A Generous Proposal

By / Jun 22

A Generous Proposal

 
“Come thou, with us, and we will do thee good.” — Numbers x. 29.

 

THESE ancient words, so simple, yet so sweet, fascinate us with a potent hallowed charm. They ring out their melody like a familiar air; the language of a heart instinct with kindness, inspired with faith, and inspirited with the enthusiasm of a hope so much divine, that the lapse of ages impairs not their force, or diminishes aught from their natural spontaneous freshness. This story of Hobab one can hardly read without remembering the apostolic declaration that the law was a “shadow of good things to come.” A truly instructive shadow it was. In this instance the shadow is so like the image, the type so like the antitype, that we can almost see the Christian church, and the convert as he is invited to unite with it, and we may behold in metaphor the blessings of which he may expect to be a partaker in so doing. “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good,” seems to be quite as suitable an address from the lips of a Christian pastor as from those of the prophet of Horeb, who was king in Jeshurun. We do not feel in the least degree hesitant as if we were wrenching the words from their natural association, or even exercising the slightest ingenuity in accommodating them to our own circumstances, so suitable do they seem for our use.

     The people of Israel in the wilderness were a type of the church of Christ. The invitation here given was such as may be given to those who are proper subjects for communion with the Christian church. We shall proceed accordingly, this evening, to talk to you upon four things — first, the nature of a true church as it is depicted by Israel in the wilderness; secondly, the bounden obligation of such a church to invite suitable persons to join it; thirdly, the argument that the church may use, and the inducements it will always have to offer in setting forth the benefits to be conferred on those who heartily respond; and fourthly, the scrupulous fidelity it behoves us, as members of the church, to observe in keeping our pledge ever afterwards to seek the welfare of such as unite with our fellowship.

     I. First, then, WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A TRUE CHURCH AS IT IS PICTURED BY ISRAEL IN THE WILDERNESS?

     We might prolong the answer to this question with many minute features, but it will be unnecessary at present to do more than give you a simple broad outline. The people in the wilderness were a redeemed people. They had been redeemed by blood and redeemed by power. The sprinkling of the blood of the paschal lamb over their lintels and their door-posts had secured their safety when the first-born of Egypt was slain. Thus they were redeemed by blood, while wonderful miracles were wrought throughout the whole land, and at the last when threatened and pursued by their oppressors, the whole of the pride and pomp of Egypt was destroyed in the Red Sea; they were indeed redeemed by power. So, all the true members of God’s church understand what the blood of sprinkling means. They have enjoyed a Passover through it. God has passed over them — passed over them in mercy; justice has executed its warrant upon the person of the Lamb, and they have escaped — they have been redeemed by blood. And the Holy Spirit has entered into their hearts, and made them hate their former sins, has delivered them from the dominant power of their inward corruptions, has set them free and brought them out of the bondage of sin. Thus they have also been redeemed by power, and no one has any right to think himself a member of Christ’s church unless by faith he has seen himself redeemed by blood, and in his experience has also been redeemed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

     But, according to our text and the context, the Israelites were a people who were passing through a land wherein they found no rest, neither did they desire any, for they were journeying to another country, the promised land, the Canaan. Now, here is another description of the true church of God. They are not of the world, even as Christ is not of the world. This is not their rest. Here they have no continuing city. Objects which may suit men who have no outlook beyond death would not be suitable to them. That which rejoices the heart of the mere worldling gives them but very slender solace. Their hope and their consolation lie beyond the river. They look for a city that hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God. Judge then, my dear hearer, whether you are a member of God’s church, of the church of Jesus Christ, for if you are, you are a stranger and a foreigner this night here below, however pleasant the tent of your pilgrimage may be, for your Father’s house on high is your destination; you are an exile from your home, albeit to your faith’s foreseing eye its golden gates may never so clearly appear. You have not yet come to your rest, but there remaineth to you a rest, a rest to which you shall come in due time, though you have not yet reached it. May I entreat you to put these questions to your own hearts as they arise, and judge yourselves.

     Israel in the wilderness, according to the text, again, was a people walking by faith as to the future, for if you remember, the words are, “They were going to the place of which the Lord said, I will give it to you.” They had never seen it; no one had come from it to tell them of it. True, in after days some spies had returned, but they brought up an ill report of the land, so that the people required even more faith then than they did before. If anyone had said to them, “But, if there be a land that floweth with milk and honey, how will you gain it? The inhabitants thereof are strong and mighty; how are you sure that you will ever obtain this goodly land?” the only reply would have been, “The Lord hath spoken to us concerning it.” Every true Israelite had been instructed as to the covenant God had made with Abraham when he said, " To thee and to thy seed will I give this land to possess it,” and every true Israelite was expecting that his people should find a lodgment and a portion in that land evermore because of the covenant which God had made with his fathers. They were walking, then, in that respect by faith, looking after a country which they had not seen, traversing a desert in search of a land which as yet they had not known, with only God’s word for their title-deed and nothing more. And such are God’s people now. As for joys to come, they have not tasted them, but they are looking for them because God has promised them. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit,” and the Spirit reveals them only to our faith. If you ask me, “How do you know that there is a heaven?” I must answer you, I believe it on God’s testimony; I have no other warrant for it. No man hath returned from that fair land to testify that he hath heard the everlasting song, or seen the blessed citizens as they stand in their bright array before the everlasting throne; nor want I that any such should return. God’s word is enough; let that stand instead of the testimony of ten thousand angels, or of myriads of the white-robed host of spirits who might have returned to tell the tale. We walk by faith as Israel did of old. Are you walking by such a faith? Do you believe in the unseen future, and does the hope of an unseen reward make you despise the present rewards of sin? Are you willing to bear the reproach of Christ because you count it greater treasure than all the riches of Egypt? Are you willing now to take up with Christ’s cross because you believe in Christ’s crown? Though you have not seen it yet do you believe in it, and rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory? Here is another mark of a member of the true church of Christ.

     These people, also, as to their present circumstances were walking by faith. It was not merely faith which sang to them of Canaan, but it was faith that told them of the manna which fell day by day, and the water which flowed from the rock, which stream followed them in their journeyings. Why, they could not live in any other way in the wilderness but by faith in God, for from that arid strand there sprang nought for their nourishment; here and there a palm-tree, now and then a cooling well, but for the most part, had it not been for the goodness of God, their way had been over a desert, cheerless, waste, and terrible. But he gladdened it for them, and made the place of his feet, and of their feet too, right glorious, for his mercy and his lovingkindness endure forever. Now, in this world the Christian man has to live by faith upon God as to present things. As to temporal necessities he must cast all his care on him who careth for us, but especially as to all spiritual supplies the Christian has no stock of grace. He has no inner spring within himself in his old nature. He has to look for everything that can sustain his new life to God, even the Father, who hath promised not to forsake him. Now surely, my dear hearer, you know whether you are living by present faith or not. If all your comfort is derived from that which you can handle, and hear, and see, and if your joys of life are only the outward things of the present, then are you no member of the church of God. Whether you may have been baptised, or confirmed — whatever profession you may have made, or whatever sign you may have received — you do not belong to Christ’s people, nor can you belong to them. But if you live by faith, I care not of what church you are a member, if you are exhibiting day by day a living faith upon a living but unseen God, if your trust is in his providence, if you daily resort to Christ for help and succour, if you have that faith which is the mark of God’s elect, you may depend upon it that you are one of his.

     One other mark let us give amongst very many more which might be mentioned. These people found, wherever they went, that they were surrounded by foes. In the wilderness the Amalekites were against them. When they crossed into the promised land all the inhabitants of Canaan were up in arms against them. So, I think, will you find it if you are a child of God. All places are fall of snares. Events, prosperous or adverse, expose you to temptation. All things that happen to you, though God makes them work for good, in themselves would work for evil. While here on this earth the world is no friend to grace to help you on to God. The bias of the current is not towards heaven; alas! it is the other way. “Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.” “The whole world lieth in the wicked one, and ye are of God, little children,” Darkness prevails. It cannot minister to your safety or to your happiness. Neither can the sinful world minister light to the understanding, peace to the conscience, joy to the heart, or holiness to the life of the believer. You will have to fight continually. Till the last step you take it will be a conflict, and you will never be able to sheathe your sword until you are in the bosom of Christ. Thus must you maintain the godly warfare,

“‘Till with yonder blood-bought crowd,
You shall sing on Canaan’s shore
Songs of triumph, sweet and loud;
War with Amalek no more.”

     Here, then, are some of the marks of the church of Christ. I hope that a part of that church worships in this house. A part of that church will be found to worship in every house of prayer where the disciples of our common Lord assemble, and the mystery of God and of the Father and of Christ is acknowledged.

     II. Let us pass on to the second word, which is this, that IT IS THE DUTY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH TO INVITE SUITABLE PERSONS TO JOIN WITH IT.

     As you read — “Come thou with us, and we will do these good” — say if these are not the terms in which any church should invite a suitable pastor to unite with it? I have always felt that they have a better application to a pastor than they have to the people; for it is said of Hobab, “Thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou shalt be unto us instead of eyes.” It was inviting a really efficient helper, who would be of great service to the Israelites, to come and cast in his lot with them. So should a church expect to find in its pastor one who may guide them, because he knows how they are to encamp in the wilderness, one who may be to them, in some respects, instead of eyes. Their invitation should come in this way, not only “Come thou with us, that we may get good out of thee” — that is one design — but it should also be, “Come thou with us, that we may do thee good, that we may hold up thy hands, that we may sustain thee by our prayers, that we may back thee up by our efforts ; that being led onward by thee from one work of Christian activity to another, we may never fail thee, never betray thee, but may stand with thee even to the last.” I believe you will seldom get much good unless you are willing also to confer good; those who are the nearest to the heart of the preacher, in all Christian service, will in all probability be most spiritually enriched under his ministry. I speak not of myself nor for myself, but I specially address myself now to those of you, my hearers, who are members of other churches. Do, I exhort you, love your ministers; stand up for their character in all companies; rally at their side in all their efforts; never let them have to regret your absence at the week-night service, or at any other time, if you can help it; let them see that you appreciate the men whom you have chosen to be over you in the Lord, and that you have said in inviting them to come among you, “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good.”

     Not to linger on that view, however pertinent and seasonable, let us take the words as significant of the manner in which churches should invite suitable persons to come among them as private members. Are there not those who go in and out merely as visitors worshipping with you, who have never joined hands with you in covenant? They meet with you as mere hearers, under the same ministry, but they have not identified themselves with the brotherhood to sit down and feast with you at the table of the Lord. To such as these the proposal may be made, and the welcome proffered. The conditions, of course, need to be thoroughly understood on our part as well as on theirs. We dare not invite anyone to join the visible church who has not first joined the invisible church. We do not believe that a man has any right to be baptised in water unless he has first been baptised in the Holy Ghost; nor that anyone has a right to eat of the Lord’s Supper, the outward signs of bread and wine, until he has eaten of the flesh and drank of the blood of the Son of Man, in a spiritual sense. He must have the essence of the symbol before we dare give the symbol. So a man must be vitally united to the living church of Christ before he has any right to be professionally united therewith. Hence, it would be a sin on the part of any child of God to say to anyone whom he knew to be an unconverted person, “Come and unite yourself with the church.” Nay, that cannot be. First, dear hearer, thou must be one with Christ, reconciled to God, a believer in the precious blood, and then afterwards mayst thou come to the church of God; but until then thou hast no part nor lot in this matter, for thou art still in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity. Moses did not thus invite any strangers or neighbours indiscriminately, saying, “Come ye with us,” but he invited Hobab as one whom he well knew, and of whose fitness he could feel no doubt. Was not Raguel his father, the priest of Midian, a servant of the Most High God? and was not Hobab also a worshipper of Jehovah, the God of Israel? “Come thou with us,” saith he, “thou art our kith and kin; birds of a feather flock together, come thou with us and we will do thee good; thou art one of our brethren, come and welcome, nothing shall stand in the way; come thou with us, and we will do thee good.”

     Now, I have heard persons speak on this wise, “I believe that my child has been converted, but you must not think that I have pressed him, for I never spoke to my child about religion.” I am heartily ashamed of a father who can say that, and I hope that he will be equally ashamed of himself. I quite agree, however, that no parent and no friend should press another to make a public profession of faith until he is as well assured as he possibly can be that the fruits of the Spirit are put forth in that child, or that friend; but, once assured of that, there can be no credit in holding your tongue about a Christian duty. It is the duty of every child of God to be associated with the Christian church, and surely it is part of our duty to instruct others to do what the Lord would approve of! Do not, therefore, hesitate to say to such as serve and fear the Lord, “How is it that you remain outside the pale of the visible church? Come thou with us, and we will do thee good.” So Moses did to Hobab.

     As it is a very kind and tender word, “Come thou with us,” let it be spoken persuasively. Use such reasoning as you can to prove that it is at once their duty and their privilege. Observe, Moses does not command, but he persuades; nor does he merely make a suggestion or give a formal invitation, but he uses an argument, he puts it attractively, “And we will do thee good.” So, look the matter up; study it; get your arguments ready, seek out inducements from your own experience. Draw a reason, and then and thus try to persuade your Christian friends.

     Do it heartily. Observe how Moses puts it as from a very warm heart. “Come thou with us; give me thy hand, my brother; come thou with us, and we will do thee good.” There are no “ifs” and “ands,” and “buts,” or, “Well, you may perhaps be welcome,” but “Come thou with us.” Give a hearty, loving, warm invitation to those whom you believe to be your brethren and sisters in Christ.

     Do it repeatedly if once will not suffice. Observe in this case, Hobab said he thought he would depart to his own land and his kindred, but Moses returned to the charge, and says, “Leave us not, I pray thee.” How earnestly he puts it! He will have no put off. If at first it was a request, now it is a beseeching almost to entreaty — “Leave us not, I pray thee.” And how he repeats the old argument, but puts it in a better light — “If thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what goodness the Lord shall do unto us, the same will We do unto thee.”

     I would, therefore, earnestly say to Christian brethren and sisters here, look out some among our congregation, such as you believe to be godly people, and put to them this matter. I am sure they are losing much benefit, and quite certain that they are standing in an irregular position. If it is right for any one Christian not to be a member of a church it is right for all Christians not to be members of churches: consequently it would be right for there to be no visible church, and ordinances might be dispensed with, for all these things must either consist through the maintenance of sacred order, or else collapse with the breach of godly discipline. What is not the duty of one is not the duty of any, and what is the duty of one is the duty of all, for we all stand alike before God. If I may be innocent in abstaining from union with the people of God, so may all of you; or if you may, so may I. There is no more obligation upon me to preach the gospel than there is upon any one of you to make a profession of his faith. If you are a Christian, the same rule of love that prompts me to speak for my Lord should prompt you in your way to speak for your Lord; and if I should not be excusable if I remained silent, and refused to bear my testimony, neither will you be excusable, being a Christian, if you refuse to unite yourself with the people of God. Remember our Master’s word, “Whosoever therefore, shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men” (which has the force there of not confessing) “him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”

     Before I leave this point let me call your attention to a certain sense in which Christian men may address this invitation to all that they meet with, “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good.” Not “come and join our church,” not “come and be members,” not “come and put on a profession of faith.” You cannot say that to any but to those in whom you see the fruits of the Spirit, but you may say, and you ought to say, to all persons of all classes on all sides, “Come away from the seed of evil doers, cast in your lot with the people of God; leave the world, come on pilgrimage to the better country; forsake the pursuit of vanities , lay hold on eternal life ; waste not all your thoughts upon the bootless Gares of time, think about the momentous matters of eternity. Why will you be companions of those who are upon the wrong side, and whose cause is the cause of evil? Why will you remain an enemy to God? Why will you be in an unreconciled state? We, by God’s grace, have cast in our lot with Christ and with his cause; we desire to live to his glory. Our ambition is to serve him. If we could we would live without sin, for we hate it and loathe it. If we could we would be as the angels are, without a single fault. Come and cast in your lot with us — that is, believe; that is, trust a Saviour slain; that is, put your soul into the custody of Christ the Intercessor; that is, press forward through a life of holiness on earth to a home of happiness in heaven. “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good.”

     So, then, the exhortation of our text which, strictly speaking, seems most applicable to the minister, becomes next suitable to the child of God who has not hitherto cast in his lot with the company of our Lord’s disciples; and after that, in a certain sense, it may be appropriately addressed to all who come under the sound of the gospel. “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good.”

     III. But now, our third observation is, that THE MAIN ARGUMENT — THE MOST POWERFUL INCENTIVE WE CAN EVER USE IS — THAT ASSOCIATION WITH THE CHURCH OF CHRIST WILL DO THOSE WHO ENTER INTO IT GOOD.

     I am sure it will, for I speak from experience; and if I were to call upon many scores, and even hundreds, in this house, they would all bear the same testimony, that union with the people of God has done them good. The church of God may say this, first, because she can offer to those who join with her good company. In the church of God are those who are called “the excellent of the earth,” in whom David said was all his delight. In the church of God are the humble, and meek, and lowly; and, though in that church there will come a traitorous Judas, yet there are not wanting the warm-spirited and loving John, the bold and daring Peter, the practical James, the well instructed Paul, in labours more abundant, and many of the precious sons of Zion and daughters of Jerusalem in like manner, of whom I might affirm, as the apostle did of Priscilla and Aquila, they are my helpers in Christ Jesus, unto whom I not only give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Truly we can sing with heart-felt sincerity, Dr. Watts’s paraphrase of David’s Psalm —

“Here my best friends, my kindred dwell,
Here God my Saviour reigns.”

Good company is ever a good thing, and the children of God may say to their brethren who have not yet joined with them, “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good,” for we will introduce you to the goodly fellowship of the saints, to a section of the general assembly and church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven, and whose work of faith, patience of hope, and labours of love, are so spread abroad throughout the world, even where their memory is forgot, that we need not to speak anything.

     “Come with us,” the church of God may say, “and you shall have good instruction” for it is in the true church of God that the doctrines of grace are preached, that the covenant of grace is unfolded, that the person of Christ is extolled, that the work of the Spirit is magnified, that all the precious things, indeed, which make up the spiritual meat of God’s servants are brought forth and put upon the table every Sabbath day. There the good stewards bring forth things both new and old. In the midst of the church the Good Shepherd makes us to lie down in the green pastures, and leads us beside the still waters. Come thou with us, and the teaching of the church shall do thee good; thou shalt hear those glorious doctrines which shall build thee up in thy most holy faith.

     “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good” in the best sense, for thou shalt feel in our midst the good presence of God. Where two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name, there is he in the midst of them; and in the greater assemblies of his people, when the solemn hymn swells up to heaven, and the fervent prayer rises like a cloud of sweet perfume, and the ministry of the gospel is diffused like a sweet smelling savour of Christ unto God — there God is; there the Father is, receiving returning prodigals, accepting his dear children who feel the spirit of adoption; there the Son is, manifesting himself unto them as he doth not unto the world; there the Spirit is, working in them to will and to do of his own good pleasure, and helping their infirmities as a Comforter and an Advocate. Have you not often felt the presence of God, my dear brethren and sisters, in your assemblies as the people of God? Can you not, therefore, say, with the recollections in your glowing hearts of the consolations you have received in association with each other, “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good”?

     Come with us again, for you shall participate in all the good offices of the church.” That is to say, my brother Christian, if thou wilt cast in thy lot with us, if there be prayer thou shalt have thy share in it. We will pray for thee in thy trouble, and trial, and anguish. If a brother’s voice can intercede for thee when thy tongue is dumb with grief, thou shalt certainly have such help as that can minister to thee. Come thou with us, for in the true church of God there is sympathy. Genuine believers are taught to “weep with those that weep,” and to “rejoice with those that rejoice.” They feel that they are members one of another, and partakers of the same life with Jesus Christ. If there be anything to be found in ordinances thou shalt have a share of that good thing. If the Lord reveals himself in the breaking of bread, thou shalt not be shut out from the table. Come thou with us, and when we behold him thou shalt see him too. Come thou with us, and if our fellowship be with Christ, thou shalt have a share in it; and if our conversation of the things of God be sweet and pleasant, thou too shalt have thy say and thy good word, and we will rejoice to hear thee. We invite thee to a pure brotherly fellowship, not to one of name only, but indeed and in heart. “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good.”

     But the good that Hobab was to get was not only on the road. He must have got a deal of good on the road, for he saw in the sacrifice what he had never seen before. While he walked amongst those tents of Judah he must have felt that God was remarkably present there as he had never felt it amongst the tents of Midian. He saw there every morning the pillar of cloud, and every night the pillar of fire. He heard the sound of the silver trumpets, he saw the uplifting of the sacred banners, and the marching of the chosen host of God, and he must have felt, “This is a place more marvellous than any I have ever trodden before; in that falling manna, in that miraculous stream, I see everywhere the marks of omnipotence, love, and wisdom, as I never have seen them in all my solitary musings or my long wanderings aforetime.” So, in the church of God there are the footprints of Deity, there are marks of the sublime presence of the Christ of God who abideth in the furnace with his afflicted people, signs of God’s presence such as all the world besides cannot exhibit. You shall get good on the road. But still, the main good that Hobab got was this — he went into the promised land with God’s people. We read of his people, the Kenites dwelling in the land in aftertime. He seems to have become a partaker of the same covenant with Israel, to have become part and parcel with them. So, the main blessing that you get from being united with the invisible church of Christ through being part and parcel of the body of Christ, is reserved for the hereafter.

“When God makes up his last account
Of natives in the holy mount;
’Twill be an honour to appear
As one new born and nourished there.”

Woe unto those who shall have no part with Israel in the day when the lots shall be divided and the portions shall be given! Woe unto such as shall be found among the Amalekites or Canaanites, strangers to the chosen seed! But happy shall all they be who have God to be their God, for their portion shall be bliss for ever. Come thou, therefore, with us, for whatsoever good the Lord shall do unto us thou shalt be a partaker in it.

     IV. And now, lastly. All this being seriously pondered and clearly understood, the last point is a matter of very serious importance. Lest we should be found mere pretenders, LET ALL OF US WHO BELONG TO CHRIST'S CHURCH TAKE CARE TO MAKE THIS ARGUMENT TRUE.

     I speak to many brethren and sisters here who have long been joined to the visible church of God, and I put this interrogatory to them — How have you carried out this silent compact which has been made with the friends of Christ? You have promised to do them good; have you fulfilled your pledges? I am afraid few of us have done good to our fellow Christians up to the measure that we might have done, or that we ought to have done. Some professors, I fear, have forgotten the compact altogether. They joined the church, but the idea of doing good to the rest of the community has scarcely entered into their mind.

     “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good.” You say this, then, to the poor members of the church. Has God prospered you? Do them good. Say not to them, “Be ye warmed and be ye filled,” but as far as ever your ability can reach minister to them, that Christ may not have to say to you, “I was an hungered and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty and ye gave me no drink.” Let your charity be wide as the world, for God maketh it to rain on the just and the unjust, but remember, he has a peculiar people, and he would have us to be a peculiar people unto himself. Let us do good unto all men, but specially to those who are of the household of faith. If thou knowest a brother in Christ whose need is pressing, own him as a brother, open thine hand wide unto him; do him good in this respect.

     You that are old members of the church, well established and instructed, you have virtually promised to do good to the young members; will you not try to do so? Some of them, perhaps, are not all you would like them to be, mind, you are not to condemn, but to reform them. Can you not gently prune the luxuriance of their branches that are a little too wild? Would it not be possible for you, in a loving and an affectionate manner, to assist them in the points wherein they are weak, to lead them in the matters wherein they err? Do them good; do not clamour against them with reproach, censure, sneer, and jibe; nor wish to bind them down to conformity with your rule, judging them by the sombreness of your own disposition. What though they are lively and cheerful; try to make them merry and wise. Let them be happy and rejoice; seek that their happiness may be in Christ, and their rejoicing in the Lord. Do them good.

     There are some of your fellow Christians who are faint hearted — not pleasant people to talk to; they will never cheer you much; they always look on the black side; they have always some trouble; they are terribly dull company — do not shun them, do them good. Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of feeble heart, “Be strong; fear not.” Do not forsake them, but ye that are spiritual bear their burdens, and help to make them rejoice.

     Some amongst your number will be backsliders — alas! that it should be so. Let not your coldness ever accelerate the pace at which they step aside; rather let your sedulous care watch over them, that their first wandering may be soon checked. Little, alas! can be done to remedy backsliding when it goes far, but much may be done by nipping it in the bud. In the church of God prevention is infinitely better than cure. Watch over them, then. “If any man be overtaken in a fault, ye that are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, remembering thyself lest thou also be tempted.”

     Some in the church may be ignorant. There always were such. No standard of height is set up in the word of God for all the recruits to be up to that level; no by-law prescribes that none be received unless they are of a certain stature. If therefore some you meet with are very ignorant, then do them good. Do not set about a report of any absurd remark that they may make, or any misapprehension they may have upon a point of divinity. You were not always so wise as you are now; probably you are not so wise now as you think you are, but anyhow, I shall argue from the wisdom you possess your duty to impart it. You have said, “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good.” It is not doing any man good to smile at him, to find fault with him for not knowing, but it is doing him good to hide his shortcomings and help his progress.

     Once again — there may be some in your midst who are in a good deal of trouble. Have they no friends to sympathise and console them? Alas! friends in this world are often too much like swallows, that are gone as soon as the first frost appears. Let it not be so with you, but if you never owned him your friend before, be to him a friend now. Come to his help if you possibly can. Let him have your countenance. Do not pass him because his black coat hath a rusty hue. Do not get out of his way because you are afraid that he is short of cash. As far as ever you can, let him see, now he is in his trouble, that you did not value him for what he had, but for himself, for his character, for his attachment to Christ. If anybody has spoken ill of him, do not be ready to jot down as true the slander that every fool or villain may please to hold forth against a Christian man, search for yourselves, and if you are obliged to believe it, yet say little about it; carry it before God, as though it were your own sin, and sorrow over it. Talk to your brother, if it be your lot to know him well, and get him to leave the evil into which he has fallen, and lead him back again; but do not forsake him. Or if he be the victim of slander and scandal, be thou among the first to defend him. I do hope that there will always be amongst us a spirit of true Christian brotherhood, so that those who love Christ and have thrown in their lot with us, may find that we really desire to do them good.

     I have thus spoken more particularly because I know that the number of Christians among us who are not making a profession is unusually large just now. I had far rather it should be so than that it should be the reverse — than that many should be making a profession without knowing or feeling the private virtue and public faith it demands. Better that you were outside the visible church all your lives, and be in Christ, than make a profession and yet have no part nor lot with him. All these outward things are nothing compared with the inward. “Ye must be born again.” There must be a living faith in Christ, a real change of heart; an indwelling of the Spirit of God to attest the verity of your godliness. Where these are, the rest ought not to be neglected. “These things ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone,” but still even if they be left undone, it shall not amount to a total shipwreck. But if there be no faith, you may build the vessel as you will, and you may think that you have loaded her with precious treasures, but sink she must, because that alone which would have kept her afloat has been neglected.

     God grant us to be one with Christ, and to be one with his people, in time and in eternity. There now — there now — there is Christ’s church, and if I saw that she were in the stocks, and all were hooting her; if she stood in the pillory, and all were pelting her, yet it would be my desire to throw in my lot with her. Whatever she endured I would endure, because the day cometh when those who were not on the side of Christ and his church would give their eyes if they had been; ay, would wish themselves that they had never been born, to think that they did not take up with the reproached people, and did not side with the reproached Saviour. O be with Christ in his sorrows, that you may be with him in his joy; be with him in his reproach, that you may be with him in his glory! Amen.



The Spur

By / Oct 20

The Spur

 

“I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” — John ix. 4.

 

IF this ninth chapter of John is intended to be a continuation of the history contained in the eighth, as we think it is, it brings before us a very extraordinary fact. You will observe in the eighth chapter that our Lord was about to be stoned by the Jews; he therefore withdrew himself from the circle of his infuriated foes, and passed through the crowd, not I think in a hurried manner, but in a calm and dignified way, as one not at all disconcerted, but wholly self-possessed. His disciples, who had seen his danger, gathered round him while he quietly retreated. The group wended their way with firm footsteps till they reached the outside of the temple. At the gate there sat a man well known to have been blind from his birth; our Saviour was so little flurried by the danger which had threatened him, that he paused and fixed his eye upon the poor beggar, attentively surveying him. He stayed his onward progress to work the miracle of this man’s healing. If it be so that the two chapters make up but one narrative, and I think it is, though we are not absolutely sure, then we have before us a most memorable instance of the marvellous calmness of our Saviour while under danger. When the Jews took up stones to stone him, he did not needlessly expose his life, but after he had withdrawn a very little space from the immediate danger, he was arrested by the sight of human misery, and stood still awhile in all calmness of heart to do a deed of mercy. Oh, the divine majesty of benevolence! How brave it makes a man! How it leads him to forget himself, and despise danger, and become so calm that he can coolly perform the work which is given him to do! I think I see our Saviour thus considerate for others, and unmindful of himself. May I add that there is a lesson here to us not only fur imitation but for consolation! If he while flying from his enemies still stops to bless the blind, how much more will he bless us who seek his face now that he is exalted on high, and is clothed with divine power and glory at the right hand of the Father! There is nothing to harry him now, he is exposed to no danger now; send up your prayer, breathe out your desires, and he will reply, “According to your faith, so be it unto you.”

     Reading' this cure of the blind man, one is struck again with the difference between the disciples and the Master. The disciples looked at this man, blind from his birth, as a great enigma, a strange phenomenon, and they began, like philosophers, to suggest theories as to how it was consistent with divine justice that a man should be born blind. They saw that there must be a connection between sin and suffering, but they could not trace the connection here; so they were all speculating upon the wonderful problem before them, which they knew not how to solve. Suggestively reminding us of theorists upon another difficulty which never has been explained yet, namely, the origin of evil. They wanted to sail upon the boundless deep, and were anxious that their Master should pilot them; he had other and better work to do. Our Lord gave them an answer, but it was a short and curt one. He himself was not looking at the blind man from their point of view, he was not considering how the man came to be blind, but how his eyes could be opened. He was not so much meditating upon the various metaphysical and moral difficulties which might arise out of the case, but upon what would be the best method to remove from the man his suffering, and deliver him from his piteous plight; a lesson to us, that instead of enquiring how sin came into the world, we should ask how can we get it out of the world; and instead of worrying our minds about how this providence is consistent with justice, and how that event can tally with benevolence, we should see how both can be turned to practical account. The Judge of all the earth can take care of himself; he is not in any such difficulties that he needs any advice of ours; only presumptuous unbelief ever dares suppose the Lord to be perplexed. It will be much better for us to do the work of him that sent us, than to be judging divine providence, or our fellowmen. It is ours, not to speculate, but to perform acts of mercy and love, according to the tenor of the gospel. Let us then be less inquisitive and more practical, less for cracking doctrinal nuts, and more for bringing forth the bread of life to the starving multitudes.

     Once again, as a prefatory remark, our Lord tells us the right way of looking at sorrow and at sin. It was a dreadful thing to see a man shut out from the light of the sun from his very birth, but our Saviour took a very encouraging view of it; his view of it was nothing at all desponding, nothing that could suggest complaining; it was most encouraging and stimulating. He explained the man’s blindness thus: “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” The man’s calamity was God’s opportunity. His distress was an occasion for displaying divine goodness, wisdom, and power. I see sin everywhere — in myself, in others, in this great city, in the nations of the earth, and very conspicuously sin and suffering in this thrice accursed war; but what shall I say of it? Sit down and wring my hands in utter despair? If so, I shall be incapable of service. Nay, if I would do good, as Jesus did, I must take his bravely hopeful view of things, and so keep my heart whole, and my loins girt ready for work. The Master’s view of it is that all this mischief furnishes, through the infinite benevolence of God, a platform for the display of divine love. I remember in the life of Dr. Lyman Beecher, he tells us of a young convert who, after finding peace with God, was heard by him to say, “I rejoice that I was a lost sinner.” Strange matter to be glad about, you will say, for of all things it is most to be deplored; but here was her reason: “Because God’s infinite grace, and mercy, and wisdom, and all his attributes, are glorified in me as they never could have been had I not been a sinner and had I not been lost.” Is not that the best light in which to see the saddest things? Sin, somehow or other, desperate evil as it is, will be overruled to display God’s goodness. Just as the goldsmith sets a foil around a sparkling brilliant, even so the Lord has allowed moral and physical evil to come into this world to cause his infinite wisdom, grace, power, and all his other attributes, to be the better seen by the whole intelligent universe. Let us look at it in this light, and the next time we see suffering we shall say, “Here is our opportunity of showing what the love of God can do for these sufferers.” The next time we witness abounding sin let us say, “Here is an opportunity for a great achievement of mercy.” I suppose great engineers have been very glad of Niagara, that they might span it, very glad of the Mont Cenis that they might bore it, very glad of the Suez Isthmus that they might cut a canal through it, glad that there were difficulties that there might be room for engineering skill. Were there no sin there had been no Saviour; if no death, no resurrection; if no fall, no new covenant; if no rebellious race, no incarnation, no Calvary, no ascension, no second advent. That is a grand way of looking at evil, and marvellously stimulating. Though we do not know, and perhaps shall never know the deepest reason why an infinitely gracious God permitted sin and suffering to enter the universe, yet we may at least encourage this practical thought— God will be glorified in the overcoming of evil and its consequences, and therefore let us gird up our loins in God’s name for our part of the conflict.

     Thus much by way of preface. Now I shall invite you, this morning, and may God assist you while I invite, to consider first of all, the Master Worker; and, secondly, ourselves as workers under him.

     I. The text is a portrait of THE GREAT MASTER WORKER. We will read it again: “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.”

     And first observe, this Master Worker takes his own share in the work — “I must work” — I, Jesus, the Son of Man, for two or three years working here on earth in public ministry, I, I must work. There is a sense in which all gospel work is Christ’s. As the atoning sacrifice, he treads the wine-press alone; as the great Head of the church, all that is done is to be ascribed to him; but in the sense in which he used these words, speaking of his human nature, speaking of himself as tabernacling among the sons of men, there was a portion of the work of relieving this world’s woe, and scattering gospel truth among men, that he must do, and nobody else could do. “I must work.” “I must preach, and pray, and heal, even I, the Christ of God.” In salvation, Jesus stands alone; in life-giving he has no human co-worker; but in light-giving, which he refers to in the fifth verse: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” — in light-giving he has many companions. Though anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows in this respect, yet is it true that all his saints are the light of the world, even as Jesus Christ while in the world was the world’s light. There were some to be cured by him who could not be cured by Peter, or James, or John, some to have the good news brought to them who must not receive it from any lip but his own. Our Lord when he became the servant of servants took his share in the common labours of the elect brotherhood. How this ought to encourage us! It is enough for the general if he stands in the place of observation and directs the battle; we do not usually expect that the commander shall take a personal share in the work of the conflict; but with Jesus it is not so, he fought in the ranks as a common soldier. While as God-man, Mediator, he rules and governs all the economy of grace, yet as partaker of our flesh and blood he once bore the burden and heat of the day. As the great Architect and Master Builder he supervises all; yet there is a portion of his spiritual temple which he condescended to build with his own hands. Jesus Christ has seen actual service, and actually resisted unto blood, amid the dust and turmoil of the strife. This made Alexander’s soldiers valiant, it is said, because if they were wearied by long marches Alexander did not ride, but marched side by side with them; and if a river had to be crossed in the teeth of opposition, foremost amidst all the risk was Alexander himself. Let this be our encouragement — Jesus Christ has taken a personal share in the evangelisation of the world, has taken not only his own part as Head, and Prophet, and High Priest, and Apostle, in which he stands alone, but has taken his part amongst the common builders in the erection of the New Jerusalem, “I must work the work of him that sent me.”

