look at them. When they have done their best, what does conscience say? Why, like the horse-leech, it crieth “Give, give, give.” With many men, when they lie awake at night, or seriously think about their lives, there is an inward suspicion creeping over them, that though they stand so well with the church and with their neighbours, and are spoken so well of, yet it is not quite right. They say “after all, my church-goings, and chapel-goings, and prayers, and almsgivings, do not stand me in so good a turn as I could wish.” I tell you such people are like the blind horse going round the mill, they never get any further. They realise the old fable of those who tried to fill up the bottomless pit. They are like Sisyphus, who was always rolling a stone up hill that always rolled back to his feet again before he could accomplish the task. The self-righteous man knows that what he is doing cannot satisfy God, for it cannot satisfy himself ; and though he may perhaps drug his conscience, there is generally enough left of the divine element within the man to make him feel and know that it is not satisfactory. When he lets his heart speak he finds it so; it is dreadful to die with no other hope than what you have done for yourselves. Oh! it is poor work, and it is poor comfort too to lay on a dying bed and turn over such poor rotten rags as prayers, attendances at worship, alms-givings, and religious exercises, that looked so nice when we were in the dark. When the veil begins to be pulled up, and the light of eternity comes streaming in, then we see that we had bad motives for our good actions, that our charities were done out of ostentation, that our worship of God was only formality, and even our own private prayers, if not insincere, were yet mixed with such selfishness and inconsistency as to make them unacceptable to God. Oh! it is a sad discovery the unbeliever makes when he feels that his righteousness has vanished,  and all his fair white linen is suddenly turned to masses of spiders’ webs, to be swept away. But what must be the fate of such a man at the bar of God? I think I see the King coming in his glory, and the last tremendous morning dawn. When the King sits on his glory-throne, where are the self-righteous? Where are they? I cannot see them. Where are they? Come, come, Pharisee, come and tell the Lord that thou didst fast twice in the week, and then wast not even as the Publican! There sits the Publican, at the right hand of the Judge! Come and say that thou wast cleaner and more holy than he! But where is the wretch? Where is he? Come hither, ye proud and ostentatious ones, who said you had no need to be washed in blood; come and tell the Judge so; tell him he made a mistake; tell him that the Saviour was only wanted to be a make-weight and assistant to those who could help themselves! But where are they? Why, they were dressed so finely; can those poor, naked, shivering wretches be the gay, vaunting professors we used to know? Yes. Hear them as they cry to the rocks to fall on them, and the hills to cover them, to hide them from the presence of the great Judge whom in their lifetime they insulted by putting their poor merits in comparison with the boundless wealth and merit of his blood. Ah! may it never be your lot nor mine to commit the blasphemy of preferring the labour of our hands to the handiwork of Christ.

     And what will be the lot of such men when they are cast down to hell? Then those whom they despised so much on earth, the old sinners, will be their companions, for there are not two hells, one for respectable moral sinners, and another for the openly profane and the drunken. “Bind them up in bundles to burn,” is the command, and you cannot pick your company. If you are out of Christ, though your self-righteousness be ever so fair, I tell you it will not yield you a drop of water to cool your parched tongue. If your self-righteousness be ever so fine to look upon to-day, it will appear loathsome enough when you turn over in the lurid light of that anguish which shall never be assuaged, of that torment which shall know no change. I pray you cast not yourself into the sea with such a millstone about your neck, for instead of lifting you up, it shall sink you lower and lower. This shall be the arrow which shall pierce your heart for ever— “I would not have Christ; I relied on my own merits; I believed that I must do something, and I would not yield to have it all done for me; I would not consent to be saved by the righteousness of Jesus Christ; I would persist in being saved by some doings of my own, and now I have for ever to bewail my foolish pride, without hope, without chance of mercy.”

     May infinite mercy prevent this being the lot of so much as one of us in this assembly.

     III. Rather bethink you, sirs, now while eschewing this false pride, und deprecating this egregious folly, what is MAN'S BEST WISDOM!

