Soul Winning

By / Jun 22


Christ- The Fall and Rise of Many

By / Dec 26

   Christ- The Fall and Rise of Many

 

  [I thank God most devoutly that I am permitted once again to appear in my place among you. It is always a most painful deprivation to me when I am unable to preach the gospel on the Sabbath day to my beloved congregation. I earnestly pray that this long affliction may be for my spiritual growth; and that you may all profit by that which my Lord has taught me in the school of the cross. I beseech you, my dear fellow helper, ask of God, as a great favour, that now, upon my return to my accustomed work, a double blessing may rest upon all that is done; that those already saved may be more active, and the conversions in our midst may be more numerous. So may God grant it, and his shall be the praise.]

 

“And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against.”— Luke ii. 34.

 

THIS text has within it a profound deep, but I shall not attempt to fathom it. There was a company projected a few months ago for attempting to recover ingots of gold and bars of silver, supposed to be lying at the bottom of the sea in a Spanish galleon which sunk some centuries back. My barque is not fitted with the necessary machinery for obtaining gold from mysterious deeps; and I have moreover great question as to whether the attempt might not be more dangerous than profitable, for many divers into the awful depths of predestination have lost themselves, and many more have become unprofitable to the church and to the world. My barque is but a little fishing boat, whose business it is to fish for the souls of men; my gifts fit me only to be such a coasting vessel as may carry corn from port to port to feed those who hunger for satisfying bread. I shall not therefore attempt to enter into the sublime mystery which is contained in this text, as to the divine appointment of Christ to be the occasion of the falling and rising of many souls. I believe in that doctrine, however, though I cannot expound it. I tremblingly believe in Peter’s words concerning those who stumble at the word, being disobedient, “whereunto also they were appointed.” But I say again, though believing the doctrine of predestination in all its length and breadth, because I see it revealed in the word of God, yet as I cannot see any practical result that might come out of a discussion of that subject this morning, I shall leave it for other minds and tongues. Rather would I conduct you to the practical truth which lies in the text.

     The great practical doctrine before us is this, that wherever Jesus Christ comes, with whomsoever he may come in contact, he is never without influence, never inoperative, but in every case a weighty result is produced. There is about the holy child Jesus a power which is always in operation. He is not set to be an unobserved, inactive, slumbering personage in the midst of Israel; but he is set for the falling or for the rising of the many to whom he is known. Never does a man hear the gospel but he either rises or falls under that hearing. There is never a proclamation of Jesus Christ (and this is the spiritual coming forth of Christ himself) which leaves men precisely where they were; the gospel is sure to have some effect upon those who hear it. Moreover, the text informs us that mankind, when they understand the message and work of Christ, do not regard them with indifference; but when they hear the truth as it is in Jesus, they either take it joyfully in their arms with Simeon, or else it becomes to them a sign that shall be spoken against. He that is not with Christ is against him, and he that gathereth not with him scattereth abroad. Where Christ is no man remains a neutral; he decides either for Christ or against him. Given a mind that understands the gospel, you have before you also a mind that either stumbles at this stumbling-stone, being scandalised thereby, or else you have a mind that rejoices in a foundation upon which it delights to build all its hopes for time and for eternity. Observe, then, the two sides of the truth— Jesus always working upon men with marked effect; and on the other hand, man treating the Lord Jesus with warmth either of affection or opposition; an action and a reaction being evermore produced.

     Why is this, think you? Is it not, first, because of the energy which dwells in the Lord’s Christ, and in the gospel which now represents him among men? The gospel is all life and energy, like leaven it heaves and ferments with inward energy, it cannot rest till it leavens all around it. It may be compared to salt which must permeate, penetrate, and season that which is subject to its influence. Paul compares the preaching of Christ to a sweet-smelling savour. Now, you cannot say to a perfume, “Be quiet; do not load the air with sweets; do not affect men’s nostrils.” It cannot do otherwise, the fragrance must fill the chamber. Even so, Christ must be a savour, either of life unto life, or of death unto death; but a savour he must be wherever he comes. It is no more possible for you to restrain the working of the gospel than to forbid the action of fire. Stand before the fire, it shall warm and comfort you; thrust your hand into it, it shall burn you. Keep that fire in its proper place, it shall yield you abundant service; cast forth the firebrand, it shall consume your house, it shall devour all that comes in contact with it. You cannot say to fire, “Restrain your consuming energy.” It must work because it is fire. And so with yonder sun. Though clouds may hide it from our sight at this moment, yet for ever does it pour forth, as from a furnace mouth, its heat and light. Nor could it cease to burn and shine, unless it ceased to be a sun. As long as it is a sun, it must permeate surrounding space, with its influence and splendour. Do you wonder that the Sun of Righteousness is of yet diviner energy? Do you marvel that whether the blaze of his glory blinds his enemies, or his warmth of love dries the tears of his friends, in every case there is a distinct result, and a manifest effect? Never does the gospel return void, it prospers even in that for which the Lord hath sent it. Jesus in the gospel cannot cease to work. “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” The Father in providence pauses not, nor does the Son cease from the work of grace.

     Moreover, be it remembered that Jesus Christ and his gospel are matters of such prime necessity to mankind, that from this cause also there must always be an effect produced by Christ. Consider other matters that are of first necessity to humanity, and my meaning will be clear. Here is the air, I breathe it. What then? Why, I live. I cannot breathe it without obtaining this grand result. The lungs receive the air, the blood is supplied with oxygen, life is sustained. Suppose I refuse to breathe the air, what then? Will there be any remarkable effect produced? Shall I be sickly? Shall I be a little faint? Shall I be somewhat less energetic? No, I must die. Breathing, I live, refusing to breathe, I die. So the Lord Jesus is as necessary to our souls as the atmosphere to our bodies. If we receive Christ Jesus we live; we cannot receive him without living by him. If we will not receive him, we must die. It is unavoidable that it should be so. You cannot reject the Saviour and be a little damaged thereby; there is no alternative but that you utterly perish. Take another article of human necessity, bread. You shall eat bread, it shall nourish you, it shall provide for you the material of flesh and sinew, nerve and bone. Refuse to eat it, and you put your life from you. You may, if you will, try to impose upon others, but, whether watched or unwatched, you shall die if you will not eat. So ordained is it by wise decree that there is no living without food; let but the space of time be long enough, and death must be inevitable to those who will not eat. So is it with Christ, who is the bread sent down from heaven. Receive him, you have all that your soul wants to sustain it and drive away its hunger; reject him, and there is neither in heaven nor in earth anything that can supply your soul’s lack.

     I might instance the water that we drink, or indeed anything else that is not a matter of luxury or of artificial want, but which is absolutely needful to human life; all such things become operative for good or ill, according as you accept them or reject them. So must it necessarily be with Christ.

     We may add that the position in which Jesus Christ meets man makes it inevitable that he must have an effect upon them. I shall not speak of the heathen who hear not of him, nor of our unhappy heathen around us who will not hear of him. But concerning you who have heard of Christ, I assert that in your case the Lord Jesus has met with you on occasions where to accept or to refuse was to make a crisis in your being. He was right in your way. It was one Sunday evening when the Holy Ghost was with the preacher; or it was one day when your father had just been buried; or, woman, it was one night when your dear babe had just been taken from your bosom and laid upon the bed of death. You may readily recall the occasion. Christ came right in your way, and you could not go round about to get from him; you must either that night stumble over him, make him to be to yourself a rock of offence, or you must then and there build on him and accept him as your soul’s confidence. I believe that such a time of decision comes to all hearers of the Word who have at all intelligently heard it. And when the Holy Ghost enables us from that time forth to take the Redeemer to be the ground of our soul’s confidence, oh, what a joy it is! But if we are left to ourselves to reject Christ, we shall not have rejected him without a strain upon conscience, without having done violence to everything good and true. We shall not have stumbled at Christ without knowing that we were stumbling at the noblest gift of God, at the greatest token of the Father’s love, stumbling at the only thing which could deliver us from the wrath to come, and ensure us an eternity of joy. Thus, you see, because Christ comes to us at the important crisis of our life, he, therefore, cannot be indifferent to us. He must make us either to fall or rise.

     Once again, let me observe that the Lord Jesus was appointed for this very thing: so saith the text, “He was set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel.” It was for this very end he came. See the husbandman take the fan. You observe the heap of mingled wheat and chaff lying on the floor. He begins to move the fan to and fro till he has created a breeze of wind. What happens? The chaff flies to the further end of the threshing floor, and there it lies by itself; the wheat, more weighty, remains purified and cleansed, a golden heap of grain. Such is the preaching of the gospel. Such is Christ: he is the separator of those who will perish from those who shall be saved. The fan discerns and discovers, it reveals the worthless and manifests the precious. Thus hath Christ the fan in his hand! Or, take another metaphor, which we find in the prophets, “Who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s sope.” You see the refiner’s fire. Notice how it burns and blazes. Now, it turns to a white heat; you cannot bear to look on it. What has happened? Why the dross is divided from the silver, and the alloy from the gold. The refiner’s fire separates the precious from the vile. And so the gospel reveals the elect of God, and leaves to hardness of heart the finally impenitent. Where it is preached, the men who accept it are precious ones of God, his elect, his chosen; the men who reject it are the reprobate silver. So shall men call them, for God hath rejected them. Mark too, the fuller’s soap. The fuller takes his soap, and exercising his craft upon yonder piece of linen marked with many stains and colours, you see how these foul things fly before the soap, and the fair fabric alone remains. Both spots and linen feel the power of the soap. So doth the gospel take the polluted fabric of humanity and cleanse it: the filth departs and flies before it, and the fair linen remains. Such are the saints of God; when the gospel comes to them they are purified thereby, while the wicked, as foul spots, are driven away in their wickedness.

     Thus I have shown you that it is not possible for Christ to come anywhere without working some result. I would impress upon each of you that it is not possible for Christ to come to you without effecting a result in you. I beseech you never fall into the error of those who assert that unbelief is no sin, and that to reject Christ is no fault of yours. The whole tenour of Holy Scripture is contradictory to that most erroneous opinion. I know of hardly anything more likely to lull the conscience to sleep than that delusion. Depend upon it the gospel will be a savour of death unto death to you, if it be not a savour of life unto life to you. If you believe not, you are condemned already. Why? Hear ye the voice of God: “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation (above all other condemnations), that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” You are in a solemn position, this morning, in listening to the gospel of Christ; you cannot go out of this house without a mark having been made upon you which shall remain there evermore either for your good or for your ill. Christ must operate upon your souls. He is set either for your fall or for your rising again.

     Having thus set forth the great truth of the text, I purpose with as much brevity as shall be possible, to answer one or two questions.

     I. The first is this, WHO ARE THOSE THAT FALL BY CHRIST? In Christ’s day the question was not difficult to answer. Those that fell by Christ, were, first of all, the holders of tradition. There were certain persons who always pleaded, “It was said by them of old time.” They quoted some saying of Rabbi Ben this, or Rabbi Ben that; and these famous sayings were practically exalted above the written Word of God, often so as to take the very meaning out of the decalogue itself, and make the traditions of men a higher authority than the commandments of God. Now, our Lord Jesus Christ laid the axe at the root of this evil tree; for often and often did he say, “It is said by them of old time, but I say unto you.” He denounced their making void the law of God through their traditions. He took a besom and relentlessly swept away the old cobwebs of what the fathers did, and what the ancients said, and placed the everlasting “it is written” above the authority of antiquity. Much such work is there for him to do in this our day, when the use of Sarum, and the custom of the orthodox churches, and I know not what else of venerable rubbish, profane the house of God; and, my brethren, he will surely do it, and tradition will yet again fall before the ever-living Word.

     There fell also by our Lord’s hand the externalists. These men made much of washing their hands before they ate bread, they thought it a great thing to make broad the borders of their garments, they were peculiarly attentive to their phylacteries, they carefully used strainers to keep flies from getting into their wine, lest unclean animals should touch their lips. But the Master in his ministry made short work of them. Ye blind fools, said he, ye strain at gnats, and ye swallow camels. How he held up to scorn their long prayers, and vain pretences, their tithing of cummin, and their devouring of widows’ houses! Never could they forget the simile of the cup and platter, washed without but foul within, nor that of the whitewashed sepulchre, so fair to the eye, and yet so full of rottenness. “Woe unto you,” said he, “Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites.” And with that word he swept away the whole empire of externalism, and made men see the vanity of outward religiousness while the heart is unrenewed. How forcible are those words, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but joy in the Holy Ghost. O for an hour of our Lord’s presence to lash the formalism of to-day; but be of good cheer, his gospel will do it yet.

     The Master at the same time made to fall all the self-righteous. They conceived in themselves that they were righteous, and they despised others. What a fall he gave to such when he told that famous parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, who went up to the temple to pray; how that proud man, who thanked God he was not as other men, went to his house without peace; while the humble sinner, who confessed himself unworthy to lift his eyes to heaven, went to his house justified of God. Oh, it was a grand sweep the Master made of selfrighteousness in the days of his flesh! Why, one would think that where Christ was the Pharisee must have half wished to pull off his phylactery, and hide the broad border of his garment. Small matter for his pride was it to stand away and profess to be better than other men, while Jesus of Nazareth tore off the mask and revealed the heart.

     Jesus our Lord was also the fall of the wiseacres of his day. There were the lawyers; they knew every point; they could discern in a moment what should be and what should not be according to the fathers; and they had a way of reading every precept of Moses so as to make it mean just whatever you might please, according to the length of your purse. Then there were the Scribes; what diligent students had they been. They knew how many letters there were in the whole law, and which was the middle letter, and which the middle word. They knew the size and length of each book, and they had written notes, matchless for wisdom, upon every passage; and they were expert in muddling the sense of every passage and making the words mean what they were never intended to teach. Diligent students of the letter these doctors of divinity, these Scribes of Christ’s day, and yet he nonplussed them with a question so simple that a child should be able to answer it — “David in your law called the Messias Lord, how is he then his Son?” They could not reply to him; and if they had been able with all their wisdom to answer that one question, yet could he have asked them many more by which their ignorance would have been discovered. He was their fall, as he will be at this day the fall of all the boastfully wise, for “He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.”

     But if our Lord was thus the fall of those who were externally religious, who were self-righteous, who were merely orthodox, he was also the fall of the broad church as well as of the high church. What a fall he gave the Sadducees! These were your broad churchmen. They professed to believe the law of Moses, but robbed it of its supernatural element; and yet they continued in the then established church. Of course they did. Why should not the national Sanhedrim be of the most comprehensive character? Yet these sceptics declared that there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit. When our Lord came into the arena against them, their famous story of the woman with the seven husbands was snapped like a wooden sword, and the point of an irresistible weapon was set at their breasts as Jesus asked them whether the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was the God of the dead or of the living. Our great Leader’s triumph over the sceptical faction was as complete as that achieved over the ritualistic band, to each he gave a crushing fall.

     If it is easy, to answer the question, Who fell by Christ in his lifetime? it is not difficult to answer the enquiry, Who fall by Christ to-day? Why, very much the same sort of people as fell by him then. If any of you are trusting in the externals of religion, if you are strangers to the inner spiritual life, if you are depending upon your confirmation, your baptism, your reception of the sacrament, or anything of ceremony, assuredly Christ will be the fall of you. Hear ye his own words, “Ye must be born again.” “If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Though you may receive the baptism of Christ, and the supper of Christ, as often as you will, without his Spirit, you are lost. If there be any here who are confident in their own excellence, if you are hoping to enter heaven because you have never done any great harm, and have, on the whole, been very good people, amiable, and kind, and generous, Christ will be the fall of you; continuing as you are now, his gospel condemns you thoroughly. For what says that gospel? “By the works of the law there shall no flesh living be justified.” Why, then, should you hope to be justified, in the teeth of what Christ by his inspired apostle has declared? Christ is the death of selfrighteousness; and you will most assuredly perish, if self is your reliance.

     Some will tell you that human nature is not at all so bad as it is said to be in Scripture. There are some fine points about man which only want opportunities of development. Ah! but if man were not fallen, why did he need a Saviour? If man were not hopelessly fallen, why need God have come down from heaven, to take upon himself human flesh to redeem man? You who praise up human nature, are robbing Christ of glory to crown a dying rebel; and rest assured that such robbery will be your ruin unless repented of. There be others who say, let man do his best and he will, no doubt, be accepted of God; they hope that there is enough of strength in man to enable him to force his way to that which is desired of him. If so, why needs that bleeding sacrifice? What necessity for Calvary’s groans and death pangs? The sacrifice of Christ is the death of all hopes of self-salvation. If you could save yourself, it were monstrous that Christ should come to save you. I tell you if you hold to self-reliance, Christ’s cross will be the fall of you. It will be a condemning witness against you.

     Moreover, Jesus is the fall of all who rely upon priests, or who pro fess to be priests. When the Son of God has appeared as the Priest of fallen humanity, oh, how dare ye, ye curs and dogs who yelp at the heels of Antichrist, to claim to be what Jesus alone is? How dare ye take upon yourselves to stand at the altar when he is there? Now that the Sun of Righteousness has risen, we cannot, dare not, trust in such mere blots of darkness as you are.

     All persons who are self-contented, all those who are lofty in mind, to these Christ will assuredly give a dreadful fall. “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be laid low.” Every look of pride will he abase, for he is set for the fall of all those, whether in Israel or among the Gentiles, who shall exalt themselves in the face of the Lord of Hosts. Judge ye, sirs, whether he will be your fall. You can readily tell. He that is down need fear no fall; but he that is on high may tremble lest the Child who was born in Bethlehem should be his fall.

     II. But I must pass on. Another and a happier question suggests itself. To WHOM WILL THE LORD JESUS BE A RISING AGAIN?

     He will be a rising again to those who have fallen. Dost thou confess, “I have fallen”? Dost thou acknowledge, “I possess a fallen nature”? Dost thou lament thou hast fallen into sin? O my brother, he will be thy rising. He cannot uplift those who are not brought low; but if thou hast fallen, and art conscious of it this day, he is set to be the rising again of such as thou art. Again, are you conscious of being down? There cannot be a lifting to those who are up— there cannot be healing to those who are not sick. Christ came not for so preposterous a purpose as to be the Saviour of those who are safe already. Are you sick? He was set to heal such as you are. Are you down? Then the more desperate your fall, the deeper your sense of degradation, the more I will rejoice. If you call yourself the chief of sinners, I shall but be the more thankful; and if you feel yourself past all hope, I shall congratulate you as a prisoner of hope, for he came to be the rising again of such as you are. Clearly to everybody’s common sense the rising is not for those who are already up, but for those who are in need of raising. They shall rise in him. Note, again, those that rise in him are those who are now willing to rise in him. He saves none while they are unwilling, but he makes men willing in the day of his power. Are you willing this day to rise in Christ? That gracious will came from God. That will is an indication that Jesus is set to raise you up. Never did a soul cling to Christ with earnest will to rise, and find that Christ did leave it to perish. Only lay hold of the hem of his garment, and he will uplift you to his own glory. We have heard of drowning men who have clutched at others who could barely save themselves, but could not support another, and have therefore been compelled to throw off those who clung to them. But you may cling to Christ without fear; he is an almighty swimmer, and will bear to land every soul that layeth hold on him.

     Trembling believer in Jesus the Redeemer, you shall rise from your poverty to sit among princes; you shall rise from the dunghill of your sins to reign with angels, you shall rise from your spiritual death to newness of life, you shall rise from the shame of your sin to the honour of perfection. You shall rise to be children of God, educated and trained for a better world; you shall rise to dwell in the many mansions of your Father’s house; you shall rise to oneness with Christ, and shall enter into his joy, triumphing with him. And all this is not for those who have a high esteem of themselves, but for those who lament their own unworthiness and sinfulness. Still hath he a frown for the haughty, and a smile for the lowly. “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away.”

     III. Another matter shall occupy us for a moment. Some of the best critics of modern times differ entirely from the older expositors, and think that the “and ” here used is conjunctive and not disjunctive; that is to say, that the two words describe but one character, whereas, older commentators, and, as I believe, rightly, interpret the words of two classes of persons. However, let us include that other sense in our exposition. This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; that is to say, there are some who shall both fall and rise again in Christ; to whom Christ shall give such a fall as they never had before, and such a rise as shall be to their eternal resurrection. Let me give you a picture. You remember Jacob and the angel wrestling at night. Did you ever yourself experience what it was to wrestle with Christ? I do remember when he met me and entered into gracious conflict with my rebellious spirit. I stood erect in pride, and as good as told him that I had no need of a Saviour; but he wrestled with me, and would not let me go. I stood footsure, as I imagined, on the law, but what a fall he gave me when he revealed its spiritual nature, and proved me guilty at every point! Then, I thought I had firm footing with one foot on the law, and the other upon his grace, imagining that partly by the mercy of God, and partly by my own endeavours, I might be saved. But what a fall was there when I learned that if salvation was of works, it could not be of grace, and if it was of grace it could not be of works; the two could not be mixed together. Then I said I would hope in the performance of the duties which the gospel inculcates; I thought I had power to do this; I would repent, and believe, and so win heaven. But what a fall I had, and how each bone seemed broken when he declared to me, “without me, ye can do nothing. No man can come unto me, except the Father who hath sent me draw him”! Do you remember, brother, when you lay before Christ and the gospel all broken and bruised, till there was no life in you except the life that could suffer pain, and even that you questioned, for you feared you did not suffer pain enough. You felt you were not penitent enough, nor believing enough, and that you could not make yourself anything other than you were. You were hopeless and helpless. Ah, this is how Christ saves souls. He gives them a fall first, and afterwards he makes them rise. You cannot fill the vessel till it is empty. There must be room made for mercy by the pouring out of human merit. You cannot clothe the man who is clothed already, or feed him who has no hunger. It is the hungry soul that is filled; it is the naked soul that is clothed; it is the fallen one that is lifted up. But this fall which Jesus gives us is a blessed fall. He never did throw a man down without lifting him up afterwards. “I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal,” these are the attributes of Jehovah Jesus. The text says, after the fall shall come the rising again. I have explained what that is; I hope you understand it. If you this day are enabled to lay hold of Jesus Christ by simply trusting him, you are already raised up through him. He who trusts Christ is forgiven, he is accepted, he is saved; and low as you may have fallen in your own esteem through the fall which truth has given you, you may rise just as high in the union that you have with Christ, for you are accepted in the Beloved; and there is, therefore, now no condemnation to you. Heaven is your sure portion, you shall be with Christ where he is.

     IV. We shall conclude with a few words upon the last part of the text. The text tells us that the Lord Jesus is “A SIGN THAT SHALL BE SPOKEN AGAINST.”

     What is he a sign of? The Lord Jesus Christ is a remarkable sign, and the only sign I know of that was ever spoken against. He is a sign of divine love. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” There never was such a sign of God’s love to man as when God gave his own Son for him. Now there have been many other signs of God’s love, and men have not spoken against them. The rainbow was in some respects a sign of his love, that he would no more destroy the world with a flood. The sun is a sign of God’s love to man, and so is the moon: he maketh the sun to shine by day, and the moon by night, for his mercy endureth for ever. A fruitful harvest, a flowing stream, a refreshing wind, the common mercies of life, these are all signs of God’s benevolence; nobody speaks against them; but the grandest sign of benevolence on God’s part was when he spared not his own Son, yet hear ye not the babble, the noise and confusion of tongues, like the voices of many waters, as the nations cry, “This is the heir, let us kill him.” “Away with him, away with such a fellow from the earth! It is not fit that he should live”? Oh, prodigy of human malice! God reaches the climax of benevolence, and man exhibits the climax of deadly hate. The greatest gift provokes the greatest hostility, and the loftiest sign brings forth the most virulent opposition.

     Christ was a sign of divine justice. A bleeding Saviour, the Son of God deserted by his Father, the thunderbolts of vengeance finding a target in the person of the Wellbeloved, herein is justice revealed most fully. I hear not that other signs of vengeance have been spoken against. Men have trembled, but have not railed. Sodom and Gomorrah with bowed head confessed the justice of their doom. Egypt engulphed in the Red Sea saith nothing of it; none of her records contain a single blasphemy against Jehovah for having swept away the nation’s chivalry. The judgments of God, as a rule, strikes men dumb with awe! But this, which was the greatest display of divine hatred of sin, where the Son of God was made to descend into the lowest depths as our substitute, this provokes to-day man’s uttermost wrath. Know you not how many are continually railing at the cross? The Crucified is still abhorred. How matchless is the perversity of human nature, that when God displays his justice most, but blends it sweetly with his love, the sign is everywhere spoken against!

     Let me close, where much more might be said by observing that Christ was the sign of man’s communion with God, and of God’s fellowship with man. None ought to have spoken against that. It ought to be man’s greatest joy that there is a ladder that reaches from earth to heaven, that there is a connecting bridge between creature and Creator. But man does not want to be near his God, and hence he rails at the means provided for communion.

     Christ is the sign of the elect seed. He is the woman’s seed, the head of the covenanted people, and this is, perhaps, the main ground of opposition; for the serpent must always hate the seed of the woman. God has put an enmity between them. Jesus is the representative of the holy, the new-born, the spiritual. He is the sign of the elect of God; and hence, as soon as the carnal mind, that knoweth not God, nor loveth him, perceives Christ and his gospel, it at once stirs up the depth of its malevolence to put down Christ if it be possible. Brethren, they shall never put him down. They may speak against the gospel, but here is our joy, that Christ will raise up his people, and will certainly give the fall to his enemies. It is one of the proven facts of providence that no lie is immortal. Never be afraid that any error can long be dominant. The ark of the Lord can never fall before Dagon; bat Dagon must fall down before the Lord’s ark. Have patience, have patience! The victory is as sure as it is slow. You may complain that the Ritualists gather force. Have patience! The Lord shall laugh them to scorn, the Lord shall have them in derision. You may say that the doubters as to the truth of God’s word are gathering in strength. But wait with patience, scepticism shall have its overthrow. “Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion.” The Lord God hath declared the decree, and the decree shall stand. Be you of good cheer, for all is well. Inasmuch as you have risen in him, be not dismayed, though the sign be spoken against. In patience possess your souls, for the day shall come when he will ease him of his adversaries, when the loftiest foe shall be hurled to the ground; for he shall dash them in pieces, he shall rule them with a rod of iron; he shall break them like a potter’s vessel. O come ye on his side ye who would be safe. “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.” Come, ye tremblers, cower down beneath the wings of your Saviour, who saith to-day as he did in the days of his flesh, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” Refuse him not, lest he be unto you a swift flying eagle that scenteth the prey from afar, and descendeth with terrible vengeance thereon, to tear in pieces and to destroy.

     The Lord grant that the child Jesus may be set for your rising again, and for a sign in which your souls shall delight, for his name’s sake. Amen.



The Unrivaled Friend

By / Nov 7

The Unrivaled Friend

 

“A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”— Proverbs xvii 17.

 

THERE is one thing about the usefulness of which all men are agreed, namely, friendship; but most men are soon aware that counterfeits of friendship are common as autumn leaves. Few men enjoy from others the highest and truest form of friendship. The friendships of this world are hollow, they are as unsubstantial as a dream, as soon dissipated as a bubble, as light as thistledown. Those airy compliments, those empty sentences of praise, how glibly they fall from the lip, but how little have they to do with the heart! He must be a fool indeed, who believes that there is aught in the complimentary affection but mere flattery or matter of form. The loving cup means not love, and the loud cheering of the toast means not sincere fellowship. With very many, friendship sits very loosely: they could almost write as Horace Walpole does in one of his letters. He says, he takes every thing very easily, “and if,” saith he, “a friend should die, I drive down to the St. James’s coffee-house, and bring home another,” doubtless as cordial and enraptured with the new friend as with the old. Friends in this world are too often like the bees which swarm around the plants while they are covered with flowers, and those flowers contain nectar for their honey; but let November send its biting frosts, the flowers are nipped, and their friends the bees forsake them. Swallow friendship lives out with us our summer, but finds other loves in winter. It has always been so from of old, even until now; Ahithophel has deserted David, and Judas has sold his Lord. The greatest of kings who have been fawned upon by their courtiers while in power, have been treated as if they were but dogs in the time of their extremity; we may, as the poet of the passions—

“Sing Darius,great and good.
Deserted in his utmost need,
By those his former bounty fed;
On the cold ground exposed he lies,
With not a friend to close his eyes.”

Of all friendship which is not based on principle, we may say with the prophet, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting.” But there is a higher friendship than this by far, and it subsists among Christian men, among men of principle, among men of virtue, where profession is not all, but where there is real meaning in the words they use. Damon and Pythias still have their followers among us, Jonathan and David are not without their imitators. All hearts are not traitorous; fidelity still lingers among men: where godliness builds her house, true friendship finds a rest. Solomon speaking not of the world’s sham friends, but of friends indeed, saith, “A friend loveth at all times.” Having once given his heart to his chosen companion, he clings to him in all weathers, fair or foul; he loves him none the less because he becometh poor, or because his fame suffers an eclipse, but his friendship like a lamp shines the brighter, or is made more manifest because of the darkness that surrounds it. True friendship is not fed from the barnfloor, or the winefat; it is not like the rainbow, dependent upon the sunshine, it is fixed as a rock, and firm as granite, and smiles superior to wind and tempest. If we have friendship at all, brethren and sisters, let this be the form it takes: let us be willing to be brought to the test of the wise man, and being tried, may we not be found wanting. “A friend loveth at all times.”

     But I am not about to talk of friendship at all as it exists between man and man; I prefer to uplift the text into a still higher sphere. There is a Friend, blessed for ever be his name, who loveth at all times; there is a Brother, who, in an emphatic sense, was born for adversity. That friend is Jesus, the friend of sinners, the friend of man, the brother of our souls, born into this world that he might succour us in our adversities. I shall take the text, then, and refer it to the Lord Jesus Christ ; and unless time should fail us, I shall then refer it to ourselves as in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ, showing that we also ought to love him even as he has loved us, always and under all adversities.

     I. First, then, IN REFERENCE TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. The first sentence is, “a friend loveth at all times,” and this leads us to consider, first, the endurance of the love of Jesus Christ.

     My dear brethren, when we read “a friend loveth at all times,” and refer that to Christ, the sentence full as it is, falls short of what we mean, for our Lord Jesus is a friend who loved us before there was any time. Before time began, the Lord Jesus Christ had entered into covenant that he would redeem a people unto himself, who should show forth his Father’s praise. Before time began, his prescient eye had foreseen the creatures whom he determined to redeem by blood. These he took to himself by election, these the Father also gave to him by divine donation, and upon these as he saw them in the glass of futurity he set his heart. Long before days began to be counted, or moons to wax and wane, or suns to rise and set, Jehovah Jesus had set apart a people to himself, whom he espoused unto himself, whose names he engraved upon his heart and upon his hands, that they might be taken into union with himself for ever and ever. Meditate on that love which preceded the first rays of the morning, and went forth to you before the mountains were brought forth, or ever he had formed the earth and the world. My brethren, yon believe the doctrine of eternal love, meditate thereon, and let it be very sweet unto your hearts:—

“Before thy hands had made
The sun to rule the day,
Or earth’s foundation laid,
Or fashioned Adam’s clay,
What thoughts of peace and mercy flow’d
In thy dear bosom, O my God!”