     Note, next, that our Lord laid great stress upon the gracious work which was laid upon him. “I must work the work of him that sent me, whatever else is not done I must do that. The work allotted me of God, I must as his servant faithfully do. The Jews may be close at my heels, their stones may be ready to fall upon me, but I must fulfil my life-work; I must open blind eyes, and spread the light around me. I can forget to eat bread, I can forget to find for myself a shelter from the dews that fall so heavily at night, but this work I must do.” Beyond all things the Redeemer felt a constraint upon him to do his Father’s will. “Wist ye not that I must be about, my Father’s business?” “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” Everything in life yielded in the Saviour’s case to his master passion. There were some works our Saviour would not do. When one asked him to speak to his brother to divide the inheritance, though that might have been a useful thing, yet Christ did not feel a call to it, and he said, “Who made me a judge and a divider over you?” But when it came to the work of giving light, that he must do. This was the spécialité of his life; to this he bent all his strength. He was like an arrow shot from a bow, speeding not towards two targets, but with undivided force hurrying towards one single end. The unity of his purpose was never for a moment broken; no second object ever eclipsed the first. Certain works of grace, works of benevolence, works of light-giving, works of healing, works of saving, these he must do; he must do them, his own part of them he must perform.

     He rightly describes this work as the “work of God.” Note that. If ever there lived a man who as man might have taken a part of the honour of the work to himself, it was the Lord Jesus; and yet over and over again he says, “The Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” As man he is particularly careful to set us the example of acknowledging constantly that if any work be done by us it is the work of God through us; and so though he says “I must work,” notice the next words, “the works of him that sent me.” They are still my Father’s works when most they are mine. Though I must work them, yet shall they still be ascribed to him, and he shall derive honour from them. My brethren, if I do not say much about this in respect to Christ, it is because it seems so much more easy to apply this to us than to him, and if so easily applied, let it be humbly and practically remembered by us to-day. My brother, if thou shalt win a soul by thy work, it is God’s work; if thou shalt instruct the ignorant, thou dost it, but it is God that doeth it by thee if it be rightly done. Learn to acknowledge the hand of God, and yet do not draw back thine own. Learn to put out thine own hand, and yet to feel that it is powerless unless God make bare his arm. Combine in thy thoughts the need of the all-working God and the duty of thine own exertion. Do not make the work of God an excuse for thine idleness, neither let thine earnest activity ever tempt thee to forget that power belongeth unto him. The Saviour is a model to us in putting this just in the right form. It is God’s work to open the blind eye; if the eye has been sealed in darkness from the birth no man can open it, God must do it; but yet the clay and the spittle must be used, and Siloah’s pool must be resorted to, or the light will never enter the sightless eye. So in grace, it is God’s to illuminate the understanding by his Spirit, it is his to move the affections, his to influence the will, his to convert the entire nature, his to sanctify, and his to save; yet thou, O believer, art to work this miracle; the truth thou shalt spread will illuminate the intellect, the arguments thou shalt use will influence the affections, the reasons thou shalt give will move the will, the precious gospel thou shalt teach will purify the heart; but it is God who doeth it, God indwelling in the gospel. See thou to this, for only as thou seest these two truths wilt thou go to thy work aright. I must work personally, and this holy work must be my special business, but I must do it in a right spirit, humbly feeling all the while that it is God’s work in and through me.

     Our Lord, in this portrait of himself, as the Master- worker, is clearly seen as owning his true 'position. He says, “I must work the work of him that sent me” He had not come forth from the Father on his own account. He was not here as a principal, but as a subordinate, as an ambassador sent by his king. His own witness was, “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” He often reminded his hearers in his preaching that he was speaking in his Father’s name, and not in his own name; as, for instance, when he said, “The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself.” He took upon himself the form of a servant. “The Spirit of the Lord,” saith he, “is upon me; for he hath anointed me.” God gave him a commission, and gave him the grace to carry out that commission, and he was not ashamed to confess his condition of service to the Father. Though in his divine nature God over all, blessed for ever, whose praises ten thousand times ten thousand harpers are rejoiced to sound upon that glassy sea, yet as the Mediator he stooped to be sent — sent, a commissioned agent from God, a servant to do Jehovah’s bidding. Because he was such, it behoved him, as a servant, to be faithful to him that sent him; and Jesus felt this as a part of the divine constraint, which impelled him to say, “I must work;” ‘I am a sent man; I have to give an account to him that sent me.’ O brethren and sisters, I wish we all felt this; for as the Father sent Christ, even so hath Christ sent us; and we are acting under divine authority as divine representatives, and must, if we would give in our account with joy, be faithful to the communion with which God has honoured us by putting us in trust with the gospel of Christ. No man shall serve God aright if he thinks he stands upon an independent footing. It is recognising your true position that will help to drive you onward in incessant diligence in the cause of your God.

     But, dwelling very briefly on each of these points, I must remind you that our Lord did not regard himself merely as an official, but lie threw a hearty earnestness into the work he undertook. I see indomitable zeal glowing like a subdued flame in the very centre of the live coal of the text. “I must work the work of him that sent me.” Not, “I will,” “I intend,” “I ought,” but “I must.” Though sent, yet the commission was so congenial to his nature, that he worked with all the alacrity of' a volunteer. He was commissioned, but his own will was his main compulsion. Not of constraint, but willingly the Lord Jesus became a Saviour. He could not help it; it was within his very nature a sacred necessity that he must be doing good. Was he not God, and is not God the fountain of benevolence? Doth not Deity, perpetually like the sun, send forth beams to gladden his creatures? Jesus Christ, the God Incarnate, by irresistible instinct must be found bestowing good. Besides, he was so tender, so compassionate, that he must needs be blessing those that sorrowed. He felt for that blind man. If the blind man lamented his darkness, yet not more than the Saviour lamented it for the poor sufferer’s sake. The eyes which Christ fixed on that man were eyes brimming with tears of pity. He felt the miseries of humanity. He was not flinty hearted, but tender, and full of compassion towards all suffering sons of men. Our Saviour therefore was self-impelled to his gracious labours. His love constrained him, he must do the work that he was sent to work. It is a right thing when a man’s business and inclinations run together. You put your son apprentice to a trade which is not congenial to his tastes, and he will never make much of it; but when his duty and his own desires run in the same channel, then surely he is likely to prosper. So with Jesus; sent of God, but not an unwilling ambassador, coming as cheerfully and joyously as if there had been no constraint, but his own voluntary wish, he cries in gracious enthusiasm, “I must, I must” No man does a really good and great work till he feels he must. No man preaches well but he who must preach. The man sent of God must come under irresistible pressure, even like the apostle of old, who said, “Though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me, yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.” Or like the eloquent Eliphaz in the book of Job, who spoke last but best, and only spake at all because he felt like a vessel wanting vent. Our Saviour became so grand a worker because within his spirit desire kindled and burned, and flamed, till his nature was all aglow; he was like a volcano in full action which must pour forth its fiery flood, though in his case the lava was not that which destroys, but that which blesses and makes rich.

     Once again, another point in the Saviour as a worker, he clearly saw that there was a fitting time to work, and that this time would< have its end. In a certain sense Christ always works. For Zion’s sake he doth not rest, and for Jerusalem’s sake he doth not hold his peace in his intercessions before the eternal throne. But, my brethren, as a man, preaching, and healing, and relieving the sick on earth, Jesus had his day, as every other man, and that day ended at the set time. He used a common Eastern proverb, which says that men can only work by day, and when the day is over it is too late to work; and he meant that he himself had an earthly lifetimeinwhich tolabour, and when that was over he would no more perform the kind of labour he was then doing. He called his lifetime a day; to show us that he was impressed with the shortness of it. We too often reckon life as a matter of years, and we even think of the years as though they were of extreme length, though every year seems to spin round more swiftly than before; and men who are growing grey will tell you that life seems to them to travel at a much faster rate than in their younger days. To a child a year appears a lengthened period; to a man even ten years is but a short space of time; to God the Eternal a thousand years are but as one day. Our Lord here sets us an example of estimating our time at a high rate, on account of its brevity. It is but a day thou hast at the longest. That day, how short! Young man, is it thy morning? Art thou just converted? Is the dew of penitence still trembling upon the green blade? Hast thou just seen the first radiance which streams from the eyelids of the morning? Hast thou heard the joyous singing of birds? Up with thee, man, and serve thy God with the love of thine espousals! Serve him "with all thine heart! Or hast thou known thy Lord now so long that it is noon with thee, and the burden and heat of the day are on thee? Use all diligence, make good speed, for thy sun will soon decline. And hast thou long been a Christian? Then the shadows lengthen, and thy sun is almost down. Quick with thee, man, let both thine hands be used. Strain every nerve, put every sinew to the stretch. Do all at all times, and in all places, that thine ingenuity can devise, or thy zeal can suggest to thee, for the night cometh wherein no man can work. I love to think of the Master with these furious Jews behind him, yet stopping because he must do the work of healing, because his day was still unended. He cannot die, he feels, till his day is over; his time is not yet come, and if it were he would close his life by doing one more act of mercy; and so he stops to bless the wretched, and afterwards passes on his way. Be ye swift to do good at all times. “Be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Knowing that the time is short, redeem the time, because the days are evil; press much into little by continuous diligence. Glorify thy God greatly while the short taper of thy life burns on, and God accept thee as he accepted his Son.

     Thus much upon Christ, the Master Worker.

     II. Now I shall want your earnestness while I try to speak of OURSELVES AS WORKERS UNDER HIM.

     Here I must go over much the same ground, for first I must call to your remembrance that on us there rests personal obligation. Singular, distinct, personal obligation, “I must work;” “I,” “I must work the works of him that sent me.” We are in danger nowadays of losing ourselves in societies and associations. We had need labour to maintain the personality of our consecration to Christ Jesus. The old histories are very rich in records of deeds of personal daring; we cannot expect modern warfare to exhibit much of the same, because the fighting is done so much by masses and so much by machinery; even thus, nowadays, I am afraid our mode of doing Christian work is getting to be so mechanical, so much en masse, that there is barely room in ordinary cases for personal deeds of daring and singular acts of valour. Yet, mark you, the success of the church will lie in this last; it is in each man’s feeling, “I have something to do for Christ, which an angel could not do for me, that the strength of a church must lie under God. God has committed to me a certain work which, if it be not done by me, will never be done. A certain number of souls will enter heaven through my agency; they will never enter there in any other way. God has given his Son power over all flesh to give eternal life to as many as he has given him, and Christ has given me power over some part of the flesh, and by my instrumentality they will get eternal life, and by no other agency. I have a work to do, and I must do it. Dear brethren and sisters, our church will be grandly equipped for service when you all have this impression, when there is no casting the work on the minister, nor on the more gifted brethren, nor leaving all to be done by distinguished sisters, but when each one feels, “I have my work, and to my work I will bend my whole strength, to do it in my Master’s name.”

     Now observe, secondly, the personal obligation in the text compels us to just such work as Christ did. I explained to you what it was. We are not called meritoriously to save souls, for he is the alone Saviour, but we are called to enlighten the sons of men. That is to say, sin is not known to be sin by many. Our teaching and example must make sin to appear sin to them. The way of salvation by the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ is quite unknown to a large part of mankind; it is ours simply and incessantly to be telling out that soul-saving story. This work must be done whatever we leave undone. Some men are spending their time in making money, that is the main object of their lives; they would be as usefully employed probably if they spent all their lives in collecting pins or cherry-stones. Whether a man lives to accumulate gold coins or brass nails, his life will be equally grovelling, and end in the same disappointment. Moneymaking, or fame-making, or power-getting, are mere pieces of play, mere sports and games for children; the work of him that sent us is a far nobler thing. It is permanent gain if I gain a soul; it is lasting treasure if I win the Lord’s approval; I am for ever richer if I give a man one better thought of God, if I bring to a darkened soul the light from heaven, or lead one erring heart to peace. If one spirit hastening downward to hell is by my means directed to a blissful heaven, I have done some work worth doing. And such work, brethren, we must do, whatever else we leave undone. Let us make all else in this world subservient to this which is our life work. We have our callings, we ought to have them, the man who will not work, neither let him eat; but our earthly calling is not our life-work. We have a high calling of God in Christ Jesus, and this must have the pre-eminence; poor or rich, healthy or sick, honoured or disgraced, we must glorify God. This is necessity; all else may be, this must be. We resolve, sternly resolve, and desperately determine, that we will not throw away our lives on trifling objects, but by us God’s work must and shall be done; each man will do his own share, God helping him. May the ever blessed Holy Spirit give us power and grace to turn our resolves into acts.

     Let us not forget the truth which I declared to you before, namely, that it is God' s work which we are called upon to do. Let us look to the text again. “I must work the work of him that sent me.” I can discover no greater motive for earnestness in all the world than this, that the work I have to do is God’s work. There is Samson — the strength which lies in Samson is not his own, it is God’s strength. Is that therefore a cause why Samson should lie still and be idle? Kay, but it is a mighty sound of a trumpet to stir the blood of the hero to fight for the people of God. If the strength of Samson be not the mere force of thew and muscle, but force given him of the Almighty One, then up with thee, Samson, and smitten be the Philistine! Slay again thy thousands! What! Darest thou sleep with God’s Spirit upon thee? Up, man! To sleep if thou wert but a common Israelite were treason to thy country, but when God is in thee and with thee, how canst thou be idle? Nay, put forth thy strength and rout thy foes!

     When Paul was in Corinth, and God wrought special miracles by his hands, so that handkerchiefs which were taken from his body healed the sick, was that a reason why Paul should withdraw himself to some quiet retreat and do nothing? To my mind there appears to be no more potent argument why Paul should go from house to house and lay his hands on all around, and heal the sick. So with thee — thou hast the power to work miracles, my brother. The telling out of the gospel, accompanied by the spirit of God, works moral and spiritual miracles. Because thou canst work these miracles, shouldst thou say, “God will do his own work”? Nay, man, but right and left, at all times and in all places, go thou and tell out the soul-saving story, and God speed thee! Because God works by thee, therefore work thou.

     A small vessel, lying idle in dock, without a freight, is a loss to its owner; but a great steam-ship, of many hundred horse-power, cannot be suffered to remain unemployed. The greater the power at command, the more urgently are we bound to use it. The indwelling power of God is put forth in reply to faith and prayer, shall we not labour to obtain it? The fact that the church’s work is God’s work rather than hers, is no cause why she should indulge in sloth. If she had only her own strength, she might waste it with less of crime; but having God’s strength about her, she dares not loiter. God’s message to her this morning is, “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city.” Would God that this message might come to every heart, so that all of us would arise, because God is in our midst.

     Brethren, notice in the text our obligation resulting from our position. We are all sent as Jesus was, if we are believers in Christ. Let us feel our obligation pressing upon us. What would you think of an angel who was sent from the throne of God to bear a message, and who lingered on the way or refused to go? It was midnight, and the message came to Gabriel and his fellow songsters, “Go and sing o’er plains of Bethlehem, where shepherds keep their flocks. Here is your sonnet, Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will towards men.” Could you conceive that they halted, that they wished to decline the task? Impossible with such music, and with such a commission given from such a Lord! They sped joyously on their way. Your mission is not less honourable than that of the angels. You are sent to speak of good things, which bring peace and good will to men, and glory to God. Will you loiter? Can you longer be dumb? Nay, as the Lord Jesus sends you, go forth, I pray you, go at once, and with joy tell out the story of his love. I could conceive an angel being almost tempted to linger, if sent to execute vengeance, and to deluge fields with blood for the iniquity of nations. I dare not think that he would hesitate even then, for these holy spirits do the Lord’s bidding most unquestioningly; but if the mission be of mercy the loving spirit of an angel would leap for joy, and be quickened by the sweetness of the errand as well as by the commission of his Lord. We, too, sent of God, if sent on hard service, are bound to go; but if sent on so sweet a service as the proclaiming of the gospel, how can we tarry? What, to tell the poor criminal shut up in the dungeon of despair that there is liberty, to tell the condemned that there is pardon, to tell the dying that there is life in a look at the crucified One — do you find this hard? Do you call this toil? Should it not be the sweetest feature of your life that you have such blessed work as this to do? If to-night when the day is over, when you are in your chamber alone, you should suddenly behold a vision of angels who should speak to you in celestial accents and nominate you to holy service in the church, you would surely feel impressed by such a visit. But Jesus Christ himself has come to you, has bought you with his blood, and has set you apart by his redemption. You have confessed his coming to you, for you have been baptised into his death, and declared yourself to be his; and are you less impressed by Christ’s coming than you would have been by an angel’s visit? Rouse thee, my brother, the hand of the Crucified hath touched thee, and he hath said, “Go in this thy might.” The eyes that wept over Jerusalem have looked into thine eyes, and they have said with all their ancient tenderness, My servant, go and snatch dying sinners like brands from the burning, by publishing my gospel.” Wilt thou be disobedient to the heavenly vision, and despise him that speaketh to thee from his cross on earth and from his throne in heaven? Blood-washed as thou art, blood-bought as thou art, give thyself up more fully than ever thou hast done to the delightful service which thy Redeemer allots thee. Bestir thyself and say, “I even I, must work the work of him that sent me while it is day.”

     You little know what good you may do, my brethren, if you always feel the burden of the Lord as you ought to do. I was led to think of that fact from a letter which I have here, which did my heart good as I read it. I daresay the dear friend who wrote it is present — he will not mind my reading an extract. He had fallen into very great sin, and though often attending at this Tabernacle, and being frequently stirred in heart, his conversion was not brought about till one day riding by railway to a certain town, he says, “I entered into a compartment in which were three of the students of the Tabernacle College. Although I did not know them at first, the subject of temperance was introduced by myself. I found two of them were total abstainers, and one was not. We had a nice friendly chat, and one of the abstainers asked me if I enjoyed the pardon of my sins and peace with God. I told him I regularly attended, the Tabernacle, but I could not give up all my sins. He then told me how, in his own case, he had found it very desirable to be much in prayer and communion with God, and how he was thus kept from many besetting sins. I concluded my business in the town, and was returning homeward. I was rather dull, as I had no money with me to pay for my ride home, and consequently had to walk all the way. I heard some singing at a little chapel; I entered, and was invited to a seat; it was H — Baptist Chapel. It turned out that these three students with whom I had come in the train some few hours before were there, and it was an occasion of deep concern to many, as one of the students, who was their pastor, was taking his farewell of his flock that evening, and many were in tears, himself also. I asked one of the students to pray for me; he did so, and I tried to lift up my whole heart to God, and, as it were, leave all my sins outside; but I found them a ponderous weight. At last I believed in Jesus, and exercised a simple faith such as I never knew before. I became quite contrite and humiliated; I found the Lord there, he is sweet to my soul; God has for Christ’s sake forgiven me all my sins. I am happy now. I shall ever pray for the students at the Pastors’ College, and never, I hope, begrudge my mite for the support of the same. God be praised for the students!”

     See ye thus that a casual word about Christ and the soul will have its reward. I heard once of a clergyman who used to go hunting, and when he was reproved by his bishop, he replied that he never went hunting when he was on duty. But he was asked, “When is a clergyman off duty?” And so with the Christian, when is he off duty? He ought to be always about his Father’s business, ready for anything and everything that may glorify God. He feels that he is not sent on Sunday only, but sent always, not called now and then to do good, but sent throughout his whole life to work for Christ.

     But I must finish. The greatest obligations seem to me to lie upon each one of us to be serving Christ, because of the desperate case of our ungodly neighbours. Many of them are dying without Christ, and we know what their end must be, an end that hath no end, a misery that hath no bounds. Oh, the woe which sin causes on earth! But what is that to the never-ending misery of the world to come!

     Our time in which to serve the Lord on earth is very short. If we would glorify God as dwellers on earth, we must do it now. We shall soon ourselves be committed to the grave, or they whom we would fain bless may go there before us. Let us then bestir ourselves! I felt much weight on my mind yesterday, from the consideration that we, as a nation, are enjoying peace, an unspeakable blessing — the value of which none of us can rightly estimate. Now, if we do not make, as a Christian church, the most earnest endeavours to spread abroad the gospel in these times of peace, before long this nation may also be plunged in war. War is the most unmitigated of curses, and among its other mischiefs, it turns the mind of the people away from all religious thoughts.

     Now while we have peace, and God spares this land the horrors of war, ought not the church of God to be intensely eager to use her opportunities? The night cometh, I know not how dark that night may be. The political atmosphere seems heavily charged with evil elements. The result of the present conflict between France and Prussia may not be what some would hope, for it may again crush Europe beneath a despot’s heel. Now, while we have liberty — a liberty which our sires bought at the stake, and sealed with their blood, let us use it; while it is day let us work the works of him that sent us; and let each man take for his motto the succeeding verse to my text, “As long as I am in the world I am the light of the world.” Take heed that thy light be not darkness. Take heed thou conceal it not. If it be light, take heed that thou despise it not, for if it be never so little a light, it is what God has given thee, and as much as thou wilt be able to give God a joyful account of. If thou hast any light, though it be but a spark, it is for the world thou hast it; for the sons of men it is lent thee. Use it, use it now, and God help thee.

     O that our light as a church, would shine upon this congregation! How do I desire to see all my congregation saved! Let believers be more in prayer, more in service, more in holiness, and God will send us his abundant blessing, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.



Overwhelming Obligations

By / Oct 13

Overwhelming Obligations

 

“What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?”— Psalm cxvi. 12.

 

DEEP emotion prompts this question ; but where are the depths of love and gratitude that can meet its exuberant demands ? You will perhaps remember an incident in the life of a famous soldier, who also became a famous Christian, Colonel James Gardiner. One night, when he was little thinking of divine things, but on the contrary had made an appointment of the most vicious kind, he was waiting for the appointed hour, when he saw, or thought he saw before him in the room wherein he sat alone, a visible representation of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross, and he was impressed, as if a voice, or something equivalent to a voice, had come to him to this effect— “O sinner, I did all this for thee; what hast thou done for me?” Some such representation as that I would put before the eyes of every person in this assembly. I earnestly pray that the vision of the Christ of God, the mercy of God, the love of God, may appear to all your eyes, and may a voice say in your conscience, both to saint and sinner, “I did all this for thee; what hast thou done for me?” It will be a humiliating night probably for us all, if such should be the case, but humiliation may prove salutary; yea, the very healthiest frame of mind in which we can be found.

     I. I shall first of all this evening, invite you to CAST UP A SUM IN ARITHMETIC.

     The text suggests this. “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?” Come, let us reckon up, though I know that the number will surpass all human numeration, let us try to reckon up his benefits towards any one of us. I wish each one of you, distinctly and severally, would now endeavour to think of the mercy of God towards yourself.

     First , let us call over the roll of our temporal mercies. They are but secondary, but they are very valuable. There is a special providence in the endowment of life to each individual creature. David did not disdain to trace back the hand of God to the hour of his nativity; and Paul adored the grace of God that separated him from the time that his mother gave him birth. Our gratitude may, in like manner, revert to the days when we hung upon the breast; or in the case of some, you may thank the goodness that supplied the lack of a mother’s tender love. Childhood’s early days might then make our thoughts busy, and our tongues vocal with praise. But here we are now. We have been preserved, some of us, these thirty or forty years. We might have been cut down, and punished in our sin. We might have been swept away to the place where despair makes eternal night. But we have been kept alive in the midst of many accidents. By some marvellous godsend, death has been turned aside just as it seemed, with a straight course, to be posting towards us. When fierce diseases have been waiting round to hurry us to our last home, we have yet escaped. Nor have we existed merely. God has been pleased to give us food and raiment, and a place whereon to lay our weary heads. To many here present he has given all the comforts of this life, till they can say, “My cup runneth over; I have more than heart can wish.” To all here he has given enough, and though you may have passed through many straits, yet your bread has been given you, and your water has been sure. Is not this cause for thankfulness. You cannot think of a shivering beggar to-night in the streets, you cannot think of the hundreds of thousands in this unhappy country— unhappy for that reason— who have no shelter but such as the poor-house can afford them, and no bread but such as is doled out to them as a pauper’s meagre pittance, without being grateful that you have been hitherto supplied with things convenient for your sustenance, and defended from that bitter, biting penury which palls self-respect, cows industry, damps the ardour of resolution, chafes the heart, corrodes the mind, prostrates every vestige of manliness, and leaves manhood itself to be the prey of misery and the victim of despair. More than that, we have reason to-night to be very grateful for the measure of health which we enjoy. “It is indeed a strange and awful sensation, to be suddenly reduced by the unnerving hand of sickness to the feebleness of infancy; for giant strength to lie prostrate, and busy activity to be chained to the weary bed.” Oh! when the bones begin to ache, and sinews and tissues seem to be but roads for pain to travel on, then we thank God for even a moment’s rest. Do you not know what it is to toss to and fro in the night and wish for the day, and when the daylight has come to pine for the night? If there has been an interval of relief, just a little lull in the torture and the pain, how grateful you have been for it! Shall we not be thankful for health then, and specially so for a long continuance of it ? You strong men that hardly know what sickness means , if you could be made to walk the wards of the hospital, and see where there have been broken bones, where there are disorders that depress the system, maladies incurable, pangs that rack and convulse the frame, and pains all but unbearable, you would think, I hope, that you had cause enough for gratitude. Not far off this spot there stands a dome — I thank God for the existence of the place of which it forms a part— but I can never look at it, I hope I never shall, without lifting up my heart in thanks to God that my reason is spared. It is no small unhappiness to be bereft of our faculties, to have the mind swept to and fro in hurricanes of desperate, raging madness, or to be victims of hallucinations that shut you out from all usefulness, and even companionship with your fellow men. That you are not in St. Luke’s or Bedlam to-night, should be a cause for thankfulness to Almighty God. But why do I enlarge here? Consider what pains the human body may be subjected to; imagine what ills may come upon humanity; conceive what distress, what woe, what anguish, we are all capable of bearing, and then in proportion as you have been secured from all these, and in proportion on the other hand as you have been blessed with comforts and enjoyments, “let each generous impulse of your nature warm into ecstacy,” and ask yourselves the question, “What shall we render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward us?” Cast up the sum, and then draw a line, and ask what is due to God for even these common boons of providence.

     But, my brethren and sisters in Christ, you who have something better than this life to rest upon, I touch a higher and a sweeter string, a chord which ought to tremble with a nobler melody, when I say to you— think of the spiritual blessings which you have received. It is not very long ago that you were in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity. We look back but for a little while, some of us, and we were under the bondage of the law. We had been awakened, and we felt the load and the guilt of sin: a grievous burden, from which we feared we never could escape; a flagrant defilement from which we knew no means of cleansing. Do not I remember well my fruitless prayers; my tears that were my meat both day and night; my grief of heart, that cut me to the quick, but from which I found no kind of deliverance! How I sought the Lord then! How I cried for mercy, but I found none! I was shut up and could not come forth; delivered up to fear, and doubt, and despair. Bless the Lord, it is over now. Blessed be the name of God, the soul has escaped like a bird out of the net, and this night, instead of talking of sin as a thing unpardonable, I can stand here and say for you as well as myself, that he hath put away all our iniquity, and cast our transgressions into the depths of the sea. If he had never done anything for us but that, it seems to me that we should be bound for ever and for ever to extol his name with as much exultation as Miriam and Moses felt, when Miriam took the timbrel, and Moses wrote the song, “Sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously, the horse and his rider hath he cast into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation.”

     Not indeed, beloved, that forgiven sin was the total; it was but an item, the beginning of his tender mercies towards us, for after that he comforted us like as a mother comforteth her children. He bound up every wound; he removed every blot; he covered us with a robe of righteousness, and decked us with the jewels of the Spirit’s graces. He adopted us into his family, even us who were aliens by nature, foes by long habit, rebels and traitors by our revolt against his government; he made us heirs of God, joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. All the privileges of sonship, which never would have been ours by nature, have been secured to us by regeneration, and by adoption. All his benefits! If these were all, oh, what should we render unto him who is the author and giver of such inestimable blessings? All his benefits! How could we estimate their value, even if we had to stop here? for mark you, they are benefits indeed, not merely the kind intent of benevolence, or good wishes, which may or may not be of real service to us; but verily the saving effect of beneficence, or good deeds accomplished for us, the full advantage of which we have, richly to enjoy. There is a vexatious uncertainty about all human philanthropy. How weak it often is, expending strength for nought, and failing to mature its best projects! What , though the physician should exhaust the resources of medical science while he spares no pains in watching his patient? that patient may die. What, though the advocate plead for his client with intense fervour, cogent reasoning, and a torrent of eloquence? that client may yet lose his cause. What, though the general of an army command the troops ever so skilfully, and fight against the enemy ever so bravely? the battle may yet be lost. The heroic volunteer who assays to rescue a drowning man may fail in the endeavour, and lose his own life in the attempt. The valiant crew that man the life-boat may not succeed in bringing the shipwrecked to shore. The best aims may miscarry. Kindness, like ore of gold in the breast of the creature, may never be minted into the coin of benefit, or pass current for its real worth. Not all donations expended in charity are effectual to relieve distress. But the benefits of God are all fully beneficial. They answer the ends they are designed to serve. Forgetfulness on the part of God’s children is without excuse, for here we are, monuments of mercy, pillars of grace, living epistles; ay, the living, the living to praise thee, O God, as I do this day; and thus beholden to the Lord for all his benefits, I feel that my thoughts and actions of adoring gratitude should break forth, restrained by no shore, but be continually overflowing every embankment that custom has thrown up, and send out in tears of love and sweat of labour, fertilising streams on the right hand and on the left.

     All his benefits! Ring that note again. His benefits are so many, so various, so minute, that they often escape our observation while they exactly meet our wants. True it is, the Lord hath done great things for us which may well challenge the admiration of angels; but true it also is that he hath done little things for us, and bestowed attention upon all our tiny needs and our childish cares and anxieties. As we turn over the leaves of our diary, we are lost in wonder at the keenness of that vision and the extent of that knowledge, whereby even the hairs of our head are all numbered. O God, what infinite tenderness, what boundless compassion, hast thou shown to us! Thou hast continued to forgive our offences: thou hast perpetually upheld us in the hour of temptation. What comforts have delighted our soul in the times of trouble! What gentle admonitions have brought us back in the times of our going astray! We have had preserving mercies, sustaining mercies, enriching mercies, sanctifying mercies. Who shall count the small dust of the favours and bounties of the Lord? My dear brethren, it is no small benefit that God has conferred upon some of us that we are members of a happy church on earth, that we are united together in the bonds of love. I know some of you used to be members of other churches where there were periodical conflicts, and you are glad enough that you have come with a loving and happy people where you can serve the Lord to your heart’s content, and meet with warm-hearted fellow Christians who will bid you Godspeed. My heart exults in the thought of all the prosperity we have enjoyed in this place. The Lord’s name be praised. Even as a church, over and above the mercies which have come to us as private Christians, I would say, and I would invite you to join me in saying , “What shall we render to the Lord for all his benefits toward us?”

     But, beloved, we have only begun the list of those mercies that we strive in vain to enumerate, we shall not essay to finish it, for blessed be God it never will be finished. He has given us himself to be our portion ; he has given us his providence to be our guardian; he has given us his promise to be the voucher for our inheritance. We shall not die, though we must sleep, unless the Lord first cometh. Yet we shall sleep in Jesus. Our bones and ashes shall be watched over and preserved until the trumpet of the resurrection shall summon them by its voice, and our bodies shall be reanimated by divine power; for our souls, we have the sure and certain hope that we shall be with Christ where he is , that we may behold his glory. We are looking forward to the blessed day when he shall say to us, “Come up higher,” and from the lower room of the feast we shall ascend into the upper chamber, nearer to the King, to sit at his right hand and feast for ever. Oh, the depths of his mercy! Oh, the heights of his lovingkindness! Faithfulness has followed us, not a promise has been broken, not one good thing has failed us.

     Now, my dear brethren and sisters, what have I just given you but a sort of general outline of the mercies the Lord has bestowed on us, and the benefits we have received at his hand? If each one would try to fill that outline up, by the rehearsal of his own case, and the life-story of his own experience, how much glory God might get from this assembly to-night. Your case is different from mine in the incidents that compose it; I believe mine is different from any of yours, but this I know, there is not a man in this place that owes more to God than I do, there is not one here that ought to be more grateful; there cannot be one that is more indebted to the goodness of the Lord than I am for every step of the pilgrimage that I have trodden, from the first day even until now. I can, nay, I must, speak well of his name. Truly God is good, and I have found him so. “The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.” I have proved him so. Well, but I know all your tongues are itching to say the same. You feel that though he has led you through deep waters, and through fiery trials, and sometimes chastened you very severely, he has not given you over to death, but he has dealt with you as a father with his son whom he loveth, and been to you as a friend that never forsaketh. You would not breathe half-a-word against his blessed name. Rather you would say, to borrow an expression which Rutherford constantly used, that you are “drowned debtors to God’s mercy.” He meant that he was over head and ears in debt to God: he could not tell how deep his obligations were, so he just called himself “a drowned debtor” to the lovingkindness and the mercy of his God. Well, there is a sum for you. If you want to use your arithmetical faculties, sit down when you can get an hour’s quiet, and try to tell up all the precious thoughts of God towards you— all his benefits.

     II. Our second point shall be A CALCULATION OF THE GRATITUDE WHICH IS DUE TO GOD FOR ALL THIS.

     I should like to make each man his own assessor to-night, to assess the income of mercy which he has received, and put down what should be the tribute of gratitude which he should return to the revenue of the great King. “ What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits?” Calculate for a minute what we owe to God the Father, and what we ought to render him for the debt. As many as have believed in Christ, were chosen of God the Father from before all worlds. He might have left them unchosen. It was his own absolute good pleasure which wrote them in the roll of the elect. He has chosen you, my brother; and you, my sister, that you should be holy, that you should be his child , that you should be made like your elder brother, Christ Jesus; and because he chose you to this, to this you shall come, though all the powers of earth and hell should withstand, for the divine decree abides immutably steadfast, and shall surely be fulfilled. You are God’s favourite one, his child, ordained to dwell for ever in eternal bliss. What shall we render for this? O let the thought just stir the depths of your soul a minute, if indeed it be so, that the seal of the covenant hath been set upon you. Before the sun began to shine, or the moon to march in her courses, God did choose me, in whom there was nothing to engross his love— nothing to attract his favour. O my God, if it be so, that I, of all the sons of Adam, should be made a distinguishing object of thy grace, and the subject of thy discriminating favour, take me, take my body, take my soul, take my spirit, take my goods, my talents, my faculties; take all I have, and all I am, and all I ever hope to be, for I am thine. Thou hast loosed my bonds, but thy mercy has bound me to thy service for ever.