     Methinks I see thee, brother, baffled in all thy schemes, sickened of thy solemn but hollow pretences, bewildered with strange imaginings, and thoroughly out of conceit with thyself. Is it thus with thee? Do I rightly describe thy present feelings? Sit not down desponding, though thy lips are parched and thy strength exhausted. One drop from the pure fountain of faith will refresh thy spirits. Yield thyself up like a child to be taught by the great Comforter, and thou shalt not only find rest unto thy soul, but thou shalt be able to instruct and cheer others also. To believe that which God says, to do that which God bids , to take that salvation which God provides— this is man' s highest and best wisdom. Disdain not now to begin with the alphabet, and to spell out the golden letters from this great prophetic book. It is the child’s primer, the pilgrim’s guide, and still it is the apocalypse of the saint in which he descries the glory yet to be revealed. This is the one message of the gospel, “Believe and live.” Trust in the Incarnate Saviour, whom God appointed to stand in the stead of sinners. Trust in him, and you shall be saved. The whole gospel is condensed into one sentence as Christ left it before he ascended up on high, “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved.” He who with his whole heart relies on Christ, and then avows his faith by being buried with Christ in baptism, such a one hath the promise that he shall be saved. But “He that believeth not”— that being a vital omission — “he that believeth not, shall be damned ” — condemned, cast away for ever. Thy sole business then, sinner, is with this trusting thyself with Christ. Surely thou knowest what this means! The old divines used to call it “recumbency,” a leaning; a leaning with all your weight, so that you have no dependence but on that upon which you lean — leaning just so on Christ, with all the weight of your soul and all the weight of your sin. The negro had a good idea of faith who said he “fell down flat on de promise,” and then, said he, “when I am flat down on de promise, I cannot fall no lower.” Nor can you be safer than when you fall flat on the promise of mercy which God has given through our Lord Jesus Christ. You remember what those who were bitten by the burning serpents were bidden to do. They had but to look to the brazen serpent, and the moment they looked they were healed. There were no rounds of prayer, no performances, nothing else than a look. If the eye was filled with tears, and the force of the virus had half poisoned the man, a glance did it. One glance of the eye at the brazen serpent which blazed and glittered in the sunlight, the virus stayed its force, the man was healed. So, if thou dost but trust in Jesus, thou shalt be saved.

     “Well,” says one, “I do not see how it will be.” Well, if thou dost not see how it will be, try it and find out. But 1 will tell you. God must be just; he must punish sin. It is a necessity of his divine nature that sin should not be winked at. Jesus Christ came into the world and took upon himself, as a great Substitute, the sins of all those who ever did, or who ever shall, believe on him. He was punished instead of them; consequently, justice cannot require that those for whom he was punished should be punished for themselves. Their debt was paid by him; their penalty was endured in his person. If thou trustest him that is an evidence that thou art one of such, one of those for whom he effectually and practically stood as a Substitute. “Oh!” says one, “then if Christ stood in my stead, I am altogether forgiven; if I could believe that, I should feel very happy. I should feel very grateful to God, and I think I should spend all my life in serving him.” Ah, that is the salvation we require. To serve God is a salvation from your old hatred of God. To desire to be like God, and to love him fervently, that is a salvation from your former indifference and waywardness. It is an evidence of the new birth. One of the immediate results of the thorough change of your nature is that you desire to love and serve the God whom once you only thought of with a fear that brought torment, never with a love that made his name sweet as music, his courts amiable, and his precepts more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold. You will never get to that point by coming to God first in the bald revelation of his adorable attributes. No man cometh to the Father but through the Son. You must believe in the man Christ Jesus, the man in whom all the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily, for he is God over all blessed for ever. Trust him for the remission of your sins and the acceptance of your person; and when you know in your soul that your sin is forgiven, with holy joy you will sing—

“Now for the love I bear his name,
What was my gain I count my loss;
My former pride I call my shame,
And nail my glory to his cross.

Yes, and I must and will esteem
All things as loss for Jesu’s sake;
O may my soul be found in him,
And of his righteousness partake.”

The man who has not the work of saving himself to do, the man who feels that Christ has saved him, now out of love gives himself up to holiness, and this is salvation practically illustrated. When people put water in children’s faces, and regenerate them, we say— “Well, if you do it, let us see it: are those children better than anybody else’s children?” and we do not find out that they are the least better. I consider that such regeneration is not worth the snap of a finger. When a man really believes in Jesus Christ, he lives to Christ and to righteousness. If he has been a drunkard, or unchaste, or a swearer, he renounces his former evil course, and becomes a new man. That which satisfactorily and practically saves men from guilt deserves notice and consideration, and with some reason may it be supposed to rescue them from the doom of transgressors. The gospel does this. It makes the leper whole. Did not Naaman return to his master with his flesh like the flesh of a little child? Surely the king would believe that a wonderful cure had been wrought, and, heathen though he was, he could hardly reproach the God of the prophet, or the prophet of God with the result.

     I would to God that some here might be led to try it. May the Lord show you that your best works are sins, that your righteousness is unrighteousness, that your supposed obedience is essentially disobedience, and may you be brought to look to God’s own dear Son, and to the work which he has finished, and then, looking to him and finding that you are saved, there will spring up in your bosom a loving life, a holy life, a divine life. You will be a living monument of the power of God. As Naaman was in his way, so will you be in your way, a proof that there is a prophet, and that there is a God in Israel.