     He loved you when time began, in the elder days before the flood, and in the far-off periods; for those promises which were spoken in love had reference to you as well as to all the believing seed. All the deeds of love which were wrought as a preface to his coming, all had some bearing towards you as one of his people. There never was a point in the antiquity of our world in which this friend did not love you, every era of time has been a time of love. Love, like a silver thread, runs adown the ages. Chiefly did he lay bare his love eighteen hundred years ago, when down with joyful haste he sped to lie in the manger; and hang as a babe at the virgin’s breast. He proved his love to you to a degree surpassing thought when, as a carpenter’s son he condescended for thirty years to live in obscurity, working out a perfect righteousness for you, and then spent three years of arduous toil, to be ended by a death of bitterness unutterable. You had no being then, but he loved you, and gave himself for you. For you the bloody sweat that fell amidst the olives of Gethsemane; for you the scourging and the crowning with thorns; for you the nails and spear, the vinegar and lance; for you the cry of agony; the exceeding sorrow “even unto death.” He is a friend that loved you in that darkest and most doleful hour, when your sins were laid upon him and with their crushing weight pressed him down, as it were, in spirit, to the lowest hell.

     Beloved, having thus redeemed you, he loved you when time began with you. As soon as you were born the eye of his tenderness was fixed upon you. “When Ephraim was a child, then I loved him.” It was lovingkindness which arranged your parents’ native place and time of birth. You came not into this world, as it were, by chance, or as the young ostrich bereft of a parent’s care— the Lord was your guardian; the Lord Jesus Christ looked upon you in your cradle, and bade his angels keep ward around you. He would not let you die unconverted, though fierce diseases waited around you to hurry you to hell. And when you grew up to manhood, and ripened the follies of youth into the crimes of mature years, yet still he loved you. O let your heart be humbled as you remember that if you ever fell into blasphemy, he loved you as you cursed him; that if you indulged in Sabbath-breaking, he loved you when you despised his day; that your neglected Bible could not wean his heart from you, that your neglected prayer closet could not make him cease his affection. Alas! to what an excess of riot did some of his people run! but he loved them notwithstanding all. He was a friend that loved under the most provoking circumstances.

“Loved when a wretch defiled with sin,
At war with heaven, in league with hell,
A slave to every lust obscene,
Who, living, lived but to rebel.”

When justice would have said, “Let the rebel go, O Jesus, be not bound any longer by cords of love to such a wretch,” our ever faithful Redeemer would not cast us away, but threw another band of grace around us and loved us still. Consider well, “his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sins.”

     I feel as if this were rather matter for you to think over in private, than for me thus hastily to introduce to you in public. May the Holy Spirit however now bedew your hearts with grateful drops of celestial love, as I remind you of the love at all times of this best of friends. You recollect when you were constrained to seek him, when your heart began to be weary of its sin, and to be alarmed at the doom that would surely follow unpardoned transgression; it was his love that sowed the first seeds of desire and anxiety in your heart. You had never desired him if he had not first desired you. There was never a good thought towards Christ in any human breast, unless Christ first put it there. He drew you, and then you began to run after him; but had he left you alone, your running would have been from him, and never towards him. It was a bitter time when we were seeking the Saviour, a time of anguish and sore travail. “We recollect the tears and prayers that we poured out day and night, asking for mercy; but Jesus, our friend, was loving to us then, taking delight in those penitential tears, putting them into his bottle, telling the angels that we were praying, and making them string their harps afresh to sweet notes of praise over sinners that repented. He knew us, knew us in the gloom, in the thick darkness in which we sought after God, if haply we might find him. He was near the prodigal’s side when in all his rags and filth he was saying, “I will arise, and go to my Father,” and it was Jesus through whom we were introduced to the Father’s bosom, and received the parental kiss, and were made to sit down where there are music and dancing, because the dead are alive, and the lost is found.

     My brethren, since that happy day, this friend has loved us at all times. I wish I could say that since that sacred hour when we first came to his feet, and saw ourselves saved through him, we had always walked worthily of the privileges we have received; but it has been very much the reverse. There have been times in which we have honoured him, his grace has abounded, and our holiness has been manifest; but alas! there have been other seasons in which we have backslidden, our hearts have grown cold, and we were on the road to become like Nabal when his heart was turned to a stone within him. We have been half persuaded, like Orpah, to go back to the land of idols, and not like Ruth, to cleave unto the Lord our God. Our heart has played the harlot from the love of Christ, desiring the leeks, and garlick, and onions of Egypt rather than the treasures of the land of promise. But at such times when our piety has been at a low ebb, he has loved us still; there has not been the slightest diminution in the affection of Christ even when our piety has been diminished; he does not set his clock by our watch, or stint his love to the narrow measure of ours. I fear we have often gone further than merely getting poor in grace within; there have been times when God’s people have even actually fallen into overt sin; ay, and have descended to sin grievously too, and to dishonour the name of Christ; but herein is mercy, even those actual and accursed sins of ours have not rent away the promise from us, nor turned away the heart of Christ for his beloved. Sinned though we have to our abounding sorrow, I was about to say, for if there could be sorrow in heaven we might eternally regret that we have sinned against such love and mercy, yet for all that our Lord and Saviour would not cast us off, nor will he abjure us come what may.

     Reflect, my dear friends, upon all the trying and changeful scenes through which you have passed since the time of your conversion. You have been rich perhaps and increased in goods: you were tempted to forget your Lord, but he was a friend who loved you at all times, and he would not suffer your prosperity to ruin you, but still made his love to dart with healing beams into your soul. But you have been also very poor. The cupboard has been bare, and you have said, “Whence shall I find sufficient to supply my need?” But Christ has not gone away because your suit was threadbare, or your house ill furnished; nay, he has been nearer than ever, and if he revealed himself to you in your prosperity, much more in your adversity. You have found him a faithful friend when all others were unfaithful, true when every one else was a liar. You have been sore sick sometimes, but he it was that made the pillow, and that softened the bed of your affliction. It may be you have been slandered, and those who loved you have passed you by. Some ill word has been spoken in which there was no truth, but it has sufficed to turn away the esteem of many; but your Lord has gone with you through shame and abuse, and never for a single moment has he even hinted that he only loved you because you were had in respect by men. Ever faithful, ever true, has been this friend, who loveth at all times. Ah, there have been times, it may be With you, when you could fain have thrown your very self away, for you felt so empty, so good-for-nothing, so undeserving, ill deserving, hell deserving; you felt fitter to die than to live; you could hardly entertain a hope that any good thing could ever spring from you: but when you have least esteemed yourself, his esteem of you has been just the same; when you were ready to die in a ditch, he has been ready to lift you to a throne; when you felt yourself a castaway, you have still been pressed to his dear bosom, an object of his peculiar regard.

     Soon, very soon, your time will come to die: you shall pass through the valley of deathshade, but you need not fear, for the friend that loveth at all times will be with you then. That eminent servant of God, Jonathan Edwards, when he was at his last, said, “Where is Jesus of Nazareth, my old and faithful friend? I know he will be with me now that I need his help,” and so he was, for that faithful servant died triumphant. You shall enquire in that last day for Jesus of Nazareth, and you shall hear him say, “Here I am;” you shall find the deathshade vale lit up with supernal splendour, it shall be no death to you, but a passing into life eternal, because he who is the resurrection and the life shall be your helper.

     Thus I have hastily run through the life of Christ’s love from the beginning that had no beginning, down to the end that knoweth no end, and in every case we see that he is a friend that loveth at all times.

     Now, brethren, I shall vary the strain, though still keeping to the same subject. Let us consider the reality of Christ’s love at all times. The text says, “A friend loveth at all times,” not professes to lore, not talks of love, but really does so. Now in Christ’s case, the love has become intensely practical. His love has never been a thing of mere words or pretensions; his love has acted out itself in mighty deeds, and signs, and wonders, worthy of a God, such as heaven itself shall not sufficiently extol with all its golden harps.

     See then, brethren, Christ has practically loved us at all times. It is not long ago that you and I were slaves to sin, we wore the fetters, nor could we break them from our wrists. We were held fast by evil passions and worldly habits, and there seemed no hope of liberty for ns. Jesus loved us at all times, but the love did not let us lie prisoners any longer. He came and paid the ransom price for us. In drops of blood from his own heart he counted down the price of our redemption, and by his eternal Spirit he broke every fetter from us, and to- day his believing people rejoice in the liberty wherewith Christ makes them free. See how practical his love was! He did not leave the slave in his chains and let him remain a captive, but he loved us right out of our prison-house into a sacred freedom. Our Lord found us not long ago standing upon our trial. There we were prisoners at the bar, we had nothing to plead in our defence. The accuser stood up to plead against us, and as he laid many charges and heavy, we were not able to answer so much as one of them. Our great High Priest stood there, and saw us thus arraigned as prisoners at the bar; he loved us, but oh! how efficient was his love — he became an advocate for us; he did more, he stood in our place and stead, stood where the felon ought to stand. He suffered what was due to us, and then covering us with his perfect righteousness, he said before the blaze of the ineffable throne of justice, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that hath risen again.” He did not love the prisoner at the bar and leave him there to be condemned; he loved him until this day we stand acquitted, and there is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. Believer, lift up your heart now, and bless his name who hath done all this for thee.

     Our Lord when he came in mercy to us, found us in the rags of our self-righteousness, and in the abject poverty of our natural condition. We were houseless, fatherless; we were without spiritual bread, we were sick and sore, we were as low and degraded as sin could make us. He loved us, but he did not leave us where love found us. Ah I do you not remember how he washed us in the fountain which flowed from his veins; how he wrapped us about with the fair white linen, which is the righteousness of his saints; how he gave us bread to eat that the world knoweth not of; how he supplied all our wants, and gave us a promise, that whatsoever we should ask in prayer, if we did but believe his name, we should receive it! We were aliens, but his love has made us citizens; we were far off, but his love has brought us nigh; we were perishing, but his love hath enriched us; we were serfs, but his love has made us sons; we were condemned criminals, but his love has made us  “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ.”

     I shall not enlarge here, but I shall appeal to the experience of every believer. In your needs, has not Christ always helped you? you have been in doubt which way to take, and you have gone to him for guidance: did you ever go wrong when you left it to him? Your heart has been very heavy, and you had no friend that you could communicate with, but you have talked with him, and have not you always found solace in pouring out your hearts before him? When did he ever fail you? when did you find his arm shortened, or his ear heavy? Up to this moment has it been mere talk with Christ? no, you know it has been most true and real love I beseech you give him true and real — and praise now , not in that the recollection of the head of only it, or of the lip, but of your whole spirit, soul, and body, as you consecrate yourself afresh to him. See then the endurance of Christ’s love, and see then also the reality of it.

     By your patience, I shall notice in the next place the nature of the love of Christ, accounting for its endurance and reality. The love of our good friend to us, sprang from the purest possible motives. He has nought to gain by loving us. Some friendship may be supposed to be tinged with a desire of self advantage, to that extent it is degraded and valueless. But Jesus Christ had nought to gain, but everything to lose. “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor.” The love he bears to his people, was not a love which sprang from anything in them. I have no doubt it had a reason, for Christ never acts unreasonably, but that reason did not lie in us. Love between us and our fellows sometimes springs from personal beauty, sometimes for traits of character which we admire, and at other times from obligations which we have incurred, but with Christ none of these things could avail. There was no personal beauty in any one of his elect: there were no traits of character in them that could enchant him, very much on the other hand that might have disgusted him; he certainly was under no obligations to us, for we had not a being then when his heart was set upon us. The love of man to man is sustained by something drawn from the object of love, but the love of Christ to us has its deep springs within himself. As his own courts maintain the grandeur of his throne without drawing a revenue from the creatures, so his own love maintains itself, without drawing any motives and reasons from us, and hence, my brethren, you see why this love is the same at all times. If it had to subsist upon us and what we do, and what we merit, ah! it would always be at the lowest conceivable ebb, but since it leaps up from the great deep of the divine heart, it never changes, it never shall.

     Be it also remembered that Christ’s love was a wise love, not blind as ours often is. He loved us knowing exactly what we were whom he loved. There is nothing in the constitution of man that Jesus Christ had not perceived; there is nothing in your individuality but what Christ had foreknown. Remember Christ loved his people before they began to sin, but not in the dark. He knew exactly everything they would think, or do, or be; and if he resolved to love them at all, you may rest assured he never will change in that love, since nothing fresh can ever occur to his divine mind. Had he begun to love us, and we had deceived and disappointed him, he might have turned us out of doors, but he knew right well that we should revolt, that we should backslide and should provoke him to jealousy; he loved us knowing all this, and therefore it is that his love abides and endures, and shall even remain faithful to the end.

     Brethren, the love of Christ is associated continually with an infinite degree of patience and pity. Our Lord knows that we are but dust, and like as a father pitieth his children, so he pities us. We are but short-tempered, but our Lord is longsuffering. When he sees us sin, he saith within himself, “Alas! poor souls, what folly in them thus to injure themselves.” He takes not our cold words in umbrage, so as to put himself in wrathful fume therewith; but he saith, “Poor child, how he hurteth himself by this, and how much he loseth thereby.” He even hath a kind look for us when we sin, for he knows it is blotted out through his own blood, and he sees rather the mischief which it is quite sure to bring to the poor soul, than the evil of the sin itself. Jesus hath infinite condescension and patience, and we cannot so provoke him as to turn him from his purpose of grace. He is at all times ready to pardon, and never slow to be moved to forgiveness. Oh, the provocations of men! but the patience of Christ reacheth over the mountains of our provocation, and drowns them all.

     Methinks one reason why Christ is so constant in his love, and so patient with us, is that he sees us as what we are to be. He does not look at us merely as what we are to-day in Adam’s fall— ruined and lost, nor as we are to-day, but partly delivered from indwelling sin; but he remembers that we are to lie in his bosom for ever, that we are to be exactly like himself, and to be partakers of his glory; and as he sees us in the glass of futurity, as by-and-by to be his companions in the world of the perfect, he passes by transgression, iniquity and sin, and like a true friend he loveth us at all times.

     I shall not weary those who know this love. They need no gaudy sentences or eloquent periods to set it forth. Its sweetness lies in itself. You may drink such wine as this out of any cup. He that knoweth the flavour of this divine dainty, asketh not that it be carved this way or that, he rejoiceth but to have it, for the meditation upon it must be sweet. “A friend loveth at all times.”

     The next sentence of the text is, “and a brother is born for adversity That is to say, a true brother comes out and shows his brotherhood in the time of the trouble of the family. Now let every believer in Jesus here catch the meaning of this with regard to Christ. Jesus Christ was born for you. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given but if at any one time more than another, Christ is peculiarly yours by birth, it is in the time of adversity. A brother born for adversity.

     Observe, that Christ was born in the first place, for our adversity, to deliver us from the great adversity of the fall. When our parents’ sin had blasted Eden, and destroyed our hopes, when the summer of our joy had turned into the winter of our discontent, then Christ was born in Bethlehem’s manger, that the race might be lifted up to hope, and his elect be elevated to salvation. He restored that which he took not away, he rebuilt that which he cast not down. He had never come to be a Saviour if we had not been lost; because our adversity was so great, therefore so great a Saviour was required, and so great a Saviour came.

     Our Lord is born for adversity because he has the peculiar art of sympathising with all in adversity. No other but he can claim that he has ranged high and low through all the territories of grief, but this Jesus Christ can justly claim. Every pang that ever rends a human heart has first tried its keen edge on him. It is not possible even in the extremities of anguish to which some are exposed, that any man can go beyond Christ in the endurance of pain. Christ is crowned king of misery, he is the emperor of the domains of woe. He is able therefore to succour all such as are tempted and tried, seeing he is compassed about himself also with a feeling of our infirmities. Look to him suffering on the tree, look to him throughout all his life of shame and pain, and you will see that he was born into adversity, and through being born into it, was born to sympathise with our trials, having learned, as the Captain of our salvation, to be made perfect in sympathy with those many sons whom he brings to glory.

     Brethren, the text means more than this however. Jesus Christ is a brother born for adversity, because he always gives his choicest presence to his saints when they are in tribulation. I know many men will think that the presence of Christ with the sick and with the depressed is mere fancy. Ah, blessed fancy! such a fancy as makes them laugh at pain, and rejoice in deep distress, and take joyfully the spoiling of their goods. A blessed fancy truly! Let me declare my heart’s witness, and assert that if there be anything real anywhere to the spiritual mind, the presence of Christ is intensely so. Though we do not see his form bending over us, nor mark the lovely light of those eyes that once were red with weeping, though we touch not that hand which felt the nails, and hear no soft footfalls of the feet that were fastened to the cross, yet are we inwardly as certainly conscious of the shadow of Christ falling upon us as ever were his disciples, when he stood in the tempest-tossed vessel, and said to winds and waves, “Peace, be still.” Believe me, it is not imagination, nor is it barely faith. It is faith that brings him, but there is a kind of spiritual sense that discovers his presence, and that rejoices in the bliss flowing therefrom. We speak what we do know, and testify what we have seen, when we say that he is a brother born for adversity in very deed, most tenderly revealing himself to his people, as he doth not unto the world.

     He is born for adversity, I think, in this sense, that you can hardly know him except through adversity. You may know Christ so as to be saved by him by a single act of faith, but for a full discovery of his beauty it needs that you go through the furnace. Those children of God whose grassy paths are always newly mown, and freshly smoothed, learn comparatively but little fellowship with Christ, and have but slender knowledge of him, but they that do business on great waters, these see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep, and these know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted,” many can say, not only because of the restoring effect of sorrow, but because their afflictions have acted like windows, to let them gaze into the very heart of Christ, and read his pity and understand his nature, as they never could have done by other means. Furnace light is memorably clear. Jesus is a brother born for adversity, because in the glimmer of the world’s eventide, when all the lamps are going out, a glory shines around him, transforming midnight into day.

     He is a brother born for adversity, in the last place, because in adversity it is that through his people’s patience he is glorified. I warrant you the sweetest songs that ever come up from these lowlands to the eternal throne, are from sick beds. “They shall sing his high praises in the fires.” God’s children are too often dumb when they have much of this world’s earth in their mouths, but when the Lord is pleased to take away their comforts and possessions, then, like birds in cages, they begin to sing with all their hearts. Praise him, ye suffering ones, your praise will be grateful to him. Extol him, ye mourners, exchange by faith your sorrows for hopes, and bless his name who deserveth to be praised.

     II. Now, I shall leave this, and only for a moment turn the text round to a practical purpose, by REFERRING IT TO THE CHRISTIAN.

     I hope that what has been spoken has been only the echo of the experience of the most of you. You have found Jesus Christ to be a true brother and a blessed friend, now let the same be true of you. He that would have friends must show himself friendly. If Christ be such a friend to us, what manner of people ought we to be towards him? So, beloved, let us pray and labour to be friends that love Christ at all times. Alas! some professors seem to love him at no time at all. They give him lip homage, but they refuse to give him the exercise of their talents, or the contribution of their substance. They love him only with words that are but air, but they offer him no sweet cane with money, neither do they fill him with the fat of their sacrifices. Such people are windbag lovers, and do nothing substantial to prove their affection. Let it not be so with us. Let our love to Christ be so true as to constrain us to make sacrifices for him. Let us deny ourselves that we may spread abroad the knowledge of his truth, and never be content unless in very deed and act we are giving proofs of our love.

     We ought to love him at all times. Alas! there are some that prosper in business, who grow too great to love their Saviour. They hold their heads too high to associate with his saints. Aforetime they were with his people, content to worship with them when they were in humble circumstances, but they have prospered in trade, they have laid by a good store of wealth, and now they feel half ashamed to attend the conventicle that was once the very joy of their hearts. They must seek out the world’s religion, and they must worship after the world’s fashion, for they must not be left behind in society. The people of God are not good enough for them; though they be kings and princes in Christ’s esteem, yet are they too poor company for those that have risen so high in the world. Alas, alas! that professed lovers of Jesus should rise too high to walk truthfully and faithfully with Christ: it is no rise at all, but a lamentable fall. Let us cling to him in days of joy, as well as nights of grief, and prove to all mankind that there are no enchantments in this world that can win our hearts away from our best beloved.

     We should love Jesus Christ at all times, that is to say, in times when the church seems dull and dead. Perhaps some of you are living in a district just now where the ministry is painfully devoid of power. The lamp burns very low in your sanctuary, the members worshipping are few, and zeal is altogether dead. Do not desert the church, do not flee away from her in the time of her necessity. Keep to your post, come what may. Be the last man to leave the sinking vessel, if sink she must. Resolve as a friend of Christ to love him at all times, and as a brother born into that church, feel that now, beyond all other times, in the season of adversity, you must adhere to her.

     It may happen that some here present may to-morrow be found in a workshop, or in some other place, where their business brings them, where some dear child of God will be laughed at and ridiculed. That same man you would have cheerfully owned on the Sabbath as your brother, you delighted to unite your voice with him in prayer, but now, while he stands in the midst of a ribald throng, will you own him, or rather, own Christ in him? They are making cruel jokes, they are vexing his gracious spirit; now it is possible that a cowardly fear may make you slink away to the other end of the shop, but, oh, if you remember that a friend loveth at all times, you will take up this man’s quarrel as being Christ’s quarrel, and you, as being a part of the body of Christ, will be willing to share whatever contumely may come upon your fellow Christian, and you will say, “If you mock at him, you may mock also at me, for I also have been with Jesus of Nazareth, and him whom you scoff at I adore.” O let us never, by the love that Christ has borne to us, keep back a truth because it may expose us to shame. Let us never be such cowards as to palter with the word of God, because we may then live in silken ease and delicacy. These are not times in which one single particle of truth ought to be repressed. Whatever the spirit of God and the word of God may have taught you, my brethren, out with it for Christ’s sake, and let it bring what it will to you, bear that with joy. Since your Saviour bore far more for you, count it joy to bear anything for him. Be a brother born on purpose for adversity. Do you expect to be carried to heaven on beds of ease? do you reckon to win the everlasting laurels without a conflict? What, sirs, would ye stand beneath the waving banners of victory, without having first endured the smoke and the dust of battle? Nay, rather with consecrated courage, follow in the steps of your Master. Love him at all times, give up all for him, and then shall you soon be with him in his glory world without end. God grant a blessing for Jesus’ sake. Amen.



A Word with Those Who Wait for Signs and Wonders

By / Oct 31

A Word with Those Who Wait for Signs and Wonders

 

“This is an evil generation: they seek a sign.” — Luke xi. 20.

 

READING the Old Testament, we observe that the Lord in the olden time condescendingly gave signs to his servants, when he saw that it would be for their good. Moses, when he was called to undertake the great work of bringing the chosen people up out of Egypt, and conducting them into the promised land, had a sign given him by which to assure him that he was truly called of God. He put his hand into his bosom, and when he took it out it was leprous, white as snow; he thrust it into his bosom again, and again removed it, and, lo! it was whole as the other. He cast his rod upon the earth, and the rod became a serpent, and when he took it by the tail, it stiffened into a rod again. So also in the case of Gideon, when he was commanded to go against the Midianitish oppressors of Israel. You remember how his fleece was wet when all around was dry; and how the sign was reversed, and when all around was saturated with moisture, the fleece was dry. In the cases of holy men favoured with signs, there was faith, there was a real desire for more faith, and a willing obedience to God; but the work to which the men were called was peculiar, difficult, and even superhuman, and the flesh being but weak, God in infinite tenderness to the weakness of his servants, gave them signs and wonders that they might be strengthened thereby. Doubtless if again there should come a necessity for signs to any of God’s servants, such tokens would be given them. If there should ever be a time when it was not possible for Christians to walk by faith alone, or when it would be more to the honour of God that their confidence should be somewhat assisted by marvels and tokens, then would God go out of the ordinary way once again, and his people should receive miraculous seals. If it were utterly impossible for the anxious and truly penitent spirit to find rest without a sign, I believe the sign would be given; though I also believe, that in no case is such a thing at all necessary under the gospel dispensation, but which is so enriched with plainest evidence, that to add more would be to hold a candle to the sun, or pour water into the ocean.

     In addition to this first remark, let us add that signs have been given, and yet have not wrought faith in those who have seen them; and there is no necessary connection between seeing signs and believing that which the signs attest. Israel in the wilderness saw great marvels wrought by the Lord their God, and yet perished in unbelief. Pharaoh is a still more notable instance — what signs and wonders God wrought in the fields of Zoan! how was the Nile crimsoned into blood, and all Egypt filled with lamentation! The Lord turned the dust of the land into lice, and the ashes therefore into plagues. He brought up frogs into their chambers, and locusts devoured their fields. He darkened the heavens at midday, and deluged them with hail and rain such as the land had never seen before: a grievous murrain fell upon their cattle, and death upon their firstborn; yet all the wonder which God wrought did not soften Pharaoh’s heart, and though for awhile he trembled, yet again he steeled himself against the God of Israel, and said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?” My hearers, if ye do not believe Moses and the prophets, if ye do not believe in Jesus Christ with the testimonies which are already before you, neither would you believe though one rose from the dead, or though all the plagues of Egypt should be repeated upon you with tenfold fury. There is no necessary connection between the seeing of wonders and the believing in God, for we learn clearly from Pharaoh’s case, and from many others, that all the displays of wonderful power either of judgment or of mercy, do not beget faith in unbelieving hearts.

     I come, this morning, to deal with a class of persons very common still among us, exceedingly common in all congregations where the gospel is faithfully preached, whom I shall attempt to describe in the first place, and then go on to deal with them as God shall help me.

     I. First, then, I shall ask your attention while I DESCRIBE THE PERSONS who are an evil generation that seek after a sign. We have among us many individuals who are aware that they are sinners, and are conscious of their guiltiness to such an extent as to be very uneasy as to their condition. They clearly perceive that sin will be punished by the Great Judge, and they are much afraid of the wrath to come. They anxiously desire, moreover, to find salvation; and, having long listened to the gospel, they are not ignorant of the way in which salvation is obtained; they understand the gospel in the letter of it to the highest degree. They are not unbelievers in any of the doctrines of the gospel; they accept the deity of Christ; they believe him to be verily the Son of God; they believe that he died upon the cross, and offered atonement for iniquity. They, moreover, know that this atonement is effectual for the putting away of transgressions, and they are persuaded that if they had an interest in it, it would wash away their sins, and would give them peace of mind. You will say to me, “Knowing all this, of course they are believers in Christ.” No; they are not. We are very hopeful of them, we are at the same time much alarmed about them. They are not believers, for they wilfully persist in demanding some signor wonder within themselves, or around themselves, before they will personally put their trust in the Lord Jesus. Having been taught all they have been taught, and accepting for truth all that they do accept, the logical inference would be that they are trusters in Christ, and are saved; but illogical as their state is, they still remain unbelievers, with all this belief about them, and justify their remaining in unbelief by telling you that if they felt this, or if they saw that, or if this happened, or if the other thing occurred, then they would believe in Jesus, but not until then.

     They make different demands. There are some, and these are generally the most uneducated, who expect to experience remarkable dreams or to behold singular visions. I am sometimes astonished that there should linger amongst our population still a notion that a certain kind of dream, especially if it be repeated a number of times, and if it be so vivid as to remain upon the imagination for a long period, is an index of the divine favour. Nothing can be more grossly untrue, nothing can be more baseless and without the shadow of evidence to back it up; and yet many imagine that if they, I was about to say, suffered so grievously from indigestion that their sleep was spoiled by vivid dreams, then they could put their trust in Jesus Christ. The notion is so absurd, that if it be but mentioned to rational men they must ridicule it, and yet I have known many who have been, and still are, slaves to this delusion. Not very long ago, after preaching in a remote country village, I was earnestly sought for as a spiritual adviser by an importunate letter from a woman who ascribed to me much greater wisdom than I ever claimed to possess. I wondered what her spiritual difficulty was, and when I went to her house and found her very sick, I was saddened to find her the victim of a superstition, in which I fear her minister had comforted and so confirmed her. She solemnly informed me that she had seen something standing at night at the bottom of her bed; she was in hopes that it was our blessed Lord, but she could not see his head; as I knew so much of spiritual things, could I tell her who it was? I said I thought she must have hung up her dress on a peg on the wall at the bottom of her bed, and in the dark had mistaken it for an apparition. Of course, that did not satisfy her; I fell at once in her estimation to the dead level of a very carnal-minded man, if not a scoffer, but I could not help it, I could not dally with such ridiculous superstition; I was obliged to tell her it was all nonsense for her to hope for salvation because she was silly enough to fancy that she saw Jesus with her bodily eyes, for the saving sight was a spiritual one. As to the question of the supposed apparition having a head or not, I told her if she would but use her own head and heart in meditating upon the word of God, she would be in a far more hopeful condition. There may have been, I will dreams not deny it— for stranger things have been – there may have been dreams, and even r apparitions, which have been have aroused the conscience, and so led to the commencement of spiritual life, in some rare cases where God has chosen specially to interfere, but that these are to be looked for, and to be expected, is a thing as far from truth as the east is from the west. What if you did see anything, or dream anything, what would that prove? Why, prove nothing whatever except that you were in an ill state of health, and that your imagination was morbidly active. Put such things away, they an superstitions fit for Bushmen and Hottentots, but they are not fit for Christians of the nineteenth century: I do but mention them, not because I think any of you may have fallen into them, but that you may deal with them always very rigidly wherever you meet with them. They are superstitions not to be tolerated by Christian men; yet there are some who actually will not believe Christ’s simple gospel unless some such absurdity as this can be joined into it. God deliver you from such unbelief.

     Others we have met with who suppose that in order to being saved they must feel some very peculiar physical sensation. Now, that joy and peace of mind, and the discovery of the gospel when it for the first time Hashes on the mind, may produce extraordinary sensations in the body through the force of mental emotion I do not doubt; but do, I pray you, remember that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ has nothing to do with nerve, and muscle, and sinew, and things to be seen, and to be felt in the flesh; the operations of grace are a mental, spiritual, work. My dear hearers, you must never imagine when we talk about the heart, that we mean that central organ within us, from which the blood circulates, we mean nothing which has to do with this fleshly organisation: the work of the Holy Ghost concerns itself with the mind, the affections, the soul, the spirit, and his work is altogether spiritual. God forbid that you should look for any physical work, or strange affection of nerve and sinew, as some have talked of, and others have looked for. You must not put physical contortions or sensations as a test before the Lord, and say you will not believe in him otherwise.