     Now think for a minute of what you owe to God the Son, to Jesus Christ. I mean as many of you as have believed on him. Think for a moment on the habitation of the highest glory, and consider how Jesus left his Father’s throne, deserted the courts of angels, and came down below to robe himself in an infant’s clay. There contemplate him tabernacling in our nature; see him after he has grown up, leading a life of toil and pain, bearing our sicknesses, and carrying our sorrows. Let your eye look straight into the face of the man who was acquainted with grief. I shall not ask you to track all his footsteps, but I would bid you come to that famous garden, where in the dead of the night he knelt and prayed, until in agony he sweat drops of blood. It was for you, for you, believer, that there the sweat-drops bloody fell to the ground. You see him rise up. He is betrayed by his friend. For you the betrayal was endured. He is taken. He is led off to Pilate. They falsely accuse him; they spit in his face; they crown him with thorns; they put a mock sceptre of reed into his hands. For you that ignominy was endured; for you especially and particularly the Lord of Glory passed through these cruel mockings. See him as he bears his cross: his shoulder is bleeding from the recent lash. See him, as along the Via Dolorosa he sustains the cruel load. He bears that cross for you. Your sins are on his shoulders laid, and make that cross more heavy than had it been made of iron. See him on the cross, lifted up between heaven and earth, a spectacle of grievous woe. Hear him cry, “I thirst!” and hear his cry more bitter still, while heaven and earth are startled by it, “Why hast thou forsaken me, my God, my God?” He is enduring all those griefs for you. For you the thirst and the fainting, the nakedness and the agony. For you the bowing of the head, the yielding up the ghost, the slumber in the cold and silent tomb. For you his resurrection when he rises in the glory of his might, and for you afterwards the ascension into heaven, when they sing, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors.” For you his constant pleading at the right hand of the Father. Yes, all for you, and what should be done for him ? What tribute shall we lay at the pierced feet? What present shall we put into that nailed hand? Where are kisses that shall be sweet enough for his dear wounds? Where is adoration that shall be reverent enough for his blessed and exalted person? Daughters of music, bring your sweetest songs. Ye men of wealth, bring him your treasures. Ye men of fame and learning, come lay your laurels at his feet. Let us all bring all that we have, for such a Christ as this deserveth more than all. What shall we render, Christ of God, to thee for all thy benefits towards us?

     Let me ask you to think for a moment on the third Person of the blessed Godhead, namely, the Holy Ghost. Let us never forget that when we were like filthy rags his hand touched us. When we were like corrupt and rotten carcases in the graves of sin, his breath quickened us. It was his hand that led us to the cross. It was his finger that took the film from the eye. It was his eyesalve that illuminated us that we should look to Jesus and live. Since that hour the blessed Spirit has lived in our heart. Oh, what a dreadful place, I was about to say, for God to dwell in! But the Holy Ghost has never utterly left us. We have grieved him; we have vexed him ofttimes; but still he is here, still resident within the soul, never departing, being himself the very life of the living incorruptible seed that abideth for ever. My dear friends, how often the Holy Ghost has comforted you! How very frequently in your calm moments has he revealed Christ to you! How often has the blessed truth been laid home to you with a divine savour which it never could have had, if it had not been for him! He is God, and the angels worship him, and yet he has come into the closest possible contact with you. Christ was incarnate, and the flesh in which he was incarnate was pure and perfect. The Holy Ghost was not incarnate, but still he comes to dwell in the bodies of his saints, bodies still impure, still unholy. Oh, what grace and condescension is this! Thou blessed Dove, thou Dear Comforter, thou kind Lover of the fallen sons of men, thy condescension is matchless! We love thee even as we love Christ himself, and this night if we ask the question, “What shall we render unto the Lord the Holy Ghost for all his benefits towards us?” we know not how to answer, but can only say, “Take us, take us, Holy Spirit; use us; fill us with thyself; sanctify us to thy holiest purposes; use us right up; make us living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto God, for it is our reasonable service.”

     Now , perhaps, by God’s Spirit, the text may come a little more vividly before your minds. You have had another opportunity of adding up all the benefits of God: another opportunity, dear brother or sister, of calculating what you ought to do.

     Give heed, then, for I intend to come, in closing, to be very personal and practical. I wish to speak very pointedly to you as individuals, but there are so many of you, that some are sure to slip away in the crowd. I half wish I were in the position of the preacher who had but one hearer, and addressed him as “Dearly beloved Roger.” I want to put the question of my text as though only one person were here, and that one person yourself. “What shall I render to the Lord?” Never mind your neighbour, your brother, your sister, your husband, your wife, or anybody else just now. If you are a saved soul, the question for you is, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?” “What shall I render?” Suppose, dear friend, you had been the woman bowed with an infirmity for so many years, and Christ had loosed you, and you had stood upright to-night; what would you render? Well, you have been loosed from your infirmity, a much worse decrepitude than the physical ailment she was released from. Suppose you had been poor blind Bartimeus sitting by the wayside begging, born blind, and you had your sight given you to-night; what would you render? But you have had such a gift bestowed on you. You were in spiritual blindness, worse than that which is only natural, and Christ has opened your eyes; what will you render? Suppose you had been Lazarus, and had been in the grave so long that you began to be corrupt, and Christ had raised you to life, what would you render? Well, you have been quickened when you were dead in sin. You were corrupt; you were buried in darkness and in sin; but you can say with the psalmist, “O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave.” Now, what will you render to him? Suppose he stood on this platform to-night, and instead of this poor voice, and these unclean lips, the voice of the Wellbeloved should speak in music to you, and the lips that are like lilies dropping sweet-smelling myrrh could talk to each of you; what would you render to him then? Well, do the same as though he were here, for he sees you, ay, and indeed his Spirit hovering over this assembly will accept the tribute you give as though he were here in the flesh, or otherwise he will grieve over you and resent the neglect of your heart. Think of him as being here, and render unto him as though he were visibly and audibly in our midst.

     What will you render? Let me ask you, dearly beloved, whether you have ever thought of what men and women can render? You may have read the lives, I hope you have, of Mr. and Mrs. Judson in Burmah, ready to sacrifice all for Christ; or the lives of our martyrs, in Foxe’s Martyrology, who rejoiced if they might burn for Christ. We have still some men and women amongst us— I wish there were more— whose lives of consecration tell you what men can be and do. Are you anything like them? If not, while they are not what they ought to be, and they fall short of the Master’s image, how far short must you be? Oh! I pray you be grieved that it is so, and press the question upon yourselves the more, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?”

     A side question may help you. What have you rendered? You are getting old now, or at least you are getting to the prime of life; what have you done for Christ up to this time? Come, look; look back now, I must urge you to do it. Converted late perhaps, or if converted young, it matters not, still the question must come— What have you done hitherto? Oh! I dare not answer the question myself— yet I am not in that respect the worst here— I dare not look back upon my past life of service for God with anything like satisfaction. After having done all that we could do, we are but unprofitable servants; we have not done what was our duty. There is no man here, I fear, who can answer the question, “What have I rendered?” with any self-contentment. We must all drop a tear, feel abashed, and say, “Good Lord, let not the future be as barren as the past, but by thy mercy help us to a better and a nobler sort of living!”

     May I ask you, as it may assist in answering the question, how old are you? Some of you tell me that you are far advanced in age; then what must you render in the few years you can have to live? Live hard, beloved, live hard; live fast in a spiritual sense, for you have little time to use, none to waste. Get as much done as can be done for your dear Lord, before he calls you to his face. You are young, others of you tell me. Oh! then with such a long opportunity as God may give you, you ought to be diligent every moment. If you are not diligent now in your early days, there is no likelihood that you will be afterwards. Since you have the especial and peculiar advantage of early piety, O render to the Lord the more, because he has opened before you a wider field , and given you more time to cultivate it than full many of his people have known.

     Let me ask you, again, what are your capacities? That, perhaps, will help you to answer the question. “Oh,” says one, “I cannot do much.” Well then, my dear friend, do the little you can, do it all; do it up to the very point, do not leave an inch untouched. If you can only do a little, do all of that, and do it heartily; and keep at it till you die. Says another, “Perhaps God has entrusted some talents to me.” Then he expects a great deal from the employment of them. O do not let your talents lie idle! Your talents are not meant for your gain, nor merely to serve the world; they are meant to serve your God with, who hath redeemed you with the precious blood of Jesus. Take care, whether you have much or little, to give him all.

     I will put another question to you that may stir your mettle. How did you serve Satan before you were converted? What rare boys some of you were; not sparing body or soul to enjoy the pleasures of sin. Oh, with what zest, with what fervour and force, and vehemence, did many of you dance to the tune of the devil’s music! I wish you would serve God half as well as some of the devil’s servants serve him. What, now you have a new friend, a new lover, a new husband, shall he ever look you in the face and say, “You do not love me so well as the old; you do not serve me so zealously”? Shall Jesus Christ say to any man or woman among us, “Thou dost not love me so well as thou didst love the world; thou wast never weary of serving the world, but thou dost soon get weary of serving me”? O my poor heart, wake up! wake up! What art thou at, to have served sin at such a rate, and then to serve Christ so little?

     Another question may be to the point. How do you serve yourselves? You are in business some of you, and I like to see a man of business with his hands full and his wits about him. Your drones, those indolent fellows who go about the shop half asleep, and seem as if they never did wake up, what is the use of them? men who seem to cumber the earth , men who never did see a snail unless they happened to meet one, for they could not have overtaken it, they travel so slowly, such men are of little use to God or man. I know that the most of you are diligent in business. You never hear the ring of a guinea without being on the alert to earn it if possible. Your coats are off, and very likely your shirt-sleeves are turned up when there is a chance of driving trade. That I commend, but oh, do let us have something like it in the service of Jesus Christ. Do not let us be drudging in the world, and drawling in the church; lively in the service of mammon, and then laggard in the service of Christ. Heart and soul, manliness, vigour, vehemence, let the utmost strain of all our powers be put forth in the service of him who was never supine or dilatory in the service of our souls when they had to be redeemed.

     I shall not keep you much longer, but still pressing the same question, let me ask you, dear friends, how do you think such service as you have rendered will look when you come to see it by the light of eternity? Oh, nothing of life will be worth having lived, when we come to die, except that part of it which was devoted and consecrated to Christ. Live, then, with your death-beds in immediate prospect. Live in the light of the next world, so will your pulse be quickened, and your heart excited in the Master’s service.

     I now put the question, What shall we render? What shall I render unto the Lord. Let the question go all round the pews, and let everybody answer, What shall I render? Is there any new tiling I can do for Christ that I never did before? Cannot I speak a word for Christ to somebody to-night? To-night, because you cannot overtake the loss of a single opportunity. To-morrow’s mercies will bring to-morrow’s obligations; to-day’s obligations must be discharged to-day. What shall I render to-night? Is there anybody I can speak to of Jesus ere I retire to my chamber? It is a little thing, but let me do it. What shall I render? Let me give my God praise to-night somehow. There is the communion table around which we are about to gather; that may help me to render him some homage; I will there take the cup of salvation, and call upon his name. To-morrow I shall be in the world going forth to my wonted labours. What shall I render? I will consecrate part of my substance to God, but I will try to consecrate all to-morrow and next day to him. While I am at my work, if I drive a plane, or use a hammer, or if I stand at a counter, or in the fields, or in the streets, I will ask that my thoughts may be up to God, that I may be kept from sin, and that by my example I may render some tribute of honour to his name in the sight of my fellow men, and I will try to seize every opportunity that comes in my way of telling

“To sinners round,
What a dear Saviour I have found.”

     And yet, dear friends, it is not for me to answer the question that is propounded for you. With these few brief hints, I do put the question in all its touching pathos, in all its deep solemnity, in all its momentous gravity, before every Christian man and woman here, and I cite yon to answer it before the searcher of all hearts, “What shall I render?” Thrice happy ye who respond in lip and life to the urgent call! “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed towards his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the fall assurance of hope unto the end that ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

     As for those of you, my hearers, who are not yet converted, you who are not saved, this is not a question for you. Your question is, “What must I do to be saved?” and the answer is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” O believe on him to-night! Trust him—that is the point; trust Jesus Christ. You may come to him and be saved at once. Then, not till then, you will begin to serve him.

     May God bless you, my dear friends, every one of you, for Christ’s sake.



The Sages, The Star, and The Saviour

By / Dec 25

The Sages, The Star, and The Saviour

 

“Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”— Matthew ii. 2.

 

THE incarnation of the Son of God was one of the greatest events in the history of the universe. Its actual occurrence was not, however, known to all mankind, but was specially revealed to the shepherds of Bethlehem and to certain wise men of the east. To shepherds— the illiterate, men little versed in human learning— the angels in choral song made known the birth of the Saviour, Christ the Lord, and they hastened to Bethlehem to see the great sight; while the Scribes, the writers of the law and expounders of it, knew nothing concerning the long-promised birth of the Messias. No angelic bands entered the assembly of the Sanhedrim and proclaimed that the Christ was born; and when the chief priests and Pharisees were met together, though they gathered around copies of the law to consider where Christ should be born, yet it was not known to them that he was actually come, nor do they seem to have taken more than a passing interest in the matter, though they might have known that then was the time spoken of by the prophets when the great Messiah should come. How mysterious are the dispensations of grace; the base things are chosen and the eminent are passed by! The advent of the Redeemer is revealed to the shepherds who kept their flocks of sheep by night, but not to the shepherds whose benighted sheep were left to stray. Admire therein the sovereignty of God.

     The glad tidings were made known also to wise men, magi, students of the stars and of old prophetic books from the far-off east. It would not be possible to tell how far off* their native country lay; it may have been so distant that the journey occupied nearly the whole of the two years of which they spake concerning the appearance of the star. Travelling was slow in those days, surrounded with difficulties and many dangers. They may have come from Persia, or India, or Tartary, or even from the mysterious land of Sinim, now known to us as China. If so, strange and uncouth must have been the speech of those who worshipped around the young Child at Bethlehem, yet needed he no interpreter to understand and accept their adoration. Why was the birth of the King of the Jews made known to these foreigners, and not to those nearer home? Why did the Lord select those who were so many hundreds of miles away, while the children of the kingdom, in whose very midst the Saviour was brought forth, were yet strangely ignorant of his presence? See here again another instance of the sovereignty of God. Both in shepherds and in Eastern magi gathering around the young Child, I see God dispensing his favours as he wills; and, as I see it, I exclaim, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” Herein we see again another instance of God’s sovereign will; for as of old there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elias the prophet, but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto the woman of Sarepta; so many there were who were called wise men among the Jews, but unto none of them did the star appear; but it shone on Gentile eyes, and led a chosen company from the ends of the earth to bow at Emmanuel’s feet.

     Sovereignty in these cases clothed itself in the robes of mercy. It was great mercy that regarded the low estate of the shepherds, and it was far-reaching mercy which gathered from lands which lay in darkness a company of men made wise unto salvation. Mercy wearing her resplendent jewels was present with divine sovereignty in the lowly abode of Bethlehem. Is it not a delightful thought, that around the cradle of the Saviour, as well as around his throne in the highest heaven, these two attributes meet? He makes known himself— and herein is mercy; but it is to those whom he has chosen— and herein he shows that he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and he will have compassion on whom he will have compassion.

     We will now endeavour to learn a practical lesson from the story of the wise men who came from the east to worship Christ. We may, if God the Holy Spirit shall teach us, gather such instruction as may lead us also to become worshippers of the Saviour, and joyful believers in him. Notice, first, their enquiry; may many of us become enquirers upon the same matter — “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”

     Notice, secondly, their encouragement— “We have seen his star.” Because they had seen his star they felt bold to ask, “Where is he?” And then, thirdly, their example— “We have come to worship him.”

     I. THEIR ENQUIRY— “Where is he?”

     Many things are evident in this question. It is clear that when the wise men thus enquired, there was in their minds interest awakened. The King of the Jews was born, but Herod did not ask, “Where is he?” until his jealousy was excited, and then he asked the question in a malicious spirit. Christ was born at Bethlehem, near to Jerusalem; yet throughout all the streets of the holy city there were no enquirers, “Where is he?” He was to be the glory of Israel, and yet in Israel there were few indeed who, like these wise men, asked the question, “Where is he?” My dear hearers, I will believe that there are some here this morning whom God intends to bless, and it will be a very hopeful sign that he intends to do so, if there be an interest awakened in your mind concerning the work and person of the incarnate God. Those who anxiously desire to know of him, are but a slender company. Alas! when we preach most earnestly of him, and tell of his sorrows as the atonement for human sin, we are compelled to lament most bitterly the carelessness of mankind, and enquire mournfully—

“Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by;
Is it nothing to you that Jesus should die?”

He is despised and rejected of men, men see in him no beauty that they should desire him; but there are a chosen number who enquire diligently, and who come to receive him; to these he gives power to become the sons of God. A happy circumstance it is, therefore, when there is interest evinced. Interest is not always evinced in the things of Christ, even by our regular hearers. It gets to be a mere mechanical habit to attend public worship; you become accustomed to sit through such a part of the service, to stand and sing at such another time, and to listen to the preacher with an apparent attention during the discourse; but to be really interested, to long to know what it is all about, to know especially whether you have a part in it, whether Jesus came from heaven to save you, whether for you he was born of the virgin, to make such personal enquiries with deep anxiety, is far from being a general practice: would God that all who have ears to hear would hear in truth. Wherever the word is heard with solemn interest, it is a very encouraging sign. It was said of old, “They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward. When a man listens with deep attention to the word of God, searches God’s book, and engages in thoughtful meditation with the view of understanding the gospel, we have much hope of him. When he feels that there is something weighty and important, something worth the knowing, in the gospel of Jesus, then are we encouraged to hope good things of him.

     But in the case of the wise men we see not only interest evinced, but belief avowed. They said, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” They were, therefore, fully convinced that he was the King of the Jews, and had lately been born. As a preacher I feel it to be a great mercy that I have to deal generally with persons who have some degree of belief concerning the things of God. Would to God we had more missions to those who have no sort of faith and no knowledge of Christ; and may the day come when everywhere Jesus Christ shall be known. But here at home with the most of you we have something to begin with. You do believe somewhat concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was born King of the Jews. Set much store by that which you have already believed. I count it no small advantage to a young man to believe his Bible true. There are some who have a hard fight to reach so far as that, for infidel training has warped their minds. It is not, of course, an advantage which will save you, for many go down to hell believing the Scriptures to be true, and thus they accumulate guilt upon themselves from that very fact; but it is a fine vantage ground to occupy, to be assured that you have God’s word before you, and not to be troubled with questions about its inspiration and authenticity. O that you may go from that point of faith to another, and become a hearty believer in Jesus. These wise men were so far advanced that they had some leverage for a further lift of faith, for they believed that Christ was born, and born a King. Many who are not saved, yet know that Jesus is the Son of God. We have not to argue with you this morning to bring you out of Socinianism— no, you believe Jesus to be the divine Saviour; nor have we to reason against doubts and scepticisms concerning the atonement, for these do not perplex you. This is a great mercy. You certainly stand in the position of highly favoured persons. I only trust you may have grace given you to avail yourselves of the favourable position in which God has placed you. Value what you have already received. When a man’s eyes have long been closed in darkness, if the oculist gives him but a little light he is very thankful for it, he is hopeful that the eye is not destroyed, that perhaps by another operation further scales may be removed, and the full light may yet stream in upon the darkened eyeball. So, dear friend, be thankful for any light. O soul, so soon to pass into another world, so sure to be lost except thou have the light divine, so certain to be cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, be thankful for a spark of heavenly light; prize it, treasure it, be anxious about it that it may come to something more, and who knows but yet the Lord will bless thee with the fulness of his truth? When the great bridge across the Niagara was made, the difficulty was to pass the first rope across the broad stream. I have read that it was accomplished by flying a kite, and allowing it to fall on the opposite bank. The kite carried across a piece of string, then to the string was tied a line, and to the line a rope, and to the rope a stronger rope, and by-and-by Niagara was spanned, and the bridge was finished. Even thus by degrees God works. It is a fair sight to see in human hearts a little interest concerning things divine, a little desire after Christ, a feeble wish to know who he is and what he is, and whether he is available to the sinner’s case. This hunger will lead to a craving after more, and that craving will be followed by another, till at last the soul shall find her Lord and be satisfied in him. In the wise men’s case therefore we have, as I trust we have in some here, interest evinced, and a measure of belief avowed.

     Furthermore, in the case of the wise men, we see ignorance admitted. Wise men are never above asking questions, because they are wise men; so the magi asked, “Where is he?” Persons who have taken the name and degree of wise men, and are so esteemed, sometimes think it beneath them to confess any degree of ignorance, but the really wise think not so; they are too well instructed to be ignorant of their own ignorance. Many men might have been wise if they had but been aware that they were fools. The knowledge of our ignorance is the doorstep of the temple of knowledge. Some think they know, and therefore never know. Had they known that they were blind, they would soon have been made to see, but because they say, “We see,” therefore their blindness remains upon them. Beloved hearer, dost thou want to find a Saviour? Wouldst thou fain have all thy sins blotted out? Wouldst thou be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ? Then blush not to enquire, admit that thou dost not know. How shouldst thou know if heaven teach thee not? How should any man attain the knowledge of divine things, unless it be given him from above? We must all be taught of the Spirit of God, or be fools for ever. To know that we need to be taught of the Holy Ghost is one of the first lessons that the Holy Ghost himself teaches us. Admit that thou needest a guide, and diligently enquire for one. Cry to God to lead thee, and he will be thine instructor. Be not high-minded and self-sufficient. Ask for heavenly light, and thou shalt receive it. Is it not better to ask God to teach thee, than to trust to thine own unaided reason? Bow, then, the knee, confess thine aptness to err, and say, “What I know not, teach thou me.”

     Notice, however, that the wise men were not content with admitting their ignorance, but in their case there was information entreated. I cannot tell where they began to ask. They thought it likeliest that Jesus would be known at the metropolitan city. Was he not the King of the Jews? where would he be so certain to be known as at the Capital? They went, therefore, to Jerusalem. Perhaps they asked the guards at the gate, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” and the guards laughed them to scorn, and replied, “We know no king but Herod.” Then they met a loiterer in the streets, and to him they said, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” and he answered, “What care I for such crazy questions? I am looking for a drinking companion.” They asked a trader, but he sneered, and said, “Never mind kings, what will you buy, or what have you to sell?” Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” said they to a Sadducee, and he replied, “Be not such fools as to talk in that fashion, or if you do, pray call on my religious friend the Pharisee.” They passed a woman in the streets, and asked, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” but she said, “My child is sick at home, I have enough to do to think of my poor babe; I care not who is born, or who may die beside.” When they went to the very highest quarters, they obtained but poor information, but they were not content till they had learned all that could be known. They did not know at first where the new-born King was, but they used every means to find him, and asked information on all hands. It is delightful to see the holy eagerness of a soul which God has quickened; it cries, “I must be saved; I know something of the way of salvation, I am grateful for that, but I do not know all I want to know, and I cannot rest satisfied till I do. If beneath the canopy of heaven a Saviour is to be found, I will have him; if that book can teach me how to be saved, I will turn its pages day and night; if any book within my reach may help me, I will spare no midnight oil if I may but in the reading thereof find out Christ my Saviour. If there be one whose preaching has been blessed to the souls of others, I will hang on his lips, if perhaps the word may be blessed to me, for Christ I must have: it is not I may or I may not have him, but I must have him; my hunger is great for this bread of heaven, my thirst insatiable for this water of life; tell me, Christians, tell me, wise men, tell me, good men, tell me any of you who can tell, where is he that is born King of the Jews? for Christ I must have, and I long to have him now.”

     Notice further , that in reference to these wise men from the east, there was for their search after Christ a motive declared. “Where is he,” said they, “that we may go and worship him ?” Ah! soul, and if thou wouldst find Christ, let it be thy motive that thou mayst be saved by him, and that then henceforth and for ever thou mayst live to his glory. When it comes to this, that you do not hear the gospel merely as a habit, but because you long to obtain its salvation, it will not be long before you will find it. When a man can say, “I am going up to the house of God this morning, and O may God meet with me there,” he will not long go there in vain. When a hearer can declare, “As soon as I take my seat in the congregation, my one thought is, “Lord, bless my soul this day?” he cannot for long be disappointed. Usually in going up to God’s house we get what we go for. Some come because it is the custom, some to meet a friend, some they scarce know why; but when you know what you come for, the Lord who gave you the desire will gratify it. I was pleased with the word of a dear sister this morning when I came in at the back gate; she said to me, “My dear sir, my soul is very hungry this morning. May the Lord give you bread for me.” I believe that food convenient will be given. When a sinner is very hungry after Christ, Christ is very near to him. The worst of it is, many of you do not come to find Jesus, it is not him you are seeking for; if you were seeking him, he would soon appear ta yon. A young woman was asked during a revival, “How is it you have not found Christ?” “Sir ,” said she, “I think it is because I have not sought him.” It is so. None shall be able to say at the last, “I sought him, but I found him not.” In all cases at the last, if Jesus Christ be not found, it must be because he has not been devoutly, earnestly, importunately sought, for his promise is, “Seek, and ye shall find.” These wise men are to us a model in many things, and in this among the rest— that their motive was clear to themselves, and they avowed it to others. May all of us seek Jesus that we may worship him.

     All through there was about the wise men an intense earnestness, which we would delight to see in any who as yet have not believed in Jesus. They were evidently not triflers. They came a long way, they underwent many fatigues, they spoke about finding the new-born King in a practical, common-sense way; they were not put off with this rebuff or that; they desired to find him, and find him they would. It is most blessed to see the work of the Spirit in men’s hearts impelling them to long for the Saviour to be their Lord and King; and so to long for him that they mean to have him, and will leave no stone unturned, by the Holy Spirit’s help, but what they will be able to say, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, and he is become our salvation.”

     Am I at this moment speaking to anybody in particular? I trust I am. Some years ago there was a young man, who, upon much such a morning as this— cold, snowy, dark— entered a house of prayer, as you have done to-day. I thought as I came here, this morning, of that young man. I said to myself, “This morning is so very forbidding that I shall have a very small congregation, but perhaps among them there will be one like that young man.” To be plain with you, it comforted me to think that the morning when God blessed my soul, the preacher had a very small congregation, and it was cold and bitter, and therefore I said to myself this morning, “Why should not I go up merrily to my task, and preach if there should only be a dozen there?” for Jesus may intend to reveal himself to some one as he did to me, and that some one may be a soul-winner, and the means of the salvation of tens of thousands in years to come. I wonder if that will occur to that young man yonder, for I trust he has the enquiry of the wise men upon his lips. I trust he will not quench those desires which now burn within him, but rather may the spark be fanned to a flame, and may this day witness his decision for Jesus. Oh, has the Lord looked on that young woman, or on that dear child, or on yonder aged man? “I know not who it may be, but I shall indeed bless God this morning, if the cry may be heard from many a lip, “Sir, what must I do to be saved? Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”

     II. Having spoken of their enquiry, I shall now notice THEIR ENCOURAGEMENT. Something encouraged these wise men to seek Jesus. It was this, “We have seen his star.”

     Now, the most of you seekers after Christ have a great encouragement in the fact that you have heard his gospel; you live in a land where you have the Scriptures, where the ordinances of God’s house are freely dispensed. These are, as it were, Jesus Christ’s star; they are meant to lead you to himself. Here, observe, that to see his star was a great favour. It was not given to all the dwellers in the east or west to see his star. These men, therefore, were highly privileged. It is not given to all mankind to hear the gospel, Jesus is not preached in all our streets; his cross is not lifted high even in every place that is dedicated to his worship. You are highly favoured, O my friend, if you have seen the star, the gospel, which points to Jesus.

     To see the star involved these wise men in great responsibility. For, suppose they had seen his star and had not set out to worship him, they would have been far more guilty than others, who, not having received such an indication from heaven, would not have been able to set it at nought. Oh, think of the responsibility of some of you, who in your childhood heard of a Saviour, for whom a mother has wept many tears; you know the truth, in the theory of it at any rate; you have the responsibility of having seen his star.

     The wise men did not regard the favour of seeing the star as a matter to be rested in. They did not say, “We have seen his star, and that is enough.” Many say, “Well, we attend a place of worship regularly, is not that enough?” There are those who say, “We were baptised, baptism brought regeneration with it; we come to the sacrament, and do we not get grace through it?” Poor souls! the star which leads to Christ they mistake for Christ himself, and worship the star instead of the Lord. O may none of you ever be so foolish as to rest in outward ordinances! God will say to you, if you depend upon sacraments or upon public worship, “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me. Who hath required this at your hands, to tread my courts?” What careth God for outward forms and ceremonies? When I see men putting on white gowns, and scarfs and bands, and singing their prayers, and bowing and scraping, I wonder what sort of god it is they worship. Surely he must have more affinity with the gods of the heathen than with the great Jehovah who has made the heavens and the earth. Mark ye well the exceeding glory of Jehovah’s works on sea and land ; behold the heavens and their countless hosts of stars, hark to the howling of the winds and the rush of the hurricane, think of him who maketh the clouds his chariot, and rideth on the wings of the wind, and then consider whether this infinite God is like unto that being to whom it is a matter of grave consequence whether a cup of wine is lifted in worship as high as a man’s hair or only as high as his nose! O foolish generation, to think that Jehovah is contained in your temples made with hands, and that he cares for your vestments, your processions, your postures, and your genuflexions. Ye fight over your ritual, even to its jots and tittles do ye consider it. Surely ye know not the glorious Jehovah, if ye conceive that these things yield any pleasure to him. Nay, beloved, we desire to worship the Most High in all simplicity and earnestness of spirit, and never to stop in the outward form, lest we be foolish enough to think that to see the star is sufficient, and therefore fail to find the incarnate God.

     Note well, that these wise men did not find satisfaction in what they had themselves done to reach the child. As we have observed, they may have come hundreds of miles, but they did not mention it; they did not sit down and say, “Well, we have journeyed across deserts, over hills, and across rivers, it is enough.” No, they must find the new-born King, nothing else would satisfy them. Do not say, dear hearer, “I have been praying now for months, I have been searching the Scriptures for weeks, to find the Saviour.” I am glad you have done so, but do not rest in it; you must get Christ, or else you perish after all your exertion and your trouble. Jesus you want, nothing more than Jesus, but nothing less than Jesus. Nor must you be satisfied with travelling in the way the star would lead you, you must reach HIM. DO not stop short of eternal life. Lay hold on it, not merely seek it and long for it, but lay hold on eternal life, and do not be content until it is an ascertained fact with you that Jesus Christ is yours.

    I should like you to notice how these wise men were not satisfied with merely getting to Jerusalem. They might have said, “Ah! now we are in the land where the Child is born, we will be thankful and sit down.” No, but “Where is he?” He is born at Bethlehem. Well, they get to Bethlehem, but we do not find that when they reached that village they said, “This is a favoured spot, we will sit down here.” Not at all, they wanted to know where the house was. They reached the house, and the star got over it. It was a fair sight to see the cottage with the star above it, and to think that the new-born King was there, but that did not satisfy them. No, they went right into the house; they rested not till they saw the Child himself, and had worshipped him. I pray that you and I may always be so led by the Spirit of God that we may never put up with anything short of a real grasping of Christ, a believing sight of Christ as a Saviour, as our Saviour, as our Saviour even now. If there be one danger above another that the young seeker should strive against, it is the danger of stopping short of a hearty faith in Jesus Christ. While thy heart is tender like wax, take care that no seal but the seal of Christ be set on thee. Now that thou art uneasy and out of comfort, make this thy vow, “I will not be comforted till Jesus comfort me.” It would be better for thee never to be awakened than to be lulled to sleep by Satan— for a sleep that follows upon a partial conviction is generally a deeper slumber than any other that falls upon the sons of men. My soul, I charge thee get to the blood of Christ, and be washed in it; get to the life of Christ, and let that life be in thee, that thou be indeed God’s child; put not up with suppositions, be not satisfied with appearances and perhapses; rest nowhere till thou hast said— God having given thee the faith to say it, “He loved me and gave himself for me, he is all my salvation and all my desire. See, then, how these wise men were not made by the sight of the star to keep away from Christ, but they were encouraged by it to come to Christ, and do you be encouraged, dear seeker, this morning to come to Jesus by the fact that you are blessed with the gospel. You have an invitation given you to come to Jesus, you have the motions of God’s Spirit upon your conscience, a wakening you; O come, come and welcome, and let this strange winter’s day be a day of brightness and of gladness to a many a seeking soul.

     I have turned my thoughts on this last head into verse, and I will repeat the lines—

O where is Christ my King?
I languish for the sight,
Fain would I fall to worshipping,
For he’s my soul’s delight.
Himself, himself alone,
I seek no less, no more,
Or on his cross, or on his throne,
I’d equally adore.
The sages saw his star,
But rested not content,
The way was rough, the distance far,
Yet on that way they went.
And now my thoughts discern
The sign that Christ is nigh,
With love unquenchable I burn,
T’ enjoy his company.
Ho star nor heavenly sign
My soul’s desire can fill,
For him, my Lord, my King divine,
My soul is thirsting still.

     III. And now we shall conclude, by considering THE EXAMPLE of these wise men. They came to Jesus, and in so doing, they did three things: they saw, they worshipped, they gave. Those are three things which every believer here may do this morning over again, and which every seeker should do for the first time.

     First, they saw the young Child. I do not think they merely said, “There he is,” and so ended the matter, but they stood still and looked. Perhaps for some minutes they did not speak. About his very face I do not doubt there was a supernatural beauty. Whether there was a beauty to everyone’s eye I know not, but to theirs there was assuredly a superhuman attraction. The incarnate God! They gazed with all their eyes. They looked, and looked, and looked again. They glanced at his mother, but they fixed their eyes on him. “They saw the young Child.” So, too, this morning let us think of Jesus with fixed and continuous thought. He is God, he is man, he is the substitute for sinners; he is willing to receive all who trust him. He will save, and save this morning, every one of us who will rely upon him. Think of him. If you are at home this afternoon, spend the time in thinking upon him. Bring him before your mind’s eye, consider and admire him. Is it not a wonder that God should enter into union with man and come to this world as an infant? He who made heaven and earth hangs on a woman’s breast for us! For our redemption the Word was made flesh. This truth will breed the brightest hope within your soul. If you follow that babe’s wondrous life till it ends at the cross, I trust you may there be able to give such a look at him that, like as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, and they that looked were healed, so you looking may be healed of all your spiritual diseases. Though it is many a year since I first looked to him, I desire to look to Jesus again. The incarnate God I My eyes swim with tears to think that he who might have crushed me into hell for ever, becomes a young child for my sake? See him, all of you, and seeing worship.

