A Visit to the Harvest Field

By / Feb 4

A Visit to the Harvest Field

 

"Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waited for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh."—James 5:7-8

 

     The earth that yields seed to the sower and bread to the eater has received its constitution from God; and it is governed through his wise providence by fixed laws that are infinitely reliable; and yet, at the same time, with such diversified conditions and minute peculiarities as may well convince us that the Almighty intended the operations of nature to supply us with spiritual instruction as well as with material good. He who ordained the seed time and the harvest meant to teach us by them. Nor has he left us in vague uncertainty as to the lessons we should learn! In metaphor and parable he has interpreted them to us. The author of the Bible is also the architect of the universe. The book that is writ and the things that are made alike bear witness to his eternal power and Godhead. He who shall study them both will see clearly the idioms of one author. In the two masterpieces the hand of the same great artist may be discerned. We are all so dependent upon the labors of the field, that we ought at the season of harvest to remember how much we owe to the God of harvest. It is but common gratitude that we should go to the field awhile, and there hear what God the Lord may have to say to us among the waving sheaves. No matter what our business may be, the wealth of the country must after all, to a large extent, depend upon the crops that are produced, and the well being of the whole state has a greater dependence upon the harvest than many of you could probably imagine. We will not forget the bounties of God. We will not fail at least to endeavor to learn the lesson which this bountiful season is intended to teach us. Our Lord Jesus often preached of the sowing and of the reaping. His were the best of sermons and his the choicest of illustrations: therefore, we shall do well if are repair to the field, mark the scattering of the corn, and the ingathering of it, to enforce the exhortation of the text.

     Our subject, to-night, will involve three or four questions: How does the husbandman wait? What does he wait for? What is has encouragement? What are the benefits of his patient waiting? Our experience is similar to his. We are husbandmen, so we have to toil hard, and we have to wait long: then, the hope that cheers, the fruit that buds and blossoms, and verily, too, the profit of that struggle of faith and fear incident to waiting will all crop up as we proceed.

     I. First, then, HOW DOES THE HUSBANDMAN WAIT? He waits with a reasonable hope for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it until he receive the early and latter rain. He expects the harvest because he has ploughed the fields and sown the grain. If he had not, he would not be an example for our imitation. Had he left his fields fallow, never stirred the clods, and never cast in among them the golden seed, he would be an idiot were he expecting the soil to produce a harvest. Thorns and thistles would it bring forth to him—nothing more. Out on the folly of those, who flatter their souls with a prospect of good things in time to come while they neglect the opportunity of sowing good things in the time present. They say they hope it will be well with them at the end; but, since it is not well with them now, why should they expect any change—much less a change contrary to the entire order of Providence? Is it not written "He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption"? Do you expect to sow to the flesh and reap salvation? That is a blessing reserved for him who soweth to the spirit; for he that soweth to the spirit shall of the spirit reap life everlasting. As for the man who scatters nothing but the wild oats of sin, who simply lives to indulge his own passions, and determinately resolves to neglect the things that make for his peace,—he can but upbraid himself if he collect to reap anything good of the Lord. They that sow to the wind shall reap the whirlwind, they that sow nothing shall reap nothing, they that sow sparingly shall reap also sparingly. It is only those who by God's grace have been enabled to sow abundantly, though they have gone forth weeping, who shall afterwards come again rejoicing, bringing their sheaves with them. Patience by all means, but not that foolish patience which expects something good to turn up in spiritual things, as some fools do in business when they turn aside from legitimate trade to foster bubble schemes. Thou shalt have, my brother, after all according to what thou art, and to what thou art fairly going for. If thou art a believer, to thee shall be the promise—thou shalt share the victories and spoils of thy Lord. If thou art a careless, godless worldling, to thee shall be the fruit of thy deeds, and sad and bitter shall be those grapes of Gomorrah that thou shalt have to eat. The husbandman waits with a reasonable hope; he does not look for grain where he has cast in garlic. Save then that thou art a fool, thou wilt like him count only on the fruit of thine own sowing.

     While he waits with a patient hope, he is no doubt all the more patient of the issue, because his hope is so reasonable. And not only does he wait with patience, but some stress is put upon the length of it; "and hath long patience for the precious fruit of the earth." Now, brethren in Christ, our waiting, if it be the work of the Holy Spirit, must have this long patience in it. Are you a sufferer? There are sweet fruits to come from suffering! "Not for the present seemeth it to be joyous but grievous, nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness unto them that are exercised thereby." Have long patience for those peaceable fruits. You shall be brought out of your trouble, deliverance will be found for you out of your affliction when the discipline for which you were brought into it has been fulfilled. Have lot patience, however, for not the first month does the husbandman find a harvest. If he has sown in the winter, he does not expect he will reap in the early spring: he does not go forth with his sickle in the month of May and expect to find golden sheaves. He waits. The moons wax and wane; suns rise and set; but the husbandman waits till the appointed time is come. Wait thou, O sufferer, till the night be over. Watch after watch thou hast already passed through; the morning breaketh. Tarry thou a little longer, for if the vision tarry it shall come. "Thou shalt stand in thy lot in the end of the days." Ere long thou shalt have a happy exit out of thy present trials. Are you a worker? Then you need as much patience in working as you do in suffering. We must not expect to see immediate results in all cases from the preaching of the Gospel, from the teaching of Scripture in our classes, from distributing religious literature, or from any other kind of effort. Immediate results may come. Sometimes they do, and they greatly cheer the worker; but it is given to some to wait long, like the husbandman, ere the fruit reaches maturity. Truth, like the grain of mustard seed, does not wax into a tree tomorrow being sown to-day: it takes its leisure. Or, like the leaven in the measure, it doth not work in the next moment; it must have its time. If you have some principle to teach that is now obnoxious, go on with it. Perhaps, you may never see it popular in your day. Do not mind the fickle winds or fret yourself because of the nipping frosts. Truth is mighty and it will prevail, though it may have a hard fight before it wins the victory. Souls may not be won to God the first time you pray for them, nor the first time you exhort them, nay, nor the twentieth time. If thou hast gone to a sinner once on Christ's errand and he has rejected thee, go again seven times; nay, go again seventy times seven; for if thou shouldst at last succeed by thy master's gracious help, it will well repay thee. The long, tedious winter of thy waiting will appear as a short span to look back upon when thou hast reaped the field of thy labor. The little patience that thou hadst to exert for a while will seem as nothing, like the travail of the mother when the man-child is born into the world. Hush, then, your sad complaints, and still your petulant wailings.

 

"O dreary life! we cry, O dreary life!

And still the generations of the birds

Sing thro' our sighing; and the flocks and herds

Serenely live while we are keeping strife."

 

Be patient, O worker, for impatience sours the temper, chills the blood, sickens the heart, prostrates the vigor of one's spirit, and spoils the enterprise of life before it is ripe for history. Wait thou, clothed with patience, like a champion clad in steel. Wait with a sweet grace, as one who guards the faith and sets an example of humility. Wait in a right spirit, anxious, prayerful, earnest submissive to the ways of God, not doubtful of his will. Disciple of Jesus, "learn to labor and to wait."

     With regard to the result of Christian obedience, the lesson is no less striking. The first thing that a farmer does by way seeking gain on his farm is to make a sacrifice which could seem immediately to entail on him a loss. He has some good wheat in the granary, and he takes out sacks full of it and buries it. He is so much the poorer, is not he? At any rate, there is so much the less to make bread for his household. He cannot get it again; it is under the clod, and there too it must die; for except it die, it bringeth not forth fruit. You must not expect as soon as you become a Christian, that you shall obtain all the gains of your religion, perhaps you may lose all that you have for Christ's sake. Some have lost their lives; they have sown their house and land, relatives, comfort, ease, and at last they have sown life itself in Christ's field, and they seemed for the time to be losers; but, verily I say unto you, this day, if you could see them in their white robes before the throne of God, rejoicing, you would see how rich a harvest they have reaped, and how the sowing which seemed a loss at first has ended, through God's abundant grace, in the greatest eternal gain. Have patience, brother, have patience. That is a false religion that aims at present worldly advantage. He who becomes religious for the loaves and fishes, when he hath eaten his loaves and fishes, hath devoured his religion. There is nothing in such piety but pretension. If thou canst be bought, thou canst be sold: if thou hast taken it up for gain, thou wilt lay it down for what promises thee a better bargain. Be willing to be a loser for Christ, and so prove thou art his genuine follower. The husbandman, I say, does not expect immediate reward, but reckons upon being a loser for a while. He waits, waits with long patience, for the precious fruit of the earth. It is a reasonable waiting on the outset, and not regretful when wearied and worried with delay.

     And, while the husbandman waits, you observe in the text he waits with his eye upward, he waits until God shall send him the early and the latter rain. He has wit enough for this; even if he be a worldly man he knows that the harvest depends not only on the seed he sows and on the soil he cultivates, but upon the rain which he cannot control; the rain that cometh at the bidding of the Almighty. If the skies be brass, the clods will be iron. Unless God shall speak to the clouds, and the clouds shall speak to the earth, the earth will not speak to the corn, and the corn will not make us speak the words of rejoicing. Every husbandman is aware of this, and every Christian must remember it. "I am to wait," says a sufferer, "for God's help and for the graces that come by affliction, but I must wait with my eye upward, for all the ploughing of affliction will not profit me, and all the sowing of meditation will not speed me, unless God send his gracious Spirit like showers of heavenly rain. If I am a worker, I must work. When I wait, I must wait always looking upward." The keys of the rain-clouds which water the earth hang at the girdle of Jehovah. None but the eternal Father can send the Holy Spirit like showers on the church. He can send the comforter, and my labor will prosper; it will not be in vain in the Lord; but if he deny, if he withold this covenant blessing, ah me! work is useless, patience is worthless, and all the cost is bootless: it is in vain. In spiritual, as in temporal things, "it is vain to rise up early and sit up late, and eat the bread of carefulness." "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it." We must have the dew, O God, or else our seed shall rot under the clod. We must wait, and wait with our eye upwards, or else our expectation will perish as a still-born child. So with regard to the comfort, and joy, and ultimate fruit of our faith, we must have our eye upward looking for the coming of the Lord from heaven, for the day of his appearing will be the day of our manifestation. Our life is hid with Christ now; when he shall appear we shall appear with him. When he shall be revealed in glory before the eyes of the assembled multitude, we shall be conspicuous in glory too. Not till then shall the fullness of the reward be bestowed, but the risen saints shall be glorified in the glorification of their coming Lord. Oh, for more of this living with the eyes upward, less minding of earthly things, and more looking for and hasting unto the coming of the Son of God!

     Note, however, that while the husbandman waits with his eye upward, he waits with his hands at work, engaged in restless toil. He sows, and it is a busy time. When he sees the green blade, what then? He has to work. Those weeds must not be suffered to outgrow the wheat and choke it. Up and down the field the laborer must go, and the husbandman must be at the expense of this, and all along until the wheat is ripened there is sure to be something to do in this field, so his eyes must be keen, his skill must be taxed, and no drudgery must be disdained. In all labor there is profit, but nothing is gained without pains. We look up to God. He will not accept the look of a sluggard. The eye that looks up to God must be attended with the hand that is ready for work. So if I suffer and expect the blessing for the suffering, I must spend solitary hours in my chamber seeking and searching; to wit, seeking in prayer, and searching God's Word for the blessing. If I am a worker, I must look to God for the result, but then I must also use all the means. In fact, the Christian should work as if all depended upon him, and pray as if it all depended upon God. He should be always nothing in his own estimation; yet he should be one of those gloriously active nothings of which God makes great use, for he treats the things that are not as though they were, and gets glory out of them. Yes, the husbandman waits. He cannot push on the months; he cannot hasten the time of the harvest home; but he does not wait in silence; in sluggishness and negligence; he keeps to his work and waits too. So do you, O Christian men! wait for the coming of your Lord, but let it be with your lamps trimmed and your lights burning, as good servants attending to the duties of the house, until the master of the house returns to give you the reward.

     The husbandman waits under changeful circumstances, and various contingences. At one time he sees the fair prospect of a good crop. The wheat has come up well. He has never seen more green springing from the ground; but, peradventure, it may be too-strong, and may need even to be put back. By-and-by, after long showers and cold nights, the wheat looks yellow, and he is half afraid about it. Anon there comes, or he fancies there is a blight or a black smut. Nobody knows what may happen. Only a farmer knows how his hopes and fears alternate and fluctuate from time to time. It is too hot, too cold; it is too dry; it is too wet; it is hardly ever quite right, according to his judgment, or rather according to his unbelief. He is full of changes in his mind because the season is full of changes. Yet he waits, he waits with patience. Ah dear friends, when we work for God, how often will this happen! I speak from no inconsiderable experience. There are always changes in the field of Christian labor. At one time we see many conversions, and we bless God that there are so many seals to our testimony. But some of the converts after a while disappoint us. There was the blossom, but it produced no fruit. Then there will come a season when many appear to backslide. The love of many waxes cold. Perhaps we have found in the church the black smut of heresy. Some deadly heresy creeps in, and the anxious husbandman fears there will be no harvest after all. Oh, patience, sir, patience. Ten thousand farmers' fears have been disappointed this year. Many a fretful expression and murmuring word need to be repented of, as the farmer has looked at last upon the well-filled ear, and the heavy wheat sheaf. So, too, mayhap, O evangelical worker, it will be with you. When God shall give you a rich return for all you have done for him, you will blush to think you ever doubted; you will be ashamed to think you ever grew weary in his service. You shall have your regard. Not to-morrow, so wait: not the next day perhaps, so be patient. You may be full of doubts one day, your joys sink low. It may be rough windy breather with you in your spirit. You may even doubt whether you are the Lord's, but if you have rested in the name of Jesus, if by the grace of God you are what you are, if he is all your salvation, and all your desire,—have patience; have patience, for the reward will surely come in God's good time. Now this is how the husbandman waits, and becomes to us the model of patience.

     II. Very briefly, in the second place, we have to ask, WHAT DOES THE HUSBANDMAN WAIT FOR? for we are in this respect like him. He waits for results, for real results; right results; he hopes also rich results. And this is just what we are waiting for—waiting as sufferers for the results of sanctified affliction. May those results be read; may they be right; may they be rich. Oh that we might have every virtue strengthened, every grace refined, by passing through the furnace. There are great blessings connected with patient endurance as in Job's case. He had a plenteous harvest, may we have the same. And you workers, you must work for results, for, though conversion is the work of God, it is in many cases as clearly a product of the holy living, the devout teaching, and the fervent praying of his servants, as any collect can be the result from a cause. Go on, go on, and may you have real conversions—not pretended conversions—not such as are sometimes chronicled in newspapers— "fifty-one conversions of an evening"—as if anybody knew! May there be real conversions, and ripe fruits for Jesus, in the growth and advance of those who are converted, and may many of them turn out to be such fruit-bearing Christians when they are matured in, grace, that the richest result in the prosperity of the Church may come to you from all your work. You are waiting for results. And you are, also, dear brethren, like the husbandman, waiting for a reward. All the while till the harvest comes, he has nothing but outlay. From the moment he sows, it is all outgoing until he sells his crops, and then, recovering at once the principal and the interest, he gets his reward. In this world, look not for a recompense. You may have a grateful acknowledgment in the peace, and quiet, and contentment of your own spirit, but do not expect even that from your fellow-men. The pure motive of any man who serves his generation well is generally misrepresented. As a rule the lounger looks on at the laborer not to praise but to blame him: not to cheer him but to chide him. The less he does, the less he will be open to rebuke, and the more he does oftentimes, and the more vigorously, the more he shall be upbraided. Look not for your reward here. Suppose men praise you, what is their praise worth? It would not fill your nostrils if you were about to die. The approbation of those who have neither skill nor taste—what pleasure can it afford the artist? Should one stoop for it, or, having it, lift his head the higher? Our reward is the approbation of God, which he will give of his abundant grace. He first gives us good works, as one observes, and then rewards us for those good works, as if they were altogether our own. He gives rewards though they are not a debt, but altogether of grace. Look for the reward hereafter. Wait a bit, man, wait a bit; your reward is not yet. Wait till the week is over, and then shall come the wage. Wait until the sun is gone down, and then there will be the penny for every laborer in the vineyard. Not yet, not yet, not yet. The husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth. This is what we wait for.

     III. Thirdly, WHAT IS THE HUSBANDMAN'S ENCOURAGEMENT IN WAITING? Well, he has many.

     The first is, that the fruit he waits for is precious. He waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth. It is worth waiting for. Who that walks through a corn field, such corn fields as we have seen this year, where the crops are plentiful, but will say, "Well, this was, after all, worth all the trouble and all the expense, and all the long patience of that winter which is over and gone?" If the Lord should draw you near unto himself by your affliction, if he should make his image in you more clear, it will be worth waiting for. And if, after your labors he should give you some soul for your reward, oh, will it not repay you? Mother, if your dear child should after all be brought back from his sinful ways to love his Saviour! Sunday-school teacher, if some of those little girls should love the name of Jesus, and you should live to see them honored members of the Church of God, will it not be worth waiting for? It there worth while to preach every Sabbath for a million years, if but one soul were brought in at last. I remember Mr. Richard Knill saying, if there were one unconverted person, and he were in Siberia, and God had ordained that he should only be saved by all the Christians in all the world (and that would be a vast number), all of them making a journey to Siberia to talk with him, it would be worth all the trouble if the soul were at length brought in. And so it would. We may wait, therefore, with patience, because the reward of our labor will be precious. Above all, the reward of hearing the master say, "Well done, good and faithful servant," is worth waiting for! Even now to get a word from him is quite enough to cheer us on, though he a soft, still voice that speaks it, but oh, the joy of that loud voice "Well done.

     It were worth going through a thousand perils by land and by sea to come out and win that "Well done." We might count it worth while to face the lions of hell and do battle with Apollyon himself, to snatch but one poor lamb from between their jaws. It were worth while to do all that I say, if we might hear the Master say to us, "Well done," at the last. This then encourages us, as well as the husbandman—the preciousness of the fruit.

     A godly husbandman waits with patience, again, because he knows God's covenant. God has said "seed time and harvest, summer and winter, shall not cease," and the Christian farmer knowing, this is confident. But oh, what strong confidences have we who have looked to Christ, and who are resting on the faithful word of a covenant God. He cannot fail us. It is not possible that he should suffer our faith to be confounded. "Heaven and earth may pass away," and they shall, but his word shall not fail. They that sow in faith shall reap abundantly. The glory shall be theirs. And, brother workers, if we do not for a time see all the results we expect, yet the Lord has said, "Surely all flesh shall see the salvation of God." The day must come when the dwellers in the wilderness shall bow before him and lick the dust. "He has set his king upon his holy hill of Zion," and they that said, "Let us break their bands asunder, and cast their cords from us," will have to submit themselves and lick the dust at his feet. Have courage, therefore. The covenant stands good, the harvest must come as surely as the seed time has come.

     Moreover, every husbandman is encouraged by the fact, that he has seen other harvests. I suppose if the farmer had never heard of a harvest, and had never seen one, it would take some considerable persuasion to get him to sow his seed. But then he knows his father sowed seed and his grandsire, and that the race of men in all generations have put their seed under the clods as an act of faith, and God has accepted their faith, and sent them a return. And, O brethren, have not we multitudes of instances to confirm our confidence? Let us cheerfully resign ourselves to the Lord's will in suffering, for as others of his saints who went before us have reaped the blessing, so shall we. Let us work on for our Lord and Master, knowing that apostles and confessors, and a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before, have seen great results, and so shall we. Let us patiently tarry till the Lord come, for as in the first coming those that waited for him rejoiced, so shall those who are found watching and waiting at his second advent. We have not only the promise of God, but that promise fulfilled to tens of thousands who have preceded us, therefore, we should be ashamed to be impatient, rather let us patiently wait and work on, till the day breaketh, and the harvest cometh.

     IV. And now, brethren, do you ask, WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF PATIENCE? To patiently wait God's appointed time is our business. I have shown you how we are to wait, but note this, whatever benefit there may be in patience, it is very clear there is none in impatience. Suppose a man should be impatient under suffering. Will it diminish his suffering? Will it increase the probabilities of his restoration? We all know that the irritability of temper which is caused by impatience, is one of the difficulties which the physician has to battle with. When the patient is calm there is a better chance of his recovery. If we were near impatient till there was any good to be derived from our fretfulness, we should not be impatient just yet. There is a story told of Mr. Hill being on board a vessel once. It is said he heard the mate swear, and afterwards he heard the captain use a profane oath. I think Mr. Hill interposed as the captain was about to swear again, and said, "No, no, let us be fair, let us have everything turn and turn about. Your mate has sworn, and you have had an oath. Now it is my turn—my turn to swear." The captain looked at him somewhat astonished, and could not but admit that there was a degree of rightness and propriety in every man having his turn. However, Mr. Hill did not swear, and the captain said, "I suppose, sir, you don't mean to take your turn, you don't mean to swear." "Oh, yes," said the good old man, "I mean to swear as soon as ever I can see the good of it." We might do the same by our impatience brethren. Let us be impatient as soon as ever we can see the use it will serve. If the farmer should want rain just now, his impatience would not influence the clouds and make them pour out their torrents. If your child happened to be very petulant, and have a very noisy tongue, and a mischievous disposition, the mother's impatience would not calm the child, control its temper, still its fitful passion, or subdue its stubborn humor. Whatever happens to you, there is nothing can happen to you worse than your being impatient, for of all troubles in the world that one can be troubled with, an impatient spirit is about the worst. O that ye would endeavor to conquer impatience. It cast Satan out of heaven, when he was impatient at the honor and dignity of the Son of God. He was impatient at being a servant to his Maker, and was driven from his high estate. Let us be rid of impatience which made Cain kill his brother, and which has done a thousand mischievous things since. May God grant us like the husbandman patiently to watch and wait.

     But the benefits of patience are too many for me to hope to enumerate them. Suffice it to say, patience saves a man from great discouragement. If I expect that God will bless my labors to a large extent the first month, and so strain every nerve and toil with every sinew till my strength is ready to yield, and my spirit begins to flag; and the blessing does not come at the time I looked for; I shall be disheartened. But, if I expect some result, a great result in God's appointed week of harvest, even though I may not count on seeing it myself at once; I shall keep on renewing my labors, reviving my hopes, and encouraging myself in the Lord my God. Surely a farmer would give up his farm in sheer despair if he expected a harvest in a month's time after sowing. He would be month after month in a very sad way, if waiting to see it were not a condition for which he was thoroughly prepared. If you expect an interval during which your patience will be tried, you will not grow discouraged, because it is absolutely requisite that you should wait. Expect to wait for the glory; expect to wait for the reward which God hath promised; and, while you are waiting on the Lord your bread shall be certain, and your water shall be sure: you shall often eat meat, thank God, and take courage. The short days and long nights shall not be all charged with gloom, but full often they shall be tempered with good cheer. When we patience it keeps us in good heart for service. A man to whom it is given to wait for a reward keeps up his courage, and when he has to wait, he says, "It is no more than I expected. I never reckoned that I was to slay my enemy at the first blow. I never imagined that I was to capture the city as soon as ever I had digged the first trench; I reckoned upon waiting, and now that is come, I find that God gives me the grace to fight on and wrestle on, till the victory shall come." And patience saves a man from a great deal of haste and folly. A hasty man never is a wise man. He is wise that halts a little, and ponders his ways, especially when adversity crosses his path. I have known brethren in the ministry get discouraged and leave their pulpits, and repent as long as ever they lived that they left a sphere of labor, where they ought to have toiled on. I have known Christian people get discouraged, and touchy, and angry, fall out with the church of which they were members, go out in the wilderness, and leave the fat pastures behind them. They have only had to regret all their lives, that they had not a little more patience with their brethren, and with the circus stances which surrounded them. Whenever you are about to do anything in a great hurry, pause and pray. The hot fever in your own system ill fits you to act discreetly. While you tarry for a more healthy temperature of your own feelings, there may be a great change in the thermometer outside as to the circumstances that influence you. Great haste makes little speed. He that believeth shall not make haste; and as the promise runs, he shall never be confounded.

     Above all, patience is to be commended to you because it glorifies God. The man that can wait, and wait calmly, astonishes the wordling, for the worldling wants it now. You remember John Bunyan's pretty parable (as you all know it, I will only give the outline)—of Passion and Patience. Passion would have all his best things first, and one came in, and lavished before him out of a bag all that the child could desire. Patience would have his best things last, and Patience sat and waited, so when Passion had used up all his joy, and all he sought for, Patience came in for his portion, and as John Bunyan very well remarked, there is nothing to come after the last, and so the portion of Patience lasted for ever. Let me have my best things last, my Lord, and my worst things first. Be they what they may, they shall be over, and then my best things shall last for ever and for ever. He that can wait has faith, and it is faith that marks the true Christian. He that can wait hath grace, and it is grace that marks the child of God. O that the Lord would grant to every one of you more and more of this excellent grace of patience, to the praise and glory of his name.

     I have well nigh done. Yet there is one other respect in which our case is like that of the husbandman. As the season advances, his anxieties are prone to increase rather than to abate. If he has had long need of patience while the seasons have succeeded each other, and while organic chances have been in course of development, surely there is a stronger denoted on his patience as the crisis approaches when he shall reap the produce. How anxiously at this season will he observe the skies, watch the clouds, and wait the opportune time to get in his crops and garner them in good condition! Is there no peril that haunts him lest, after all, the blast or the mildew should cheat his hopes; lest fierce winds should lay the full-grown stems prostrate on the ground; lest then the pelting showers of rain should drench the well-filled ears of corn? I might almost call this the husbandman's last fear, and yet the most nervous fear that agitates his mind. In like manner, beloved, we have a closing scene in prospect which may, and will in all probability, involve a greater trial of faith, and a sterner call for patience, than any or all of the struggles through which we have already passed. Perhaps I can best describe it to you by quoting two passages of Scripture, one specially addressed to workers, the other more particularly to sufferers. For the first of these texts; you will find it in Hebrews 10:35-36. "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye may receive the promise." This is sweet counsel for thee, O pilgrim, to Zion's city bound. When thou wast young and strong, thou didst walk many a weary mile with that staff of promise. It helped thee over the ground. Don't throw it aside as useless, now that thou art old and infirm. Lean upon it. Rest upon that promise, in thy present weakness, which lightened thy labor in the days of thy vigor. "Cast not away your confidence." But, brethren, there is something more. The Apostle says, "Ye have need of patience, after ye have done the will of God." But, why, you will say, is patience so indispensable at this juncture of experience? Doubtless you all know that we are never so subject to impatience as when there is nothing we can do. All the while the farmer is occupied with ploughing, harrowing, tilling, drilling, hoeing, and the like, he is too busy to be fretful. It is when the work is done, and there is nothing more to occupy his hands, that the very leisure he has to endure gives occasion to secret qualms and lurking cares. So it ever is with us. While "we are laborers together with God," our occupation is so pleasant that we little heed the toil and moil of hard service. But when it comes to a point where we have no province, for it is "God that giveth the increase," we are apt to be grievously distrustful; our unbelief finds full play. Hence it is, brethren, that after our fight is fought, after our race is run, after our allotted task is finished, there is so much need of patience, of such patience as waits only on God and watches unto prayer, that we may finish our course with joy and the ministry we have received of the Lord Jesus. And what about the second text? Where is that to be found? It is in the early part of this epistle of James. Turn to James 1:4. "Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." Oh, how indisposed we all of us are to take this advice! Methinks I see Paul retiring thrice to wrestle with God in prayer, that he would remove the thorn from his flesh. He felt the rankling, and he craved for relief. He had hardly thought of it as a seton that must irritate before it could relieve, or as a medicine that must gripe before it could head. But oh, patience is then wrought up to its climax, when the soul so accepts the chastisement from the hand of God that she cannot, and will not, ask him to change his treatment or alter his discipline.