     These I hope are rare cases, but in very frequent instances I have met with people who will not believe in Jesus Christ to the salvation of their souls because they have not felt wretched enough. They have read in certain books of holy men who, when they were seeking a Saviour, were broken in pieces under the ponderous hammer of the law. They turn to such biographies, and they find the subjects of them uttering language similar to the book of Job, or to the words of Jeremy in the Lamentations. Now these were good and holy men, and the way by which they were led to Christ was a way trodden by many feet, but these persons say, “Unless I can feel just this, unless I can be led into despair, unless I can be tempted to destroy myself, unless I become so desponding that I am fitter for a lunatic asylum than to be in my own family, I cannot believe in Jesus Christ.” Ah! poor demented one, to desire misery, and to make your own wretchedness, and even your own unbelieving and wicked thoughts of God to be a kind of preparation, for faith in Jesus Christ! It is a most insanely wicked thing, and yet many, many, many persist in unbelief because they think they are not yet wretched enough.

     Running to the other extreme, I have met with others who would not simply trust Christ because they were not happy enough. They have heard of the Christian’s joys, and the peace, like a river, that evermore abideth, and they have said, “If I could get this peace, if this deep calm ruled in my spirit, then I could believe.” As much as to say, “If I saw the wheat full grown in the fields of my soul, then I would begin to sow;” whereas the sowing must precede the reaping. “If I had within me the flower in all its beauty and bloom, then I would begin to plant the root; whereas the root must always precede the flower. Peace of mind is the result of faith, but they demand that they shall have the result of faith before they exercise faith; in fine, they come to God and ask for the wages before the work is begun, demanding peace before they will believe. Believe me, if any of you thus act wilfully and strangely, you must not suppose that God will turn aside from his wise proceedings to gratify your whims. Ah! no; you may tempt the Lord, but he is not tempted of any man. What folly it is, and yet folly as it is, how common is it on all sides!

     I have met with some who would not believe in Christ because they could not pray eloquently. “Oh,” they have said, “if I could pray like So-and-So, to whom we have listened with the greatest pleasure at the prayer-meeting, then I could put my trust in Christ, and there would be some hope for me!” Now, praying fluently is sometimes only the result of oratorical gifts, and if you will never believe in Christ till you get oratorical gifts, then how foolish you are to shut yourself out from heaven because you cannot play the orator; and because you cannot be a preacher, refuse to be a saint! True, fluency in prayer may also be the result of great depth of piety, but you expect to have great depth of piety before you even have the beginning of grace in your soul. Before you will put your trust in Christ, and become a babe in his family, you claim to be a man six feet high; before you will learn the “A B C” of the language of Canaan, you declare that you must be able to sound its very hardest syllables, and pronounce its most difficult sentences. That which is frequently the result of years of training, and long habit of deep, solitary contemplation, you expect to leap into at once, or else you refuse to be saved! O madness, to what height wilt thou not mount!

     I have known others who must feel precisely like certain eminent saints have felt many years after their conversion, or else they cannot believe that they are saved. They will reach down the life of some holy man who had mastered his passions by long years of mortification, who had come to live near to God, and whose life was the heavenly life on earth, and they will mentally vow, “I must be just like this man,” say they, “or else I cannot believe in Jesus.” They say, in fact, to the Heavenly Physician, “I am sick and ready to die, but, Good Physician, thou must make me as strong as Samson at once and on the spot, or else I will not receive thy medicine,” just as if the perfect spiritual cure of the soul were not a lifelong work of grace; they expect to be made perfect in an instant, or they will not trust the ever faithful Saviour. They look for the mature fruits of autumn in the early spring, and or ever they bear even so much as a bud or blossom, they must have the full ripe fruit, or else they will not believe. Well, this is marvellous, and truly, if there be anything wonderful on earth beside the mercy of God, it is the perversity of man, and the strange way in which unbelief will dare impudently to set up one demand alter another as an excuse for rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ.

     We have met this mischief at other times in a somewhat indescribable shape. “Sir,” says the young convert, “you tell me that if I simply put my trust in Jesus I shall be saved; but is not salvation a great mystery?” Our reply must honestly be, “No doubt it is.” Well, then, they determine to wait until they are the subjects of some singular feeling, some mysterious phenomenon within themselves. It is not to be denied that the work of grace by the Holy Ghost in the soul is the highest of all mysteries, but it is never also to be forgotten that it is one of the grandest of all simplicities. The mysteries of the church of Rome are mock mysteries rendered dark by the veil which she casts over truth; by her incantations, her paraphernalia, her performances, and her use of a strange tongue, that which is simple is darkened into a mimic mystery; for what is really in it is a plain lie for thoughtful men to laugh at. This is a kind of mystery of which the gospel knows nothing. The mysteries of regeneration are not artificial, but natural. Now all natural mysteries in the world are from another point of view, clear simplicities. Light, we know what it is, we see it every day; it is the greatest of all mysteries, yet practically it is the commonest of all simplicities. When the sun scatters the darkness, there is no mystery about it; or when we light a candle, there is no need of wonder. Light is a wondrous mystery, yet to obtain it the least educated need not go to school. The electric telegraph is practically, as a matter of every day use, so simplified that a lad may officiate at the instrument, and yet it remains and ever will remain a mystery. Understand that such is the mystery of regeneration. It is so mysterious that no one can explain it, but it is so simple that everyone that believeth in Christ has experienced it already; it is so mysterious that if the most learned tomes were composed to define it, all the writers in the world might fail in the definition, but it is such a simplicity that whosoever believeth in Jesus Christ is born of God. There is nothing mysterious about it, I was about to say, in the artificial meaning of that word “mystery.” The only mystery lies in the operation of the Holy Ghost whose coming and going we cannot comprehend. If thou believest, thou hast felt the mystery. If thou trustest Jesus, thou possessest mystery. All that is meant in regeneration, all that is wrapt up in the work of the Holy Ghost actually belongs to every soul that hath believed in Jesus Christ and in him only. But I know what it is, you will go to Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, but ye will not come to the blood of Christ and wash and be clean; ye will say, “I thought he would surely come and strike his hand over the place, and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and recover the leper,” but you cannot accept the simple word, “Believe and live,” so grand in its simplicity. The most of men reject the gospel for that very reason of its simplicity. Signs and wonders they will still demand, something artifically mysterious their soul still craveth after, but the naked grandeur of the sublime mystery of faith they cannot perceive. Their folly is clear enough to all men that have eyes.

     I have just described the character, and if any have felt themselves portrayed this morning, I hope they will prepare their hearts for what will follow, and be willing to receive my Master’s word.

     II. I shall now, secondly, SHOW THE FOLLY OF SUCH CONDUCT. My dear friend, I get you by the hand and look you in the face, anxiously desiring, as I do, that you may be saved this very morning. You are seeking a sign, one of these which I have described, or some other. You seek what is quite unnecessary. What do you want a sign for? You want, you say, a token of God’s love. What token of God’s love to you can ever be wanted, now that he has given his only-begotten Son, first to live on earth, and then to die in pains extreme, the just for the unjust, “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”? I blush for you, that you should ask any token of God’s love while Jesus Christ is before you, for herein is such love as nothing else can ever equal. What do you want a sign for? Why, to show, you say, that there is mercy for you. How do you need that? The very fact that you are alive shows how merciful God is! Had he been unmerciful, he would long ago have cut you down, for what are you but a cumberer of the ground, with your heart full of evil devices at this very moment, at enmity against him? I know you are so, or otherwise you would not be so hard to lead to faith, yet are you spared by his mercy. Is not that proof enough? And, moreover, the gospel is preached to you. You are told that “he that believeth and is baptised shall be saved.” He must be a good God who lets you hear such a gospel, and who bids me plead with you, as though Christ pleaded with you, that you would lay hold of him. Why, the gospel itself is the greatest of signs and wonder. What want you more that that? “Oh,” you say, “can the gospel save me?” My dear friend, you do not want any sign to prove that, you have your own relatives, your own sons and daughters who have been saved. You are a witness to what grace has done for them; what more evidence can you require? Remember the dying bed of your sainted mother, recollect the joyous departure of your brother, or your converted child. Evidently grace did wonders for them. What more do you want to convince you? Mark you, if you did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, if you did not believe that his blood could cleanse from sin, I might talk somewhat differently to you; but you do believe all this, and I say, in the name of all that is reasonable, what makes you ask for any greater sign than the signs which God has already given you? You are seeking for altogether unnecessary things.

     You are also asking for useless signs. What evidence could there be now, for instance, in mere dejection of spirit? You want to feel miserable you say, what evidence would that be of your salvation? It seems to me that you are like a man who should say that he would catch hold of a rope if he could sink so many fathoms deeper in the ocean, or that he would avail himself of a dispensary if his disease were so much worse. How strange that a rational man should talk thus! Despair is no help to faith. Sinful doubts cannot assist you to Christ; they may most effectually keep you from him.  

“Why those fears, poor trembling sinner;
Why those anxious, gloomy fears?
Doubts and fears can never save thee,
Life is never won by tears;
’Tis believing, Which the soul to Christ endears.
Tears, though flowing like a river,
Never can one sin efface;
Jesus’ tears would not avail thee—
Blood alone can meet thy case;
Fly to Jesus! Life is found in his embrace.”

     “Oh,” but you say, “I have desired to feel ecstatic joy;” but if you did, how could that help you to believe in Christ? Thy joy might be no more than worldlings feel when their wealth increases, it might spring of mere excitement, it might all be based upon a lie, and thy joy might be thy damnation. O man, Christ is worthy of confidence, but thy joys and thy sorrows are not worthy of confidence. They may be good or they may be bad, they may be hopeful or they may be delusive. Wherefore lookest thou at them, or seekest thou another foundation than Cod has laid? Thy feelings are fickle things. Believe thou and live.

     Are you not also seeking most unreasonable things? To ask a sign from Cod when he pledges his word seems to me to be out of all reason. You are a beggar, remember, and we have an old proverb that beggars must not be choosers; above all, how dare a beggar demand a sign before he will receive an alms? I am walking in the street, and am accosted by a hungry man, and if I offer him a loaf of bread, is he to refuse to take it unless I will fly in the air or help him to turn a stone into bread? “Let the man starve, sir,” you will say, “if he be so unreasonable as to demand a sign.” And yet that is just like you, you will not take the mercy which the gospel freely offers you, which God even commands you to accept— you will not take it unless some astonishing sign or wonder shall be wrought in you.

     Let your folly appear still further when I remind you that you are asking for unpromised signs. God has promised that everyone that believeth in Jesus Christ shall live; he has promised to hear prayer; but he has never promised to give any one of you a sign or a wonder; and yet you will ask him to give you a sign which he has never promised, and dare not ask him to give you eternal life which he has promised. Folly indeed!

     Some of you are seeking for injurious signs. That depression of spirit which some think would be such an encouragement to them, why it is even sinful; and how should I ask a sinful thing of God? To be distracted in my mind, to be so depressed and melancholy as to make myself and all my household miserable— is that a good thing? It is a great sin against God; and am I to ask God to give me this sign in order to help me to believe? Thoughts of suicide! Why, my brethren, they are awful, they are not to be allowed; there is murder in them; he that even thinks of them hath committed murder already in his heart; and are these terrible, these devilish things, to be helps to you to believe? Why, they would just drive you into hell, how can they help you to heaven? You are asking for that which would be your ruin. You ask a scorpion, you ask a stone, you ask a serpent, and then you think that after having all these evil things you would be more fit to receive the bread of the divine blessing. God will deny you, I trust, what you so foolishly ask for. Oh, be content to be led in a gentler way; be willing to be blown to Christ by the soft south wind— ask not for tempests. Be satisfied to be drawn by the cords of love, and by the bands of a man — demand not whips and chains. Enquire not for the thunders and lightnings of Sinai; be satisfied with the turtle-notes of Calvary.

“Hark! the voice of Jesus calling,
‘Come, thou laden, come to me;
I have rest and peace to offer,
Rest, poor labouring one, for thee;
Take salvation,
Take it now, and happy be.’
Life is found alone in Jesus,
Only there ’tis offered thee—
Offer’d without price or money,
’Tis the gift of God sent free;
Take salvation,
Take it now, and happy be.”

     Remember, my dear hearers, that some of you who are not believing are seeking signs which others have never had. To give you an instance or two. There stood the prodigal son feeding the swine, so hungry that he would fain have filled his belly with the husks; the thought crossed his mind, “I will arise, and go unto my father.” What sign had he? He sets off to seek his father’s face. What sign had he, I say? There does not appear to have been even an invitation sent, but he sought his father and he found forgiveness. Take another case. Christ has likened seeking souls to the widow who sought help of the unjust judge. She cried to him, she continued to cry to him, until she gained her suit; but what sign had she? If any sign, it was all negative, all from the opposite quarter, yet on she went. Look at the Canaanitish woman. She desired that her daughter might be healed. What sign had she? Christ said, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to dogs.” Instead of a sign to help her it was a hard word to discourage her, but yet she won her suit. And why not you, my hearers, why not you? The poor woman who touched the hem of Christ’s garment in the press, what sign had she of his willingness to help her? It was her own earnest, intense desire, and her faith in Jesus that made her touch the hem out of which the virtue came. Wait not then for signs to be given to you when they have not been given to others, but do as others have done, and obtain the like blessing.

     III. I shall now want a few minutes more, and your very serious attention, while I now LAY BARE YOUR SINS, your grievous sins.

     My dear hearers, in the first place, you make God a liar. Is not this the testimony of the Holy Ghost, “He that believeth not hath made God a liar”? How do we treat Mars? If they tell us a thing, we say. “I am doubtful of it;” we want more evidence. Now, I feel persuaded that many of you respect even me so well that if I made a statement you would accept it without any further evidence; but here is the everlasting God, who declares that whosoever trusts his Son shall be saved, and you practically give him the lie; for if you believed what he testifies, since you want to be saved, you would surely trust his Son; but you practically say, “We do not believe it, we do not believe it; we want more evidence, we want a sign and a wonder. You make God a liar.

     In the next place, you insult God's sovereignty. He has a right to give signs or not, as he wills, but you do, as it were, say, “Thou shalt give me a sign or else I will be damned. I will not have thy mercy if I cannot have it in my own way; great God, I will not be saved unless I can feel as I want to feel. I have a whim in my mind as to how the work of grace shall be wrought, and if it begin not as I think best, I will sooner make my bed in hell than accept thy Son.” Is the preacher too hard with you? Ah, it is love that makes me hard! In truth, it is you who are hard with God, and hard with your own souls. O fling away this accursed pride of yours, and kiss his silver sceptre, and say, “Lord, save me as thou wilt. I believe, help thou my unbelief.”

     I must tell you what is more, you are acting the part of an idolater. What does an idolater do? He says, “I cannot believe in an unseen God; I must have a golden calf or an image, that I can see with my eyes and touch with my hand.” You say just the same. You cannot relieve God’s naked word, you demand something you can feel, something you can see. Sheer idolatry. Do you not see it? You make your own feelings and emotions, or strange impressions, to be more worthy of trust than even God himself: you make them idols, and put them into God’s place. You, so far as you can, undeify the Deity. O tremble at such a crime as this!

     Do you not see, moreover, that you crucify the Saviour? Those who nailed his hands to the tree were not greater sinners, even if they were so great, as you are who say to him, “Bleeding Saviour, I believe that thou hast died on the cross; I believe that thy blood could cleanse sin, but I cannot trust thee to do it; I have no confidence in thee; I cannot, will not trust thee. I trust my husband, but I cannot trust my Saviour; I trust my child, but I cannot trust my God; I trust my minister, but I cannot trust the Son of God exalted in the highest heavens.” Why, this is crucifying him— this is treating him as a dog only should be treated. I know not what can be worse than this. Nails in his hands are not more cruel than this mistrust of his deep love and his divine power. “Ah,” saith one, “I do not mean that; but I want to see the work of the Holy Ghost in my soul.” Ah, then, I have another charge to bring against you— you are wanting to trust in the work of the Holy Spirit, instead of trusting in the work of Jesus Christ. Now, there is no text in all the Bible which tells you to make the work of the Holy Ghost the foundation of our confidence. Nowhere is it set forth as the ground for a sinner’s reliance; it occupies quite another place. If you try to put the work of the Spirit where the work of Christ should be, you grieve the Holy Ghost; for the very last thing that ever the Holy Ghost would do would be to supplant the Lamb of God. It is his office and mission to glorify Christ; how, then, shall he supplant him? When you say, “I cannot trust the blood, I cannot trust the righteousness of Christ, I must have something from the Holy Ghost to trust to,” you do, as it were, try to make a clash between the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of Christ, and this grieves the Spirit to the last degree.

     IV. Ah, I have thought over this subject carefully, and I have tried to speak upon it earnestly, but I am conscious when I have done my best that you will go on in this folly, and continue still in this sin; yet I do pray the Holy Spirit that it may not so be, for now during the last few minutes I desire to SHOW YOU YOUR DANGER as I have shown you your folly and sin.

     My dear friends, you are in danger of death: you admit that, and now suppose you die in the state you are in. Why, you are almost saved; you are awakened, you are aroused, you have many good desires, but a man who is only almost saved will be altogether damned. There was a householder who almost bolted his door at night, but the thief came in; a prisoner was condemned to be hanged, and was almost pardoned, but he hung on the gallows; a ship was almost saved from shipwreck, but she went to the bottom with all hands on board; a fire was almost extinguished, but it consumed a city; a man almost decided remains to perish in the flames of hell. So is it with you; except you believe, all these things which you possess of good desire and emotion, shall be of no service to you at all, for “he that believeth not shall be damned.” Remember, friend, thou mayst be damned before the sun goes down to-day: the flames of hell may enclose thee ere the sun shall gild another morning with his light. O seek the Saviour now while the gospel message comes with fresh power on this Lord’s-day. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” for, “he that believeth, and is baptised shall be saved.”

“Soon that voice will cease its calling,
Now it speaks, and speaks to thee;
Sinner, heed the gracious message,
To the blood for refuge flee;
Take salvation,
Take it now, and happy be.”

     There is one other thing of which you are in danger, namely, that if you are spared for years to come, yet, through long procrastination your conscience may become seared as with a hot iron. If thou dost this day believe, whatever thou mayst have been, thy sins are all forgiven thee in a moment; if thou dost now look to Christ upon Calvary, and trust thy soul with him, thou shalt now live, for—

“There is life in a look at the crucified One,
There is life at this moment for thee.”

But if thou wilt look to thy good works, to thy preparations, to thy fears, to thy joys; if, indeed, thou dost look to anything but Christ, it may be the Holy Ghost will never strive with thee again, thy conscience will become hardened, and thou being given up to thine idols, wilt perish, utterly perish, under the sound of the gospel, perish with the light of the gospel shining on thine eyeballs, perish of the serpent-bite while the brazen serpent is lifted high, perish of thirst when the water of life runs rippling at thy foot, because thou art not content to stoop down and take it as God presents it to thee. O that thou wouldst this very day end these follies and these sins, believing in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

“Jesus, th’ eternal Son of God,
Whom seraphim obey,
The bosom of the Father leaves
And enters human clay.”



The First Cry from the Cross

By / Oct 24

THE FIRST CRY FROM THE CROSS.

 

“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” —
[Luke xxiii. 34.

 

OUR Lord was at that moment enduring the first pains of crucifixion; the executioners had just then driven the nails through his hands and feet. He must have been, moreover, greatly depressed, and brought into a condition of extreme weakness by the agony of the night in Gethsemane, and by the scourgings and cruel mockings which he had endured all through the morning, from Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, and the Prætorian guards. Yet neither the weakness of the past, nor the pain of the present, could prevent him from continuing in prayer. The Lamb of God was silent to men, but he was not silent to God. Dumb as a sheep before her shearers, he had not a word to say in his own defence to man, but he continues in his heart crying unto his Father, and no pain and no weakness can silence his holy supplications. Beloved, what an example our Lord herein presents to us! Let us continue in prayer so long as our heart beats; let no excess of suffering drive us away from the throne of grace, but rather let it drive us closer to it.

“Long as they live should Christians pray,
For only while they pray they live.”

To cease from prayer is to renounce the consolations which our case requires. Under all distractions of spirit, and overwhelmings of heart, great God, help us still to pray, and never from the mercy-seat may our footsteps be driven by despair. Our blessed Redeemer persevered in prayer even when the cruel iron rent his tender nerves, and blow after blow of the hammer jarred his whole frame with anguish; and this perseverance may be accounted for by the fact that he was so in the habit of prayer that he could not cease from it; he had acquired a mighty velocity of intercession which forbade him to pause. Those long nights upon the cold mountain side, those many days which had been spent in solitude, those perpetual ejaculations which he was wont to dart up to heaven, all these had formed in him a habit so powerful, that the severest torments could not stay its force. Yet it was more than habit. Our Lord was baptised in the spirit of prayer; he lived in it, it lived in him, it had come to be an element of his nature. He was like that precious spice, which, being bruised, doth not cease to give forth its perfume, but rather yieldeth it all the more abundantly because of the blows of the pestle, its fragrance being no outward and superficial quality, but an inward virtue essential to its nature, which the pounding in the mortar did but fetch from it, causing it to reveal its secret soul of sweetness. So Jesus prays, even as a bundle of myrrh gives forth its smell, or as birds sing because they cannot do otherwise. Prayer enwrapped his very soul as with a garment, and his heart went forth in such array. I repeat it, let this be our example— never, under any circumstances, however severe the trial, or depressing the difficulty, let us cease from prayer.

     Observe, further, that our Lord, in the prayer before us, remains in the vigour of faith as to his Sonship. The extreme trial to which he now submitted himself could not prevent his holding fast his Sonship. His prayer begins, “Father.” It was not without meaning that he taught us when we pray to say, “Our Father,” for our prevalence in prayer will much depend upon our confidence in our relationship to God. Under great losses and crosses, one is apt to think that God is not dealing with us as a father with a child, but rather as a severe judge with a condemned criminal; but the cry of Christ, when he is brought to an extremity which we shall never reach, betrays no faltering in the spirit of sonship. In Gethsemane, when the bloody sweat fell fast upon the ground, his bitterest cry commenced with, “My Father,” asking that if it were possible the cup of gall might pass from him; he pleaded with the Lord as his Father, even as he over and over again had called him on that dark and doleful night. Here, again, in this, the first of his seven expiring cries, it is “Father.” O that the Spirit that makes us cry, “Abba, Father,” may never cease his operations! May we never be brought into spiritual bondage by the suggestion, “If thou be the Son of God;” or if the tempter should so assail us, may we triumph as Jesus did in the hungry wilderness. May the Spirit which crieth, “Abba, Father,” repel each unbelieving fear. When we are chastened, as we must be (for what son is there whom his father chasteneth not?) may we be in loving subjection to the Father of our spirits, and live; but never may we become captives to the spirit of bondage, so as to doubt the love of our gracious Father, or our share in his adoption.

     More remarkable, however, is the fact that our Lord’s prayer to his Father was not for himself. He continued on the cross to pray for himself, it is true, and his lamentable cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” shows the personality of his prayer; but the first of the seven great cries on the cross has scarcely even an indirect reference to himself. It is, “Father, forgive them.” The petition is altogether for others, and though there is an allusion to the cruelties which they were exercising upon himself, yet it is remote; and you will observe, he does not say, “I forgive them”— that is taken for granted— he seems to lose sight of the fact that they were doing any wrong to himself, it is the wrong which they were doing to the Father that is on his mind, the insult which they are paying to the Father, in the person of the Son; he thinks not of himself at all. The cry, “Father, forgive them,” is altogether unselfish. He himself is, in the prayer, as though he were not; so complete is his self-annihilation, that he loses sight of himself and his woes. My brethren, if there had ever been a time in the life of the Son of man when he might have rigidly confined his prayer to himself, without any one cavilling thereat, surely it was when he was beginning his death throes. We could not marvel, if any man here were fastened to the stake, or fixed to a cross, if his first, and even his last and all his prayers, were for support under so arduous a trial. But see, the Lord Jesus began his prayer by pleading for others. See ye not what a great heart is here revealed! What a soul of compassion was in the Crucified! How Godlike, how divine! Was there ever such a one before him, who, even in the very pangs of death, offers as his first prayer an intercession for others? Let this unselfish spirit be in you also, my brethren. Look not every man upon his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Love your neighbours as yourselves, and as Christ has set before you this paragon of unselfishness, seek to follow him, treading in his steps.

      There is, however, a crowning jewel in this diadem of glorious love. The Sun of Righteousness sets upon Calvary in a wondrous splendour; but amongst the bright colours which glorify his departure, there is this one— the prayer was not alone for others, but it was for his cruellest enemies. His enemies, did I say, there is more than that to be considered. It was not a prayer for enemies who had done him an ill deed years before, but for those who were there and then murdering him. Not in cold blood did the Saviour pray, after he had forgotten the injury, and could the more easily forgive it, but while the first red drops of blood were spurting on the hands which drove the nails; while yet the hammer was bestained with crimson gore, his blessed mouth poured out the fresh warm prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I say, not that that prayer was confined to his immediate executioners. I believe that it was a far-reaching prayer, which included Scribes and Pharisees, Pilate and Herod, Jews and Gentiles— yea, the whole human race in a certain sense, since we were all concerned in that murder; but certainly the immediate persons, upon whom that prayer was poured like precious nard, were those who there and then were committing the brutal act of fastening him to the accursed tree. How sublime is this prayer if viewed in such a light! It stands alone upon a mount of solitary glory. No other had been prayed like it before. It is true, Abraham, and Moses, and the prophets had prayed for the wicked; but not for wicked men who had pierced their hands and feet. It is true, that Christians have since that day offered the same prayer, even as Stephen cried, “Lay not this sin to their charge;” and many a martyr has made his last words at the stake words of pitying intercession for his persecutors; but you know where they learnt this, let me ask you where did he learn it? Was not Jesus the divine original? He learnt it nowhere; it leaped up from his own Godlike nature. A compassion peculiar to himself dictated this originality of prayer; the inward royalty of his love suggested to him so memorable an intercession, which may serve us for a pattern, but of which no pattern had existed before. I feel as though I could better kneel before my Lord’s cross at this moment than stand in this pulpit to talk to you. I want to adore him; I worship him in heart for that prayer; if I knew nothing else of him but this one prayer, I must adore him, for that one matchless plea for mercy convinces me most overwhelmingly of the deity of him who offered it, and fills my heart with reverent affection.

     Thus have I introduced to you our Lord’s first vocal prayer upon the cross. I shall now, if we are helped by God’s Holy Spirit, make some use of it. First, we shall view it as illustrative of our Saviour's intercession; secondly, we shall regard the text as instructive of the church' s work; thirdly, we shall consider it as suggestive to the unconverted.

     I. First, my dear brethren, let us look at this very wonderful text as ILLUSTRATIVE OF OUR LORD’S INTERCESSION.

     He prayed for his enemies then, he is praying for his enemies now; the past on the cross was an earnest of the present on the throne. He is in a higher place, and in a nobler condition, but his occupation is the same; he continues still before the eternal throne to present pleas on the behalf of guilty men, crying, “Father, O forgive them.” All his intercession is in a measure like the intercession on Calvary, and Calvary’s cries may help us to guess the character of the whole of his intercession above.

     The first point in which we may see the character of his intercession is this— it is most gracious. Those for whom our Lord prayed, according to the text, did not deserve his prayer. They had done nothing which could call forth from him a benediction as a reward for their endeavours in his service; on the contrary, they were most undeserving persons, who had conspired to put him to death. They had crucified him, crucified him wantonly and malignantly; they were even then taking away his innocent life. His clients were persons who, so far from being meritorious, were utterly undeserving of a single good wish from the Saviour’s heart. They certainly never asked him to pray for them— it was the last thought in their minds to say, “Intercede for us, thou dying King! Offer petitions on our behalf, thou Son of God!” I will venture to believe the prayer itself, when they heard it, was either disregarded, and passed over with contemptuous indifference, or perhaps it was caught at as a theme for jest. I admit that it seems to be too severe upon humanity to suppose it possible that such a prayer could have been the theme for laughter, and yet there were other things enacted around the cross which were quite as brutal, and I can imagine that this also might have happened. Yet our Saviour prayed for persons who did not deserve the prayer, but, on the contrary, merited a curse— persons who did not ask for the prayer, and even scoffed at it when they heard it. Even so in heaven there stands the great High Priest, who pleads for guilty men— for guilty men, my hearers. There are none on earth that deserve his intercession. He pleads for none on the supposition that they do deserve it. He stands there to plead as the just One on the behalf of the unjust. Not if any man be righteous, but “if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father.” Remember, too, that our great Intercessor pleads for such as never asked him to plead for them. His elect, while yet dead in trespasses and sins, are the objects of his compassionate intercessions, and while they even scoff at his gospel, his heart of love is entreating the favour of heaven on their behalf. See, then, beloved, if such be the truth, how sure you are to speed with God who earnestly ask the Lord Jesus Christ to plead for you. Some of you, with, many tears and much earnestness, have been beseeching the Saviour to be your advocate? Will he refuse you? Stands it to reason that he can? He pleads for those that reject his pleadings, much more for you who prize them beyond gold. Remember, my dear hearer, if there be nothing good in you, and if there be everything conceivable that is malignant and bad, yet none of these things can be any barrier to prevent Christ’s exercising the office of Intercessor for you. Even for you he will plead. Come, put your case into his hands; for you he will find pleas which you cannot discover for yourselves, and he will put the case to God for you as for his murderers, “Father, forgive them.”

      A second quality of his intercession is this— its careful spirit. You notice in the prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Our Saviour did, as it were, look his enemies through and through to find something in them that he could urge in their favour; but he could see nothing until his wisely affectionate eye lit upon their ignorance: “they know not what they do.” How carefully he surveyed the circumstances, and the characters of those for whom he importuned! Just so it is with him in heaven. Christ is no careless advocate for his people. He knows your precise condition at this moment, and the exact state of your heart with regard to the temptation through which you are passing; more than that, he foresees the temptation which is awaiting you, and in his intercession he takes note of the future event which his prescient eye beholds. “Satan hath desired to have thee, that he may sift thee as wheat; but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.” Oh, the condescending tenderness of our great High Priest! He knows us better than we know ourselves. He understands every secret grief and groaning. You need not trouble yourself about the wording of your prayer, he will put the wording right. And even the understanding as to the exact petition, if you should fail in it, he cannot, for as he knoweth what is the mind of God, so he knoweth what is your mind also. He can spy out some reason for merey in you which you cannot detect in yourselves, and when it is so dark and cloudy with your soul that you cannot discern a foothold for a plea that you may urge with heaven, the Lord Jesus has the pleas ready framed, and petitions ready drawn up, and he can present them acceptable before the mercy-seat. His intercession, then, you will observe is very gracious, and in the next place it is very thoughtful.