     O my dear hearers, may the Holy Ghost constrain you now to trust in Jesus! I think I never see the depravity of man’s heart so clearly as in this reluctance. To believe in Christ is so easy, yet no man will believe in him till the Holy Spirit gives him a sounder and a better mind. What a fool must man be that he cannot trust God, that he cannot trust God’s own Son, when he dies that sinners may live! Why, I feel as if I could not only trust Christ with my poor guilty soul, but if I had all your souls in my soul, I could trust him for you all. Ah! I do feel that if I had all the sins of all the men that ever lived , the precious blood of Jesus could wash them all away. I am sure it could, I cannot doubt its infinite power. Since I believe that Christ is God, I cannot doubt the efficacy of his atoning, cleansing blood. Then how is it that you do not trust him, that you do not believe him? What, did he die in vain? Is there no merit in the pangs he endured? That bloody sweat, does it mean nothing? That bitter cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” that face clad in the pallor of death ; those blessed limbs, all dislocated on the cross; those dear, those ruby wounds, flowing with rivulets of gore, oh! are these nothing? Can you look and yet not trust him? Can you look at the incarnate God, laying down his life for sinners, and yet doubt? Oh! blackest of sins is this doubting of God and of Christ! Yield, I pray you, yield to a simple faith in Jesus, and there shall rush through your soul a life the like of which you never knew, and you shall go out of this tabernacle saying in your spirit, “I have been born again this night; he mystery has been unravelled; the divine deed is done; I am forgiven, I am forgiven, glory be to his name!”

“Oh! how sweet to view the flowing
Of the Saviour’s precious blood,
With divine assurance knowing
He has made my peace with God!”

May that be your portion, every one of you. Amen.



The Vital Force

By / Jun 22

The Vital Force

 

“Now, the just shall live by faith.”— Hebrews x. 38.

 

SEE here the germ of the Christian’s life! See, too, how it blooms, blossoms, and bears! But observe it is not said the just shall live for his faith, or because of the merit of his believing in God. This were to place the Christian virtually under the old covenant of law. To confound faith with works, would be indeed to bring us back to the old bondage of the first dispensation. It is no more true that the righteous man is saved because of the excellency of his faith, than that any man can be saved because of the excellency of his works.

     Neither doth it say in the text that the just shall live upon his faith. Faith would make poor food for his soul. Small consolation may a man fetch from his faith itself. It was said of Esau, “By thy sword shalt thou live;” and every one knows that the intention of that sentence was— “By that which thy sword shall capture and subdue.” He could not feed on the sword itself, that was mere hard, barren steel. So faith in itself could not feed a soul. It is that which faith brings, that which faith taketh of the things of God, and maketh the soul’s own. I know it is very easy for us to degenerate into a congratulation of ourselves because of some quality of our faith. We may as easily make an Antichrist of our faith as of anything else, but this will never do. The believer never stays upon his faith; it is in the object of his faith that he finds rest. It is not the telescope which delights me, but the star which I see through it. It is not the mere hand of faith which feeds me, but the heavenly bread which faith’s hand uplifts and brings spiritually to my mouth.

     The text doth say this, however, that the just shall live by his faith; and it seems to me that, without any straining of the text, we might find in it, first, a doctrine, secondly, a promise, and, thirdly, an indication of practice – I might almost have said a precept.

I. First, then, we descry here A DOCTRINE. “The just shall live by faith;” and that doctrine may be drawn out into distant branches.

     Doth not the text plainly teach us that faith is the continued act of the Christian? Some people seem to imagine that there is a kind of finality in each stage of religious experience, as though we are to repent in the first dawn of our spiritual life, but afterwards we may leave off repenting, and account henceforth that this bitter cup of gall is emptied, no more to sting the conscience with remorse, or move the heart to godly sorrow; whereas, I suppose, we shall pass through the pearly gates brushing away the last tear of repentance, always till then having need to mourn past sins and grieve for present frailties in penitential showers of grief. So it seems to have been the fancy of others, that we are to stand as sinners once for all at the foot of the cross, look to Jesus, and be lightened; but after that, we are to press to something higher— something yet beyond, a repose calm and undisturbed, free from rough winds and rude alarms. Beloved, surely such people do not know what the Christian’s inner life is. Depend upon it, that as much at the last as at the first “the just shall live by faith.” He that is ripest and nearest heaven has no more ground of confidence than he who but five minutes ago, like the dying thief, received the assurance of his pardon. The ground of the sinner’s acceptance in the first moment of his faith is the finished work of Christ, and, after fifty years of earnest service, that must still be the sole cause of his acceptance with God, and the only rock upon which his soul must dare to build. The act of simple faith, looking out of self, and looking alone to Christ, is a thing for your penitent publican when first he smiteth on his breast; but it is also for your dying David, when he knows that the covenant is ordered in all things and sure. Thus well it becometh the maturest saint, with his last breath, to express his confidence in the God that pardoneth sin, through the Application of the precious blood. Never imagine that the publican is to ripen into a Pharisee. Yet such would be our course, were we to get off the rock of Christ’s finished work, and rely with a foolish dependence upon our own graces and our attainments. Faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, then, is the continual act of the believer’s life. Just as long as he lives here below, if he doth live to God at all, he lives by faith.