     Seemeth it not as though patience were a virtue par excellence which puts the last polish on Christian chastity? We will hie us back to the cornfields again: I am afraid we were forgetting them. But this time we will not talk so much with the farmer as with the crops. Knowest thou then what it is that gives that bright yellow tinge of maturity to those blades which erst were green and growing? What, think you, imparts that golden hue to the wheat? How do you suppose the husbandman judges when it is time to thrust in the sickle? I will tell you. All the while the corn was growing, those hollow stems served as ducts that drew up nourishment from the soil. At length the process of vegetation is fulfilled. The fibres of the plant become rigid; they cease their office; down below there has been a failure of the vital power which is the precursor of death. Henceforth the heavenly powers work quick and marvellous changes; the sun paints his superscription on the ears of grain. They have reached the last stage: having fed on the riches of the soil long enough, they are only influenced from above. The time of their removal is at hand, when they shall be cut down, carried away in the team, and housed in the garners. So, too, beloved in the Lord, it is with some of you. Do I speak as a prophet? Do I not rather echo a trite observation? "The fall of the year is most thickly strewn with the fall of human life." You have long been succoured with mercies that have come up from mother-earth; you have been exposed to cold dews, chilling frosts, stormy blasts; you have had the trial of the vapory fog, the icy winter, the fickle spring, and the summer drought; but it is nearly all over now. You are ready to depart. Not yet for a brief space has the reaper come. "Ye have need of patience." Having suffered thus far, your tottering frame has learnt to bend. Patience, man—patience! A mighty transformation is about to be wrought on you in a short space. Wait on the Lord. Holiness shall now be legibly, more legibly than ever, inscribed on your forefront by the clear shining of the Sun of Righteousness. The heavenly husbandman has you daily, hourly, in his eye, till he shall say to the angel of his presence, "Put in your sickle." Then, as we pronounce your obituary with the meed of praise due to one in whom God has wrought a perfect work, we shall record that you were patient under affliction, resigned to the will of the Lord, and ready to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better. Patience has had her perfect work: you lack nothing. God grant unto you this gracious "nunc dimittis" when your time for ingathering has come!

     Now, I have only spoken to believers, because as I have already said, the unbeliever cannot wait with patience, for he has nothing to wait for. There is nothing for him but a fearful looking for of judgment. Oh, it must be an awful thing to go from a life of poverty, or of suffering, or of drudgery here, into the world where the wrath of God abideth for ever. It matters not what your position here may be, if at the end you enter into rest. Equally little does it matter what joys or wealth you have here, if after all you are driven from the Lord's presence. May you be led to believe in Jesus. There lies safety. May you rest in his precious blood. There is pardon; there is salvation. God grant it, for Christ's sake Amen.



Sleep Not

By / Feb 3

Sleep Not

 

"Let us not sleep, as do others."—1 Thessalonians 5:6

 

     We do not usually sleep towards the things of this world. We rise up early, and sit up late, and eat the bread of carefulness, for Mammon's sake. In this age of competition, most men are wide enough awake for their temporal interests; but, so is it, partly through our being in this body, and partly through our dwelling in a sinful world, that we are all of us very apt to sleep concerning the interests of our souls. We drive like Jehu for this present world, but loiter for the world to come. Nothing so much concerns us as eternity, and yet nothing so little affects us. We work for the present world, and we play with the world to come. Quaint old Quarles long ago likened us to roebucks as to earth, and snails as to hearer; and then he oddly enough rebuked this fault in rugged verse:—

 

"Lord, when we leave the world and come to thee,

How dull, how slur, are we!

How backward! How prepost'rous is the motion

Of our ungain devotion!

Our thoughts are millstones, and our souls are lead,

And our desires are dead:

Our vows are fairly promis'd, faintly paid,

Or broken, or not made.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    

Is the road fair, we loiter; clogged with mire,

We stick or else retire;

A lamb appeals a lion, and we fear

Each bush we see's a bear.

When our dull souls direct our thoughts to thee,

As slow as snails are we;

But at the earth we dart our winged desire,

We burn—we burn like fire!"

 

     A piece of news about a fire in another continent makes a sensation in all our homes, but the fire that never shall be quenched is heard of almost without emotion. The discovery of a gold-field will affect half the markets in the world, and send a thrill through the public pulse; but when we speak of that blessed city where the streets are of gold, how coolly men take it all, regarding it as though it were a pretty fiction, and as it only the things which are seen were worthy of their notice.

     We sleep when heavenly things and eternal things are before us. Alas! that it should be so. Even those choice spirits which have been awakened by the Holy Ghost, and not only awakened into life, but aroused into ardor, have to complain that their fervor very frequently is chilled. I was recommended to try a pillow of hops to obtain sleep during my late illness, but I find now that I want a waking pillow rather than a sleeping pillow; and I am of the same mired as that ancient saint who preferred a roaring devil to a sleepy devil. How earnest, how diligent, how watchful, how heavenly ought he to be, but how much are we the reverse of all this. When in this respect we would do good, evil is present with us. We would have our hearts like a furnace for Christ, and, behold, the coals refuse to burn. We would be living pillars of light and fire, but we rather resemble smoke and mist. Alas! alas! alas! that when we would mount highest, our wings are clipped, and when we would serve God best, the evil heart of unbelief mars the labor. I knew it would be seasonable—I hoped it might be profitable if I spake a little to you to-night, and to myself in so doing, concerning the need that there is, that we shake ourselves from slumber, and leave the sluggard's couch.

     I intend to take the text in reference first to those who are born again from the dead, and secondly, in reference to those who are still in the terrors slumber of their sin; and I shall gather my illustrations to-night from no remote region, but from the self-same Word of God, from which I take the text. The text says, "Let Us not sleep, as do others." We will mention some "others," whose histories are recorded in Scripture, who have slept to their own injury, and I pray you let them be warnings to you.

     I. First, to those of you who are THE PEOPLE OF GOD, let me say, "Let us not sleep, as do others."

     1. First, let us not sleep as those disciples did who went with their Lord to the garden, and fell a slumbering while he was agonizing. Let us not be as the eight who slept at a distance, nor as the highly-favored three, who were admitted into the more secret chamber of our Lord's woes, and were allowed to tread the precincts of the most holy place where he poured out his soul, and sweat as it were great drops of blood. He found them sleeping, and though he awakened them, they slept again and again. "What, could ye not watch with me one hour?" was his gentle expostulation. They were slumbering for sorrow. Though our Lord might in our case make an excuse for us as he did for them—"The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak,"—let us endeavor by his grace not to need such an apology, by avoiding their fault. "Let us not sleep, as do others." But, beloved fellow Christians, are not the most of us sleeping as the apostles did? Behold our Master's zeal for the salvation of the sons of men! Throughout all his life, he seemed to have no rest. From the moment when his ministry began he was ever toiling, laboring, denying himself. It was his meat and his drink to do the will of him that sent him. Truly he might have taken for his life's motto,—"Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" So intent was he on saving souls, that he counted not his life dear unto him. He would lay it down, and that amidst circumstances of the greatest pain and ignominy; anything and everything would he do to seek and to save that which was lost. Zeal for his chosen church, which was God's house, had eaten him up: for his people's sakes he could bear all the reproaches of them that reproached God, and though that reproach broke his heart, yet still he persevered and ceased not till salvation's work was done. He was incessant in toil and suffering, but, what are we?

     There is our Lord, our great Exemplar, before us now. Behold him in Gethsemane! imagination readily sees him amid the olives. I might say, that his whole life was pictured in that agony in the garden, for in a certain sense it was all an agony. It was all a sweating, not such as distils from those who purchase the staff of life by the sweat of their face, but such as he must feel who purchased life itself with the agony of his heart. The Saviour, as I see him throughout the whole of his ministry, appears to me on his knees pleading, and before his God agonising—laying out his life for the sons of men. But, brethren, do I speak harshly when I say that the disciples asleep are a fit emblem of our usual life? As compared or rather contrasted with our Master, I fear it is so. Where is our zeal for God? Where is our compassion for men? Do we ever feel the weight of souls as we ought to feel it? Do are ever melt in the presence of the terrors of God which we know to be coming upon others? Have we realised the passing away of an immortal spirit to the judgment bar of God? Have we felt pangs and throes of sympathy when we have remembered that multitudes of our fellow creatures have received, as their eternal sentence, the words— "Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire in hell, prepared for the devil and his angels?" Why, if these thoughts really possessed us, we should scarce sleep; if they became as real to us as they were to him, we should wrestle with God for souls as he did, and become willing to lay down our lives, if by any means we might save some. I see by the eve of faith, at this moment, Jesus pleading at the mercy-seat. "For Zion's sake," he saith, "I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest;" and yet, we around him lie asleep, without self-denying activity, and almost without prayer, missing opportunities, or, when opportunities for doing good have been seized, using them with but a slothful hand, and doing the work of the Lord, if not deceitfully, yet most sluggishly. Brethren, "let us not sleep, as do others." If it be true that the Christian Church is to a great extent asleep, the more reason why we should be awake; and, if it be true, as I fear it is, that we have ourselves slumbered and slept, the more reason now that we should arise and trim our lamps, and go forth to meet the Bridegroom. Let us from this moment begin to serve our Master and his church more nearly after the example which he himself has set us in his consecrated life and blessed death. Let us not sleep then, as did the disciples at Gethsemane.

 

"O thou, who in the garden's shade,

Didst wake thy weary ones again,

Who slumbered at that fearful hour,

Forgetful of thy pain;

Bend o'er us now, as over them

And set our sleep-bound spirits free;

Nor leave us slumbering in the watch

Our souls should keep with thee!"

 

     2. A second picture we select from that portion of the inspired page which tells us of Samson. Let us not sleep, as that ancient Hebrew hero did, who, while he slept, lost his locks, lost his strength, by-and-by lost his liberty, lost his eyes, and ultimately lost his life. I have spoken under the first head of our slumbering in respect to others; but, here, I come to ourselves. In our slumbering with respect to ourselves, Samson is the sad picture of many professors. We are about to sketch a portrait of one whom we knew in years gone by. He was "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." Years ago, the man we picture—and it is no fancy portrait, for we have seen many such—when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, did mighty things, and we looked on and wondered, yea, we envied him, and we said, "Would God we had an hour of such strength as has fallen upon him." He was the leader among the weak, and often infused courage into faint hearts; but where is he now? All our Israel knew him, for his name was a tower of strength; and our enemies knew him too, for he was a valiant man in battle. Where is this hero now? We hear little of him now in the fields of service where once he glorified his God and smote the enemies of Israel; we do not meet him now at the prayermeeting, or in the Sunday-school, or at the evangelist station. We hear nothing of his seeking for souls. Surely, he has gone to sleep. He thinks that he has much spiritual goods laid up for many years, and he is now taking his rest. He has had his share, he says, of labor, and the time has come now for him to take a little ease. It is our loss and his peril that he has allowed himself to fall into such a drowsy condition. O that we could bestir him!

 

"Break his bonds of sleep asunder—

Rouse him with a peal of thunder."

 

Alas! carnal security is a Delilah always. It gives us many a dainty kiss, and lulls us into tranquil slumbers which we imagine to be God's own peace, whereas the peace of fascination and of satanic enchantment is upon us. Yes, we have seen the good man: we could not doubt that he had been both good and great: yet we have seen him lying asleep. And, perhaps, some of us who have never been so distinguished or done so much, though, nevertheless, in our own small way we have done something for God, and yet we too lie in Delilah's lap. Blessed be his name who has not suffered us to lead quite a useless life; but possibly we are degenerating and getting now to take things more easily than we did. In our fancied wisdom, we half rebuke what we call our "juvenile zeal." We are prudent now and wise; would God we were not prudent and not wise, and were as foolish as we used to be when we loved our God with zeal so great, that nothing was hard and nothing was difficult, if we were called upon to do it for his name's sake. Now, what do I see in Samson while he lies asleep in Delilah's lap. I see peril of the deadliest sort. The Philistines are not asleep. When the good man slumbers and ceases to watch, Satan does not slumber, and temptations do not cease to waylay him. There are the Philistines looking on, while you see the razor softly stealing over the champion's head. Those locks, bushy end black as a raven, fall thickly on the ground; one by one the razor shears them all away till the Nazarite has lost the hair of his consecration. I am terribly fearful lest this should happen to ourselves. Our strength lies in our faith. That is our Samsonian lock. Take that away, and we are as weak as other men, ay, and weaker still; for Samson was weaker than the weakest when his hair was gone, though aforetime stronger than the strongest. By degrees, it may be, Satan is stealing away all our spiritual strength. Oh! if it be my case, I shall come up into this pulpit and I shall preach to you, and shake myself, as I have done aforetime, and perhaps expect to see sinners saved, but there will be none. And, possibly, some of you also, when you awake a little, will go forth to preach in the streets or to seek after men's souls as you have done before, but, alas, you will find the Philistines will bind you, and that your strength has passed away while you slept; your glory has gone—gone amidst the deluding dreams which lulled you—gone not to come back except with bitterest grief, with eyes, perhaps, put out for ever. Many backsliders will die thanking God, if ever their strength returns to them, and perhaps it never may till their dying hour. Oh, brethren! warned by what has happened, not to Samson only, but to many of the Lord's greatest champions, "Let us not sleep, as do others."

     3. Now we change the picture again. It is the same subject under other forms. You remember our Saviour's parable concerning the tares and the wheat. There was an enclosure which was reserved for wheat only, but, while men slept, the enemy came and sowed tares among the good corn. Now, you who are members of the Church of Christ need not that I should enter into a full explanation of the parable; neither is this the time, but it will suffice to say that when false doctrines and unholy practices have crept into a church, the secret cause of the mischief has usually been that the church itself was asleep. Those who ought to have been watchmen, and to have guarded the field, slept, and so the enemy had ample time to enter and scatter tares among the wheat.

     Now, my last illustration spoke to you of your own dangers, this ought to appeal to you with equal force, because it concerns dangers incident to that which is dearest to you, I hope, of anything upon earth, namely, the church of the living God. An unwatchful church will soon become an unholy church. A church which does not carefully guard the truth as it is in Jesus, will become an unsound church, and, consequently, a degenerate church. It will grieve the Holier Spirit, and cause him to remove his power from the ministry and his presence from the ordinances. It will open the door for Satan, and he is quite sure to avail himself of every opportunity of doing mischief. I believe that the only way after all in any church, to purge out heresy in it, is by having more of the inner life; by this fire in Zion shall the chaff be burned up. When the constitution of a man is thoroughly sound, it throws out many of those diseases which otherwise would have lingered in his system; and good physicians sometimes do not attempt to touch the local disease but they do their best to strengthen the general constitution' and when that is right, then the cure is wrought. So, here and there, there may be a defalcation in the one point—that of doctrine, or in the other— as to an affair of practice; and so it may be necessary to deal with the disordered limb of doctrine, or you may have to cut out the cancer of an evil custom; but, as a rule, the main cure of a church comes by strengthening its inner life. When we live near to Jesus, when we drink from the fountain-head of eternal truth and purity, when we become personally true and pure, then our watchfulness is, under God, our safeguard, and heresy, false doctrine, and unclean profession are kept far away. Sleeping guards invite the enemy. He who leaves his door unlocked asks the thief to enter. Watchfulness is always profitable, and slothfulness is always dangerous.

     Members of this church, I speak to you in particular, and forget for the moment that any others are present. We have enjoyed these many years the abiding dew of God's Spirit, shall we lose it? God has been in our midst, and thousands of souls, By, tens of thousands of souls have been brought to Jesus, and God has never taken away his hand, but it has been stretched out still; shall we by sinful slumber sin away this blessing? I am jealous over you with a holy jealousy. Trembling has taken hold on me, lest ye lose your first love. "Hold fast," O church, "that which thou hast received, that no man take thy crown." Our sins will grieve the Spirit; our sleepiness will vex the Holy One of Israel. Unless we wake up to more earnest prayerfulness and to closer fellowship with Christ, it may be we shall hear the sound such as Joseph us tells us was observed at the destruction of Jerusalem, when there was heard the rustling of wings and the voice that said "Let Us go hence." O Lord, though our sins deserve that thou shouldst forsake us, yet turn not away from us, for thy mercy sake! Tarry, Jehovah, for the sake of the precious blood! Tarry with us still! Depart not from us. We deserve that thou shouldst withdraw, but, oh! forsake not the people whom thou hast chosen! By all the love thou hast manifested towards us, continue thy lovingkindness to thine unworthy servants still. Is not that your prayer, you that love the Church of God? I know it is, not for this church only, but for all others where the power and presence of God have been felt. Pray continually for the church, but remember this is the practical exhortation arising out of it all—"Let us not sleep, as do others," lest in our case too, the enemy come and mar the harvest of our Master by sowing, tares among the wheat.

     4. Only one other picture, and a very solemn one, still addressing myself to God's people. We are told that while the bridegroom tarried, the virgins who had gone out to meet him slumbered and slept. O virgin hearts! "Let us not sleep, as do others." When the cry was heard—"Behold, the bridegroom cometh," they were all slumbering, wise and foolish alike, O ye wise virgins who have oil in your vessels your lamps, "sleep not, as do others," lest the midnight cry come upon you unawares. The Lord Jesus may come in the night. He may come in the heavens with exceeding great power and glory, before the rising of another sun; or, he may tarry awhile, and yet though it should seem to us to be long, he will come quickly, for one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. Suppose, however, he were to come to-night; if now, instead of going along to your homes and seeing once more the streets busy with traffic, the sign of the Son of Man should be revealed in the air, because the king had come in his glory, and his holy angels with him, would you be ready? I press home the question. The Lord may suddenly come; are you ready? Are you ready? You who profess to be his saints—are your loins girt up, and your lamps trimmed? Could you go in with him to the supper, as guests who have long expected him, and say, "Welcome, Welcome Son of God?" Have you not much to set in order? are there not still many things undone? Would you not be afraid to hear the midnight cry? Happy are those souls who live habitually with Jesus, who have given themselves up completely to the power of his indwelling Spirit—who follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. "They shall walk with him in white for they are worthy." Wise are they who live habitually beneath the influence of the Second Advent, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the Son of God. We would have our window opened towards Jerusalem; we would sit as upon our watch-tower whole nights; we would be ready girt to go out of this Egypt at a moment's warning. We would be of that host of God who shall go out harnessed, in the time appointed, when the signal is given. God grant us grace to be found in that number in the day of his appearing; but, "Let us not sleep, as do others." I might say, let us not sleep as we have done ourselves. God forgive us and arouse us from this good hour.

     I feel as if I did not want to go on to the second part of my subject at all, but were quite content to stand here and speak to you who love the Lord. Brethren and sisters, we must have an awakening among us. I feel within my soul that I must be awakened myself, and my oven necessities are, I believe, a very accurate gauge of what is wanted by the most of you. Shall our season of triumph, our march of victory, come to an end? Will you turn back after all that God has done for you? Will you limit the Holy One of Israel? Will you cease from the importunities of prayer? Will you pause in the labors of zeal? Will you bring dishonor upon Christ and upon his cross? By the living God who sleepeth not, neither is weary in his deeds of love, I beseech you, slumber not, and be not weary nor faint in your mind. "Be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.'

     II. But I must pass on to the second part of our subject. I have now to speak TO THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE NOT CONVERTED; and if I felt as I ought to feel, it would be sorrowful work even to remember that any of you are yet unsaved. I like to see these little children here. I pray God they may grow up to fear and love him, and that their young hearts may be given to our dear Lord and Master while they are yet boys and girls. But I overlook them just now, and speak to some of you who have had many years of intelligent hearing of the word, and are still unsaved. Pitiable objects! You do not think so; but I repeat the word, Pitiable objects! The tears which flood my eyes almost prevent my seeing you. You fancy you are very merry and happy, but you are to be pitied, for "the wrath of God abideth on you." "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the Son of God." You will soon be where no pity can help you, and where the Lord himself will not help you. May God give you ears to hear the words of affectionate warning which I address to you now! "Let us not sleep, as do others."

     I beg you not to sleep, as did Jonah. He was in the vessel, you remember, when it was tossed with the tempest, and all the rest in the vessel were praying, but Jonah was asleep. Every man called upon his God except the man who had caused the storm. He was the most in danger, but he was the most careless. The ship-master and mate, and crew, all prayed, every man to his god, but Jonah carelessly slept on. Now, do you not some of you here live in houses where they all pray but you? You have a godly mother, but are yourself godless. John, you have a Christian father, and brothers and sisters, too, whom Christ has looked upon in love, and they pray for you continually. But the strange thing is, that your soul is the only one in the house which remains unblest, and yet you are the only one who feels no anxiety or fear about the matter. There are many of us in this house who can honestly say that we would give anything we have, if we could save your souls we do not know what we would not do, but we know we would do all in our power, if we could but reach your consciences and your hearts. I stand often in this pulpit almost wishing that I had never been born, because of the burden and distress it brings upon my soul to think of some of you who will die and be lost for ever. Lost, though you love to listen to the preacher! Lost, though you sometimes resolve to be saved! We are praying for you daily, but you,—you are asleep! What do you, while we are preaching but criticise our words, as if we discoursed to you as a piece of display, and did not mean to plead as for life and death with you, that you would escape from the wrath to come. Observations will be made by the frivolous among you during the most solemn words, about some-one's dress or personal appearance. Vain minds will be gadding upon the mountains of folly, while those, who are not, by far, so immediately concerned, are troubled and have deep searchings of heart about those very souls. I believe God is going to send a revival into this place; I have that conviction growing upon me, but it may be that though the gracious wave may sweep over the congregation, it will miss you. It has missed you up to this hour. Around you all the floor is wet, but you, like Gideon's fleece, are dry, and you sleep though the blessing comes not upon you,—sleep though sleep involves a certain and approaching curse. O slumbering Jonah, in the name of the Host High, I would say to thee, "Awake thou that steepest, and call upon thy God. Peradventure, he shall deliver thee, and this great tempest shall yet be stayed." Yea, I would put it above a peradventure, for they that seek the Lord shall find him, if they seek him with full purpose of heart.

     Let us change the illustration now, and take another. You remember Solomon's sluggard. What did he? It was morning, and the sun was up; ay, the dawning of the day had passed some hours, and he had not yet gone forth to labor. There was a knock at his door, and he opened his eyes a little; he listened and he said, "Leave me alone." "But will you never get up?" "Yes, I will be up soon; but I want a little more sleep—only a little." Then came another knock, for his master would have him in the field at work; but he turned over again, and he grumbled within himself, and said, "A little more slumber." He slept hour after hour. Yes, but he did not mean to sleep hours; all he intended was to sleep five minutes; but minutes fly rapidly to men who dream. If at the first onset he had known that if he fell asleep he would slumber till noon, he would have been shocked at such abominable laziness. But what harm could it be just to turn over once more? Who would deny him another wink or two? Surely there can be no fault found with one more delicious doze? Now, there are in this congregation persons who have said to themselves many times, "That appeal is right. My conscience gives assent to that gospel demand, it shall be attended to very soon. I must, however, enjoy a little pleasure first— not much. I do not mean to risk my soul another twelve months, but we will stay till next Sunday; then I shall have got over certain engagements which now stand in my way." Well, sirs, you know, some of you, that it has been Sabbath after Sabbath, and then it has grown to be year after year; and still you are saying a little more sleep and a little more slumber. I met one the other day: I do not see him here to-night, but I generally see him on the Sabbath. I think he heard the first sermon I preached in London; that is many years alto now. And that man loves me: I know he does; and I can say I love him; but if he dies as he is, he is a lost man. He knows it. He has told me so, and he has said, "Pray for me." But, oh! what is the benefit of my praying for him if he never prays for himself! It is grievous to know that many of you are in the same dreadful way of procrastinating and putting off. You would do anything to help the church, too; and if you knew that I needed anything you would be among the first to do it for me, such is your kindness. You are kind to your minister, but you are cruel to your souls. You have held your soul over hell's mouth for these twenty years by your continual delays and indecisions. Yet you never meant it. No, you thought long ago that you would have given your hearts to Christ. One of these days I shall have to bury you, and it will be with no hope of your future happiness, for it has always been, "A little more sleep, and a little more slumber, and a little more folding of the hands," till your "poverty shall come upon you as one that travelleth, and your want like an armed man." Alas! it shall be eternal poverty, and the armed man shall be the arch-destroyer from whom none can escape! O young man and young woman, do not procrastinate. Delay is the devil's great net, and it is filled wish exceeding great fishes; yet doth not the net break. Oh that you could break through it. May God help you to do it, for to you I would say, "Let us not," in this respect, "sleep, as do others."

     Again, the picture changes. Do you remember the story in the Acts of the Apostles of the young man who sat in the third loft while Paul was preaching? It could not have been a dull sermon, I should think; but Paul preached till midnight. That was rather long. You do not allow me such liberal time. And when Paul preached on, Eutychus went to sleep, until he fell from the third loft, and was taken up dead. It is true that Paul prayed, and he was restored to life by miracle; but I have known many a Eutychus fall dead under the word, but he was never known to live again. I do not mean that I have known many go to sleep in the house of God, and fall from the third loft; but this, that they have heard the word, and heard the word, till they have been preached into sleep of the deepest kind, and at last preached into hell. If we by our preaching do not wake you, we rock your cradles, and make you more insensible every time we warn you. The most startling preaching in a certain time ceases to arouse the hearers. You know the great boiler factories over here in Southwark. I am told that when a man goes inside the boiler to hold the hammer, when they are fixing rivets, the sound of the copper deafens him so that he cannot bear it, it is so horrible; but, after he has been a certain number of months in that employment, he hardly notices the hammering: he does not care about it. It is just so under the word. People go to sleep under that which once was like a thunderbolt to them. As the blacksmith's dog will lie under the anvil, where the sparks fly into his face, and yet go to sleep, so will many sinners sleep while the sparks of damnation fly into their faces. Horrible that it should be so. It would need an earthquake and a hurricane to move some of you stolid ones. I wish they would come if they would stir you; but even such terrors would be of no avail, only the trumpet which will arouse the dead will ever awaken you. Oh, dear hearers, remember that to perish under the gospel ministry is to perish with a vengeance. If I must be lost, let it be as a Zulu Kaffir, or as a Red Indian, who has never listened to the truth; but it is dreadful to go down to the pit with this as an aggravation: "You knew your duty, but you did it not; you heard the warning, but you would not receive it; the medicine was put to your lip, but you preferred to be diseased; the bread was placed before you, and the living water, but you would not take them. Your blood be on your own heads." Oh, may this never be said of any of us! May we never sleep under the word as do others, lest we die in our sins; and, as I told you the other Sunday night, I think that is one of the most dreadful words in the Bible where Christ said twice, one time after another—"If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." To die on a dunghill, or in a ditch, or on the rack, or on the gallows, is nothing compared with this—to die in your sins! to die in your sins! And yet this will be your lot if you continue much longer to sleep, as do others.

     Another picture; not to detain you too long. Do you remember in David's life when he went with one of his mighty men at night into Saul's camp, and found the king and his guards all asleep? There were certain men of war who ought to have watched at Saul's bed head to take care of their master who lay in the trench, but no one was awake at all; end David and his friend went all among the sleepers, treading gently end softly lest they should wake one of them; till, by-and-by, they came to the center of the circle where lay the king, with a cruse of water at his bolster, and his spear stuck in the ground. Little did he know as he slept so calmly there that Abishai was saying to David: "Let me strike him; it shall be but this once." How easily that strong hand with that sharp javelin would have pinned the king to the ground. One only stroke, and it would be done, and David's enemy would pursue him no more for ever. Methinks I see you, O ye sleeping sinners, lying in the same imminent peril. At this moment the evil one is saying: "Let me smite him; I will smite him but this once; let me prevent his hearing the gospel this night; let me thrust the javelin of unbelief into his soul but this once; and then the harvest will be past, the summer will be ended, and he will not be saved." Slumbering sinner, I would fain shout as the thunder of God, if thereby I could arouse you. Man, the knife is at your throat, and can you sleep? The spear is ready to smite you, and will you still doat and dream? I think I see the angel of justice who has long been pursuing the sinner who is rejecting Christ, and he cries: "Let me smite him! he has had time enough; let me smite him!" Or, as Christ puts it in the parable, there has come one into the vineyard who has looked at you, the barren tree, and seen no fruit; and he has come these three years, and now he is saying: "Cut it down! why cumbereth it the ground?" O mercy, stay the axe! O God, bid the enemy put by the spear, and let the sleeper wake, not in hell, but still on mercy's plains, where there is a Christ to forgive him and a Spirit to sanctify him! Imploringly, I, your brother, beseech you tonight to turn unto the living God. Even now in this your day, attend to the things which make for your peace:—

 

"To-day, a pardoning God

Will hear the suppliant pray

To-day, a Saviour's cleansing blood

Will wash thy guilt away.