     We must next note its earnestness. No one doubts who reads these words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” that they were heaven-piercing in their fervour. Brethren, you are certain, even without a thought, that Christ was terribly in earnest in that prayer. But there is an argument to prove that. Earnest people are usually witty, and quick of understanding, to discover anything which may serve their turn. If you are pleading for life, and an argument for your being spared be asked of you, I will warrant you that you will think of one when no one else might. Now, Jesus was so in earnest for the salvation of his enemies, that he struck upon an argument for mercy which a less anxious spirit would not have thought of: “They know not what they do.” Why, sirs, that was in strictest justice but a scant reason for mercy; and indeed, ignorance, if it be wilful, does not extenuate sin, and yet the ignorance of many who surrounded the cross was a wilful ignorance. They might have known that he was the Lord of glory. Was not Moses plain enough? Had not Esaias been very bold in his speech? Were not the signs and tokens such that one might as well doubt which is the sun in the firmament as the claims of Jesus to be the Messias? Yet, for all that, the Saviour, with marvellous earnestness and consequent dexterity, turns what might not have been a plea into a plea, and puts it thus: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Oh, how mighty are his pleas in heaven, then, in their earnestness! Do not suppose that he is less quick of understanding there, or less intense in the vehemence of his entreaties. No, my brethren, the heart of Christ still labours with the eternal God. He is no slumbering intercessor, but, for Zion’s sake, he doth not hold his peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake, he doth not cease, nor will he, till her righteousness go forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burneth.

     It is interesting to note, in the fourth place, that the prayer here offered helps us to judge of his intercession in heaven as to its continuance, perseverance, and perpetuity. As I remarked before, if our Saviour might have paused from intercessory prayer, it was surely when they fastened him to the tree; when they were guilty of direct acts of deadly violence to his divine person, he might then have ceased to present petitions on their behalf. But sin cannot tie the tongue of our interceding Friend. Oh, what comfort is here! You have sinned, believer, you have grieved his Spirit, but you have not stopped that potent tongue which pleads for you. You have been unfruitful, perhaps, my brother, and like the barren tree, you deserve to be cut down; but your want of fruitfulness has not withdrawn the Intercessor from his place. He interposes at this moment, crying, “Spare it yet another year.” Sinner, you have provoked God by long rejecting his mercy and going from bad to worse, but neither blasphemy nor unrighteousness, nor infidelity, shall stay the Christ of God from urging the suit of the very chief of sinners. He lives, and while he lives he pleads; and while there is a sinner upon earth to be saved, there shall be an intercessor in heaven to plead for him. These are but fragments of thought, but they will help you, I hope, to realise the intercession of your great High Priest.

     Think yet again, this prayer of our Lord on earth is like his prayer in heaven, because of its wisdom. He seeks the best thing, and that which his clients most need, “Father, forgive them.” That was the great point in hand; they wanted most of all there and then forgiveness from God. He does not say, “Father, enlighten them, for they know not what they do,” for mere enlightenment would but have created torture of conscience and hastened on their hell; but he crieth, “Father, forgive;” and while he used his voice, the precious drops of blood which were then distilling from the nail wounds were pleading too, and God heard, and doubtless did forgive. The first mercy which is needful to guilty sinners is forgiven sin. Christ wisely prays for the boon most wanted. It is so in heaven; he pleads wisely and prudently. Let him alone, he knows what to ask for at the divine hand. Go you to the mercy-seat, and pour out your desires as best you can, but when you have done so always put it thus, “O my Lord Jesus, answer no desire of mine if it be not according to thy judgment; and if in aught that I have asked I have failed to seek for what I want, amend my pleading, for thou art infinitely wiser than I.” Oh, it is sweet to have a friend at court to perfect our petitions for us before they come unto the great King. I believe that there is never presented to God anything but a perfect prayer now; I mean, that before the great Father of us all, no prayer of his people ever comes up imperfect; there is nothing left out, and there is nothing to be erased; and this, not because their prayers were originally perfect in themselves, but because the Mediator makes them perfect through his infinite wisdom, and they come up before the mercy-seat moulded according to the mind of God himself, and he is sure to grant such prayers.

     Once more, this memorable prayer of our crucified Lord was like to his universal intercession in the matter of its prevalence. Those for whom he prayed were many of them forgiven. Do you remember that he said to his disciples when he bade them preach, “beginning at Jerusalem,” and on that day when Peter stood up with the eleven, and charged the people that with wicked hands they had crucified and slain the Saviour, three thousand of these persons who were thus justly accused of his crucifixion became believers in him, and were baptised in his name. That was an answer to Jesus' prayer. The priests were at the bottom of our Lord’s murder, they were the most guilty; but it is said, “a great company also of the priests believed.” Here was another answer to the prayer. Since all men had their share representatively, Gentiles as well as Jews, in the death of Jesus, the gospel was soon preached to the Jews, and within a short time it was preached to the Gentiles also. Was not this prayer, “Father, forgive them,” like a stone cast into a lake, forming at first a narrow circle, and then a wider ring, and soon a larger sphere, until the whole lake is covered with circling waves? Such a prayer as this, cast into the whole world, first created a little ring of Jewish converts and of priests, and then a wider circle of such as were beneath the Homan sway; and to-day its circumference is wide as the globe itself, so that tens of thousands are saved through the prevalence of this one intercession “Father, forgive them.” It is certainly so with him in heaven, he never pleads in vain. With bleeding hands, he yet won the day; with feet fastened to the wood, he was yet victorious; forsaken of God and despised of the people, he was yet triumphant in his pleas; how much more so now the tiara is about his brow, his hand grasps the universal sceptre, and his feet are shod with silver sandals, and he is crowned King of kings, and Lord of lords! If tears and cries out of weakness were omnipotent, even more mighty if possible must be that sacred authority which as the risen Priest he claims when he stands before the Father’s throne to mention the covenant which the Father made with him. O ye trembling believers, trust him with your concerns! Come hither, ye guilty, and ask him to plead for you. O you that cannot pray, come, ask him to intercede for you. Broken hearts and weary heads, and disconsolate bosoms, come ye to him who into the golden censer will put his merits, and then place your prayers with them, so that they shall come up as the smoke of perfume, even as a fragrant cloud into the nostrils of the Lord God of hosts, who will smell a sweet savour, and accept you and your prayers in the Beloved. We have now opened up more than enough sea room for your meditations at home this afternoon, and, therefore we leave this first point. We have had an illustration in the prayer of Christ on the cross of what his prayers always are in heaven.

      II. Secondly, the text is INSTRUCTIVE OF THE CHURCH S WORK.

     As Christ was, so his church is to be in this world. Christ came into this world not to be ministered unto, but to minister, not to be honoured, but to save others. His church, when she understands her work, will perceive that she is not here to gather to herself wealth or honour, or to seek any temporal aggrandisement and position; she is here unselfishly to live, and if need be, unselfishly to die for the deliverance of the lost sheep, the salvation of lost men. Brethren, Christ’s prayer on the cross I told you was altogether an unselfish one. He does not remember himself in it. Such ought to be the church’s life-prayer, the church’s active interposition on the behalf of sinners. She ought to live never for her ministers or for herself, but ever for the lost sons of men. Imagine you that churches are formed to maintain ministers? Do you conceive that the church exists in this land merely that so much salary may be given to bishops, and deans, and prebends, and curates, and I know not what? My brethren, it were well if the whole thing were abolished if that were its only aim. The aim of the church is not to provide out-door relief for the younger sons of the nobility; when they have not brains enough to win anyhow else their livelihood, they are stuck into family livings. Churches are not made that men of ready speech may stand up on Sundays and talk, and so win daily bread from their admirers. Nay, there is another end and aim from this. These places of worship are not built that you may sit here comfortably, and hear something that shall make you pass away your Sundays with pleasure. A church in London which does not exist to do good in the slums, and dens, and kennels of the city, is a church that has no reason to justify its longer existing. A church that does not exist to reclaim heathenism, to fight with evil, to destroy error, to put down falsehood, a church that does not exist to take the side of the poor, to denounce injustice and to holdup righteousness, is a church that has no right to be. Not for thyself, O church, dost thou exist, any more than Christ existed for himself. His glory was that he laid aside his glory, and the glory of the church is when she lays aside her respectability and her dignity, and counts it to be her glory to gather together the outcasts, and her highest honour to seek amid the foulest mire the priceless jewels for which Jesus shed his blood. To rescue souls from hell and lead to God, to hope, to heaven, this is her heavenly occupation. O that the church would always feel this! Let her have her bishops and her preachers, and let them be supported, and let everything be done for Christs sake decently and in order, but let the end be looked to, namely, the conversion of the wandering, the teaching of the ignorant, the help of the poor, the maintenance of the right, the putting down of the wrong, and the upholding at all hazards of the crown and kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      Now the prayer of Christ had a great spirituality of aim. You notice that nothing is sought for these people but that which concerns their souls, “Father, forgive them.” And I believe the church will do well when she recollects that she wrestles not with flesh and blood, nor with principalities and powers, but with spiritual wickedness, and that what she has to dispense is not the law and order by which magistrates may be upheld, or tyrannies pulled down, but the spiritual government by which hearts are conquered to Christ, and judgments are brought into subjection to his truth. I believe that the more the church of God strains after, before God, the forgiveness of sinners, and the more she seeks in her life prayer to teach sinners what sin is, and what the blood of Christ is, and what the hell that must follow if sin be not washed out, and what the heaven is which will be ensured to all those who are cleansed from sin, the more she keeps to this the better. Press forward as one man, my brethren, to secure the root of the matter in the forgiveness of sinners. As to all the evils that afflict humanity, by all means take your share in battling with them; let temperance be maintained, let education be supported; let reforms, political and ecclesiastical, be pushed forward as far as you have the time and effort to spare, but the first business of every Christian man and woman is with the hearts and consciences of men as they stand before the everlasting God. O let nothing turn you aside from your divine errand of mercy to undying souls. This is your one business. Tell to sinners that sin will damn them, that Christ alone can take away sin, and make this the one passion of your souls, “Father, forgive them, forgive them! Let them know how to be forgiven. Let them be actually forgiven, and let me never rest except as I am the means of bringing sinners to be forgiven, even the guiltiest of them.”

     Our Saviour’s prayer teaches the church that while her spirit should be unselfish, and her aim should be spiritual, the range of her mission is to be unlimited. Christ prayed for the wicked, what if I say the most wicked of the wicked, that ribald crew that had surrounded his cross! He prayed for the ignorant. Doth he not say, “They know not what they do”? He prayed for his persecutors; the very persons who were most at enmity with him, lay nearest to his heart. Church of God, your mission is not to the respectable few who will gather about your ministers to listen respectfully to their words; your mission is not to the elite and the eclectic, the intelligent who will criticise your words and pass judgment upon every syllable of your teaching; your mission is not to those who treat you kindly, generously, affectionately, not to these I mean alone, though certainly to these as among the rest; but your great errand is to the harlot, to the thief, to the swearer and the drunkard, to the most depraved and debauched. If no one else cares for these, the church always must, and if there be any who are first in her prayers it should be these who alas! are generally last in our thoughts. The ignorant we ought diligently to consider. It is not enough for the preacher that he preaches so that those instructed from their youth up can understand him; he must think of those to whom the commonest phrases of theological truth are as meaningless as the jargon of an unknown tongue; he must preach so as to reach the meanest comprehension; and if the ignorant many come not to hear him, he must use such means as best he may to induce them, nay, compel them to hear the good news. The gospel is meant also for those who persecute religion; it aims its arrows of love against the hearts of its foes. If there be any whom we should first seek to bring to Jesus, it should be just these who are the farthest off and most opposed to the gospel of Christ. “Father, forgive them; if thou dost pardon none besides, yet be pleased to forgive them.”

     So, too, the church should be earnest as Christ was; and if she be so, she will be quick to notice any ground of hope in those she deals with, quick to observe any plea that she may use with God for their salvation.

     She must be hopeful too, and surely no church ever had a more hopeful sphere than the church of this present age. If ignorance be a plea with God, look on the heathen at this day—millions of them never heard Messiah’s name. Forgive them, great God, indeed they know not what they do. If ignorance be some ground for hope, there is hope enough in this great city of London, for have we not around us hundreds of thousands to whom the simplest truths of the gospel would be the greatest novelties? Brethren, it is sad to think that this country should still lie under such a pall of ignorance, but the sting of so dread a fact is blunted with hope when we read the Saviour’s prayer aright— it helps us to hope while we cry, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

     It is the church’s business to seek after the most fallen and the most ignorant, and to seek them perseveringly. She should never stay her hand from doing good. If the Lord be coming to morrow, it is no reason why you Christian people should subside into mere talkers and readers, meeting together for mutual comfort, and forgetting the myriads of perishing souls. If it be true that this world is going to pieces in a fortnight, and that Louis Napoleon is the Apocalyptic beast, or if it be not true, I care not a fig, it makes no difference to my duty, and does not change my service. Let my Lord come when he will, while I labour for him I am ready for his appearing. The business of the church is still to watch for the salvation of souls. If she stood gazing, as modern prophets would have her; if she gave up her mission to indulge in speculative interpretations, she might well be afraid of her Lord’s coming; but if she goes about her work, and with incessant toil searches out her Lord’s precious jewels, she shall not be ashamed when her Bridegroom cometh.

     My time has been much too short for so vast a subject as I have undertaken, but I wish I could speak words that were as loud as thunder, with a sense and earnestness as mighty as the lightning. I would fain excite every Christian here, and kindle in him a right idea of what his work is as a part of Christ’s church. My brethren, you must not live to yourselves; the accumulation of money, the bringing up of your children, the building of houses, the earning of your daily bread, all this you may do; but there must be a greater object than this if you are to be Christlike, as you should be, since you are bought with Jesus’ blood. Begin to live for others, make it apparent unto all men that you are not yourselves the end-all and be-all of your own existence, but that you are spending and being spent, that through the good you do to men God may be glorified, and Christ may see in you his own image and be satisfied.

      III. Time fails me, but the last point was to be a word SUGGESTIVE TO THE UNCONVERTED.

     Listen attentively to these sentences. I will make them as terse and condensed as possible. Some of you here are not saved. Now, some of you have been very ignorant, and when you sinned you did not know what you did. You knew you were sinners, you knew that, but you did not know the far-reaching guilt of sin. You have not been attending the house of prayer long, you have not read your Bible, you have not Christian parents. Now you are beginning to be anxious about your souls. Remember your ignorance does not excuse you, or else Christ would not say, “Forgive them;” they must be forgiven, even those that know not what they do, hence they are individually guilty; but still that ignorance of yours gives you just a little gleam of hope. The times of your ignorance God winked at, but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent. Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance. The God whom you have ignorantly forgotten is willing to pardon and ready to forgive. The gospel is just this, trust Jesus Christ who died for the guilty, and you shall be saved. O may God help you to do so this very morning, and you will become new men and new women, a change will take place in you equal to a new birth; you will be new creatures in Christ Jesus.

     But ah! my friends, there are some here for whom even Christ himself could not pray this prayer, in the widest sense at any rate, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” for you have known what you did, and every sermon you hear, and especially every impression that is made upon your understanding and conscience by the gospel, adds to your responsibility, and takes away from you the excuse of not knowing what you do. Ah! sirs, you know that there is the world and Christ, and that you cannot have both. You know that there is sin and God. And that you cannot serve both. You know that there are the pleasures of evil and the pleasures of heaven, and that you cannot have both. Oh! in the light which God has given you, may his Spirit also come and help you to choose that which true wisdom would make you choose. Decide to day for God, for Christ, for heaven. The Lord decide you for his name’s sake. Amen.



The Coming Resurrection

By / Oct 17

The Coming Resurrection

 

“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”— John v. 28, 29.

 

THE doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is peculiarly a Christian belief. With natural reason, assisted by some little light lingering in tradition, or borrowed from the Jews, a few philosophers spelled out the immortality of the soul; but that the body should rise again, that there should be another life for this corporeal frame, was a hope which is brought to light by the revelation of Christ Jesus. Men could not have imagined so great a wonder, and they prove their powerlessness to have invented it, by the fact, that still, as at Athens, when they hear of it for the first time, they fall to mocking. “Can these dry bones live?” is still the unbeliever’s sneer. The doctrine of the resurrection is a lamp kindled by the hand which once was pierced. It is indeed in some respects the key-stone of the Christian arch. It is linked in our holy faith with the person of Jesus Christ, and is one of the brightest gems in his crown. What if I call it the signet on his finger, the seal by which he hath proven to a demonstration, that he hath the king’s authority, and hath come forth from God? The doctrine of resurrection ought to be preached much more commonly than it is as vital to the gospel. Listen to the apostle Paul as he describes the gospel which he preached, and by which true believers were saved: “I delivered unto you,” saith he, “first of all that which I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” From the resurrection of Christ, he argues that of all the dead, and insists upon it, that if Christ be not risen, both their faith and his preaching were vain. The doctrine of the resurrection in the early church was the main battle-axe and weapon of war of the preacher. Wherever the first missionaries went they made this prominent, that there would be a judgment, and that the dead should rise again to be judged by the Man Christ Jesus, according to their gospel. If we would honour Christ Jesus the risen one, we must give prominence to this truth.

     Moreover, the doctrine is continually blessed of God to arouse the minds of men. When we fancy that our actions are confined to this present life, we are careless of them, but when we discover that they are far-reaching, and that they cast influences for good or evil athwart an eternal destiny, then we regard them more seriously. What trumpet call can be more startling, what arousing voice can be more awakening than this news to the careless sinner that there is a life hereafter, that men must stand before the judgment-seat of Christ to receive for the things done in their bodies whether they be good or evil? Such doctrine I shall try to preach this morning for just such ends, for the honouring of Christ, for the awakening of the careless. God send us good speed and abundance of the desired results.

     We shall first expound the text, and then secondly, endeavour to learn its lessons.

     I. First we shall EXPOUND THE TEXT. NO exposition will be more instructive than a verbal one. We will take each word and weigh its meaning.

     Observe then, first, in the text there is a forbidding to marvel. “Marvel not at this.” Our Saviour had been speaking of two forms of life-giving which belonged to himself as the Son of man. The first was the power to raise the dead from their graves to a renewed natural life. He proved this on one or two occasions in his lifetime, at the gates of Nain, in the chamber of the daughter of Jairus, and again at the tomb of the almost rotting Lazarus. Jesus had power when he was on earth and has power still, if so he should will it, to speak to those who have departed, and bid them return again to this mortal state and reassume the joys and sorrows and duties of life. “As the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” After our Lord had dwelt for a moment upon that form of his life-giving prerogative, he passed on to a second display of it, and testified that the time was then present when his voice was heard to the quickening of the spiritually dead. The spiritually dead— the men who are dead to holiness and dead to faith, dead to God and dead to grace; the men that lie enshrouded in the grave clothes of evil habits, rotting in the coffins of their depravity, deep down in the graves of their transgressions- these men, when Jesus speaks in the gospel, are made to live; a spiritual life is given to them, their dead souls are raised out of their long and horrible sleep, and they are enlivened with the life of God. Now, both of these forms of quickening are worthy to be marvelled at. The resurrection of the natural man to natural life is a great wonder; who would not go a thousand miles to see such a thing performed? The raising up of the dead spirit to spiritual life, this is a greater wonder by far. But albeit that these are wonders, and things which it is legitimate to wonder at by way of admiration, yet there is a marvelling of mistrustful unbelief which is insulting to the Lord, and is, therefore, forbidden. Our gentle Master, as if to overwhelm the gainsayers who were astonished at his claims, addressed them to this effect: “You need not marvel at these two claims of mine; I claim another power of quickening, which will much more amaze you There will happen before long an event which to you, at any rate, will, be more marvellous still than anything which you have seen me do, or which I claim to perform. There will come a time when all the dead that are in their graves, multitudes upon multitudes in the valleys of death, shall all at once, at my voice, start up to life, and stand before my judgment throne.” To you, dear brethren in the faith, the quickening of the dead is not so great a marvel as the saving of dead souls; and, indeed, the raising of a corpse from the grave is by no means so great a marvel as the raising up of a dead soul from the sleep of sin. For in the raising up of a dead body there is no opposition to the fiat of Omnipotence. God speaketh, and it is done; but in the saving of a dead soul, the elements of death within are potent, and these resist the life-giving power of grace, so that regeneration is a victory as well as a creation, a complicated miracle, a glorious display both of grace and power. Nevertheless, to the few, and to all who are still ruled by the carnal mind, to the mere outward eye, the resurrection of the body seems a greater marvel for several reasons. Comparatively few in our Saviour’s day were quickened spiritually, but the resurrection shall consist of the quickening of all the dead bodies of men that have ever existed. Great marvel this, if you consider the hosts of the sons of Adam who have fattened the soil and glutted the worms, and yet shall everyone of them rise again. Souls were quickened in our Saviour’s day as in ours, one by one— here one and there one. Long years roll on , the whole history of manhood interposes before the regeneration of all the elect is accomplished ; but the resurrection of the dead will take place at once; at the sound of the archangel’s trump the righteous will rise to their glory; and after them the ungodly will rise to their shame; but the resurrection will not be a gradual uprising, a slow development, for all at once the myriads shall swarm on land and sea. Conceive then what a marvel this must be to a mere natural mind! A graveyard suddenly enlivened into an assembly; a battle-field, whereon tens of thousands had fallen suddenly, disgorging all its slain. The suddenness of it would amaze and startle the most carnal mind, and make the miracle appear great beyond comparison. Moreover, my brethren, the resurrection of the dead is a thing that such men as the Jews could appreciate, because it had to do with materialism, had to do with bodies. There was something to be seen, to be touched, to be handled, something which the unspiritual call a matter of fact. To you and to me the spiritual resurrection, if we be spiritual men, is the greater marvel, but to them the resurrection seemed to be the more wonderful because they could comprehend it, and form some notion of it in their unspiritual minds. So the Saviour tells them that if the two former things made them wonder, and made them doubt, what would this doctrine do, that all the dead should be raised again in a moment by the voice of Christ? Beloved, let us humbly learn one lesson from this. We are ourselves by nature very like the Jews; we wonder mistrustfully, we unbelievingly wonder when we see or hear of fresh displays of the greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ. So narrow are our hearts, that we cannot receive his glory in its fulness. Ah, we love him, and we trust him , and we believe him to be the fairest, and the greatest, and the best, and the mightiest, but if we had a fuller view of what he can do, the probabilities are that our amazement would be mingled with no small portion of doubt. As yet we have but slender ideas of our Lord’s glory and power. We hold the doctrine of his deity, we are orthodox enough, but we have not thoroughly realised the fact that he is Lord God Almighty. Does not it sometimes seem to you to be impossible that such-and-such a grievously ungodly man could be converted? But why impossible with him who can raise the dead? Does it not seem impossible that you could ever be supported through your present trouble? But how impossible with him who shall make the dry bones live, and cause the sepulchre to disgorge? It appears improbable at times that your corruptions should ever be cleansed away, and that you should be perfect and without spot. But why so? He who is able to present tens of thousands of bodies before his throne, who long have slept in the sepulchre, and mouldered into dust, what can he not accomplish within his people? O doubt no more, and let not even the greatest wonders of his love, his grace, his power, or his glory, cause you to marvel unbelievingly, but rather say as each new prodigy of his divine power rises before you, “I expected this of such a one as he is. I gathered that he could achieve this, for I understood that he was able to subdue all things to himself. I knew that he fashioned the worlds, and built the heavens, and guided the stars, and that by him all things consist, I am not therefore astounded though I behold the greatest marvels of his power.” The first words of the text, then, urge us to faith, and rebuke all unbelieving amazement.

     To the second sentence I now call your attention. The coming hour. “The hour cometh” saith Christ. I suppose he calls it an hour, to intimate how very near it is in his esteem, since we do not begin to look at the exact hour of an event when it is extremely remote. An event which will not occur for hundreds of years is at first looked for and noted by the year, and only when we are reasonably near it do men talk of the day of the month, and we are coming very near it when we look for the precise hour. Christ intimates to us, that whether we think so or not, in God’s thought the day of resurrection is very near; and though it may be a thousand years off even now, yet still to God it is but one day, and he would have us endeavour to think God’s thought about it, not reckon any time to be long, since if it be time at all it must be short, and will be so regarded by us when it is past, and the day has arrived. This is practical wisdom, to bring close up to us that which is inevitable, and to act towards it as though it were but to-morrow morning when the trump should sound, and we should be judged.

     “The hour is coming,” saith the Saviour. He here teaches us the certainty of that judgment. There are some events which may or may not be; emperors may live or die, their sons may ascend their throne, or their throne may be broken into dust and scattered to the winds of heaven; dynasties may stand or they may wither like autumn leaves; the greatest events which we suppose to be inevitable may never occur; another wheel, which has not yet been seen by us in the great machinery of Providence, may make events revolve in quite another fashion from what our puny wisdom would foretell; but the hour of resurrection is certain, whatever else may be contingent or doubtful. The hour cometh; it assuredly cometh. In the divine decree this is the day for which all other days were made; and if it were possible that any determination of the Almighty could be changed, yet this never shall be, for “he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” “The hour cometh.” Reflect, my brethren, that most solemn hour cometh every moment. Every second brings it nearer. While you have been sitting still in this house, you have been borne onwards towards that great event. As the pendulum of yonder clock continues unceasingly to beat like the heart of time, as morning dawn gives place to evening shade, and the seasons follow in constant cycle, we are drifted along the river of time nearer to the ocean of eternity. Borne as on the wings of some mighty angel who never pauses in his matchless flight, I onward journey towards the judgment bar of God. My brethren, by that selfsame flight are you also hurried on. Look to the resurrection, then, as a thing that ever cometh, silently drawing nearer and nearer hour by hour. Such contemplations will be of the utmost service to you.

     Our Lord’s words read as if the one hour of which he spake completely drove into the shade all other events; as if the hour, the one hour, the last hour, THE hour par excellence, the master hour, the royal hour, was of all hours the only hour that was coming that was worth mentioning as being inevitable and important. Like Aaron’s rod, the judgment hour swallows up every other hour. We hear of hours that have been big with the fate of nations, hours in which the welfare of millions trembled in the balances, hours in which for peace or war the die must be cast, hours that have been called crises of history; and we are apt to think that frequently periods such as this occur in the world’s history: but here is the culminating crisis of all, here is the iron hour of severity, the golden hour of truth, the clear sapphire hour of manifestations. In that august hour there shall be proclamation made of the impartial decisions of the Lord Christ with regard to all the souls and bodies of men. Oh, what an hour is this which cometh on apace! My dear brethren, now and then I covet the tongue of the eloquent, and now I do so that I might on such a theme as this fire your imaginations and inflame your hearts; but let me pray you assist me now for a moment, and since this hour cometh, try to think it very very near. Suppose it should come now while we are here assembled; suppose that even now the dead should rise, that in an instant this assembly should be melted into the infinitely greater one, and that no eye should be fixed upon the forgotten preacher, but all fixed upon the great descending Judge, sitting in majesty upon his great white throne, I pray you bethink yourselves as though the curtain were uplifted, at this moment; anticipate the sentence which will come forth to you from the throne of righteousness, consider as though at this precise moment it were pronounced upon you! Oh now, pray you examine yourselves as though the testing days were come, for such an examination will be to your souls’ benefit if you be saved, and they may be to your souls’ arousing if you be unconverted.

     But we must pass on. “Marvel not at this: the hour is coming when all that are in the graves.” Notice this very carefully, “all that are in the graves” by which term is meant, not only all whose bodies are actually in the grave at this time, but all who ever were buried even though they may have been disinterred, and their bones may have mingled with the elements, been scattered by the winds, dissolved in the waves, or merged into vegetable forms. All who have lived and died shall certainly rise again. All! Compute then the numberless number! Count ye now the countless! How many lived before the deluge? It has been believed, and I think accurately, that the inhabitants of this world, were more numerous at the time of the deluge than they probably are now, owing to the enormous length of human life; men’s numbers were not so terribly thinned by death as they are now. Think if you will from the times of the deluge onward, of all Adam’s progeny. From Tarshish to Sinim men covered the lands. Nineveh, Babylon, Chaldea, Persia, Greece, Rome, these were vast empires of men. The Parthians, Scythians, and Tartar hordes, who shall reckon up? As for those northern swarms of Goths and Huns and Vandals, these were continually streaming as from a teeming hive, in the middle ages, and Frank and Saxon and Celt multiplied in their measure. Yet these nations were but types of a numerous band of nations even more multitudinous. Think of Ethiopia and the whole continent of Africa; remember India and Japan, and the land of the setting sun; in all lands great tribes of men have come and have gone to rest in their sepulchres. What millions upon millions must lie buried in China and Burmah! What innumerable hosts are slumbering in the land of the pyramids and the mummy pits! Every one, both great and small, embalmed of old in Egypt, who shall compute the number? Hear ye then and believe— out of all who have ever lived of woman born, not one shall be left in the tomb; all, all shall rise. I may well say as the psalmist did of another matter, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” How hath God marked all these bodies, how hath he tracked the form of each corporeal frame? How shall Jesus Christ be able to raise all these? I know not, but he shall do it, for so he declareth and so hath God purposed. “All that are in their graves shall hear his voice.” All the righteous, all the wicked, all that were engulfed in the sea, all that slumber on the lap of earth; all the great ones, all the multitudes of the sons of toil; all the wise and all the foolish, all the beloved and all the despised: there shall not be one single individual omitted. My dear friend, it may be best for you to look at the question in a more personal light, you will not be forgotten; your separated spirit shall have its appointed place, and that body which once contained it shall have its watcher to guard it, till by the power of God it shall be restored to your spirit again, at the sounding of the last trump. You, my hearer, shall rise again. As surely as you sit here this morning, you shall stand before the once crucified Son of Man. It is not possible that you should be forgotten; you shall not be permitted to rot away into annihilation, to be left in the darkness of obscurity; you must, you shall rise, each and every one without a solitary exception. It is a wondrous truth, and yet we may not marvel at it so as to doubt it, though we may marvel at it and admire the Lord who shall bring it to pass.

     Pass on. “All that are in the grave shall hear his voice” Hear! Why, the ear has gone! A thousand years ago a man was buried, and his ear — there is not the slightest relic of it left— all has vanished; shall that ear ever hear? Yes, for he that made it hear at the first, wrought as great a wonder then as when he shall make it hear a second time. It needed a God to make the hearing ear of the newborn babe; it shall need no more to renew the hearing ear the second time. Yes, the ear so long lost in silence shall hear! And what shall be the sound that shall startle that newly awakened and fresh fashioned ear? It shall be the voice of the Son of God; the voice of Jesus Christ himself. Is it not wonderful that that same voice of Jesus is now sounding in this very place, and has been thousands of times, and there are men who have ears, who have yet never heard that voice; yet when that voice shall speak to men who have no ears, they shall hear it and rise to life. How deaf must those be who are more deaf than the dead! What is their guilt who have ears to hear, yet hear not! and when the voice of Christ sounds through the building again and again in the preaching of the gospel, they are no more moved by it than the slates which cover them from the rain. How dead, I say, must they be who are not moved by the word, which arouses even the dead in their graves who have lain therein these thousand years! Ah, my brethren, while this teaches us the stolidity of human nature and how depraved the heart is, it also reminds you who are careless that there is no escape for you; if you will not hear the voice of Jesus now, you must hear it then. You may thrust those fingers into your ears to-day, but there will be no doing that in the day of the last trump, you must hear then; O that you would hear now! You must hear the summons to judgment; God grant that you may hear the summons to mercy, and become obedient to it and live. “All that are in their graves shall hear his voice;” whoever they may have been, they shall become subject to the power of his omnipotent command, and appear before his sovereign judgment seat.