     What did the wise men next? They worshipped him. We cannot properly worship a Christ whom we do not know. “To the unknown God” is poor worship. But, oh, when you think of Jesus Christ, whose goings forth were of old from everlasting, the eternally-begotten Son of the Father, and then see him coming here to be a man of the substance of his mother, and know and understand why he came and what he did when he came, then you fall down and worship him.

“Son of God, to thee we bow,
Thou art Lord, and only thou;
Thou the woman’s promised seed;
Thou who didst for sinners bleed.”

     We worship Jesus. Our faith sees him go from the manger to the cross, and from the cross right up to the throne, and there where Jehovah dwells, amidst the insufferable glory of the divine presence stands the man, the very man who slept at Bethlehem in the manger; there he reigns as Lord of lords. Our souls worship him again. Thou art our Prophet, every word thou sayest, Jesu, we believe and desire to follow: thou art our Priest, thy sacrifice hath made us clean, we are washed in thy blood; thou art our King, command, we will obey, lead on, and we will follow: We worship thee. We should spend much time in worshipping the Christ, and he should ever have the highest place in our reverence.

     After worshipping, the wise men presented their gifts. One broke open his casket of gold, and laid it at the feet of the new-born King. Another presented frankincense— one of the precious products of the country from which they came; and others laid myrrh at the Redeemer’s feet; all these they gave to prove the truth of their worship. They gave substantial offerings with no niggard hand. And now, after you have worshipped Christ in your soul, and seen him with the eye of faith, it will not need that I should say to you, give him yourself, give him your heart, give him your substance. Why, you will not be able to help doing it. He who really loves the Saviour in his heart, cannot help devoting to him his life, his strength, his all. With some people, when they give Christ anything, or do anything for him, it is dreadfully forced work. They say, “The love of Christ ought to constrain us.” I do not know that there is any such text as that in the Bible, however. I do remember one text that runs thus— “The love of Christ constraineth us.” If it does not constrain us, it is because it is not in us. It is not merely a thing which ought to be, it must be. If any man love Christ, he will very soon be finding out ways and means of proving his love by his sacrifices. Go home, Mary, and fetch the alabaster box, and pour the ointment on his head, and if any say, “Wherefore is this waste?” thou wilt have a good reply, thou hast had much forgiven thee, and therefore thou lovest much. If thou hast gold, give it; if thou hast frankincense, give it; if thou hast myrrh, give it to Jesus; and if thou hast none of these things, give him thy love, all thy love, and that will be gold and spices all in one; give him thy tongue, speak of him; give him thy hands, work for him; give him thy whole self. I know thou wilt, for he loved thee, and gave himself for thee. The Lord bless you, and may this Christmas Sabbath morning be a very memorable day to many out of the crowd assembled here. I am surprised to see so vast a number present, and I can only hope the blessing will be in proportion, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.



Joseph’s Bones

By / Dec 18

Joseph's Bones

 

“By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.” — Hebrews xi. 22.

 

WE cannot readily tell which action in a gracious life God may set the most store by. The Holy Spirit in this chapter selects out of good men’s lives the most brilliant instances of their faith. I should hardly have expected that he would have mentioned the dying scene of Joseph’s life as the most illustrious proof of his faith in God. That eventful life — perhaps the most interesting in all sacred Scripture, with the exception of one, abounds with incidents, of which the Holy Spirit might have said by his servant Paul, “By faith Joseph did this and that,” but none is mentioned save the closing scene. The triumph especially of his chastity under well-known and exceedingly severe temptation, might have been very properly traced to the power of his faith, but it is passed over, and the fact that he gave commandment concerning his bones is singled out as being the most illustrious proof of his faith. Does not this tell us, dear brethren and sisters, that we are very poor judges of what God will most delight in? Very likely when we least please ourselves God is best pleased with us. That prayer over which we groaned, and thought it was not prayer, may have had more true supplication in it than another intercession of which we thought far more highly. That sermon which made us lament in the bitterness of our soul because we thought we had delivered it so feebly, may have been in God’s sight more precious than many a fluent discourse concerning which we congratulated ourselves. That trial which we thought we passed through with so much impatience, may have been before God an exhibition of true patience as he looked deep down into our souls. The tests by which we try ourselves are very inaccurate. It may be when we read our own biographies in the light of eternity we shall be surprised to notice that God hath highly commended what we wept over, while much that we gloried in will be cast away among the reprobate silver. The Lord seeth not as man seeth, for man looketh at the outward appearance, but God looketh at the heart, and his glance pierces to the core. The Lord weigheth the spirits; he estimates not by colour, form, and glitter, but by actual weight, and hence when he weighed up the character of Joseph he gave the preponderance to an incident wherein faith is really present in much force, but not to the superficial observer.

     It may seem surprising that the charge of Joseph concerning his body should be mentioned as a notable act of faith, and not the similar charge delivered by Jacob; for did not Jacob also give commandment concerning his bones? “And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a burying place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.” He bade them' carry his body to that dear mausoleum of the family at Machpelah, where his fathers rested. Why was not that a case of faith in Jacob as much as in Joseph? We cannot always speak positively of these things, but we think that there is a very decided difference between the two. You will notice that Jacob’s wish to lie in Machpelah was by himself described as resting mainly on the grounds of natural affection. He speaks about his relationship to Abraham, to Isaac, to Leah, and so on, and with that natural feeling which is exceedingly commendable, but which is not a work of grace, he desires to be buried with his own kith and kin. When his soul should be gathered to his people he would have his body lie side by side with his own relatives. This wish was probably as much an outgoing of nature as an expression of grace. Of course, natural affection would have led Joseph to desire the same thing, but he does not put it on that score. Moreover, you notice that Jacob commands his sons to do with his bones what they could readily do; they were to take him to Machpelah and bury him at once. He knew his son Joseph to be in power in Egypt; and therefore anything that was wanted for his funeral would be provided: the Egyptian court, as it proved, were ready enough to give him the most sumptuous interment. They even spent forty days in mourning for him, denoting thereby that he was a person held in high honour. Jacob therefore commanded nothing to be done but what could be done; there was no very remarkable exhibition of faith in commanding an immediate funeral which the filial love of Joseph would readily secure. He takes immediate possession of his sepulchre in Canaan, and for very excellent reasons, does not ask to remain unburied till Canaan is possessed by his descendants. Jacob seeks immediate sepulture, but Joseph postpones his interment till the covenant promise is fulfilled. Joseph not only wished to be buried in Machpelah, which was nature, but he would not be buried there till the land was taken possession of, which was an exhibition of the grace of faith. He wished his unburied body to share with the people of God in their captivity and their return. He was so certain that they would come out of the captivity, that he postpones his burial till that glad event, and so makes what would have been but a natural wish, a means of expressing a holy and gracious confidence in the divine promise. It was faith in Jacob, but it was remarkable faith in Joseph; and God who looks not simply at the act, but at the motive of the act, has been pleased not to put down Jacob as an instance of dying faith in this particular matter of his bones, but to award praise to Joseph as exhibiting in death, a memorable degree of confidence in the promise. Probably Jacob’s dying faith, when exercised upon other matters, outshone his faith in connection with his burial, while in his favourite son that matter was- his leading proof of faith.

     We shall now come to examine this incident with some little particularity, and we shall find in it valuable lessons. May the Holy Spirit write them on our hearts.

     I think I see, first, in this word of Joseph on his death-bed, the power of faith; I see, secondly, the workings of faith, the forms in which this precious grace embodies itself; and, thirdly, I see an example for our faith when we come to die.

     I. I observe in the text an example of THE POWER OF FAITH; the endurance of true faith under three remarkable modes of test.

     First, the power of faith over worldly prosperity. “Not many great men after the flesh, not many mighty are chosen” — true enough is that word. But it was never said, “Not any great men, not any mighty are chosen.” God has selected a few in places of wealth, and power, and influence, who have faith in their hearts, and that in an eminent degree. Our Lord told us that it was “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven,” but he added, “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” Observe, then, the difficulty which surrounded Joseph’s case; and then remark how great must have been the faith which triumphed over the difficulty! Joseph’s position after he had passed through his first trials in Egypt was a very eminent one. He possessed unbounded riches; he was the viceroy of the entire country, and Pharaoh had said to him, “Only in the throne will I be greater than thou.” He was in all respects, except in name, the absolute lord of that great nation; he could do just as he willed; he was surrounded by all the state of royalty; and when he rode in his chariot through the streets the heralds cried before him, “Bow the knee.” Yet all this did not prevent Joseph’s possessing faith in God, and a faith which persevered even to the end. My dear brethren, the trials of faith are usually those of poverty, and right gloriously does faith behave herself when she trusts in the Lord, and does good, and is fed even in the land of famine; but it is possible the ordeal of prosperity is far more severe, and it is hence a greater triumph of faith, when the rich man sets not his heart upon uncertain riches, and does not suffer the thick clay of this world to encumber his pilgrimage to heaven. It is hard to carry a full cup with a steady hand, some spilling will usually occur; but where grace makes rich men, and men in high position of power and authority to act becomingly and graciously, then grace is greatly glorified. You who are rich should see your danger; but let the case of Joseph be your encouragement. God will help you, seek you his merciful aid. There is no need that you should be worldly, there is no need that you should sink the Israelite in the Egyptian. God can keep you, even as he kept Job, so that you shall be perfect and upright, and yet be exceeding great in possessions. Like Joseph you may be at once richer and better than your brethren. It will be very hard, and you will need very, very much grace, but the Lord your God will help you, and you shall learn, like Paul, how to abound; and, like Joseph of Arimathea, you shall be both a rich man and a devout disciple.

     Be it remembered too that Joseph was not only tried by riches, but that the trial lasted throughout a long life, from almost his early days to the close of his career. I suppose that for sixty or seventy years at least he stood in the high position of lord-lieutenant of Egypt, with all the wealth of that great people at his feet, and yet all that time he remained true in heart towards the God of his fathers. May God give you who are in elevated places the like fidelity. May you remain unshaken under the most protracted temptation. Remember, moreover, that the society into which Joseph was cast by his position in Egypt was of the very worst kind as to spiritual religion, for the Egyptians were to a man idolaters, worshippers of all kinds of living animals and creeping things. A satirist said of them, “Oh, happy people who grow their gods in their own gardens,” for they even worshipped leeks and onions: they were a most idolatrous people; and though far ahead of their neighbours in civilisation, they were very low in the scale of religion. We think we see in Joseph here and there traces that he was damaged by Egyptian habits and customs, but still not so much as one might have expected, and in no degree so much as to make us suspect his fidelity to the one God. There must have been a deep sound depth of holiness in the young man or he would never have been able to live at court, and at an idolatrous court too, and yet to preserve his integrity and his faith towards Jehovah the God of Israel. Do not forget that during a very great part of that time Joseph had not one single person to associate with who was of his own faith. Think what a trial that must have been to him! I have known persons very warm-hearted in religion while living with zealous Christians, and very diligent while listening to a lively ministry, who, when removed from Christian society, or compelled to sit under a cold ministry, have made a spiritual failure. Alas! I mourn over some who when transplanted into sterner soil have so declined that it were hard to say whether they are trees of the Lord’s right hand planting or not. Joseph was removed to a place where there was no prayer in the household, no friend, no godly teacher to speak a word with, no one who knew of Jehovah or of the covenant made with Israel ; he was all alone, alone, alone, in the midst of an idolatrous people, with all the temptations of Egypt before him, possessed of its riches and its treasures, and tempted to live as the people lived, in all manner of heathenism, and yet for all that he endured as seeing him who is invisible, and at the last he died full of confident, joyous and godly belief in the God of his fathers. Ah! this is a great triumph of faith, and I would urge any of my dear brethren here, who really love the Lord, to seek that the work of grace in them may be so deep, so true, so thorough, that if God should make kings of them they would not grow proud of it; if God should send them right away from Christian associations they would not forget him; and if they were exposed to all the temptations of the world at once they would resist them all. The power of Joseph’s faith was, you see, abundantly evidenced in its triumph over his wordly circumstances.

    Secondly, you see here the power of his faith exhibited in its triumph over death. He says, if you turn to the last chapter of Genesis, “I die, and God will surely visit you;” or, as the text puts it, he “made mention concerning the departing of the children of Israel.” Death is a great tester of a man’s sincerity, and a great shaker down of bowing walls and tottering fences. Men have thought that it was all well with them, but when the swellings of Jordan have been about them, they have found matters quite otherwise. Here we see Joseph so calm, so quiet, that he remembers the covenant, falls back upon it, and rejoices in it. He speaks of dying as though it were only a part of living, and comparatively a small matter to him. He gives no evidence of trepidation whatever, no fear distracts him; but he bears his last witness to his brethren who gather about his bed, concerning the faithfulness of God and the infallibility of his promise.

     Moreover, if I am to gather from the text that the Holy Spirit has singled out the brightest instance of faith in Joseph’s whole life, it is beautiful to remark that the grand old man becomes most illustrious in his last hour. Death did not dim, but rather brightened, the gold in his character. On his death-bed, beyond all the rest of his life, his faith, like the setting sun, gilds all around with glory; now that heart and flesh fail him, God becomes more than ever the strength of his life, as he was soon to be his portion for ever. Is it not a grand thing for a Christian to do his very best action last, being strongest in divine power when his own weakness is supreme? We should desire to serve God in youth, in health, in strength, with all the might we have, but it may happen to us that, like Samson, our last act may be the greatest. Many a good man groans over his life, that having done all he can it is still unsatisfactory; but perhaps the Master may be intending to give him a crowning mercy, just at the last, and make the place of his departure to be the scene his most glorious victory, so that he may enter into heaven wearing the laurels of faith, there to cast them at the Saviour’s feet. Joseph, at any rate, is a noble instance of faith’s conquest over death.

     Once more, here is a proof of the power of faith in laughing at improbabilities. If you will think of it, it seemed a very unlikely thing that the children of Israel should go up out of Egypt. Perhaps at the time when Joseph died there appeared to be no reason why they should do so. They were settled in Goshen, they had been favoured with the part of the land; the wisdom of Joseph had selected the most fertile part of the Delta of the Nile as a pasture for their flocks. Why should they wish to go? They had all the comforts earth could yield them, why should they wish to leave Egypt for the soil of Canaan, where the Canaanites would dispute every inch of the ground, where there were few, if any, advantages over Egypt, and many disadvantages? Suppose Joseph to have seen, by prophetic foresight, as perhaps he did, that another dynasty would succeed to that of the Pharaoh who had honoured him, and that Israel would be oppressed, he must have felt, if he weighed probabilities, that it was unlikely to the last degree that the children of Israel, when reduced to slavery, would ever have been able to cut their way out of Egypt, to reach the promised land. Any person qualified to judge, had he been asked, as to the probable issue of a conflict between the twelve tribes and the armies of Egypt, would have replied, “Israel would be at once trodden down like straw for the dunghill, and the people would remain in perpetual bondage.” But Joseph’s eye was fixed upon the mighty promise, “In the fourth generation, they shall come hither again.” He knew that when the four hundred years were passed, Abram’s vision of the smoking furnace and the burning lamp would be fulfilled, and the word would be established — “And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.” Though as yet he could not know that Moses would say, “Thus saith Jehovah, Let my people go,” though he might not have foreseen the wonders at the Red Sea, and how Pharaoh and his chariots would be swallowed up therein; and, though he did not predict the wilderness and the fiery cloudy pillar, and the heavens dropping manna, yet his faith was firm, that by some means the covenant would be fulfilled: improbabilities were nothing to him, nor impossibilities either. God hath said it, and Joseph believes it. On his dying bed, when fancy hides and strong delusion relaxes its iron grip, the true, sure faith of the man of God rose to its altitude, and like the evening star shed a sweet glory o’er the scene. May we, my brethren, possess the faith which will triumph over all circumstances, over the pains of death, and over every improbability that may apparently be connected with the word.

     II. Under our second head we are to endeavour to show you THE WORKINGS OF FAITH.

     In this case Joseph gives commandment concerning his bones. The first fruit of faith in Joseph was this — he would not be an Egyptian. He had not been asked to be an Egyptian under the yoke, anybody might have refused that; he had not been asked to be an Egyptian of the middle class, that might have been desirable from a worldly point of view; but he had the opportunity of being an Egyptian of the highest grade. He was actually exalted to almost royal rank, and he might have become a naturalised Egyptian, and his family also. In the providence of God he was called upon to accept the honours and enoluments of a most dignified office, but still he would not be an Egyptian, even on the best terms. His dying bed afforded him a turning point, an opportunity for testifying that he is an Israelite, and by no means an Egyptian. He did not hesitate, his choice had never wavered. No doubt he would have had a sumptuous tomb enough in Egypt; but no, he will not be buried there, for he is not an Egyptian. In Sakhara, hard by the great pyramid of Pharaoh Apophis, stands at this day the tomb of a prince, whose name and titles are in hieroglyphic writing. The name is “Eitsuph,” and from among his many titles we choose two — “Director of the king’s granaries,” and the other an Egyptian title, “Abrech.” Now this last word is found in the Scriptures, and is that which is translated, “Bow the knee.”* It is more than probable that this monument was prepared for Joseph, but he declined the honour. Though his resting place would have been side by side with the pyramid of one of Mizraim’s greatest monarchs, yet he would not accept the dignity, he would not be an Egyptian. This is one of the sure workings of faith in a man of wealth and rank; when God places him in circumstances where he might be a worldling of the first order, if his faith be genuine, he says, “No; I will not even at this rate be numbered with the world.” He dreads above all things that he should be supposed to have his portion in this life. If you could put a Christian on the throne, the first fear he would have would be this — am I to be put off with an earthly crown, and miss the heavenly diadem? Place him at court, his great question will be — How shall I show that I am not one of the citizens of this world? Surround him with broad acres, a noble mansion, and a large estate, yet he says, “I accept this thankfully from God, but oh, I would not have it if I had it on condition of being numbered with the followers of Mammon; and now I have obtained wealth, my daily prayer to God shall be, ‘Lord, help me so to use my station that I may not serve this evil world with it, but may be a father to thy poor Israel. If it comes to the choice between the reproach of Christ and the treasures of Egypt, I will take Christ’s reproach, and renounce the treasure; I cannot be an Egyptian.’” O rich men, make this a main point of concern, prove that you are not worldlings. You have to frequent the exchange, to visit the bank, to handle large sums of money, but be not money-grubbers, rakers up of gold; be not covetous or grasping. Prove that though in Egypt you are not Egyptians. May this be your prayer, “May God grant I may never so live as to be mistaken for a man of this world who has his portion in this life. My portion is above. Whatever I enjoy here, heaven is my heritage.”

     Notice, next, that his faith constrained him to have fellowship with the people of God. Not only does he refuse to be a worldling, but he avows himself an Israelite. You will tell me, perhaps, that he only had fellowship with them when he was dead. Yet think not too lightly of that. He gave up the funeral which Egypt would accord him that he might wait long years for his obsequies to be celebrated by his own people. But I beg to remind you that it was not the first time that Joseph had shown fellowship with his brethren; it was but the conclusion of a lifetime of communion with them. It is true he did not go down into their poverty, there was no need that he should, but he made them sharers of his wealth. God had so ordained in providence that Joseph should be a man of wealth, and rank, and station, and he showed his fellowship with Israel by bringing down his father and brethren into Goshen, and providing for them there, and being always ready to urge their suit, and to do his best to promote their interests. Now one mark of faith in the Christian man is this, if he is poor he takes his lot with the poor people of God cheerfully, but if he be rich, he counts that he is placed in a commanding position that he may the better help his brethren, and he has fellowship with them by his constant kindness towards them. If it ever were needful to prove his true fellowship that he should give up his position altogether, he would cheerfully do it that he might be numbered with the despised people of God. Joseph, it seems to me never blushed to own his race, and never failed at all proper times to say to the Egyptians, “I am not one of you; there is my family down in Goshen.” As he knew that afterwards his family would become despised and persecuted, he said to them, “Keep my bones, so that when they degrade you they may degrade me — I am going to stay with you in all your future sorrows, for I am one of you.” True faith will make the child of God say, “I am one of God's people, my soul is joined to them in all conditions.” “Where thou goest, I will go; where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.”

     In the case of Joseph his faith led to an open avowal of his confidence in God’s promise. On his death-bed he said, “I die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land.” He also said, “He will bring you to the land which he promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Faith cannot be dumb. I have known her tongue to be silent through diffidence, but at last it has been obliged to speak; and, my brethren, why should not your faith oftener speak, for her voice is sweet and her countenance is comely? No tongue more sweet to Christ’s ear, nor more potent over the hearts of men, than the tongue of true faith. If your faith be real, though you may for awhile hide your light under a bushel you will not be always able to do so long, but you will be compelled to say, “I believe the gospel of Christ,” I believe the promise of God; he will keep his covenant, and I avow myself to be a believer in his truth.” Joseph having thus declared his faith, practically showed that he meant the avowal, that it was not a matter of form, but a matter of heart. I do not know in what better way he could have shown his practical belief in the fact that God would bring the people out of Egypt, than by saying, “Keep my bones here, never bury them till you go yourselves to Canaan, having left Egypt for ever, and taken possession of your covenant country.” He who believes in God will find practical ways of proving his faith; he will avow it by an open confession, but he will also manifest it by choosing some form of service in which his faith shall be put to the test; or if affliction be allotted to him by God, he will take it cheerfully, expecting that God will give him strength equal to the emergency, and so his faith will triumph under the trial. That faith which never proves itself by works is a faith to be dreaded. If thy faith never makes thee speak up for thy God or serve him, it is a bastard faith, a base-born presumption which will ruin thy soul; it never came from God and will not carry thee to God. But Joseph is very practical, as practical as the circumstances permitted him to be.

     Moreover, notice, that having faith himself, he would encourage the faith of others. No man may be said to have real faith who is not concerned that faith may be found in the hearts of his fellow men. But, say you, “What did Joseph do to encourage the faith of others?” Why, left his bones to be a standing sermon to the children of Israel. We read that they were embalmed and put into a coffin in Egypt, and thus they were ever in the keeping of the tribes. What did that say? Every time an Israelite thought of the bones of Joseph, he thought, “We are to go out of this country one day.” Perhaps he was a man prospering in business, laying up store in Egypt; but he would say to himself, “I shall have to part with this; Joseph’s bones are to be carried up; I am not to be here for ever.” And then while it acted as a warning, his body would serve also as an encouragement, for when the task-masters began to afflict the people, and their tale of bricks was increased, the despondent Israelite would say, I shall never come up out of Egypt.” Oh, but the others would say, “Joseph believed we should; there are his bones still unburied. He has left us the assurance of his confidence that God would in due time bring up his people out of this house of bondage. It seems to me that Joseph had thought of this device as being the best thing on the whole he could do to keep the Israelites perpetually in remembrance that they were strangers and sojourners, and to encourage them in the belief that in due time they would be delivered from the house of bondage and settled in the land that flowed with milk and honey. True faith seeks to propagate herself in the hearts of others. She is earnest, eager, intense, if by any means she may scatter a handful of holy seed that may fall in good soil, and bring forth glory to God. It is a good proof of your own faith when you lay yourself out to promote the faith of others.

     Note, too, that Joseph’s faith made him have an eye to the spiritualities of the covenant. Joseph had nothing earthly to gain in having his bones buried in Canaan rather than in Egypt; that can make small difference to a dying man. Naturally we like to think of being buried with our kin, but then we would choose to be buried soon after death. None of us would voluntarily desire to have his bones kept for some hundreds of years out of the ground in order that they might ultimately come into the family sepulchre. I believe he had no eye to the mere secularities of the covenant, but was looking to the spiritual blessings which are revealed in Jesus, the great seed of Abraham. This made him say, “I am no Egyptian, I am one of the seed that the Lord has chosen; I look for the coming Messias. I have a part and a lot amongst the chosen people of God; I will claim that, I will claim it not only for myself, but for my sons and for my household.” He had in the providence of God, without any fault of his own, been married to an Egyptian woman; Manasseh and Ephraim therefore were half of Egypt, and if the father had been buried in Egypt the sons might have clung to Egypt and separated from Israel. He seems to say, “No, my children, you are no Egyptians, you are like your father, Israelites; never bury my bones in Egypt, I charge you never bury them at all till you can lay them down in the ancient sepulchre of our race. Be Israelites to the backbone, through and through, for the best possession is not what I can bequeath you in Egypt, which will pass away, but the heritage to which I point you, the spiritual heritage which I would fain you should have. My bones shall charge you, Manasseh and Ephraim, not to make yourselves Egyptians, not to be conformed to the world nor to seek your rest here, but let your father’s bones tempt you towards Canaan; never rest till you feel you have an interest in the spiritual blessings of the covenant.

     Once more, it seems to me that Joseph’s faith in connection with his unburied bones showed itself in his willingness to wait God's time for the promised blessing. Saith he, “I believe I shall be buried in Machpelah, and I believe that my people will come up out of Egypt. I believe, and I am willing to wait.” Every man wants that when he dies he shall be decently buried soon. Who wants to have his bones hawked about? But this man will wait, wait for his funeral — wait on, however weary may be the time of Israel’s captivity. It is a great thing to have waiting faith. “Stand still and see the salvation of God,” is easier said than done. “He that believeth shall not make haste.” We are, for the most part, in a childish hurry. We would like to be in heaven tomorrow; if we were wise, we should be glad to keep out till God lets us in. We would like to have the resurrection to-morrow, and many are pining because the coming of Christ is not by-and-by. Wait thou the Lord’s appointment, O impatient grumbler; be thou quiet of spirit and calm of heart, the vision will not tarry. Be willing to wait. Be willing to let thy bones sleep in the dust till the trump of the resurrection sound, and if thou couldst have a choice about it, refer thy choice back again to thy Lord in heaven, for he knoweth what is best and right for thee. I like the idea of a man who could not wait in life, for he must die, but who proves the waitingness of his spirit by letting his bones wait till they could be deposited in Canaan. You will notice that he had Joseph’s wish, for when Israel went up out of Egypt you will find in the fifteenth of Exodus, that Moses took care to carry with them the bones of Joseph; and, what is rather singular, those bones were not buried as soon as they came into Canaan, they were not buried during the long wars of Joshua with the various tribes; but in the last verses of the book of Joshua, when nearly all the land had been conquered, and the country had been divided to the different tribes, and they had taken possession, then we read that they buried the bones of Joseph in the field of Sheehem, in the place which Abraham had bought for a sepulchre; as if Joseph’s remains might not be buried till they had won the country, until it was settled, and the covenant was fulfilled ; then he must be buried, but not till then. How blessed is waiting faith which can let God take his time, and wait, believe in him, let him wait as long as he wills.

     III. I must close with the third point. I think we have in our text, beloved friends, AN EXAMPLE FOR OUR FAITH TO ACT UPON WHEN WE ALSO COME TO THE TIME OF DEATH.

     We will imagine it to be very near, and the conception will be literally true to some , and true to us all in a degree. What shall I derive any comfort from when I come to die? Come, let me prepare my last dying speech. Now think it over. First, I would imitate Joseph, by deriving my comfort from the covenant, for that he did. That commandment concerning his bones was only made because he believed God would keep his covenant to his people and bring them up out of Egypt. May you and I be able to say with David, “Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure.” Ah! my soul, this is no dying, but only passing from earth to heaven. Jesus, who is himself the covenant, soothes most blessedly the dying beds of his saints. A negro was asked when he had been sitting up to nurse his minister one night, “How is your master!” Said he, “He is dying full of life.” It is a grand thing when one has the covenant to think on. You can then die full of life, you can pass away out of this lower life, being filled with the life eternal before the life temporal has quite gone out, so that you are never emptied out of life, but the life of grace melts into the life of glory, as the river into the ocean.

     Joseph may be an example to us, in that he drew his consolation from the future of his people. “God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land.” Very often the dying thoughts of a Christian man are troubled about the condition of the church of Christ. He fears that dark days are coming upon her. If a minister, he anxiously asks, “What will my people do now that I can no longer lead and feed them? Will they not be like a flock without a shepherd?” But here will come in the consolation; there are better days for the church of God. Though the fathers sleep —

“All the promises do travail,
With a glorious day of grace.”

Though one after another we shall pass away, there are not dark days for our descendants, but days of brightness are on the way. “Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children.” “He must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” The kings of the isles shall yet acknowledge him, and the wanderers of the desert shall bow down before him. Jesus the Christ of God must be King over all the earth, for God hath sworn it, saying, “Surely all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” With such thoughts as these upon our minds, we may well close our eyes in death with a song upon our lips.

     And then, my brethren, we have another and brighter hope to die with, if die we must before it be fulfilled, and that is, Christ Jesus the Son of God will visit his people. Brethren, the glad hope of the second advent of our Lord Jesus Christ may light up the chamber of death with hope. As Joseph said, “God will visit you.” The time cometh on when the Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the trump of the archangel and the voice of God. Let our dying testimony be to the effect that surely he comes quickly and his reward is with him. We have not to look forward as the Jew did; he expected the first advent, and we watch for the second coming. This shall cheer us even in our departure, for if we die ere he comes we shall yet share in the splendour, for the dead in Christ shall rise.

     We may add to all this a hope concerning our bones. We may tell our weeping kindred, as they gather round our bed, to give our bones a decent sepulchre; they need not blazon our names, or write our fancied virtues on stone; but we will tell them that we shall rise again, and that we commit ourselves to the bosom of our Father and our God, with the full conviction that our dust shall yet be quickened anew.

“Mine eyes shall see him in that day,
The God that died for me,
And all my rising bones shall say,
Lord, who is like to thee?”

I do not know when a witness to the resurrection sounds more sweetly than it does from the lips of a saint who is just about to quit this mortal body, to enter into the presence of his God. It is well to say, as you take leave of these hands, and feet, and eyes, and all the members of this mortal frame, “Farewell, poor body, I shall return to thee again; thou shalt be sown in weakness, but thou shalt rise in power; thou hast been the faithful friend and servant of my soul, but thou shalt be still more fit for my spirit when the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised.” May we take care that our last act shall be a triumph of faith, the crowning deed of our lives. God help us that it may be so!

     Beloved, there is one sad reflection, namely, that we cannot hope to die triumphantly unless we live obediently. We cannot expect to exhibit faith in dying moments if we have not faith now. God grant thee faith, O unbeliever. Seeker, rest not till thou hast it, and may the Spirit of God give thee the faith of God’s elect, that living thou mayst serve God, and dying thou mayst honour him as Joseph did of old. The Lord bless you, dear friends, for his sake. Amen.



Purging Out the Leaven

By / Dec 11

Purging Out the Leaven

 

“Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out, therefore, the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with did leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”— 1 Corinthians v. 6— 8.

 

“WHAT God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” Evermore in Scripture the doctrines of grace are married to the precepts of holiness. Where faith leads the way, the virtues follow in a goodly train. The roots of holiness and happiness are the same, and in some respects they are but two words for the same thing. There have been persons who have thought it impossible that holiness should come out of the preaching of salvation by faith. If you tell men that “there is life in a look at the crucified One,” will they not conclude that cleanness of life is unnecessary? If you preach salvation by grace through faith, and not at all by the works of the law, will they not draw the inference that they need not be obedient to Christ, but may live as they list? To this the best answer is found in the godly, honest, and sober lives of the men who are most zealous for the gospel of the grace of God. On the other hand, there have been others of Antinomian spirit, who have dared to say that because they are saved, and Christ has finished his work for them, so that nothing is left undone by way of merit, therefore, henceforth they may act as they please, seeing that they are not under law, but under grace. Our reply is, that the faith which saves is not an unproductive faith, but is always a faith which produces good works and abounds in holiness. Salvation in sin is not possible, it always must be salvation from sin. As well speak of liberty while yet the irons are upon a man’s wrists, or boast of healing while the disease waxes worse and worse, or glory in victory when the army is on the point of surrendering, as to dream of salvation in Christ while the sinner continues to give full swing to his evil passions. Grace and holiness are as inseparable as light and heat in the sun. True faith in Jesus in every case leads to an abhorrence of every false way, and to a perseverance in the paths of holiness even unto the end.

     The apostle Paul while he was showing the Corinthians how wrong they were to tolerate an incestuous person in their midst, compared the spirit of uncleanness to an evil leaven; then the leaven suggested to him the passover, and turning aside for a moment he applied the type of the paschal feast, so as to make his argument yet more cogent. He would urge purity upon them by every conceivable reason, and his keen eye saw an argument in the celebration of the passover. In using this type he furnishes me with another proof of the fact, that hard by any Scripture wherein you find the safety of the believer guaranteed, you are sure to see needful holiness set side by side with it. Here you have at the passover a favoured people safe beneath the sprinkled blood, safe in that dire hour when the destroying angel’s sword was unsheathed, but you find that people busily engaged in purging out the defiling leaven from their houses: they were not saved by purging out the leaven, but being preserved by the sprinkled blood, they were obedient to the divine precept, and diligently put away the corrupt and forbidden thing. The purity of the house from leaven went side by side with its safety by the blood.

     We shall, this morning, first, consider the happy condition of believers; next, the holy duty commended to them, running side by side with their privilege; and thirdly, we shall show how their happiness and holiness, their holiness and happiness, act and re-act upon each other.

     I. We have set forth to us THE HAPPY CONDITION OF ALL TRUE BELIEVERS IN CHRIST. “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast.”

     The habitual, normal state of a Christian is that of one keeping a feast in perfect security. We are to be, as a rule, like the Israelites who stood at the table of the passover festival, with loins girt, and staves in their hands, expectant of a joyful deliverance. Observe how the apostle puts it; take his words one by one. “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” “Our passover,” that by which God’s wrath makes a transition, and passes over from us who deserve its full vengeance. It passed upon the Lamb of God, and therefore it passes over us. Christ is sacrificed or slain, his life is taken, for he gave himself for us; his life and blood, yea, his truest self he yielded up for us. The word for us implies substitution. Christ is sacrificed for or instead of us. We should never think of saying that Paul was sacrificed for us, though it is true Paul did lay down his life for the church of God, to promote the interests of the faithful, and in a certain sense, since his exertions handed down the gospel, he died even for us; but we use the term so generally and so correctly in the sense of substitution, that we should not think of applying it to any but our Lord, who alone in the fullest sense was sacrificed for us. He is the Lamb of our passover, sacrificed in our behalf, that we might not be sacrificed, roasted in the fire of suffering that we might go free. It is by the process of substitution that, according to abundant Scriptures, believing sinners are passed over in judgment, and so escape eternal condemnation. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” No one can doubt this doctrine who believes the word of the Lord by the prophet Isaiah in his fifty-third chapter, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement, of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” “He was numbered with the transgressors, and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

     Our great joy is that the sacrifice through which we are passed over is already slain. No new victim is expected or required. The sacrifice by which we are delivered is complete. Accursed be all those who say that there is offered to God continually a sacrifice in the mass by which the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is rendered complete. He hath said, “It is finished,” and they are liars before God who say otherwise. “This man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.” Do you think me severe in my speech, I say no other than Paul said, “If any man preach any other gospel, let him be accursed.” All that was wanted to atone for our sin, all that was required to vindicate the law of God, is already offered, there is nothing left to be presented by so-called priests on earth, or to be made up by the penances and payments of their dupes. Our passover is sacrificed; let others offer what they will, ours is the Lamb once slain, and there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin.