But, grace so dearly bought

If yet thou wilt despise,

Thy fearful doom with vengeance fraught,

Will fill thee with surprise."

 

     The last picture is this (may it never be seen in you)—there Vent once into a tent, which he thought to be friendly, a mighty man who had fought a battle and lost the day. Hot of foot and full of fear, Sisera came into the tent of Jael to ask for water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish. He drank, and then, all weary, he threw himself along in the tent. He is a photograph of many ungodly men who have gone where they thought they had friends; for sinners think sinners their friends, and think sin their friend, and they have asked for pleasure, and they have had it; and, now, after having had their fill, and eaten butter in a lordly dish, they are tonight in contentment, sleeping in supposed security. They have gone into the house of the evil one to find pleasure, and they are going there again to-night, and they will continue there, and try to find rest in the house of their enemies. Sometimes it is the house of the strange woman, often the settle of the drunkard, or the chair of the scorner, where men think to rest in peace, Oh, hark thee, man, and beware! Fly the ways of the destroyer: fly the haunt of the strange woman, as for thy very life every den of sin; for, lo! she cometh stealthily, the tent pin is in her left hand, and in her right hand the workman's hammer. Many mighty has she slain aforetime, for she hunts for the precious life, and her chambers lead down to death. If thou sleepest on but another night, or even another hour, the destroyer may have done the deed, and thou mayst be fastened to the earth for ever, the victim of thine own delusions. I may be in error, but I think I spear; to some man to-night who must now immediately change his ways, or else the jaws of hell will close upon him. I do not desire to speak my own words, or my own thoughts, but to speak as the divine wind blows through my soul; and I think I am warning some one to-night of whom, if he turn not, it will soon be written, as of another in the Book of Proverbs, "He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life." In the name of the Ever Blessed and Most Merciful, "turn thee! sinner, turn thee! Why wilt thou die?" Thy course is destruction, and is near its end. Awake! Why sleepest thou? Sleep to others is dangerous; to thee it is damnable. Awake, arise, or be for ever ruined. May God's grace bestir thee! Some of you to-night are like Lot and his daughters in the burning city. You must flee; you must flee at once out of Sodom, or you will perish in it. Behold, we would put our hand upon you to-night, and press you to flee, the Lord being merciful unto you. His servants and his Spirit constrain you to make haste. Linger not; look not back; hesitate not. To your knees! to your knees! "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near." To the cross! to the cross! There is your shelter, the mountain where the only refuge can be found from the vengeance of God. Behold the wounds of Jesus, God's beloved Son given for the guilty, slaughtered for the sinful—

 

"There is life in a look at the crucified One;

There is life at this moment for thee!"—

 

and for all who look. But it may be that if this night ye look not to Jesus, his cross may never appear before your eyes again, for they will be sealed in death. Ere long, Jael's tent-pin shall have passed through Sisera's skull; the sin shall have destroyed the sinner: the sin that is unto death shall have shut up the spirit in despair. Oh, may God, who is mighty to save, turn you to himself at this moment.

     "Sound the trumpet in Zion: sound an alarm in my holy mountain," seems to ring in my ears; and I would fain sound that alarm to God's saints, and to sinners too. May he call many by his grace, and awaken us all; and his shall be the glory for ever and ever! Amen.



Praises and Vows Accepted in Zion

By / Feb 3

Praises and Vows Accepted in Zion

 

"Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed. O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh more."—Psalm 65:1-2

 

     Upon Zion there was erected an altar dedicated to God for the offering of sacrifices. Except when prophets were commanded by God to break through the rule, burnt offering was only to be offered there. The worship of God upon the high places was contrary to the divine command: "Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: but in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee." Hence the tribes on the other side of Jordan, when they erected a memorial altar, disclaimed all intention of using it for the purpose of sacrifice, and said most plainly, "God forbid that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn this day from following the Lord, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for meat offerings, or for sacrifices, beside the altar of the Lord our God that is before his tabernacle."

     In fulfillment of this ancient type, we also "have an altar whereof they have no right to eat that serve the tabernacle." Into our spiritual worship, no observers of materialistic ritualism may intrude; they have no right to eat at our spiritual altar, and there is no other at which they can eat and live for ever. There is but one altar Jesus Christ our Lord. All other altars are impostures and idolatrous inventions. Whether of stone, or wood, or brass, they are the toys with which those amuse themselves who have returned to the beggarly elements of Judaism, or else the apparatus with which clerical jugglers dupe the sons and daughters of men. Holy places made with hands are now abolished; they were once the figures of the true, but now that the substance has come, the type is done away with. The all-glorious person of the Redeemer, God and Man, is the great center of Zion's temple, and the only real altar of sacrifice. He is the church's head, the church's heart, the church's altar, priest, and all in all. "To him shall the gathering of the be." Around him we all congregate even as the tribes around the tabernacle of the Lord in the wilderness.

     When the church is gathered together, we may liken it to the assemblies upon Mount Zion, whither the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel. There the song went up, not so much from each separate worshipper as from all combined; there the praise as it rose to heaven was not only the praise of each one, but the praise of all. So where Christ is the center, where his one sacrifice is the altar whereon all offerings are laid; and where the church unites around that common center, and rejoices in that one sacrifice, there is the true Zion. If we this evening —gathering in Christ's name, around his one finished sacrifice, present our prayers and praises entirely to the Lord through Jesus Christ, we are "come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven." This is Zion, even this house in the far-off islands of the Gentiles, and we can say indeed and of a truth, "Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion; and unto thee shall the vow be performed."

     We shall, with devout attention, notice two things: the first is our holy worship, which we desire to render; and then the encouragement, the stimulative encouragement, which God provides for us: "O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come."

     I. First, let us consider the HOLY OFFERING OF WORSHIP WHICH WE DESIRE TO PRESENT TO GOD. It is twofold: there is praise, and there is also a vow, a praise that waiteth, and a vow of which performance is promised.

     Let us think, first of all, of the praise. This is the chief ingredient of the adoration of heaven; and what is thought to be worthy of the world of glory, ought to be the main portion of the worship of earth. Although we shall never cease to pray as long as we live here below, and are surrounded by so many wants, yet we should never so pray as to forget to praise. "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is heaven," must never be left out because we are pressed with want, and therefore hasten to cry, "Give us this day our daily bread." It will be a sad hour when the worship of the church shall be only a solemn wail. Notes of exultant thanksgiving should ever ascend from her solemn gatherings. "Praise the Lord O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion." "Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints. Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: let the children of Zion be joyful in their King." Let it abide as a perpetual ordinance, while sun and moon endure, "Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion." Never think little of praise, since holy angels and saints made perfect count it their life-long joy, and even the Lord himself saith, "Whoso offereth praise, glorifieth me." The tendency, I fear, among us has been to undervalue praise as a part of public worship, whereas it should be second to nothing. We frequently hear of prayer-meetings, and but seldom of praise-meetings. We acknowledge the duty of prayer by setting apart certain times for it; we do not always so acknowledge the duty of praise. I hear of "family prayer;" do I always hear of "family praise?" I know you cultivate private prayer: are you as diligent also in private thanksgiving and secret adoration of the Lord? In everything we are to give thanks; it is as much an apostolic precept as that other, "In everything, by prayer and supplication, make your requests known unto God." I have often said to you, dear brethren, that prayer and praise are like the breathing in and out of the air, and make up that spiritual respiration by which the inner life is instrumentally supported. We take in an inspiration of heavenly air as we pray: we breathe it out again in praise unto God, from whom it came; if, then, we would be healthy in spirit, let us be abundant in thanksgiving. Prayer, like the root of a tree, seeks for and finds nutriment; praise, like the fruit, renders a revenue to the owner of the vineyard. Prayer is for ourselves, praise is for God; let us never be so selfish as to abound in the one and fail in the other. Praise is a slender return for the boundless favors we enjoy; let us not be slack in rendering it in our best music, the music of a devout soul. "Praise the Lord; for the Lord is good: sing praises unto his name; for it is pleasant."

     Let us notice the praise which is mentioned in our text, which is to be so large a matter of concern to the Zion of God whenever the saints are met together.

     You will observe, first, that it is praise exclusively rendered to God. "Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion." "Praise for thee, and all the praise for thee," and no praise for man or for any other who may be thought to be, or may pretend to be, worthy of praise. Have I not sometimes gone into places called houses of God where the praise has waited for a woman—for the Virgin, where praise has waited for the saints, where incense has smoked to heaven, and songs and prayers have been sent up to deceased martyrs and confessors who are supposed to have power with God? In Rome it is so, but in Zion it is not so. Praise waiteth for thee, O Mary, in Babylon; but praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion. Unto God, and unto God alone, the praise of his true church must ascend. If Protestants are free from this deadly error, I fear they are guilty of another, for in our worship, we too often minister unto our own selves. We do so when we make the tune and manner of the song to be more important than the matter of it. I am afraid that where organs, choirs, and singing men and singing women are left to do the praise of the congregation, men's minds are more occupied with the due performance of the music, than with the Lord, who alone is to be praised. God's house is meant to be sacred unto himself, but too often it is made an opera-house, and Christians form an audience, not an adoring assembly. The same thing may, unless great care be taken, happen amid the simplest worship, even though everything which does not savor of gospel plainness is excluded, for in that case we may drowsily drawl out the words and notes, with no heart whatever. To sing with the soul, this only is to offer acceptable song! We come not together to amuse ourselves, to display our powers of melody or our aptness in creating harmony we come to pay our adoration at the footstool of the Great King, to whom alone be glory for ever and ever. True praise is for God—for God alone.

     Brethren, you must take heed lest the minister, who would, above all, disclaim a share of praise, should be set up as a demi-god among you. Refute practically the old slander that presbyter is only priest writ large. Look higher than the pulpit, or you will be disappointed. Look far above an arm of flesh, or it will utterly fail you. We may say of the best preacher upon the earth, "Give God the praise, for we know that this man is a sinner." If we thought that you paid superstitious reverence to us, we would, like Paul and Silas at Lystra, rend our clothes, and cry, "Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein." It is not to any man, to any priest, to any order of men, to any being in heaven or earth beside God, that we should burn the incense of worship. We would as soon worship cats with the Egyptians, as popes with the Romanists: we see no difference between the people whose gods grew in their gardens and the sect whose deity is made by their baker. Such vile idolatry is to be loathed. To God alone shall all the praise of Zion ascend.

     It is to be feared that some of our praise ascends nowhere at all, but it in as though it were scattered to the winds. We do not always realize God. Now, "he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek trim;" this is as true of praise as of prayer. "God is a Spirit," and they that praise him must praise him "in spirit and in truth," for "the Father seeketh such" to praise him, and only such; and, if we do not lift our eyes and our hearts to him, we are but misusing words and wasting time. Our praise is not as it should be, if it be not reverently and earnestly directed to the Lord of Hosts. Vain is it to shoot arrows without a target: we must aim at God's glory in our holy songs, and that exclusively.

     Note, next, that it should be continual. "Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion." Some translators conceive that the main idea is that of continuance. It remains; it abides; for Zion does loot break up when the assembly is gone. We do not leave the holiness in the material house, for it never was in the stone and the timber, but only in the living amenably of the faithful.

 

"Jesus, where'er thy people meet,

There they behold thy mercy-seat;

Where'er they seek thee, thou art found,

And every place is hallow'd ground,

For thou within no walls confined,

Inhabitest the humble mind;

Such ever bring thee where they come,

And going, take thee to their home."

 

The people of God, as they never cease to be a church, should maintain the Lord's praise perpetually as a community. Their assemblies should begin with praise and end with praise, and ever be conducted in a spirit of praise. There should be in all our solemn assemblies a spiritual incense altar, always smoking with "the pure incense of sweet spices, mingled according to the art of the apothecary": the thanksgiving which is made up of humility, gratitude, love, consecration, and holy joy in the Lord. It should be for the Lord alone, and it should never go out day nor night. "His mercy endureth for ever:" let our praises endure for ever. He makes the outgoings of the morning to rejoice, let us celebrate the rising of the sun with holy psalm and hymn. He makes the closing in of the evening to be glad, let him have our vesper praise. "One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts." Could his mercy cease, there might be some excuse for staying our praises: but, even should it seem to be so, men who love the Lord would say with Job, "Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not also receive evil? The Lord gave, end the Lord hath taken away; and blessed be the name of the Lord." Let our praise abide, continue, remain, and be perpetual. It was a good idea of Bishop Farrar, that, in his own house he would keep up continual praise to God, and as, with a large family and household, he numbered just twenty-four, he set apart each one for an hour in the day to be engaged specially in prayer and praise, that he might girdle the day with a circle of worship. We could not do that. To attempt it might on our part be superstition; but to fall asleep blessing God, to rise in the night to meditate on him, and when we wake in the morning to feel our hearts leap in the prospect of his presence during the day, this is attainable, and we ought to reach it. It is much to be desired that all day long, in every avocation, and every recreation, the soul should spontaneously pour forth praise, even as birds sing, and flowers perfume the air, and sunbeams cheer the earth. We would be incarnate psalmody, praise enshrined in flesh and blood. From this delightful duty we would desire no cessation, and ask no pause. "Praise waits for thee, O God, in Zion;" thy praise may come and go, from the outside world, where all things ebb and flow, for it lies beneath the moon, and there is no stability in it; but amidst thy people, who dwell in thee, and who possess eternal life—in them thy praise perpetually abides.

     A third point, however, is clear upon the surface of the words. "Praise waiteth for thee"—as though praise must always be humble. The servants "wait" in the king's palace. There the messengers stand girt for any mission; the servitors wait, prepared to obey; and the courtiers surround the throne, all eager to receive the royal smile and to fulfill the high command. Our praises ought to stand, like ranks of messengers, waiting to hear what God's will is; for this is to praise him, Furthermore, true praise lies in the actual doing of the divine will, even this,—to pause in sacred reverence until God the Lord shall speak, whatever that will may be; it is true praise to wait subserviently on him. Praises may be looked upon as servants who delight to obey their master's bidding. There is such a thing as an unholy familiarity with God; this age is not so likely to fall into it as some ages have been, for there is little familiarity with God of any sort now; public worship becomes more formal, and stately, and distant. The intense nearness to God which Luther enjoyed—how seldom do we meet with it! But, however near we come to God, still he is God, and we are his creatures. He is, it is true, "our Father," but be it ever remembered that he is "our Father which art in heaven." "Our Father"—therefore near and intimate: "our Father in heaven," therefore we humbly, solemnly bow in his presence. There is a familiarity that runs into presumption: there is another familiarity, is so sweetly tempered with humility that it doth not intrude. "Praise waiteth for thee" with a servant's livery on, a servant's ear to hear, and a servant's heart to obey. Praise bows at thy foot-stool, feeling that it is still an unprofitable servant.

     But, perhaps, you are aware, dear friends, that there are other translations of this verse. "Praise waiteth for thee," may be read, "Praise is silent unto thee"—"is silent before thee." One of the oldest Latin commentators reads it, "Praise and silence belong unto thee;" and Dr. Gill tells us, that in the King of Spain's Bible, it runs "The praise of angels is only silence before thee, O Jehovah," so that when we do our best our highest praise is but silence before God, and we must praise him with confession of shortcomings. Oh, that we too, as our poet puts it, might,

 

"Loud as his thunders speak his praise,

And sound it lofty as his throne!"

 

But we cannot do that, and when our notes are most uplifted, and our hearts most joyous, we have not spoken all his praise. Compared to what his nature and glory deserve, our most earnest praise has been little more than silence. Oh, brethren, have you not often felt it to be so? Those who are satisfied with formal worship, think that they have done well when the music has been correctly sung; but those who worship God in spirit, feel that they cannot magnify him enough. They blush over the hymns they sing, and retire from the assembly of the saints mourning that they have fallen far short of his glory. O for an enlarged mind, rightly to conceive the divine majesty; next fur the gift of utterance to clothe the thought in fitting language; and then for a voice like many waters, to sound forth the noble strain. Alas! as yet, we are humbled at our failures to praise the Lord as we would.

 

"Words are but air, and tongues but clay,

And his compassions are divine;

 

How, then, shall we proclaim to men God's glory? When we have done our best, our praise is but silence before the merit of his goodness, and the grandeur of his greatness.

     Yet it may be well to observe here, that the praise which God accepts, presents itself under a variety of forms. There is praise for God in Zion, and it is often spoken; but there is often praise for God in Zion, and it is silence. There are some who cannot sing vocally, but perhaps, before God, they sing best. There are some, I know, who sing very harshly and inharmoniously—that is to say, to our ears; and yet God may accept them rather than the noise of stringed instruments carefully touched. There is a story told of Rowland Hill's being much troubled by a good old lady who would sit near him and sing with a most horrible voice, and very loudly— as those people generally do who sing badly—and he at last begged her not to sing so loudly. But when she said, "It comes from my heart," the honest man of God retracted his rebuke, and said, "Sing away, I should be sorry to stop you." When praise comes from the heart, who would wish to restrain it. Even the shouts of the old Methodists, their "hallelujahs" and "glorys," when uttered in fervor, were not to be forbidden; for if these should hold their peace, even the stones would cry out. But there are times when those who sing, and sing well, have too much praise in their soul for it to enclose itself in words. Like some strong liquors which cannot use a little vent, but foam and swell until they burst each hoop that binds the barrel; so, sometimes, we want a larger channel for our soul than that of mouth and tongue, and we long to have all our nerves and sinews made into harpstrings, and all the pores of our body made mouths of thankfulness. Oh, that we could praise with our whole nature, not one single hair of our heads, or drop of blood in our veins, keeping back from adoring the Most High! When this desire for praise is most vehement, we fall back upon silence, and quiver with the adoration which we cannot speak. Silence becomes our praise.

 

"A sacred reverence cheeks our songs,

And praise sits silent on our tongues."

 

It would be well, perhaps, in our public service, if we had more often the sweet relief of silence. I am persuaded that silence, ay, frequent silence, is most beneficial; and the occasional unanimous silence of all the saints when they bow before God would, perhaps, better express, and more fully promote, devout feeling than any hymns which have been composed or songs that could be sung. To make silence a part of worship habitually might be affectation and formalism, but to introduce it occasionally, and even frequently into the service, would be advantageous and profitable. Let us, then, by our silence, praise God, and let us always confess that our praise, compared with God's deserving, is but silence.

     I would add that there is in the text the idea that praise waits for God expectantly. When we praise God, we expect to see more of him by and by, and therefore wait for him. We bless the King, but we desire to draw nearer to him. We magnify him for what we have seen, and we expect to see more. We praise him in his outer courts, for we shall soon be with him in the heavenly mansions. We glorify him for the revelation of himself in Jesus, for we expect to be like Christ, and to be with him where he is. When I cannot praise God for what I am, I will praise him for what I shall be. When I feel dull and dead about the present, I will take the words of our delightful hymn and say,

 

"And a near song is in my mouth,

To long-loved music set;

Glory to thee for all the grace

I have not tasted yet."

 

My praise shall not only be the psalmody of the past, which is but discharging a debt of gratitude, but my faith shall anticipate the future, and wait upon God to fulfill his purposes; and I will begin to pay my praise even before the mercy comes.

     Dear brethren and sisters, let us for a moment present our praise to God, each one of us on his own account. We have our common mercies. We call them common, but, oh, how priceless they are. Health to be able to come here and not to be stretched on a bed of sickness, I count this better than bags of gold. To have our reason, and not to be confined in yonder asylum; to have our children still about us and dear relatives spared still to us—to have bread to eat and raiment to put on—to have been kept from defiling our character—to have been preserved to-day from the snares of the enemy! These are godlike mercies, and for all these our praises shall wait upon God.

     But oh! take up the thoughts suggested by the psalm itself in the next verse, and you will doubly praise God. "Iniquities prevail against me. As for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away." Infinite love has made us clean every whit!—though we were black and filthy. We are washed —washed in priceless blood. Praise him for this! Go on with the passage, "Blessed is the man whom thou choosest and causest to approach unto thee." Is not the blessing of access to God an exceeding choice one? Is it a light thing to feel that, though once far off, we are made nigh through the blood of Christ; and this because of electing love! "Blessed is the man whom thou choosest." Ye subjects of eternal choice, can you be silent? Has God favored you above others, and can your lips refuse to sing? No, you will magnify the Lord exceedingly, because he hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure. Let us read on, and praise God that we have an abiding place among his people—"That he may dwell in thy courts."—Blessed be God we are not to be cast forth and driven out after a while, but we have an entailed inheritance amongst the sons of God. We praise him that we have the satisfaction of dwelling in his house as children. "We shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple." But I close the psalm, and simply say to you, there are ten thousand reasons for taking down the harp from the willows; and I know no reason for permitting it to hang there idle. There are ten thousand times ten thousand reasons for speaking well of "him who loved us, and gave himself for us." "The Lord hath done great things for us whereof we are glad." I remember hearing in a prayer-meeting this delightful verse mutilated in prayer, "The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we desire to be glad." Oh, brethren, I dislike mauling, and mangling, and adding to a text of Scripture. If we are to have the Scriptures revised, let it be by scholars, and not by every ignoramus. "Desire to be glad," indeed? This is fine gratitude to God when he hath done great things for us." If these great things have been done, our souls must be glad, and cannot help it; they must overflow with gratitude to God for all his goodness.

     2. So much on the first part of our holy sacrifice. Attentively let us consider the second, namely, the vow. "Unto thee shall the vow be performed."

     We are not given to vow-making in these days. Time was when it was far oftener done. It may be that had we been better men we should have made more vows; it may possibly be that had we been more foolish men we should have done the same. The practice was so abused by superstition, that devotion has grown half-ashamed of it. But we have, at any rate, most of us bound ourselves with occasional vows. I do confess to-day a vow I have not kept as I should desire; the vow made on my first conversion. I surrendered myself, body, soul, and spirit, to him that bought me with a price, and the vow was not made by way of excess of devotion or supererogation, it was but my reasonable service. You have done that. Do you remember the love of your espousals, the time when Jesus was very precious, and you had just entered into the marriage bond with him? You gave yourselves up to him, to be his for ever and for ever. O brethren and sisters, it is a part of worship to perform that vow. Renew it to-night, make another surrender of yourselves to him whose you are and whom you serve. Say to-night, as I will, with you, "Bind the sacrifice with cords, even with cords to the horns of the altar." Oh, for another thong to strap the victim to the altar-horn! Does the flesh struggle? Then let it be more fastly bound, never to escape from the altar of God.

     Beloved, many of us did, in effect, make a most solemn vow at the time of our baptism. We were buried with Christ in baptism unto death, and, unless we were greatly dissembling, we avowed that we were dead in Christ and buried with him; wherein, also, we professed that we were risen with him. Now, shall the world live in those who are dead to it, and shall Christ's life be absent from those who are risen with him? We gave ourselves up there and then, in that solemn act of mystic burial. Recall that scene, I pray you; and as you do it blush, and ask God that your vow may yet be performed, as Doddridge well expresses it:—

 

"Baptised into your Saviour's death

Your souls to sin must die;

With Christ your Lord ye live anew,

With Christ ascend on high."

 

     Some such vow we made, too, when we united ourselves to the church of God. There was an understood compact between us and the church, that we would serve it, that we would seek to honor Christ by holy living, increase the church by propagating the faith, seek its unity, its comfort, by our own love and sympathy with the members. We had no right to join with the church if we did not mean to give ourselves up to it, under Christ, to aid in its prosperity and increase. There was a stipulation made, and a covenant understood, when we entered into communion and league with our brethren in Christ. How about that? Can we say that, as unto God and in his sight, the vow has been performed? Yes, we have been true to our covenant in a measure, brethren. Oh, that it were more fully so! Some of us made another vow, when we gave ourselves, as I trust, under divine call, altogether to the work of the Christian ministry; and though we have taken no orders, and received no earthly ordination, for we are no believers in man-made priests, yet tacitly it is understood that the man who becomes a minister of the church of God is to give his whole time to his work—that body, soul, and spirit should be thrown into the cause of Christ. Oh, that this vow were more fully performed by pastors of the church! You, my brethren, elders and deacons, when you accepted office, you knew what the church meant. She expected holiness and zeal of you. The Holy Ghost made you overseers that you might feed the flock of God. Your office proves your obligation. You are practically under a vow. Has that vow been performed? Have you performed it in Zion unto the Lord?

     Besides that, it has been the habit of godly men to make vows occasionally, in times of pain, and losses, and affliction. Did not the psalm we just now sang it so?—

 

"Among the saints that fill thine house,

My offerings shall be paid;

There shall my zeal perform the vows

My soul in anguish made.

Now I am thine, for ever thine,

Nor shall my purpose move!

Thy hand hath loosed my bands of pain,

And bound me with thy love.

Here in thy courts I leave my vow,

And thy rich grace record;

Witness, ye saints, who hear me now,

If I forsake the Lord."

 

     You said, "If I am ever raised up, and my life is prolonged, it shall be better spent." You said, also, "If I am delivered out of this great trouble, I hope to consecrate my substance more to God." Another time you said, "If the Lord will return to me the light of his countenance, and bring me out of this depressed state of mind, I will praise him more than ever before." Have you remembered all this? Coming here myself so lately from a sick bed, I at this time preach to myself. I only wish I had a better hearer; I would preach to myself in this respect, and say, "I charge thee, my heart, to perform thy vow." Some of us, dear friends, have made vows in time of joy, the season of the birth of the first-born child, the recovery of the wife from sickness, the merciful restoration that we have ourselves received, times of increasing goods, or seasons when the splendor of God's face has been unveiled before our wondering eye. Have we not made vows, like Jacob when he woke up from his wondrous dream, and took the stone which had been his pillow, and poured oil on its top, and made a vow unto the Most High? We have all had our Bethels. Let us remember that God has heard us, and let us perform unto him our vow which our soul made in her time of joy. But I will not try to open the secret pages of your private note-books. You have had tender passages, which you would not desire me to read aloud: the tears start at their memory. If your life were written, you would say, "Let these not be told; they were only between God and my soul"—some chaste and blessed love passages between you and Christ, which must not be revealed to men. Have you forgotten how then you said, "I am my beloved's, and he is mine," and what you promised when you saw all his goodness made to pass before you. I have now to stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance, and bid you present unto the Lord to-night the double offering of your heart's praise and of your performed vow. "O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together."

     II. And now, time will fail me, but I must have a few words upon THE BLESSED ENCOURAGEMENT afforded us in the text for the presentation of these offerings unto God. Here it is,—"O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come?"

     Observe, here, that God hears prayer. It is, in some aspects, the lowest form of worship, and yet he accepts it. It is not the worship of heaven, and it is, in a measure, selfish. Praise is superior worship, for it is elevating; it is the utterance of a soul that has received good from God, and is returning its love to him in acknowledgment. Praise has a sublime aspect. Now, observe, if prayer is heard, then praise will be heard too. If the lower form, on weaker wing as it were, reaches the throne of the majesty on high, how much more shall the seraphic wing of praise bear itself into the divine presence. Prayer is heard of God: therefore our praises and vows will be. And this is a very great encouragement, because it seems terrible to pray when you are not heard, and discouraging to praise God if he will not accept it. What would be the use of it? But if prayer and yet more praise be most surely heard, ah, brethren, then let us continue and abide in thanksgiving. "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me, saith the Lord."

     Observe too according to the text, that all prayer, if it be true prayer, is heard of God, for so it is put—"Unto thee shall all flesh come." Oh, how glad I am at that word. My poor prayer—shall God reject it? Yes, I might have feared so if he had said, "Unto thee shall all spirits come." Behold, my brethren, he takes the grosser part as it were, and looks at prayer in his infinite compassion, perceiving it to be what it is—a feeble thing—a cry coming from poor fallen flesh, and yet he puts it, "Unto thee shall all flesh come. My broken prayer, my groaning prayer shall get to thee, though it seems to me a thing of flesh, it is nevertheless wrought in me by thy Spirit. And, O my God, my song, though my voice be hoarse and oftentimes my notes most feeble, shall reach thee. Though I groan because it is so imperfect, yet even that shall come to thee. Prayer, if true, shall be received of God, notwithstanding all its faultiness, through Jesus Christ. Then so it will be with our praises and our vows.