     We may further learn from hence that faith is a great practical virtue. The text does not say that the just man shall study the doctrine of faith in his retirement, and be able to frame a correct definition of what faith Is. It is true that the just man should be meditative, contemplative, studious, a man well instructed in the history of revelation and the mystery of the kingdom of God; but that is not what the text saith. It doth not say that the just man shall converse about faith, and make the object of faith the constant theme of his discourse. It will be so: what is in the heart will be sure to come out in the tongue. But that is not the truth taught here. In plain English, it is this— the righteous man will carry his faith into his ordinary life. He will live by faith. All the actions of his life, such as have in them any decree of moral or spiritual aspect— all of these shall be conspicuously ruled by his confidence in God, and even the lowliest and commonest affairs in which he takes a part, shall be subdued and elevated by the dignity of his trust and the fidelity of his adherence. He shall live by faith. Not alone in the study and in the closet, not alone in the assembly of the saints and at the table of fellowship, but in the market and on the exchange, in the shop and the counting-house, in the parlour or the drawing-room, at the plough-tail or at the carpenter’s bench, in the senate-house or at the judgment-hall; the just man, wherever his life is cast, shall carry his faith with him; nay, his faith shall be in him as part of his life; he shall live there by faith.

     To advance a little farther. Not only is faith the continuous act of the Christian life, interweaving itself into all the various offices and exercises of the Christian’s existence, but faith hath a great quickening power over all the faculties of the spiritual man. He lives— how? What is the grace which, as it were, magnetises his entire system? What is that sacred conductor which brings down life from him in whom life is? What is that connecting-link between the great I AM, the sole, essential, independent Life, and the life that comes into our dead spirits, even the life divine? The text tells us, that faith is that great intermedium. This is the Prometheus that stole the heavenly flame, and brought it down to men made of clay, and made them live the lives of the immortals. This it is that brings immortality to us through Jesus, who brought life and immortality to light. Whenever faith rules in a man it quickens all his graces. The believer is the man to love — to love his God, his neighbour, his enemy. The believer is the man to hope— to hope for deliverance out of present affliction; to hope for the eternal outgoing of the issues of all this life’s battle and strife. If there be any patience, if there be any forgiveness, if there be any generosity, if there be any lovingkindness, if there be any zeal, if there be anything lovely and of good repute, all these are quickened and brought out into their life and force according to the life, and power, and energy of the faith which a man possesses. So then, the just shall live by faith. Faith shall, under God, be a means of quickening to the soul, bringing the Holy Ghost’s divine flame to burn upon the altar of the heart.

     Turning this doctrine over in rather a different form, but still keeping to it, let me say that the believer lives only by faith. All other kinds of living are to him spiritual death. Some, I know, try to live by experience. What they have felt to-day, what they did feel yesterday – these are their sorry comforts. Such must be starved. At the best, what are our own experiences if we come to feed upon them? And at the worst, do not those who live upon mere feeling, dwell in a salt land that is not inhabited? I am sure if I lived by feeling, I could at one moment persuade myself that I was on the borders of heaven, and I could quite as readily, within an hour, be sure that I was in the very jaws of hell. Our feelings are fickle as the wind. He that liveth by feeling, is very much like the mariner at sea when he mounts up to heaven and then comes down again into the deep; he has nothing at all stable to depend upon. We may say of the man who lives by feeling, “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.” “Human experience,” said a certain philosopher, “like the stern lights of a ship at sea, illuminates only the path which we have passed over.” But he that believeth God, and knoweth that the Almighty God fainteth not, neither is weary, and that the ever-blessed God changeth not, neither doth he forsake his people, he it is who truly lives, and he only lives in proportion as he believes. The believer lives, I say, only by faith, for that which we have in present possession, my brethren, such as this world’s goods and creature comforts, ministereth not to spiritual life. These things ought to be used by us unto God’s glory, and they should excite in us gratitude to him who gives us them to enjoy, but they are not our life. You can no more feed a soul with gold than you could satisfy your natural hunger for food with the pebbles of the sea. Your soul’s life dependeth, not upon the multitude of things which you may profess. Still it is faith which, by laying hold upon the promises of God and the person of Christ, alone gives life unto the soul of the just.