     Note the next words, “and shall come forth” That is to say, of course, that their bodies shall come out of the grave, out of the earth, or the water, or the air, or wherever else those bodies may be. But I think there is more than that intended by the words, “shall come forth.” It seems to imply manifestation, as though all the while men were here, and when in their graves they were hidden and concealed, but as the voice of God in the thunder discovereth the forests and maketh the hinds to calve, so the voice of God in resurrection shall discover the secrets of men, and make them to bring forth their truest self into the light, to be revealed to all. The hypocrite, masked villain as he is, is not discovered now, but when the voice of Christ soundeth he shall come forth in a sense that will be horrible to him, deprived of all the ornaments of his masquerade, the vizard of his profession torn away, he shall stand before men and angels with the leprosy upon his brow, an object of universal derision, abhorred of God and despised of men. Ah! dear hearers, are you ready to come forth even now? Would you be willing to have your hearts read out? Would you wear them on your sleeve for all to see? Is not there much about you that would not bear the light of the sun? How much more will it not bear the light of him whose eyes are as a flame of fire, seeing all and testing all by trial which cannot err! Your coming forth on that day will be not only a reappearance from amidst the shadows of the sepulchre, but a coming forth into the light of heaven’s truth which shall reveal you in meridian clearness.

     And then the text goes on to say that they shall come forth as those who have done good and those who have done evil. From which we must gather the next truth, that death makes no change in man’s character, and that after death we must not expect improvements to occur. He that is holy is holy still, and he that is filthy is filthy still. They were when they were put into the grave men who had done good, they rise as men who have done good; or they were, when they were interred, men who had done evil, they rise as those that have done evil. Expect, therefore, no place for repentance after this life, no opportunities for reformation, no further proclamations of mercy, or doors of hope. It is now or never with you, remember that.

     Note, again, that only two characters rise, for indeed there are only two characters who ever lived, and, therefore, two to bury and two to rise again— those who had done good and those who had done evil. Where were those of mingled character, whose conduct was neither good nor evil, or both? There were none such. You say, do not the good do evil? May not some who are evil still do good? I answer, he that doeth good is a man who, having believed in Jesus Christ, and received the new life, doeth good in his new nature, and with his new born spirit, with all the intensity of his heart. As for his sins and infirmities, into which by reason of his old nature he falleth, these being washed away by the precious blood of Jesus, are not mentioned in the day of account, and he rises up as a man who hath done good, his good remembered, but the evil washed away. As for the evil, of whom it is asserted that they may do good, we answer, so they may do good in the judgment of their fellow men, and as towards their fellow mortals, but good towards God from an evil heart cannot proceed. If the fountain be defiled, every stream must be polluted also. Good is a word that may be measured according to those who use it. The evil man’s good is good to you, his child, his wife, his friend, but he hath no care for God, no reverence, no esteem for the great Lawgiver. Therefore, that which may be good to you may be ill to God, because done for no right motive, even perhaps done with a wrong motive; so that the man is dishonouring God while he was helping his friend. God shall judge men by their works, but there shall be but two characters, the good and the evil; and this makes it solemn work for each man to know where he will be, and what has been the general tenor of his life, and what is a true verdict upon the whole of it. O sirs, there are some of you, who with all your excellences and moralities, have never done good as God measures good, for you have never thought of God to honour him, you have never even confessed that you had dishonoured him, in fact, you have remained proudly indifferent to God’s judgment of you as a sinner, and you have set yourself up as being all you should be. How shall it be possible, while you disbelieve your God, that you could do anything that can please him? Your whole life is evil in God’s sight— only evil. And as for you who fear his name, or trust you do, take heed unto your actions, I pray you, seeing that there are only those that have done good, and those that have done evil. Make it clear to your conscience, make it clear to the judgment of those who watch you (though this is of less importance), and make it clear before God, that your works are good, that your heart is right, because your outward conduct is conformed unto the law of God.

     I shall not keep you much longer in the exposition, except to notice that the mode of judging is remarkable. Those who search the Scriptures know that the mode of judging at the last day will be entirely according to works. “Will men be saved then for their works? no, by no means. Salvation is in every case the work and gift of grace. But the judgment will be guided by our works. It is due to those to be judged, that they should all be tried by the same rule. Now, no rule can be common to saints and sinners, except the rule of their moral conduct, and by this rule shall all men be judged. If God finds not in in thee, my friend, any holiness of life whatever, neither will he accept thee. “What,” saith one, “of the dying thief then?” There was the righteousness of faith in him, and it produced all the holy acts which circumstances allowed; the very moment he believed in Christ, he avowed Christ, and spoke for Christ, and that one act stood as evidence of his being a friend of God, while all his sins were washed away. May God grant you grace so to confess your sins, and believe in Jesus, that all your transgression may be forgiven you. There must be some evidence of your faith. Before the assembled host of men there shall be no evidence given of your faith fetched from your inward feelings, but the evidence shall be found in your outward actions. It will still be, “I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” Take heed, then, as to practical godliness, and abhor all preaching which would make sanctity of life to be a secondary thing. We are justified by faith, but not by a dead faith; the faith which justifies is that which produces holiness, and “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” See ye then the two classes into which men are divided, and the stern rule by which God shall judge them, and judge yourselves that ye be not condemned with the wicked.

     The different dooms of the two classes are mentioned in the text. One shall rise to the resurrection of life. This does not mean mere existence; they shall both exist, both exist for ever, but “life” means, when properly understood, happiness, power, activity, privilege, capacity, in fact, it is a term so comprehensive that I should need no small time to expound all it means. There is a death in life which the ungodly shall have, but ours shall be a life in life— a true life; not existence merely, but existence in energy, existence in honour, existence in peace, existence in blessedness, existence in perfection. This is the resurrection unto life. As for the ungodly, there is a resurrection to damnation, by which their bodies and souls shall come manifestly under the condemnation of God; to use our Saviour’s word, shall be damned. Oh, what a resurrection! and yet we cannot escape from it if we neglect the great salvation. If we could lay us down and sleep, and never wake again, oh, what a blessing it were for an ungodly man! if that grave could be the last of him, and like a dog he should never start again from slumber, what a blessing! But it is a blessing that is not yours, and never can be. Your souls must live, and your body must live. O fear him, I pray you, who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Yea, I say unto you, fear him.”

     II. Our time is almost spent, but I must occupy the remaining minutes in DRAWING LESSONS FROM THE TEXT.

     The first is the lesson of adoring reverence. If it be so, that all the dead shall rise at the voice of Christ, let us worship him. What a Saviour was he who bled upon the tree! How gloriously is he who was despised and rejected, now exalted! O brethren, if we could even get but to see the skirts of this truth, that he shall raise all the dead out of their graves, if we did but begin to perceive its grandeur of meaning, methinks we should fall at the Saviour’s feet as John did when he said, “I fell at his feet as dead.” Oh, what amazing power is thine, my Lord and Master! What homage must be due to thee! All hail, Immanuel! Thou hast the keys of death and of hell. My soul loves and adores thee, thou ever great enthroned Prince, the Wonderful, the Counsellor, King of kings, and Lord of lords.

     The next lesson is consolation for our wounded spirits concerning our departed friends. We never mourn with regard to the souls of the righteous, they are for ever with the Lord. The only mourning that we permit among Christians concerns the body, which is blighted like a withered flower. When we read at funerals that famous chapter in the epistle to the Corinthians, we find in it no comfort concerning the immortal spirit, for it is not required, but we find much consolation with regard to that which is “sown in dishonour,” but shall be “raised in glory.” Thy dead men shall live; that decaying dust shall live again. Weep not as though thou hadst cast thy treasure into the sea, where thou couldst never find it; thou hast only laid it by in a casket, whence thou shalt receive it again brighter than before. Thou shalt look again with thine own eyes into those eyes which have spoken love to thee so often, but which are now closed in sepulchral darkness. Thy child shall see thee yet again; thou shalt know thy child; the selfsame form shall rise. Thy departed friend shall come back to thee, and having loved his Lord as thou dost, thou shalt rejoice with him. in the land where they die no more. It is but a short parting, it will be an eternal meeting. For ever with the Lord, we shall also be for ever with each other. Let us comfort one another, then, with these words.

     The last lesson is that of self-examination. If we are to rise, some to rewards and some to punishments, what shall be ray position? “What shall be my position?” let each conscience ask. How do you feel, my hearers, in the prospect of rising again? Does the thought give you any gleam of joy? Does it not create a measure of alarm? If your heart trembles at the tidings, how will you bear it when the real fact is before you, and not the thought merely? What has your life been? If by that life you shall be judged, what has it been? What has been its prevailing principle up till now? Have you believed God? Do you live by faith upon the Son of God? I know you are imperfect, but are you struggling after holiness? Do you desire to honour God? This shall rule the judgment of your life; what was its end, and aim, and bent, and object? Imperfection there has been, but has there been sincerity? Has grace, divine grace, that washes sinners in the blood of Christ, proved itself to be in you by alienating you from the sins you loved, and leading you to the duties that you once neglected? Need I press these questions; I know they are irksome to those who cannot answer them with comfort. Yes, I must even again press them upon you. I beseech you, this morning, put yourselves into the crucible of self-examination, for from the refiner’s fire you shall not at the last be able to escape. Ah, if I can say, “Yes, my God, with ten thousand sins, yet since the day in which thy grace found me, I have sought to honour thee;” oh, happy, happy thought to know in that dread hour that the blood has cleansed me, and the righteousness of Christ has enwrapped me, and that I am safe! But if I am compelled to say “No, up to this moment I have not regarded God, my actions have had no respect to him, a sense of his majesty has never constrained me to perform a single act, and never withheld me from one solitary sin,” oh, then you are judged already! I pray you, tremble and flee to him who can purge you from all iniquity, and yet present you faultless before his Father’s presence with exceeding great joy.

     I will ask you another question: if you do not feel happy at the thought of yourself, are you quite peaceful concerning the raising of all others? Are you prepared to meet before God those whom you have sinned with among men? It is a question worthy of the sinner’s thought, of what must be the terrors of men and women who will have to meet the companions of their sins! Was not this at the bottom of Dives wishing Lazarus to be sent back to the world to warn his five brethren lest they should come into the place of torment? Was not he afraid to see them there, because their recriminations would increase his misery? It will be a horrible thing for a man who has been a debauched villain to rise again and confront his victims whom his lusts dragged down to hell! How will he quail as he hears them lay their damnation at his door, and curse him for his lasciviousness! “Oh, she is buried long ago,” say you, and you go gaily on in your mirth; but she will see you, and like a basilisk’s eyes shall be her eyes as they shall flash vengeance on you in the light of eternity, counting you to have been the devil that destroyed her. Let any man here who has sinned against his fellow, tremble; let any one here who has sent another down to hell, repent lest he perish now. O man, your sin is not dead and buried, and the sinner whom you joined hands with in iniquity shall rise to witness against you. The crime, the guilt, the punishment, and the guilty one, shall alike live again, and you shall live for ever in remorse to rue the day in which you thus transgressed.

     Another question, if it will be terrible to many to see the dead rise again, how will they endure to see him, the Judge himself, the Saviour? Of all men that ever lived, he is the one that you have need to be the most afraid of, because it is he whom this day you ought most to love, but whom you forget. How many times from this pulpit have I pleaded with you to yield yourselves to Jesus Christ, and how frequently have you given him a flat denial! It may be, some of you have not quite done that, but you have postponed your decision, and said, “When I have a more convenient season I will send for thee.” When he cometh, how will you answer him? Man, how will you answer him? How will you excuse yourselves? You would not have him as a Saviour, but you must have him as your Judge, to pronounce your sentence. You despised his grace, but you cannot escape his wrath. If you will but look to Jesus now, you shall find salvation in that glance, but in refusing so to do you heap up for yourself wrath when that terrible but inevitable glance shall be yours, of which the prophet says, “All the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” O spurn him not, then! Despise not the Crucified! I pray you trample not upon his blood, but come to him, that so, when you see him on his throne you may not be afraid.

     Beloved, I might have continued to ask more questions, but I shall close with these two. One of the best wavs by which to learn what will be our portion in the future, is to enquire what is our portion in the present. Have you life now, I mean spiritual life— the life that grieves for sin, the life that trusts a Saviour? If so, you shall certainly have the resurrection to life. On the other hand, have you condemnation now? for he that believeth not is condemned already. Are you an unbeliever? Then you are condemned now, you shall suffer the resurrection to damnation. How can it be otherwise? Seek, then, that you may possess the life of God now by faith, and you shall have it for ever in fruition. Escape from condemnation now, and you shall escape from damnation hereafter.

     God bless you all with the abundance of his salvation, for Christ’s sake. Amen.



A Summons to Battle

By / Oct 10

A SUMMONS TO BATTLE.

 

" The time when kings go forth to battle.”— 2 Samuel xi. 1.

 

THERE seems to have been in the olden times, among the petty sovereigns of the East, regular seasons for warfare; perhaps they marched forth in the spring, when the grass would afford food for their horses, or possibly in the autumn, when the troops could forage upon the standing crops. These sovereigns of small territories were little better than the captains of hordes of robbers, and their revenues were rather derived from plunder than from legitimate taxation. We may thank God that we live in a happier era, for the miseries of nations were then beyond imagination. Desolating as war now is, its evils are comparatively little compared with those days of perpetual plunder.

     There are times when kings go forth to battle now; they will be at their accursed trade when they think that their people will tolerate another oppressive tax, or when their credit is good enough for their bankers to make them another advance. Alas, the blood which has been poured forth to gratify the ambition of princes! Yet is it ever cause for thankfulness that the times when kings go forth to battle are not left altogether to their whim and caprice; there is one who reigneth in the highest heavens who suffereth not this plague to break forth among the sons of men, except in his wisdom he ordaineth that good shall come of it. The Lord holdeth back the dogs of war with a leash, and looseth them not except when his superior wisdom seeth it should be so.

     But I am not about to talk of kings. Very few of them are good enough to talk of on a Sunday, and the most of them are scarcely worth talking of at any time. I must transfer the text to some other and more practical use. There is a time in our hearts when the inner warfare rages with unusual violence. At certain seasons our corruptions break forth with extreme violence; and if for awhile they appear to have formed a truce With us, or to have lost their power, we suddenly find them full of vigour, fierce and terrible; and hard will be the struggle for us, by prayer and holy watchfulness, to keep ourselves from becoming slaves to our inward enemies. May we have increased grace given us in these trying seasons. I believe you have, most of you, found that there are seasons when kings go forth to battle in the matter of your doubts and fears. Depressions come upon you, you scarcely know why. They come without apparent cause, and they depart almost as unexpectedly. As John Bunyan says of the Slough of Despond, that at certain seasons it poureth forth its mire most horribly, so I have found it with regard to despondency and feebleness of faith. At certain times these tyrants make havoc in our souls.

     So is it with Satan. He doth not always tempt. Though always “going about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” he does not always roar, neither doth he every moment leap upon his prey; he is always ready to destroy, but does not always find the opportunity for attack. Yet are there times when he finds our flesh in a fit condition for his temptation, like dry tinder for his sparks, when he finds our souls at a distance from God, our faith at a low ebb, and our piety declining, and then will this grand enemy of our souls go forth to battle like a mighty Nimrod, seeking to lead us captive and utterly to destroy our faith. You know these times of war, my brethren, for you have passed through them. If they are not upon you just now, thank God, and accept the rest which his love affords you, but keep your sword out of its scabbard, for the fight may begin again at any hour. If you are passing through the conflict at this moment, be not afraid nor discouraged; it has been the lot of all God’s people to fight their way to heaven, and it must be yours. Think not that you shall be overcome, but rather cry with the prophet, “Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise.”

      Neither, however, are any of these things the topic upon which I am to speak this morning. I thought of using the text in reference to Christian activities. There are times when Christians, all of whom are kings unto God, should go forth to battle in a special and peculiar sense. So we will take the text and accommodate it to that end this morning, and may God send us now a soul-stirring word.

      I. THE TIME FOR THE KINGS TO GO FORTH TO BATTLE IS COME.

     The special time for Christian activities is just now. In some sense, nay, in the highest sense, believers ought to be always active. There should never be an idle day, or a wasted hour, or even a barren moment to a servant of God. We are bound as soon as we receive the new birth, to let that spiritual life develop itself in zeal for our Lord Jesus Christ, who has redeemed us by his blood; and never till we lay aside this body are we to cease from service, or imagine that we have a furlough from the camp of our King. Yet no man can always work with the same intense activity. I do not believe that God intended that any man should do so; rest is a necessity of feebleness. Look at nature. How active it is in the spring! how the buds leap into verdure! Observe how active all things are in summer! but nature begins to relax somewhat of its vigour as autumn bronzes the leaves of the forest, while in winter vegetation sleeps, and the sap instead of circulating rapidly through the tree, retires into the centre and slumbers for awhile. Yet who shall say that the months of winter are wasted? Nay, but during the winter months the vegetable world is gathering needed strength for another spring, and summer, and autumn. So it is with Christian men at times; they have their winters, when the sap is driven to the centre, when the spiritual life exercises itself rather about its own self than about anything outward, when the man’s care is rather about whether he himself is saved, whether his own spirit is in a flourishing state, than about the souls of others. Well, if the God of nature has so decreed it, so must it be. As with individuals, so with churches. I do not believe that any church can always maintain the very highest pitch of earnestness, so that every sermon shall run through the congregation like fire along the prairie. I cannot believe that any company of persons could bear the full force of a revival year after year, for surely the body would flag, however willing the spirit might be. Hence there will be alternating seasons, and every experienced and observing Christian must have noticed these times of rest, as it were, to the church, intermingled with her times when the singing of birds has come, and the fig tree putteth forth her green figs.

      I believe that just now we have come to a season suitable for special effort. Every Christian should go forth to battle when there is best hope of success. We should select wisely, as the kings did, the most suitable seasons for warfare. And first, this is a suitable season, because the people can be gathered for religious exercises. All through the summer months, bright for the world, it is usually dark for the church. In the country towns the multitude engaged in agricultural occupations cannot be expected to come out to week-night services; and prayer-meetings, Bible classes, and the like, generally flag, while the long days demand longer labour. I do not say it is right that these meetings should flag so much as they do, but the fact remains that during the summer season there generally is a flagging of religious interest in the villages and towns; and even amongst ourselves it is to some extent the same. During the long days, the man who has to earn his bread with the sweat of his brow, must work, and it is only when the evenings begin to draw in, and the winter months come, that the happier seasons in the church arrive, and the winter becomes our summer, as the summer had been our winter. Right on from this period of the year the church should shake herself and say, “Now our harvest time comes; now is the period for kings to go forth to battle. God has given us the opportunity now, and we must avail ourselves of it, lest ere another harvest time is past, and another spiritual summer time is ended, many may be where they can never be saved.”

     It must be a good time for holy activity just now, also, dear friends, because in addition to the possibilities of the seasons, it is certain that there is a willingness to hear the gospel. This house, as often as we enter it, gives us decided proof that the old gospel of Jesus Christ has not lost its power. I have heard, and I have read, and I also have believed the criticism, that the preacher who occupies this pulpit wields but slender eloquence, and possesses few of the graces of oratory. The power which holds these vast crowds together year after year, is the power that held them years ago, the simple gospel plainly spoken from an earnest heart. The people are not tired of the gospel, the people of London are not sick of the old preaching of the cross. If your ministers would lay aside their oratory—a plague upon it all—and if they would come back to speak in simple terms of the Christ that died, and tell men plainly the way of salvation, there is no reason why other houses should not be filled as well as this, for there is a hunger for the bread of life, and if men could bub hear the simple earnest gospel, they would press to the place to receive it. When once there is a willingness to hear, and we have the mark and sign of it here to-day, should not every Christian say within himself, “If men be willing to hear it, they shall not miss it because I am unwilling to tell it. If they are ready to receive, I will be ready to dispense; I will not cease to testify of the way of salvation to those who are anxious to listen to it”? I beseech you, therefore, because evidently there is a readiness in the fish to be taken in the net, to be not slack to cast the net by day and by night.

     Moreover, the time for kings to go forth to battle will be always when the king's troops are fit for battle; I mean, the time for spiritual work is when the worker is especially fit for it. When is that? Should it not be when he has been fed with spiritual meat? Should it not be when, through that spiritual meat, his faith has grown and his love has increased? If any Christian finds himself in a holy and a happy condition, if he sits under a ministry that is edifying to his own soul, should not that be above all others a time when he should say, “To ‘what purpose is this strength?’ For ‘what reason has God given me this spiritual meat to sustain my strength?’ For what indeed? Ought I to keep it for myself, to lay it by, or to spend it on my pride? No, it cannot be so. It must be given me that I may lay it out in my Master's cause, and for the salvation of perishing men.” Brethren, is it not so this day with many of you? Have you not heard the gospel with pleasure? Have you not rejoiced in your assured interest in the gospel? Are you not, at this present moment, in the enjoyment of holy confidence? Is not your heart glad within you at the very sound of Jesu’s name? Oh! now, if never before, now surely you should take your place in the ranks of the Lord of Hosts, and go forth to the fight. They were wont of old to excuse from the fight the young, the sick, the faint and worn, but they would not excuse the valiant men, and such as were strong in Israel; neither can I excuse my brethren and sisters to whom God has been especially gracious, but rather would I sound the trumpet in Zion and say, “It is to you, to you that the summons has come. Awake, arise, put on your strength, and go forth like kings to the battle.”

     Another season of especial work should be, when discerning Christian men feel the motions of the Spirit of God calling them to unusual service. “When thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, then thou shalt bestir thyself,” said God to David, and then David did bestir himself, and the Philistines were smitten. Do you not, some of you, hear the sound of the going in the tops of the mulberry trees? I think I have heard it. There have come to my soul lately whispers in the midst of pain and weariness which seemed to say, “Awake! O man of God, bestir thyself; thy fellow men are perishing; the land is covered with thick darkness; awake, reveal the light that is given thee; cease not to shine and burn according as the fire within thy heart dictates to thee!” Have no such angel-whispers come to you? I shall hail it as a sacred omen, if Sunday-school teachers here have been disturbed with thoughts about those who are in their classes still unconverted; if young men here have felt impulses within their spirits to break loose from worldly ties, and dedicate themselves to the Master’s honour; I shall count it to be one of the auspices of the coming victory, if there are among us matrons or maidens, fathers, or youths of younger years, who shall have felt in their spirits a divine throb of pity for the dying multitude, and an earnest compassion for the thousands that are going down into the pit. Surely there are some of us here who can bear witness and say, “Our state of heart has been to us a premonition that it is time for kings to go forth to battle.” The time to favour Zion, the set time has come; let her awake and arise, for God will go before her and give her the victory.

      One other mark of the time for kings to go forth to battle is surely when the Lord himself works. We are workers together with God. When we lift our hand to smite sin in his name, the arm omnipotent smites too. If we require anything to guide us as to periods of especial labour, surely it should be when the spirit of God puts forth especial force. Now there are in this house, at this very moment, hearts in which the Spirit of God has been working lately. We are not left without conversions. We have not so many as I could desire, but we have some. There are those convicted of sin among us, seeking rest and finding none; there are others who have but lately come to the foot of our dear Lord’s cross, and looked up and viewed the flowing of his precious blood, and have rested their hearts’ salvation alone in him. God is working, shall not we work? The presence of good men with us is encouraging, but oh, the presence of the God of good men should much more stimulate us. Mahomet in one of his first famous battles, stimulated his soldiers to the fight by declaring that he could hear the neighing of the horses of the angels as they rode to the conflict to win the victory for the faithful. We speak not so, but surely the horses of fire and the chariots of fire are round about the faithful servant of God, and faith’s discerning eye can see the God of providence moving heaven and earth to help his church, if his church will but arise from the dust and put on her beautiful garments, and resolve to conquer in her Master’s name. I speak it, and I believe I speak no other than the truth— a joyful and yet solemn truth the time for kings to go forth to battle is come. Sure I am, that the time for this church particularly has come, for of this I can judge with certainty— the time for effort and success has fully arrived. And as for the church universal, surely there is no better period for her to set herself to seek a revival than just now, when there is a lull in political excitement, when one great step in progress has been taken, has been so well taken that all uproar concerning it has ceased, and the world waits longingly for better days to come. Now is the time, surely, for every saint of God to get him to the top of his Carmel, and like Elijah, with his head between his knees, to cry mightily, and look towards the sea until he shall see the cloud, though it be but as a man’s hand, expecting that in answer to mighty prayer, the clouds shall yet pour forth their water, and the earth shall be deluged with a shower of grace.

     II. Since the time for battle is come, the second point shall be, IT BEHOVES EVERY SOLDIER NOW TO GO TO THE WARS; every professed Christian, every believer, every saved sinner; I say, it behoves all to fight the Lord’s battles, and I press the point with such considerations as these.

     All believers belong to Christ; you are his goods and chattels, you are his bond servants, you bear in your bodies his brand, the marks of the Lord Christ, for “ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price.” Now, no believer here will start back from that. You sang just now—

“For I am his, and he is mine,”

and it is your highest glory that that is the truth. Now, beloved, by this fact that you belong to Christ, I charge you start not back. You have but one talent, you reply; but you belong to Christ whether you have one talent or ten. You are very busy in the world, you say, but you belong to Christ, and I beseech you lend not yourselves to a wicked world. You tell me that you have not the moral courage to perform Christian service, but you belong to Christ, and anything that prevents your serving him will become a sin, and therefore you must strive against it, till in some form or other you have rendered help in the great crusade, now that the Lord’s anointed go forth to battle.

      You all belong to Christ. More than that, I will add, all of you believers love Christ. Your belonging to him has wrought in you a true affection for him. Shall I put the question to you, that you may have the pleasure of answering it to your own hearts? “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” You are a believer in Jesus, and you profess to be saved by him, do you love him? Oh, were this the time, surely you would rise in one glorious company, ye faithful ones, and say, “Love him? Ay, indeed, he knows our hearts, be knows all things, and he knows we love him.” Prove your love then. He gives you a fair field for it. You cannot better prove your love to your King than by fighting your King’s battles, and spreading abroad the savour of his name. Moreover, God has appointed each one of you to a service. You are not all set to preach, nor all to any one form of labour. The hand is not set to do the duty of the foot, nor the foot to accomplish the service of the eye, yet is the foot as necessary as the eye, and the eye as the hand. Now, what is your service? Rest assured nobody can do it but yourself; it will therefore be left undone if you do not attend to it. As in a body, if any one member cease its functions, the body becomes imperfect, and the whole of it suffers; so if any one child of God in this church shall cease from the particular duty allotted to him, no one else can do it, and the church must suffer damage. It is not for me to point out in every case what your niche may be, but the God who made you what you are, appointed at the same time for you your place and your service, which, I repeat, none can occupy or discharge but yourself. Arise then, my brother, my sister, whoever you may be, and ask yourself, “What is there for me to do?” and ask of your Master, “Lord, what wouldst thou have me do?”

      Moreover, let me remind you that there is strength -promised for each of you. “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” You must not excuse yourself from the battle because you are weak, for the Lord strengtheneth the feeble. “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” It is not in the strength you have that you can serve him, but in the strength which he will give you as you need it. Here, take the bread, and take the fish, and feed the thousands. Say not, “It is not enough;” he shall multiply both the bread and the fish in the breaking and the consuming, and there shall be enough and to spare.

     Hear then, you who profess to be in Christ, you all love him, you have all a work to do, to all God will give the needed grace, and therefore I charge you by your fealty to your King, by your allegiance to your Lord, every one of you shake yourself from the dust of idleness, and resolve to go forth “to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.”

     Shall I say, brethren, that there is work for all of us to do which lies very close to hand? The preacher will never be without his. God will take care to furnish all his servants with sufficiency of work. You teachers in the Sabbath-school, hold to your calling: it is a noble one; you are greatly honoured in being permitted to take so distinguished a post of service as that of training young children for Christ. If you can do neither of these, and cannot speak for Christ at all, if you meet with any book, or tract, or sermon, that has been useful to your own soul, scatter it. I remember to have read in Cotton Mather’s book upon plans of usefulness, that he remarks that sometimes at the expense of a shilling, under God’s blessing, a soul has been converted. Such books as Alleyne’s “Alarm,” Baxter’s “Call to the Unconverted,” and Doddridge’s “Rise and Progress,” have wrought wonders in years gone by; and at this hour you may have for a penny or less, truths so set forth as to ensure the reader’s attention. Mr. Cecil says he had to be very grateful to God for his mother, not so much because she pressed him to read good books, as that she took care to put good books where he was likely to take them up. O you who love Jesus, attend to this. Put the truth in the way of him who knows it not. Lose no opportunity of so doing. Talk for Christ personally, if you can, to individuals. Your Master sitting at the well talking to the Samaritan woman, was doing no small service to the truth. He preached to all Samaria through that woman. So may you preach to half a town through one individual. O that not one of us here may be idle! If you cannot do anything else, you can pray, and what strength the church of God gets from its praying men and women! Many bedridden saints are all the nearer to heaven in their weakness, and by their supplications they act like conductors to the skies, bringing down the divine lightning from God that shall rive and split the hearts of the ungodly. Oh, if you cannot do anything else, succour us by your intercessions. I hope that there are no idlers in this church, but if there are, I charge them to cease from sloth. Better for you to occupy the meanest place of service than to be an idle Christian. I walked, a few days ago, by rows of houses all empty, and all shut up, and I could not help thinking if the landlords would take the smallest rent and put in the very poorest tenants, it would be better than to let them stand empty; for the boys had made all the windows targets for their skill in stone throwing, the thieves had taken care to remove every piece of lead and movable metal they could get at, most of the lower rooms had evidently been play-rooms for children and dogs, and the unsightly carcases were giving the neighbourhood a bad name from which it was not likely soon to recover. Better to have had the worst of tenants than to leave the houses to become ruins. Some Christians had better take to the meanest occupation than let their souls stand in such a disreputable state as they do, like empty, unoccupied, useless, decaying, dilapidated houses. You cannot be idle without being as much a sufferer yourself as any man beside. Even the sick, the sorrowing, the mournful, the sad, I would fain summon to the battle. If they do not achieve much for the cause, it will help themselves. One of the readiest ways to arise from the depths of agony is activity. Let a woman who has lost a beloved husband say, “I will henceforth do nothing but mourn for my departed lord,” let her seclude herself from society, and stand apart from all activities of life, her grief will eat as doth a canker, and her life will be bitter to her; but let her see to her household, let her come forth and attend to the necessary business of life, and her heart will receive comfort. I recollect the story of a mother, who, when her little boy was playing in the room, was shedding many bitter tears for her widowhood. Her little boy, who seemed to know right well the source of the mother’s grief, came up to her, and putting his arms around her neck, said, “You have got me, mother,” and you cannot tell how it comforted her heart as she thought, “Yes, I have a solemn charge in you to train you up to know your father’s God, and to follow to the heaven where you father is at rest.” The necessary care which she rendered to her little son helped to wipe away the tears which else might long have worn a furrow down her cheeks. There is nothing healthier for the sick, there is nothing more encouraging for the desponding, there is nothing more strengthening for the weak, there is nothing more soul-enriching for the poor in spirit, than for every Christian man among us to gird himself to do something for his Lord and Master. Oh! you do not know what you can do. There are immortal and immeasurable capacities within you. If you will but try, God will help you. If you use your little ability, you shall have more. The one talent shall become two, the two four, and the four shall multiply. “To him that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance.” I charge you, therefore, my beloved flock, let not a single one of you stay back at this time, when every king should go forth to the battle.