     Again, prayer is always and habitually received of God. "O thou that hearest prayer." Not that didst hear it or on a certain occasion may have heard it, but thou that ever hearest prayer. If he always hears prayer, then he always hears praise. Is not this delightful to think of my praise, though it be but that of a child or a poor unworthy sinner—God does hear it, does accept it, in spite of its imperfections, and does accept it always? Oh, I will have another hymn to-morrow, I will sing a new song to-morrow. I will forget my pain, I will forget for a moment all my care, and if I cannot sing aloud by reason of those that are with me, yet will I set the bells of my heart ringing, I will make my whole soul full of praise. If I cannot let it out of my mouth, I will praise him in my soul, because he always hears me. You know it is hard to do things for one who never accepts what you do. Many a wife has said, "Oh! it is hard. My husband never seems pleased. I have done all I can, but he takes no notice of little deeds of kindness." But how easy it is to serve a person who, when you have done any little thing, saw, "How kind it was of you" and thinks much of it. Ah, poor child of God, the Lord thinks much of thy praises, much of thy vows, much of thy prayers. Therefore, be not slack to praise and magnify him unceasingly.

     And this all the more, because we have not quite done with that word, "Unto thee shall all flesh come." All flesh shall come because the Lord hears prayer. Then all my praises will be heard and all the praises of all sorts of men, if sincere, come unto God. The great ones of the earth shall present praise, and the poorest of the poor also, for thou shalt not reject them.

     And, Lord, wilt thou put it so; "Unto thee shall all flesh come," and wilt thou say, "but not such a one?" Wilt thou exclude me? Brethren, fear not that God will reject you. I remind you of what I told you the other night concerning a good earnest believing woman, who in prayer said, "Lord, I am content to be the second thou shalt forsake, but I cannot be the first." The Lord says all flesh shall come to him, and it is implied that he will receive them when they come—all sorts of men, all classes and conditions of men. Then he cannot reject me if I go, nor my prayers if I pray, nor my praise if I praise him, nor my vows if I perform them. Come then, let us praise the Lord, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.

     I have done when I have said this. Dear brethren and sisters, there may be difficulties in your way; iniquities may hinder you, or infirmities; but there is the promise, "thou shalt purge them away." Infirmities may check you, but note the word of divine help, "Blessed is the man whom thou causest to approach unto thee." He will come to your aid, and lead you to himself. Infirmities, therefore, are overcome by divine grace. Perhaps your emptiness hinders you: "He shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house." It is not your goodness that is to satisfy either God or you, but God's goodness is to satisfy. Come, then, with thine iniquity, come with thine infirmity; come with thy emptiness. Come, dear brethren, if you have never come to God before. Come and confess your sin to God, and ask for mercy; you can do no less than ask. Come and trust his mercy, which endures for ever; it has no limit. Think not hardly of him, but come and lay yourself down at his feet. If you perish, perish there. Come and tell your grief; pour out your hearts before him. Bottom upwards turn the vessel of your nature, and drain out the last dreg, and pray to be filled with the fullness of his grace. Come unto Jesus; he invites you, he enables you. A cry from that pew will reach the sacred ear: "You have not prayed before," you say. Everything must have a beginning. Oh that that beginning might come now. It is not because you pray well that you are to come, but because the Lord hears prayer graciously, therefore, all flesh shall come. You are welcome; none can say you nay. Come! 'tis mercy's welcome hour. May the Lord's bands of love be cast about you; may you be drawn now to him. Come by way of the cross; come resting in the precious atoning sacrifice, believing in Jesus; and he has said, "Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out." The grace of our Lord be with you. Amen.



Heaven’s Nurse Children

By / Jan 30

Heaven's Nurse Children

 

"I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms."—Hosea 11:3

 

     If you note well the opening part of this chapter, you will find that it consists of a wonderful chain of mercies; every one single line is a rare jewel, and the whole passage is a casket unspeakably precious. The chapter begins with love; ancient, sovereign, electing love. "When Israel was a child, then I loved him." When the Israelitish nation was in a very low and poor estate, and was brought into slavery and subjection in Egypt, God had set his love upon it, and called it his own inheritance. Not for their numbers or greatness as a nation were they chosen, but when they were little and despised they were yet beloved of God. Distinguishing grace had written the name of Israel upon Jehovah's heart. Spiritually we who have believed are in the same favored condition, and our hearts rejoice this day at the memory of "His great love, wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sins." This is the river-head, from which all the streams of after-mercy flow,—"I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee." Like the golden-sanded river which had its rise in Eden, electing love branches off into many streams, and waters all the garden of the Lord. This is the root from which the tree of blessing springs. "He hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world." Eph. i. 3, 4. Let others say what they will, electing love will always be most precious to us; for it is the foundation blessing, the first of all favors, the mother of mercies. We nail to our mast the old flag of free grace, and believe with the apostle (Ephesians 1:11) that we were "predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."

     The next sweet word in the chapter is sonship; "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." We are, according to the inspired apostle, "predestinated unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will." Eph. i. 5. Adoption follows hard upon the heels of election, and is another messenger of good tidings. Innumerable blessings come to us by this door. "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son." "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." Sonship with God is a dignity unspeakable, and yet it is reserved for such poor dust and ashes as we are: what shall we say concerning this? Are we not swallowed up with adoring gratitude? Unto which of the angels hath he said at any time, "Thou art my son"? but this hath been said to us; and we are thus favored above all creatures that the Lord God has made. Boundless blessings are included in sonship: it is no light thing to be a child of the Lord of Hosts, the Prince of the kings of the earth. "If a son, then an heir of God through Christ." This opens up before us far-reaching views of present covenant provision, and of future infinite bliss. To be, indeed, born into the family of God is a dignity to which the descent of an imperial prince bears no more comparison than a spark in the tinder to the sun in the heavens.

     And, because we have in this chapter love and sonship, we see immediately after, in the same verse, calling, salvation, and deliverance: "I called my son out of Egypt." The Lord doth not leave his chosen people for ever in the bondage of sin; when the day of their jubilee dawns, they go forth without price or reward, with a high hand and an outstretched arm. They cannot remain for ever under guilt, nor abide heirs of wrath, even as others; out of Egypt they must come when the years are accomplished. They are his, and he will call them by his effectual grace, and separate them to himself. Their calling is something more than the common and universal gospel invitation: it is a persuasive, convincing, conquering call. They only know it whom the Lord has set apart for himself: "Whom he did predestinate them he also called." This call is like Joseph's invitation to his venerable father to come and see him: it was accompanied by the waggons in which the old man could ride. It was not only an entreating call, but an enabling call. "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me," says the Saviour; and he speaks to purpose, because he helps them to come—nay, he brings them himself, carrying them, like lost sheep, "upon his shoulders rejoicing." There is no violence done to the will, but it is set free, and then, being acted upon by a graciously enlightened understanding, it yields to the call, and follows Jesus. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." Israel would never have come out of Pharaoh's country, if the Lord had not fetched them; but none can say that he drove them out —nay, rather, "as for his people, he led them forth like sheep." Every step of their exodus from bondage under the divine call was the result of divine leading and influence. Even thus spiritually a peculiar but delightful stress is put upon the chosen of God, and, therefore, they come out of the Egypt of sin. The grace to eat the paschal lamb, to strike the blood upon the lintel, and to gird up the loins, and leave the land of leeks, and garlic, and onions, is given only to the heirs of the promised possession.

     Then we come upon the blessing of holy rearing and education, which we have in our text: "I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms," as they do who have to teach little children to walk, supporting their tottering footsteps, and instructing them how to put one foot before the other, until they are able, at last, to run alone. Calvin says it means, "I have led him on foot. As a child who cannot yet walk with a firm foot is, by degrees, accustomed to do so, and the nurse, or the father, or the mother, who leads him, has a regard for his infancy; so, also, have I led Israel, as much as his feet could bear." And, as if this mercy and condescension of God, in thus comparing himself to a woman with her babe, were not sufficient, in addition to this he becomes a physician too, and grants healing; he says, "I healed them." They had not only weakness that needed to be supported, and ignorance that needed to be tutored; but they had, in addition, sickness and infirmity that needed medicine. "I healed them." He who had carried them as Shaddai—the Lord All-sufficient, became to them Jehovah Rophi —the Lord that healeth them. Who shall tell how much we all owe to heavenly pharmacy? Our diseases are deep-seated and most dangerous; how happy are we in having an omnipotent Physician, whose word alone is more than a match for all our maladies. Surely we have a sickness for every day in the year, but the Beloved Physician has a remedy for every complaint. Glory be unto him who forgiveth all our iniquities, and healeth all our diseases. Then, as if all this were not enough, we find him drawing them on in the paths of obedience and holiness—not with ropes and chains, that would compel against their will, overhauling them roughly— but with forces suited for minds and hearts. "I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love." Thus does the gracious Spirit of God work in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure. "The love of Christ constraineth us:" "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God:" "The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities."

     Thus we have in a few lines unostentatiously opened up before us a cabinet of covenant gems, rivalling those which adorned the high priest of old. Here is a holy education for the nursling that was taught to walk; here is exercise of the strength which the physician had restored.

     As if this had not completed it, there come unburdening and rest-giving: "I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws." They had been like oxen, with a heavy yoke upon them, and God had come and taken the yoke away; and there they stood, as we see horses stand when they are made to rest, when the bearing-rein is loosened, and they stand at ease. And this God has as surely done for us as for his ancient people. He has fulfilled that word unto us, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, and ye shall find rest unto your souls." We enjoy the peace of God, which passeth all understanding: it keeps our hearts and minds by Christ Jesus. Nor is this all for the gracious Redeemer takes care to fill his people's mouths with good things; hence, he does not forget the feeding, and it is added, "I laid meat unto them." The Lord refreshed his weary people with "food convenient for them." As the oxen, after the yoke was removed, were fed, so God, when had removed our yoke of guilty bondage, fed us with the finest of the wheat, as he made us understand the gospel of his Son. The doctrines and promises of his word are substantial meat for hungry souls. "My soul shall be satisfied with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips." Certain under-shepherds are afraid of laying too much doctrinal food before the Lord's people, but it is a great mistake. Truth never surfeits, though it always satisfies. The Good Shepherd does not stint his sheep, but he gives them so much, that they lie down amid the exceeding plenty of the green pastures. They cannot eat it all, and they lie down in the midst of a superabundance, which infinite mercy has provided. See, then, how God's boundless love piles mountain upon mountain, as the old classics used to say, Pelion upon Ossa, that we, up from the depths of our distress, may climb to the heights of his blessedness, and enjoy the fullness of the glory which God has treasured up for us in the person of Christ Jesus our Lord. One is tempted, with such a preface to our text, to linger in it, and to be like the man who made the porch of his house larger than the house itself. You can but be fed, and it matters not whether the barley loaves and fishes are in my basket, or whether I carry them loosely in my hand: so long as you are refreshed by them you will not quarrel with my disorderly serving. However, I restrain my loitering heart, and proceed to the text.

     Here is the figure of a nurse and a child. "I taught Ephraim to go, taking them by their arms." Let us look at this in reference to the children of Israel; then let us view it in reference to ourselves.

     Take Israel's case first. They were in Egypt, and God was about to bring them forth, and make them a nation, and give them a country of their own. He began to deal with them as little children, for he selected as his ambassador and as the mediator between him and them, not a man of imperious disposition, not an Elijah with fire at his beck, or a John the Baptist with an axe in his hand, but "the man Moses, who was very meek, above all men that were upon the face of the earth." They were childish, vain, foolish, and their leader must be very gentle and full of pity. It requires a patient disposition to deal with such grownup children, for what you could bear from children, who are children in years, you cannot so well endure from those who, though they have reached the age of maturity, have not reached the age of discretion, and seem as if they never would. You can teach a child of six; but who shall be tutor to a child of sixty? The great God, the Father of Israel, selected as a tutor for these grown up children, the meekest man that lived, and, in so doing, he dealt tenderly with them, as a mother with her child. Then, though he meant them ultimately and finally to come out of Egypt, he did not uproot them from their adopted land all at once, roughly and without previous loosening. No unexpected command was given them that they were at once to sever all the ties that connected them with the people of Egypt. They were not forced in an unlooked-for moment to leave the leeks, and garlic, and onions, and to go forth into the desert; but a long series of miracles was exhibited before their eyes, not only that Pharaoh's power might be broken, but that they might be encouraged to venture themselves upon the providence of God, and trust themselves with him. They ought to have been strong enough have marched out of Egypt at once, at the first word of their leader. Had they forgotten the old covenant which had been made with their fathers, that, the Lord would give them a land that flowed with milk and honey? But they were little children and could not perform manly exploits; they needed to be taught courage, and manliness, and faith in the unseen God of their father Abraham. All those plagues which God wrought in the fields of Zoan, while they had a dark side to Egypt, had a bright side to Israel; it was a "teaching them to go;" a gently persuading them to trust in God, and go forth at his call. Yet, after having seen all Jehovah's wonders, when at last they did take the first step, and found themselves at Succoth, and by-and-by came to Pi-hahiroth by the sea, they trembled like babes who totter and are ready to fall. Was it not tender mercy on the part of God that he put forth his hand, and held them up, and drowned all their fears at once? They had been alarmed, when they heard the whip of their taskmasters, and the rattling of the war chariots behind them; but God made, as it were with one sweep, an end of every thing that need give them distress. I do not find, whatever were their foolish fears, that the children of Israel in the wilderness were ever again afraid of the Egyptians pursuing them and attempting to drive them back as slaves. The old fear was slain at once; they had been slaves, and dreaded their masters, but the strength of Egypt had been so terribly broken at the Red Sea, that Israel, who before tottered, even began to dance to the music of the triumphant timbrel. Infinite tenderness removed the stumbling block out of their way, lest their infant faith should be tripped up.

     When they were fairly in the wilderness they were still treated as children, and they needed it. They had many sensible manifestations of the presence of God with them. A truly spiritual faith does not expect any manifestation to the senses. God treats us to-day as men, compared with the way in which he nursed the Israelites. We have no pillar of glory shining over a visible tabernacle; no shekinah above a material mercy-seat. We have now no holy places whatsoever; and no symbolic worship:—

 

"Where'er we seek Him He is found,

And every place is hallowed ground."

 

Our service of the spiritual God is spiritual; we walk by faith and not by sight; we worship God in the spirit and have no confidence in the flesh. The tribes of Israel, as being in their religious childhood, had manifestations of different kinds. They saw not God, for who shall behold the invisible? but the bright light shone between the wings of the cherubim, the glory of the Lord at times burst forth from the tabernacle, and on an ever memorable occasion they heard a voice speaking out of the thick darkness from the top of Sinai, when the Lord came from Paran with ten thousand of his holy ones. We have not heard the voice, neither have we seen the glory, nor need are wish for either, since we have a sure word of testimony, and the abiding of the Holy Ghost: but the Lord treated the tribes in the wilderness as children—their faith and spirituality were so feeble that, like the young church of Christ in the upper room, which needed the rushing wind, and cloven tongues, and miraculous power, they were favored with signs and wonders to confirm their faith: "He taught them to go, taking them by their arms."

     Another part of this spiritual nursing, which the Lord condescendingly gave to his people, was their instruction by symbols. He did not give to them, as he gives to us, the clear vision of the glorious gospel in the face of Jesus Christ, but as they were not capable of reading the plain sense, and they needed pictures in their books, he gave them many and most instructive symbols. They saw the morning and the evening lamb. How full of instruction must that double offering have been. They ate the passover; they saw the doors besprinkled with blood; here was a sort of kinder-garten infant school teaching for them. The high priest in his white garments, or in his glorious robes of beauty, with the Urim and Thummim glistening on his breast, the altar, the censor, the candlestick, the table of the shewbread, the laver—all these were pictures in the first A B C book for children. The gentle Father was teaching them to go. There are some childish lovers of the first covenant who would like to get the child's books back again: like big babies they cry for the horn-books of infancy, and would put aside the glory book which God has given to his children to read in the day of the open manifestation of his Holy Spirit. We need not imitate their example. We desire not go back to the rudiments, when the Lord hath revealed himself in the person of the Only-begotten. Yet to Israel type and symbol was the main instruction, and in that respect the Lord taught them to go. Yea, and it was not only instruction by a few chosen symbols, but everything was a symbol to them. They were always being instructed and helped. The bread they ate was food from heaven, and the water they drank leaped from the living rock; they were covered from the heat by the cloud; they were lighted at night in their encampment by the fiery pillar; everything about them was fitted for a people that needed something tangible, something to be felt, something to be seen and perceived of the senses, a people in childhood who required to have everything represented to the eye as well as spoken to the ear.

     The whole of that forty years' journey in the wilderness was a long "teaching them to go." They were not a people able to have formed a well-regulated state. They were no better than a mob of slaves, they were not fit for self-government; and, therefore, they were led about, trained, taught, educated by the space of forty years, before they were able to go, as they did at last, when the Lord settled them in Canaan. And note—and here I will not continue the story longer, because there are ten thousand various ways in which we can illustrate the truth—how he treated them as children even in the conquest of Canaan. Before they came up to the country to conquer it, a pestilence had destroyed many of the people. The spies said, "It is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof". The Lord had also sent the hornet before them—some terrible and deadly insect which had distressed and driven out the Canaanites, and, in addition to these two scourges, the fear of them and the dread of them had very much weakened their adversaries, and prepared the whole land to submit to them. That marvellous passage of the Jordan, and that miraculous falling, down of the walls of Jericho without their needing to strike a blow—were not these all the means of teaching them to go?—were they not thus gently led on till at last they became men enough to drive out the Canaanites and to settle in the land, and sit every man beneath his own vine and figtree?

     We will now leave the seed of Israel, and think of ourselves a while. How very graciously has the meaning of our text been fulfilled in us. The Lord has treated us as a nurse treats a little child.

     To begin with, the first step the child takes—its first introduction to the art of locomotion—is caused by the nurse's holding it up. Do we not remember the first uplifting that the Lord gave to some of us? We were grovelling in the dust, and should have been content to be there still, but, under a gracious word that he sent to us, through the ministry, or by some other means, he lifted us up, and we began to feel that there was something better for us than to be always creeping about on the earth, or lying still in supine worldliness. The nurse's hand is first put out before the child thinks of walking, and the divine power of the Holy Ghost was first exerted upon us (we being then passive under it for a while) before we felt a desire for better things. We crawled upon the earth like beasts till God taught us to stand erect in uprightness like grace-born men. We owe all to him who has taught us from our youth.

     The nurse, when the child begins to walk, soon teaches it to know its own weakness. It has a fall or two, and a few bruises and tears; but the falls are necessary to its learning to walk. We, also, had many slips and falls. Oh, how often did we resolve in the most admirable manner, but our resolutions ended in smoke! How frequently did we make attempts in our own strength, and these were failures, till at last we said, "We must give it up," and we were compelled to lean wholly upon our Lord. We became more active in the right way after we were weaned from our natural self-reliant activities, which had been so dear to us; but we were very long in the weaning. Falls into sin are terrible things, and these are not what I speak of here, but I mean those broken resolutions, and those aspirations to which we did not attain, those many disappointing tumbles which we encountered when we tried to walk. It is a part of the nurse's art to let the child feel its weakness: and it is a part of our heavenly Father's wisdom to let us know how feeble we are. We are never wise, till we discover that we are fools: we are never strong, till we confess that we are weak. True enough are the Apostle's words, "When I am weak, then am I strong."

     The nurse regulates the child's exertions, and allows it to take a step or two at first, and only a step or two. Do we remember how tottering were our first steps? We limped very sadly. Our walking was comparable to the seeing of the man to whom men looked like trees. Our state of mind was a mixture of light and darkness. We cried, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." There were only one or two promises in God's word which I could get any hold of when I first came to him. My soul was stayed a little while on that word, "Whosoever calleth upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Only that could I grasp. I have known some who could get consolation from nothing but this sweet word, "Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out." They could believe only a little; it hardly amounted to believing: they reached as far as hoping and trusting, intermittently mixed up with a world of doubting and fearing, but they could stir no further. Very delightful to the Christian pastor is it to see a young convert begin to take the first step or two. We have seen them fall down with doubts and fears, but we have been so pleased that they could walls even a little in the way of faith, and believe even a portion of the word of God. What a mercy it is that the Lord reveals to us his own truth by slow degrees! We ought never to expect our young converts to understand the doctrine of election, and to be able to split hairs in orthodoxy. It is vain to overload them with such a precious truth as union with Christ, or so deep a doctrine as predestination. Do they know Christ as the Saviour, and themselves as sinners? Well, then, do not try to make a child run; it will never walk if you do. Do not try to teach the babe gymnastics; first let it totter on and tremble forward a little way. "I have many things to say unto you," said the Saviour, "but ye cannot hear them now." Now, had certain reputedly wise men been there they would have said, "Lord, let us hear it all; make full proof of it all; bring it all out: we can hear it—only try us." But our Lord knew what was in man, and, therefore, he only little by little, line upon line, precept upon precept, brought out the truth, and he does so experimentally with his children still. We do not know our own depraved hearts so well at first as we do afterwards. The disease and the remedy have both of them to be more fully revealed to us by-and-by. Did we know at the first all we shall know hereafter, we should be so overwhelmed with the abundance of the revelation that we should not be able to endure it; the Lord, therefore, lets in the light by degrees. If a person had been long famished, and you were to find him hungry, and faint, and ready to die, your instincts would say, "Put food before him at once, and let him have all he wants." Yet this would be a ready enough way to kill him. If you are wise, you will give him nutriment slowly, as he is able to bear it. If you have been long in the dark, and come into the light at once, your eyes smart, and you cannot bear it, you need to come to it by degrees, and thus is it with the Lord's children. By little and by little he introduces them into the glory of his kingdom, preparing them for its fullness as children are prepared for their manhood. Have you not seen how the nurse will tempt the child to take a little longer walk, by holding out a pleasant thing to allure it? And how often has our blessed Lord tempted us to some bolder deed of service, to something that required more faith than we had before, by giving us choice signs of his presence, and ravishing our hearts with his love. Some of us know what it is to have seen such sweet results from our little faith, that we could not but desire to try what stronger faith would do. God so rewarded the weak faith we had, that we felt we must rely upon him, and venture still further. Kindly hath the Lord conducted us onward in this respect.

     The nurse does not let the child put too much weight upon its little legs at first, for it might be to its lasting injury. It shall have a little trial of walking: but she will put her hands under its arms, and hold it up that it shall not be tried too long, lest it be strained and injured; so does our heavenly Father try our faith by little and by little. When we shall have become men in Christ Jesus, we shall be tested by stronger trials, for the Lord loveth to put stress upon faith; he sends forth his knights of the cross upon desperate battles, knowing that he intends to glorify himself in their natural weakness, by granting them strength: but to the little babe, he sets no such stern tasks. He tempereth the wind to the shorn lamb, and deals tenderly with those that are but tender. "He carrieth the lambs in his bosom, and doth gently lead those that are with young." Can you not look back, beloved brethren and sisters, to your own experience, and confirm all I have said, only feeling that you could say very much more about it if you could speak out your own heart?

     The Lord has dealt with us, in other respects as children, as, for instance, in not chiding us for our many mistakes. If the nurse were to scold the child for not walking as she does; if she were to be angry with it because it is not as strong as she is; the poor thing might be long before it came to walk at all. God sometimes does with his people as Apelles did with Alexander when he painted him—he did not draw the scar on Alexander's face, but placed his finger over it. Note how the Holy Spirit describes Sarah. There was not much good in what Sarah said on that day when she lied; but she called her husband "lord," and the Holy Spirit lights on that, and mentions it to her honor. He has often accepted our poor service, and given us sweetly to feel that it was so, though now we look back upon it, we wonder how it could have been accepted at all.

     Many of us who preach the gospel, had God's blessing on our early preachings. Our knowledge was dreadfully scant, and our ability slender. We wonder how God could have blessed us, but he did. If he were to let us know how badly we do his work even now, we should despair, and do no more; but in his great mercy, he lets the light shine on the brighter spots, and lets us see what his Spirit is doing; and so we take courage and go on, and learn to walk after all. With all our tremblings, and tumblings, and failings down, we do at length learn to stand upright, and even to run in his ways.

     Dear brethren and sisters, do you not feel that God has had great patience with you? Do you not wonder that he has endured you? Could you have had so much patience with another as God has had with you? Impossible. You can hardly run alone yet, can scarcely take a step without slipping or sliding, you need still to be carried in the everlasting arms like babes, and yet you are persuaded that his patience will hold out till there shall be no more need of it. He will bear us as on eagle's wings, that is, with unwearied perseverance and strength of love he will uphold us even to the end.

     We must remind you, however, before we leave this, that there are some respects in which the figure before us does not come up to the full point. God has been very gracious to us, beyond what a nurse is to a child. Let us unfold this fact for a moment or two. The nurse, with the child, has not the disadvantages that God has with us, for we are full of the notion that we can walk, and thus there are two battles in our case—the first, is to get us out of our bad walking, and the next is, to teach us to walk rightly. It is sometimes more difficult to instruct a man who has been educated wrongly, than it would have been if he knew nothing. He has both to learn and to unlearn. So with us: we have a notion that we can do so much, until the Lord shows us thee without him we can do nothing. We are very strong in our own opinion: we are blown out with pride and self-sufficiency, and that has to be taken from us; so that there is a double task for infinite mercy to perform—not merely to plant a tree, but to cut down the old tree and root it up—to get rid of our former way of walking, and then to teach us to walk in the Spirit, and not in the fancied energy of the flesh.

     Moreover, you never found a babe anxious to use stilts; but every one of us, when God's Spirit has begun to teach us to walk, have been seeking to use crutches. "Cursed is he that trusteth in man. And how many of us must have deserved that curse; for trusting in man is very very common. Resting on an arm of flesh seems to be the hereditary disease of God's people. They fly first to this and then to that, but forget their true and only resting-place. The simple walk of faith, trusting and leaning alone upon the Invisible, how difficult it into bring ourselves to it! We would have some favourite child to lean upon, or husband, or wife, or friend. Our abilities, or something or other that we can see and handle, shall be the golden calf which we set up and say, "These be thy gods, O Israel!" Here is a great difficulty, then, to wean us from crutches, which are promoters of spiritual lameness.

     I have never met with a child that had any fear about the nurse's power to hold it up. She puts her arms about it, and it trusts itself with her, leaning wholly upon her. But we appear to be afraid of leaning hard upon God: we cannot leave ourselves with him: we don't throw ourselves right back on the divine bosom. Yet is there no true rest to ourselves till we do. As long as we are trying to support ourselves in some measure or degree, we have not yet come to the rest of faith. I have known people who went in the sea to learn to swim, but they never dare take their feet off the bottom, and I do not see how they can swim while they also endeavor to stand on their feet. Standing and swimming cannot be managed at the same time. So there are souls that would fain trust themselves to the goodness of God, but they cannot be content without an earthly prop. They cannot quite cast themselves upon God and trust in the stream of his abundant faithfulness. This, then, is another difficulty which is not with the nurse, but which is with our God in reference to us.

     One more remark let us make, and that is, that we are, many of us, most unwilling to try to walk. Though we are believers, after a fashion, it may be said of us at this day as of those in the Saviour's time: "If the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" Why, entire portions of the Christian church are afraid to trust God with the maintenance of their ministers and the support of their worship; they enter into an adulterous alliance with the State sooner than trust in God and rely upon the faithfulness of his people. And as it is with large masses of the people, so is it with separate Christians; they cannot walk by faith; they must have some way or other of clinging to the flesh. Oh, for grace to be willing to believe in God! Oh, for power to cut the moorings, and have done with the signs, and the evidences, and the marks, and come to look upon Christ and his finished work; upon the covenant, and upon the faithful God, who breaketh not his promise and cannot turn away from his decree. May he who teacheth us to profit make us to walk in his ways. Our prayer is like that of quaint old Quarles:—

 

Great ALL IN ALL, that art my rest, my home;

My way is tedious, and my steps are slow:

Reach forth thy helping hand: or bid me come;

I am thy child, O teach thy child to go:

Conjoin thy sweet commands to my desire,

And I will venture, though I fall or tire."