     The righteous live by faith ordinarily, as I have already said on this subject. But let me just give a point of serious admonition to you. I believe that we fail to bring little troubles to God, and perhaps on account of their being so little, we fancy that we must not mention them to the Most High. This is but the fruit of our pride, for how know we that our great things are so great as we think them to be? and are not our little things, after all, but the fractions of a considerable sum to such little creatures as ourselves? These little, little, little things are of momentous concern to such little ones as we are; and the God that stoops to us at all has already brought himself down in condescension so low that we need not fear that we shall bring him lower. No, you may go to him if you like about that lost key; or about that child’s swelling finger, or about that word that irritated you just now. There is nothing little to a father in the thing that troubles his little child: and your great God, having once condescended to observe and care for you, numbering the very hairs of your head, and not suffering a sparrow to fall to the ground without his purpose and decree, will not think that you intrude upon him if you bring your daily troubles to him. Let the righteous live by faith ordinarily in the common affairs of life.

     So, too, let me add, the righteous live by faith extraordinarily. I mean that if they are cast upon troubles that are new to them, and even new to others, they will live there by faith, for faith makes the believer like the fabled salamander, that could live in the midst of fire. If the furnace be heated like Nebuchadnezzar’s, seven times hotter than it was wont to be heated, faith gets seven times more power from God, and laughs the heat of the flame to scorn. Should you be called to some great bodily suffering, should weakness long and dreary ensue, and your soul faint, yet underneath you are the everlasting arms; and if you are enabled to exercise faith upon him who makes the beds of his people in their sickness, you shall find it blessed living, triumphant suffering. Should the just man be called to banishment, should he be made to endure persecution, should he lie in prison and be called to die for his Lord and Master, in every place the just shall live by faith. Though the edge of the sword threaten him with death, though the jaws of wild beasts were to tear him to pieces, though he were to be cast into the fire, vet the life which faith gives is such a life as to triumph over all these. In ordinary and in extraordinary seasons, then, the Christian is still to wear his shield upon his arm, and never cast away his confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.

     The Christian lives by faith essentially. Faith touches the very essence of his life. Some of the other graces are like limbs to the body, and he could live, though it were a sorry life, without them. But faith lives in the heart. It is the heart of the Christian’s vital system. Take away the Christian’s faith, and the vitality of his religion has departed. Oh! many will get to heaven whose patience was very maimed, and some whose eye of hope was very dim; and there be some saints, I doubt not, entering into life halt and maimed, destitute of bright graces which ought to have adorned them, but not a soul ever lived to God here or obtained admission into the everlasting kingdom without faith. This is the sine qua non. This must be possessed. Without this a man is an unbeliever, and his end is to be destroyed. So, beloved, to live by faith is the very essence of the Christian life. Because of its deep importance, we must watch with the greater care that we have the faith of God’s elect.

     To live by faith is to live gloriously, and in the very highest degree. “The just shall live by faith.” Oh, as yet we hardly know the meaning of this resplendent truth! There is a life, and a life, and a life, and another life. Life spiritual is all the same as to its essence, but not as to its degree. There is the life of the soul that feebly hopes; it is like the life of the man just recovered from the deep; he breathes, and ’tis all. There is the life of the man who sometimes reads his calling and election, and knows them to be clear, but who at other times is dull of vision and full of doubting. ’Tis the life of the sick man, who sometimes enjoys rest, opens the window and breathes the fresh air, but anon is ready to faint and die. But there is a life beyond this, the life of the man who is strong in the Lord and the power of his might, who staggers not at the promise through unbelief; the life of the man who puts his foot upon temptation, and lays his hand on Christian service; who, with a warm heart and loins girt about, casting aside every impediment, gives himself body and soul and spirit, to his Master’s glory. This is the life of the warrior; comparable unto the first three in David’s band, the life of the man who will go down and take the lion by the beard in the pit in the time of snow, or will lift up his spear against three thousand, whom he will slay at one time. Whence comes this highest life, life gigantic, like the life of the angels of God, like the life of Christ has this man this power — nay as the very life of God itself? Whence has this man this power that he doth chase a thousand, and that he can put ten thousand to flight? What made this man so bold, so strong, so heavenly-minded, so living above the world? It was his faith that did it for him, for the just shall live in the highest degree of life, and they shall go on thus living until they come to the glory-life, till they come to the perfect life, the life of bliss, of which this present spiritual life is but the bud, and it shall all be through faith until they enter into the rest, and know even as they are known. Oh, for a stronger faith! I pant for it as one that panteth for life— more life. We prophecy in part, ye believe in part. When shall that which is perfect come? “I do believe! help thou my unbelief,” is the last great utterance of the soul.