     III. Beloved comrades in the holy war, THERE ARE GREAT MOTIVES TO EXCITE US TO FIGHT EARNESTLY FOR CHRIST.

     The motives gather round five points. The first is our King. Who would not fight for such a King, Immanuel God with us? By the wounds and by the thorn-crown, by the bleeding heart, by the incessant intercession on his glory throne, let us lift up our hands now and declare that we will not cease to fight for him. As of old, when sometimes a king asked a pledge of fealty from his assembled knights, they drew their swords and waved them in the air, and took a solemn oath to defend his throne, so now to-day let each believer say within his soul, “I must, I will contend for such a King as Christ my Lord.

     Remember next the banner under which we fight— the banner of the truth, of the atoning blood. Let me remind you, men and brethren, how your fathers held that banner firmly, though they stained it with their gore. Remember how many have borne it amidst the smoke of their own burning at the stakes of Smithfield! Through a long line of bold forefathers the banner of the truth has been handed down to you. From the Anabaptists, and the Covenanters, and the Puritans, and men of whom the world was not worthy, its folds have passed down to your protecting care. Oh, by the fact that it shall wave one day over all the defeated hosts of hell, that Christ shall plant it on the battlements of the arch-enemy’s proudest castles, rally now for God, and for the right, and for the truth, for the doctrines of his word, for the imperishable gospel that abideth for ever and ever. Who will be craven now, and shrink back from this conflict?

     Remember, next, another word— the captives whom it is your hope by the Holy Spirit’s power to redeem from the slavery of sin. How our soldiers of the Indian mutiny advanced like lions against the mutineers when they remembered Cawnpore and all the cruelties to which their brethren had been exposed! How unweariedly they marched, how sternly they fought when they were within sight of the foe! After this sort should we fight with those who have enslaved and injured our brethren. Remember, there are tens of thousands of God’s elect who are captives to death and hell— some of them blasphemers, many of them drunkards, some plunged in the direst vice, others of them in the blackest despair; and it is only through your efforts, blessed of the Holy Spirit, that they are to be set free. I charge you, therefore, earnestly contend for their liberties. When David and his men came to Ziklag, and found that their wives and children had been carried away captive, how rapidly did they pursue the foe, and how courageously did they fly upon the spoilers to ransom their wives and children from captivity. Your children may be still in captivity to Satan, your husband still a prisoner, your wife not yet emancipated, your brother, or neighbour, or sister still in “the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.” Soldiers of the cross, as you love liberty yourselves, and as you love your kinsfolk and your fellow countrymen, I charge you come to the battle, that these may be set free by the Holy Spirit’s power.

      Remember, again, and this word ought to stimulate us to fight well, the enemy, the black and cruel enemy. We contend not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness. Our warfare is not with men, but with evil in every shape and form. Our warfare is with the serpent who blighted Eden, and who destroyed our race. O God, if anything could make us fight, it would be enmity to the old dragon who has been the murderer of our race.

     Yet one more encouragement, and that is our reward. “They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever.” If by your prayers and tears, through God’s Holy Spirit, any should be saved, you shall have joy on earth akin to angels’ joy, and in heaven unfading honours shall be bestowed upon you by the Master himself, when he shall say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I will put these five things, then, together. By the King who leads you, by the banner that waves above you, by your captive brethren who wait to be delivered, by the horrible enemy against whom we may well take revenge, and by the glorious reward, let every soldier gird his sword upon his thigh in this the time when kings go forth to battle.

      IV. THE HIGHEST ENCOURAGEMENTS READILY PRESENT THEMSELVES TO INDUCE YOU TO JOIN THE WARRING ARMIES. I shall mention these encouragements thus.

     It is quite certain that God has an elect people still upon the earth; then see ye not that it is hopeful work to find out these elect ones by the preaching of the word? “I have much people in this city” must have been a great encouragement to the apostle when he went there. God hath much people in London yet, and I am persuaded he hath much people in this congregation that gathers here; and as the farmer is encouraged to sow his seed in a good soil, from which he may reasonably expect a large harvest, so ought you to be encouraged to work for Jesus Christ just now.

      Remember, also, that God has never failed a true worker yet. Many have been discouraged, but God has in the long run, if they have been true to him, given them their reward. Oh! it cannot be that we shall be disappointed. It is not written, “Paul planteth, Apollos watereth, and God gives no increase;” no, “Paul plants, Apollos waters, and God gives the increase.” God is not tied to give success, and as a sovereign he may do as he wills, but the whole record through, the faithful have not been left of God.

     Remember, too, that if you did not see any souls converted, yet God would be glorified by your exaltation of Christ, and your talking of Christ, and your earnest prayers and tears for the good of others. You are unto God a sweet savour of Christ as well in them that perish, as in them that are saved; you will have done your duty, and in so doing will be accepted of the Most High. To the battle, then, my brother, to the battle, for you cannot fail. Remember the promises, let them come up before your mind; believe them, and go in the strength of them. “In due season ye shall reap if ye faint not “God is not unrighteous to forget your work of faith and labour of love “As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void; it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it;” “Cast thy bread upon the waters, for ye shall find it after many days;” “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that.” O do you not desire to be the spiritual parent of anew-born soul? Would you not rejoice to pluck some brand from the burning, to rescue some sinking sinner from a seething hell? Then, I beseech you, in prayerful anxiety, with much dependence upon God, use the means; and that means is simply this, the telling abroad of the gospel, the persuading of men to lay hold on eternal life, which eternal life lies in believing in Jesus Christ, whom God hath sent.

     Lastly, if nothing else could nerve my brethren here to service, I should like to remind them of one solemn fact, and call them, stir them to exercise by THE SOLEMN DANGER OF INACTION.

      Read at your leisure the connection of my text, “It came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle.” He sent Joab his servant to contend with the Ammonites. Unhappy king, unhappy king! He had been called to fight the Lord’s battles; he had been anointed king for the very purpose, to be a captain in Israel; but a fit of sloth had seized him, and, true in David’s case, was our children’s song—

“Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.”

The eyes that ought to have been looking on the foe, looked on Bathsheba; the heart that ought to have been stout against the enemies of Israel, softened with lascivious desires, and the king. had a fall, not from the battlement of his house, but a fall from the elevation of his purity and faith, from which he never altogether recovered, which has left the blackest stain upon his reputation. Such are the dangers of inaction to us all; not precisely that form may it take, for Satan knows how to adapt the temptation to each man’s temperament, and to each woman’s case. I do believe it is before every Christian either to serve his God with all his heart, or to fall into sin. I believe we must either go forward, or we must fall. The rule is in Christian life, if we do not bring forth fruit unto the Lord our God, we shall lose even our leaves, and stand like a winter’s tree, bare and withered. God grant you, brethren, to make no ill choice in this matter, but to resolve that if you be overtaken in a fault, it shall not be because you travelled so slowly that sin could readily overtake you. I would remind you that in some form or other evil must come to you if you loiter; if you will not serve your Lord, neither shall you be established; if you will not bring forth fruit to his glory, neither can you expect the comforts of his gospel. How terrible are those words which I would fain make to ring like a thunderblast in the ear of every professor here; “Curse ye Meroz, saith the angel of the Lord, 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.” Remember the Master’s words, with which I conclude, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” And now by the blood that bought you, by the Spirit that quickens you, by the heaven that awaits you, men and brethren, I ask you to go with me to the battle. Deacons, elders of the church, Sunday-school teachers, all of you come with me to the battle, and let us see whether during the next few months the Lord doth not give us a greater blessing than we have ever had before. I believe he will even open the windows of heaven, and pour us out a blessing. Amen.



Christ with the Keys of Death and Hell

By / Oct 3

Christ with the Keys of Death and Hell

 

“I have the keys of hell and of death.”— Revelation i. 18.

 

THEN hell and death, terrible powers as they are, are not left to riot without government. Death is a land of darkness, as darkness itself, without any order, yet a sovereign eye surveyeth it, and a master hand holdeth its key. Hell also is a horrible region, where powers of evil and of terror hold their high court and dread assembly; but hell trembles at the presence of the Lord, and there is a throne higher than the throne of evil. Let us rejoice that nothing in heaven, or earth, or in places under the earth, is left to itself to engender anarchy. Everywhere, serene above the floods, the Lord sitteth King for ever and ever. No province of the universe is free from the divine rule. Things do not come by chance. Nowhere doth chance and chaos reign, nowhere is evil really and permanently enthroned. Rest assured that the Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom ruleth over all; for if the lowest hell and death own his government, much more all things that are on this lower world.

     It is delightful for us to observe, as we read this chapter, that government of hell and of death is vested in the person of the Man Christ Jesus; he who holdeth the keys of these dreadful regions, is described by John as “One like unto the Son of man,” and we know that he was our Lord Jesus Christ himself. John saw a strange and glorious change in him, but still recognised the old likeness, perhaps impressed by the nail-prints and other marks of manhood which he had seen in him while yet he was in the days of his flesh. What an honour is thus conferred upon mankind! Unto which of the angel said he at any time, “Thou shalt bear the keys of hell and of death”? Yet these keys are committed to the Son of man, and Jesus Christ, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, made in all points like unto his brethren, ruleth over all. Yet manhood is not so exalted as of itself and apart from Godhead, for while the description given of our Lord by John, as he saw him at Patmos, is evidently human, yet is it also convincingly divine. There is a glow of glory about that mysterious manhood, which stood between the golden candlesticks, that comes not of the Virgin Mary nor of Nazareth, but is alight apart, belonging only to the everlasting God, whose Son the Redeemer is, and whose equal he counts it not robbery to be. Jesus, in essence, is “God over all, blessed for ever.” Let us rejoice, then, in the condescension of God, in taking man into such union with Godhead, that now in the person of Christ man hath dominion over all the works of God’s hands; and he ruleth not only over all sheep and oxen, and all fowl of the air, and fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea, but death and Hades also are committed to the dominion of the glorified man. “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

     The metaphor of keys is intended, no doubt, to set forth the double thought of our Lord’s possessing both the rightful and the actual dominion over death and hell. The rightful dominion, I say, for often it has been the custom when kings have come to the gates of loyal cities, for the mayor, or high bailiff, or governor of the city, to present the keys in formal state, in recognition that his majesty was the lawful owner and rightful sovereign of the borough. So Christ hath the keys of hell and death — that is to say, he is rightfully the Lord over those dark regions, and rules them by indefeasible title of sovereignty. But in commonest life the key is associated with actual possession and power. When the tenant gives up the key to the landlord, then the owner has the house again under his power, and in his possession, by that act and deed. So Christ is not only de jure (according to right), but de facto (according to fact), Lord over hell and death. He actually rules and manages in all the issues of the grave, and overrules all the councils of hell, restraining the mischievous devices of Satan, or turning them to subserve his own designs of good. Our Lord Jesus Christ still is supreme; his kingdom, willingly or unwillingly, extends over all existences in whatever regions they may be.

     It may be well here to remark, that the word translated “hell,” though it may be rightfully referred to the region of lost and damned spirits, yet need not be restricted thereto. The word is “Hades,” which signifies the dwelling place of spirits, and so it may include both heaven and hell; no doubt it does include them both in many places, and I think in this. Our Lord then hath the keys of heaven, and hell, and death. Wherever separate spirits are now existing, Christ is King, and over the iron gate through which men pass into the disembodied state, the authority of Christ is paramount. All hail! thou brightness of the Father’s glory, be thou evermore adored!

     Come we now to consider this text in the following lights; first, as we may be enabled and strengthened, we shall consider the power of the keys; secondly, we shall consider the key of this power; and then, thirdly, the choice reflections locked up in this doctrine of the keys.

     I. What is intended by THE POWER OF THESE KEYS here mentioned?

     A key is first of all used for opening, and hence our Lord can open the gates of death and hell. It is his to open the gate of the separated spirits, to admit his saints one by one to their eternal felicity. When the time shall come for us to depart out of this world unto the Father, no hand but that of the Wellbeloved shall put that golden key into the lock and open the pearly gate which admits the righteous to the spirit-land. When we have tarried awhile as disembodied spirits in Paradise, it will be Christ’s work to open the gates of the grave wherein our bodies shall have been confined, in order that at the tramp of the archangel we may rise to immortality. He is the resurrection and the life; because he lives, we shall live also. At his bidding every bolt of death’s prison house shall be drawn, and the huge iron gates of the sepulchre shall be rolled back. Then shall the body sown in weakness be raised in power, sown in dishonour be raised in glory. We need not ask the question, “Can these dry bones live?” when we see in the hands of our omnipotent Saviour the golden key. Death in vain shall have gathered up the carcases of millions as his treasure, he shall lose all these treasures in a moment, when the Lord shall let go his captives, not for price nor for reward. In the Egypt of the grave no Israelite shall remain a prisoner; there shall not a hoof be left behind; of all that the Father gave to Christ he will lose nothing, but will surely raise it up at the last day. Christ has purchased the bodies as well as the souls of his people; he hath redeemed them by blood, and their mortal frames are the temples of the Holy Ghost; rest assured he will not lose a part of his purchase. It is not the will of our Father in heaven that the Redeemer should be defrauded of any part of his purchased possession. “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise.”

     But a key is also used to shut the door, and even so Jesus will both shut in and shut out. His golden key will shut his people in in heaven, as Noah was shut in the ark —

“Far from a world of grief and sin
With God eternally shut in.”

There is no fear that glorified saints shall fall from their high estate, or that they shall perish after all the salvations which they have experienced. Heaven is the place of eternal safety. There the gates shall be fast shut by which their foes could enter, or by which their joys could leave them. But, alas! there is the dark side to this shutting of the gate. It is Christ, who, with his key shall shut the gates of heaven against unbelievers. When once the Master of the house hath risen up and hath shut to the door, it will be useless for mere professors to come with anxious knock and bitter cry, “Lord, Lord, open unto us;” for I wot that the Son of David, when he shutteth, shutteth so that no man openeth, and he himself repenteth not of what he has done. Once let him close mercy’s gate upon the soul of a man, and the iron bar shall never be uplifted. O may none of you know what it is to see Christ shut the door of heaven in your face. It will be terrible when you are expecting to enter into the marriage supper to find yourselves thrust forth into “outer darkness, where shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus, with his sovereign key, has locked out of heaven all sinners who die impenitent, and shut out of heaven all sin; shut out of heaven all temptation, all trouble, and all pain and death; shut out of heaven all the temptations of the devil, and not even the howlings of that dog of hell shall be heard across the jasper walls of that New Jerusalem.

     A key is used to shut and to open, and so it is used to shut in, in reference to hell, those spirits who are immured there. “Between us and you,” said Abraham to Dives, “there is a great gulf fixed: so that they that which would pass hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” It is Christ’s key that hath shut in the lost spirits, so that they cannot roam by way of respite, nor escape by way of pardon. May you never be so shut in. Christ hath the key by which he shutteth in Satan. He is to be bound for a thousand years, but Jesus shall hold the chain, for only our Immanuel could bind this old dragon. When temptation is kept away from a Christian it is the Saviour’s restraining power which holdeth back the arch enemy; and if the enemy cometh in like a flood it is by permission of Jesus that the trial comes. Every roaming of the lion of the pit is permitted by our Master, or he could never go forth on his devouring errands. The key that shall bind the old dragon in those blessed days of the millennial rest, is in our Lord’s power, and the final triumph, when no sin shall any further be known on earth, and evil shall be pent up in the grim caverns of hell, will be achieved by Christ Jesus, the Man, the Mediator, our Lord and God. To open, then, and to shut out, to shut in and to shut out, these are the work of the keys.

     By the keys we must further understand here that our Lord rules, for the key is the Oriental metaphor for government. He shall have the key of David: “the government shall be upon his shoulder.” We understand by Christ’s having the keys of hell that he rules over all that are in hell; hence he rules over the damned spirits. They would not in this life have this Man to rule over them, but in the life to come they must submit whether they will or not. In that seething caldron every wave of fire is guided by the will of the Man Christ, and the mark of his sovereignty is on every iron chain. This the ungodly will be compelled to feel with terror, for although the ferocity of their natures will remain, yet the boastfulness of their pride shall be taken from them. Though they would still revolt, they shall find themselves hopelessly fettered, and powerless to accomplish their designs. Though they would fain continue stouthearted as Pharaoh, and cry, “Who is the Lord, that we should obey his voice?” they shall find their loins loosed like Belshazzar’s on that dreadful night when his city was destroyed; they shall wring their hands in anguish and bite their tongues in despair. One of the great terrors of the lost in hell will be this, that he who came to save was rejected by them, and now only reveals himself to them as mighty to destroy. He who held out the silver sceptre when they would not touch it, shall for ever break them with a rod of iron for their wilful impenitence. Ye despisers, behold and wonder! If ye will not honour the Lord willingly, ye shall submit by force of arms. What must be the consternation of those that were loudest against Christ on earth, the men who denied his deity, the infidels who vented curses upon his blessed name— your Voltaires and Tom Paines, who were never satisfied except when they uttered bitter words against the Man of Nazareth? What will be their amazement! What confusion to the wretch who said he would crush the wretch, to find himself crushed by him whom he despised! What consternation and confusion shall overwhelm that man who said he lived in the twilight of Christianity, to find himself where the blaze of Christ’s glory shall for ever be as a furnace to his guilty soul! O that none of us may know what it is to be ruled in justice by Christ because we would not be ruled by mercy. “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.” But beware, ye that forget him, lest he tear you in pieces and there be none to deliver.

     As in hell Christ has power over all the damned spirits, so our text implies that he has power over all the devils. It was wilfulness, doubtless, that made Satan revolt against God. Peradventure, Milton’s poetic surmise is not far from the truth, and Satan did think it “better to rule in hell than serve in heaven but, fool that he was, he has to serve in hell with a service ten thousand times more irksome than that which would have been his lot in heaven. There, firstborn Son of the Morning, brightest of the angels of God, how happy might have been his perpetual service of the Most High; but now blighted by the scathing thunderbolts of Jehovah, he crawls forth from his den degraded, going like the serpent on his belly, with dust to be, his meat, debased beneath the very beasts of the field, and cursed above all cattle, going forth for meanest ends, seeking to tempt others that they may come into the same loathsome condition with himself. Yet, mark how even in those temptations of his, Satan is ruled by Christ! He permits the foul fiend to tempt, but there is always a “Hitherto shalt thou go, and no further,” just as Satan was permitted to try Job up to a certain point, but beyond that point he must not heap up the patriarch’s agony; thus in all cases Christ rules Satan by restraining him. Yea, and even in that which he is permitted to do, God strengtheneth his servants so that Satan gets no honour in the contest, but retires continually more and more disgraced by being defeated by the poor sons of Adam. Cunning spirit as he is, he is worsted in the conflict with poor creatures who dwell in flesh. Ay, and better still, out of all the temptations of Satan, God’s people are made to derive profit and strength. In our exercises and conflicts, we are taught our weakness and led to fly to Christ for strength; and so, as Samson’s slain lion yielded him honey, out of the eater cometh forth meat, and out of the strong cometh forth sweetness. An abject slave of Christ art thou, 0 Satan; a very scullion in the kitchen of providence. When thou thinkest most to effect thine own purposes, and to overthrow the Kingdom of Christ on earth, even then what art thou but a mere hack, accomplishing still the purposes of thy Master, whom in vain thou dost blaspheme! Lo, at Christ’s girdle are the keys of hell. Let the whole legion of accursed spirits tremble.

     Brethren, I have said that the word “Hades” here may include both hell and heaven, or the whole state of separated spirits. Hence we are bound to remark, that our Saviour rules over all the glorified spirits in heaven, and all the angels that are their associates and ministering spirits. Is not this a delightful reflection, that the Redeemer is the King of angels, for in times of danger he can send an angel to strengthen us, or, if needs be, twenty legions of angels would soon find their way to stand side by side with the weak but faithful warrior of the cross. O believer, thou canst never be cast where divine succours cannot reach thee. Angels see their way by night, and journey over mount and sea with unwearied flight, unimpeded by wind or tempest. They can meet thine enemy, the prince of the power of the air, and overcome him for thee; as doubtless oftentimes they do unknown to us, in mysterious battles of the spirits. Thou shalt never be left to perish, while the chariots of God which are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels, are all at the beck and command of him who has redeemed thee with his precious blood.

     Joyous is the thought that Jesus rules over all redeemed spirits in heaven, for we hope to be there soon, and this shall be among our dearest joys that, without temptation, without infirmity, without weariness, we shall serve our Lord day and night in his temple. My brethren, of all the joys of heaven, next to that of being with Christ, one delights to think of serving Christ. Ah! how rapturous will be our song! How zealously we will praise him! How earnest shall be our service! If he should give us commissions to distant worlds, as perhaps he will; if he shall prepare us to become preachers of his truth to creatures in unknown orbs; if he shall call us through revolving ages to publish to new created myriads the wondrous grace of God in Christ, with what ardent pleasure will we accept the service! How constantly, how heartily will we tell out the story of our salvation by the precious blood of Jesus! O that we could serve him here as we wish; but we shall serve him there without fault or flaw. Oh, happy heaven, because Jesus hath the key of it, and reigns supreme, when shall we stand upon thy sea of glass before his throne?

     One more remark is wanted to complete the explanation of the power of the keys. Our Lord is said to have the keys of death, from which we gather that all the issues of death are at his alone disposal. No man can die unless as Jesus opens the mystic door of death. Even the ungodly man owes his spared life to Christ. It is the intercession and the interposition of Jesus that keeps breath even in the swearer’s nostrils. Long since hadst thou been consumed in the fire of God’s wrath, O sinner, had not Jesus used his authority to keep thee out of the jaws of death. As for his saints, it is their consolation that their death is entirely in his hands. In the midst of fever and pestilence, we shall never die until he wills it; in the times of the greatest healthiness, when all the air is balm, we shall not live a second longer than Jesus has purposed; the place, the circumstance, the exact second of our departure, have all been appointed by him, and settled long ago in love and wisdom. A thousand angels would not hurl us to the grave, nor could a host of cherubim confine us there one moment after Jesus said, “Arise.” This is our comfort. We are “immortal till our work is done;” mortal still, but immortal also. Let us never fear death, then, but rather rejoice at the approach of it, since it comes at our dear Bridegroom’s bidding. There be some who count it a most notable expectation, that perhaps they may be among the number of those who shall not sleep, but be alive and remain at the Lord’s coming. I am sure I would not disturb any joy which they can derive from such a contemplation. For my own part, if I had the choice, I would prefer to die, for it seems to me that such as do not die, while they cannot have any preference over them that fall asleep (for we are told they shall not prevent them that are asleep) will lose much of desirable experience. They will never be able to say in heaven, “I was made like unto my dying Saviour;” they can never say that they have slept in the grave as he did; they can never say, “My body came forth in the resurrection as his did.” I would fain be in all points made like unto my Lord, to have fellowship with him in all respects. “To die,” saith the apostle, “is gain.” I will add, a gain I would not lose, and “Death is yours,” saith the apostle, nor would we have it rent away from us; though the prospect of our Lord’s coming is sweet, immeasurably sweet, yet the prospect of going to him meanwhile if so he wills it, is not without its sweetness too. Christ hath the key of death, and therefore death to us is no longer a gate of terror.

     Thus have I, as best I could, while suffering much bodily pain, laboured to open up to you what is the power of the keys in the Redeemer’s hands.

     II. What is THE KEY OF THIS POWER? Whence did Christ obtain this right to have the keys of hell and death? Doth he not derive it first of all from his Godhead?

     In the eighteenth verse, he saith, “I am he that liveth,” language which only God can use, for while we live, yet it is only with a borrowed life, like the moon that shineth with a borrowed light, and as the moon cannot say, “I am the orb that shineth,” neither can man say, “I am he that liveth.” God saith, “I am, and there is none beside me,” and Jesus being God, claimeth the same self-existence. “I am he that liveth.” Now, since Christ is God, he certainly hath power over heaven, and earth, and hell. There can be no dispute concerning the divine prerogative. He is the creator of all things; he is the preserver of all things; all power belongeth unto him. As for all things that are apart from him, they would vanish as a puff of air is gone, if so he willed it : he alone existeth; he alone is; therefore let him wear the crown, let him have undivided rule. That doctrine of the deity of Christ, how I tremble for those who will not receive it! Brethren, if there be anything in the word of God that is clear and plain, it is surely this; if there be any doctrine that is necessary for our salvation, it is this. How could we trust to a mere man? If there be anything that can give us comfort when we come to rest upon Christ, it is just this, that we are not looking to an angel nor depending upon a creature, but are resting upon him who is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the Almighty God. O you who dare trust in a man, I pity you for your credulity; but you who cannot trust in Jesus, the living God, I may well blame you for your unbelief. Having such a rock of our salvation as the ever-living and ever-blessed God, let the thought kindle in our souls the purest joy.

     But the key to this power lies also in our Saviour’s conquests. He hath the keys of death and hell because he hath actually conquered both these powers. You know how he met hell in the dreadful onset in the garden; how all the powers of darkness there combined against him. Such was the agony of that struggle, that he sweat great drops of blood falling to the ground; yet he sustained the brunt of that onset without wavering, and kept the field unbeaten. He continued still to wrestle with those evil powers upon the cross, and in that thick midday midnight into which no curious eyes could pry, in the midst of that darkness he continued still to fight, his heel bruised, but breaking meanwhile the dragon’s head. Grim was the contest, but glorious was the victory, worthy to be sung by angels in eternal chorus. Take down your sweetest harps ye seraphs, lift up your loudest notes ye cherubim, unto him that fought the dragon and overcame him, to Michael the great archangel of the covenant, unto him be glory for ever and ever. Well doth Jesus deserve to rule the provinces which he hath subdued in fight. He has conquered the king of hell and destroyed the works of the devil, and good right hath he to be King over the domain of the vanquished.

     As to death, ye know how our Lord vanquished him! By death he conquered death. When the hands were nailed, they became potent to fight with the grave; when the feet were fastened to the wood, then began they to trample on the sepulchre; when the death pangs began to thrill through every nerve of the Redeemer’s body, then his arrows shot through the loins of death, and when his anguished soul was ready to take its speedy flight, and leave his blessed corpse, then did the tyrant sustain a mortal wound. Our Lord’s entrance into the tomb was the taking possession of his enemies’ stronghold; his sleep within the sepulchre's stony walls was the transformation of the prison into a couch of rest. But especially in the resurrection; when, because he could not be held by the bonds of death, neither could his soul be kept in Hades, he rose again in glory, then did he become the “death of death and hell’s destruction,” and rightfully was he acknowledged the plague of death and the destruction of the grave. As if to prove that he had the keys of the grave, Jesus passed in and passed out again, and he hath made free passage now for his people, free entrance, and free exit. Whether, when our Lord died, his soul actually descended into hell itself we will not assert or deny; the elder theologians all asserted that he did, and hence they inserted in the Creed, the sentence, “He descended into hell,” meaning, many of them, at any rate, hell itself. It was not till Puritanic times that that doctrine began to be generally questioned, when it was, as I think rightly asserted, that Jesus Christ went into the world of separated spirits, but not into the region of the damned. Well, it is not for us to speak where Scripture is silent, but why may it not be true that the Great Conqueror cast the shadow of his presence over the dens of his enemies as he passed in triumph by the gates of hell? May not the keepers of that infernal gate have seen his star, and trembled as they also beheld their Master like lightning fall from heaven? Would it not add to his glory if those who were his implacable foes were made to know of his complete triumph? At any rate, it was but a passing presence, for we know that swiftly he sped to the gates of heaven, taking with him the repentant thief to be with him that day in Paradise. Jesus had opened thus the grave by going into it, hell by passing by it, heaven by passing into it, heaven again by passing out of it, death again by rising from it into this world, and heaven by his ascension. Thus passing, and repassing, he has proved that the keys are at his girdle. At any rate, by his achievements, by his doings, he hath won for himself the power of the keys.

     We have one more truth to remember, that Jesus Christ is installed in this high place of power and dignity by the Father himself, as a reward for what he has done. He was himself to “divide the spoil with the strong,” but the Father had promised to give him a “portion with the great.” See the reward for the shame which he endured among the sons of men! He stooped lower than the lowest, he has risen higher than the highest; he wore the crown of thorns, but now he wears the triple crown of heaven, and earth, and hell: he was the servant of servants, but now he is King of kings, and Lord of lords. Earth would not find him shelter, a stable must be the place of his birth, and a borrowed tomb the sepulchre of his dead body; but now, all space is his, time and eternity tremble at his bidding, and there is no creature however minute or vast, that is not subject to him. How greatly hath the Father glorified him whom men rejected and despised I Let us adore him; let our hearts, while we think over these plain but precious truths, come and spread their riches at his feet, and crown him Lord of all.

     III. THE PRACTICAL BEARING of the whole subject appears to be this — according to the seventeenth verse— “Fear not.”

     This manifestation of Christ, as having the keys of death and hell, was given to the trembling John, who had fallen down with astonishment and dread as one dead, to comfort him, and as if to make this clear the words were spoken, “Fear not.” Beloved, those words I would address to you this morning, “Fear not.” Why need you fear? There, is no possible cause for fear for believers, since Jesus lives. “But I may be very poor,” saith one.

“Since Christ is rich, can you be poor?
What can you want beside?”

“But I may be very sick,” saith another. “I will make all their bed in their sickness,” saith the Lord; and since Christ is with you, sickness shall work your soul’s health. “Ah,” saith another, “I may be grievously tempted.” But while he liveth, he will pray for you that your faith fail not, though Satan hath desired to have you. Yes, but you yourselves are very frail, you say, and you fear that in some dark hour that frailty may overcome your faith. Yes, but he ever liveth, and you are one with him, and who shall destroy you while the vital energy pours from your covenant Head into you as a member of his body? I say again, there is no possible cause for fear to any soul that believeth in Christ. You shall ransack the corruptions of your heart within; you shall count your trials without; you shall imagine all the tribulations that shall come to-morrow; you shall reflect on all the sins that were with you yesterday and in the past; you shall peer into the shades of death and horrors of hell, but I declare solemnly to you that there is nothing in any of these which you, believing in Christ, have any cause to fear. Nay, if they all should unite, if the whole together, the world, the flesh, the devil, in trinity of malice should all come against you, while you have a living faith in a living Saviour, “Fear not” is but the logical inference from that precious fact. Carry this fearlessness in your life, and be happy as a king. Oh, with nothing else but a living Saviour, how rich ought a saint to be! and with everything else, but missing that living Saviour, how miserable the richest and the greatest of men always would be, if they did but know their true state as before the Lord!