 

     Now, why is it that mothers take so much pains in teaching their children to walk? I suppose the reason is, because they are their own offspring. And the reason why the Lord has been so patient with us, and will be so still, is because we are his children, still his children, still, his children! Ah there is wondrous power in that—still his children! I was sitting at table once, and I heard a mother expatiating upon her son. She said a very great deal about him; and some one sitting near me said, "I wish that good woman would be quiet." I said, "What's the matter? May she not speak of her son?" "Why," he said, "he's been transported. He was as bad a fellow as ever fired, and yet she always sees something wonderful in him." So I ventured, some little time after, when I had gained her acquaintance, to say something about this son; and I remember her remark: "If there is nobody else to speak up for him his mother always will." Just so; she loved him so that if she could not be altogether blind to his faults, yet she would also see all that was hopeful in him, Our blessed God does not bring into the foreground what we are, so much as what he means to make us. "Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more for ever." He puts our blackness away; and he sees us as we shall be when we shall bear the image of the heavenly, and shall be like our Lord. For Christ's sake, beholding our shield and looking upon the face of his anointed, he loves us and goes on to instruct us still. It seems at times as if there were a conflict in the divine bosom, and he felt he must surely give us up, but then his love rushes to the rescue, and it comes to this: "How shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together." He returns to us with such a word as this: "I have betrothed thee unto me in righteousness, and in mercy, and in judgment." He declares that he hates putting away: "Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord, for I am married unto you." We are his own children. Oh! I have found it such a blessed thing, in my own experience, to plead before God that I am his child. When I was racked some months ado with pain, to an extreme degree, so that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go from the room, and leave me alone; and then I had nothing I could say to God but this, "Thou art my Father and I am thy child; and thou, as a Father, art tender and full of mercy. I could not bear to see my child suffer as thou makest me suffer, and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I 'could to help him, and put my arms under him to sustain him. Wilt thou hide thy face from me, my Father? Wilt thou still lay on a heavy hand, and not give me a smile from thy countenance?" I held the Lord to that. I talked to him as Luther would have done, and pleaded his Fatherhood in right down earnest. "Like as a father pitieth his children, even so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." If he be a Father, let him show himself a Father—so I pleaded, and I ventured to say, when I was quiet, and they came back who watched me: "I shall never have such pain again from this moment, for God has heard my prayer." I bless God that ease came and the racking pain never returned. Faith mastered the pain by laying hold upon God in his own revealed character, that character in which in our darkest hour we are best able to appreciate him. I think that is why that prayer, "Our Father which art in heaven," is given to us, because, when we are lowest, we can still say, "Our Father," and when it is very dark, and we are very weak, our childlike appeal can go up, "Father, help me! Father rescue me!" He teacheth us still to go, taking us by the arms, because he is our parent still. If any one fears God may leave him, let him enquire whether a mother can forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb, for even if it be so, God will not forget his people. He has graven you upon the palms of his hands. There is a relationship between you and him so familiar that it never can be forgotten, so firm that it can never be dissolved. Be of good confidence; he will teach you to go, till you shall run without weariness, and walk without fainting. I would that all here had committed themselves to this good Father's hand; I pray that they may do so. The Holy Spirit grant it, for whosoever believeth in the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved. Amen.



Beauty for Ashes

By / Jan 29

Beauty for Ashes

 

"To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified."—Isaiah 61:3

 

     When soldiers are on the march, or advancing to the battle, military men think it wise to let the trumpet sound, that the warriors may be stimulated by the thrilling music. Many a weary soldier has tramped on with new vigor when the band has struck up a lively march, or a soul-moving tune. In the midst of our present Christian service, my brethren, when I trust all of you have resolved to come to the help of the Lord—to the help of the Lord against the mighty—we would bid the silver trumpets of gospel promise sound aloud, that the hosts of God as they march on in battle array may feel their pulses quickened and their souls cheered. May times of revival be also seasons of refreshing. In times of great toil and eminent service much extra refreshment may with wisdom be dealt out. Harvest men require substantial meals amid their exhausting toil; and, as I feel that the Lord of the harvest would not have his laborers treated niggardly, I have to regale each of you with a portion of bread, a good piece of flesh, and a flagon of wine. Melchisedek met Abraham with bread and wine—not on some fine holiday when he had been musing in the plains of Mamre, but when he returned from the slaughter of the kings. After hard fighting comes sweet refreshment, and any here who have striven diligently to serve the Master, and have been pursuing their sacred calling even unto faintness, will be entitled to come and sit down, and partake of the nourishing bread and wine, which such a text as this prepares for all the sons of the Father of the faithful. Elijah ate of bread brought by angelic hands, for a forty days' journey was before him; such a trial of strength may be ordained for brethren to whom this word shall come. Precious promises are for poverty-stricken saints. The strong drink of divine consolation is for the heavy of heart, as saith Solomon—"Let him drink and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more." May he who uttered the words which are now open before us speak them with power to the heart of each one here present. They came from the lips of Jesus; may they drop again into our hearts fresh from his mouth (that well of comfort undefiled), and fall with all their ancient life-giving power.

     We will read our text again, and then meditate thereon. "To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified."

     Our first consideration will be, who gives this word? Secondly, to whom doth he give it? Thirdly, what saith he in it? And, fourthly, what will come of it?

     I. First then, WHO GIVES THIS WORD? It is a word to mourners in Zion, meant for their consolation. But who gives it? The answer is not far to seek. It comes from him who said, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me," "he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted." Now, in a very inferior and subordinate sense, Christian ministers have the Spirit of God resting upon them, and they are sent to bind up the broken-hearted; but they can only do so in the name of Jesus, and in strength given from him. This word is not spoken by them, nor by prophets or apostles either, but by the great Lord and Master of apostles and prophets, and ministers, even by Jesus Christ himself. If he declares that he will comfort us, then we may rest assured we shall be comforted! The stars in his right hand may fail to penetrate the darkness, but the rising of the Sun of Righteousness effectually scatters the gloom. If the consolation of Israel himself comes forth for the uplifting of his downcast people, then their doubts and fears may well fly apace, since his presence is light and peace.

     But, who is this anointed one who comes to comfort mourners? He is described in the preface to the text as a preacher. "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath appointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek." Remember what kind of preacher Jesus was. "Never man spake like this man." He was a son of consolation indeed. It was said of him, "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench." He was gentleness itself: his speech did not fall like a hail shower, it dropped like the rain, and distilled as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb. He came down like the soft vernal shower upon the new-mown grass, scattering refreshment and revival wherever his words were heard. The widow at the gates of Nain dried her eyes when he spake, and Jairus no longer mourned for his child. Magdalene gave over weeping, and Thomas ceased from doubting, when Jesus showed himself. Heavy hearts leaped for joy, and dim eyes sparkled with delight at his bidding. Now, if such be the person who declares he will comfort the broken-hearted, if he be such a preacher, we may rest assured he will accomplish his work.

     In addition to his being a preacher, he is described as a physician. "He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted." Some hearts want more than words. The choicest consolations that can be conveyed in human speech will not reach their case; the wounds of their hearts are deep, they are not flesh cuts, but horrible gashes which lay bare the bone, and threaten ere long to kill unless they be skilfully closed. It is, therefore, a great joy to know that the generous friend who, in the text, promises to deal with the sorrowing, is fully competent to meet the most frightful cases. Jehovah Rophi is the name of Jesus of Nazareth; he is in his own person the Lord that healeth us. He is the beloved physician of men's souls. "By his stripes we are healed." Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses, and he is able now with a word to heal all our diseases, whatever they may be. Joy to you, ye sons of mourning; congratulation to you, ye daughters of despondency: he who comes to comfort you can not only preach with his tongue, but he can bind up with his hand. "He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names."

     As if this were not enough, our gracious helper is next described as a liberator. "He hath sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound." There were many downcast persons in Israel in the olden times—persons who had become bankrupt, and, therefore, had lost their estates, and had even sunk yet further into debt, till they were obliged to sell their children into slavery, and to become themselves bondsmen. Their yoke was very heavy, and their trouble was very sore. But the fiftieth year came round, and never was there heard music so sweet in all Judea's land, as when the silver trumpet was taken down on the jubilee morn, and a loud shrill blast was blown in every city, and hamlet, and village, in all Israel, from Dan even to Beer-sheba. What meant that clarion sound? It meant this: "Israelite, thou art free. If thou hast sold thyself, go forth without money for the year of jubilee has come." Go back, go back, ye who have lost your lands; seek out the old homestead, and the acres from whence ye have been driven: they are yours again. Go back, and plough, and sow, and reap once more, and sit each man under his vine and his fig-tree, for all your heritages are restored. This made great joy among all the tribes, but Jesus has come with a similar message. He, too, publishes a jubilee for bankrupt and enslaved sinners. He breaks the fetters of sin, and gives believers the freedom of the truth. None can hold in captivity the souls whom Jesus declares to be the Lord's free men.

     Surely, if the Savior has power, as the text declares, to proclaim liberty to the captive, and if he can break open prison doors, and set free those convicted and condemned, he is just the one who can comfort your soul and mine, though we be mourning in Zion. Let us rejoice at his coming, and cry Hosanna, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Happy are we that we live in an age when Jesus breaks the gates of brass and cuts the bars of iron in sunder.

     As if this were not all and not enough, one other matter is mentioned concerning our Lord, and he is pictured as being sent as the herald of good tidings of all sorts to us the sons of men. Read the second verse: "To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." God has taken upon himself human flesh. The infinite Jehovah came down from heaven and became an infant, lived among us, and then died for us. Behold in the person of the incarnate God the sure pledge of divine benevolence. "He that spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" Beloved, the very fact that a Savior came to the world should be a source of hope to us, and when we think what a Savior he was, how he suffered, how he finished the work that was given him to do, and what a salvation it is which he has wrought out for us, we may well feel that the comfort of mourners is work for which he is well suited, and which he can execute most effectually. How beautiful upon Olivet and Calvary are the feet of him that bringeth, in his person and his world "good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation." But I must not linger. I have spoken of you enough to lead your thoughts to the blessed person who here declares that he will comfort the mourner. May the Holy Ghost reveal him unto you in all the power of his arm, the love of his heart, the virtue of his blood, the prevalence of his plea, the majesty of his exaltation, and the glory of his character.

     II. Secondly, TO WHOM IS THIS WORD SPOKEN? It is spoken to those who mourn in Zion. They are in Zion. They are the Lord's people, but they mourn. To mourn is not always a mark of grace. Nature mourns. Fallen human nature will have to mourn for ever, except grace shall change it. But the mourning here meant is a mourning in Zion—a mourning of gracious souls. Let me try and describe what kind of mourning it is. It assumes various shapes. It begins in most hearts with lamentation over past sin. I have broken God's just commandments, I have done evil against my God, I have destroyed my soul; my heart feels this, and bitterly mourns. It is one thing to say formally, "I am a miserable sinner;" it is a very different thing to be one. To say it may be gross hypocrisy, to feel it is a mark of grace. Oh that every one of us, if we have never felt mourning for sin may feel it at this hour. May we mourn to think that we have pierced the Savior, that we have transgressed against a God so good, and a Redeemer so generous. Those who mourn for the guilt of past sin, before long, reach a higher point. Mourners are not suffered long to tarry; grace takes their load of guilt away. Their transgressions are covered. Do they leave off mourning then? Oh, no, they mourn in another way. There is a sweet mourning concerning my past sin which I would never wish to lose. It is forgiven, every sin of mine is blotted out, and my soul, therefore, with a sweet bitterness, would mourn over it more and more.

 

"My sins, my sins, my Savior!

How sad on thee they fall,

Seen through thy gentle patience

I tenfold feel them all.

I know they are forgiven;

But still their pain to me

Is all the grief and anguish

They laid, my Lord, on thee."

 

     This is a kind of mourning which may accompany us even to heaven's gates, and we might almost regret to have to part with such a friend even there.

 

"Lord, let me weep, for nought but sin,

And after none but thee;

And then I would—oh that I might—

A constant weeper be."

 

True hearts, however, mourn not only for their past transgressions, but they also sorrow over their present imperfections. If you are what you should be, dear friend, I am quite certain you see a great deal in yourself to grieve over. You cannot live as you would live. Whenever I meet with a person who feels that he is perfect, I conceive at once that he has not yet attained even a remote conception of what true perfection must be. The savage of Australia is satisfied with his weapons of war so long as he has never seen a rifle or heard of a cannon: to him his hovel is a model of architecture, for he has never heard of a cathedral or a palace. I have no doubt that a barn-door fowl would be quite surprised at the complaint which an eagle might make about its inability to mount as high as it desires to do. The fowl is perfect—perfect up to the condition of its barn-door, barley-scratching life, it knows nothing higher than its roosting place, and so it concludes itself absolutely perfect and fit for all that is desirable in flight. But oh, could it know where the thunders dwell, and sail above the clouds where the callow lightnings wait the bidding of the Lord, then would the creature feel something of the aspirations and the griefs which torment the heart of the royal bird. Men know not what God is, nor the infinity of his perfections, nor the majesty of his purity, else, when highest would they cry, "Higher, higher, higher," and mourn because they have not yet attained, and need still to mount as on eagle's wings. Brethren, I speak for you all when I say, there is not a day in which our service satisfies us, not a deed we have ever performed that contents us. We see our spots, and would fain wash them out with tears if we could, though we bless God they are removed by the precious blood of Jesus. Those are among the blessed who mourn because they cannot live a perfect life as they desire. To mourn after more holiness is a sign of holiness, to mourn after greater conformity to the image of Christ proves that we are already in a measure conformed thereunto; to sigh after more complete subordination of our entire life to the will of God is a mourning for which Jesus Christ will bring rich comfort.

     The Christian mourner laments, also, because he cannot be more continually in communion with God. He knows the sweetness of fellowship with the Father and with the Son. He cannot bear to have it broken. If but the thinnest cloud pass between him and the sun of God's love, he is distressed directly, for he is sensitive lest he should lose the delights of communion. A native of sunny Italy deplores the absence of heaven's bright blue, when made to dwell in this land of the fleecy clouds; and he who has dwelt in unclouded fellowship with the Lord bemoans his hard lot, if even for awhile he beholds not that face which is as the sun shining in its strength. Love cannot endure absence, much less, coldness. True grace finds its life in fellowship, and pines if it be denied it.

     The real Christian mourns, again, because he cannot be more useful. He wishes he were like a pillar of fire and light, so that he might evermore by day and by night enlighten the ignorant, and inspire the dull and laggard. He wishes not so much for more talent as for more grace to make use of the talent which he has. He would fain bring in a great rental to the owner of the vineyard who has placed him as a husbandman among the vines. He longs to bring up priceless pearls from the deep seas of sin, wherewith to adorn the diadem of his Lord and king. He sighs because thorns and thistles will spring up where he looked for a hundred-fold harvest: this makes him groan out, "Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?"

     Moreover, like his Lord, he mourns for others. He mourns in Zion because of the deadness of the Christian church, its divisions, its errors, its carelessness towards the souls of sinners. He cries with Jeremiah, "How is the gold become dim! How is the much fine gold changed!" But, he mourns most of all for the unconverted. He sees their state of alienation from God, and knowing the danger of it, his heart shrinks within him, as with prophetic glance he sees what their end will be: when "there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." His heart breaks for the sins and sorrows of others, and, like his Savior, he could weep over the cities that reject divine love; he could say like Moses that he was almost willing to have his name blotted out of the Book of Life if others might be saved: he feels such sorrow and heaviness of heart for his kinsmen according to the flesh who are strangers to Christ, that he has no rest in his death concerning them. Dear brethren, he that is quickened by the new life obtains an enlarged heritage of mourning; but, let it not be forgotten, he wins tenfold more joy as well; and, meanwhile, such weeping is in itself sweet—tears not too briny, and griefs not too bitter; such griefs we would wish to feel as long as we live, especially if the Lord Jesus alternates them with the fulfilling of that most excellent promise, to which I now direct you.

     III. What is that, then, in the third place, WHICH IS SPOKEN in the text to those that mourn? I would draw particular attention to the words here, "To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes." Come, mourning souls, who mourn in the way described, come ye gladly hither: there is comfort appointed for you, and there is also comfort given to you. It is the prerogative of King Jesus both to appoint and to give. How cheering is the thought that as our griefs are appointed, so also are our consolations. God has allotted a portion to every one of his mourners, even as Joseph allotted a mess to each of his brethren at the feast. You shall have your due share at the table of grace, and if you are a little one, and have double sorrows, you shall have a double portion of comfort. "To appoint unto them." This is a word full of strong consolation; for if God appoints me a portion, who can deprive me of it? If he appoints my comfort, who dare stand in the way? If he appoints it, it is mine by right. But then, to make the appointment secure, he adds the word "To give." The Holy One of Israel in the midst of Zion gives as well as appoints. The rich comforts of the gospel are conferred by the Holy Spirit, at the command of Jesus Christ, upon every true mourner in the time when he needs them; they are given to each spiritual mourner in the time when he would faint for lack of them. He can effectually give the comfort appointed for each particular case. All I can do is to speak of the comfort for God's mourners. I can neither allot it, nor yet distribute it; but our Lord can do both. My prayer is that he may do so at this moment; that every holy mourner may have a time of sweet rejoicing while siting at the Master's feet in a waiting posture. Did you never feel, while cast down, on a sudden lifted up, when some precious promise has come home to your soul? This is the happy experience of all the saints.

 

"Sometimes a light surprises

The Christian while he sings:

It is the Lord who rises

With healing in his wings.

When comforts are declining,

He grants the soul again,

A season of clear shining

To cheer it, after rain."

 

     Our ever gracious and almighty Lord knows how to comfort his children, and be assured he will not leave them comfortless. He who bids his ministers again and again attend to this duty, and says, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people," will not himself neglect to give them consolation. If you are very heavy, there is the more room for the display of his grace in you, by making you very joyful in his ways. Do not despair; do not say, "I have fallen too low, my harp has been so long upon the willows that it has forgotten Zion's joyful tunes." Oh, no, you shall lay your fingers amongst the old accustomed strings, and the art of making melody shall come back to you, and your heart shall once more be glad. He appoints and he gives—the two words put together afford double hope to us—he appoints and he gives comfort to his mourners.

     Observe, in the text, the change Christ promises to work for his mourners. First, here is beauty given for ashes. In the Hebrew there is a ring in the words which cannot be conveyed in the English. The ashes that men put upon their head in the East in the time of sorrow made a grim tiara for the brow of the mourner; the Lord promises to put all these ashes away, and to substitute for them a glorious head dress—a diadem of beauty. Or, if we run away from the word, and take the inner sense, we may look at it thus:—mourning makes the face wan and emaciated, and so takes away the beauty; but Jesus promises that he will so come and reveal joy to the sorrowing soul, that the face shall fill up again: the eyes that were dull and cloudy shall sparkle again, and the countenance, yea, and the whole person shall be once more radiant with the beauty which sorrow had so grievously marred. I thank God I have sometimes seen this change take place in precious saints who have been cast down in soul. There has even seemed to be a visible beauty put upon them when they have found peace in Jesus Christ, and this beauty is far more lovely and striking, because it is evidently a beauty of the mind, a spiritual lustre, far superior to the surface comeliness of the flesh. When the Lord shines full upon his servants' faces, he makes them fair as the moon, when at her full she reflects the light of the sun. A gracious and unchanging God sheds on his people a gracious and unfading loveliness. O mourning soul, thou hast made thine eyes red with weeping, and thy cheeks are marred with furrows, down which the scalding tears have burned their way; but the Lord that healeth thee, the Lord Almighty who wipeth all tears from human eyes, shall visit thee yet; and, if thou now believes "in Jesus, he shall visit thee now, and chase these cloudy griefs away, and thy face shall be bright and clear again, fair as the morning, and sparkling as the dew. Thou shalt rejoice in the God of thy salvation, even in God, thy exceeding joy. Is not this a dainty promise for mourning souls?

     Then, it is added, "He will give the oil of joy for mourning." Here we have first beauty, and then unction. The Orientals used rich perfumed oils on their persons—used them largely and lavishly in times of great joy. Now, the Holy Spirit comes upon those who believe in Jesus, and gives them an anointing of perfume, most precious, more sweet and costly than the herd of Araby. An unction, such as royalty has never received, sheds its costly moisture over all the redeemed when the Spirit of the Lord rests upon them. "We have an unction from the Holy One," saith the apostle. "Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over." Oh, how favored are those who have the Spirit of God upon them! You remember that the oil which was poured on Aaron's head went down to the skirts of his garment, so that the same oil was on his skirts that had been on his head. It is the same Spirit that rests on the believer as that which rests on Jesus Christ, and he that is joined unto Christ is one Spirit. What favor is here! Instead of mourning, the Christian shall receive the Holy Spirit, the Comforter who shall take of the things of Christ, and reveal them unto him, and make him not merely glad, but honored and esteemed.

     Then, it is added, to give still greater fullness to the cheering promise, that the Lord will give "the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." The man is first made beautiful, next he has the anointing, then afterwards he is arrayed in robes of splendor. What garments these are! Surely Solomon in all his glory wore not such right royal apparel. "The garment of praise." what a dress is this! Speak of wrought gold, or fine linen, or needlework of divers colors, or taffeta, or damasks, or gorgeous silks most rich and rare which come from far off lands—where is anything compared with "the garment of praise?" When a man wraps himself about, as it were, with psalmody, and lives for ever a chorister, singing not with equal voice, but with the same earnest heart as they do who day and night keep up the never ending hymn before the throne of the infinite! As, what a life is his, what a man is he! O mourner, this is to be your portion; take it now; Jesus Christ will cover you, even at this hour, with the garment of praise; so grateful shall you be for sins forgiven, for infirmity overcome, for watchfulness bestowed, for the church revived, for sinners saved, that you shall undergo the greatest conceivable change, and the sordid garments of your woe shall be put aside for the brilliant array of delight. It shall not be the spirit of praise for the spirit of heaviness, though that were a fair exchange, but as your heaviness you tried to keep to yourself, so your praise you shall not keep to yourself, it shall be a garment to you, external and visible, as well as inward and profound. Wherever you are it shall be displayed to others, and they shall see and take knowledge of you that God has done great things for you whereof you are glad. I wish I had power to speak fitly on such a theme as this; but, surely, it needs him upon whom the Spirit rested without measure to proclaim this joyful promise to the mourners in Zion.

     We must close, by noticing what will be the result of this appointment, and text concludes, by saying, "That they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified." We learn, here, that those mourning souls who are cast down, and have put ashes on their heads, shall, when Jesus Christ in infinite mercy comes to them, be made like trees—like "oaks;" the original is, like "oaks of righteousness," that is, they shall become strong, firmly rooted, covered with verdure; they shall be like a well-watered tree for pleasantness and delight. Thou sayest, "I am a dry tree, a sere branch, I am a cast off, fruitless bough; Oh that I were visited of God and saved! I mourn because I cannot be what I would." Mourner, thou shalt be all thou wouldst be, and much more if Jesus visits thee. Breathe the prayer to him now; look to him, trust him. He can change thee from a withered tree that seems twice dead into a tree standing by the rivers of water, whose leaf is unwithering, and whose fruit ripens in its season. Only have confidence in an anointed Savior, rely upon him who came not here to destroy but to bless, and thou shalt yet through faith become a tree of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

     But, the very pith of the text lies in a little word to which you must look. "Ye shall be called trees of righteousness." Now, there are many mourning saints who are trees of righteousness, but nobody calls them so, they are so desponding that they give a doubtful idea to others. Observers ask, "Is this a Christian?" And those who watch and observe them are not at all struck with their Christian character. Indeed, I may be speaking to some here who are true believers in Jesus, but they are all their lifetime subject to bondage; they hardly know themselves whether they are saved, and, therefore, they cannot expect that others should be very much impressed by their godly character and fruitful conversation. But, O mourners! if Jesus visits you, and gives you the oil of joy, men shall call you "trees of righteousness," they shall see grace in you, they shall not be able to help owning it, it shall be so distinct in the happiness of your life, that they shall be compelled to see it. I know some Christian people who, wherever they go, are attractive advertisements of the gospel. Nobody could be with them for a half an hour without saying, "Whence do they gain this calm, this peace, this tranquility, this holy delight and joy?" Many have been attracted to the cross of Christ by the holy pleasantness and cheerful conversation of those whom Christ has visited with the abundance of his love. I wish we were all such. I would not discourage a mourner; no, but encourage him to seek after the garments of praise; nevertheless, I must say that it is a very wretched thing for so many professors to go about the world grumbling at what they have and at what they have not, murmuring at the dispensations of providence, and at the labors of their brethren. They are more like wild crab-trees than the Lords fruit-trees. Well may people say, "If these are Christians, God save us from such Christianity." But, when a man is contented—more than that, when he is happy under all circumstances, when "his spirit doth rejoice in God his Savior" in deep distress, when he can sing in the fires of affliction, when he can rejoice on the bed of sickness, when his shout of triumph grows louder as his conflict waxes more and more severe, and when he can utter the sweetest song of victory in his departing moments, then all who see such people call them trees of righteousness, they confess that they are the people of God.

     Note, still, the result of all this goes further, "They shall he called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord," that is to say, where there is joy imparted, and unction given from the Holy Spirit, instead of despondency, men will say, "It is God's work, it is a tree that God has planted, it could not grow like that if anybody else had planted it; this man is a man of God's making, his joy is a joy of God's giving." I feel sure that in the case of some of us we were under such sadness of heart before conversion, through a sense of sin, that when we did find peace, everybody noticed the change there was in us, and they said one to another, "Who has made this man so happy, for he was just now most heady and depressed?" And, when we told them where we lost our burden, they said, "Ah, there is something, in religion after all." "Then said they among the heathen the Lord hath done great things for them." Remember poor Christian in Pilgrim's Progress. Mark what heavy sighs he heaved, what tears fell from his eyes, what a wretched man he was when he wrung his hands, and said, "The city wherein I dwell is to be burned up with fire from heaven, and I shall be consumed in it, and, besides, I am myself undone by reason of a burden that lieth hard upon me. Oh that I could get rid of it!" Do you remember John Bunyan's description of how he got rid of the burden? He stood at the foot of the cross, and there was a sepulcher hard by, and as he stood and looked, and saw one hanging on the tree, suddenly the bands that bound his burden cracked, and the load rolled right away into the sepulcher, and when he looked for it, it could not be found. And what did he do? Why, he gave three great leaps for joy, and sang,

 

"Bless'd cross! bless'd sepulcher! bless'd rather

be the man that there was put to shame for me."

 

If those who knew the pilgrim in his wretchedness had met him on the other side of that never-to-be-forgotten sepulcher, they would have said, "Are you the same man?" If Christiana had met him that day, she would have said, "My husband, are you the same? What a change has come over you;" and, when she and the children marked the father's cheerful conversation, they could have been compelled to say, "It is the Lord's doing, and it is wondrous in our eyes." Oh live such a happy life that you may compel the most wicked man to ask where you learned the art of living. Let the stream of your life be so clear, so limpid, so cool, so sparkling, so like the river of the water of life above, that men may say, "Whence came this crystal rivulet? We will trace it to its source," and so may they be led to the foot of that dear cross where all your hopes began.

     Another word remains, and when we have considered it, we will conclude. That other word is this, "The planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified." That is the end of it all, that is the great result we drive at, and that is the object even of God himself, "that he might be glorified." For when men see the cheerful Christian, and perceive that this is God's work, then they own the power of God; not always, perhaps, with their hearts as they should, but still they are obliged to confess "this is the finger of God." Meanwhile, the saints, comforted by your example, praise and bless God, and all the church lifts up a song to the Most High. Come, my brethren and sisters, are any of you down; are you almost beneath the enemy's foot? Here is a word for you, "Rejoice not over me, O mine enemy, though I fall yet shall I rise again." Are any of you in deep trouble—very deep trouble? Another word then for you; "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." Are you pressed with labors and afflictions? "As thy days so shall thy strength be," "All things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to his purpose." Are you persecuted? Here is a note of encouragement for you: "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." Whatever your circumstances are, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice." Think what Jesus has given you, your sins are pardoned for his name sake, your heaven is made secure to you, and all that is wanted to bring you there; you have grace in your hearts, and glory awaits you; you have already grace within you, and greater grace shall be granted you; you are renewed by the Spirit of Christ in your inner man the good work is begun, and God will never leave it till he has finished it; your names are in his book, nay, graven on the palms of his hands; his love never changes, his power never diminishes, his grace never fails, his truth is firm as the hills, and his faithfulness is like the great mountains. Lean on the love of his heart, on the might of his arm, on the merit of his blood, on the power of his plea, and the indwelling of his Spirit. Take such promises as these for your consolation, "Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, be strong, fear not." "Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel." "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer. For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee." "My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness." "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength." "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, destroy them." "I am God, I fail not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed." One might continue for ever quoting these precious passages, but may the Lord apply one or other of them to every mourner's soul; and, especially if there be a mourning sinner here, may he get a grip of that choice word, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out;" or, that other grand sentence, "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men;" or, that other, "The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin:" or, that equally encouraging word, "Come now, and let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as wool, though they be red like crimson they shall be as snow." The Lord bring us all into comfort and joy by the way of the cross.