     This completeness of sacrifice indeed is the main part of the festival which the Christian should perpetually keep. If there were anything jet to be done-— if the substitutionary sacrifice were imperfect, how could we celebrate the feast? Anxiety would destroy all enjoyment. “It is finished,” is the joyous peal which rings us into the celestial banquet of present peace; the fact that we are complete in him, perfect in Christ Jesus, is our soul’s deepest delight.

     Our sacrifice is slain: “therefore,” says the apostle— and it is a natural inference from it— “let us keep the feast.” By which I understand this: Jesus Christ, the Paschal Lamb, not only was offered as a sacrifice towards God, but he has become a festival towards ourselves; in him we have communion with God, and joy and peace through believing. We are to keep the feast by feeding upon Christ. The paschal lamb was not slain to be looked at, to be laid by in store, or merely made the subject of conversation; but it was slain to be fed upon. So, Christian, it is your daily business to feed upon Christ Jesus, whose flesh is meat indeed, and whose blood is drink indeed. Jesus is the food on which your faith must be nourished; and what rich nourishment he is! God over all, blessed for ever, hath redeemed us; the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us, has been sacrificed for us. My soul, what more could be required? What more canst thou desire, or can the Almighty One demand? A sacrifice divine, a perfect man in union with the eternal God, dies for thee. What more is needed to make thy faith firm and unmoved? Come and feed thyself on this bread which came down from heaven. The infinite love of the great Sacrifice, the amazing wisdom of it, the transcendent merit of it, the abounding fulness of the blessings which it secures; let your souls consider these things, and feed upon them till they are satisfied with favour and full of the goodness of the Lord. Here is a festival the viands of which never can be exhausted, and from which the guests need never depart. Remember that at the paschal supper the whole of the lamb was intended to be eaten; and even thus, O believer, the whole of Christ thou art to feed upon. No part of Christ is denied thee, neither his humiliation nor his glory, his kingship nor his priesthood, his Godhead nor his manhood; all this has he given to thee and for thee, and thou art now to nourish thy soul by meditating upon him.

     Forget not, moreover, that a feast is not only for nourishment, it is for something more, for joy, for exhilaration. Let us in this sense also keep a lifelong feast. The Christian is not only to take the doctrines which concern Christ, to build up his soul with them as the body is built up with food, but he may draw from them the wine of joy and the new wine of delight. It is meet that we rejoice in Christ Jesus. He is the bliss of the saints. Is it not a joy unspeakable and full of glory, that my sin will never be laid to my charge if I am a believer; that my sin has been laid at Jesus’ door, and he has put it all away, so that if it be searched for it shall not be found? Is it not an intense delight to believe that Jesus has so effectually put away sin that no destroying angel can touch one of his saints? There being no condemnation, there can be no punishment for us either in this world or in that which is to come. We are as safe as Israel when the door was sprinkled with the blood. And more, being justified, we rise to a higher position, we are adopted into the family of God, and if children, then heirs. What a vista of glory opens before our eyes at the mention of that word, heirs of God! All things are ours, because Christ our passover has been slain for us. My brethren, do not let your religion merely keep you calm and quiet, look for bursts of joy. “Praise him upon the cymbals, praise him upon the high-sounding cymbals.” Surely there should be an excitement of delight created by truths so grand, by blessings so inestimable as those of which we are partakers! Let us not treat our religion as merely an ordinary meal for our souls, but as a holy banquet of wine wherein our souls may be exceeding glad.

     When the Jews came together at the passover, we find that they were accustomed to sing. They did not close the paschal supper without chanting some portions of the great “Hallel,” which consisted of those Psalms at the end of the book, dedicated to the praise of God. Let us keep the feast in the same way, nourishing our souls with Christ’s sacrifice, making our hearts glad by reflecting upon the blessing which this has brought us, and never forgetting to magnify Jehovah, the Father, the giver of Christ, the founder of the covenant, our God in Christ Jesus. Let your praises never cease. You remember what I started with, that when the apostle says, “let us keep the feast,” having drawn that exhortation as an inference from the fact that the passover is killed, he does not mean, “let us sometimes keep the feast,” but let us always keep it. Our passover is perpetual. It has no times and seasons, it is lifelong. Salute ye your God each morning with your hymn of praise, ye redeemed ones; let not the sun go down without another hymn of thanksgiving. Praise him, praise him, praise him. Ceaseless as your mercies let his praises be. O for the life of heaven on earth, to be always praising God! Our sacrifice is slain, therefore let us keep this feast of daily adoration and hourly thankfulness to him who passed us by in mercy when he might have smitten us in wrath.

     At the passover the devout Jew was accustomed to teach his family the meaning of the feast. The children said, “What mean ye by this ordinance?” And then the father explained to them how they came out of Egypt, saying, “With a high hand and an outstretched arm Jehovah brought us forth, and on the night when he smote the firstborn of Egypt, he smote not us, for the lamb was slaughtered, and when the Lord saw the blood upon the door he passed over us.” Let it be a part of our continual festival— and I do not know a more delightful duty— to tell to others what our Redeeming Lord has done. Too many of you need to be stirred up to this pleasant duty. When you once break through those wicked cowardly habits— for I cannot help thinking them so in many of you— which lock your mouths and prevent your giving Jesus praise, you will find it sweet to tell to your children and kinsfolk the story of the atoning sacrifice. While blessing them you will obtain a double blessing in your own souls, and if it should please the Holy Spirit to bless your teaching to the salvation of your fellow men, you will be happy indeed.

     Do not suppose that I am exhorting you to keep the feast when you come to the Lord’s supper. I do not refer to that emblematic feast at all. I refer to our daily lifelong fellowship with Jesus.” Christ our sacrifice is slain for us, therefore let us keep the feast;” the inference is of continuous force. When is Jesus slain? Is he not slain at this hour; was not his sacrifice completed upon Calvary’s bloody tree? Therefore let us keep the feast always, for the Lamb is always slain. Our keeping of the feast is not a matter for times and seasons, for festivals and holidays, it is always our position. O you who go with your heads bowed down like bulrushes, and yet are the Lord’s true people, I would fain put my hand on your shoulders and say, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast.” Wherefore should we lie in the dungeon when liberty is ours? “Alas,” saith a downcast one, “I have so many corruptions.” I know you have, my dear brother. We will talk about that directly, but “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast.” “But I have so many troubles and I am so very poor.” So were many of the Israelites, but when they had slain the passover they kept the feast; so notwithstanding all these things which make you sorrow, you must feast, for “our passover is sacrificed.” “Ah! my cares,” saith one. What business hath a believer with cares? Is it not written, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, he will sustain thee, he will never suffer the righteous to be moved”? You cannot keep a feast while care, like a harpy, hovers above the table; but let us, like Abram, drive away the birds of prey, and keep the feast. “Ah! but I am thinking about the past, my old sins still haunt me.” What, after Christ your passover is slain? Surely the past is blotted out and forgiven. “Still,” says one, “my mind is heavy, my harp is on the willows.” Will not a sight of Calvary relieve you? Jesus Christ was made a curse for you that you might not be regarded any longer as accursed. Will not this make you lift up the note of thanksgiving? Certainly it ought. It should be always feast time with God’s servants, since Christ their passover is slain. “But I have nothing to rejoice in,” says one, “except my religion.” What more do you want? What was there brought on the table at that paschal supper by way of good cheer, except the paschal lamb? I grant you there was something else upon the table, but what was it? Bitter herbs. Surely those were not an addition to the joy? It was not sharp sauce such as we ordinarily use, but bitter, pungent herbs. These did not please the palate, yet they kept the feast upon the lamb, which was all they needed. So you may bring the bitter herbs of your deep repentance that your sin made it necessary that the Lamb of God should die; but all the feast is in him, and all the world can contribute nothing to that feast but bitter herbs. If you had all the world, and derived comfort from it for a time, in the end it would become bitter as wormwood. Bitter herbs all things beneath the sky must be, only Jesus is the true feast. My soul, rejoice in the Lord always, for thou hast always reason to triumph, since Jesus Christ is slain.

     II. Close side by side with the picture of the lifelong feast, we find A HOLY DUTY COMMENDED to us. “Purge out, therefore, the old leaven.” “Let us keep the feast; not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and -wickedness, but with the unleaven of sincerity and truth.”

     Leaven is used in Scripture, we believe in every case— there is only one case in which the question could possibly be raised— as the emblem of sin. This arises partly from its sourness. We being ourselves leavened with evil, find leaven somewhat palatable at the first, but God, who hates all evil, puts away the type in all its stages. Sin, which for awhile may seem pleasant, will soon be nauseous even to the sinner; but the very least degree of sin is obnoxious to God. We cannot tell how much God hates sin. With the entire intensity of his infinite nature he loathes it; he cannot look upon iniquity, it is detestable to him, the fire of his wrath will burn for ever against it, because sin is infinitely loathsome to his pure and holy nature. He calls it leaven, then, because of its sourness. Leaven is, moreover, the offspring of a sort of corruption, and tends towards further corruption. Sin is a corruption, it dissolves the very fabric of society, it dissolves the constitution of man, wherever it gets into our nature it puts it out of order, disjoints it, destroys its excellence, and poisons its purity. Leaven is also very spreading. No matter how great the measure of flour, the leaven will work its way. There is no saying, “Hitherto shalt thou go, but no farther,” a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Even thus it is with sin. When that leaven had place among angels, it brought a multitude of them down to hell. One woman sinned, and the whole human race was leavened by her fault. One sin drops into the nature, and it becomes entirely depraved, corrupt through and through, by the leavening influence.

     Now, according to the apostle, if the leaven of evil is permitted in a church, it will work its way through the whole of it. In the Christian church a little false doctrine is sure to pave the way for greater departures from truth, so that no one can predict the end and result of the first false teaching. You cannot say, “I will be so far unorthodox;” you might as well break the dykes of Holland, and bid the sea be moderate in its encroachments. The doctrines of the gospel have such a close relation to one another, that if you snap a link, you have broken the whole chain, and we may say of the system of truth what is written concerning the law, “He that offendeth in one point is guilty of all.” The renunciation of one truth almost necessarily leads to the giving up of another, and before a man is half aware of it himself he has let go the gospel. I greatly fear that the denial of the eternity of future punishment is but one wave of an incoming sea of infidelity. Deny the awful character of the desert of sin, and the substitutionary work of Christ will soon follow. Indeed we have living proofs of this at this day, and we shall see many more before long. The new teaching eats as doth a canker. It speaks fair, but in its heart there is a deadly enmity to the gospel itself, and the sooner it is seen to be so the better for the church of God.

     The leaven of evil living, too, is equally obnoxious in the church; tolerated in one it will soon be excused in another, and a lower tone of thought with regard to sin will rule the church. The toleration of sin in the church4soon leads to the excusing of it, and that to the free indulgence of it, and to the bringing in of other sins yet more foul. Sin is like the bale of goods which came from the east to this city in the olden time, which brought the pest in it. Probably it was but a small bale, but yet it contained in it the deaths of hundreds of the inhabitants of London. In those days one piece of rag carried the infection into a whole town. So, if you permit one sin or false doctrine in a church knowingly and wittingly, none can tell the extent to which that evil may ultimately go. The church, therefore, is to be purged of practical and doctrinal evil as diligently as possible. That sour and corrupting thing which God abhors must be purged out, and it is to be the business of the Christian minister, and of all his fellow helpers, to keep the church free from it.

     We will, however, view the text as relating to ourselves, and let me remark that the apostle had in his mind’s eye the custom of the Jews at the passover. In consequence of the command that they should purge out the leaven at the passover, the head of the household among the Jews in the olden times, especially when they grew more strict in their ritual, would go through the whole of the house on a certain day to search for every particle of leavened bread. It was generally done in the evening with a candle, and the servants and others would accompany the good man of the house to search for every crumb. Clothes were shaken, cupboards were emptied, drawers were opened, and if a mouse ran across the room and might be supposed to carry a crumb of bread into its hole, they trembled lest a curse should rest on the home. So strict did they become that our Saviour might have rebuked them as straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel. We, however, have no need to fear excessive strictness in getting rid of sin. With as scrupulous a care as. the Israelite purged out the leaven from his house we are to purge out all sin from ourselves, our conduct, and our conversation. Here is a task set before you, then, my brethren. Note well, we do not urge you to purge out sin in order that you may save yourselves, for Christ our passover is slain , and our salvation is secured. But that being done, in order that we may keep the feast and unbrokenly possess the joy of salvation, we are to purge out the leaven of sin. We may suppose that the Jewish householder would very soon put away all the large loaves of leavened bread that remained in the house; just as you and I, when we were sorrowing for sin, gave up at once all those gross outward sins in which we indulged before. Some of these have never tempted us again. Drunkenness, profanity, uncleanness— I have known men give up these sins at once, in a moment, and they appear to be delivered from their power henceforth and for ever. Then perhaps there were some stray crusts which the children had left. These were put away also. So there may be certain minor sins in the judgment of the world which the Christian man, when converted, may not put away the first week; but when they are seen he says, “I must have done with these; Christ my passover has been offered, I cannot do this wickedness. I am a child of God, more is expected of me than of others.” But the most trouble would be caused by the little crumbs of leaven; these might be hidden away in the cupboard, and perhaps it was a long time after the search began before the householder found these out; but when he did, he said, “Put them away, they must not remain.” And, beloved, many a Christian man has not found out the sinfulness of some actions for years after his conversion. I am very conscious that certain matters which I thought very lightly of years ago would greatly trouble my conscience now. As I have obtained light upon certain sins I have through grace put them away, and I expect as long as I live to find something which, viewed in a brighter light, and from a higher standing, will be discovered to be sinful, and I desire grace to have done with it. We must not hesitate for a moment; we must not retain even a crumb of the evil leaven; we must earnestly desire to sweep it all out.

     The whole house was searched. I have seen a picture in which the servant is represented as cleansing the cooking vessels in the kitchen, the housewife is searching garments and cups in the dining room, and the master and his sons are opening cupboards, and chests, and diligently investigating. A Christian man may feel that he has got rid of all the leaven from his shop, he is upright, and honest himself, and his system of business is just; yet it may be there is leaven in his private house, for the children are uncorrected, the Sabbath is disregarded, or the servants’ souls are neglected. Perhaps however the home is right, and then there may be leaven in the bed-chamber. Your conversation with yourself and your God may be in a sad condition. Prayer may be restrained. Suppose you have purged out the leaven of hypocrisy and are sincere, are you also free from the leaven of anger? May you not still be slow to forgive? Are you clear of the leaven of pride, or of covetousness? Every part of our nature needs searching, the reins, the heart, the judgment, all must be cleansed. Purge out the old leaven wherever it has penetrated; it must come away or else, though we are safe beneath the blood, we shall not know and enjoy our safety. The feast cannot be kept while the old leaven is wilfully left within us.

     I told you that the head of the household usually performed the search; let your best powers of judgment be exercised upon yourself, my dear brother. Too many exercise their understandings in criticising others, but they do not judge themselves in the same way. Let your main and chief thought be, now that you are saved, to get rid of sin, let the master powers of your soul be called into this purging work, and ask the Master himself to aid you. Doth he not sit as a refiner to purify the sons of Levi? Search me, O God; try me, and know my ways. Thine eyes can see what mine cannot. May the great Purifier put forth from us every crumb of the old leaven of our natural corruption.

     I said that a candle was used to throw a light into every corner of the house, that no leaven might escape notice. Take you the candle of God’s word, the candle of his Holy Spirit. Do you say, “There is nothing wrong in me if I judge myself by my fellow men”? My brother, it is a small thing to be able to say no more than this. To be approved of men is but a poor standard for a Christian. Does thine own heart reproach thee? Does the word of God reproach thee? To be measuring myself by my fellow men, and saying, “Compared with them I am generous to the poor, and diligent in God’s service.” This is to be proud because you are taller than pigmies or fairer than blackamoors. Compare yourself with Paul, with John, with Brainerd or Rutherford, and even that is ill advice, for what were the best disciples compared with their Master? There must be no lower standard for us than the perfection of Christ. No attainment must ever satisfy us until we are conformed to his image who is the firstborn among many brethren. You will tell me I am holding up a high standard. I am; but then you have a great helper, and I will show you in a moment how you may be of good cheer concerning this business.

     To purge out the old leaven many sweepings of the house will be wanted; one certainly will not suffice. You must search, and search, and search on , until you get to heaven. The motto of your life must be, “Watch, watch, watch.” For, mark you, you are sure to leave some leaven, and if you leave a little it will work and spread. Sin has evermore a swelling tendency, and until the Holy Spirit has cut up the last root of sin, evil will grow up again in the heart, at the scent of water it will bud and put forth once again its shoots. Here is work for all time, enough to keep us busy till we land in eternity.

     It is hinted in the text that there are forms of evil which we must peculiarly watch against, and one is malice. Is a Christian man likely to be malicious? I trust in the strong sense of that term we have done with malice, but, alas! I have known believers who have had a very keen sense of right, and therein have been commendable, who have too much indulged the spirit deprecated here; that is to say, they have been very severe, censorious, and angry— angry with people for not being perfect. Though not perfect themselves, and though they know that if they are better than others, the grace of God has made them so, vet they are bitter and untender towards the imperfections of Christian people, and they cherish feelings of prejudice, suspicion, and ill-will. They do not seek the improvement of the faulty, but their exposure and condemnation. They hunt down sincere but faulty people, and denounce them, but never by any chance offer an excuse for them. In some believers there is too much of the leaven of unkind talking; they speak to one another about the faults of their brethren, and, in the process of retailing, characters are injured and reputations marred. Now harsh judgments and evil speakings are to be put away from us as sour leaven. If a man has injured me, I must forgive him; and if I find him to be faulty, I must love him till he gets better, and if I cannot make him better by ordinary love, I must love him more, even as Christ loved his church and gave himself for it, “that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.” He did not love her because she was without spot or wrinkle, but to get the spots and wrinkles out of her; he loved her into holiness.

     Take good heed also that every form of hypocrisy be purged out, for the apostle tells us to eat the passover with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Do let us leave off talking beyond our experience, let us never pray beyond what we mean. Ask God, my brother, to clean us from all unreality, that nothing may be in us but true metal. There is a strong temptation among Christian ministers, and Christian men of all sorts, to seem to be a little more than they are. God save us from it. The slightest taint of hypocrisy should be abhorred by the Christian man. All ill-will and all mere seeming should be detestable to the Christian, for where these are there can be little or no communion with Jesus. The fellowship of heaven is not enjoyed where the leaven of hell is endured.

     III. Our last point shall be touched briefly. THE HAPPINESS OF THE BELIEVER ACTS UPON HIS HOLINESS, AND HIS HOLINESS UPON HIS HAPPINESS.

     First of all, the happiness acts upon the holiness. We have drawn a picture of the paschal feast. Set it before you again. If I know that I feed upon Christ day by day, who has been sacrificed for me, the happiness I feel leads me to say, “Yet it was dearly purchased; my sins slew my Saviour, and therefore will I slay my sins.” Every taste you get of redeeming love makes you feel that sin is a cruel and detestable thing, and therefore you will destroy it. Sitting as you do within the house, and knowing that you are all safe because the blood is on the lintel outside — what next? Why, you will say, “The firstborn sons of Egypt are slain, and am I preserved; what then? Why I must be God’s firstborn, and must belong to him.” “Ye are not your own, but ye are bought with a price,” is the voice of the angel as he passes by the house which he must not enter to destroy. Has Christ loved me and died for me? Then I am his, and if I am his I cannot live in sin. If I am redeemed, how can I continue a slave? If I belong to Jesus I cannot serve the devil, I must be rid of sin. Then, further, if I feel that all is safe my mind is calm, and I am able to care about the state of my heart. The Israelite was safe within his house, he needed not to keep watch and ward outside, the sprinkled blood was his security, and therefore he had time and space to see to the interior of his abode. Now, said the believer, “I have nothing to do with saving myself , for my salvation is finished, and therefore I will see to my growth in grace.” He who has outdoor work done for him may well see to his indoor work, and earnestly turn his thoughts to the purging out of the old leaven. The freedom you have from fear through the blood of Jesus gives you the peace of mind needful for a thorough search after your sins. Moreover, the Christian man is encouraged to put away his leaven of sin because he has the foresight of a profitable exchange. The Israelite gave up leavened bread, but he soon had angels’ food in the place of it. So the Christian says, “I give up these sins; they were sweet to me once, now they are sour, stinking, corrupt leaven; I shall receive nobler enjoyments, fellowship with heaven shall be my portion. I may gladly part with leaven, for I am called to eat the bread of angels, nay, the bread of God.

     The Christian, too, who knows that his sin is forgiven, feels that the God who could put away his load of sin, will surely help to conquer his corruptions. When I see Calvary I believe everything to be possible. If Jesus can blot out sin, his Spirit can subdue it. The holy peace created in the soul by feeding upon Christ, nerves the spirit for conflict with inbred sin. We will overcome it, we will drive out the Canaanites which defile our souls, we will be pure, we will be perfect, for greater is he that is with us than all they that be against us. So you see our happiness in many ways promotes our holiness.

     I am quite sure you will not need me to enlarge upon the fact that holiness produces happiness. How quiet doth the soul become when the man feels, “I have done that which was right, I have given up that which was evil.” I grant you that the deep peace of the believer arises from the sprinkled blood, but it is enjoyed by purging out the leaven. You question yourself and say, “Can I believe in Christ if I am living in sin?” and you get back the comfortable sense that Jesus is yours when you can honestly feel that you have, by the Holy Spirit, renounced your old sins. Purging out the leaven clears your evidences, and so enables you to keep the feast. You were safe enough through the blood, but now you find happiness in a sense of security, a happiness which would have been taken from you had you fallen into sin. My brethren, how can we expect to enjoy communion with Jesus Christ while we indulge in sin? I am sure you will find that at the bottom our want of fellowship with Christ arises from our want of careful walking before the Lord. I read sometimes holy Rutherford’s letters, and say, “I wish I lived like this.” Now, if I do not do so, it is either Christ’s fault or mine. Can I say it is Christ’s fault? I dare not. He is as willing to reveal himself to me as to any other of his servants. It is my fault then. My dear brother, if you do not walk in the light as Christ is in the light, it is not because he is not willing that you should walk in his light, it is because you keep at a distance from him, and so walk in darkness. Do you believe that the sad faces among God’s servants are caused by their poverty? Some of the very poorest of saints have been the most joyful. Do you think they are caused by their sicknesses? Why, we have known persons confined to the bed of sickness twenty years together, who have found a very heaven below in their chamber of languishing. What is it that makes God’s people look so sad? It is the old leaven. “Let us keep the feast,” says the apostle, but it is useless to hope to do so while we keep the leaven. Perhaps there is one thing which we know to be our duty, but we have not attended to it; that one neglect will break up our festival. “He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not shall be beaten with many stripes.” Are these stripes to be given in the next world? I do not believe it, it is in this world that erring believers will be beaten, and very often depression of spirit, losses and bereavements, happen to a Christian because he has knowingly violated his conscience by neglecting a duty or permitting a sin. Jesus will not commune with neglecters of his will. Jesus will have no leaven where he is. If you tolerate that which is nauseous to him expect not a comfortable word from him. If you walk contrary to him he will walk contrary to you. Can two walk together unless they be agreed? I would with much affection press these considerations upon you, for I have pressed them upon my own heart. I fear we shall not enjoy the blessing we have had as a church unless there is more jealousy for holiness among us. I am afraid some of us are barren of spiritual usefulness because we do not watch against sin. O keep your conscience tender! Beware of getting it seared. It is like the pond in the winter; a very thin scale of ice is formed at first, but afterwards the whole surface becomes hard enough to bear half a town. Beware of the thin scale over your conscience. Keep your heart tender before God, ready to be moved by the faintest breath of his Spirit. Ask to be like sensitive plants, that you may shrivel up at the touch of sin, and only open out in the presence of your Lord and Master. God grant it to you. God grant it, for Jesus’ sake.

     This last sentence, and I have done. There are some here who are not saved. Do notice how salvation comes — not through purging out the leaven ; no, that operation is to be seen to afterwards, but salvation comes because the Paschal Lamb is slain, the soul feeds on Jesus, his blood is sprinkled, and the soul is saved; afterwards comes the purging out of sin. Dear soul, if thou wouldst be saved, do not begin at the wrong end, begin with the Saviour’s blood, begin with Calvary’s cross; go there as a poor sinner, and look to him, and then after that we will say, “Let us keep the feast,” and we will diligently see to it in his strength that the leaven be put away. God bless you for Christ’s sake.



The Essence of the Gospel

By / Dec 4

The Essence of the Gospel

 

“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.” — John iii. 18. I

 

MAY have preached from this text before, I may have done so several times; if I have not, I ought to have done. It is the whole Bible in miniature. We may say of it so many words so many volumes, for every single syllable here is charged to the full with meaning. We may read it, and re-read it, and continue still to read it day and night, yet ever find some fresh instruction in it. It is the essence of the gospel. The good news in brief.

     When our Lord Jesus Christ shall come a second time, before him shall be gathered all nations, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats. That will not, however, be the first time in which the presence of the Lord Jesus has acted as a separator. It is always so wherever he comes. Men are as one body in their fallen condition, all alike estranged from God until he appears, but his coming finds out the chosen and calls them apart, and on the other hand, the unbelievers are discovered. Two camps are formed out of the once mingled multitude. Each goes to each , each one after its own kind finds its fellow, and between the two fellowships there is a deep gulf, which divides them as clearly as light is distinct from the darkness, or death is divided from life. Other distinctions sink into insignificance in the presence of Jesus; riches or wealth, learning or ignorance, power or weakness, are matters of too small account to divine mankind in the presence of the great Discerner of spirits. Only these two characters, believers and unbelievers, stand out in clear relief. As it is in our text, so is it as a matter of fact in the entire universe; the only two really vital distinctions for time and for eternity, are just these, believers and unbelievers, receivers of Christ and rejectors of him. Furthermore, as to-day the presence of Christ divides the mass, and gathers men into assorted companies, so also does that presence ensure a present judgment. It is written, that he shall say to them on his right hand, “Come, ye blessed,” and to those on his left, “Depart, ye cursed,” and even so at this moment his presence with equal certainty produces a judging; for here in the text we find believers not condemned, or in other words, acquitted, and we find unbelievers condemned already. The “Come, ye blessed,” is anticipated in the non-condemnation, and the “Depart, ye cursed,” is as it were already heard in the verdict, “Condemned already.” I charge you, therefore, this morning, while the word is preached in your hearing, to remember that a clear and all-important division will be wrought while this sermon is being delivered. This day the Son of David holds his throne, and in this house he sits in judgment. In the preaching of the gospel at this moment his majestic voice divides the sinners from the saints, and if sensitive to his presence, we shall either tremble or rejoice. God grant that while this division shall go on, as it must go on, for he will be this day a savour of death unto death or a life unto life to every one of our souls, we may all be found amongst believers, and none of us shut out as condemned already by being unbelievers.

     I. I shall ask you, this morning, first, to CONSIDER TO WHICH OF THE TWO CLASSES MENTIONED IN THE TEXT WE BELONG.

     “He that believeth on him is not condemned.” Have we a share in that character? Let us see to it.

     What is meant by believing on him, or rather in him, for the word “eis” is rather in him than on him. If I mistake not, the word “believeth in him” means a great deal more than most of us have seen in it. I think I see many shades of believing. There are some who believe concerning Christ, that is to say, they believe that he is the Messiah and is the Saviour of men. Many accept this for truth because their fathers did so, and it is to them a matter of unquestioned tradition. They are born in what is commonly thought to be a Christian country, and therefore have they taken up with the Christian faith, and theoretically and notionally they believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world. They would not hesitate to stand up and say, “I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord, who was begotten of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried,” and so on. But remember, you may believe all that is orthodox concerning the Lord Jesus, and yet it will be no token that you are justified in him. No one may dare to say that a belief in the Athanasian creed will ensure us of salvation. If you reject his Deity, if you deny his atonement, such errors will be conclusive evidence that you are not a believer in him, because you are not a believer of the truth concerning him, and therefore you must take your place among unbelievers who are condemned already; but on the other hand, if you hold the scriptural truth, and believe accurately concerning the Lord Jesus, yet if you go no further, your mere faith about him, or concerning him, will not bring you salvation. To know Christ is of no avail, unless it can be said, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee.”

     It is a step further when we have come to believing him. This is sometimes mentioned in Scripture— believing him. “I know whom I have believed.” Believing concerning him that he is God’s Christ, his Anointed, his sent One, his Messiah, we therefore should, as a matter of course, accept whatever he says as being true; and if with our hearts we do this, I trow we are saved. But we may think we do this, and notionally may give our assent to his teaching, and yet, notwithstanding, we may not have attained unto his salvation; we may still be condemned unbelievers, though we may think, and say, and profess that we believe him.

     Frequently in Scripture there is another form of the believing which clusters about the Greek word, “epi” believing upon him. Our translators seem to have placed the -word “on” here as though it were in our text, but it is hardly so in the Greek. There is a difference between believing on him and believing in him. To believe on Jesus is indeed a saving faith, for he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. To believe on him is, as it were, to lean upon him, to receive him as God has set him forth, and in consequence to make him the foundation of our hope. Believing concerning him, and believing him, we then come to repose upon him, and to make him our confidence. We believe that he can save us, we trust in him to save us, and this is the essence of saving faith— to believe upon the appointed Redeemer. But in this- particular case our text speaks of believing in him, and this is something more than believing upon him. Every man who really believes upon Christ will ere long come to believe in him; but there is a growth— believing in him is more than believing upon him. How is that? If I thoroughly believe in a man, what is the result of it? Is he an advocate, and am I immersed in law? Then I trust my case to him; I leave the affair in his hands without fear, for I believe in my advocate. Very good, so far that may be believing upon him. But now he gives me directions and rules of action. If I believe in him I shall certainly follow those rules to the letter, being fully convinced that they will lead me to a right issue. I commit the matter practically as well as theoretically to the man whom I have chosen to represent me, and I do so cheerfully, for I believe in him. I am like a man on board a vessel: I believe in him who is the captain. What then? If he bids me do this, or that, or the other, I may hear some one call his orders foolish, but I believe in him, and I do at once whatever he bids me. His bidding may appear absurd to one who has no faith in him, but to me it is wise and right. Suppose there should be raised up at this juncture for poor unhappy France, a man of high military genius, a man who shall be capable with such material as may come to hand to meet the terrible foe, and to disperse the cloud which now hangs over the capital city. If the people shall believe in the man, what then? Why they will surrender the direction of affairs to him. They will implicitly follow his lead. Does he command a sortie, does he bid the army advance? They believe in him, and the sortie is made, and the troops advance gallantly to the conflict. Should he counsel delay, and the avoidance of a great battle, those who believe in him will entrench themselves, or retire before the foe. If they are absolutely sure in their hearts that he is the man who guarantees victory, they will be certain to obey his orders; he will be their oracle, their dictator, and that most joyfully on their parts. So that to believe in our Lord means this, that I believe him to be the Son of God, and believe all other truths concerning him; that I also believe whatever he says to be the truth, in other words, I believe him; yet more than this, I cast my soul upon his atoning merits that he may save it, and so believe upon him; and furthermore, having so done I give myself up entirely to the Saviour’s holy guidance; I believe him to be infallible as the director of my spirit; I feel a union with him; I come to be in him, his cause is my cause, my cause his cause— I believe into him. Now this is the man of whom the text says, “He that believeth in him is not condemned,” and the question I put this morning to myself and to you is, Have we believed in Jesus? Do we really take him to be our all in all? Do we consent that he should guide and lead us till he brings us to eternal felicity?

     The connection of our text will help us to form a judgment as to whether we are indeed believers in Jesus. Brethren and sisters, have you realised, by a true exercise of faith, what is meant by the fourteenth and fifteenth verses of the present chapter? “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” As the serpent-bitten Israelite looked to the brazen serpent when it was uplifted, have you in the same way looked to Jesus and found healing through looking to him? By this ye may judge yourselves. Have ye been healed of the wounds of sin and quickened into a new and heavenly life? Have you in very deed made the crucified Saviour your soul’s resting-place? In the verses which follow the text, you find such words as these, “He that doeth truth cometh to the light.” Do you, my brethren, as the result of having trusted in Christ come to the light? Is it your desire to know God’s truth, God’s will, God’s law, God’s word? Are you seeking after the light, and are you desirous that the works wrought in you should be seen to be the fruit of God’s own Spirit? By this also can you judge yourself? It is vain to say, “I trust in Christ,” if thou hast never looked to him with that same childlike look with which the Israelite looked to the brazen serpent: and equally vain for thee to profess to be a believer in him, unless thou desirest the light. Thou mayst be in partial darkness still, as doubtless thou art, but art thou seeking more light, seeking God, seeking truth, seeking right? By this shalt thou know whether the Father has begotten thee unto a new birth, whether thou art to a certainty a new man, no longer a light-shunner but a light-seeker; no longer, because thy deeds are evil, seeking to conceal thyself from the convincing word of God, but because thy deeds are truthful, seeking to receive more light, that thy works may be made manifest to thine own conscience as being truly wrought of God in thy soul.