     Now, observe, that this “Fear not” may be specially applied to the matter of the grave. We need not fear to die, because Jesus has the key of the grave ; we shall never pass through that iron gate with an angel to be our conductor, or some grim executioner to lead us, as it were, through the Traitor’s Gate, or into a dreary place of hideous imprisonment. No, Jesus shall come to our dying bed, in all the glory of his supernal splendour, and shall say, “Come with me, from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana; for the day breaketh, and the shadows flee away.” The sight of Jesus, as he thrusts in the key and opens that gate of death, shall make you forget the supposed terrors of the grave, for they are but suppositions, and you shall find it sweet to die. Since Jesus hath the sepulchre’s key, never fear it again, never fear it again. Depend upon it, your dying hour will be the best hour you have ever known; your last will be your richest moment, better than the day of your birth will be the day of your death. It shall be the beginning of heaven, the rising of a sun that shall go no more down for ever. Let the fear of death be banished from you by faith in a living Saviour.

     Some saints have a fear of the world of spirits. “Oh,” say they, “it must be a dreadful thing to enter that unknown land. We have stood and peered as best we could through the mist that gathers over the black river, and have wondered what it must be like to have left the body, and to be flitting, a naked soul, through that land from which no traveller hath e’er returned.” Ah! but, perhaps, you imagined that you were sailing into an enemy’s country, but Jesus is King in Hades, as well as Lord of earth. It is not as though you crossed the channel from England into France, and were among a people speaking another language, and owning another sovereignty. It is but as passing the Tweed from England to Scotland, you do but pass from one province of your Lord’s empire into another, and indeed from a darker into a brighter territory of the same one sovereign. In that spirit land they speak the same tongue, the tongue of the New Jerusalem, which you have already begun to lisp; they own the King whom you here obey; and when you shall enter into the assemblies of those disembodied spirits you shall find them all singing to the praise of the same glorious One whom you have adored to-day, rejoicing in the light which was your light on earth, and triumphing in his love which was your Saviour here below. Be of good courage, Jesus is King of Hades. Fear not.

     Neither, brethren, ought we to fear the devil. We ought to be watchful against him, but we must not fear him so that he may get an advantage from our fear. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you;” stand trembling and he will attack you worse than ever. The boldness of courageous faith is that which makes the devil tremble. Well may you be brave, for when he comes howling at you like a lion, you may taunt him thus, and say, “Ah, show thy teeth and howl, and yell, but thou art chained; thou canst do no more than threaten me. Thou thinkest to worry me, but thou canst not devour me, and therefore I defy thee. Avaunt, in the name of Jesus Christ who bruised thee, dragon of hell, avaunt!” The courage that shall enable thee thus to deal with the enemy while it gives glory to thy Lord and Master, shall give rapid victory unto thee. He is a chained enemy; this leviathan hath a bit between his jaws and a hook in his nose. He may vex thee for awhile, but thou shalt be “ more than conqueror through him that loved thee;” therefore fear not. That is the lesson from the text to the child of God.

     One other word to the believer of God. Should not this contemplation make us say, “Let us worship him who hath the keys of hell and death: let us come into his presence with thanksgiving, and show ourselves glad in him with songs”? Preaching is not the great end of the Sabbath-day; listening to sermons is not the great aim of Sundays. It is a means; what is the end? Why, the end, so far as we can attain it on earth, is for us to glorify God in service, and especially in the singing of his praises. Worship rendered to God in prayer and praise is the true fruit of the Sabbath, and I am afraid we are behind in this. I wish that when believers come together they would oftener render unto Christ the coronals of their hymns, to crown him Lord of all. His enemies miss no opportunity to spite him; those that hate his gospel are zealous to bring shame upon it. Oh, miss no opportunities to extol him with your praises, and to honour him with the holiness of your lives and the zeal of your service. Is he King over heaven, and death, and hell? Then shall he be King over the triple territory of my spirit, soul, and body; and I will make all my powers and passions yield him praise.

     To conclude. If to the righteous the lesson from all this is, “Fear not,” methinks the lesson to the ungodly is, “Fear and tremble.” Christ hath the keys of death. Then you may die this moment: you may die ere you reach your homes. You have not the key of death, you cannot therefore prolong your life; but Christ hath it, and he can end the times of his longsuffering just when he so wills it. And what would it be to some of you if the gate of death were opened for you, and you were driven through it like dumb driven cattle this very day? O man, what would become of thee, O woman what would become of thee, if now those eyes should glaze, and that pulse should stop? I beseech thee consider thy ways, and turn thee unto God, lest thou die and perish on a sudden. Remember, soul, that if thou wouldst fight it out with Christ, and be his enemy, yet thou canst not, for he is Lord, and will be Lord. Even shouldst thou fly to hell to escape him, he ruleth there. “If I make my bed in hell thou art there.” “Oh,” said one who had gone into the backwoods of America far away, and there met a preacher, “I thought I had escaped these Methodists, and here comes a parson worrying me even here.” “Yes,” said the other, “if you went to heaven you would find religion there, and if you go to hell you will, I am afraid, find preachers even there.”

     If religion thus follows a man, how much more does the power of God surround him! You cannot escape from the Lord of all true preachers, if you can escape from them. Wherever you may go, there shall the remembrances of his rejected love pierce you like barbed arrows. Even in hell shall the glory of his power, which you could not thrust down though you tried to do it, strike you with a deeper despair. I implore you to listen to his gospel. He that believeth and is baptised, shall be saved. This is the message he gave us when he was taken up, almost the last word he spake ere he rose into his glory. “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” O then, yield to his gospel: believe, that is, trust implicitly in him who died on the cross of Calvary to make atonement, and now liveth to make intercession. Trust in him, and then come forth and confess your trust: be baptised in his name, confessing your sins, and acknowledging yourself to be his disciple. This is the gospel: reject it at your peril. Submit to it, I beseech you, for Christ’s sake.



Strong Consolation

By / Sep 26

Strong Consolation

 

“Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath; that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.”— Hebrews vi.17, 18.

 

THE Lord’s transactions with the patriarch Abraham are frequently used in Scripture as types of his dealings with all the heirs of promise. The Lord found him in an idolatrous household, even as he findeth all his people far off from him and strangers to him; but the Lord separated him by an effectual call, and brought him out from his country and from his father’s house, even as he doth unto all his people when he visits them in mercy, and saith, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing.” The Lord, then, was pleased to give to his servant a very gracious promise, the like of which, only yet more clear and bright, he is pleased to give to every heir of salvation; and after awhile, that the patriarch’s faith in the midst of his increasing trials might come to a fulness of strength, the Lord was pleased to make a covenant with him, and to confirm that covenant by sacrifice of blood and by solemn oath. Even thus doth he reveal himself to us, unfolding the ancient covenant of grace which he hath made with us in Christ Jesus, and he bids us look upon the solemn seal of the Saviour’s sacrifice, and of the oath of old which the Lord made unto his Son. As he led his servant a stranger in a strange land, but yet surrounded and enriched with innumerable mercies, even so are we sojourners with him, as all our fathers were, but yet endowed with boundless favour in the blessings of the right hand of the Most High.

     No doubt, the great end of God in this, so far as Abraham’s life on earth was concerned, was to produce in Abraham a model of unstaggering faith. God taketh pleasure in the persons of his servants; he taketh a delight in the training and education of his children, in the creating of his own image in their characters. And especially if there be one thing in a saint which delighteth God more than another, it is the choice grace of faith. Hence Abraham, who is the “friend of God” more than any other, is also the most believing of men, and the father of the faithful. Now, beloved, the Lord who has dealt with us as he did with Abraham, has the same end which he would answer in us as in the patriarch. He would have us manifest all the graces which can adorn our character and make us imitators of God as dear children. Above all, he would have us strong in faith, giving glory to God. O that this end of God might be answered in you and in me, that we may be no more children, carried about with every wind of doctrine, may be no more puny in faith, tossed to and fro with anxieties and suspicions, but may become strong men who are able both to run in the race, to persevere in the pilgrimage, to contend in the fight, and to labour in the service, because the sinews of our strength are well knit, and the muscles of our faith are firm in reliance upon the living God, who is the strength of our life, and will be our portion for ever. How far, dear brethren, we have as yet reached to anything like the strong consolation and the vigorous faith of the text, it is for us to enquire; and if on enquiry we find ourselves deficient, let us plead mightily with God that he would continue his gracious work, that he would reveal himself more fully yet, that we may have a firm, unstaggering faith in him.

     In order that we may have in ourselves the highest decree of assurance and confidence in God, the Lord is pleased to reveal himself to his servants as a God of truth and love very abundantly in multiplied promises, and , in addition to this, in the most solemn oaths. If we do not believe God, it is not because he has not plainly spoken. If we doubt him, it is not because he has left room for doubts, or given occasion for mistrust. His words are plain, often repeated, very positive, presented in the most assuring form, and ratified and settled with the most solemn assurances. Wherefore , then, should I doubt? Why should I not, since God is willing abundantly to show unto me the immutability of his counsel, be willing abundantly to rest in that immutability, giving glory to God, and enjoying peace in my own soul?

     My discourse shall be aimed at the helping of God’s servants to attain to a strong faith in him. May the Holy Spirit help my infirmities, and bless your souls.

     First, this morning, we shall, by the help of the text, find out the favoured people who are the rightful owners of the strong consolations spoken of in the text; secondly, we shall speak upon the condescending God, who is pleased to give such overflowing comfort; and, thirdly, we shall speak upon the strong consolation itself which flows from these immutable things of God.

     I. First, then, dear friends, may you be able to see yourselves as in a mirror, while we look into this text, to notice who are THE FAVOURED PEOPLE OF GOD. In the seventeenth verse, they are described as the “heirs of promise;” in the eighteenth verse, they are portrayed as those “who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.”

     Observe, then, that the favoured children of God are first described as “the heirs of promise,” by which at once most solemnly are excluded all those who are relying upon their own merits. If there be any here present who think that they have led a blameless life, and have added thereto a careful attendance to the duties of religion, and to all the decencies and amiabilities of society, and that, therefore, they have somewhat of claim on God, and something wherein to glory, they are evidently excluded from all the blessings of the covenant, for that is a covenant of promise, not a covenant of legal rewards. A promise is not a debt, but a grace, and if the blessing come by promise, then those who receive it are not those who put in a claim by reason of good things wrought by themselves. What sayest thou, dear hearer, is thy salvation based, and bottomed, and grounded, and founded upon the sovereign grace of God to thee an undeserving sinner? Dost thou confess that thou hast nothing of thine own wherein to boast, and dost thou hope alone in the mercy of God in Christ Jesus? Then let me hope thou art one of the heirs of promise.

     “Heirs of promise,” again. Then this excludes those who are heirs according to their own will, who scoff at the mighty work of grace, and believe that their own free choice has saved them! The Lord said unto Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” And Paul adds in Romans ix. 16, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” Dear hearer, here is a weighty question for thee. Whence came thy religion? Did it come entirely of thyself and spring from thine own inward promptings and nothing else, or art thou a Christian because the grace of God came athwart thy will, because the hand of grace took the helm of thy vessel and turned it in direction opposite to its natural inclining? Art thou rather the subject than the user of grace? Art thou rather sought of God than one who of himself did seek to God; in fine, is it thine own will or God’s will that has the honour of thy salvation? Remember they are not all Israel that are of Israel, “but in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” God makes here a distinction, and taketh Isaac and passeth by Ishmael. And yet again, as the apostle reminds us, “when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” “Therefore,” again saith the apostle, “hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy.” It is a blessed mark of grace when we are willing to feel that it is just and right that pardon should be distributed according to God’s will rather than our will. The promise must be freely given of God, and who among us would interfere with his rights to give as he wills? Shall not the Judge of all the earth de right? Shall he not do as he wills with his own? All heirs of promise will consent to this.

     One more thought: “Heirs of promise,” then heirs, not according to the power of the flesh, but according to the energy of grace. Ishmael was the heir according to flesh, but he obtained not the inheritance: “They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God.” Isaac was born not through his father’s or his mother’s strength, for they were well stricken in years, but he was the child of promise, the fruit of divine visitation. Now what is your grace in your heart? Did it spring from the strength of nature? If so, it is but Ishmael, it will be rejected, it is but the bondwoman’s child, and will be cast out; but if your piety is the pure gift of God, an Isaac born when human nature was incapable of anything that was good, and when your depravity could produce nothing that was acceptable in the sight of God; if it has been granted to you according to the power of the Holy Ghost, then is it such as shall surely bring you to heaven. The children of God, then, are heirs of promise, not heirs by merit, not heirs by their own will, not heirs by human power. Just in this manner does John describe believers as “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John i. 13. Here are sharp distinctions. My soul, canst thou bear them ? While listening to them, dost thou feel no rebellion, but rather feel a humble desire to sit down at Jesus’ feet and hopefully say, “I trust I also am a child of the promise”? Ah! then is it well with thee.

     A plainer description of the favoured people follows in the eighteenth verse. We will look at it. “Who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us” Then, dear hearers, all the people of God were once in danger. They have “fled for refuge.” Men do not flee for refuge when they are in no distress. The vessel puts not into the harbour of refuge when winds and waves all favour her. A man does not escape out of a city like Lot out of Sodom, unless he be persuaded that the city is to be destroyed, and that he is likely to perish in it. Ah! indeed, we who are saved to day confess with gratitude to him who has delivered us, that we were once in danger. In danger, my brethren, is the word strong enough? in danger of eternal burnings! It was worse than that, for we are brands plucked out of the fire; we already burned with that fire of sin which is the fire of hell. We were already destroyed, already dead and corrupt. Our danger had overtaken us and overthrown us. The accumulated horrors of the tempest of divine wrath were gathering to pour themselves on our devoted heads. But we have fled for refuge. Blessed be God, no longer do we dread that lightning flash of wrath, no longer are we consumed with that flame of reigning sin; Christ has called us to shelter in his wounds, and we have fled from the wrath to come.

     My brethren, every true child of God, not only was in danger, but he felt it; for, alas! if I say the child of God was in danger, why, so were all alike, children of God and children of the devil too. Oh, how some of you are in danger this morning; you have but a step between you and death, and it may be you will never enter this house, or any other house of prayer again, but within the next seven days you will have to stand before the Judge of all the earth! You are in peril; but the mark of the child of God is that he has felt his danger; for a man must feel a danger before he will flee for refuge. Do you feel it? Dear hearer, have you felt it not merely as a transient fright that passed over you for a moment, and then you wiped away your tears and went back to your carnal security, have you felt the danger so that the fear haunted you by day and by night, and would not let you rest till you escaped for your life? I have nothing to say to you as a child of God unless you have so felt. I cannot address you as one that has fled for refuge unless you have also felt that you needed a refuge, felt it solemnly with broken heart before God, and confessed that you could not fight out the battle yourself nor could you endure the storm alone, but must find a shelter other than your own doings or resolutions could afford you.

     Still, even this does not quite describe the child of God. He was in danger, and he felt his danger, but the text says, he has “fled for refuge.” I have no doubt that the words here point to the old Jewish institution of the Cities of Refuge. A man had slain another at misadventure, and the next of kin would be quite sure to avenge the blood; but the manslayer fled with all his might to the appointed City of Refuge. When once he passed between the portals of that sanctuary, he was secure. So, brethren, the children of God have by nature provoked the just vengeance of heaven. They have been guilty against the law, and Justice, red-handed and swift, was fast behind them. This they knew, and being moved with fear, they took to their heels with a solemn repentance and an eager faith, and they sped away to Jesus Christ, the appointed City of Sanctuary, and they have found protection in him. I say they have found it. Dear hearer, hast thou found it? Nay, it is nought to say, “I hope I shall.” What if the avenger of blood smite thee with his killing sword even now? Hast thou found it? Remember, thou art this day either a saved man, or not! There are no middle places between these two. The wrath of God pursues thee, or else thou art at the altar’s horn, secure through the sprinkled blood. Thou art this day condemned already, waiting for execution, or else thou art absolved, and vengeance can never strike thee. Which of the two is it? Oh, I know that many of us can say, “By grace I have fled for refuge. Jesus Christ, I have looked to thee, and to thee alone. Thou art my only confidence. If a soul can perish trusting in Christ, I shall perish.” If there be anything wanted besides thee, O Jesus, I shall perish, for I have nothing besides thee. But if simple faith in the once crucified Saviour can save the sinner, then I am a saved man, for I have so believed, and so I will, God helping me, to life’s latest hour.

     You have, then, reached the refuge. What a mercy this is! You can now walk at peace as a sinner saved. Sin is-pardoned, the wrath of God is turned away from you. But the text goes on to describe these favoured people as running for a crown. There is a commingling of metaphors here, and yet at the same time no confusion. The first metaphor is over, they have “fled for refuge,” and now they continue to run, but for another reason, “to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” Beloved, every child of God is pressing forward towards the hope of life everlasting, and glory undefiled, beyond the stars. Is it so with us? God has promised to us a “crown of life that fadeth not away,” and our life is a getting ready for that crown, a pressing forward towards that unfading bliss. We are daily blessed with inward aspirations after it, hungry longings for it, divine impulses towards it, and moreover, we hope we are purifying ourselves by his Spirit, even as he is pure, that when he shall appear, for whose coming we are looking, we may be found of him in peace, made ready to enter into the marriage supper of the Lamb.

     I shall not detain you longer with the description, but I shall press upon you all to ask yourselves whether you have fled for refuge and are pressing onward to the hope that is set before you? For upon this question everything must hinge. If it be so, brethren, the strongest consolation in the word of God is not denied you, the richest promise and the rarest blessing of the covenant you may grasp without any interference, for everything belongs to you. But if not, and you do not answer to this description, so far from wishing to administer any consolation to you, we fear lest we should say a word that might lull you into a deeper and more dangerous peace. For you, no dulcet notes of consolation, but the shrill cornet must be sounded in Gibeah, and we must lift up the voice of alarm in Zion; for out of Christ, not having fled for refuge, wrath cometh upon you even to the uttermost, and there shall be no escape. If they that despised Moses’ law perished without mercy, of how much sorer vengeance shall you be counted worthy that shall despise the Son of God? How shall you escape if you neglect so great salvation?

     II. But we must pass on to our second head. Let us humbly look for a minute to the ways and dealings of OUR CONDESCENDING GOD to these favoured people; hoping that we belong to their number.

     Notice each word, “God willing Whenever God does anything in a way of grace, he does it as we say con amore, he does it in the highest sense willingly. In a certain sense, all the acts of God are willingly done, but there are some which in another sense he doth unwillingly. “He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.” It is not the will of God that sinners should perish; he has declared it, he had rather that they turn unto him and live; but when he reveals himself to his saints, he doeth it with a sacred alacrity, a divine cheerfulness. It is an occupation divinely suitable to his generous nature. “ God willing.”

     “Willing more abundantly.” Do notice that expression. It has in the Greek the sense of more than is necessary, and is secretly meant to answer the objection concerning the Lord’s taking an oath. God is willing to reveal himself to his people, and he is willing to do that “more abundantly,” up to the measure of their need. He would let them know that his counsel is immutable, and he would not only give them enough evidence to prove it, he would give them overwhelming evidence, evidence more than would be or could be possibly required by the case itself, so that their unbelief may have no chance to live, and their faith may be of the strongest kind. The word “to show ” is remarkable; it is the very word used in the Greek when our Lord showed his disciples his hands and his side, as if the word would say that God would lay bare the immutability of his nature, would as it were strip his eternal purposes, and let his people look upon them, handle them, and see their reality, their truth and certainty. “God is willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel.” Beloved, oftentimes a man will not give further assurance of the truth of what he states, when he believes he has already given assurance enough. Nay, he standeth on his dignity and he saith, “Do you not believe me? I have already given you a promise, I have given that promise again and again, why seek more? My character in all past life has been such that I am entitled to be believed. I have given you what I conceive to be overwhelming proof of my fidelity and honesty; if you ask more, you shall not have it. I do not feel called upon to repeat my words as if I were suspected of untruth.” Observe with wonder that our ever gracious God never standeth on his dignity in this style at all, but he looketh not so much at the dignity of his own person as at the weakness of his people, and therefore being willing more abundantly to show unto his poor feeble trembling people the immutability of his counsel, he not only gives one promise, but he adds another and another and another, till to count the promises were almost as difficult as to count the stars or number the sands on the sea shore. Yea, and when he has done all this, lie comes in with a master clap to crown it all, and confirms every promise by an oath, that by not one immutable thing but by two, the promise and the oath, in both of which it is impossible for Jehovah to lie, his people might never dare to doubt again, but might have strong consolation.

     The first immutable thing upon which our faith is to stay itself, is the promise. How badly we treat our God! If a father should give a promise to any of you, being a child, you believe your father. I know, dear wife, you would count it a great dishonour if any.one assumed that you doubted your husband’s word. I know, dear sister, that you would think it sad discredit to your brother if you had cause to doubt his word. Oh, no, we readily believe and accept the truthfulness of those we love, and yet our God, our Father, Christ our brother, our dearest friend, O wherefore, wherefore do we not believe him? But it may be whispered in times of darkness, “Yes, but God may have given a promise that he will save those who fly to Christ, and I hope I have fled to Christ, but suppose he should change his mind, and retract his promise!” Nay, but he has told you it is an immutable promise, and when a man says, “I will never alter my word,” we do not expect he will; if he be an honest man, he cannot. If his promise were only intended to be broken, why, he is playing the fool with us; but when it is given with an intent to be kept, as God says his is— for he calls it an immutable promise— let us not entertain suspicions against it. The text implies that if God were to break his promise he would lie. He cannot take back his promise without lying, and let not the thought even flit across our soul that God should lie. “Hath he said and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” Beloved, when you are conscious that you are great sinners, and have no good thing in yourselves, it is easy to yield to the dark suspicion, “Suppose, after all, I believe in Christ, and yet my faith should not be enough. Suppose this which has been set before me in the word of God as the groundwork of a sinner’s hope should turn out to be too little?” At such times, it really appears that the gospel plan is too simple, and we are tempted to think it may prove to be insufficient; but the text will not allow such a supposition, for there is the promise of God, “He that believeth and is baptised, shall be saved and he tells us that is an immutable promise, consequently if he did change it, if he did shift the system of his grace, he would lie. But he cannot lie. Oh, what consolation is this, then, our refuge is secure, our confidence is firm! Look ye here, ye people of God. This promise of God was not made in a hurry. A man makes a promise on a sudden, and he cannot keep it afterwards, but through the everlasting ages the promise was on Jehovah’s heart before he spoke it with his lips. Men sometimes make promises that they cannot fulfil, they are in circumstances which do not permit them. But can God ever be in a difficulty? Can he ever lose his power to do what he wills? He is omnipotent. The heavens and the earth are his. “All power belongeth unto God.” Men sometimes make promises which it would be unwise to keep, and perhaps it is better to break them; but the Lord cannot be unwise, his is infinite wisdom as well as infinite strength. The promise, then, because of its wisdom, will surely stand. Beside, my brethren, the promise he has made is to his own honour. It redounds to his glory to show mercy to the unworthy. Moreover, his promise is made to his own Son, and his love to him is intertwisted and interwoven with his promise. He could not break his word to one of us without breaking it to his dear Son, since we are in him, and trust in him. O my brethren, the divine promise must stand good. Show me where it was ever broken! I will tell you where it has been kept even to the end, in the ten thousand times ten thousand of the blood-washed, who with white robes are this day surrounding his throne with never-ceasing songs. It has never been broken even to us on earth. Here stand some of us, the witnesses of divine fidelity. Why, then, should we mistrust a promise which has hitherto been immutable, and has never been for a moment treated by God as a thing to be tampered with? Wherefore should we begin to doubt him?

“O for a strong, a lasting faith,
To credit what th’ Almighty saith,
T’ embrace the message of his Son,
And call the joys of heaven our own.”

     But, brethren, it is added that God, in order to prevent our unbelief effectually, has taken an oath. An oath, if it be allowable— and I think our Lord Jesus has for ever forbidden all Christian men every oath of every sort— an oath, if ever allowable, as it was under the old dispensation, should never be taken except upon the most solemn business, and in the most solemn manner. An oath of a man is a thing at which an angel might well tremble. What greater dishonour or shame could you pour upon a man than to convict him of perjury? We count such men the pariahs of the human race, we put them henceforth outside the social scale as unworthy to be communed with. Their breath is pestilence, and leprosy is on their brows. Perjury! the man is no man, he has sunk below the level of manhood when he comes to that. But God has with an oath sworn by himself that all the heirs of promise shall be blessed for ever, saying, “Surely blessing I will bless thee.” Now, brethren, who among us dare doubt this? Where is the hardy sinner who dares come forward and say, “I impugn the oath of God”? Oh! but let us blush the deepest scarlet, and scarlet is but white compared with the blush which ought to mantle the cheek of every child of God to think that even God’s own children should, in effect, accuse their heavenly Father of perjury. Oh, shame upon us! Forgive us, great God, this deep atrocity; and from this hour may we hold it certain that as thou hast sworn , that he that flees for refuge to Christ shall be safe; that as thou hast promised that he that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, we who have so believed are secure beyond all question. Let us no more doubt our salvation than our existence, and no more think ourselves in jeopardy in the darkest and the most terrible hour than we think God’s throne itself in jeopardy, or God’s truth itself in peril. O believer, stand to it that the Lord cannot lie. How I have rolled those words over in my thoughts; they have rung in my ears like a bell. “Impossible for God to lie.” Of course it is. Next, “Things in which it is impossible for God to lie,” as if there were some things more impossible than others. “Immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie;” and then the finale, “Two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie.” I do not know whether you catch the accumulation of the meaning, the tidal wave of reassuring thought. If you do, there is a force about it which is rather excessive than deficient, as though a huge battering ram were brought to crush a fly, or ocean stirred to tempest to waft a feather. We have too much, surely, instead of too little evidence for our faith. Here is more evidence than faith can want. Beloved, here is sea-room for you; were you the vilest sinners; your vessels which draw the most water may float here. Here is room for all the navies of sinners that ever swam the sea of sin. Leviathan may come here, and though he could make the ocean to be hoary, and to boil like a pot, in these immutable things, wherein there is an impossibility for God to lie, there is room for him. Here is unshaken ground for a confidence that never shall for a moment dare to mistrust God.

     III. But I must turn away to the third point, and note THE STRONG CONSOLATION WHICH FLOWS OUT OF ALL THIS. This is setting the wine bottles at the taps of the vat to catch the flowing juice from these rich grapes of Eshcol, these mighty clusters which we have been flinging into the wine-press.

     There is strong consolation, says the text, for the heirs of grace, which implies .that the children of God must expect to have trouble. They have a promise and an oath, but then these are given that they may have consolation. Now, God would not give them consolation if they were not to have tribulation. Wherever the Lord gives a man comfort, it is because he will want it. You will want it, dear brother, Write that down in your tablets, then: “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” The text says “strong consolation.” If you are an heir of heaven, you may look for severe trials.

“Crosses each day and trials hot
The Christian’s path has been,
And who has found a happy lot
Without a cross between?”

All the followers of the Great Cross-bearer are cross-bearers too; but then there is the strong consolation for the strong tribulation.

     What is strong consolation? I shall occupy but two or three minutes in bringing that out; I think strong consolation is that which does not depend upon bodily health. What a cowardly old enemy the devil is! When we are strong and vigorous in body, it is very seldom that he will tempt us to doubt and fear, but if we have been racked with hours of pain and sleepless nights, and are getting to feel faint and weary, then becomes in with his horrible insinuations: “God will forsake you. His promise will fail!” He is vile enough to put his black paws on the brightest truth in the Bible, ay, upon even the very existence of God himself, and turn the boldest believer into the most terrible doubter, so that we seem to have gone bodily over to the army of Satan and to be doubting every good thing that is in the word of God. Strong consolation, even at such times, enables us still to rejoice  in the Lord though every nerve should twinge, and every bone should seem melted into jelly with pain. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Let him crush me, but he shall get nothing out of me but the wine of resignation. I will not fly in his face, but still say, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” O may you have such strong consolation, my dear brethren.

     Strong consolation is that which is not dependent upon the excitement of public services and Christian fellowship. We feel very happy on a Sunday here when we almost sing ourselves away to everlasting bliss, and when the sweet name of Jesus is like ointment poured forth, so that the virgins love it. But when you are in colder regions, how is it? Perhaps you are called to emigrate, or go into the country to a barren ministry where there is nothing to feed the soul. Ah, then, if you have not good ground for your soul to grow in, what will ye do? Those poor flowers which depend altogether upon being watered, how soon they fade if they are forgotten for a little while! May we have root in ourselves and drink of the dew of heaven, and be like the “tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season, whose leaf also shall not wither.” This is to have strong consolation. Ministries are blessed, but oh! we must live on surer bread than ministries if we would have the highest form of life. We must use the means so long as God gives us the means, but we must have a spiritual life that could live even if means were denied us, in fact, a grace that would become the fountain of the means of grace to others if we were banished to any distant land. May we have such a consolation.

     Brethren, the strong consolation which God gives his people is such as no mere reasoning can shake. Persons are often afraid that new infidelities will upset our holy religion, that diggings in the earth, or searchings in the skies, will cast suspicion on the word of God; now, beloved, I bear witness that I have never seen, so far as I recollect, any attack which touched in the slightest degree the central soul of Christianity. All the attacks I have ever heard of in my short life have always been upon what carnal men could discern, namely, the outskirts of religion, such as the correctness of the numbering in the book of Genesis, or the geology of Moses. But, my dear friend, how is it that they do not attack the spiritual life of the believer? Why are there none who touch the root of the matter by denying the fact of spiritual life, and showing that spiritual phenomena are to be otherwise accounted for? Let them prove that there is no such thing as prevailing prayer, and that God does not hearken to the voice of a man; let them show that there is no such thing as joy in the Lord, no abounding of the consolations of the Holy Ghost within the spirit. No, they do not try to disprove these facts, because the only answer that the church of God would give to them, if they once attacked her real strength, would be this, “The virgin daughter of Zion hath shaken her head at thee, and laughed thee to scorn.” If I cannot defend the book of Genesis against the arithmetic of a prelate, if I cannot defend certain dogmas against the sneers of a clever unbeliever, I yet believe that I could do so if I were better taught; but if the reasoners will come to battle with me about my blessed Lord and Master, and the power of his blood, and the secret of the Lord that is with them that fear him, I will cut them in pieces as Samuel hewed Agag before the Lord, for my own experience makes me strong. Oh, it is sweet contending here, for reason is laughed to scorn. You might as well reason me out of the tooth-ache, or convince me that I do not exist, as reason me out of my consciousness that I love Christ, and that I am saved in him. They cannot touch the essentials of vital godliness, and this is a strong consolation which reasoning no more woundeth than men come at leviathan with spears and swords, for he laugheth at them, and accounteth their spears as rotten wood.