     Peradventure, I speak to some for whom the promises of God have no charm; let me, then, remind them that his threatenings are as sure as his promises. He can bless, but he can also curse. Be appoints mourning for those who laugh now with sinful merriment; he will give to his enemies vengeance for all their rebellions. He has himself said, "And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty." Beware, then, ye that forget God, lest he overthrow you in his hot displeasure. Seek ye the Savior now, lest the acceptable year of the Lord be closed with a long winter of utter despair.

 

"Ye who spurn his righteous sway,

Yet, oh yet, he spares your breath;

Yet his hand, averse to slay,

Balances the bolt of death.

Ere that dreadful bolt descends,

Haste before his feet to fall,

Kiss the scepter he extends,

And adore him, 'Lord of all.'"



North and South

By / Jan 28

North and South

 

"I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, keep not back."—Isaiah 43:6

 

     In the fulness of the promised days when the Jews shall be restored from their wanderings, and all the seed of Jacob shall again meet in their own land, God in his mighty providence will speak to all the nations, saying: "To the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back;" and at the divine bidding free passage shall be given, all lets and hindrances shall be removed, and his own people shall come to their own land. Entailed on Abraham's seed by a covenant of salt, the Holy Land shall receive again its rightful heritors, the banished shall come to their own again, and no nation or people shall keep them back. So much for the literal meaning. I am unable to indulge you with fuller details, for I have no skill in guessing at the meaning of dark passages, but leave such things to those to whom it is given, or who think it is given to them. We shall now pursue the spiritual teaching of the passage.

     At this moment, my brethren and sisters, we who follow the footsteps of King Jesus are soldiers of an army which has invaded this world. This land belongs to our great Leader, for he made it. It was right that everywhere, all round the globe, his name should he honored, for he is the King among the nations, and the governor thereof: But our race has revolted, set up another monarch, and bowed its strength to support another dynasty—the dynasty of darkness and death. Our race has broken the good and wholesome laws of the great Lord, the rightful King, and set up new laws and new customs altogether opposed to right and truth. This is the Great Rebellion the Revolt of Manhood, the Sedition of Sinners. Now, no king will willingly lose his dominions, and therefore the Great King of kings has sent his son to conquer this world by force of arms, though not by arms of steel, or weapons that cut and kill, and wound, yet by arms more mighty far; and this earth is to be yet subdued to the kingdom of the Crown Prince, the Prince Imperial of heaven, Jesus Christ, the Lord. We, his regenerated people, form part of the army of occupation. We have invaded the land. Hard and stern hath been the battle up to this point. We have had to win every inch of ground by sheer push of pike. Effort after effort has been put forth by the church of God under the guidance of her heavenly leader, and none has been in vain. Hitherto the Lord hath helped us, but there is much yet to be done. Canaanites and Hivites, and Jebusites have to be driven out; yea, in fact, the whole world seems still to lie in darkness, and under the dominion of the wicked one. We do but hold here and there a sacred fortress for truth and holiness in the land; but these we must retain till the Lord Jesus shall send us more prosperous times, and the battle shall be tamed against the foe, and the kingdom shall come unto our prince. Nor is there any fear but that such a time will come, therefore let us have courage. Soldiers of the cross, have faith; have faith in your great leader, for behold he is still at the head of you, and is still omnipotent. The hour of his weakness is past. His sun set once in blood, but it has risen to go down no more. Once was it eclipsed at noon day; but now the Sun of Righteousness ariseth with healing beneath his wings. He who died once for all, is now life's source, center, and Lord. The living Christ is present among us as the commander-in-chief of the church militant. Let us refresh our souls by drawing, near to him by the power of the Holy Ghost.

     The text has two grand matters in it:—First, here is the royalty of the word—where the word of this king is there is power. Secondly, here is the word of royalty, and that word we may well consider, for where the word of this king is there is wisdom.

     I. First, here is THE ROYALTY OF THE WORD. It is more than an imperial edict; it is the fiat of onmipotence. Jesus Christ saith to the north, "Give up," and it does give up; and to the south, "Keep not back," and it cannot keep back.

     I understand from reading this declaration, that there is a general opposition in the world to the cause and kingdom of God; for until he saith, "Give up,"' and "Keep not back," men do not crowd to Immanuel's feet, and even the chosen of God do not come forth from their hiding places. All the world over there is a general opposition to the cause of Christ, to the doctrine of truth, to the throne of God. Go where you may, in the highest places of the earth, you shall find true religion despised; among the lowest of the land you shall find that same religion blasphemed; and in the middle classes, where some seem to fancy that all virtue resides, you shall find carelessness about the things of the world to come, and carking carefulness about the selfishness of this present life. Jesus Christ is everywhere despised in comparison with the things that perish. They will not have this man to reign over them. The trees of the wood reject heaven's cedar, and choose hell's bramble. Even the eleven sell the true Joseph into Egypt, nor is there one found who will defend the chosen of God. Go amongst savage nations, and there the idol is worshipped, but Jesus is not known. Go among civilised nations, and, lo, they have only changed their idols; they have rebaptised their images, given new names to the objects of their superstitious reverence, but the true Christ is misunderstood and rejected. Go you to the swarthy Hindoo, the man of deep philosophy and sophistry, and you shall find his heart set against the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth; and then sail over the blue sea to the islands of the deep, and man in his simplicity worships he knows not what, but not the incarnate God. Traverse the central parts of continents where as yet civilization has scarcely reached, and you shall find that man is still opposed to his Maker, and hates the name of the only begotten Son of God. Nor need we travel or even look abroad; the opposition is universal among ourselves, among the old, among the young. Striking is that text, "They go astray from the womb, speaking lies." An old Puritan puts it; "They go astray before they go: they speak lies before they speak;" and so it is. Before it comes to acts, the evil propensity is in the heart; and before the lips can frame the falsehood, there is the lie within the soul. From the earliest infancy to palsied age, nothing seems to cure manhood of its rebellious disposition; the carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not reconciled to God, neither indeed while it remains what it is can it be. There is a general opposition to the cause and kingdom of Christ.

     But the text seems to hint that there is a particular form of that opposition in each case. There is a word to the north, a different word from that which is given to the south. The north holds fast, and therefore the word is, "Give up:" the south retires, is despairing, therefore it is said, "Keep not back." The opposition takes different shapes, and there is a different word to meet its ever varying forms. How true is Dr. Watts's verse—

 

"We wander each a different way,

But all the downward road."

 

     As each land has its own tribes of wild animals, so has each heart its indigenous sins. All land will grow weeds, but you will not find the same sort of weed equally abundant in every soil: so in one heart the deadly nightshade of ignorance chokes the seed, and in another the prickly thistle of malice crowds out the wheat. There are difficulties in reaching the heart of any man, but not the same difficulties in all men. Some, for instance, cannot be influenced because of their want of intelligence; others because of their supposed learning. Some cannot be come at because of their presumption; others because of their despondency. Some spend their all upon the pleasures of this world, others spend nothing, but find their pleasure simply in hoarding, yet are they equally averse to heavenly things. Whatever form sin takes, it is the same opposition, but yet it may need a different mode of treatment, and by a different weapon will it have to be overcome. My dear brother in Christ, you perhaps have a different personal, spiritual difficulty from mine. I have no wish to change with you, and I should not advise you to change with me. The same is true with our trials in winning souls. We have each our difficulties, but they are not precisely alike in detail. You have to fight the north perhaps, and I the south; but the same Lord and Master can make us victorious, and without him we shall be equally defeated. The opposition which we encounter in serving our Lord is the same, depend upon it. You need not say, "Mine is a peculiarly hard task," or if you do, I may say the same of mine. After all, both tasks are impossibilities without God, and both labors shall be readily performed if Jesus speaks the divine fiat, and saith "to the north, Give up; arid to the south, Keep not back."

     Further, as there is in all an opposition, and as there is in each a distinct opposition, so no power can in any case subdue any part of the world to Christ apart from him. It is possible that you may fall in with a family which seems to be naturally religious: you may even meet with tribes of people who appear to he spontaneously inclined to godliness; but if you bring the religion of Christ to them, you will find that their very religiousness is the greatest difficulty you have to deal with. Some, on the other hand, never could be superstitious: the conformation of their mind is that of practical, sound, common sense; but do not deceive yourself with the idea that their conversion is any the easier. You may preach the gospel in the most forcible way to them, and you will find that this very common sense of theirs will be the main difficulty to be overcome. Believe me, however intent you may be in winning souls to Christ, you shall never meet with one who can be subdued to him by any persuasions of yours apart from the working of his own power. I know the preacher has thought within himself, "I have only to put the truth in a reasonable way, and the man will see it." Ah! sir, but sinners are not reasonable: they are the most unreasonable of all creatures: none are so senseless, none act so madly us they do. "But," saith one, "if I were to tell them of the love of Christ in an affectionate loving way, that would reach them." Yes; but you will find that all your affection and your tears, and earnest delineation of the love of Jesus, will be powerless against human hearts, unless the Eternal Spirit shall drive home your appeals. We know some who have been reasoned with, and if logic could win them, they ought to have been won long ago: they have also been persuaded, and if rhetoric could reach them, they ought to have turned away from their evil ways years ago; but all human art has been tried and tried, and tried in vain; yet there is no room for despair, for Jesus can conquer the unconquerables, and heal the incurables. Do not be disappointed, dear brother, if you have hitherto failed in your efforts; you have but proved that "vain is the help of man." You see now by experience that "it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." It is yours to try and bring that soul to Jesus; but it lies with him to perform the work. Duty is ours, the result is God's. If the soil of the field committed to me will never yield a harvest, I am yet bound to plough it, if my Lord commands. If I could foresee that my child would never turn to the Lord, yet I ought not to slacken my efforts for its conversion. I have to do with my Master's command, and what he bids me do I am bound to do. Never let us be surprised when we are defeated, for we ought to know that old Adam is far too strong for us, if we assail him single-handed. We cannot expect to cast out the devil: he laughs us to scorn if we attempt to exorcise him in our own name. We may speak as we will, but if it is only we that speak, the devil will say, "Jesus I know, and the Holy Ghost I know—but who are ye? I do not yield to you. I will not go out of this sinner, through all your persuasions and all your talkings." Do not forget then that there is a general opposition to the kingdom of Christ—such opposition as no human power can by any possibility overcome.

     But, my brethren, here is the point of the text. That opposition, whatever form it assumes, though not to be subdued by our agency alone, shall assuredly yield before the fiat of our great King, when he saith "to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back." His word is a word of power wherever it comes. Let us rejoice then, whatever place we dwell in, that we have only to ask the King himself to come there, and to speak with power, and we shall see conversions, conversions most numerous, that shall glorify his name. I fully believe that the darkest time of any true Christian church is just the period when it ought to have most hope, for when the Lord has allowed us to spin ourselves out till there is no more strength in us, then it is that he will come to our rescue. What could have been lower than the condition into which we, as a church, had sunk some seventeen years ago? But a little faithful band used to meet in that dreary chapel in Park Street, and cry unto the Lord, never ceasing their prayers. And, oh! how soon the house began to fill, and how speedily our tent was too strait for us, and we broke forth on the right hand and on the left, and God made the desolate places to be inhabited. Members of other churches, you have the same God to go to. Go to him, for he can work the same wonders for you. Look to the Most High, and not to man, or ministers, or modes, or methods, but only to him, and the guidance of his Spirit. "Well, but ours is a village," saith one. And is not he the Lord of the villages? Is he the Lord of the cities, and not the Lord of the hamlets? "But our chapel is ugly, and built in a back street," saith one. "Nobody knows of its existence. We shall never get the people within its obscure and dreary walls." Is God the God of the wide thoroughfares and not of the lanes? Does not the Lord know the back streets as well as the broad ones? Was not that the question in dispute of old? Is he the God of the hills, and not the God of the valleys? I have already put it in another shape to you. In his name I ask you, can anything be too hard for the Lord? Perhaps in your sphere of service you have grown so dispirited that you are inclined to say, "I may as well give up all further effort; no good will result from my endeavors." But what have you told the Master, and what have you sought at his hand? Have you told him all your discouragements? Have you asked him to speak with power, and has he refused you? If so, then give it up, but not till then, for he can even now "say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back;" and as when he said to the thick primaeval darkness, "Let there be light," and the light leaped into being, and the darkness fled, so can he, amid the gross darkness of our huge city, or the not less dense darkness of our villages, create light to our astonishment and to his glory. It is the king's word we want—nothing short of it, and nothing more. We must get that by prayer: we must wait upon him with importunity. If there be only two or three whose hearts break over the desolations of the church, if we have only half a dozen that resolve to give the Lord no rest till he establish and make Jerusalem a praise in the earth, we shall see great things yet. A handful of people who resolve if a blessing is to be had they will have it, and that if souls are not saved it shall be the sovereignty of God that prevents it and nothing else: such a mere handful shall win the day. If they will have souls saved; if so they plead and agonize, oh! then the Lord will turn his gracious hand, and send a plenteous stream of blessing upon their district; for where he wills it the blessing must come, and he always wills to display his grace where and when he leads his people to pray for it.

     Before I leave this point, let me say the power of the King's word is always exercised in full consistence with the free agency of man. You must not think when we say that Christ has his will, and works omnipotently in men's hearts, that we imagine that he violates the free agency which he has created. He says to the north, "Give up," and that word does it; for a word is a suitable instrument by which to rule a free agent. The way to make blocks of timber move would be to drag them, and if we wish to shape them we must hew them with the axe, or cut them with a saw; but the way to deal with men is to speak with them. That is how Jesus operates. His power is exerted in conformity with the laws of human mind. He does not violate the free agency of man, though he does as he wills with man: His word is an instrument consistent with our mental nature, and he uses that word wisely. He says to the north, "Give up:" he says to the south, "Keep not back." His word touches the secret spring, and sets all in motion. No man is ever taken to heaven against his will, though I do not believe any man ever went there of his own free will till God's sovereign grace enlightened him and made him willing. You must not suppose that Christ conquers human hearts by physical compulsion, such as the King of Prussia used, for instance, in subduing France, or such as a man uses in driving a horse. The Lord knows how to leave us free, and yet to make us do his bidding, and therein lies the beauty of gospel influences. Suppose man's will to be a room; if you and I want to open it, we break in the lock; we do not understand the true method; but the Lord has the key, and knows how to open the door without a wrench. Without violating even the most delicate spring in the watch, the maker knows how to regulate it. Grace draws, but it is with hands of a man; it rules, but it is with a scepter of love. The fact is, the great dispute between Calvinists and Arminians has arisen very much through not understanding one another, and from one brother saying, "What I hold is the truth"—and the other saying, "What I hold is truth, and nothing else." The men need somebody to knock both their heads together, and fuse their beliefs into one. They need one capacious brain to hold both the truths which their two little heads contain; for God's word is neither all on one side nor altogether on the other: it overlaps all systems, and defies all formularies. It lays the full responsibility of his ruin on man, but all the power and glory of grace it ascribes to God; and it is wise of us to do the same. The great King doeth as he wills among men as well as among the armies of heaven. Who shall stay his hand or say unto him, "What doest thou?" He rules men as men, and not as inanimate stones. He has a scepter which is adapted to mind and spirit. The weapons of his warfare are not carnal: his forces rule the heart, the mind, the whole manhood as he has made it; and so he conquers, and becomes the happy king of willing subjects, who, though subdued by power, are happy to own his sway. Thus much on the first point—the royalty of the word.

     II. How we will consider THE WORD OF ROYALTY. The King saith "to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back."

     We will not spend many minutes over these words, but just briefly hint at what meaning may be drawn from them. There are some persons to whom, when the powerful word of grace comes, it speaks in this way—"Give up; give up." There are other persons in another state of mind to whom, whenever the word of salvation comes, it says, "Keep not back; keep not back." Now, to some we find that it comes in this way: "Give up; give up." You say, "I am righteous; I am no worse than others. I have broken the law, but not much; my sins are trivial. I cannot deserve to be cast into hell for my small offenses. I have been—not perfect, but as righteous as most. I have done this, I have done that, I have done the other." Ah, dear friend, the sword of divine grace will kill all this; and the message that God's mercy sends to you to-day is, "Give up." Renounce your fancied goodness and deceitful self-esteem. Oh, give up that spinning; it is a poor trade to spin cobwebs. Give it up. Your father, Adam, taught you to make aprons of fig-leaves; but it was after he had fallen. It is a bad business: give it up. Your own works will never cover you as you should be covered; there is a better righteousness than yours to be had; there is a better footing to stand before God upon than anything you have done. Your refuges are all refuges of lies; give them up. That pretty righteousness of yours, which fools so white, is only white because your eyes are blind; if you could see it, it is all as black as filth can make it. You conceive your robe to be new and fair, but it is all riddled through and through with holes. The worms have devoured it; it is all moth-eaten and decayed. Give it up. Oh, give up that Pharisaic mouthful, "God, I thank thee," and betake thyself to the publican's prayer, "God be merciful to me, a sinner." Give up thy self-trust; it is a painted lie, a rotten plank, a foul deception, a false traitor; it promises salvation, but it brings sure damnation. Jesus is the sinner's only hope. Give up every other reliance.

     Then, too, you have an opposition in your hearts to the gospel. Concerning that also the word saith to you, "Give up." Perhaps you were prejudiced against it foolishly and ignorantly; before you ever heard it you felt persuaded you should not like it. Possibly you have been brought up to a religion of forms; you hardly think that salvation can be by simple faith in Jesus Christ; you feel a great deal of attachment to that regeneration of yours which was wrought in your baptism, and to that confirmation of yours bestowed by the bishop's fingers. Besides, you have been so regular in your religion up till now, that you can hardly brook to be told that the whole bundle of it is mere rubbish, not worth the time you have spent on it. You cannot endure to be told that—

 

"None but Jesus can do helpless sinners good."

 

But rest assured, the sooner you give up all those flattering reliances of yours, the better for you, for there is nothing in them. Even ceremonies that God has commanded are only of spiritual use to spiritual men, and since you are not a spiritual man they cannot profit you. Have you in your heart an opposition to Christ? Can you not yield to him as God? Can you not stoop to be saved entirely by his merits, and acknowledge him for your Lawgiver, and Teacher, and Guide? Then as the text saith so would I say, and may the Lord apply the word: "Give up; give up." There is no salvation for thee till thou "give up" all ceremonial hopes and formal confidences. Strike the colors, man, before a broadside goes through thee; for depend upon it, if thou yield not in one way thou wilt in another. Thou shalt either break or bow; thou shalt either turn or burn; that is the alternative to every man of woman born: he must turn away from his enmity to Christ, and yield himself up to his love, or else he shall find the power of God in Christ to be his destruction.

     It is possible, dear friends, that your opposition to Jesus Christ has taken the form of the love of a favourite sin. Now, there is nothing more certain than this, that you cannot be saved and keep your sins: they must be parted with. No man can carry fire in his bosom and yet be safe from burning. While you drink the poison, it must and will work death in you. The thief cannot expect mercy while he keeps the goods he has stolen. John Bunyan says that one day, when he was playing "cat" on a Sunday, on the village green, he thought he heard a voice saying to him: "Wilt thou have thy sins and go to hell, or leave thy sins and go to heaven?" That question is put to every man who hears the gospel faithfully preached. Most men in their heart of hearts would like to have their sins and go to heaven too. But that cannot be; while God is just, and heaven is holy, and truth is precious, it cannot be. What then? "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." Give up, give up; give up your sin. What is the sin? The drunkards cup? Away with the bewitching draught. Is it the drunkard's company? That is as damnable as his cup; renounce such society at once. Is it blaspheming? O man, God rinse thy mouth out of such black stuff as that! Have done with a sin for which there cannot be any excuse, for it cannot bring thee any pleasure or profit, nor can there be any necesssity for it: it is a degrading, useless, senseless. God-provoking crime. Is it some secret sin that must not be named lest the cheek of modesty be reddened? Give it up, friend; it will be much better for thee to lose it though it were as precious as thy right arm or thy right eye, than to keep it and be cast into hell fire. The chamber of wantonness is the gate of death, flee from it without delay. The sins of the flesh are a deep ditch, and the abhorred of the Lord fall therein; but as thou lovest thy soul, O young man, escape like a bird from the fowler's snare. Here is the message of God to thee: "Give up, give up thy sin." Perhaps though you hear the summons, you trifle with it, and reply, "Yes; I mean to give them all up, and I hope by so doing I shall find my way to heaven. I shall deserve well of my Maker when I have denied myself all sinful pleasures." But stop; let me not deceive you: this is not all. I fear that some men are not improved in their hearts when they are altered in their outward behavior. I am glad of the outward improvement, but I have sometimes fancied that they have only changed their sins, but not given them up. They show no leprosy in their skin, but it dies in their bone and their flesh. It is little use merely to shift the region in which sin sets up its throne if its dominion is still undestroyed. It reminds one of the verse—

 

"So when a raging fever burns,

We shift from side to side by turns;

And 'tis a poor relief we gain

To shift the place but keep the pain."

 

What if the man does not go to hell as a drunkard, it will not mend it if he is ruined by being self-righteous: so long as he is lost I do not see that it materially matters how. Many and many a man has given up outward sins and set up a self-righteousness of his own, and said, "These be thy gods, O Israel;" and so he fled from a bear, and a lion slew him; he leaned on a wall, and a serpent bit him. All sin must be cast out of the throne of the heart, and whatever righteousness that is not Christ's righteousness must go with it. I would fain put the sword-point to thy heart, O sinner, and say, "Give up all that opposes Christ;" for if thou do not give it up, thy soul will be lost.

     In fine, dear friends, speaking to the children of God as well as to such as are not converted, I say, give up all and have Christ; give up all attempts to save yourself, and let Christ save you. Work afterwards, because he worketh in you to will and to do, but now do nothing either great or small, to make yourself righteous, for Jesus did it, did it all, long, long ago. Do nothing by way of straining for merit, but begin to do everything by way of gratitude. "Give up;" that is, give up yourself to Christ, whatever his will may be. If it be his will that you be sick, that you be poor, that you die, give all up, and say, "Thy will be done. I resign all to thee, my God." Doth Jesus command you to do anything? Let it not be irksome to you. Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. Let there be no back-stair by which to play the truant; no keeping back of part of the price as though you would not do Christ's will, except in some points. Give up unreservedly, and make no provision for the flesh. Let his will be your will. Yield entirely; and if you have anything in this world of substance, of talent, of opportunity, "Give up." Begin with resignation, go on to obedience, and finish with consecration. "Give up, give up" till all is given up, body, soul, and spirit, a reasonable sacrifice to him, till you can say:

 

"Now Lord I would be thine alone,

And wholly live to thee."

 

I perceive that my text has grown from a word to the sinner who has to be conquered into a word directed to Christ's nearest and dearest friends, even to those who are the soldiers of his army. It is in effect a lofty, far-reaching precept, and would to God we could live up to it, by presenting our all to Jesus our Lord.

     Let us now spend a minute or two on the second word of the King: "Keep not back." Is there some person within this assembly who feels within his heart, the desire to come and confess his sins to his God? Standing at the filthy swine-trough, does the prodigal say within himself: "I will arise and go unto my Father, and say unto him, Father, I have sinned"? "Keep not back:" quench not that holy flame. If thou hast a desire to come and acknowledge thy transgressions unto the pardoning Savior, let nothing keep thee back—neither fear, nor shame, nor procrastination, but rest not till thou hast reached the bosom of thy God and acknowledged all thy guilt before him. A repulse need not be feared, nor even an upbraiding—a rich, free, loving welcome is sure. "Keep not back."

     But is there another who has confessed his sin, but yet has found no peace? Dost thou see yonder Christ on the cross? "Yes," sayest thou; "I know there is life in a look at him, but may I look?" My Master's message to thee is, "Keep not back; keep not back," for whosoever looketh shall be made whole, and none are forbidden to look. Does the crowd around the Savior hinder thee, thou sick and dying soul? Be not baffled by difficulty, but persevere. Press into the thickest of the throng for if thou do but touch the hem of his garment thou shalt be made whole. "Keep not back; keep not back." Thou mayst believe in Jesus now! Mayst! Nay, thou art commanded to do it; and thou art threatened if thou do not, which proves that thou hast permission and something more. It is written: "He that believeth not shall be damned." O man, it is but another way of saying thou hast a full permission to do it, for thou art threatened if thou do it not. Come thou, then, come thou, now, right joyfully. "Keep not back." Confess thy sin with repentance, and lay it on Christ by faith, and thou shalt be saved.

     Dear brethren and sisters, many of you have come to Christ and have been saved, and to you the text says, "Keep not back," in another sense. Do not keep back from confessing Christ. If you have the love of Jesus Christ in your soul, confess it, tell it to others. Never be ashamed of your Lord and Master. Come and unite with his church and people. It is due to the church; it is due to the preacher who was the means of your conversion, it is due especially to your Lord and Master that you "keep not back." I have heard of some who keep back because the church is not perfect. And you are very perfect I dare say! Why, if the church were perfect we should not endure you in it, my captious friend. I have no doubt whatever that you will find the church quite as perfect as you are. There are others who keep aloof from the people of God because they feel they are not perfect themselves. My dear friend, if you were perfect we should not want you, because you would be the only perfect member among us, and having a very imperfect pastor, I do not know what we should do with you; we should find you such a speckled bird among us, that we should probably pray the Lord to take you home to heaven at once. I should like to have you become perfect, and the nearer perfection the better—but still if you make no profession of faith till you are sinless, it will not be this side the grave. Nay, confess Christ, for is it not written: "He that with his heart believeth, and with his mouth maketh confession of him, shall he be saved"? Do not forget the confession of the mouth. "Keep not back." And when you have done that, if there be any Christian excellency that can be reached, do not despair of reaching it. "Keep not back." And if perfection itself be attainable, never be content till you get it. If you are a child of God you never will be self-satisfied, you will be always crying: Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." O that you may never be content with yourself! Self-satisfaction is the death of progress. You have come into the lowest seat at the feast, but Jesus saith: "Friend, come up higher;" and when you get into a higher room, and enter into closer communion with him, he will say to you, "Friend, come up higher." Do not hesitate to climb higher in grace and fellowship. Let your prayer be, "Nearer to thee, my God, nearer to thee." Be insatiable in the longings of your soul; hunger and thirst after righteousness; covet earnestly the best gifts. Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. "Keep not back." There is no point in grace which we are prohibited from aiming at. We ought none of us to say, "I am all I can ever be." Oh, no, let us reach to the front ranks by God's grace; for he says, "Keep not back."