     The consideration which I proposed just now has to be taken up with regard to the second class. Are we unbelievers? It is to be feared that there are some such here. If that be so, it may be of some service to them to know where they are, and what they are. “He that believeth not is condemned already.” Some of you here are very inconsistent, because though you believe not in Christ Jesus, that is to say, do not trust your souls with him, nor give yourselves up obediently to serve him, yet you believe concerning him that he is the Christ of God, and if he were here to-day and spoke to you, you would believe his words, though I cannot say you would so believe them as to act upon them. It is so very strange that you should believe him to be the Son of God and yet should not trust him; that you should know that what he speaks is true, and that after he has warned you of the wrath to come, you should yet sit down in stolid indifference, and not seek the salvation which he provides. Instead of looking to the brazen serpent, you act as the Israelites would have done had they sought out another remedy. You have not believed in Christ, but if you have any belief that you need a Saviour, I suppose your own common reason makes you seek one. You are evidently, therefore, seeking another salvation than that which God provides. You are refusing what God has ordained that you may find something of your own. There is but one Saviour, that Saviour this day you will not trust in — you are refusing him to your own destruction. You are this day shutting your eyes to the one only light, and though you have some desire towards light at times, yet you love darkness rather than light, and still continue as you were— dark, dark, dark, for you do not like to be reproved, you cannot bear that the gospel should come too cuttingly home to touch you in your conscience and rebuke you for your sins. To this day you remain an unbeliever and a lover of the darkness. Search, I pray you, and look. While this heart which now addresses you will pity you, I trust God’s heart may pity you too, and may you yet escape out of the condition of the unbeliever, and yet be numbered with the believers in Christ.

     Thus much on our first point, which I leave to your earnest self-examination, hoping that it may not be treated slightingly.

     II. Now, secondly, and for a very short time, let us CONSIDER THE CONDITION OF THE BELIEVER. “He that believeth on him is not condemned.” What a joyful sentence is this! Provided you have ascertained that you do believe in Jesus, turn this sweet word over and over in your souls, my brethren. Is it not delightful to think that you have it from God’s own mouth by inspiration, and to note that the inspiration is of a remarkable kind, for you have it not only by the Spirit of God, but you have from Jesus Christ himself the sweet assurance that you are not condemned! What joy, what peace this word should speak unto your soul!

     Let me show you for a minute how the believer escapes condemnation. “He that believeth on him is not condemned.” One reason is because he does not offer himself for judgment. He that believes in Christ does not present himself to be tried. He says, “Nay, my Lord, I have no argument with thee, I plead guilty, I confess the condemnation. There is no need of trial, thou art justified when thou speakest, and clear when thou condemnest.” There sits the judge, and the prisoner should stand opposite to him, for they are two parties; but behold, in this case the prisoner leaves the place, declines a trial, falls at the judge’s feet, acknowledges that the sentence if carried out would be just, and pleads guilty. Having done this the believer sees that the sentence which he acknowledges and confesses to be right has been already laid upon his Surety, and in that Surety he believes. What does he believe about him? Why, that God, that he might magnify his justice and his grace, was in Christ Jesus, and that the Son of God did hang upon the cross, and bleed and die, the just for the unjust that he might bring us to God. The believer confesses the justice of the sentence, and therefore is at one with God. He comes to the light, and his deeds are reproved, and he accepts the reproof, and acknowledges it to be true. Then he looks to the cross, and he says, “This very sentence to which I do subscribe with mine own hand that it is just, has been laid upon my ever glorious and blessed Surety, the only begotten of the Father, and he has been punished instead of me, and I am therefore clear, since Christ my ransom died.” This is the way in which the believer comes not to be condemned: he accepts the condemnation, and then sees it laid upon his Surety. This brings him peace. The justice of God would have disturbed his mind; he sees that justice satisfied, and he declares in his own heart that if God be satisfied he is satisfied; if God’s justice be honoured then conscience feels that all is well. And now what happens? Why this believer in Christ not being condemned seeks the light; from this day forward he desires more and more to walk in the light of knowledge, the light of the divine presence, the light of divine holiness. O my brethren, there was a time when our souls inclined after sin, but now though we sin we mourn over it, and because we mourn it we have evidence that “it is no longer I,” as the apostle saith, “but sin that dwelleth in me.” The veriest inmost I, the truest, reallest ego within our soul desires holiness. If we could be as we would, we would be pure as God is pure, for our heart hungers and thirsts after righteousness. We come to the light, and now having believed, we are in such a condition that our deeds when we come to the light, though discovered, do not bring us shame and confusion of face, for in that very light our works are made manifest that they are wrought in God, and we rejoice that God is working in us by his Spirit all holy desires, emotions, and actions, which shall go on increasing until we shall be perfectly delivered from sin. This is the condition of the man who believeth in Christ, a very happy condition, a very hopeful condition, a very heavenly condition, who would not desire to be in it? It all hinges upon the believing, for with the believing in Jesus there comes the new birth, with the new birth there comes the desire after light, with the desire after light there arises a progress towards it, and a manifestation of the secret working of the Holy Spirit within the soul. Happy believers, thrice happy in what you are as well as in what you shall be.

     III. And now, thirdly, and here comes our most solemn work— may God’s Holy Spirit help us in it. CONSIDER THE CONDITION OF THE UNBELIEVER. “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only-begotten Son of God.” Observe the fact itself which is here stated! “He that believeth not is condemned already.” Let me enlarge upon this very solemn truth.

     First, he offers himself for judgment. “He hath not believed on the name ”— what is the name? It is the Saviour, Jesus. He who believes on Jesus, the Saviour, confesses that he needs saving, and declines to stand on the footing of law; but he who refuses the Saviour does in effect say, “I do not require a Saviour, I am willing to stand my trial by the law.” I tell you every soul that declines a Saviour does in effect ask to be judged by the law. There stands the alternative; are you guilty, will you confess it?” If so, accept the Saviour. But if on the other hand you say, “I will not accept the Saviour,” in the bottom of your soul there lies the presumptuous conceit, “I can stand the judgment; I do not want pardon and grace” Then, sir, if you ask for judgment you shall have it, and behold the result of it: God declares you to be condemned already. You have not believed, you have asked for judgment, you shall have it, but it is your ruin.

     The unbeliever himself gives personal evidence to his own condemnation. Do you enquire how he does this? The text points us to his not believing. Is yonder person a condemned or uncondemned man? Ask him what he thinks of Christ. If he replies honestly, he says, “I do not accept God’s testimony about Jesus Christ; I do not receive Jesus as my Saviour.” Either he claims that he does not need a Saviour or else he does not feel that Jesus is the Saviour he needs. He rejects the testimony of God concerning Christ— is not that enough to condemn a man? If a man in the very presence of the judge committed theft or murder, he would condemn himself; but is it not a still higher offence than this, in the very presence of God to do despite to his Son, by practically declaring his work and blood to have been unnecessary? Is it not the height of daring that a soul should stand in the presence of the God of mercy and hear him say in his word, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” and that the soul should reply, “I have nothing to do with the Lamb of God”? What further witness do we want with regard to your enmity to God? He that will not believe in Christ would murder God if he could. His not believing in Christ is virtually to make God a liar.

      Still further, he that believes not in Christ gives evidence against himself, for he rejects “the name.” Observe the text, “He hath not believed on the name.” As I had already hinted, that name is Jesus, the Saviour. The man says, “I will not have the Saviour.” Many of you have not said so much in words, but you practically say it; for you do not believe in the Saviour, you remain at this moment Saviourless, out of Christ, without hope, without pardon, without mercy; and you have continued to do so under the preaching of the gospel now for many years. What more evidence do you want? If a man will reject God, even as a Saviour, there must be a dreadful venom in his heart against God. If God appoints Christ to be King, and I reject him, that rejection shows that I dislike God; but when he appoints him to be a Saviour, the errand being one entirely of mercy and goodness, if I reject him I must in my soul have an amazing depth of enmity against God. By this clear proof I condemn myself.

     My brother, if you look at the text again you will see that he who believes not, rejects a most exalted person; for he hath not believed on the name “of the only-begotten Son of God.” What a word is that, “On the Jesus, who is God’s only-begotten Son.” I wish I had language suitable for the utterance of a thought which presses down my very spirit, as it did last Sabbath evening; that God should send a Saviour, and for a Saviour the Only-begotten, the Lord of heaven and earth, without whom was not anything made that is made, and that he should come with testimony of love, the love of God to sinners, and seal that testimony with his blood; and that men should refuse to believe in him, is the most monstrous iniquity that could be imagined. I cannot see that Satan himself, with all his blasphemy, has ever gone this length; he was never placed where he could reject, as a Saviour, the only-begotten Son of God. When men rejected Moses they perished without mercy, for he was sent of God; but when a man despises the Only-begotten, in whom dwelleth the fulness of the Godhead bodily, we may well say, call no witnesses against the man, rake up none of the details of his past life, this is quite evidence enough. If he hath not believed on such a one as this, he is condemned already. There is no need of trial, unbelief itself is the vilest of all treason; out of his own mouth the sinner is condemned.

     Do you not see, O sinner, how the matter stands? The infinite Lord of mercy, that you. might not perish, has devised a wondrous way of salvation, which has astonished cherubim and seraphim, and made heaven ring with song, and this you utterly reject. The plan so stupendous in conception is briefly this, that the Creator should suffer that the created rebel might escape: that the Infinite should come into this world and be put to shame that the guilty might be clear; and all you are asked to do, all that is demanded of you is that you submit to be saved by this plan, that you do but trust in the Jesus who is divine, who is also man, do but trust him to save you. Will you not? Oh, will you not? Sirs, will you spurn almighty love? Can you turn away from boundless mercy? Then what shall I say of you, but just what the text says— you condemn yourselves, you are “condemned already”? You must be infinitely wicked, you must be enormously, monstrously, diabolically at enmity with God, or else surely a boon so precious you would not slight, a plan of mercy so adapted to your condition you could not have the impertinence to reject. “Condemned already because he hath not believed on the name of the only-begotten Son of God.” Solemn words! Hear ye them and tremble!

     From the verses following the text we gather that you unbelievers go on to give further evidence against yourselves, for every man who rejects Christ, the true light, always goes-on to reject other forms of the light of God’s word, God’s Spirit, and his conscience. He loves darkness rather than light, and comes not to the light lest his deeds should be reproved. You quench the Spirit, I know you do, if you reject the Saviour. You turn a deaf ear to your conscience, you do violence to your own judgment. The truth of God you do not wish to learn. It is not possible that you can be a candid seeker after light if you refuse to receive him who is truth’s central Sun. Your further rejection of light is confirmatory evidence that you are condemned already though your not believing is in itself evidence enough.

     And now solemnly, and in the name of him that liveth, and was dead, and is alive for evermore, speaking for that Christ who though once he was slain now sitteth at the right hand of God, I ask those who are under this second character to listen to these simple but weighty words of admonition.

     Consider, I pray you, O unbeliever, that the condemnation which is pronounced upon you already is no matter of form. Our judges sometimes read out sentence of death upon a certain order of criminals, and the sentence is recorded, though it is never intended that the sentence shall be executed; but from God’s bar there never proceeds a sentence that is meant needlessly to alarm. You are condemned already, and as surely as you live, and as surely as God lives, he will not let his word remain a dead letter. That sentence shall be no idle threat, but in your proper person you shall be made to know what the power of his wrath is. “Who knoweth the power of thine anger?” saith the psalmist; they only know it who feel it, and you will feel it ere long, for the sentence will assuredly be fulfilled.

     The Lord has power at this or any moment to fulfil his sentence. What power have you to resist it? Who is there that can help you to withstand him? You are utterly in his hands, you cannot break prison and escape. If you climbed up to heaven he is there; if you dived to hell he is there; the whole universe is but one great prison for an enemy of God. You cannot escape him neither can you resist him. If your bones were granite and your heart were steel, his fires would melt down your spirit. Against him thou canst no more stand than the chaff against the fire or the dust against the whirlwind. O that thou wouldst feel this and desist from thine insane rebellion!

     Remember, there is no promise given to you that he will not execute the sentence of his wrath this very day. You have no warrant either from his word or from his angels to assure you that God has suspended spared the sentence even for the next hour. You are living by his forbearance, spared by the divine sovereignty. Some rave against sovereignty, but in his case it is not justice that spares you, it is the mere will of God that for awhile keeps you out of hell. You tell me that nothing endangers your life at this moment, how know you that? The arrows of death often fly imperceptibly. I have stood in congregations preaching on two occasions when the unseen darts of death struck one of my hearers, so that one died on each occasion while listening to the word of the gospel. God needs no miracle to put his sentence into execution at this moment. He need not disturb the natural order of affairs for you to die instantly; and if he so willed it, your soul’s destruction would, without the slightest effort on his part, take place at this very moment, even where you are.

     Remember with deep concern that God is angry with you now. This statement is no invention of mine, it is written by the pen of inspiration that “God is angry with the wicked every day: if he turn not he will whet his sword: he hath bent his bow, and made it ready.” God is more angry with some of you than he is with some in hell. Are you startled by the assertion? “It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment than for you.” The sins you have already committed are greater than those of Sodom and Gomorrha, and the anger is in proportion to the guilt. An angry God holds you over the gulf of hell, justice demands that you fall into it, and it is nothing but his merciful will that keeps you out of it. He has but to will it, and you who are condemned already, would be for ever where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched, ere next time the clock shall tick.

     Up to this time, let me remind you, you have done nothing to appease the divine wrath. You have gone on sinning; or if you tell me you have reformed, that you have thought of these things, that you have prayed, do you think that such things will remove the divine wrath? The Lord has told you that the only way of salvation is to believe in Jesus, but you try to find another. Do you think that such conduct will please him, that such a procedure will make him less angry with you? You insult his Son when you suppose that you can save yourself by your tears and prayers— will this turn away the Lord’s anger? When you imagine that your church-goings and chapel-goings will save you, you set a low estimate upon what Jesus did. You do despite to the cross as long as you remain unbelievers. You say, “We are doing what we can.” You are doing nothing, I tell you, that can appease the anger of God, you are rather by these very actions of yours, which you think to be good, setting up in opposition to him an Antichrist upon which he will look with abhorrence. He saith he will save by Christ, and no how else, and so long as you seek another way, you do as it were spit into the very face of the Only-begotten by the insolence of your self-righteousness.

     Meanwhile, let me remind you that God’s wrath, though it come not on you yet, is like a stream that is dammed up. Every moment it gathers force, if it burst not the dyke, yet every hour is swelling it. Each day, and each moment of each day in which you remain an unbeliever, you are treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath when the measure of your iniquity is full. How earnestly would I persuade you to escape from condemnation! If you dream that to be condemned of God is a trifle, undeceive your souls, for those who have passed where the sentence is executed, could they come back to you need not tell the tale of woe, the very sight of them would convince you that to be lost is an awful thing. On their heads must fall the wrath of God, who, by softening down the punishment, become the means of hardening sinners in their sins. It is not within the power of thought to conceive what God’s wrath is. No language, even though it should make both the ears to tingle, can ever fully express it. I am not one of those who would so delude your poor souls, O unbelievers, as to make you think it a light thing to fall into the hands of the living God. O turn ye, turn ye, turn ye! Why will ye die? Why will ye reject him whom you have such reasons to receive? Concerning whom his very person is the best argument for love? The Christ of God must be worthy of our hearts’ affections: his very errand to earth, as it seems to me, would, if we were not mad, ensure our confidence; for he came to save, to pardon, to pass by the sin of the past. Oh, wherefore do ye stand out against him, and in this way pull down upon your heads the wrath of an angry God? Let me point out to you the way to escape. The only way of escape for any man or woman here is to believe in Jesus Christ. “I am praying about it,” says one. My text saith nothing of the sort. “I will think of it.” Think of it; you will think yourself into hell before long. Immediate faith is what I, as God’s ambassador, demand of you in the name of the Christ of God— immediate, instantaneous faith in Jesus. Behold the emblem of the gospel minister and of his message! Moses lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness upon the great central standard in the very midst of the camp, where men were dying all around him. They are bitten with the serpent, and what has Moses to declare to them as a remedy? He bids them look and live. Some of them will think of it, some of them will consider it, others of them will pray about it; but he has no commission to console any of these: his one command is an immediate look, he has no promise to those who will not look. Even thus is Jesus lifted up among you; there is life in a look, life now, life at this moment. I cannot guarantee you that the serpent’s bite shall not be your eternal ruin if you linger for a single hour. The prophet’s one word is, “Look now.” To-day, God in mercy sends to everyone in this house this message. “The times of your ignorance God winked at,” but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent. He sends his gospel message, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” That message I cannot be certain will ever come to you again. “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.” Every moment you are an unbeliever, you are sinning against God by that unbelief. I cannot therefore tolerate that you should wait a moment. Jesus is God; he became man, he died, he lives, and bids you trust him, promising that you shall live. Trust him now, then. He is worthy of your confidence. Sin not against him; sin not against your own souls by rejecting him. Remember what it was which Moses lifted up, it was a serpent, the image of that same serpent which bit them. Were they healed by looking to that which poisoned them? Assuredly they were. What is that which has poisoned you, sinner? It is the curse of sin. What is that which I hold up to-day in the gospel? It is Christ made a curse for us. He takes upon himself our sin; though in him was no sin, yet he was made sin for us— and if you trust him to be the sin-offering for you, to suffer for you, to bleed for you, and so trust in him as to take him henceforth as your standard, resolving to follow the uplifted Crucified One throughout life, even until he brings you to Christ himself in heaven, you are not condemned. But if Jesus be lifted up, and you refuse to believe, on your heads be your guilt, I say, with trembling solemnity, on your own heads be your guilt. Those words of mine, O unbelievers, will be swift witnesses against you at the last great day. As truly as ever Christ came to Jerusalem, so truly does he come to you this morning in the preaching of the word. I am a poor feeble man, but I speak to you as best I can; nevertheless if you refuse my word it is not me you reject, that were nothing, you reject the gospel which I preach to you. In the name of him that made heaven and earth, that made you, and holds you in life, against whom you have sinned, these terms of mercy are presented to you— will you have them? This grace is brought home to you, and I am bidden to press it upon you, even as  the word saith, to “compel them to come in.” If you reject the only begotten Son of God there must still abide against you this solemn sentence, “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed.” Did I hear you say, “I hope I shall believe.” Sir, I have nothing to do with that, and I have no hope of you. “I hope I shall repent one day.” I despair of you while you talk so. It is to-day that God separates this congregation into the two parts, the believer and the unbeliever. To-day he blessed the believer and testifies that he is not condemned; to-day he curses the unbeliever and tells him he is condemned already. My business is not with tomorrows, nor can I promise that the white flag of mercy will be hung out to-morrow. Today the cross is the banner of grace. Look to it and live. It is the ladder which reaches to heaven; the crucified Saviour is the gate of salvation. O that you would receive him! May God grant you may, and he shall be glorified by you in this life and in the world to come. God bless you. Amen.



Our King Our Joy

By / Nov 27

Our King Our Joy

 
“Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.” — Psalm cxlix. 2.

 

THE book of Psalms ends in a sacred tumult of joyous praise. There is praise in it all through, though sometimes it is but a still small voice, but when you reach the concluding Psalms you hear thunders of praise; there God is praised with the sound of the trumpet and upon the high-sounding cymbals. All the force and the energy of sacred minstrelsy is laid under contribution that Jehovah may be extolled. Let the book of Psalms stand as an image of the Christian’s life. If we began with the blessing of the man who delights in the law of the Lord ; if we proceeded to obtain the blessing of the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered; if our soul learned to pant for her God as the hart for the waterbrooks; and if we went onwards till we sang, “he crowneth me with lovingkindness and tender mercies,” let us not pause now, but advance to the hallelujahs of the closing pages of our book of life-psalms. He who ends this life with praising God will begin the next life with the same delightful employment. As our latter days are nearer the land of light, let them be fuller of song. Let us begin below the music which shall be prolonged through eternity. Like the birds, let us welcome the break of day, which faith in the close of life gladly perceives to be very near. I shall, this morning, call upon the veterans of Christ’s army to be first in the fulfilment of the duties of praise. I shall pray that those who have tasted longest that God is gracious, may utter the loudest notes of thanksgiving, that so the younger pilgrims may learn from them, and be strengthened and comforted by their joyful example. At the same time I shall pray that all of us, whether we have been long in the divine life or not, being citizens of the new Jerusalem, and subjects of the Prince Immanuel, may this day be joyful in our King. The time of the singing of birds is, I trust, come, awake and sing, ye who have dwelt in darkness.

     I. I shall invite you to consider our text, first, by the remark that the joy to which we are here exhorted is PECULIAR TO A CERTAIN PEOPLE.

     “Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.” No others can be joyful in him, no others have any reason for being so. Those who are not the children of Zion have reason for dismay at the very thought of God’s supremacy. “The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice,” is a song for saints, but remember there is another side of it — “the Lord reigneth Jet the people tremble!” “He is angry with the wicked every day.” The glory of the Son of God can be no comfort to those who are despisers of him, for when he shall come, as come he will, it will be with no silver sceptre in his hand for them, with no reward of grace prepared for them, but he will come with a rod of iron to break them in pieces as potters’ vessels. Those who are not the children of Zion cannot, therefore, rejoice in their King. He is no King to them in the sweet and gentle sense in which he is the Prince of Peace to us. His rule extends over them, but its greatest display will be one of justice, not ,of mercy; he will exhibit his power in executing the righteous sentence of God upon the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction ; and, seeing they have rejected him, he will be the object of their deepest dread. Children of Zion, you are the people who should be joyful in our King, and there are sacred principles within you which make it certain that you will be.

     The first is your loyalty. The children of Zion are loyal to their King; they delight to think that “the Lord reigneth;” they are glad that he has set his King upon the holy hill of Zion. Why, if it could be put to the vote amongst believers to-day who should be head of the church, there would be but one chosen; if we were asked who should rule over us, what other name should even be mentioned in our presence but the name of Jesus our Lord and King? We are so loyal to him that I am persuaded, though we justly fear we should deny him if left by his grace, yet if supported by his Spirit the most bitter pangs of torture, and the most dreadful terrors of death, could not separate us from his love. If we be his followers, come fair, come foul, come life, come death, none shall ever divide us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Prove ye your loyalty this day, rejoice in his sovereign will even though he may be exercising it in a manner against which the flesh rebels. We will receive evil from his hand as thankfully as good, for that which appears evil we are well assured is good if he ordains it. Loyal subjects do not only submit to those decrees of their monarch which are pleasing in themselves, but they give in their unwavering adhesion to the entire administration of their king. His throne and dynasty to them are paramount, and in his actions they take delight. In the case of our great Lord and King the rule is absolute ; what he commands we desire to do; what he wills we seek to will; we acquiesce in his determinations, and hope even to rejoice in the most painful of his providences. Christian loyalty finds music in the name, and heaven in the person of King Jesus. None can extol him too much ; our hearts are never surfeited with his glories, our ears never weary of hearing his praises. His rule is so good, so kind, so loving, that no other people ever had such a monarch. Every day we elect him afresh in our heart’s warmest love, and we sing again and again —

“Crown him, crown him
King of kings, and Lord of lords.”

     Zion’s citizens are something more than loyal to the Monarch, they are attached to his person. Apart from the throne and crown of the Lord Jesus we feel a devout attachment to his very person. As the Son of God we worship him and adore him, and our heart reverently confides in him ; but as bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, our brother, our Redeemer, who has purchased us with his own heart’s blood, he is the beloved of our souls, he has engrossed our warmest love, and none can rival him. The savour of his name has oftentimes revived our fainting spirits, and a sense of his presence has filled us with the new wine of holy exultation. He is in himself all in all to us. His offices, his works, his honours, all these are as garments perfumed with myrrh and aloes, but he himself is fragrance itself. Nothing grieves us so much as when any speak slightly of him; nothing so excites our indignation as when men do despite to his cross and crown; our greatest joy is to hear of saved souls in whom he is glorified, to see him revealing his healing power among the sons of men, and the sons of men acknowledging that healing power by yielding themselves to his service. We show that we are attached to the person of our King by the joy we feel when our minds consider him. We are joyful in him because our love finds her centre of rest, and her circle of motion in him and him alone.

     When the children of Zion rejoice in their King, this indicates that they sink themselves in him. What matters it to the true child of God what becomes of himself so long as his King is great and glorious, so long as the Lord Jesus rides forth prosperously in his chariot of salvation, and his name is hallowed and his kingdom come? The citizen of Zion is content to be poor, to be unknown, or to be obscure, if the Prince of the house of David be but glorified. In the olden times the children of Zion often courted death for their Lord’s sake; they scorned to fly when the accusers sought them out; they came before the judgment-seat and there confessed that if it were a crime to worship the Christ, they gloried in confessing that they worshipped him, and if the price of faithfulness to him were death, they asked to die that they might show how truly they loved him. Shall we who owe as much to our Lord as they be less willing to deny ourselves and to resist even unto blood, striving against sin? May the Spirit dwell in us so richly that for us to live may be Christ and not self at all. May we count all things but loss for Christ’s sake. May we never pine at the hardness of our lot, or the extremity of our grief, if we are bearing hardness for Jesus’ sake, but rather rejoice that we are counted worthy to take part in such a cause.

     Loyalty, attachment to his person, and self-abnegation, all make us joyful in our King, and there must be added to these an unbroken confidence in him. If we suspect our King’s fidelity, or his wisdom, or his power, if we begin to think that he has made mistakes in his government, or that he has omitted us in the administration of his liberality, we shall not be able to rejoice in him; but if we feel that heaven and earth may pass away, but never can his love be changed, that the ordinances of heaven might be broken, but never could his purposes and decrees fall to the ground; if we can feel that all is well and all safe in his hand, that the government is upon his shoulders, and therefore never suffers damage, that he, with the key of the house of David opening so that no man shutteth, and shutting so that no man openeth, ruleth wisely and well in all matters — if we can feel this we shall be devoutly joyful in our King. Put these various feelings towards our Lord Jesus together, and you have so many fountains of rejoicing in him.

     If we add to all this an intense admiration for the great King in Jeshurun, we shall not fail to rejoice. The thought of his coming down from heaven to suffer for our sins, the remembrance of his life of holiness, and his substitutionary death of sorrow, these, I say, have won our hearts to deepest admiration. Surely there was never such a one as he, no love could be compared with his for a moment; he is to us “the chief among ten thousand and the altogether lovely,” to whom all the beauties of earth are ugliness, compared with whom the brightness of the morning is but darkness. If we do indeed so admire him, that we see nothing else to admire except what first of all came from him, then joining this with confidence, and attachment, and self-denial, and loyalty, we must, we shall be joyful in our King. I wish we had not only these graces, which like many rare spices well blended make up a holy anointing oil, but that they were so in us and did so abound that the savour of them filled all the chambers of the church, till all the household of faith were transported with delight in their King. In proportion as we become what we should be as children of Zion by the work of grace within us, in that proportion we must inevitably and necessarily be a joyful people rejoicing in our King. An old negro who had long known and loved his Master, and who with little knowledge yet had grown much in grace, was noted for being always happy, and therefore some one asked him why it was he always rejoiced. He said, “Because I always rejoice in God.” “Well,” said one, “but suppose your master should beat you?” “If God suffers me to be beaten I will thank him.” “But suppose you have no food given you.” “If I have meat I will thank him, if I have no meat I will thank him, if I live I will thank him, if I die I will thank him, but I will always thank him, for he is always a good God and deserves to be thanked.” May we get to just that state of heart, until the excellence of our King shall be our most prominent thought, and the joy of having such a King shall outweigh every other emotion. This will be sure evidence that we are of the chosen race. By this shall we discern our pedigree and citizenship. If we are joyful in our King we are the seed which the Lord has blest.

     II. Secondly, THIS JOY HAS A MOST PROPER OBJECT. We are to be joyful in our King. And it is most fit that we should be so. There is nothing unreasonable in the exhortation. There is no more legitimate subject for joy in the universe.

     First, it should be a subject of intense joy to us to be ruled by him. His law is perfect, his government is gentle, his yoke is easy, his burden is light. If we were ruled by another we might soon find cause for complaint; yes, and it might reach such a point that it would be our highest duty to rebel, and cast off the tyrant. When we were in bondage to sin, we did well to shake off the yoke of the spiritual Pharaoh. Why should the freeborn seed of Israel be slaves to tyrant lusts? But to serve Jesus is to be perfectly free. No command of Christ is an imposition upon our rights, or a curtailment of our joys; we are freest when we are most obedient to him. Whatever Christ bids us to do is for our profit as well as for his glory. If we are Christians indeed, we do not desire to escape our Lord’s dominion, but we ask that he may more completely subject us to his delightful sway. We would have our judgment controlled by his teaching, our affections enamoured of his person, our will subservient, nay, acquiescent to his desires, and our whole selves in every thought, and word, and deed, moulded by his hand. We would be to him what the wax is to the seal. When he overcomes our raging passions, and controls our emotions and thoughts, then are we joyful in our King. Not merely as a Saviour but as a King we delight in him.

     We rejoice in him also, not only as King over us, but as Lord of all, It is always a subject for congratulation to the true believer, that Christ’s kingdom extends over all men, over all angels, over all devils, that it hath pleased the Father to commit to him all power in heaven and in earth. We are joyful to think that not an angel bows in the courts of heaven who would refuse to perform the will of Jesus our Lord, and not a devil howls and bites his iron bonds in the nethermost hell who can effectually resist the purpose of the Crucified. No powers, physical, moral, or spiritual, predominate over Christ or are apart from his sway. We are joyful in our King because of his dominion, which has no end. He is the Almighty Saviour, and we will bless and praise his name.

“Blessing, honour, glory, might,
Are the Conqueror’s native right;
Thrones and powers before him fall;
Lamb of God, and Lord of all!”

     We rejoice, too, in the power of our King and in the various displays of it. We are very weak and feeble, without him we can do nothing. Sometimes we are much discouraged when the gospel makes slow progress, but it is delightful to the last degree to fall back upon the thought that it might subdue the whole world to-morrow if Jesus willed it, for all power is in his hands; he can do great wonders yet, and that too when it seems as if the age of wonders were over. The Lord of Pentecost is mighty still to save. His arm is not shortened. Awake , O Lord, and let the arm of thy strength be made bare. Art thou not it that cut Rahab and wounded the dragon? The enemy knows the power of Jesus’ name, and though Christ may put up his sword for awhile, it is ours with importunity to cry, “Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O Most Mighty,” for he is most mighty still. If he should once take his bow of might and shoot forth the arrows of conviction among his foes, the battle would soon be turned, and the victory would be unto the banners of his church. The time cometh when we shall see far greater things than our eyes have yet beheld : the future is big with glory.

“Kings shall fall down before him,
And gold and incense bring;
All nations shall adore him,
His praise all people sing:
For he shall have dominion
O’er river, sea, and shore,
Far as the eagle’s pinion,
Or dove’s light wing can soar.”

We rejoice, then, in all the triumphs he has achieved, and all the power that he has in reserve for future conquests.

     And, brethren, do we not this day delight in our King’s present glory, and in the glory yet to be revealed? That he rules me is delightful, that he rules all worlds is also inspiriting, that he has power to execute his righteous will is also joyous; but oh, to think of his glory! O ye whose hearts have followed him through the streets of Jerusalem in all his shame! O ye who have stood with weeping eyes at Calvary’s foot and seen him there in death in all its bitter pangs, let your hearts be joyful this day when you remember that he has done with the cross and the thorn-crown now. Behold him in his Father’s courts! These dim, bleared eyes of yours cannot as yet steadily gaze upon him face to face, but let your faith behold him. Like the sun in the firmament his glory flames forth; angels, and principalities, and powers are lost in the blaze of his brightness. Hear ye their hymns; they are all for him. Behold them as they bow; they bow before the Lamb once slain. Unto him that liveth and was dead , and is alive for evermore, the song of cherubim and seraphim ascends. And yonder white-robed ones, once like yourselves wrestling hard with temptation, conquerors now, what music have they but the music which they bring to him? All harps praise and all hearts adore the King in the midst of Zion! Blessed be his name! O that I had permission to bow so near to him as to kiss his feet! Would God I might but steal into the lowest seat amongst the general assembly and church of the firstborn, and but for a moment gaze upon that godlike face which was stained with spittle for my sake! I would ask no higher joy than to look upon that person once despised and rejected on my account, but now adored of angels and admired of all the saints. You, ye suffering saints, are in your shame, but think little of it, for he is in his glory; you are in your suffering, but what matters since he is in his triumph! Children of Zion, enter into this joy, and this day be joyful in your King.

     I might thus enlarge upon the divine object of our joy, but I will not, except to say, well may we who are the children of Zion be joyful in our King, because of all that our King has done for us. Is it a fair city in which we dwell, in the church of God? He built it, every stone is his quarrying, the architecture of every pinnacle is his. Nor is there aught of good within her walls which does not bear his mark, for every good gift has come from his hand. Are we well clothed today? The robe of righteousness we wear was wrought by him; every ornament of our sanctification is his royal gift. Are we satisfied at the gospel feast? Then he himself is our bread. Out of the storehouses of our great Solomon come forth the fine flour and the fat things full of marrow which satisfy all those that wait at his table. Have we a portion and a heritage? We have received it all from him. Are we saved from the second death, are we delivered from the guilt of sin? It is all through him. The old poem of one of our writers sings of the “ Man of Ross,” and declares that every institution of the town told of his liberality and benevolence: you asked, “Who built this fountain?” or, “Who founded yonder school?” The one answer was, “The Man of Ross.” So surely if you ask us concerning our privileges, possessions, hopes, and enjoyments, we trace them all to him who is the Alpha and Omega of our salvation. He elected, ordained, redeemed, called, established and built up his church, and to him our Lord and King be praise for ever and ever. O children of Zion, be ye joyful in him.

     III. Thus I have spoken of the persons who rejoice, and the King in whom they rejoice, we will now remind you, thirdly, that THIS JOY IS PERMANENT IN ITS SOURCE.