     II. Now, secondly, the text appears to me, as I read it, to contain A PROMISE.

     “The just shall live by faith.” My faith shall ensure my life. If I do indeed believe in Jesus, and rest my soul humbly, but simply and confidingly, upon the promise of God, as revealed to me in his dear Son, I shall not die, but live; and O brethren, this is great joy, great joy indeed, to have a faith that will make us live, that will make us live while we die, make us live when men say that we are dead, make us live when they have buried our bodies; a faith that shall even secure that our bodies shall rise again; a faith that shall be to us a guarantee to-day that soul and body united shall live even amidst the blaze of God’s glory. Oh, ’tis joy to have faith that makes you immortal! The faith of the just shall constrain them to live. They cannot die; they must not die. God himself shall as soon die as they shall. The just shall live by faith.

     This is not true of any other but those who have faith. Observe the self-righteous! Well, they live after a sort, but it is always a timorous life , like the life of the hare that is watching for the baying of the dogs. They are always afraid; their conscience is fluttered and confused with an indistinct sense that, after all, their righteousness will not suffice for the justice of God; and at last, when they get into the swellings of Jordan, in most cases those who have rested upon sacraments, and ceremonies, and self-righteousness, have found their props all giving way, and their refuges of lies all falling to the ground. They have been daubed with untempered mortar; they have heard the syren cry, “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace, and now, when they most want comfort, they find they cannot live by their self-righteousness. They have to die, and a dreadful death it is to the soul to die to all hope, to fall into the sepulchre of despair, and there to perish.

     No man lives by his self-righteousness. There are some who are not boasting of what they have done, but whose confidence for time and for eternity lies in the belief of what they can do. I do not know anything that is less comfortable than this paltry conceit, if looked at rightly. Some person who believed much in human ability, once called upon my distinguished predecessor, Dr. Gill, and said to him, “Sir, I heard you preaching that men were unable to repent and believe, and do spiritual acts of themselves; I do not believe a word of it, I think you are mistaken.” Dr. Gill very properly said, “Sir, do you believe that you can repent and believe without the Holy Spirit?” “Certainly, I believe I can.” Said the Doctor, “ Have you believed and repented?” “No, I have not, sir.” And then Dr. Gill said, “Sir, you are condemned already, and if you are not damned eternally, you are in imminent peril, beyond all others; for on your own confession you are guilty, even if others should not be equally culpable in this respect;” and he sent his friend away, I hope, not quite so conceited of himself as he was when he entered the vestry. I do not see any comfort there can be in assuming that men have a moral power, which they nevertheless have no disposition to exert. It seems to me that ability in yourselves becomes a very solemn argument against any peace of conscience, it should rather make us bestir ourselves than be used as a pillow for our heads. Mark you, I know there are thousands who think they will be able to perform every spiritual act necessary to salvation just when they are coming to die; and their reliance is that they have within them the sacred talisman that shall bring them faith in their expiring moments. Is not that the secret belief of many of you? Ah, sirs, in that day when you shall look for consolation and look in vain, when you shall even call upon God, and discover to your horror, that, having neglected him long, your prayer comes back without an answer, you shall find then that no man can live by his self-righteousness. But the poor heart that casteth itself upon the power, and merit, and grace, and promise of Christ, shall find in the darkest hour of life, when heart and flesh are failing, that Christ is able to help, that the promise still stands good, and that the eternal Father smiles serenely upon him. You know the story I have told you sometimes, of the good old soul whose minister called to see her when she was dying, and amongst other things he said to her, “My sister, you are very weak; don’t you feel yourself sinking?” She looked at him, and gave no answer, but said, “Did I understand you, minister? Please tell me what you said; I hope you didn’t say what I thought I heard?” “Why,” said he, “my dear sister, I said to you, don’t you feel yourself sinking?” And then she said, “I did not think my minister would ever ask me such a question as that! Sinking? Did you ever know a sinner sink through a rock? I am believing in Jesus Christ; if I were resting anywhere else I might sink, but as I am resting upon him, did you ever know a sinner sink through a rock? Yes, and that is just the very point. It is so. God does in the very words of our text seem to assure us that if we believe, we have got on a rock, that if we believe, we shall live. We shall live by our faith under all circumstances and difficulties. This shall be the living thing:

“When mortal strength shall droop and die,
And human vigour cease,”

then the soul, like the eagle, shall stretch its wings and mount higher, and higher, and higher, by the dint of its sacred immortality. “The just shall live by faith.”

     We may expect between this place and heaven a fair share of trouble. If we write down for ourselves pleasant things, it may probably happen that we have written other than the book of the divine purpose. Many trials will befall us between this and the fair haven; but there is no killing one in them all, for the just shall live through them all by his faith. We may also reckon upon many temptations. Satan, however old he may be, has not yet come to years of decay. Our old evil nature, too, though it may have lost some of its strength, yet is capable of wonderful outbursts of power, and the world outside of us is full of grief. We must expect to be tempted in many fresh ways between here and the celestial city; but there is no lulling temptation in them all, for the just shall live by his faith. Empty thy quiver, O enemy of souls, but this divine shield shall catch every arrow and quench its fire, and blunt those points, and save and deliver us from them all.