     Let me add if there be a brother who could do more for Christ than he is doing, let him "keep not back." Could you preach? Well, there are plenty of places needing occasional minister, and others that are quite destitute. I do not know a nobler occupation for a man who is in business in London than for him to be maintaining himself by his shop, or whatever else his calling may be, and going out to suburban villages on the Sabbath to preach. I often wonder more persons do not imitate the example of some good brethren, whom I could name, who are in their business diligent, and who are also fervent in spirit in their Master's work. What reason can there be that for every little church there should be a pastor specially set apart for the work? It is a very desirable thing wherever there are enough Christian people to be able to support the minister that there should be such; but I believe we very much hamper ourselves in our Christian work through always imagining that a paid person set apart to preach is necessary for every Christian church. There ought to be more farmers who educate themselves, and preach in their own barns or on the village greens. There ought to be more men of business in London who seek to improve their minds, that they may preach acceptably anywhere the gospel of Jesus Christ; and I hope the time will come when our dear friends, the members of churches in London, will not be so backward as they are, but will come forward and speak to the honor of the Lord Jesus. If you cannot edify a thousand, perhaps you can influence ten; if you cannot with a regular congregation continue to find fresh matter year after year (and believe me that is a very difficult thing), yet you can preach a sermon here and a sermon there, and tell to different companies the same story of the Savior's love. I do not know what special work you can do, but something is within your power, and from that "Keep not back." Besides, there are all our street corners. In spring and summer, how delightful to stand in the thick of the throng and uplift the Crucified One! Of course, you are sure to have a congregation out of doors, and a congregation that is rather attentive, and sometimes rather inquisitive, and do not need to be so inconveniently crowded as we are in this Tabernacle. Take the wide sweep, cast the big net, and hope for fish. If you have any grace or gift, "Keep not back." "Alas!" murmurs the glowworm, "I mean to shut up my lamp, and hide under those damp weeds, and never shine again." What is the matter with you? "Why," says he, "I have seen the sun; I shall never shine again after seeing the sun." That glowworm is stupid. If it were wise, it would say, "I have looked upon the sun; and I perceive with shame that my lamp is but a poor light, but for that reason I must use it the more diligently. The sun may well hide its light after twelve hours are over; but I must try to glimmer during the whole twenty-four hours, and so give as much light as I can, little though it be." You complain that you have but one talent; that is the reason for being doubly diligent with it. If you had five, they ought to be fully used; but if you have only one, you must put all your wits to work to make something more of it. At any rate, "Keep not back."

     "Well," says one, "I think I could do something, but I am of a retiring disposition." I am afraid if I had been in the French army in the late war, I should be very much of the same disposition; but in a soldier, as a rule, a retiring disposition in the hour of battle is not much commended by his captain. You who are so modest (shall I say so cowardly?) that you cannot do for Christ what you ought to do, will have an account to settle with your consciences one of these days, which will cost you a world of sorrow. Break through this bashfulness, this laziness (for it comes to that in the long run), this silly, wicked, shame. Pride must also be slain, for this hinders many. They cannot be so prominent as others, and therefore shun the work altogether. Get rid of all that cripples you, shake all off by the power of the Holy Spirit, my dear brethren, and "Keep not back," for who knows but that you may yet bring sinners to Jesus, may save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins, through God's eternal Spirit. May it be so, for Christ's sake. Amen.



Now, and Then

By / Jan 16

Now, and Then

 

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face."—1 Corinthians 13:12

 

     In this chapter the apostle Paul has spoken in the highest terms of charity or love. He accounts it to be a grace far more excellent than any of the spiritual gifts of which he had just before been speaking. It is easy to see that there were good reasons for the preference he gave to it. Those gifts you will observe, were distributed among godly men, to every man his several portion, so that what one had another might have lacked; but this grace belongs to all who have passed from death unto life. The proof that they are disciples of Christ is found in their love to him and to the brethren. Those gifts, again, were meant to fit them for service, that each member of the body should be profitable to the other members of the body; but this grace is of personal account: it is a light in the heart and a star on the breast of every one who possesses it. Those gifts, moreover, were of temporary use: their value was limited to the sphere in which they were exercised; but this grace thrives at all times and in all places, and it is no less essential to our eternal future state than it is to our present welfare. By all means covet the best gifts, my dear brother, as an artist would wish to be deft with all his limbs and quick with all his senses; but above all, cherish love, as that same artist would cultivate the pure taste which lives and breathes within him—the secret spring of all his motions, the faculty that prompts his skill. Learn to esteem this sacred instinct of love beyond all the choicest endowments. However poor you may be in talents, let the love of Christ dwell in you richly. Such an exhortation as this is the more needful, because love has a powerful rival. Paul may have noticed that in the academies of Greece, as indeed in all our modern schools, knowledge was wont to take all the prizes. Who can tell how much of Dr. Arnold's success, as a schoolmaster, was due to the honor in which he held a good boy in preference to a clever boy? Most certainly Paul could discern in the church many jealousies to which the superior abilities of those who could speak foreign tongues, and those who could prophecy or preach well, gave rise. So, then, while he extols the grace of love, he seems rather to disparage knowledge; at least, he uses an illustration which tends to show that the kind of knowledge we pride ourselves in, is not the most reliable thing in the world. Paul remembered that he was once a child. A very good thing for any of us to bear in mind. If we forget it, our sympathies are soon dried up, our temper is apt to get churlish, our opinions may be rather overbearing, and our selfishness very repulsive. The foremost man of his day in the Christian church, and exerting the widest influence among the converts to Christ, Paul thought of the little while ago when he was a young child, and he thought of it very opportunely too. Though he might have hinted at the attainments he had made or the high office he held, and laid claim to some degree of respect, he rather looks back at his humble beginnings. If there is wisdom in his reflection, there is to my mind a vein of pleasantry in his manner of expressing it. "When I was a child I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." Thus he compares two stages of his natural life, and it serves him for a parable. In spiritual knowledge he felt himself to be then in his infancy. His maturity, his thorough manhood, lay before him in prospect. He could easily imagine a future in which he should look back on his present self as a mere tyro, groping his way amidst the shadows of his own fancy. "For now," he says, "we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." Here he employs one or two fresh figures. "Through a glass!" What kind of a glass he alluded to, we may not be able exactly to determine. Well; we will leave that question for the critics to disagree about. It is enough for us that the meaning is obvious. There is all the difference between viewing an object through an obscure medium, and closely inspecting it with the naked eye. We must have the power of vision in either case, but in the latter case we can use it to more advantage. "Now we see through a glass, darkly." Darkly—in a riddle! So weak are our perceptions of mind, that plain truths often puzzle us. The words that teach us are pictures which need explanation. The thoughts that stir us are visions which coat in our brains and want rectifying. Oh, for clearer vision! Oh, for more perfect knowledge! Mark you, brethren, it is a matter of congratulation that we do see; though we have much cause for diffidence, because we do but "see through a glass, darkly." Thank God we do know; but let it cheek our conceit, we know only in part. Beloved, the objects we look at are distant, and we are near-sighted. The revelation of God is ample and profound, but our understanding is weak and shallow.

     There are some things which we count very precious now, which will soon be of no value to us whatever. There are some things that we know or think we know, and we pride ourselves a good deal upon our knowledge; but when we shall become men we shall set no more value upon that knowledge than a child does upon his toys when he grows up to be a man. Our spiritual manhood in heaven will discard many things which we now count precious, as a full grown man discards the treasures of his childhood. And there are many things that we have been accustomed to see that, after this transient life has passed, we shall see no more. Though we delighted in them, and they pleased our eyes while sojourning on earth, they will pass away as a dream when one awaketh; we shall never see them again, and never want to see them; for our eyes in clearer light, anointed with eye-salve, shall see brighter visions, and we shall never regret what we have lost, in the presence of fairer scenes we shall have found. Other things there are that we know now and shall never forget; we shall know them for ever, only in a higher degree, because no longer with a partial knowledge; and there are some things that we see now that we shall see in eternity, only we shall see them there in a clearer light.

     So we shall speak upon some things that we do see now, which we are to see more fully and more distinctly hereafter; then enquire how it is we shall see them more clearly; and finish up by considering what this fact teaches us.

     I. Among the things that we see now, as many of us as have had our eyes enlightened by the Holy Spirit, is OURSELVES.

     To see ourselves is one of the first steps in true religion. The mass of men have never seen themselves. They have seen the flattering image of themselves, and they fancy that to be their own facsimile, but it is not. You and I have been taught of God's Holy Spirit to see our ruin in the fall; we have bemoaned ourselves on account of that fall; we have been made conscious of our own natural depravity; we have been ground to the very dust by the discovery; we have been shown our actual sinfulness and how we have transgressed against the Most High. We have repented for this, and have fled for refuge to the hope set before us in the gospel. Day by day we see a little more of ourselves—nothing very pleasing, I grant you—but something very profitable, for it is a great thing for us to know our emptiness. It is a step towards receiving his fullness. It is something to discover our weakness; it is a step essential towards our participation of divine strength. I suppose the longer we live the more we shall see ourselves; and we shall probably come to this conclusion: "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity:" and cry out with Job, "I am vile." The more we shall discover of ourselves, the more we shall be sick of ourselves. But in heaven, I doubt not, we shall find out that we never saw even ourselves in the clearest light, but only as "through a glass, darkly," only as an unriddled thing, as a deep enigma; for we shall understand more about ourselves in heaven than we do now. There we shall see, as we have not yet seen, how desperate a mischief was the Fall, into what a horrible pit we fell, and how fast we were stuck in the miry clay. There shall we see the blackness of sin as we have never seen it here, and understand its hell desert as we could not till we shall look down from yonder starry height whither infinite mercy shall bring us. When we shall be singing, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain," we shall look at the robes that we have washed in his blood, and see how white they are. We shall better understand then than now how much we needed washing—how crimson were the stains and how precious was that blood that effaced those scarlet spots. There, too, shall we know ourselves on the bright side better than we do now. We know to-day that we are saved, and there is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus; but that robe of righteousness which covers us now, as it shall cover us then, will be better seen by us, and we shall discern how lustrous it is, with its needlework and wrought gold—how much better than the pearls and gems that have decked the robes of monarchs are the blood and righteousness of Jehovah Jesus, who has given himself for us. Here we know that we are adopted. We feel the spirit of sonship; "we cry, Abba, Father;" but there we shall know better what it is to be the sons of God, for here it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but when we shall be there, and when Christ shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is, and then we shall understand to the full what sonship means. So, too, I know to-day that I am a joint-heir with Christ, but I have a very poor idea of what it is I am heir to; but there shall I see the estates that belong to me; not only see them, but actually enjoy them. A part shall every Christian have in the inheritance undefiled and that fadeth not away, that is reserved in heaven for him, because he is in Christ Jesus; one with Christ—by eternal union one. But I am afraid that is very much more a riddle to us than a matter of understanding. We see it as an enigma now, but there our oneness with Christ will be as conspicuous to us and as plain as the letters of the alphabet. There shall we know what it is to be a member of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones; there shall I understand the mystical marriage bond that knits the believer's soul to Christ; there shall I see how, as the branch springs from the stem, my soul stands in union, vital union, with her blessed Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, one thing that we see now which we shall see in a much clearer light hereafter, is "ourselves."

     Here, too, we see the CHURCH, but WE SHALL SEE THE CHURCH MUCH MORE CLEARLY BY-AND-BY.

     We know there is a church of God. We know that the Lord has a people whom he hath chosen from before the foundation of the world: we believe that these are scattered up and down throughout our land, and many other lands. There are many of them we do not know, many that we should not particularly like, I daresay if we did know them, on account of their outward characteristics; persons of very strange views, and very odd habits perhaps; and yet, for all that, the people of the living God; Now, we know this church, we know its glory, moved with one life, quickened with one Spirit, redeemed with one blood, we believe in this church, and we feel attachment to it for the sake of Jesus Christ, who has married the church as the Bride. But, oh! when we shall get to heaven, how much more we shall know of the church, and how we shall see her face to face, and not "through a glass, darkly." There we shall know something, more of the numbers of the chosen than we do now, it may be to our intense surprise. There we shall find some amongst the company of God's elect, whom we in our bitterness of spirit had condemned, and there we shall miss some who, in our charity, we have conceived to be perfectly secure. We shall know better then who are the Lord's and who are not than we ever can know here. Here all our processes of discernment fail us. Judas comes in with the apostles, and Demas takes his part among the saints, but there we shall know the righteous, for we shall see them; there will be one flock and one Shepherd, and he that on the throne doth reign for evermore shall be glorified. We shall understand then, what the history of the church has been in all the past, and why it has become so strange a history of conflict and conquest. Probably, we shall know more of the history of the church in the future. From that higher elevation and brighter atmosphere we shall understand better what are the Lord's designs concerning his people in the latter day; and what glory shall redound to his own name from his redeemed ones, when he shall have gathered together all that are called and chosen and faithful from among the sons of men. This is one of the joys we are looking for, that we shall come to the general assembly and church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven; and have fellowship with those who have fellowship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

     Thirdly. Is it not possible, nay, is it not certain, that in the next state WE SHALL KNOW MORE OF THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD THAN WE DO NOW?

     Here we see the providence of God, but it is in a glass, darkly. The apostle says "through" a glass. There was glass in the apostles' days, not a substance such as our windows are now made of, but thick dull coloured glass, not much more transparent than that which is used in the manufacture of common bottles, so that looking through a piece of that glass you would not see much. That is like what we now see of divine providence. We believe all things work together for good to them that love God; we have seen how they work together for good in some cases, and experimentally proved it to be so. But still it is rather a matter of faith than a matter of sight with us. We cannot tell how "every dark and bending line meets in the center of his love." We do not yet perceive how he will make those dark dispensations of trials and afflictions that come upon his people really to subserve his glory and their lasting happiness; but up there we shall see providence, as it were, face to face; and I suppose it will be amongst our greatest surprises, the discovery of how the Lord dealt with us. "Why," we shall some of us say, "we prayed against those very circumstances which were the best that, could have been appointed for us." "Ah!" another will say, "I have fretted and troubled myself over what was, after all, the richest mercy the Lord ever sent." Sometimes I have known persons refuse a letter at the door, and it has happened, in some cases, that there has been something very valuable in it, and the postman has said, afterwards, "You did not know the contents, or else you would not have refused it." And often God has sent us, in the black envelope of trial, such a precious mass of mercy, that if we had known what was in it, we should have taken it in, and been glad to pay for it—glad to give it house room, to entertain it; but because it looked black we were prone to shut our door against it. Now, up there we shall know not only more of ourselves, but perceive the reasons of many of God's dealings with us on a larger scale; and we shall there perhaps discover that wars that devasted nations, and pestilences that fill graves, and earthquakes that make cities tremble, are, after all, necessary cogs in the great wheel of the divine machinery; and he who sits upon the throne at this moment, and rules supremely every creature that is either in heaven, or earth, or hell, will there make it manifest to us that his government was right. It is good to think in these times when ever; thing seems loosening, that "the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." It must come out right in the long run; it must be well; every part and portion must work together with a unity of design to promote God's glory and the saint's good. We shall see it there, and we shall lift up our song with new zest and joy, as fresh displays of the wisdom and goodness of God, whose ways are past finding out, are unfolded to our admiring view.

     Fourthly. It is surely no straining of the text to say, that, though here we know something of THE DOCTRINES OF THE GOSPEL, AND THE MYSTERIES OF THE FAITH, by-and-by, in a few months or years at the longest, we shall know a great deal more than we do now. There are some grand doctrines, brethren and sisters, we dearly love, but though we love them, our understanding is too feeble to grasp them fully. We account them to be mysteries; we reverently acknowledge them, yet we dare not attempt to explain them. They are matters of faith to us. It may be that in heaven there shall be counsels of eternal wisdom into which no saints or angels can peer. It is the glory of God to conceal a matter. Surely, no creature will ever be able, even when exalted to heaven, to comprehend all the thoughts of the Creator. We shall never be omniscient—we cannot be. God alone knoweth everything, and understandeth everything. But how much more of authentic truth shall we discern when the mists and shadows have dissolved; and how much more shall we understand when raised to that higher sphere and endowed with brighter faculties, none of us can tell. Probably, things that puzzle us here will be as plain as possible there. We shall perhaps smile at our own ignorance. I have fancied sometimes that the elucidations of learned doctors of divinity, if they could be submitted to the very least in the kingdom of heaven, would only cause them to smile at the learned ignorance of the sons of earth. Oh! how little we do know, but how much we shall know! I am sure we shall know, for it is written, "Then shall I know even as also I have known." We now see things in a mist—"men as trees, walking"—a doctrine here, and a doctrine there. And we are often at a loss to conjecture how one part harmonizes with another part of the same system, or to make out how all these doctrines are consistent. This knot cannot be untied, that gnarl cannot be unravelled, but—

 

"Then shall I see, and hear and know

All I desired or wish'd below;

And every power find sweet employ

In that eternal world of joy."

 

     But, my dear brethren and sisters, having kept you thus far in the outer courts, I would fain lead you into the temple; or, to change the figure, if in the beginning I have set forth good wine, certainly I am not going to bring out that which is worse; rather would I have you say, as the ruler of the feast did to the bridegroom, "thou has kept the good wine until now." HERE WE SEE JESUS CHRIST, BUT WE DO NOT SEE HIM AS WE SHALL SEE HIM SOON. We have seen him by faith in such a way, that we have beheld our burdens laid on him, and our iniquities carried by him into the wilderness, where, if they be sought for, they shall not be found. We have seen enough of Jesus to know that "he is altogether lovely;" we can say of him, he "is all my salvation, and all my desire." Sometimes, when he throws up the lattice, and shows himself through those windows of agate and gates of carbuncle, in the ordinances of his house, at the Lord's Supper especially, the King's beauty has entranced us even to our heart's ravishment; yet all we have ever seen is somewhat like the report which the Queen of Sheba had of Solomon's wisdom. When we once get to the court of the Great King we shall declare that the half has not been told us. We shall say, "mine eyes shall behold, and not another." Brethren, is not this the very cream of heaven? There have been many suggestions of what we shall do in heaven, and what we shall enjoy, but they all seem to me to be wide of the mark compared with this one, that we shall be with Jesus, be like him, and shall behold his glory. Oh, to see the feet that were nailed, and to touch the hand that was pierced, and to look upon the head that wore the thorns, and to bow before him who is ineffable love, unspeakable condescension, infinite tenderness! Oh, to bow before him, and to kiss that blessed face! Jesu, what better do we want than to see thee by shine own light—to see thee, and speak with thee, as when a man speaketh with his friend? It is pleasant to talk about this, but what will it be there when the pearl gates open? The streets of gold will have small attraction to us, and the harps of angels will but slightly enchant us, compared with the King in the midst of the throne. He it is who shall rivet our gaze, absorb our thoughts, enchain our affection, and move all our sacred passions to their highest pitch of celestial ardor. We shall see Jesus.

     Once again (and here we come into the deep things), beyond a doubt WE SHALL ALSO SEE GOD. It is written that the pure in heart shall see God. God is seen now in his works and in his word. Little indeed could these eyes bear of the beatific vision, yet we have reason to expect that, as far as creatures can bear the sight of the infinite Creator, we shall be permitted to see God. We read that Aaron and certain chosen ones saw the throne of God, and the brightness as it were of sapphire stone—light, pure as jasper. In heaven it is the presence of God that is the light thereof. God's more immediately dwelling in the midst of the new Jerusalem is its peerless glory and peculiar bliss. We shall then understand more of God than we do now; we shall come nearer to him, be more familiar with him, be more filled with him. The love of God shall be shed abroad in our hearts; we shall know our Father as we yet know him not; We shall know the Son to a fuller degree than he has yet revealed himself to us, and we shall know the Holy Spirit in his personal love and tenderness towards us, beyond all those influences and operations which have soothed us in our sorrows and guided us in our perplexities here below. I leave your thoughts and your desires to follow the teaching of the Spirit. As for me, I cower before the thought while I revel in it. I, who have strained my eyes while gazing at nature, where the things that are made show the handiwork of God; I, whose conscience has been awe-struck as I listened to the voice of God proclaiming his holy law; I, whose heart has been melted while there broke on my ears the tender accents of his blessed gospel in those snatches of sacred melody that relieve the burden of prophecy; I, who have recognised in the babe of Bethlehem the hope of Israel; in the man of Nazareth, the Messiah that should come; in the victim of Calvary, the one Mediator; in the risen Jesus, the well-beloved Son—to me, verily, God incarnate has been so palpably revealed that I have almost seen God, for I have, as it were, seen him in whom all the fullness of the Godhead bodily doth dwell. Still I "see through a glass, darkly." Illumine these dark senses, waken this drowsy conscience, purify my heart, give me fellowship with Christ, end thee bear me up, translate me to the third heavens; so I may, so I can, so I shall see God. But what that means, or what it is, ah me! I cannot tell.

     II. We proposed to enquire, in the second place, HOW THIS VERY REMARKABLE CHANGE SHALL BE EFFECTED? WHY IS IT THAT WE SHALL BE MORE CLEARLY THEN THAN NOW? We cannot altogether answer the question, but one or two suggestions may help us. No doubt many of these things will be more clearly revealed in the next state. Here the light is like the dawn: it is dim twilight. In heaven it will be the blaze of noon. God has declared something of himself by the mouth of his holy prophets and apostles. He has been pleased, through the lips of his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, to speak to us more plainly, to show us more openly the thoughts of his heart and the counsel of his will. These are the first steps to knowledge. But there the light will be as the light of seven days, and there the manifestation of all the treasures of wisdom shall be brighter and clearer than it is now; for God, the only-wise God, shall unveil to us the mysteries, and exhibit to us the glories of his everlasting kingdom. The revelation we now have suits us as men clad in our poor mortal bodies; the revelation then will suit us as immortal spirits. When we have been raised from the dead, it will be suitable to our immortal spiritual bodies. Here, too, we are at a distance from many of the things we long to know something of, but there we shall be nearer to them. We shall then be on a vantage ground, with the entire horizon spread out before us. Our Lord Jesus is, as to his personal presence, far away from us. We see him through the telescope of faith, but then we shall see him face to face. His literal and bodily presence is in heaven, since he was taken up, and we need to be taken up likewise to be with him where he is that we may literally behold him. Get to the fountain-head, and you understand more; stand in the center, and things seem regular and orderly. If you could stand in the sun and see the orbits in which the planets revolve round that central luminary, it would become clear enough; but for many an age astronomers were unable to discover anything of order, and spoke of the planets as progressive, retrograde, and standing still. Let us get to God, the center, and we shall see how providence in order revolves round his sapphire throne. We, ourselves, too, when we get to heaven, shall be better qualified to see than we are now. It would be an inconvenience for us to know here as much as we shall know in heaven. No doubt we have sometimes thought that if we had better ears it would be a great blessing. We have wished we could hear ten miles off; but probably we should be no better off; we might hear too much, and the sounds might drown each other. Probably our sight is not as good as we wish it were, but a large increase of ocular power might not be of any use to us. Our natural organs are fitted for our present sphere of being; and our mental faculties are, in the case of most of us, properly adapted to our moral requirements. If we knew more of our own sinfulness, we might be driven to despair; if we knew more of God's glory, we might die of terror; if we had more understanding, unless we had equivalent capacity to employ it, we might be filled with conceit and tormented with ambition. But up there we shall have our minds and our systems strengthened to receive more, without the damage that would come to us here from overleaping the boundaries of order, supremely appointed and divinely regulated. We cannot here drink the wine of the kingdom, it is too strong for us; but up there we shall drink it new in our heavenly Father's kingdom, without fear of the intoxications of pride, or the staggerings of passions. We shall know even as we are known. Besides, dear friends, the atmosphere of heaven is so much clearer than this, that I do not wonder we can see better there. Here there is the smoke of daily care; the constant dust of toil; the mist of trouble perpetually rising. We cannot be expected to see much in such a smoky atmosphere as this; but when we shall pass beyond, we shall find no clouds ever gather round the sun to hide his everlasting brightness. There all is clear. The daylight is serene as the noonday. We shall be in a clearer atmosphere and brighter light.

     III. The practical lessons we may learn from this subject demand your attention before I close. Methinks there is an appeal to our gratitude. Let us be very thankful for all we do see. Those, who do not see now—ah, not even "through a glass, darkly"—shall never see face to face. The eyes that never see Christ by faith shall never see him with joy in heaven. If thou hast never seen thyself a leper, defiled with sin and abashed with penitence, thou shalt never see thyself redeemed from sin, renewed by grace, a white-robed spirit. If thou hast no sense of God's presence here, constraining thee to worship and love him, thou shalt have no sight of his glory hereafter, introducing thee to the fullness of joy and pleasure for evermore. Oh! be glad for the sight you have, dear brother, dear sister. It is God that gave it to thee. Thou art one born blind; and "Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind." This miracle has been wrought on thee; thou canst see, and thou canst say: "One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see."

     Our text teaches us that this feeble vision is very hopeful. You shall see better by-and-by. Oh, you know not how soon—it may be a day or two hence—that we shall be in glory! God may so have ordained it, that betwixt us and heaven there may be but a step.

     Another lesson is that of forbearance one with another. Let the matters we have spoken of soften the asperity of our debates; let us feel when we are disputing about points of difficulty, that we need not get cross about them, because after all there are limits to our present capacity as well as to our actual knowledge. Our disputes are often childish. We might as well leave some questions in abeyance for a little while. Two persons in the dark have differed about a color, and they are wrangling about it. If we brought candles in and held them to the color, the candles would not show what it was; but if we look at it to-morrow morning, when the sun shines, we shall be able to tell. How many difficulties in the word of God are like this! Not yet can they be justly discriminated; till the day dawn, the apocalyptic symbols will not be all transparent to our own understanding. Besides, we have no time to waste while there is so much work to do. Much time is already spent. Sailing is dangerous; the winds are high; the sea is rough. Trim the ship; keep the sails in good order; manage her and keep her off quicksands. As to certain other matters, we must wait till we get into the fair haven, and are able to talk with some of the bright spirits now before the throne. When some of the things they know shall be opened unto us, we shall confess the mistakes we made, and rejoice in the light we shall receive.

     Should not this happy prospect excite our aspiration and make us very desirous to be there? It is natural for us to want to know, but we shall not know as we are known till we are present with the Lord. We are at school now—children at school. We shall go to the college soon—the great University of Heaven—and take our degree there. Yet some of us, instead of being anxious to go, are shuddering at the thought of death—the gate of endless joy we dread to enter! There are many persons who die suddenly; some die in their sleep, and many have passed out of time into eternity when it has scarcely been known by those who have been sitting at their bedsides. Depend upon it, there is no pain in dying; the pain is in living. When they leave off living here, they have done with pain. Do not blame death for what it does not deserve; it is life that lingers on in pain: death is the end of it. The man that is afraid of dying ought to be afraid of living. Be content to die whenever the Master's will shall bid thee. Commit thy spirit to his keeping. Who that hath seen but the glimpses of his beaming countenance doth not long to see his face, that is as the sun shining in his strength? O Lord! thy will be done. Let us speedily behold thee, if so it may be—only this one word, if so it may be. Do we now see, and do we expect to see better? Let us bless the name of the Lord, who hath chosen us of his mercy and of his infinite lovingkindness. On the other hand, let it cause us great anxiety if we have not believed in Jesus, for he that hath not believed in him, dying as he is, will never see the face of God with joy. Oh! unbeliever, be concerned about your soul, and seek thou after him, repair thou to him. Oh! that God would open thy eyes now in this very house of prayer. Blessed for thee to know in part. Thrice blessed, I say; for as surely as thou knowest in part now, thou shalt fully know hereafter. Be it your happy lot to know him, whom to know is life eternal. God grant it, for Jesus' sake. Amen.



A New Order of Priests and Levites

By / Jan 15

A New Order of Priests and Levites

 

"And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord."—Isaiah 66:21

 

     This chapter is surrounded with critical difficulties, and yet it is full of spiritual instruction. The verse before us is by some referred to Gentiles, and supposed to mean that the Lord promises that he will take out of the heathen nations a people whom he will make into priests and Levites. Others would say it points to the Jews, rejected for their unbelief and dispersed in judgment among all nations. When their own Messiah came, it was not with a devout faith, but with a profane imprecation, they said, "His blood be on us, and on our children." The curse they invoked did come upon them. The retribution they challenged has been meted out to them in full measure. To the letter it was verified. Have you never read how, when Titus was besieging Jerusalem, five hundred Jews were sometimes crucified in a day? Do you not remember that Josephus, speaking as an eye-witness, said, "There wanted room for crosses, and crosses for bodies"? To this day their children are scattered in all lands, and have found no rest for the soles of their feet. But they are to be restored; they are to be brought back to their own land, and to worship God in his holy mountain; and in the latter days, when they are restored, then will God take of them for priests and Levites. To me it appears of very small consequence to which this verse refers, for in Christ Jesus there is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision; and this promise seems to me to stand good to the whole human race considered in its fallen state. "I will take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord." Under the gospel dispensation God will select both out of Jews and Gentiles a chosen people, who shall stand before him spiritually as the priests and the Levites stood before him typically.