     One is very grateful to think that there is beneath the stars one joy which need never be suspended. Everything here below is uncertain; we build, as we fancy, for eternity, and find our fabric demolished in an hour. The brooks of earth are deceitful, but here is a river whose joyous floods no winter can freeze, no summer can dry up. To-day our reasons for disquietude are many. You are lovers of the gospel, and if so I know that in this age you will see much to distress you. My heart is joyous in Christ, but it is very heavy in many respects, especially concerning the precious interests of truth and holiness. Look around us at this time at the numerous defalcations from the doctrines of the gospel among our ministers and leading men. First one and then another — those who seemed to be pillars are shaken like reeds in the storm. A pestilence has gone forth from which few of our churches are free. Human intellect is adored as an idol, and in its pride it changes the teaching of the word, and sets up new dogmas which the word of God utterly rejects. If these things depress our spirits, nevertheless let us be of good courage; for if we cannot be joyful in our ministers, we will be joyful in our King. If the pulpit fail us, the throne is ever filled by him who is the Truth; and if we have to suspect the orthodoxy of one, and to know the heterodoxy of another, to see Judas here and Ahithophel there, nevertheless Judah still ruleth with God and is faithful with the saints. Our King abideth, and his truth endureth to all generations. At times our heart is bowed down because of the backslidings revealed in the moral and spiritual characters of our brethren. They did run well, what did hinder them? They were foremost once, where are they now? They were burning with zeal, why are they now so lukewarm ? Where has their ardour gone? We hoped that they would be our joy and crown, but they have gone out from us because they were not of us. Moreover, we mourn that those who are truly saints do not exhibit the spirit of Christ so manifestly as we could desire; we see among them too little earnestness, too little holy jealousy. Well, if we cannot be joyful in our fellow citizens we will be joyful in our King. When our heart is ready to break because we see so much of our labour lost, and so many tempted of Satan, turning aside, we will rejoice that the honour of our exalted King is still safe and his kingdom faileth not. This is an age — I fear I must say it — of very general declension in spiritual things; much profession of religion and little earnest contention for the faith; much talk of charity but little zeal for the truth; much boast of hightoned piety but little vital godliness: yet if the famine in the church should grow worse and worse, till the faithful utterly fail, and rebuke and blasphemy abound, we must not cease to rejoice in the Lord. We ourselves have grave cause to complain of ourselves when we examine ourselves as before the Lord. Never pray we a prayer but what we would wish to have it forgiven as well as answered; our faith is frequently so weak that we scarce know whether to call it faith or unbelief; as for ourselves, we are a mass of flaws and infirmities. 0 God, we might be very heavy if we thought only of our own personal barrenness, but we will be joyful in our King, we will sing again the royal song. There are no flaws in him, no imperfections in our Beloved, no coldness, no turning aside in him. Glory be to his name. My brethren, you who are at work for the blessed Master, I know you do not always feel satisfied with your success ; I am myself pining for greater harvests; I would I heard of more converts; I would be delighted to lose my eyes if I might but know that many found sight through Christ, and I would welcome any affliction if I did but know that souls were being saved. But when we preach in vain and say, “Who hath believed our report?” it is delightful to return unto our rest and feel, “Nevertheless, the pleasure of the Lord doth prosper in his hands; he shall see of the travail of his soul.” If I cannot be joyful in my converts I will be joyful in my King. Many of you, perhaps, are passing through deep waters in your temporal circumstances; if you cannot be joyful in your property be joyful in your King. Perhaps your children are not turning out as you could wish. I am sorry you should have such perplexities with those who have been the subjects of so many prayers; but if you cannot be joyful in your children be joyful in your King. It may be you yourself in body are much afflicted, and you are afraid the affliction will grow more severe ; well, if your heart and flesh fail you, yet your King will not. The eternal springs are out of reach of change. How little does your joy depend upon the creature ! Your bottle, like Hagar’s, may be dry, but yonder is the well of water which never can fail you. There is always reason for being joyful in your King. And when you come to die, and the pulse grows faint and feeble, oh ! then will be the time for you more than ever to be joyful in your King, whose face you are soon to see in all its beauty, and whose praises are to be your eternal employ. Here, then, is a joy for all God’s people, a joy that is founded in reason, grounded and bottomed in solid realities, seeing it is a joy in an immutable Christ. Our joy is no passing meteor, but a fixed star. When the wicked have spent their penny our treasure will be undiminished. Jesus, our King, never changes, and never will lose his preciousness in ouresteem; his name is always sweet, his fulness is always abounding, his love is always overflowing. We have always cause, even in our worst estate, to be joyful in our King. The saints shall sing aloud upon their beds.

     Let me thrust in one sentence here. I do not think it is so difficult to rejoice in our King in dark afflictions as it is to remember to rejoice only in him in our sunniest days. Successful minister, are you rejoicing in your success? Hear him say, “Nevertheless, rejoice not in this, but rather rejoice that your name is written in heaven.” Successful merchant, happy parent, are you rejoicing in these outward comforts? Hold them loosely, for they are slippery things; set small store by them, for they will soon melt away. Do not, like the Russian queen, attempt to build a palace of ice; its brilliance is too shortlived. Hold to the Wellbeloved when the way is smooth, even as you held to him when the path was rough. As in your adversity you found all in him, so in your prosperity see him in it all.

     IV. I will add in the fourth place, THAT THIS JOY OF OURS, THOUGH SO PERMANENT IN ITS SOURCE HAS CERTAIN OCCASIONS FOR ITS MORE ESPECIAL DISPLAY. Jordan was always full, but it overflowed at certain seasons of the year. Our lake of joy is full now, let me pull up the sluices for a minute, that the floods of bliss may leap forth.

     When does a nation rejoice in its king? Well, there are two or three seasons in which nations set apart holidays to celebrate royal events. The first is at the coronation. Then they hang out all the flags and streamers, and adorn the streets and houses, then all the music sounds, and the bells ring merrily, and all the pomp of the country is displayed. So let us this day be joyful in our King, for he is crowned King in our souls. Look back to the time when first you crowned him in your hearts, that happy day when first you saw atonement through his blood, and looked to him and were saved. That coronation day will never be forgotten by you; it is to you the day of days, even as the night in which the children of Israel came up out of Egypt. Keep the record of that coronation day in your hearts. “I was forgiven, I was accepted of him;” he stretched out his silver sceptre and said, “I have pardoned thine iniquity,” and because of this I called him “My Lord, my God, my King.” My heart shall rejoice in him whom again to-day she crowneth King of my body, soul, and spirit.

     Another day of joy with nations is the day of the royal marriage. Did I not see you climb to the very chimney tops, crowd your windows, and line your streets when but the other day a prince brought home his spouse from afar? And should it not make our souls rejoice within us when we hear that Christ has married his church to himself, and taken us to be his spouse in bonds of love? Last Sabbath morning’s doctrine I hope has not gone from your souls — “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit,” and if anything can make the bells ring in your heart it is to feel that you are one with Jesus, by vital, indissoluble union one with him. keep up the recollection of your Immanuel’s marriage in your souls, for it is your highest glory. Be faithful to your solemn marriage covenant. Forget your kindred and your father’s house, so shall the King greatly desire your beauty, for he is your Lord, and worship ye him with joy this day.

     People rejoice in their king, too, when he makes peace. We had rejoicings for peace some years ago, and right glad we were to hear that the treaty of peace was signed. Jesus our King is our peace. Peace with an angry God, peace for our torturing conscience, Christ has made and signed and brought in; yea, he himself is our peace.

     Then people rejoice in their king’s victories. They hear that the royal arms have been victorious in battle; then make they high holiday. In the olden times we read of the conduit of Cheapside running with wine instead of water on the event of some astounding victory of the English king over the French. O my soul, when thou rememberest Christ’s victory over sin, death, and hell, let thine ordinary emotions which are but as water turn to generous wine of joy and thankfulness and consecration. All hail! great Lord of heaven and earth. Long live thy King! Io triumphe! Take thy timbrel, Miriam, and join in the song, O Israel. For the right hand of the Lord hath done wonderful things, this is known in all the earth. He hath led captivity captive, and ascended up on high! Rejoice, ye angels, sound all your music, ye spirits who triumph with him. Crown him! crown him King of kings, and Lord of lords!

     Sometimes I have heard, and you older men remember an instance right well, that a nation rejoices when a king keeps his jubilee. If he has been king for a long unbroken period, then will they rejoice in him; but our King keeps many a jubilee. He has the dew of his youth, and yet he is the Ancient of Days, whose goings forth were of old even from everlasting. He is the ancient King of Zion. Our great Melchisedec, without beginning of days and without end of years. Praise ye his name for ever and ever.

     There is a rejoicing in the nation, too, when the king holds his levee, when he has reception days, when he displays his majesty to his friends, and when he rides forth in splendour. I hope it is such a day as this with many of us at this time. May you sing this morning in your hearts —

“The King himself comes near,
And feasts his saints to-day;
Here we may sit and see him here,
And love, and praise, and pray.

One day amidst the place Where my dear God hath been, Is sweeter than ten thousand days Of pleasurable sin.”

This afternoon may the King show himself to you through the lattices, revealing himself to you in your meditations and private prayers; in your work for him in the school may you see his glory; may he hold his levee to-day, and you be presented to him in love as the attendants of his court, feeling yourselves to be accepted in the Beloved, and partakers of his joy. So you see, though our rejoicing in our King is one perpetual festival, yet we have our high days when the light of the sun is as the light of seven days.

     V. And now, to close, this being joyful in our King is A JOY WHICH IS SURE TO HAVE PRACTICAL RESULTS.

     As time fails me, I will but be very brief on this point, and tell you an Eastern story. An Eastern merchant of great wealth employed a skilful workman in certain works of Oriental skill and elegance. His workman by some means had gradually sunk deeper and deeper in debt; through extravagance, or loss, or divers other causes, he had first fallen into a little debt , and then had borrowed, and loans and usurious interest had heaped up the amount till it was beyond hope that he should discharge it. The man grew daily more and more depressed, and as he sank in spirit he was smitten with sickness, and the skill he once showed in his master’s service began to decline. Each product of his hand revealed less art and cunning. The hand of his art was paralysed. Meanwhile his creditor became more exacting, and at last threatened to sell the poor man’s children as slaves, according to the law of the land, unless the debt was paid. This weighed more heavily upon the poor man’s soul, and he wrought less industriously and with decreasing skill. At last the merchant enquired of the steward of the workroom, “Ali,” said he, “was ever a cunning workman and he wrought most dexterously, how is it that I see now no masterpieces come from him; his fabrics are few and in the market they are lightly esteemed. Our name suffers in the bazaar. Rival traders excel me in my works.” “My lord,” said the steward, “he is daily of a sorrowful countenance and forgets to eat bread. He keeps a long and bitter fast, for he is drowned in debt to a cruel creditor, and his soul pines like the heath of the desert, and therefore his hand is slow as that of an herdsman, and his eye is as dull as that of the owl in the sunlight. Beauty has forgotten him, and art has fled from him. He declines like one sick unto death.” “Send for him, bring him hither,” said his lord; and he brought him to his chamber, “What aileth thee, Ali? what clouds thine eye, and chains thy hand? thou art not unto me as aforetime. Thou wast skilful as Bezaleel who wrought for Moses, but now thou art no better than the baseborn son of an infidel mother. Is it that thou art deep in debt? Behold thy discharge, thy debt is paid. What thinkest thou ? Will not thy cunning return to thy right hand?” That servant wrought with a diligence never before seen. In the joy of his heart his mind became as nimble as the gazelle on the plain, and his work as precious as the pearls of the Indian gulf. The merchant found himself abundantly rewarded in his servant’s skill and toil, for having thus set his heart at rest. Shall not it be thus with' every ransomed soul, to whom Jesus has brought the news of salvation ? You cannot serve your King after the best sort with a downcast mind, you cannot give yourself entirely to his service unless you have the oil of joy to anoint your head. The wheels of the chariot are heavy till joy is harnessed to the car. The Lord Jesus has forgiven all your debt and given himself to be your joy for ever, and should you not henceforth be first in his service, manifesting an enthusiasm in his cause, a force, a power, an elasticity, an energy which otherwise you could never have felt ? Joyous spirits, see to it that ye keep your joy bright and clear, for you will honour your King the more. He wants not slaves to grace his throne, but rejoicing hearts are his delight. You who are sad, pray that the King will lift up the light of his countenance upon you, that so your drooping hands and feeble knees may be strengthened. Do not let us be sad, for the Bridegroom is with us. Let us not tremble for the ark of the Lord, Dagon will fall before it yet. Though the hosts of the Lord may appear to melt away and their numbers lessen, when they are few enough to be trusted with victory the Lord will grant it. God will reserve unto himself the handful of men that lap, and these shall go forth and cry, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon,” until the enemies of the Lord destroy one another. Let not the enemy laugh us to scorn because of our trembling; but let us charge home with renewed vigour, for truth, for God, for Christ, for the cross, for the everlasting decrees of a sovereign God, for the majesty of the Holy Spirit, who will effect those decrees in the heart of men ; let us set up our banners anew and advance to the fight. Let us strengthen ourselves in God this day and go forth to the conflict, which if it be severe will nevertheless most certainly yield all the more glorious a victory to him who is our King, and to us who loyally serve him even as we rejoice in him this day. O that all were subjects of this King! Would God that those who are not reconciled to our Almighty Monarch would seek his face this morning. He will give them mercy through Jesus the Saviour ; may they seek it and find it. Amen.



The Saint One with His Savior

By / Nov 20

The Saint One with His Savior

 

“He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.”— 1 Corinthians vi. 17.

 

THE connection of our text is very terrible. When we are reading the sixteenth verse one seems to remember Sodom, its infamy, and the fire and brimstone that came down from heaven upon it; but here in our text we enter into Jerusalem, the holy city, whose streets are of purity so rich and rare, as to be comparable to gold clear as transparent glass, and there we seem to behold the great white throne of the thrice Holy, surrounded by the white robed bands of the immaculate. In looking at the text I call to mind John Bunyan’s description of the way through the Valley of the Shadow of Death; it was an “exceeding narrow” path, not readily kept. On the right hand the dreadful gulf, and on the left the fearful quagmire. See in my text a road fit for angels, and for the angels’ Master, and jet on either hand, in the sixteenth and eighteenth verses, behold the fiends and devils howling for their prey! Happy is he who finds that path which the eagle’s eye hath not seen, that centre of the King’s highway of which it is written, “No lion shall be there, neither shall any ravenous beast go up thereon.” How glorious is that terrible “way of crystal holiness; deep!” Gaze on it – it is clear as the sapphire, bright as the terrible crystal; deep down in its depths your eye may look,  but in it there is nothing to obscure, it is as the holiness of God himself, a purity so wonderful that conscious of our shortcomings we cry, “It is high, I cannot attain unto it.” The exceeding elevation of the believer in being joined unto the Lord appears all the more marvellous when it is set, as in the text, in contrast with the dreadful impurity into which we might have fallen, and against which we are still solemnly warned, as if to remind us that our indwelling corruption would drag us down if grace did not prevent. Brethren, sin is never seen to be so truly horrible as when we behold it in the light of Christian privilege. It is a terrible thing for a creature to rebel against its Creator, but for the adopted son of God to be disobedient to his ever loving Father, this is worse by far. Sin is black if we see it in the dim twilight of spiritual conviction when our conscience is half awakened, but it grows blacker than hell’s murkiest midnight when we set it in contrast with the amazing brightness of the divine favour which has shone upon us his elect, redeemed, justified, and adopted people. That yonder professor should be so careless and so inconsistent is sad, but when I remind him that he is one of the redeemed I trust he will feel his lukewarmness to be monstrous. When a man is chosen of God and washed in the Saviour’s blood, must it not seem to angels a prodigy of human depravity, a marvel of human corruption, that such a one should for a moment forget the way of holiness and desire the paths of iniquity? In ourselves how heinous is all transgression, seeing we have been the objects of such ceaseless, boundless lovingkindness! For us to follow afar off, to backslide, to grow indifferent, is indescribable baseness, a violation of the sacred demands of gratitude. If the more frequent sins of Christians appear thus heinous in contrast with their great privileges, much more loathsome must be vices of the fouler kind, such as Paul here speaks of, sins not to be named among us, or even thought of without horror. God forbid that any of us who claim to be of the body of Christ should degrade ourselves by filthy lusts of the flesh.

     Casting a veil over the matter forbidden, not that we may forget it altogether, but may turn away our eyes from beholding vanity, we shall now endeavour to conduct you to the elevated platform of the text itself. I see in it, first, a mysterious deep which I cannot fathom; and, therefore, in the second place, we will sail across it while we speak of a manifest grace which glistens on its surface.

     I. First, then, there is in the text A MYSTERIOUS DEEP. “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.”

     What means that joining to the Lord which is mentioned here? There is a joining to the Lord in election. We were chosen in Christ Jesus from before the foundation of the world, and by sovereign love we were predestinated to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ. There was a further joining to the Lord in covenant, when Jesus be came of old the Head of his church. As Adam was the head of all that came of his loins, so is Christ the Head of a spiritual seed to whom the promise belongs by a covenant signed, and sealed, and ordered in all things and sure. Further, Christ was joined to us when he took upon himself our nature. When he came into this world and was made a man, then he was truly joined to us. He left his Father, and was joined unto his bride, and they two became one flesh. “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” He was one with us in nature, one in our sufferings, one in our life and death, one too in bearing our curse, taking upon himself our sin. All this makes up a glorious joining unto the Lord, but it is not the doctrine taught here, for all that are joined to Christ in the divine purpose are not yet made of one spirit with him, for many of them are still living in their natural ignorance, little aware of the grace ordained of old for them. They are yet to be brought out from the house of bondage; their election is to be followed by their calling; the Lord Jesus who is God’s covenant is yet to be revealed to the eye of their faith, and a living union to Christ is yet to be created. This last work of grace is not yet wrought in the uncalled, and they are not in that sense joined to the Lord. A vital and spiritual union is meant in the text, a union which is matter of living experience, and is wrought in us when we are born again, when we pass from darkness into Christ’s marvellous light, when we rise from the death of sin to find the Lord Jesus to be our life. From that moment we are “dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God.” From the moment of our regeneration, we who were once the branches of the wild olive, are grafted into the good olive, we who were cast out like withered branches to be burned, are grafted into the ever-living vine, and become one with Jesus Christ our Lord. This is the union here spoken of, and he that is joined unto the Lord in that way by a work of the Holy Spirit radically and thoroughly changing him, and renewing him, and bringing him into oneness with Christ, is said to be “one spirit.”

     But what does that word, “one spirit” mean? Well, we must get at it by degrees. You may guess at its meaning from the fact that in other parts of Scripture the union between Christ and his people is described by that of a marriage union, and then it is said, “these twain shall be one flesh;” but to take off the carnal edge of the metaphor, lest we fall into any grossness of thought, we are told that we in union with our Lord are one spirit. The union is a spiritual one. It is a great mystery, saith the apostle, when he speaks concerning Christ and his church. You get a glimmering then of what he means; there is a spiritual union, as real as when twain are made one flesh; but it is not to be misread, and corruptly thought of as a carnal, material matter. It is a deep truth belonging to the world of spirit.

     Try to get at it again. Remember that Christ and his people have one spirit. The Holy Spirit who quickens us anointed him; the Holy Spirit who illuminated us gave to Jesus Christ the unction with which he came to preach the reconciling word to man. “The Spirit of the Lord,” saith he, “is upon me, for he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted.” The Holy Ghost on Christ is the same Holy Ghost as upon us. The oil which ran down Aaron’s beard, and descended to the skirts of his garments, was the selfsame holy anointing which was poured upon his reverend head. Yes, and glory be to God for the truth, we have the same Spirit with the Lord Jesus himself. The apostle saith, “There are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all;” and again, “For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit;” but we need not stay there, for we may add we all have the selfsame Holy Spirit as Jesus had. The foot is baptised into the same spirit as the head; the ear not only has the same spirit as the hand, but has the same spirit as the glorious crowned and adored Head of the church.

     That is not all the meaning of the text, though it helps us to come near it, we have a greater mystery here. Some have read it, “we are of one spirit with him,” that is to say, we come to think and feel as Jesus does, have common motives, aims, emotions, and desires. This is most true, and is the practical meaning of the text, but a more spiritual sense is under it. Let us, however, turn this over a moment. We who are joined unto the Lord are of one spirit with him: the one Holy Spirit hath wrought us unto the selfsame thing. As Jesus is actuated by an intense desire for the glory of God, the Holy Spirit has wrought us unto the selfsame fervent longing; his meat and drink is also ours, into his labours and his joys we enter. This meaning is high— O for grace to reach it in our own characters! Yet the text saith not that we are of one spirit, but we are one spirit; we not only have one spirit, and are of one spirit, but we are one spirit. Now, what shall I say of this? I shall say nothing but that this is a matter to be understood only by the spiritual mind, and not to be readily, if at all, expounded in human words. It is not a truth for which we have adequate expressions; letters, syllables, words fail us. This much we can say though more be left unsaid: there is a union between Christ and his people most deep, most mysterious, most essential; if ye would know it, ponder this sentence of our Lord’s prayer, “I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.” Christ and his saints actually are one spirit. Oh, the depth! Your contemplation, if aided by the heavenly Interpreter, may assist you; as for me, I should but darken counsel by words without knowledge, if I tried to open up what these words rather conceal than reveal.

     Yet an illustration or two. We have known on earth friends who have become one spirit; intimacy and mutual admiration have ripened friendship into unity, till the one seemed to be the complement of the other, and the mention of one suggested the other. They pursued one object with equal footsteps, they never differed, but appeared to have one soul in two bodies. The death of one almost necessarily involved the death of the other, the two were inseparable companions. Damon and Pythias lived over again in them. Jonathan and David seemed risen from the dead. Feebly, and but feebly, this reflects the image of our text. So have we seen one spirit in another relationship, which is often used as the token of the union between Christ and his people, between the husband and the wife, of which we shall speak more particularly anon, where there has been one love, one aim, one object; like two stars the wedded pair have shone with such blended rays as to have seemed more one than two. One name, one heart, one house, one interest, one love, they have had also one spirit. More fully still our text is illustrated by the branch and the stem. The branch in the vine is nothing if separated from the stem; its sap is the very same sap that is in the stem; one life is in the stem and the branch, and they are both struggling for the same object, both seeking to produce and ripen the fruit. They have no different aim, or even existence; the stem does not hoard for itself, nor the branch blossom for itself. The branch and stem are one vine; they are nothing separated from each other, their life one and their design one. See here again, as in a glass darkly, an amazing spiritual truth. Yet more fully is this gracious union between us and our Lord brought out in the metaphor of the union of the member with the body. In that case there is, indeed, one spirit, not only in a vital but in an intellectual sense. If there be life in this finger, it is identically the same life that is in the head; but one spirit quickens all the parts of the body, whether comely or uncomely, whether base or honourable; and so in the whole church of God the life of Christ is the life of his people, the spirit of Christ is the spirit of his people. They are not twain but one; the mystical union is so complete that even the marriage bond, of which we spoke just now, cannot fully come up to it, it is but an earthly symbol of a yet truer heavenly reality. We who are joined unto the Lord are one spirit. I say no more, what I have said may rather conduct you to the door than open it; but there is one whose work it is to be a revealer of secrets, ask him and he shall reveal even this unto you.

     II. May the Holy Spirit help us while considering the second head. On the very surface of the text, there is A MANIFEST GRACE.

     Our one spirit with Christ reveals itself practically in a manifest sympathy of spirit between us and our Lord, so that we being one spirit are seen to be actuated and impelled by the same influences, we are of one spirit with Jesus. That meaning I shall try and bring out.

     Union with Christ in these days, when religion wears her holiday garments, is a word with a pleasant sound, and because of its honourable esteem men would fain possess it; but alas! they know not what it is. They hang a cross at their necks, or embroider it on their garments, or stamp it on their books, and fancy that this gives them some degree of unity to the Crucified. But, brethren, this matter lies quite out of their reach. To be one spirit with Christ much more is needed than to bear the Christian name. You may call yourself a Christian, or a Brother, or one of the Society of Jesus, and in so doing you may have selected what you think to be the most orthodox of terms by which to designate yourself and the congregation to which you belong, but union to the Lord standeth not in name only. There were those of old who called themselves Jews and were not, their taking the name did not give them the nature of Israelites. They that are joined unto the Lord may not always be known by the same name, they may be called Christians at Antioch and Jews at Philippi (Acts xvi. 20), but a right or a wrong name will not change the real character. Call a poppy a rose and you will not thereby give it perfume. Perhaps none in all the world are less joined to the Lord than some who adore the very name of Christian, and make an idol of the outward sign of the cross. Neither is true union to Christ to be gained by mere outward profession. Ye may be baptised in water, but unless ye are baptised into the Holy Ghost, ye know not what union with Christ is. If in baptism we are buried with him, then it is well indeed, but the sign in itself is nought, for Simon Magus though baptised had no part nor lot in the matter. We may sit at the Lord’s table with his people, yea, in the company of apostles, and yet be sons of perdition. He may eat and drink in our streets, and yet may never know us. To eat the visible bread is not to be one with his mystical body. Union with Christ lies deeper than name, lies deeper than outward signs and seals of church fellowship, and it even lies deeper than the performance of some apparently good actions and the use of religious words in conversation. We may do many things in his name, yea, and great things, too, for in his name many cast out devils and did many wonderful works, and so were partakers of the powers of the world to come, and yet were rejected by him at the last as unknown of him. When judgment begins at the house of God small store will be set by mere visible union, for the branches in Christ after this fashion not bearing fruit will be cast forth, and withered, and burned in the fire. We must be rooted and built up in him. He must be formed in us or it will little avail us to have been numbered with his disciples. The superficial, the nominal, and the outward will not suffice. He that is joined unto the Lord must be one spirit: deep down in the very vitals of our being must this union with Jesus Christ most eminently reside, teaching, and it ought, like the candle of the Lord, to search the secret parts of our nature. The carnal mind loves that which is outward, for it can readily comply with it, and that without divine assistance, but the unregenerate heart kicks against that which is purely spiritual, for it cannot understand it, and herein it is compelled to feel its own powerlessness, except to counterfeit with base imitations. My brethren, this is a discerning word, dividing between the joints and marrow, and discovering the thoughts and intents of the heart. Ye who are quickened with the incorruptible seed, and discern spiritual things, come ye to the search, and see well to it that ye are joined unto the Lord, not in the form of godliness only but in the power of it also.

     Let us give you, for your assistance, an illustration of what unity of spirit is as we see it among men, for herein we may dimly see it as between the Lord and our souls. We will take a copy from that rare conjugal union which exists among those who realise the highest ideal of the married life. Sometimes we have seen a model marriage, founded in pure love and cemented in mutual esteem. Therein the husband acts as a tender head, and the wife, as a true spouse, realises the model marriage relation, and sets forth what our oneness with the Lord ought to be. She delights in her husband, in his person, his character, his affection; to her he is not only the chief and foremost of mankind, but in her eyes he is all in all, her heart’s love belongs to him and to him only. She finds sweetest content and solace in his company, his fellowship, his fondness; he is her little world, her paradise, her choice treasure. To please him she would gladly lay aside her own pleasure to find it doubled in gratifying him. She is glad to sink her individuality in his. She seeks no name for herself, his honour is reflected upon her, and she rejoices in it. She would defend his name with her dying breath, safe enough is he where she can speak for him. The domestic circle is her kingdom, that she may there create happiness and comfort is her life-work, and his smiling gratitude is all the reward she seeks. Even in her dress she thinks of him, without constraint she consults his taste, and thinks nothing beautiful which is obnoxious to his eye. A tear from his eye, because of any unkindness on her part, would grievously torment her. She asks not how her behaviour may please a stranger, or how another’s judgment may be satisfied with her behaviour; let her beloved be content and she is glad. He has many objects in life, some of which she does not quite understand, but she believes in them all, and anything that she can do to promote them she delights to perform. He lavishes love on her and she on him. Their object in life is common. There are points where their affections so intimately unite that none could tell which is first and which is second. To see their children growing up in health and strength, to see them holding posts of usefulness and honour, is their mutual concern; in this and other matters they are fully one. Their wishes blend, their hearts are indivisible. By degrees they come very much to think the same thoughts. Intimate association creates conformity; we have known this to become so complete that at the same moment the same utterance has leaped to both their lips. Happy woman and happy man! If heaven be found on earth they have it! At last the two are so welded, so engrafted on one stem, that their old age presents a lovely attachment, a common sympathy, by which its infirmities are greatly alleviated, and its burdens are transformed into fresh bonds of love. So happy a union of will, sentiment, thought, and heart exists between them, that the two streams of their life have washed away the dividing bank, and run on as one broad current of united existence till their common joy falls into the main ocean of felicity. Such a sight it maybe is not commonly seen, but it is inexpressibly beautiful, and is a fair type of what the Christian ought to be in his oneness with his Lord. For the believer there should be no attractive beauty but in Christ, nothing that can charm him, stir the deeps of his soul, or move his nobler passions, but the glorious person of Emmanuel, the chief among ten thousand. He loved us and gave himself for us, we also love him and give him our whole selves; for us the one object of life is to please our Lord. We should not dare to sin, not because we are slavishly afraid of punishment, but because we would not grieve the Bridegroom of our souls. We must labour for his cause, not because of legal demands, but because we know no higher happiness under heaven than to make him honoured and to let him see in us, and through us, of the travail of his soul. Our Lord has great ends and objects; we cannot understand them all, but to our utmost we desire to promote them by suffering or by service. Our prayer is, “Lord, show me what thou wouldst have me to do.” We would be tenderly sensitive to his desire, not surrendered to it only, but delighting in whatever he wills. We reckon it our honour to be permitted to help him, however humbly, to work out any of his designs. As to the children of his grace, both his and ours, regenerated by his Spirit and converted by our ministries, they are doubly dear to us, and their perfection we seek with him. Our constant enquiry is, can we do anything for them? can we call home the backsliding? can we comfort the desolate? can we help the poor and needy? can we be of any service to the lambs of his flock?—

“There’s not a lamb in all his flock
We would disdain to feed.”

We would do anything by which we might show our love to him, for our union of heart, and our union of purpose, our union of thought with him, are all deep and true. Such a Christian grows to think as Christ thinks till the teachings of Jesus are plain to him. He never tries to tone down the gospel as certain philosophic minds are ever doing, because they are not in union with the great Teacher’s heart; but they come to see things from the Lord’s point of view, and know their Master’s meaning as by a sacred instinct. Blessed consummation when their hearts at last are all wrapped up in Jesus, even as the bush at Horeb was all on fire with God. Just as Jesus has set all his love on them, so they come to set all their love on him, and they can say with the apostle, “For me to live is Christ,” while the gain which they anticipate in death is the gain of being nearer to their Beloved, and for ever beholding the glory of his face. I have given you an illustration, and have worked it out but poorly, but even had I wrought it out to perfection, it must necessarily fall short of the incomparable “one spirit” which dwells in our glorious Head and all his members. Go on till you sing with quaint old Francis Quarles—

“E’en like two little bank-dividing brooks,
That wash the pebbles with their wanton streams,
And having rang’d and search’d a thousand nooks,
Meet both at length in silver-breasted Thames,
Where in a greater current they conjoin:
So I my best Beloved’s am; so he is mine.
E’en so we met; and after long pursuit,
E’en so we joined, we both became entire;
No need for either to renew a suit,
For I was flax, and he was flames of fire.
Our firm united souls did more than twine,
So I my best Beloved’s am; so he is mine.”

     Where such union as that exists, what does it produce? Its fruits are precious. They who are thus one spirit with Christ live for the same end. He lived for God’s glory. “Wist ye not,” said he in his youth, “that I must be about my Father’s business?” In his riper years he said, “It is my meat and my drink to do the will of him that sent me.” He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit in that respect. For him the great, one, only thing, is to glorify God. In such a case the soul sees everything in this one light, and asks concerning all, how will it affect the kingdom of God! Even in reading the newspaper one says, “Great events are transpiring in politics, how will these work for the glory of God?” The engineer considers the effect the war may have on the world, the politician thinks of the balance of power, the reformer meditates on its results as to human progress, but the man who is joined unto the Lord prays only, “Father, glorify thy name.” To him the profit of his business is only profit so far as it will enable him to help the Master’s cause, and his honour is no honour unless he can raise out of it some matter for Jehovah’s praise. The glory of God, the glory of God, the glory of God , this was the one target towards which our Lord went onward in his life. Like a shot that crashes through everything until it reaches its mark, so must our spirits find no target but the glory of God, and if we are one spirit with Christ, it will be so. God’s glory, God’s glory, will be first, last, midst, everywhere, everything. All for God, and God in all, will be our motto, as “hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come,” is our daily prayer.

     Further, if we are joined to Christ, so as to be one spirit, we shall seek the same end for the same reason. He desired the glory of God not for his own glory, but because he loved God. He was one with the Father; he loved the Father, therefore would he see the Father glorified. Brethren, it is easy to seek the glory of God with a view to your own glory. Did you never find yourself doing so, desiring that the children in your class should be converted, that in the school it might be said what a successful teacher is so-and-so? Oh, how have I sought to wring that black drop out of my spirit, when the desire to bring souls to Christ has been backed with the desire that I might have a good standing as a successful minister! Into Christ’s thoughts so base an element never entered— he sank himself in God. He knew his Father would give him the reward, and for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame, but self-seeking never threw its alloy into the pure gold of his devotion to the Father. If we are one spirit with Christ, self will be swallowed up in God. Lord, do what thou wilt with me, so long as thou art glorified! If I can glorify thee best in silence, then let me never speak again. If it be most for thy glory that I should die, though my life appears to be useful to thy church, yet let me end my days. If it will glorify thee that I should be unsucessful, that I should be in the world’s judgment a disappointed man, perhaps a fool without brain enough to succeed, Lord, let me be fool, or idiot for thee; only glorify thyself in me, and that is enough. This is true oneness of spirit with Jesus. Self is nothing, God is to be all in all. Comfort, esteem, joy, and even life will be as the small dust of the balance to a man filled with Christ’s spirit.

     Then we shall come, if we are one spirit with Christ, to aim at the glory of God by the same means. How did he aim at it? By the conversion of souls: not by being made a king, not by being called rabbi. He sought for the souls of little children, of peasant women, and of outcasts. If my mind be as Christ’s mind, I shall seek God’s glory by following after the waifs and strays of society, by bringing in backsliders, by seeking the lost sheep of the house of Israel; labouring by any means to save some. How, say ye, my brethren, are ye bending your souls towards the conversion of sinners? It is a great mark of oneness of spirit with Christ, when we have a great tenderness towards lost souls. Do you ever think of souls lost already? Do you ever bring yourselves to the painful consideration of this huge city, so much larger than Jerusalem in our Saviour’s day, and, I was about to say, equally wicked? Do ye never pour out floods of tears for it because it knoweth not its day, and is neglectful of the invitations of grace? If you are one spirit with Christ you will weep with him, you will bum with an ardent passion to gather this city’s children beneath the wings of mercy. You will pray for them, sigh for them, live for them, and persevere in labour for them. Your thought about a person will not merely be what trade you can do with him, or how much you may trust him in business, but, “How much good can I do him, and can I find an opportunity in any way of bringing him as a jewel to adorn my Saviour’s crown!” If our spirits were one with Christ’s we should each one be missionaries of the cross, bearing witness to his saving power.

     Beloved, with such a spirit we should be content to use the same modes as our Lord. Christ’s modes of winning souls were very simple, and he always adhered to them; teaching, preaching, living, suffering, and dying were his whole art. Some nowadays seem tired of Christ’s plans, and hunt up more rapid methods. I do not believe that Jesus ever strained after effect by animal excitement; he did not strive and cry, and become fanatical, and try to excite poor ignorant people, who know not what they do, to Bay what they do not understand. He went to work by instructing the ignorant, enlightening their consciences and understandings, and gradually leading them to himself. When his spirit is ours we shall be better satisfied with that old-fashioned way of gospel preaching which the critics nowadays are so fond of sneering at. We shall feel this is the best way, this hard, plodding wav, that does not usually produce a great mass of converts all at once; this is best, for Jesus thought so. We shall pine for large harvests, but go on sowing the same seed, and preaching his gospel and no new one of our own. What was wisdom to him will be wisdom to us.