     Beloved friends, we have to expect, in addition to our trials and to our temptations, that which seems to me to be the heaviest ordeal of all, namely, the test of long endurance. I look with admiration upon brethren who have remained faithful to God for sixty or seventy years. It seems to me that the length of the Christian’s life is, in itself, oftentimes a very severe trial. A man might stand at the stake and burn for a few minutes, but it is hanging up over a slow fire— who can bear that? To do one brave and generous action, this seems simple enough; but to stand on the watch-tower day and night, always vigilant; watching, lest the foe surprise us; watching, lest our hearts betray us; watching unto prayer, that we may keep ourselves in the love of God. Oh! this is a work, this is a labour which only grace can help us to perform. But here is the comfort. No length of days can exhaust the believer’s patience or peril his spiritual life, because the just shall live by faith. If he were here so long, that like Rowland Hill he was inclined to send a message up to heaven, for fear they should forget “Old Rowly” down below, yet depend upon it he could not outlive the divine energy that vitalised his soul, or lose the spiritual fervour of the just; still would faith preserve the sacred spark and fan it to a flame.

     This is a promise, then, and under shelter of this promise let us go forward.

     Ah! brethren, every now and then we come to a dead stand, we reach a new era in life, a new trial, the like of which we never knew before, confronted us. At such times we almost wish we could go back, or turn to the right, or to the left; but we are like Israel, there is but one way open, and that way is not at once apparent. It is only open to faith, but it is closed to sense. There is that Red Sea. Ah! my God, what will become of me? Oh, that Red Sea! Thou hast laid this trial upon me; thou hast forced me to bear this burden; thou hast called me to go through this suffering; I must pass through, but oh! I shall never be able to bear it; there will be an end of me now; how shall I be sustained?” Thus unbelief will talk, but faith remembers that the just shall still live by faith, and she saith within herself, “If my God command me to go on the sea, or under the sea, or through the sea, I know that he will give me the power to do what he bids, and he that puts the difficulty in my path will bear me through it towards the Canaan to which I press.” Let us, then, pluck up courage; let there be no standing still, no lingering with chill reluctance, no shivering on the brink with timorous fear. Your Captain waves his hand and bids you advance. Go on, trembler, go on, for there is goodness and there is mercy prepared to go before you, and to follow after you all the days of your life. Yea, even when you come to the very brink of death, then, even then, it will be a blessed thing to play the man by faith; to gather up one’s feet in the bed; to compose one’s self to deliver the last testimony, and without so much as a sign of trepidation or a thrill of fear, to pass the iron gate, conscious that Jesus will come to meet and crown with glory the spirit that hath trusted in him.

     Thus much, I think, is in the text clearly enough as a matter of promise.

     III. Now, lastly, the text seems to me to be A KIND OF PRECEPT, and to contain much of practical instruction.

     “The just shall live by faith.” Very well, then, dear friends, is it not clear that as life is the main thing for us to look to, nature itself having taught us by its instincts to guard with all care our life, therefore our faith, upon which our life so evidently depends by virtue of our union to Christ, ought to be the object of our most sedulous care. Anything which comes in the way of our faith we should strive against, while the promotion of our faith should be our first endeavour. I believe, my dear brethren, that self-examination is a very great blessing, but I have known self-examination carried on in a most unbelieving, legal, and self-righteous manner; in fact, I have so carried it on myself. Time was when I used to think a vast deal more of marks, and signs, and evidences, for my own comfort, than I do now, for I find that I cannot be a match for the devil when I begin dealing in these things. I am obliged to go day by day with this cry—

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

While I can believe the promise of God, because it is his promise, and because he is my God, and while I can trust my Saviour because he is God, and therefore mighty to save, all goes well with me; but I do find, when I begin questioning myself about this and that perplexity, thus taking my eye off Christ, that every virtue of my life seems oozing out at every pore. I think, brethren, that any practice that detracts from faith is an evil practice, but especially that kind of self-examination which would take us away from the cross-foot, proceeds in a wrong direction. Do I want to know what is the condition of mv evil nature? I need not enquire; it is rottenness through and through. Do I want to know what is the quality of my new-born nature? I scarcely need enquire, for it is the seed of God, incorruptible, and cannot sin. The main enquiry I ought at all times to make is this: Am I hanging on the cross alone, and depending on Jesus wholly? If so, there must be a produce of fruits unto righteousness, and I am not always the best judge of those fruits for myself. Most probably the less fruit I have, the more I shall think I have, and the more I am abounding in every good word and work, the higher will my standard of perfection be, and the less likely shall I be to be satisfied with myself or my own attainments. I do verily believe that those who draw comfort from their own doings and feelings, are the very people that ought to have no comfort, while those Christians who abound most in holiness to the praise of God, are the very people who bemoan everything that comes from themselves, and turn away from themselves utterly, crying, “Christ is my salvation; I depend alone on him.” It would be as well if we were to give up sorting over good works and bad works, for they are so wonderfully much alike, that if we threw them all into the sea together, and just rested upon Christ Jesus alone, it would be a consummation of the most desirable kind. Keep your faith right, then, brethren; keep your faith right. It is by God’s Holy Spirit keeping that faith strong and vigorous you live safe and secure.