     Strong consolation, again, because it will bear up under conscience, and that is a harder pressure than mere reasoning can ever bring. Conscience saith, “Ay, but thou art a wretch indeed! See what thou didst before conversion! and what hast thou been since? Those good works of thine are all spoiled, rotten like apples with the maggot in them, though they be bright red to look upon.” Oh, do you not know what it is to see your prayers, and your preachings, your givings, all tumble to pieces, and all blown away like dust before the March winds? Ah, then, it is blessed to have a strong consolation which enables you to say, “I know all this, and I know a great deal more. I, the chief of sinners am, but Jesus died for me; and if I were blacker still, Jesus would wash me; if I were more of a devil than I am, he could make me a saint. I rest in him, and in him alone, and not in self nor anything within, but wholly on the work of Jesus, and the perfect righteousness of my atoning Lord.” Oh, this is strong consolation which can quiet the clamours of conscience!

     Ay, and we can deal with Satan with his horrible insinuations and blasphemies, and still can say, “I will trust in the Lord and not be afraid.” It is a strong consolation that can deal with outward trials when a man has poverty staring him in the face, and hears his little children crying for bread; when bankruptcy is likely to come upon him through unavoidable losses; when the poor man has just lost his wife, and his dear children have been put into the same grave; when one after another all earthly props and comforts have given way, it needs a strong consolation then; not in your pictured trials, but your real trials, not in your imaginary whimsied afflictions, but in the real afflictions, and the blustering storms of life. To rejoice then, and say, “Though these things be not with me as I would have them, yet hath he made with me an everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure;” this is strong consolation.

     And it will be proved to be so by-and-by with some of us, when we shall be in the solemn article of death, for I doubt not that the message will come to many of us, ere long, “The pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel at the cistern, and the spirit must return to God that gave it.” Ah! then to lie quiet on the bed, and look death in the face and call it friend, and look into an eternity so surely ours, with all its natural gloom and all the alarm which this poor flesh and blood naturally feels at the parting pang, and yet calmly to prepare ourselves for undressing, expecting to be satisfied when we wake up in his likeness; this needs strong consolation. And to do even more than this, as many of God’s saints have done, to go down into the river, singing as they go, “Glory! glory! glory! hallelujah  through him that loved us, we are more than conquerors. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be unto God, which give thus the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is strong consolation indeed. Dear brethren and sisters, by these two immutable things, wherein it is impossible for God to lie, may you have strong consolation from this time forth, even for ever and ever. Amen and amen.



The Bellows Burned

By / Sep 12

The Bellows Burned

 

“The bellows are burned.”— Jeremiah vi. 29.

 

THE prophets frequently spoke in parables. This they did partly to excite the attention of their hearers. Those to whom they spoke might not have listened to didactic truth expressed in abstract terms, but when they heard mention of common things, such as bellows, and lead, and brass, they turned aside, and asked, “What is this which this man hath to say?” Moreover, metaphors often convey to the mind truth which otherwise would not have reached the understanding, for men frequently see under the guise and form of an illustration a doctrine which, if it had been nakedly stated, they could not have comprehended. Illustrations, like windows, let light into the chambers of the mind. There is this use also in a metaphor, that even if it be not understood at first, it excites thought, and men exercise their minds upon it as children upon an enigma, and so they learn perhaps more through a dark saying than through a sentence transparent at first sight. Yet farther, metaphorical speech is apt to abide upon the memory, it retains its hold, even upon the unwilling mind, like a lion which has leaped upon a giraffe in the desert. Mere bald statement is soon forgotten, but illustrations stick in the soul like hooks in a fish’s mouth. Hence I thought it right, this morning, to take the simple and homely illustration of the text, which Jeremiah aforetime had so well used, and see if we cannot impart thereby some arousing truths to your minds. Perhaps you may with more pleasure attend to them, exercise more thought upon them, and embrace them more earnestly in your memory, because they come in homely pictorial garb.

     I. “The bellows are burned.” This short sentence, as Jeremiah used it, was intended to apply to THE PROPHET HIMSELF.

     He likens the people of Israel to a mass of metal. This mass of metal claimed to be precious ore, such as gold or silver. It was put into the furnace, the object being to fuse it, so that the pure metal should be extracted from the dross. Lead was put in with the ore to act as a flux (that being relied upon by the ancient smelters, as quicksilver now is in these more instructed days); a fire was kindled, and then the bellows were used to create an intense heat, the bellows being the prophet himself. lie complains that he spake with such pathos, such energy, such force of heart, that he exhausted himself without being able to melt the people’s hearts; so hard was the ore, that the bellows were burned before the metal was melted— the prophet was exhausted before the people were impressed; he had worn out his lungs, his powers of utterance; he had exhausted his mind, his powers of thought; he had broken his heart, his powers of emotion; but he could not divide the people from their sins, and separate the precious from the vile.

     Now, alas! this is no solitary case, for throughout the whole history of the line of heaven-sent ambassadors, this has been the rule and not the exception; the bellows have in almost every case been burnt, but the metal has not been melted. It was so with Noah. For one hundred and twenty years that preacher of righteousness continued to warn the people of the coming deluge. He added to his words the more powerful eloquence of deeds, for, moved with fear, he prepared an ark, so that his preaching and his practice agreed together; and yet by the space of one hundred and twenty years he laboured on, but not one single person was led to find a shelter in the ark which he prepared; and, with the exception of himself and family, the whole of his auditors perished in the judgment against which he warned mankind. In the after times God’s servants seldom fared better; the most of them were despitefully persecuted, and at best they were treated with neglect. Listen to the mournful question of Isaiah, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” “All day long,” he saith, “I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people.” As for Jeremiah, from whom we borrow our text to-day, he was indeed like the bellows burned in the fire, for you hear him crying, “O that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people and that famous lament of Jeremy, at the end of his prophecy, remains on record as one of the most wonderful utterances of woe that could be poured out by a patriot and a prophet over a captive people. Need I add that even to the days of John the Baptist, the servants of God wearied themselves in vain with a graceless people? Nay, it was not so with prophets only, for he, our Lord and King, the chief of all teachers, hired no less cruelly at the hands of men. Never man spake like that Man. ne was indeed a bellows that might well, with his vehement force, have created a heat that might melt an adamant stone; but yet, after one of his most mighty sermons, his hearers would have cast him down headlong from the brow of the hill whereon their city was built; and at the end of his life’s sermon you know how the cross and the thorn-crown were the honours meted out to him. Sooner than the people would repent, and become as molten metal, the Messiah himself was made like the bellows which are burnt by long use at the fire.

     Nor has this ceased to be the fact. Since the days of Christ, civilisation, with all its progress, has not softened the human heart. Men are no more amenable to the jurisdiction of God than they used to be. That heart which, in prophetic times, was like the nether millstone, is not to-day like wax. Looking down the list of the apostles, and of the confessors who followed them, we perceive what were the rewards accorded to the messengers of the Lord; they were stoned, were burned, were cast to beasts, or drowned in the sea. The faithful servants of God and truth were housed only in desert caves or sepulchral catecombs or loathsome dungeons; the comforts afforded them were the stocks, the fetter, and the rack; their dying honours were the illuminations of the stake or the glitter of the headsman’s axe; and as for burial, fall often they found no sextons but the dogs. The world was not worthy of them, and yet it cast them out as too vile to live. Instead of the nations returning to their God, they took the messengers of the King one by one and treated them despitefully, and slew them and cast them out of the vineyard. This iron-hearted world could not be melted; let the preachers of righteousness blow their vital breath upon the coals, the fire would burn the bellows, but not melt the ore.

     Now, what saith this? Doth it not tell the preacher, and each one of us who are labouring for Christ, that we ought never to be discouraged when we meet with little rebuffs from those whom we seek to bless? Ye have not yet resisted unto blood striving against sin. What if you have been ridiculed? What if your best endeavours have been misrepresented? What is this compared with the sufferings of those who have gone before? Do you run with the footmen, and do they weary you? what would you have done if you had been destined to contend with horses? If these light afflictions, which are but for a moment, make you cry, “I will speak no more in the name of the Lord”? of what coward blood are you! How little worthy are you to be written in the same muster-roll with those who counted not their lives dear unto them that they might win Christ and gather in his redeemed! If you try to be like the bellows to melt these hard hearts, and make them flow into the mould of Christ’s gospel, you must expect to be burned in the fire; and because you encounter a little persecution, or disrespect, or difficulty, do you flee to your chamber and cry, “I will give it up”? Shame upon you; rather redouble your efforts, and pray God to give you a greater blessing by way of success, or if not, greater patience to bear his will. For mark you. brethren, though the bellows were burnt and the metal was not molten, the work was only lost so far as the metal was concerned, the Great Founder had not lost his pains. Men shall glorify God one way or the other whenever the gospel is preached to them. If they reject that message of love, yet they have made manifest in them the longsuffering of God in having borne with their hardheartedness; they show the mercy of God in having sent the gospel to such unworthy persons. They cast all slurs away from the severity of God, for clearly it cannot be too severe to visit with vengeance those who have wilfully rejected mercy. Those who weary out the preacher, who brings them nothing but good news, deserve to be left in misery; it can by no means be complained of that by-and-by another preacher, with heavier tidings, is sent to summon them to judgment. The damned in hell who heard the gospel, oh! say not that the minister’s toil was lost because they rejected his entreaties. May we labour not in vain, and spend not our strength for nought, for God’s honour is vindicated, and his justice cleared from all manner of accusation, since the lost from among these our cities perished not without the opportunities of mercy, and they went not down to the pit because relentless justice would not accept repentance. They had space for repentance, they had invitations to return, but they resolved on daring the wrath of God. The wooings of mercy were used, and the entreaties of love were spent upon them, but inasmuch as they would not come, their blood is upon their own heads, and even in the terrible wrath of God his rejected mercy is honoured. The preacher must not suppose that if men are not converted, he has lost his work. We are unto God a sweet savour as well in them that perish as in them that are saved; though in them that perish we be unto the men themselves a savour of death unto death, yet we are still a sweet savour unto God. If we do but proclaim the gospel, and are willing to wear ourselves out in so doing, if the bellows be burned, yet, verily I say unto you, we shall not lack our reward; if we receive no recompense in the conversion of souls, we shall have it from the lip of him who shall say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! If thou hast not been successful, yet thou hast been faithful. Enter into the joy of thy Lord!”

     We must not pass from this first meaning of the text without noticing, that while it is the preacher’s business to continue to labour till he be worn out like the bellows that are burnt, yet his so doing involves many solemn consequences upon those for whom he labours so unsuccessfully. O my hearers, this is the great test that discerns between the precious and the vile, between the chosen and the reprobate. The gospel is the infallible test; if it come to thee being preached affectionately and with the Holy Spirit, if it do not save thee, it confirms thee in thy ruin; if it do not lift thee up to heaven, it will be like a millstone about thy neck to sink thee to the lowest hell. I know of none who are in a more hopeless case than those who have long listened to the gospel, preached to them with all affection and earnestness, and yet have resolved to continue in the error of their ways. We cannot tell what the metal is till we get it in the fire, but the fire tries it; and if thou hast lain long in the white heat of an impressive gospel ministry, the love of Jesus being like coals of juniper, and yet thou hast never been melted, if thou do not tremble for thyself I take leave to tremble for thee. If a mother has pleaded with thee, if she has even gone to her grave with sorrow because of the hardness of thy heart, oh! surely this will testify against thee in the day of reckoning; this marks thee, even to-day, as hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. If thou hast worn out one after another of faithful friends who would fain have conducted thee to the cross; if thou hast made thy God to be, as Amos saith, like a cart that is loaded with sheaves and pressed down, beware, O man, beware! Thou art filling up the measure of the Almighty’s wrath; it is almost full, and when it is filled, beware! beware! beware! God is long in being provoked, but when his anger is at last stirred within him, woe unto those against whom he lifteth up himself. Oil is a smooth and gentle thing, but once set it on ablaze, and how it burns! and love, that tender thing, if once it turns to jealousy, how terrible its flame! Christ is the Lamb to-day, but to-morrow he may be a lion to you if you reject him. That face which wept over Jerusalem, that dear face which is the very mirror of everything that is compassionate, will, if you continue hardened in heart, become the image of everything that is terrible; so that you shall call to the rocks, “Hide us,” and to the mountains, “Cover us; hide us from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne.” I wish that I had power to plead with you with the pathetic earnestness of Jeremiah. I fall far short of that, but I can at least speak with all his sincerity. I pray you do not wear us out with entreaties. Turn ye unto God while yet he gives you space. I pray you, if you have long rejected, harden no more your neck, lest you suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy. It may seem a slight thing to reject the preacher, but what if he be God’s ambassador! An insult to the Lord’s ambassador may be avenged by the Lord himself. Since we come to you with nothing but terms of love and invitations of mercy, and say to you, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved,” we pray you, in Christ’s stead, put not away our invitations, lest while we are exhausted you also should be condemned. God bless this gentle word of admonition to many of you, and Christ shall have glory by it.

     II. We turn now to a second interpretation of the text. This does not materially vary from the first. By the bellows may be here meant, and according to many expositors it is so meant, THE AFFLICTIONS WHICH GOD SENDS UPON UNGODLY MEN.

     These afflictions are sent with the design of seeing whether they will melt in the furnace or not. If words of admonition have not been successful with them, God often in his great mercy tries with the ungodly the judgments of providence, if perhaps by humbling them in their estate, or paining them in their bodies, or bereaving them of their friends, they may be brought into a humbler and better mind, and may then seek the favour of God. Now where grace comes with these afflictions, it often happens that this good result is answered, and like Manasseh, the sinner being taken among thorns, seeks unto the Lord and finds salvation; but without grace, without the Holy Ghost’s softening power, all the afflictions in the world are but like bellows that blow the fire, but they are sooner burnt— I mean the afflictions themselves are sooner exhausted— than the sinner’s heart is made to melt under the heat caused thereby.

     It is clear enough in history, that many men have been utterly insensible under divine judgments. Chief and foremost among these was Pharaoh. God sent upon him plague upon plague; the great bellows poured in a terrific blast upon the furnace into which the Egyptian was cast! Ten great and vehement tempests of wrath followed each other: the huge blast furnace might well have melted granite, but Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not let the people go. In the full blast of the bellows he did for a moment relent, and he said, “Intreat the Lord for me,” but it was all false repentance, for no sooner were the frogs or flies taken away, than once more he said, “Who is Jehovah? I will not let the people go.” He was raised up for this very purpose, to show forth the power of God to break those whom his mercy could not melt. There have been others like him. There are others like him, I fear me, in this congregation this morning; like Israel, given up to successive afflictions, they have for awhile repented, but then have returned again to their idols as fast as the judgments have been removed. They are like Ahaz, afflicted again and again, of whom it is written, “When he was afflicted, he sinned yet more and more: this is that king Ahaz.” Jerusalem was often chastened for her sins with siege and famine, plague and pestilence, but all this refining fire refined her not, and at last the incorrigible city was given over to her doom, her streets were rivers of blood, her palaces were a heap of ashes, and her very site was sown with salt, and her doom a theme of horror, making both the ears of him that heard it to tingle. Metal that will not melt must be cast away. I say there have been and there still are sinners upon whom the judgments of God seem to exert no melting power, but they grow harder the more severe the judgments of God become. Ah! my hearers, there are some such among you I fear. You have now suffered a long series of trials, one after another they have come upon you. Your heavenly Father will not let you perish without at least by his providence giving you line upon line, warning upon warning. He has not left you like Moab to be settled on your lees, but he has emptied you from vessel to vessel. Now, if all this has not brought you to his feet, you may expect to endure more trials yet. If slight strokes will not suffice, they shall grow thicker and heavier, or mark, you, the Lord may say, “Let him alone, he is given unto idols;” and then if he never smite you again, it shall be worse with you still, for whom God giveth up, hell shall swallow up, and where God’s providence and grace leave off, there God’s justice and his wrath begin, never to leave off world without end. O you that have just escaped from a sick bed, saved as by the skin of your teeth from the jaws of death; O you that have lost your property and have been brought down from opulence to penury; O you that have suffered bereavements following each other, whose scars are fresh upon your soul, throw yourselves into the arms of him who smites you, yield to him at once, it is far too unequal a combat. Let not the stubble contend with the fire, let not the tow defy the flame. Thou shalt be utterly consumed in the day of his terrors, when he layeth bare his arm to deal with thee. If his rod makes thee smart, what will his sword do! and if the hidings of his power have been so terrible, what will it be when he puts on his armour and comes forth to fight against thee ? Let not God exhaust his afflictions on thee. O let not the Lord be made to say, “O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee?” Behold, he has digged about you, he has done for his vineyard all that could be done, yet if there be no more to be done in mercy, there will be much more to be done in vengeance. If the bellows be burned, yet the fire is not quenched, and that fire shall burn even to the lowest hell. God save thee from it for his mercy’s sake.

     III. A third application of the text may be allowed. The bellows are burned. This may be an allusion to THE CHASTISEMENTS WHICH GOD SENDS UPON HIS OWN PEOPLE, which are not always so successful as they ought to be, by reason of the hardness of his servants’ hearts; and in such cases it does seem as if affliction itself would be exhausted before they would be purified, the bellows would be burned before the metal would be melted.

     My dear fellow Christians, you and I, if we are walking very near to God, ought to know, and do know, that God gives us much instruction by little hints. When two persons perfectly understand each other, they can say almost as much with their eyes as others can with their tongues. Now, you who are the King’s favourites, will sometimes suffer a little twitch of bodily pain, or a little trial in business, or some slight relative affliction; that little trouble may be the Lord speaking to you with, as it were, a shake of the head or a lifting of the finger. There is something in you which your loving Lord would have you purge out, something displeasing to him or dangerous to you. Now search and look for this upon the faintest hint. He hath said, “I will guide thee with mine eye;” but he has added, “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding:” for mark you, dear brethren, if you do not observe those motions of God’s eye, he loves you too well to let you sin, and therefore the hints will become stronger, and they will be more painful; for, notice how the psalmist proceeds: “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.” God does not wish to bit and bridle you, he would have you guided with the gentle warnings of his eye; but if you will not accept the tenderer guidances, why then it must come to the snaffle and the whip. If you will not be melted at a common heat, you shall find the temperature rising higher and higher; and if one severe trial be not sanctified to you, you may expect another of a still hotter sort; for the Great Refiner will have his gold pure, and will utterly remove our tin. I do not lay down the doctrine, that all our afflictions are indications of indwelling sin, on the contrary, I believe that some afflictions may be sovereign; that other afflictions are sent for a trial of our graces, that God may be glorified by our victories and yet a third class are intended to promote our advance in grace; but yet I am persuaded that the rod in God’s house is principally used because of the offendings of the children; and I am persuaded that if you would be spared that rod, so far as it is a chastening rod, you can only escape it by obedience, and by a very careful observance of the gentle motions of your Father’s eye. Why, a dear child, when he is living obediently and lovingly with his father, does not need in order to repentance to have done so much amiss as to cause his father to speak— he is grieved if he has done enough to make his father shake his head — that shake of the head cuts him to the quick; and should he unhappily provoke a sharp word from his lather, why then his tender heart communicates with his weeping eye, and he cannot forgive himself. Yet there are unloving children, who will even rebel until they draw down blows upon themselves, and even then hold out till the strokes are multiplied, and the father proceeds from chastenings to repeated chastenings. I am afraid the most of us are such children. We cause our Father to chasten us very frequently, and if we have to mourn amid many tribulations, we may well say, “Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” Brethren, do not let it be said of us that the bellows are used till they are worn out before our afflictions melt us to repentance, and cause us to let go our sins, but let us seek of the Lord a spirit that is amenable to his rod, a filial heart, a sensitive nature. O that the breath of his word may make fire enough to melt our hearts to repentance, and that we may never provoke trials which shall even burn the bellows.

     IV. Fourthly, I may, without violence to propriety, use the text as if it taught that the time is coming when THE EXCITEMENT OF UNGODLY MEN, which now keeps the fire of their activity vigorously burning, will be taken away from them, and then they will flag and die out in sorrow.

     The fire in the smithy burns gaily and merrily, and sends forth troops of leaping sparks dancing into the air like stars; but no sooner do the bellows cease to blow than there remains only a little fire, end by-and-by only cold coals and dead ashes, for everything depends on the bellows. Perhaps, my hearer, this morning you are like a furnace excited by the bellows, and your excitement is the pursuit of wealth. You can rise early, you can sit up late, you can fag, you can bear a deal of exertion and mental strain, because you are bent on accumulating a fortune. Yes, but what would you do, what have some done when sudden reverses have swept away the accumulations of a life, or when a panic has blown down their speculations like card houses! Oh, what tears have strong men shed in this city, tears which fell not outside the cheek, these had been harmless; but they dropped within the soul, to scald and sear it with ever-abiding melancholy! That which cheered and comforted them, the gain of wealth, has gone, and the busy merchants have been ready for the lunatic asylum or for suicide. How these golden bellows will cease to blow when men come to die! Ah, how little will wealth stimulate the joys of the last moment! Fool, thou hast only bought thyself a marble tomb, and what is that to thy poor dust and ashes? Thou art now to leave all thou hast; thou art as the partridge that sitteth on the eggs, but hatcheth them not; thy joys are all for another, and not for thee. Oh, how often do men that have been happy enough in the accumulation of riches, die in utter misery, with all their gold and silver about them, because their bellows of avaricious acquisition have been burned by their very success, and the flame of hope and ambition has hopelessly died out!

     Many activities are kept up by the love of fame. Men have climbed step by step the ladder of public esteem, and loved the dizzy height. How men will flame and blaze while fame blows the bellows! How content men are to burn away their lives for the approbation of their fellow creatures; yet many of them have lost all joy in honour long before they have departed this life! and certainly those who have nothing else to inspire the flame of hope in the last article of death but the approbation of men, will find their fires dwindling sadly low, and dark, dark, dark must be their departure. How sad for a soul to know that the clangour of fame’s trumpet is dying-away from its ears to be superseded by the blast of that awful trumpet ordained to wake the dead and call them to their last account! O dear hearers, live not with such aims as these, or your bellows will be burned.

     Often, alas! conspicuously often, men live for pleasure, and for pleasure they destroy body and soul. But after awhile, satiety follows lust, enjoyment palls, and the man’s vigour decays, and his mirth is gone. The last days of the votary of fleshly pleasure, are like that dwindling fire, which, despite its temporary blaze, is a poor unwarming, dying thing when the bellows foster it no longer. Alas! for the wretch who is dead while he lives, standing amid his felines like a blasted tree amid the forest that has been riven by the lightning, a little lingering verdure proves that life is yet there, but the decaying trunk and sapless branches show how near it is to death. Make not pleasure the bellows of your life, lest these bellows be burned in the fire, and the flame of your joy go out.

     Others have made the great bellows of their life hypocrisy. They have been religious that they might be esteemed; they have frequented God’s house that they might be thought respectable; but at last they have been unmasked, or if not, in the last hour death has knocked off their mask, and let the man see in the looking glass of truth what he really was. The silver veil has been taken from the pretender’s leprous brow, and he has seen himself to be accursed, and then, poor wretch, how the bellows have been burned in the fire — no longer could he keep up his feigned zeal and pretended joy, his hopes turned to ashes, and his consolations died out in despair.

     My dear hearers, have nothing for your stimulus but that which will last as long as you last; have nothing for your master motive but that which you can take with you beyond the grave. Seek nothing as the grand object of your existence but that which may be suitable for an immortal’s pursuit. Remember, this life is not all, and the grave is not the goal of being. You are not dumb driven cattle, going to the shambles of death, there to be slaughtered and forgotten, you are about to enter through the porch of this life into the palace of eternity, or, if you will dare to make it so, the dungeon of eternity. Your future shall be as this life foretells it. O that you may be helped by divine grace, to spend this life, that from it you may pass into the better, and not so to waste this present, that from it you may descend into that worst of ills which hath no end.

     V. The last use we shall make of the text is this, “The bellows are burned.” This may be applied to THOSE EXCITEMENTS WHICH KEEP ALIVE THE CHRISTIAN S ZEAL. The mercy is that I can only apply this negatively; for I trust we are well assured that the bellows which maintains our spirit’s ardour are not burned.

     My dear friends, we have, in our time, seen in certain churches great blazings of enthusiasm, as if Vesuvius and Etna had both taken to work; these outbursts of flame have been misnamed revivals, but might just as well have been called agitations. I have known, in my short time, certain churches, in the paroxysms of delirium, meeting houses crowded, aisles filled, preachers stamping and thundering, hearers intoxicated with excitement, and persons converted by wholesale— even children converted by hundreds— they said thousands. Well, and a month or two after, where were the congregations? where were the converts? Echo has answered, “Where, where?” Why, the converts were worse sinners than they were before; or mere professors, puffed up into a superficial religion, from which they soon fell into a hopeless coldness, which has rendered it difficult ever to stir them again. I love all genuine revivals, with all my heart, and I would aid and abet them; but I now speak of certain spurious things which I have seen, and which are not uncommon even now, where there has not been God’s Holy Spirit, but mere excitement, loudness of talk, bigness of words, fanaticism, and rant, and nothing more. Now, in such cases, why was it the fire went out? Why, the man who blew the bellows went away to use his lungs elsewhere, and as soon as ever the good man, who, by his remarkable manner and telling style, had created this stir, was gone the fire went out. I have known quiet churches in which the same thing has happened in a manner equally grievous. The people have been very earnest, and much good work has been done, but the departure to heaven of their excellent minister has been to this people what the death of a judge was to the children of Israel. O may God spare those valued lives, which in our churches promote the earnestness of God’s people, and may it be long before the bellows are burned! But, still, mark you, our zeal ought not so to be sustained. The fervour of the church ought never to be dependent upon the eloquence of any man. Our reason for earnestness should not depend on the ministrations of any particular individual. Principle ought to sway us and not passion— real fervour, and not the excitement which may be gathered from vehement speech and crowded assemblies.

     Brethren and sisters, I shall not enlarge upon this except to come home to you. There may be those here who in years now past were very earnest, and the fire in their soul was burning very vehemently. To you I speak; you were generous in your gifts, you were constant in your attendance upon the means of grace, you were always at the prayer meetings, you were diligent in pious labours, you were happy and useful; but now you have subsided into a state of lethargy. You give but little, you pray but little, you work less, and feel scarcely anything. You have grown colder, and colder, and colder by degrees, till you are now as chill as the North Pole itself. Now, brother, how is it that your bellows are burned? How is it that the excitements which kept you alive are gone? Ought they to have departed? Am I not right in saying that your obligations remain the same as ever they did? Ten years ago, you owed your salvation to the precious blood of Jesus Christ, to what do you owe it now? Ten years ago you were nothing but a sinner looking up to the crucified Saviour, what are you now? How much of your debt to Christ Jesus have you paid? Can you boast of not being as much in debt as then? I frankly confess that if I owed my Lord much twenty years ago, I owe him far more to-day, and instead of rising out of his debt, I sink the deeper and the deeper in it, for I am all over in debt to him. Your obligations, my brother, then remain. If they made you zealous ten years ago, why not now? If it was but right and justice that you should live for Christ, who bought you then, in the name of right and justice what shall excuse you now? As your obligations remain the same, so your Master abides the same. If you loved Jesus then, and for the glory of his name you sprang into the forefront of the battle, is he less worthy now? Is Christ less lovely? Does he love you less? Has he been less faithful? Is he to-day less kind? Is his intercession failing, is his precious blood losing its cleansing power? Can you afford, therefore, to treat him worse when he is still the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever? Why, if it really was obligation to Christ, and attachment to his person, that acted as the bellows to keep your zeal blazing, there are the same bellows to-day; and why not be just as earnest, or even more so? My dear friend, surely at this moment the strength that keeps your soul alive is the same as it used to be. You were sustained in the past by the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit has grown old, and his power is palsied, I can understand your zeal becoming feeble and your being excused for it; but since the Holy Spirit is always the same, ought not the fruits to be the same? If you only had your native strength, I can understand your decaying, as we all must by the lapse of years; but the immortal life within you is not affected by the decay of the body, it ought to bring forth fruit in old age to show that he Lord is upright. Since your strength is still the same, the bellows re not burned, and let the fire flame up afresh to-day.

     Moreover, you that served God in your youth, should remember that ,he objects for which you served God remain the same. Souls are as precious to-day as they were when you, as a lad, gave your heart to Christ. Ah! you thought then you could do anything to win a soul. Hut men are damned to-day as they were then; hell is as hot now as it was then; death is as terrible a thing to-day as it was twenty years ago; and therefore let not the bellows be burned, but return to the fulness of your zeal, and serve your Master as you did in the days of your espousals.

     My dear friend, for you to decline as you grow older will be to make the world say, “That man gets wiser, and the wiser he gets the less he loves God; therefore,” say they, “it is foolish to love God at all.” Will you put such pleas into the mouths of blasphemers? Will you be an advocate for the devil? Will you thus practically help the ungodly to sleep on in their careless disregard of God? I pray you do not so. As you grow in grace, and I trust you do so if you are indeed a Christian, is it consistent that the stronger the tree grows the less it should bear? Is it consistent that if the child worked the man should sleep? If the boy carried his burden, is the full grown man to carry none? Are you, because you progress in the divine life, to be gradually excused all Christian service? Shall only the recruits march to battle, and the veterans never bear the banner nor wave the sword? Oh, it must not be! Besides, you are drawing nearer heaven, and are you to be less heavenly as you get nearer to the New Jerusalem? Are you to serve God less as you approach nearer to the place where you are to serve him day and night without weariness? Are you to be less like Christ as you approach nearer to the place where you are to be altogether like him? No; scorn such insinuations—

“Let every flying hour confess
We bring thy gospel fresh renown;
And when our lives and labours cease
May we possess the promised crown.”

Suspect, dear brother, that if your zeal is flagging, there must have been some other motive than a heavenly one that made it so lively at first, for heavenly motives never cease, neither do they lose their reasonableness, or their efficacy. Ask yourselves if you were genuinely converted. Examine yourselves whether you are really in the faith, for if you are not, it is no wonder that your piety declines; but if you are true converts, your faith must be as the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. Instead of bellows burned in the fire, brethren, may it be yours and mine to go to our grave in a hale old age with more earnestness within than our bodies can execute. Mav we serve our Master till the last minute. If the scabbard be worn out, let the sword be sharp. God grant us every day we live to serve him better, every hour that he gives us here to be getting more and more spiritually minded, more and more anxious to tell abroad the glories of his name. God bless you for Christ’s sake. Amen.