     Then shall we, if we are of one spirit with Jesus, go to work as he did, with the same emotions. If we had but six men thoroughly of one spirit with Jesus, London would soon be shaken from end to end; but where are they? God make all his servants such, and we shall hear a new sort of preaching to what is current at this hour; for when Jesus preached, it was tremendous preaching; true, it was pleasing, attractive, interesting, but was far more, it was full of deep heart-power, such as made men see his solemn earnestness, and such as overcame men’s souls. His soul, as it were, leaped upon them in all the majesty of love’s omnipotence. O that we felt as he did the weight of souls, the guilt of sin, the terror of the wrath to come, and the tenderness of divine mercy. If these great principles actuated and moved our spirit as they moved his spirit, we should rise to a higher standard, and our age would know it.

     Let me add that if we are fully joined to our Lord, and of one spirit with him, we shall have the same tastes as Jesus. What he loves will charm us, what he hates we shall loathe. We shall then come to have the same will with him. As one said, “If God wills not as I will, yet at any rate we will be agreed, for I will as he wills if he will but graciously enable me.” If I cannot have things as I would like, I will like to have them as Jesus pleases. Oh, to have the two wills, the human and divine perfectly coinciding, this is perfection! Brethren, if this unity between our spirit and Christ’s spirit goes on we shall abide in him, and he will abide in us. Oh, to be our Beloved’s and to know that he is ours! I cannot resist quoting another two verses from old Quarles, they so depict my ideal.

“Nor time, nor place, nor chance, nor death can bow
My least desires unto the least remove;
He’s firmly mine by oath; I his by vow;
He’s mine by faith; and I am his by love;
He’s mine by water; I am his by wine;
Thus I my best Beloved’s am; thus he is mine.
He is my altar; I his holy place;
I am his guest; and he my living food;
I’m his by penitence; he mine by grace;
I’m his by purchase; he is mine by blood;
He’s my supporting wall; and I his vine:
Thus I my best Beloved’s am; thus he is mine.”

     I have many things to say, but time fails me, and therefore in a mass let me just pour out a few thoughts. There would be produced in you and in me if we were joined unto the Lord great oneness of aim in our service of God. We have a dozen aims now, but if we were of one spirit with Jesus we should have but one object in life. A man dies, and they say, “Ah, he died a martyr to his science.” Another dies, and they say, “He killed himself with attention to his business.” When will men be thus said to die for Christ? Men commonly say of their fellows, “He is a man of one idea, he lives for it, wherever he is he must always ride his hobby.” How I wish they would say the same of Christians! Wherever our Lord was, not imprudently, but with the truest wisdom, he was sure to pursue his life work; where Jesus war there would the gospel be heard or seen before long. If he sat to eat bread at a Pharisee’s house nobody could suspect him of being a Pharisee, or need to ask who he was, his speech ere long betrayed him, for the one object of his soul was uppermost. May it ever be so with us, may we be of one idea, that one idea to glorify God through the salvation of sinners by Jesus Christ.

     This would give us beside unity of purpose, great force, great fervour. We should feel this in private; our prayers if we had the spirit of Christ would be very different from what they are. This would be visible in public also; our public service of God would never be so sluggish and sleepy as it now is. With what ardour did the Saviour burn! Would God that selfsame fire dropped into my soul, and utterly consumed me as a living sacrifice.

     This would produce in each of us an abiding pertinacity. Defeated in one place we should try in another. It would be with us a determination never to be overcome in doing good. Like Jesus who sought the souls of men, not in a languid search, but over hill and dale till he went down into death’s cold shade, and traversed the sepulchre that he might deliver them, so we also in honour and dishonour, in evil report and good report, in poverty and wealth, in life and death, should still be seeking the glory of God, and the salvation of the sons of men.

     This same spirit would work in us a wonderful serenity of spirit. If our spirit were like to Christ’s spirit, altogether set on God’s glory, we should not be disturbed and vexed so soon as we are with little, petty remarks of men, nor should we even be moved by great calamities. If any disaster happened to us we should only say, “How can I use this for God’s glory?” or if prosperity smiled on us we should ask, “How can I make this glorify my Lord?” We should not be cast down by the one nor lifted up by the other. If men sneered at us we should say, “It is well that they think little of me, for now if God will bless my efforts they will think the more of God and know that the work was not done by my power.” If, on the other hand, we find men thinking highly of us, we should say, “How can I use the influence I thus obtain to advance the great cause of my Lord and Master?” When self is dead our sorrows are sweet; when self-seeking is gone, then serene is the calm lake of the soul, unruffled by the storms of ambition which continually toss with blustering breath the minds which seek themselves. I am persuaded, brethren, your highest state, your happiest condition, will be when you are so joined with the Lord as to be one spirit.

     Lastly, what does all this teach us by way of practical lesson? These three things: First, see here a rebuke for us. We have been joined to Christ, but have we been manifestly one spirit with him? Angry— was that Christ’s spirit? Worldly— was that Christ’s spirit? Frivolous, verging upon impropriety— was that Christ’s spirit? Proud, dictatorial, slothful, repining, or unbelieving— was that Christ’s spirit? O brethren, if you can read that verse without a tear you are either better or worse men than I; you are worse perhaps, for you do not feel the penitence

you should; or you are better, and you have no need to confess the same faults which unhappily rise before my memory. The spirit of Jesus, we have a measure of it I trust, but does not our own spirit adulterate it dreadfully!

     The next practical word is one of hope. We want to have the same spirit as Christ. Well, brethren, our hope is that we shall have it, for we are joined to the Lord, and he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. Are you not joined to Jesus, my brother, my sister? I know what you say, “I sometimes fear I am not.” Well, but what do you add to that? You add, “But I desire to be, and I do to-day renew my union with him by another act of faith and confidence in him. Dear Lord and Saviour, thou art my only hope; I at this hour embrace thy cross once more. I know thou savest sinners, I know that they who believe in thee are saved, and therefore I am saved; now being persuaded of this I love thee. O that I could kiss thy feet where the nail prints are, and that my whole life could be a washing of those feet with my tears!” Since then you are joined to Christ, you are one spirit, and though it is not yet fully seen, it will be ere long. There are better times coming, there are deeper degrees of grace for you yet, only persevere.

     The last word will help you to persevere. Perceive you not, my brethren, the way to get more of the spirit of Christ? It is indicated in the text, it is by thinking more of your union with him. To be nearer the Lord is the way to be more like him. Do not let doubts and fears endanger your fellowship with him. You may think, “I fear I have no right to say, I am one with Christ.” But that suspicion will not sanctify you; it will not help you to be holier to doubt your union to your Lord. Men never grow in grace by departing from the Saviour by unbelief. The more you need Christ the closer cling to him; the less you are like him the faster hold to him; your hope lies there. “If my spirit be not yet subdued to thy spirit, my Saviour, yet I cannot let thee go, for that were to drive the physician away because I am still sick; that were to renounce my friend because I have great need of him. Nay, but closer to thee will I cling by thy Holy Spirit from this day forth, that being joined to thee, I may be of one spirit.”

     I feel I have feebly addressed you, but at the same time I know precious truth has been set forth. May the Holy Spirit open it up to your hearts, and bless it to your souls, and he shall be magnified; but if you have no part nor lot in this matter, may that dreadful fact lead you at this hour to seek the Saviour.



Iconoclast

By / Nov 13

Iconoclast

 

“He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it; and he called it Nehushtan. He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah , nor any that were before him.” — 2 Kings xviii. 4, 5.

 

THE first commandment instructs us that there is but one God, who alone is to be worshipped; and the second commandment teaches that no attempt is to be made to represent the Lord, neither are we to bow down before any form of sacred similitude. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.” The two commandments thus make a full sweep of idolatry. We are not to worship any other god; we are not to worship the true God by the use of representative symbols. He is a Spirit, and is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, and not by the use of visible imagery. It seems clear that the human mind since the fall finds it hard to keep to this. All over the world men set up images and idols, not at first with the view of worshipping the wood or stone, but with the intention of being helped to worship the Deity by having some outward symbol of his presence. After awhile the evil heart falls into something even more debasing, and the image itself is adored. Even the people of God, the children of Israel, who so peculiarly enjoyed the Lord’s presence in their midst, and who were taught to worship him by lawgivers and prophets inspired of the Most High, could not keep to pure and spiritual worship. Though their weakness was somewhat helped to the understanding of truth by a system of types, they were not content with these because they contained no similitude of God. The religion of pious Jews was mainly spiritual, for only at the one appointed spot at Jerusalem was sacrifice allowed, and there the sacred vessels of ceremonial worship were in secret places, and seldom if ever seen by the people. A worship so little outward was too spiritual for unregenerate Israel; the people wanted an outward ritual for other places beside Jerusalem; and wherever there was a rock or lofty hill there they put up an altar to God, and it was called one of the “high places” of the land; wherever a grove of ancient trees could be discovered, they set that apart also; to the true God, mark you— but still without divine sanction, and contrary to his law, seeing that he had not appointed that there should be any groves or places sacred to himself, except the one chosen spot at Mount Zion. Then they came to the use of teraphim, symbolical forms, statues, “images,” as our English translation puts it; not that they actually worshipped these as God, but used them, as they said, to help them to worship God. This was all contrary to the divine law, and led to a forgetfulness of God himself, robbing him of his worship and giving it to dumb idols. As soon as good Hezekiah had come to the throne and taken possession of its power, he set to work to cut down all the groves, to break the images, and as far as he could, as governor of the land, to bring back Israel to her allegiance to the great invisible Jehovah, and to the spiritual worship in which he delights, restraining the outward worship with sacrifice and offering to the one temple at Jerusalem. Among the various objects of Israel’s degenerate worship was one which it would have seemed natural even for a reformer to spare, it was the famous serpent of brass which had been made by Moses in the wilderness, and had been lifted up upon a pole, by looking to which thousands had been cured of the poisonous bites of fiery serpents. This had been carefully preserved, but seeing that it had become an object of superstitious reverence, Hezekiah destroyed it; according to some, he ground it to powder, and he called it by an opprobrious epithet, Nehushtan. The margin has the translation, “a piece of brass.” It might be read, “filth,” or “verdigris,” or “a piece of copper.” The king gave it a name which would show that he protested against the idolatrous reverence shown to it. Although it was an interesting memorial, it must be utterly destroyed, because it presented a temptation to idolatry. Here if ever in this world was a relic of high antiquity, of undoubted authenticity, a relic which had seen its hundreds of years, about which there was no question as to its being indisputably the very serpent which Moses made; and it was moreover a relic which had formerly possessed miraculous power— for in the wilderness the looking at it had saved the dying. Yet it must be broken in pieces, because Israel burned incense to it. Away with it, it is a defiled thing; call it by an ill name; dash it to atoms; make Israel to despise it and to forget it. If the brazen serpent be put to a wrong use and made into an idol, it must not be spared. Put the piece of verdigris away; let the coppery reptile be ground to powder, if it be once set up as a rival to Jehovah, or as a sharer in the veneration which is due to him only.

     This leads me to the following remark. After all, our reformers acted well, and after a scriptural model, when they poured contempt upon the idols of Rome, and made a mockery of her saints, relics, images, masses, and priests. They were more than justified in exposing the idolatries of Popery, and subjecting the objects formerly reverenced to the utmost contempt. There was a deep meaning in their breaking of crosses and the burning of holy roods. The white linen of priestly amices served well for under garments for the poor, and altar stones made admirable backs for stoves, but they meant more than utility, they were a protest against superstition. Holy water vats were in those practical times frequently given to the country people to be turned into troughs for swine, the little sacring bells which had formerly been rung at the elevation of the host were hung around horses’ necks, and the box which contained the detestable mockery of our incarnate God, which the Papists most adored, was broken in pieces. No contempt could be greater than these idols deserved. The iconoclasts of that age did not go one bit too far. I could wish they had been even less lenient than they were, and that not a single thing ever worshipped by man had been spared for a moment. Call it god! then break it up, though art itself perish with it. Adore it as a holy thing! then away with it, though it be made of gold and inlaid with gems. What God abhors, what his anger smokes against, it is not for us to spare from motives of tenderness to other people’s feelings, or because the canons of taste would say, “Let the idol be preserved.”

     Our sires, the Nonconformists, when they left the state-created religion to maintain a spiritual worship, and gathered themselves together as the servants of God, did well in bearing their protest against the less glaring idolatries of their age. In their day, as now, there existed the very common idolatry of superstitious reverence of buildings. Certain piles of Stone, brick and timber, are regarded as holy places. It is thought that inside certain walls God is more peculiarly present than outside, where the trees are growing and the birds singing. Our forefathers protested against this by never calling their buildings churches. They knew they could not be; they knew that churches mean companies of faithful men and women. They culled the places of their usual worship “meeting-houses;” that is what they were, and nothing more. The veneration of building materials, pulpits, altars, pews, cushions, tables, candlesticks, organs, cups, plates, etc., is sheer, clear idolatry. “Worship God” is a command which needs to be spoken in these days in tones of thunder. There is none holy save the Lord. “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” Hear ye the Lord’s own words: “Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things? ”

     Our sires also stood out against another idolatry which still survives in England ; namely, the observing of days and months. Certain days are set apart as holy, and observed with great reverence by those calling themselves Christians. Not content with the Sabbath as the day appointed of God for his worship, they have like Israel of old, when under legal bondage, new moons, and appointed feasts, for which they claim great respect, but to which none whatever is due. Our sires said, “This is not of Scripture, therefore it is of man, therefore it is will worship, and idolatrous;” and they showed their contempt of the commandments of men by an open disregard of holy days, and we shall do well in this respect and in all others to maintain their pure testimony. Whenever we see superstition in any shape, we must not flatter the folly, but according to our ability act the inconoclast’s part and denounce it. In this matter too many do the work of the Lord deceitfully, and bow in the house of Rimmon, instead of maintaining inviolate the spiritual worship of the great I AM.

     But let this suffice on such themes, we have other thoughts in our minds. I intend, this morning, first to apportion a share of image breaking work to believers; and, secondly, we shall prescribe another form of this same work for seeking souls.

     I. We have much IDOL BREAKING FOR CHRISTIANS TO DO. There is much to be done in the church of God, there is much more to be done in our own hearts.

     First of all, there is much idol breaking to be done in the church of God. Let me mention some of the things against which you and I must always bear our personal and earnest protest. We are all too apt as Christians to place some degree of reliance upon men whom God in his infinite mercy raises up to be leaders in the Christian church. We ought to be thankful for the Paul who plants so well, and the Apollos who waters so ably; we are never to look with contempt or with slighting upon those precious gifts which Christ received when he ascended up on high, and which he continues to give to his church, namely, apostles, teachers, preachers, evangelists, and the like. A man is more precious than a wedge of the gold of Ophir. When God gives a man to the church fitted for her enlargement, for her establishment, and her confirmation, he gives to her one of the richest blessings of the covenant of grace; but the danger is lest we place the man in the wrong position, and look to him not only with the respect which is due to him as God’s ambassador, but with some degree of— I must call it so— superstitious reliance upon his authority and ability. Brethren, we have discarded saints, we abhor the idea of worshipping them, and yet by slow degrees we may gradually fall into canonisation, and virtually set up among ourselves another set of saints. Is it not true that some almost worship St. Calvin, and St. Luther? Beyond their teachings they cannot go. Over others St. John Wesley, or St. Charles Simeon sway an awe-commanding sceptre; and to far more, the minister under whom they sit, and whose teachings they constantly receive, is the reason and basis of their faith. I am afraid that some of the conversions wrought in the Christian church are rather the work of the preacher than of the Spirit of God, and therefore when the minister who was the instrument of them happens to be removed, the faith which was built upon the wisdom or the earnestness of man is removed too. The point I want to bring you to is this, receive truth from us if we give it to you purely, and are truly God’s mouth to you, but accept it not because we say it is so. Go to the fountain head of truth, search the Scriptures for yourselves, and see whether these things be so. Let nothing be to you a spiritual truth unless it be taught of the Spirit of God in the Scriptures. Do not be content to hear with the outer ear and say, “That is true, for such-and-such a man of God has said it ask to hear with the heart so as to feel, “That is true, for God has said it in his word, and his holy Spirit has also written it over again in my consciousness and experience.” We must get beyond men, or else we shall be very babes in grace. If we overvalue the blessings which God gives us in our teachers and preachers, he may remove them from us. We are to exalt not the pipes but the fountain head; not the windows but the sun must we thank for light; not the basket which holds the food or the lad who brings the loaves and fishes must we reverence, but the divine Master who blesses and multiplies the bread and feeds the multitude. To Jesus must all adoring eyes be turned, and to the Holy Spirit the revealer of the truth, and to our Father who is in heaven; and we must receive the gospel not as the word of man, but as it is in truth, the word of God. Love the ministers of Christ, but fall not into that form of brazen serpent worship which will degrade you into the servants of men.

     In the Christian church there is, I am afraid, at this moment too much exaltation of talent and dependence upon education, I mean especially in reference to ministers. I do not believe that a man of God who is called constantly to preach to the same people can be too thoroughly educated, neither do I believe that the highest degree of mental culture should be any injury to the Christian minister, but rather should be very helpful to him. By all means let the religious teacher intermeddle with all knowledge, let him give himself unto reading and be able mentally as well as spiritually to take the lead, but, O church of God, never set thou up human learning in the place of the Eternal Spirit, for “it is not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.” The great wonders of apostolic times were mainly wrought by men who were illiterate in the world’s judgment; they had been taught of Christ and so had received the noblest education, but in classical studies and in philosophical speculations they were but little versed, with the exception of the apostle Paul, and he came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom. Yet the apostles and their followers preached with such power, that the world soon felt their presence. On the slabs of stone which mark the burial places of the early Christians in the catacombs of Rome, the inscriptions are nearly all ill spelt, many of them have here a letter in Greek and there a letter in Latin, grammar is forgotten, and orthography is violated, a proof that the early Christians who thus commemorated the martyred dead were many of them uneducated persons: but for all that they crushed the wisdom of the sages and smote the gods of classic lands. They smote Jupiter and Saturn, until they were broken in pieces, and Venus and Diana fell from their seats of power. Their conquests were not by the learning of the schools; that hindered them— the Gnostic heresy, the heresy of pretended knowledge hindered but never helped the church of God. Even thus at this hour the culture so much vaunted in certain places is opposed to the simplicity of the gospel. Therefore I say we do not despise true learning, but we dare not depend upon it. We believe that God can bless and does bless thousands by very simple and humble testimonies; we are none of us to hold our tongues for Christ, because we cannot speak as the learned; we are none of us to refuse the Lord’s message to ourselves because it is spoken by an unlettered messenger. We are not to select our pastors simply because of their talents and acquirements; we must regard their unction, we must look at their call, and see whether the Spirit of God is with them; if not, we shall make learning to be our brazen serpent, and it will need to be broken in pieces.

     Just the same also may be said of human eloquence. It is a good thing when a man can speak well, and his words flow from his soul like a torrent, sweeping everything before them, when his heart burns and flashes with a divine enthusiasm when he speaks what he believes and feels to be of the weightiest importance; but after all, conversions wrought by carnal rhetoric, what are they? Conversions wrought by human logic, what are they? “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Let the men speak well— the truth ought to be delivered in the best of sentences, but the noblest language ever uttered by man never convinced a soul of sin, or bound up a wounded conscience, or raised a sinner from his death in sin. We must in prayer cry for the Spirit of God, and all our confidence must be placed in him; for oratory is but a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal if the Holy Ghost be not there.

     Continuing still our remarks with regard to the Christian church, I will further remark that much superstition may require to be broken down amongst us in reference to a rigid adhesion to certain modes of Christian service. We have tried to propagate the truth in a certain way, and the Lord has blessed us in it, and therefore we venerate the mode and the plan, and forget that the Holy Spirit is a free Spirit. There are persons in our churches who object very seriously to any attempt to do good in a way which they have not seen tried before. For them custom has all the force of authority: the traditions of the fathers are their law. Bold measures of evangelisation shock them as innovations, as if anything could be an innovation where all is free! I know Dissenting congregations which are as conservative of their do nothing plans as if they had received them direct from heaven. Their life is fossilized, their order is funereal, their orthodoxy is sepulchral. “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen,” seems to be the chant of many good, but mistaken Christians amongst us who cannot think a thing ought to be done if it never has been done. If there be anything clear in the teaching of our Lord and his apostles, it is this, that we are not under law, rubric, and tradition, but are brought into the liberty of the children of God, so that we are led by the Spirit, and in the service of God are not to hunt for precedents or wait for regulations, but follow the great principles of the word, and the guidance of the Spirit, and “by any means save some.” I have known brethren frightened at open-air preaching, and yet what sort of preaching used there to be in Christ’s days but open-air preaching? I have known others quite alarmed at the idea of Christ’s name being mentioned in a place that had been put to commoner uses, as if in the olden times Christ could have been preached anywhere if it had been necessary to have a place consecrated to Christian worship! There is a class of persons who object to every holy project for evangelisation, however right and judicious, if it happens to be novel, and they will continue to object till the work has been long in action, and has placed itself beyond fear of their opposition or need of their assistance. We shall degenerate into a race of Scribes and Pharisees if we give way to this spirit. We shall again be slaves to traditions, legends, and old wives fables, as bad as those which polluted Judaism. In the name of everything that is Christlike, away with all that checks the vital action of the body of Christ. Fetters are none the less burdensome for being antique. Let the brazen serpent be broken if it become a barrier to the onward progress of the cross. If any endeavour to force upon us the yoke of habit, let us resist them in the spirit of Paul, who, speaking of those who came in privily to spy out his liberty in Christ Jesus that they might bring him into bondage, declares “to whom we gave place for subjection, no, not for an hour.”

     So it is with the forms of divine worship. I have frequently, especially in our country churches, met with the most determined protests against the most trivial alteration of the routine of their worship. You must sing at such a time, for they always have sung at such a point in the service; you must pray at such a moment, they always have prayed at that part of the worship; and if you can keep to the same quantity of minutes usually occupied so much the better. The whole service, though not in a book— for our sturdy brethren would rise in revolt against the use of a book— yet is quite as stereotyped as if it were taken from the Common Prayer. Now, I believe that in public worship we should do well to be bound by no human rules, and constrained by no stereotyped order. I like, and we have often done it, to have an interval of silence sometimes. Why not? Why should it be all vocal worship? And why not begin with the sermon occasionally? You who come in late would probably mend your manners in such a case. And then why should we not sing when we have been accustomed to pray, and pray when we have been accustomed to sing? We are under the dispensation of the Spirit, and as far as I know, the Spirit of God has not inspired those cards which I see sometimes nailed up in pulpits— “begin with short prayer, sing, read, pray, preach,” and so on. A legality of form is growing up among us, and I enter my heart’s protest against it. Not that you and I may have been affected by this Dissenting ritualism, but practices good in themselves are to be protested against if they gender to bondage, for the Spirit of God bloweth where he listeth, and if we worship God according to his guidance, the worship cannot invariably take the same form.

     2. Thus we have done a little image breaking in the church. Now let us turn to the temple of our own hearts, and we shall find much work to be done there.

     Beloved brethren and sisters, exercise self-examination now for the next five minutes or so. How about your present position as a Christian? You feel, probably, after ten, twelve, twenty, or thirty years of profession, very considerably in advance of what you were when you first came to Christ. Do you feel that you are? You can now see the imprudences of your early zeal, and you can look down with unmeasured pity upon those young people who know so little about the road to heaven, of which you know so much, and who have so little strength, of which you now have a very considerable share, who are so little aware of the devices of Satan, against which you guard yourself so ably. Dear brother, are you thus really congratulating yourself upon your advanced position? Are you? Then permit a little image breaking there, for rest assured if we, any of us, come to put much value upon our attainments we shall be very near to sliding into self-confidence, carnal security, and I know not what of mischievous pride. Beloved, are you stronger than you were? But does your strength lie anywhere else than where it used to lie, even in Christ? Are you wiser than you were? But have you any wisdom except that Christ is made unto you wisdom? Do you really think that twenty years’ experience has changed your corruptions, that your passions have become extinct, that your tendencies to sin are not so strong as they were, that in fact yon have less need to watch, less need to depend simply upon the merit of Christ and the work of his Spirit? Do you think so? Do you think so? “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” I have heard that more horses fall at the bottom of a hill than almost anywhere else, and I know that more professors make shipwreck towards the close of life than at any other time. As I have often told you, the falls recorded in the Old and New Testament are the falls, not of young men in the heat of passion, but of old or middleaged men. Lot was no boy when he disgraced himself. David was no young man when he transgressed with Bathsheba. Peter was no child when he denied his Lord. These were men of experience and knowledge and attainments. Your attainments, my brother! Oh, brave word for a poor thing! Your attainments! Your attainments, poor sinner! Apart from what you have in Christ, how absurd the language! Better still to say, “Having nothing and yet possessing all things, God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Do I then despise Christian attainments? By no manner of means, only when they are idolised and hide the Saviour, then I call them Nehushtan, and would fain break them in pieces.

     Again, dear brother, it may be that you are enjoying very near fellowship with Christ. How delightful it is when you know by assurance that you are the Beloved’s and that the Beloved is yours; when all doubts and fears have fled away and you are walking in the light of his countenance! When we are in such a condition we are like Peter, and would fain build three tabernacles, for we say, “Master, it is good to be here.” But we must mind lest we elevate our enjoyments into the place of our Master. We may even make our communion with Christ an idol, by putting it before Christ himself. I am not saved and safe because I am greatly rejoicing. Not my enjoyment, but Jesus saves me— he alone saves me. If my communion were interrupted, I should still be secure in him, and now I enjoy it sweetly it does not add to my actual security or acceptance before God. An old Puritan quaintly says, suppose a loving husband were to give to his wife many rings and jewels out of love to her, and she should come to think so highly of the love-tokens that she sat and looked at them, and admired them, and forgot her husband, would he not be rather inclined to take these things away to turn her love once again to himself? So with our graces and our enjoyments; if we think too much of them the iconoclastic hammer will come in, and these things will vanish because they have provoked the Lord to jealousy.

     Further, we have a little more work to do. You have, and you thank God for it, some good friends in this world, dear friends, Christian friends, reliable friends. Hold them fast; but it is not always easy to keep these friends where they should be. There is a text that might save us a thousand sorrows if we thought more of it; “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm: but blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.” And there is another text of the same tone: “Cease ye from man whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?” Friendship by all means, and confidence in those who deserve it by all means, but pass not the bound which God hath set, think not that to be immutable which is but clay, and fancy not that to be faithful which is but flesh. Changing circumstances have changed many hearts, and altered positions and conditions have made sad havoc among friendships which seemed to be eternal. Lean on thy friends, but not with all thy weight; trust and be confident as thou mayest, but let thine inmost reliance, thy deepest faith, lean on that arm which thou canst not see, but which arm nevertheless upholds the universe.

     Now a word that may cut more keenly still, and it concerns our dear relationships in the family circle. The last should I be to speak against the love that is due to husband, and wife, and child, and brethren. Christianity fosters all the domestic loves. We love none the less our dear ones below because our heart still loves our Saviour above all. But, beloved, there is such a thing as putting child or wife or husband into Jesus’ place. The beloved one was meant to be loved, but not to be worshipped. That little gem was given to be prized, but not to be valued beyond the pearl of great price. Beware of desecrating your earthly love into idolatry; rather consecrate it by seeking God’s glory in it, and it shall be well with you; for if you are a child of God, whatever idol you worship, God’s great hammer will be lifted up against it. You will lose the child, or it may live to prove your curse; you will lose the love you think so precious, or you may have it, but it will lead you astray. Beloved, I know there is work to be done in many of our hearts in this respect.

     And so there is yet further in the pursuits of our minds. I do not see why a Christian man should not have for a pursuit the attainment of eminence in learning, proficiency in science, or success in business; if he does not do so he is not likely to distinguish himself, and there can be no reason why a Christian should be always in the rear; but these lawful worldly aims must be kept in their place and be subservient to higher ends, or else what is right in itself will get to be wrong through being put in the wrong place. You may pursue that branch of knowledge, young man, but seek first the kingdom of God. Do you desire to be an artist and rank with Landseer and Millais? I would not discourage you for a moment; in the skilful use of that pencil may you rise to the highest position in your art; but for all that do not worship the palette, do not bow down before the outspread canvas: there is something better to live for than to paint. Student, I do not wonder at your desire to excel. Why should not Christian men be first in all departments of learning? But after all, there are higher objects than zoology, geology, mechanics, or astronomy. Do then, I pray you, guard against putting anything where Christ should be. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Ever God first, and then the rest that you may glorify God by what of ability or influence you have obtained such means. I charge you look to this on pain of seeing idols broken, and aspirations destroyed.

     Thus have we gone into the temple of your hearts, and used the hammer a little there.

     II. Now I desire for awhile to speak with those who are SEEKERS OF JESUS. There is some idol breaking to be done for them. I pray God the Holy Spirit to do it.

     The way of salvation lies in coming to Christ, in trusting in Jesus Christ alone. Why is it that so many refuse to do this, and remain in the border land of desire unsaved? Many think that they ought to be much better than they are: they have faults to be corrected, their minds are in a wrong condition, they must be put right, and they are trying to do this with the intention when they feel better to put their trust in Jesus. O that my hammer might smash all that to pieces! My friend, you ought to be better, your mind ought to be in a better state; I grant all that; but if you put this improvement of yours in the place of the work of Christ, you are going the sure way to destruction. Your righteousness is not what is needed, but Christ’s righteousness, and if you conceive that you must fit yourself for him, you know not the gospel. Come to Jesus as you are. Your conscious sinfulness and imperfections will but enable you to prize his perfection and his power to save. Do not look to yourself for a part of your salvation; if you do I must call your goodness “Nehushtan,” and compare it to dross and dung! Look to Jesus, and Jesus only, all else will deceive you. Do see how he carried sin, and was punished for it, and how his righteousness avails with the Father, and look not to any preparations or fitnesses which you may conceive to be in yourself.

     With some the Nehushtan which they set up is their sense of sin, either they do not feel their need of Christ as they ought, or else they do feel their need, and therefore think they are in a fair condition. Now, believe me, you often misunderstand the promises of Christ. That matchless promise, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,” is thought to be a promise made to those who labour and are heavy laden. My brethren, the promise is not made to labouring nor to being heavy laden. “What is it made to?” say you. The promise is made to coming to Christ, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” You may be weary and heavy laden as long as you will, but you will not get rest by labouring, it is coming to Christ that gives rest. Do not think that feeling your need of Christ is salvation; it is coming to Christ, depending, relying upon him alone, that brings you to the blessing. Do not delay, then. The most proper sense of sin, though it may be commendable as the brazen serpent, if you rest in it must be broken in pieces, for it is an antichrist.

     Many persons are resting in their fear of self-deception. “I would fain trust in Christ,” says one, “but I am so afraid of being self-deceived.” And do you think that your being afraid of presumption is a better thing than believing God’s testimony concerning his Son? You must think so or else you would not keep it in preference to believing. To believe in Jesus Christ— that is, to rest upon God’s own Son, who was put to death because our sin was laid upon him— to believe in him simply with a childish confidence is the way of salvation; but you prefer not to do it on the ground that you are afraid of being self-deceived; you prefer tarrying in a state of caution to advancing to faith. Away with your idolised brazen serpent,— away with it. Give up the fear or keep it, which you will, but come to Jesus.

     Many of you, I am afraid, are resting in sermon hearing. “I shall get good one of these days,” says one, “I am always at the Tabernacle, or always at my church,” or, “I go to hear a good gospel preacher, and I shall get a blessing.” What, do you think salvation comes through merely hearing sermons? Ah! sirs, responsibility comes when the gospel is honestly preached, but nothing more, unless you believe the message which you hear. Faith is the vital point, the coming to Jesus, or else I pour ridicule on sermon hearing, and sermon preaching too, if you look to this as the groundwork of salvation. It is not the poor trumpet that makes the jubilee, it does but proclaim it. O that you would obtain the liberty which the trumpet proclaims.

     But some of you may say, “I not only hear sermons, but I read the Bible regularly!” Yes, and I- commend you for it, bat if you imagine you are in a good and proper state because you are a Bible-reader, I must tell you that as an unbeliever you are condemned already, and, while reading the Bible, that very Bible itself condemns you. Go on with the reading of it— I am in hopes that you may get beyond that, to be a believer in Jesus; but as long as you are not a believer in Jesus, you may read your Bible as much as ever you will, it will not, cannot save you. What does our Saviour say? He says (so I read the original), “Ye search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they that testify of me; but ye will not come unto me that ye may have life.” A great many in his days studied the Scriptures, but would not believe in him. You may be lost with a knowledge of Scripture as well as without it, if you tarry in the letter and go not to the spirit of the word.

     There are others who are making an idol of brass out of their prayers. “I am not saved,” says one, “I have not trusted Christ, but I do pray.” Neither do I find fault with your prayers any more than I have a right to find fault with the brazen serpent in its place, but if you suppose you will be saved by praying, you are greatly mistaken. He that will not be saved by the cross shall never be saved by his closet. He that will not be saved by Christ’s wounds, shall not find salvation by his own groans and tears. There on the cross is all your hope, sinner, and if you will not have it there is no other; nay, though you hardened your knees with kneeling and blinded your eyes with weeping, you would find no gate of heaven and no hope of mercy but in the crucified Saviour. Fly to Jesus and you are saved, keep from Jesus and your prayers do but insult the Saviour, for you place them in his stead. I must break up these things— they are idols if they hide the cross of Jesus.

     And so, to close, is it with all the unbelieving reasonings and rebellious considerings which some people so abound with. Seekers of Christ will some of them continually start new difficulties. If you solve one doubt they get another; if you solve that they invent a third. Their doubts, and reasonings, and questions, are like an endless chain; pull up one link and it brings up another. Their suspicions are like a chain of dredging buckets that come up all full of mire, and over they go and empty themselves but to come up full again. There is no comforting them; their soul refuseth to be comforted. If one tenth part of the ingenuity they use in rebelling against the command of God, which bids them believe, were used in simply investigating what they are told to believe, they would come to faith, and be saved from their doubts. Do you think you are wise in trying to discover reasons why you should be damned? I can hardly conceive of a man in the condemned cell— and that is where every unbeliever is— trying to find out reasons why he should not be pardoned. There lies the pardon before him, and he is perversely searching the whole treasury of logic to find out arguments against his pardon, and reasons for his execution. Thou fool, wilt thou perish through thy reasonings? Sinner, let me say to thee, let thine artful doubts and reasonings be nailed to yonder tree where Jesus died. Crucify them. You suspect too much, you consider too much, you question too much. Here it is — receive it as a little child receives his father’s word— “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” “Whosoever believeth in him is not condemned.” “He that hath the Son of God hath life.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved;” for “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Here all is simplicity; do not mystify it. Here all is clear as noonday; do not shut out the light. God grant you grace to break up these idols of yours, and take your Saviour now, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.