     Rest assured you will be more holy if you have more faith. You will have more confidence, and be more courageous in your testimony, if you have more faith in God. Every grace and every virtue will derive progress towards strength and perfection from the progress and perfection of your faith; but if anything shall make you doubt whether Christ can save you or not, the tendon Achilles is cut, and you cannot run. If anything make you mistrust the promise of God, who justified the ungodly, it has taken away from you the very source from which your spiritual life is to be refreshed. I hold it to be of the very first importance that we never doubt the promise of God. What if we be unworthy? Do we break our promises because the persons to whom they are made turn out to be unworthy? Are we mean enough to take such advantages? Is not the word of a man, good or bad, according to the character of him who utters it? And is it not so with God’s word? He is faithful and true, and therefore his word is faithful and true, not because I am faithful and true, but because he is such. “If we believe not, God abideth faithful it does not alter the promise; the promise still stands in all its integrity. Brethren, we ought to pray more for faith. “Lord, increase our faith,” ought to be our daily, our hourly prayer. We ought to think more of those truths which are the pillars of faith, such as the covenant of grace, such as the fulness and freeness of the mercy of God, such as the efficacy of the atonement, the power of the resurrection, the prevalence of Jesus’ plea. If we dwelt upon the promises more often, instead of looking at the providences, or consulting our changeful feelings, our faith would grow stronger, and then the whole of our life would receive vigorous tone and impulse.

     I do not know how to speak as I would desire upon this point, but still let me press it upon every Christian here not to listen to that insinuation of the devil, that when he has sinned he ought then to give up the belief that he is a child of God. Oh! if the devil can persuade you to do that, then he has obtained an advantage over you, but if you feel that you have been walking contrary to God, of late, yet still come to Jesus; cast yourselves on him. Do not let the adversary say to you, “You must not come, because you have walked contrary to God.” O poor backslider, although sin may hide God from thee, and take away thy comfortable sense of his love, yet if thou believest in him, his love is towards thee. He has not cast thee away, thou shalt live as long as there is faith in thee; and if there be so little faith that we have to rake up the ashes, and have to go down on our knees and blow that little spark, yet the Lord knows how to fan it, and to put the match to it, and to make a great blaze very speedily; so that before you hardly know it, you that were crawling along the road shall be like the chariots of Amminadib, flying along as on mighty wings. Never doubt God’s power to lift you out of the ditch into which you have fallen. Still hold to it; “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him; though I be black with sin, and ashamed of myself, and dare not look up, but feel that I deserve to be cast into the lowest hell,” yet still do not doubt but that the precious blood can wash you, and make you whiter than snow. Is there a grander verse in the whole Bible, is there anything in the compass of Scripture that ever glorified God more, than that notable expression of David when he had been sinning with Bathsheba, and made himself as foul and as filthy as the very swine of hell? and yet he cries, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” Ah! “Wash me,” that is the cry, “wash me, the most scarlet and the blackest of hell-deserving sinners, do thou but wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Believe in the omnipotent power of the atonement. Still believe thou, and hold fast to Christ. Cling to his skirts , and if he even seem to frown upon thee, hold to him, like the woman whom he called a dog, and yet she said, “The dogs eat of the crumbs.” Do not believe that which thou thinkest thou dost hear him Bay, for he cannot say otherwise than this, that whosoever believeth in him is not condemned; and he that believeth in him, though he were dead yet shall he live. Out of thy very death believe him; from thy very hell of sin believe him. Wherever thou mayst be, still believe him. Never doubt him, for the just shall live by faith.

     Oh! it is such a mercy that when we have nothing else to live by, we can, by God’s grace, live by faith. When I cannot find anything in myself wherein I can find comfort, much less anything whereof I can glory, yet I do believe that Jesus died for me.

     Does not this doctrine suit some poor trembling sinner here? I wish that one here would say, “Why, if that be so, then I, too, would come and believe in Jesus.” Ah! heart, thou hast been asking, “What shall I do to be saved?” This is the work of God, the God-like work, the greatest of all doings, that ye believe in Jesus Christ whom he hath sent. Close in with Christ, and you shall live; you cannot die. The eternal aegis of the everlasting promise covers the head of every soul that has learned to trust in Christ.

     May God bless you with this faith, and with more of it. Amen.