     Think for a minute of the compass of this great promise. Evidently a high honor is here conferred. The connection leads us to see that not only a great promise but likewise a great privilege is herein implied. What is this privilege? It is that we shall be priests and Levites. Now, the priests or Levites were persons set apart to be God's peculiar property. When the firstborn were spared in Egypt, God claimed the firstborn to be his own, and he took the tribe of Levi to represent the firstborn; they were to be the Lord's. Though all Israel belonged to God, yet the tribe of Levi was especially selected and particularly appointed to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; and of this tribe of Levi, chief among them the house of Aaron, to minister in the sanctuary as priests. So now, glory be to God, he takes out of all nations a people that are to be peculiarly his own—his own by election, as he chose them—his own by redemption, as he bought them—his own by endowment through the regenerating and sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit. "They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels;" his own, therefore, before time, and after time shall close. "I will take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord." Being thus set apart as the Lord's property, the priests and Levites lived only for divine service. While others were engaged with their trade or upon their farm, the Levites were attending to the tabernacle or temple, and the priests in their courts were slaughtering bullocks and lambs, and offering them to God; or they had other duties of a kindred order, by reason of the charge given them of all the hallowed things of the children of Israel. Anyhow, it was in sacred things that they were occupied; so now, it is the duty of every man to serve the Lord; but, alas! man will not; and therefore God takes unto himself a people out of all nations, and kindreds, and tongues, and he ordains them to stand before him continually, to wait on his commands, and to do his bidding. Thus he puts upon their shoulders his easy yoke and weights them with his light burden, and they become his willing servants—that their life may be for his glory, and that their desire, as well as their duty, may be to serve him with heart and strength so long as they have any being. In this sense, then, happy is the man who is set apart to the divine service, a priest and a Levite unto God.

     Further than this, the priests and the Levites enjoyed the privilege of drawing near to God—nearer than the rest of the people in that typical dispensation. While the people stood without, the Levites are busy inside. One of them, the chief of the tribe, and the High Priest before the Lord for all the tribes, was permitted and commanded to go into the most holy place within the veil; and you know that the holy places made with hands are figures of the true, even of heaven itself. In like manner there is a people to be found on earth at this day whom God has chosen to draw near unto him. In Christ Jesus they who sometimes were afar off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ. The same precious blood that is applied to their conscience is sprinkled on the mercy-seat; therefore they have access to the Father. Oh! happy they, who, like the priests and Levites, love dwelling in the Lord's house, and praising him, who can say—

 

"Here, Lord, I find settled rest

While others go and come;

No more a stranger or a guest,

But like a child at home."

 

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations: we are a people near unto thee made nigh by affinity with the Son of God, brought nigh by the blood, led nigh by the Spirit of God, kept nigh, and rejoicing to be nigh—for herein is our honor and comfort, to be near unto God; made priests and Levites, because claimed as God's portion, prepared for God's service, and admitted to a near familiarity with him. There are some such to be found in this place to-day, whom God has taken from among the Gentiles to be priests and Levites unto him. But priests and Levites had two works to do: something to do towards God for men, and something to do towards men for God. They were engaged to do something towards God for men, and so they offered the sacrifices that were brought to the door of the tabernacle, whether according to the general ordinances, or to any special vows. Spiritually minded, they were much engaged in intercession for the rest of Israel. So there is a people to be found this day who offer unto God acceptable prayer and praise, and in answer to their prayer, unnumbered blessings come down upon the sons of men. I trust there are some here that have power with God in prayer. Ye are the king's remembrancers; ye make mention of his name, and keep not silence; ye cry to God for Sodom, and yet more hopefully ye cry to God for Jerusalem: your prayer ceaseth not, and God's grace and favor always follow it. In this sense God is constantly taking out, even from amongst the vilest of the vile, a people whom he makes to be priests and Levites for men towards himself. Another part of their office consisted in speaking for God to the people; "For the priest's lips should keep knowledge." As for the Levites, they were as ushers in the schools and tutors in the families of Israel. Amongst the Levites were found those scribes who became the instructors of the people, the copyists of the law, and the expounders of its statutes and ordinances; ministers who opened up to the people, as Ezra did, the knotty points of the old covenant, and expounded the word. So not all of us in the same degree, but all of us in a measure, are to be teachers of God's revealed truth, even as he has taught us; and he has in this place, and throughout the world, taken out a certain company whom he has made to speak as his mouth to the sons of men—men of his own choosing, and his own sending, who are as priests and Levites for his name. They claim no priestly office as though they could absolve the sinner: they leave that with Christ, the firstborn of his Father's house, and the chief rabbi of all the Lord's chosen seed, but as teachers and instructors; they are in the midst of the world the priests and Levites of God. I have thus shown what the promise means. God will take out of the Jews and Gentiles a people whom he will bring very near to himself, and make use of for his own sacred purposes. The great point is this. It seems to be mentioned here as a matter of surprise that God should take any of them—of the persons here mentioned—of the sinful, backsliding, transgressing Jews, or of the blinded, dark, benighted, heathen Gentiles—that he should take them, and make them to be priests and Levites before him. Now, that is parallel to the fact that God does take some of the most unlikely persons, who seem to be the most unsuitable of all, and make these to be his faithful and honored servants among the sons of men.

     Now, I shall first notice that fact; then, the reason for it; and then, the lessons from it.

     I. First, I notice that God does, to the astonishment of men, TAKE SOME WHOM HE MAKES BE PRIESTS AND LEVITES TO HIMSELF. This is a fact. How, there are priests and Levites that God never took. There have been such in all ages. There were those in the days of Aaron who said: "Ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi;" and when they stood before the Lord with their censers, "the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up." There were those in the days of Elias. When he stood by the altar of the Lord, the priests of Baal, in great numbers, stood by their altar, offering prayer to Baal. Ye know how God had no regard to their sacrifice. They were the church established by law; but, for all that, Elias the Nonconformist, put them to the rout, and maintained the worship of the invisible God of Israel firm and faithful to the end. So in our Savior's days there were priests and Levites—men taught and instructed in the law, and these were the very men who conspired together against him, who took counsel how they might put him to death, and who stirred up the people to say, "Not this man, but Barabbas." And on down to this present day there are those legitimate priests and Levites—at least, those who call themselves so—whom God hath never taken, upon whom he hath never laid his hand, upon whom his Holy Spirit hath never descended; who speak, but he speaks not by them; and who administer ordinances, but he gives not grace to the ordinances by their hands. And such there always will be, doubtless, till Christ cometh, but they are not spoken of in the text, for the text says, "I will take," and it is only those whom God himself takes and chooses among men that are the real priests and Levites that serve him.

     Observe, according to the text, men have nothing to do with the selection; for here it is said, "I will also take of them"—not "their parents shall bring them up to it;" not "those who shall be looked out as the most fit and proper men on account of some natural bent and bias, or gift and talent, but I will take." God's priesthood in the world is a priesthood of his own choosing of his own setting apart, of his own anointing. "He hath made us kings and priests unto God." The church is a royal priesthood, not of man, neither by man, nor of the will of man, nor of blood, nor of birth: it is of God's choosing. This sacred and consecrated band of priests and Levites, and all that serve God effectually and acceptably, are men whom he has himself chosen to the work. He himself hath done it, and only his own will as been consulted in the matter. In their case, it appears from the text, that whatever was unfit in their character has been overcome by divine grace. "I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord." If God takes them for Levites, he makes them Levites; if he chooses them for priests, he makes them priests. So, glory be to his name, when he chose you, my dear brother, when he chose you, my dear sister, to be his servants, to be his priests and his Levites, he gave you the grace you wanted. He found in you no natural fitness, no suitability, but in fitness for sin, a suitability to go astray, and to become a brand for the burning; but if there be a fitness in you to serve him on earth and in heaven, it is his grace that has done it. It is his grace speaking in all its wondrous majesty—"I will take of them for priests and for Levites"—which has effected in you the great transformation, making in you all things new, and thus qualifying you to become the servants of the Most High. In some persons this natural inaptitude and unfitness for the Lord's work has been more apparent than in others. They have been men of rough exterior, unhallowed life; their education neglected, their passions wild and lawless, their tastes low and grovelling; yet, for all that, God has taken from amongst such men some who in an especial manner, even beyond the rest of God's servants have become as priests and Levites unto him. He has sometimes selected women, in whom there seemed to be no suitability for his grace, to make them matrons in the church; and men, who seemed to be ringleaders in the service of Satan, to make them very captains of the Lord's hosts. They had no inbred faculty, no natural genius that qualified them to become the instruments of righteousness: as I have said before, it was the reverse of this. Their career was not foreshadowed by any instinct with which they were born; nor was it aided by any training they received in childhood. The God who chose them gave the grace they required at their second birth, and subdued all the evil that was in them by the rich discipline of his spiritual operations, in order to qualify them for efficient service. I thank God, I do remember in my soul some dear brethren who have been made eminent ministers of the gospel, of whom, if any one had said they would ever have preached the gospel, none would have believed it. Not to mention the living, the men of to-day, go back to the early days of John Newton, an earnest preacher, a famous evangelist, not to add a sweet poet. Almost a model for the ministry was John Newton, but once a blasphemer and injurious. Turn farther back, to John Bunyan, on the village green, with his tip-cat on the Sabbath-day, with all a drunkard's vices and sins, and foul-mouthed in his profanity: yet John Bunyan becomes an eminent proclaimer of the gospel, and the author of a matchless allegory which has served to guide many a pilgrim to heaven. Turn farther back, to Luther, most earnest as a Romanist for all the letter of the law, diligent in every ceremony, superstitious to a high degree, yet afterwards the bold proclaimer of the gospel of the grace of God. Turn to Augustine, in youth of corrupt and vicious propensities, according to his own confession, to the grief of his mother Monica, yet called by sovereign grace to be one of the fathers of the church, and a notable exponent of sound doctrine. Look yet farther back to the apostle Paul, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, like a huge wild beast, making havoc of the church, but suddenly struck down, and almost as suddenly raised up a new man, and ordained (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father) to be a chosen vessel unto Christ, to bear his name unto the Gentiles. "I will also take of them," the most unlikely and unfit, according to human judgment. "I will also take of them for priests and for Levites unto me." And where the service has not taken the form of preaching, we can remember some whom God hath made eminent in prayer. Never account prayer second to preaching. No doubt prayer in the Christian church is as precious as the utterance of the gospel. To speak to God for men is a part of the Christian priesthood that should never be despised. Surely I have heard some prayers of those whom none would ever have expected to pray, such as I have not heard from those who, from their youth up, have been accustomed to the language of devotion—moved with energy and full of fervor, like Elijah. Or, shall I say it, they have become in spiritual force nerved as Samson was with physical strength. In their prayers they have seemed to take hold of the pillars of the temple of Satan, and pull it down upon their enemies; they have been so mighty as to wrestle with God and prevail. God has taken of them—that is, even of the prayerless, and the careless, and the blaspheming—and he has made these to be priests and Levites unto him. And in all other holy service I think I can recollect eminent men who out of weakness were made strong, from simpletons they were changed into sages, or, rescued from the dregs of infamy, they became paragons of virtue. In their unregeneracy as bitter fruit, apples of Sodom, that crumbled into dust and turned to ashes, yet so transformed by the renewing of their minds, that they bore the richest clusters of choicest fruit to the praise and glory of the Great Husbandman. "I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord." There is the fact. You need not that I enlarge upon it. While a false priesthood still lives (and always will), God has his elect people, who are his royal priesthood among the sons of men, who are discharging regal functions and sacred offices among the sons of men in his name, and before his face; and these he oftentimes takes out from the least likely of mankind.

     II. And now, secondly, as to THE REASON OF THE FACT. Does not he do this to display his mercy—his great and infinite mercy? that those who have provoked him to wrath should become the men in whom he should show forth his lovingkindness—men to be pardoned, men to be washed, to be sanctified—and then men to be put in trust of the gospel of Jesus Christ—does not this reveal and illustrate the high prerogative of sovereign grace? "Unto me," saith the apostle, "who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." It is a great grace to be permitted to preach the gospel. I have sometimes said to you that when the prodigal came back to his father, and was received into his father's house, no earthly parent, though he had quite forgiven him all the wildness of his son's adventure, could wholly forget the waywardness of his disposition. He might condone the past without confiding in him for the future. If it were needful to send one of the sons to market with a bag of money, the good old father would, in all probability, say to himself, "I will send the elder son with it: he is better to be trusted; I would hardly like to put such a responsibility upon the young lad who has so lately been reclaimed." I can fancy, without uttering a word to his younger son he would, discreetly (as you would say), trust the other with any weighty concerns. But our heavenly Father—oh, how he forgives us! He leaves no back reckonings, for though we used to be such sinners, some of us, and so injurious, after he forgave us, he committed to our charge not merely silver and gold, the perishable resources of time, but the priceless treasure of the gospel of Jesus Christ: he allowed us to go and tell to others "the unsearchable riches of Christ." See ye not the impure giving, lessons on chastity, the intemperate teaching chastity? and mark ye not how he who persecuted the disciples in times past, now preacheth the faith he once destroyed? Oh, what deep mercy there is in Jesus! What wonderful grace there is in giving his commissions, that those that cursed him themselves should intercede with him for others; that those that despised him should be permitted to honor him; that those who broke his Sabbaths should nevertheless be helpful to his people in hallowing the Lord's-day; that those who despised his word, and put it behind their back, should be the men to open it, and display the sweetness of it to their fellow men! Is not this grace? Methinks every time Paul preached Jesus Christ he would say to himself: "I used to call him the Nazarene; I abhorred him and used opprobrious language, but herein is great mercy, boundless mercy, that he should take me to be his servant, permit me to labor for his people and suffer for his sake."

     Next to this, do you not think that the Lord loves to display his power? Men who are tamers of wild beasts, will frequently, when they have subdued a lion, take a delight in showing to the people how obedient that lion will be to them, and how every word that the lion-tamer chooses to say, it will regard and pay attention to. Thus, when the Lord takes a great sinner, after he has tamed him, removed his heart of stone, and given him a heart of flesh, he desires to show how, without the use of the whip, without a threatening look or an angry word, he causes his enemy to become his diligent servant, his earnest friend. O brethren, it shows the power of love on a man when he is so broken down that the things he sneered at he now preaches with all his might. Surely it showed the power of divine grace when Paul avowed Christ openly, and vehemently preached—exposing himself to persecution and death—that same gospel which his soul had previously nauseated; yea, which his zeal, full of bitterness, had kindled to exterminate. God takes great sinners, and then appoints and qualifies them to be priests and Levites, in order that he might show the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe.

     Again, does not God do this to show his sovereignty? Can we ever forget that attribute of the Almighty? Divine grace, while it comes freely to us, is dispensed freely by God, according to the good pleasure of his will. I should like to hear that text thundered throughout Christendom: "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." No man hath any right to the mercy of God. We have all sinned ourselves into outlaw: all the rights we have are the right to be condemned, and the right to be cast into hell; all the rights of man that he can appeal to God for in equity are merged in the wrongs for which he is responsible. If the Lord have mercy, it is his own will to do it: he can withhold it if it pleases him; so he selects the most degraded, those that have gone farthest from him, and takes them into his church; nay, more, advances them into eminent positions of service in that church, that all his people may know that the Most High ruleth in the armies of heaven and Amongst the inhabitants of this earth, and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, "What doest thou?" He lifteth up the poor from the dunghill, and setteth him among princes, even among the princes of his people. His mercy, power, and sovereignty are displayed when he takes of them to be priests and Levites.

     But does he not thereby secure to himself the most loving service? I have sometimes thought (I hope I am not censorious) as I have observed with pain the superficiality of a great deal of what is called ministry in these days—that kind of superficiality, I mean, in which little is said about the corruption and depravity of the heart; little about the experience of the child of God when under the law; little, far too little, about the glory of that grace that takes such worms of the dust to make them one with Christ. I have often thought that this avoidance of, not to say this aversion to, deep ploughing, may be accounted for by the fact that the preachers themselves probably had not been suffered to go very far into outward sin; had never had any very deep law-work upon their souls; never had much awakening of conscience, nor felt much of the powers of the world to come. They got their religion very easily; and so knowing little of soul-humbling sensations themselves, they could not go very deeply into the experience of the children of God. When the Lord calls a grievous sinner, to make a gracious example of him, it is not so. The man who has done business in deep waters knows what sin means; tortured with a sense of his own crimes, he has been like those wretched culprits who surrender themselves to justice, because their conscience makes liberty chafe them. He knows what pardon means, for he has found peace after great bitterness, and got remission after the gnawings of despair; he knows what the conflicts of God's people are, for he has had many fierce encounters with the lusts that beset him within, and the temptations that assailed him from without. And now, when he opens his mouth, the testimony he bears is from an inwrought experience: he speaks of things which he has tasted and handled of the good Word of God. John Newton, to whom I referred just now, could not do otherwise than livingly and lovingly preach the Word of God. You could not have brooked from him a dainty essay or a flowery sermon, because nothing else would have consorted and accorded with his experience, but a faithful tale of the way the Lord had led him, and a forcible exposition of what the Lord had taught him. He had been such a sinner, that it must be grace which saved him; and he would have belied all his inward feelings if he had not proclaimed the grace of God. And so with Bunyan: if he had not tearfully wept over sinners and preached Jesus Christ in his fullness, as the Savior of Jerusalem sinners, he would have been opposing all that animated his own breast, and all that burned and glowed for utterance. God, therefore, takes some of these men who have gone far astray, that he might have warm-hearted, intensely earnest men, who must proclaim the gospel, because they have felt its power; who love much because they have had much forgiven; who preach of grace, because they need much grace, and lift up high the brazen serpent amongst the sin-bitten hosts of men, because they have been sin-bitten themselves and do remember it; they have looked and been cured, and they still remember the cure, and rejoice in it.

     Another reason why the Lord takes the vilest of men to make them the saintliest is, that he might openly triumph over Satan. How the devil must feel defeated when such a man as Saul is taken straight away from persecuting to preaching! Surely, it makes Satan bite his chains and gnash his teeth when he loses his servants so. Just when he has trained them up, and got them into fine condition for doing mischief, in comes the officer of divine grace, arrests them, and changes their hearts. You know none ever do the devil so much mischief as those who once did him service. They know the ins and outs of his castle—where to attack it. They understand so much of his devices and tactics, that they become all the more powerful adversaries when they are converted. All heaven rings with rapture when a great sinner is saved; and all hell howls with dismay when one of the arch host bows down to kiss the feet of Christ, and receive the mercy of God. Glory be to God when he takes those that would have been deepest damned, and sets them highest among the saved on earth to be priests and Levites unto him. By these means also he secures another end: he encourages poor penitents; for when a sinner, under a sense of sin, meets with a brother in Christ, who was like himself once, but is now living near to God and serving him acceptably, he is much encouraged. "Why," he thinks to himself, "is this how God receives sinners when they turn to him? Perhaps he will receive me." And if he gets into conversation with one of those whom God has made priests and Levites, he says, "Tell me what the Lord has done for thy soul." And the minister being a man of like passions, and having had like experience, delights to describe the works and ways of God with hardened sinners and old offenders and then the man who is seeking finds in the other a guide who is touched with the feeling of his infirmity, is very helpful to him, and much blessed of God to enter into the secrets of his heart, and lead him to the cross. If there be here some great rebel against God, I think he ought to take encouragement thence to turn unto the Lord and live, for surely, when God so treats his most defiant enemies as to make them his most honored ministers, there should be some comfort for the great sinner to seek the Lord while yet he waits to be gracious.

     And do not you think this is done very much for the encouragement of the church of God? I know, as myself one of its humble members I often need to be solaced by seeing what God's hand can do. We ought to walk by faith, and so I trust we do; but when we see sinners converted, it gives zest to our fellowship and zeal to our enterprise. We all of us feel the happier for it. I hardly expect to see so many converts in the Tabernacle as there used to be. We have had so very many brought to God, that those of you who are left, I almost fear, have resisted overmuch the wooings and warnings of love divine. Indeed, there are so few comparatively left, that we have not the opportunities we once had when the mass of the congregation was not converted. Peradventure there are few of you whom God has not blessed. But I do long to see a fresh ingathering of converts: it would make my heart glad, and it would make all the church glad if we heard of some great sinners being saved.

     I pray God sometimes that he would save a great multitude of the priests of the church of Rome and the church of England. Be did in the olden times bring a great multitude of the priests to believe the gospel, and why should he not yet again? If he wills to call to himself some of the lowest of the low, and the vilest of the vile, and make them wonders of his grace, his omnipotent fiat shall be instantly obeyed. Why should he not? Why should he not? He has done so: why should he not again? He has done so, I say, and the text says, "I will take of them for priests and for Levites." Why should he not go on to take from strange quarters still a people that shall serve him? Does he not say "I will"? Suppose it should ever come to this, as some say it will, that the churches, many of them, should desert the old truths, and the ministers become dumb dogs that cannot bark, and one by one their testimony should be silent, and every candlestick should be taken out of its place, and the whole head should be sick, and the whole heart faint, and Zion be under a cloud, and there should be none to help her, and none to lift up the banner for the truth? What then? Why, then God would arise, and take again from the fishermen in their boats new apostles, and from the lowest dens of iniquity, and the worst haunts of vice, from the saloons of frivolity where the rich resort, and from the chambers of commerce and the palaces of merchandise where buyers and sellers make their contracts, he would take a fresh staff of men. Out of the roughest material he can make the finest fabric, out of the newest recruits he can raise the noblest regiment, to show forth his praise, to do his work, and to secure victory for his cause. If some were unworthy holders of his vineyard, and brought him no revenue, he would put aside these wicked men, and send forth fresh laborers, and give his vineyard unto others, for he will get glory unto his name; he "will take of them for priests and for Levites." Never say it is a dark day; never say God has forgotten his church; never give way to despairing fits, and dream of horrible times coming, that yet are not to come. Verily, "all flesh shall see the salvation of God," and the glory of God shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. He shall arise, and have mercy upon Zion; he will build up her walls, heal all her breaches, and once again shall she be the joy of the whole earth. Take heart and comfort, God can find his servants anywhere. Omnipotence hath instruments where we see them not. He "will take of them for priests and for Levites."

     III. Lastly, WHAT IS THE LESSON FROM THIS? I address myself to those of you especially, my dear brethren and sisters, whom the grace of God has taken to make priests and Levites unto God. You are near to him: you serve him. What effect should this have upon you? First, remember what state you where in before God's grace took you in hand. Then consider what you are called to be; you are made priests and Levites. Then ask yourself what you would soon become if his grace were to depart from you? Why, as you were before, only with this difference, that the evil spirit in you would take unto himself seven other spirits more wicked than the first, and enter in and dwell there, and your last state would be worse than the first. Watch then, watch! watch! God, his grace enabling you to watch, will preserve you to the end. Am I a priest and Levite—a holy vessel set apart before God, serving at his altar, bringing prayers and praises to him? Ah! yes, I may be a priest and a Levite, but I should be a devil if his grace did not prevent. O watch, watch, watch! "What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch."

     And oh, what humility this vocation of God should produce! However high we may be raised, we must remember whence the honor cometh. For this promotion cometh neither from the east nor from the west—it is God's gift. Thou, a blasphemer and injurious; thou, a careless, godless, Christless man, now raised to be a servant of God, to wait in his courts, and honor his name, be thankful that thou art lifted so high, but wonder, and fear and tremble, for all the goodness that God has made to pass before thee. What am I, and what is my father's house, that thou hast brought me hitherto; to pray and my prayer to be heard, yet not worthy to lift mine eyes to the place where thine honour dwelleth; to have thy holy Spirit dwelling in me, and yet not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof! Be humble brother: it will help you to watch. Watching is done best in a lowly manner.

     And since he hath taken us for priests and for Levites, let us do every office heartily as unto the Lord. If others in this world can serve God coldly, yet, my brethren and sisters, you and I cannot afford to do so. We were such sinners, that if we have been forgiven, we must love him. Those that had little sin to be cleansed may not have much love to lavish on their Redeemer. Not so with me or thee:

 

"Love I most; I've more forgiven;

I'm a miracle of grace."

 

Those that had some good principles instilled into them by early training or some sort of preparation to receive the gospel, may not feel their deep indebtedness to the wonderful working of the Spirit; but those of us who were steeped in sin, and hardened in heart, when we are saved must magnify the power of God, and moved by that feeling we must serve him heartily with our whole spirit, soul, and body. A man that feels what grace has done for him cannot help throwing his whole soul into it. I used to know a man whom I often heard swear—on the other side of the river, in the town where I was—and when converted I recollect his prayers. They used to trouble us rather: they were so loud. It was not everybody that knew the reason why. He had been so accustomed to swear loud that he could not help praying loud; and when a man has been very loud for the devil, he cannot help being loud for Christ. Some of those dear Methodist brethren who cry out, "Amen!" so stentoriously, do it, I hope, because they feel the love of God in Christ on account of what great things have been done for them. Let those go the common track of service that have gone the common track of sin, but let those serve the Lord with all their heart, and mind, and strength, that have been unusual sinners. Bring your alabaster box, O great sinner, break it on his blessed head that pardoned you. Wash his feet with your tears, and wipe them with the hairs of your head, for where extraordinary love has been experienced, extraordinary love ought to be the outgrowth, and extraordinary service ought to be the consequence.

     Once again, if the Lord has taken of us to be his priests and Levites, let us serve him with great thankfulness and joy. If any people should be glad, I am sure it is those people that feel the aboundings of his mercy in forgiveness, having heard those glad tidings, as it were, from the lips of Jesus himself. "Thy sins which are many are all forgiven thee: go in peace." They have something always to stimulate their gratitude and regale them with sunshine. "I am very poor," saith one, "but, never mind, poor as I am, I am not a drunkard or a swearer now; I feel weak and sickly in body, it may be; never mind that; I have not the burden of sin upon my soul." Or, "I am unknown, quite unknown. I have nobody to come and see me. Never mind that; I am known to God. I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh upon me. My great wounds have been healed in Jesus' precious blood." Why, you have always cause to be glad, my dear brother and sister, if you have had your sins forgiven: you have a fountain opened in your soul of love to Christ and joy in God, quite as surely as there is a fountain open for the cleansing of your sin in the side of Jesus.

     So let me close, by saying, surely we ought to serve God with great confidence in him. If he has made us priests and Levites to him, why then we may trust him to do anything. "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" He that has done so much for us, as to take us out of the miry clay, and set our feet upon a rock, and put his gospel into our hearts, may be trusted for the rest. Suppose a man owed you ten thousand pounds and a trifling sum besides for a small promissory note he had given you; if he paid you the ten thousand pounds, you might trust him to meet the little bill when it fell due. And when the Lord has given us so much, so infinitely much, the little that remains—for it is comparatively little—ought to cause us no anxieties or doubts, no fears or misgivings. "Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice." He who found me a sinner, made me a pardoned sinner, put me among his children, and numbered me among his honored servants, has not done all this to desert me at last and put me to shame. He has not been at this expense with his poor servant to fling him away after all. No, glory be to his name: he will continue his work till he has perfected it. He is the God that performeth all things for me, and in him will I rest, and not be ashamed, world without end. Amen.



The Prayer of Jabez

By / Jan 15

The Prayer of Jabez

 

"Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed!"—1 Chronicles 4:10

 

     We know very little about Jabez, except that he was more honorable than his brethren, and that he was called Jabez because his mother bare him with sorrow. It will sometimes happen that where there is the most sorrow in the antecedents, there will be the most pleasure in the sequel. As the furious storm gives place to the clear sunshine, so the night of weeping precedes the morning of joy. Sorrow the harbinger; gladness the prince it ushers in. Cowper says:—

 

"The path of sorrow, and that path alone,

Leads to the place where sorrow is unknown."

 

To a great extent we find that we must sow in tears before we can reap in joy. Many of our works for Christ have cost us tears. Difficulties and disappointments have wrung our soul with anguish. Yet those projects that have cost us more than ordinary sorrow, have often turned out to be the most honorable of our undertakings. While our grief called the offspring of desire "Benoni," the son of my sorrow, our faith has been afterwards able to give it a name of delight, "Benjamin," the son of my right hand. You may expect a blessing in serving God if you are enabled to persevere under many discouragements. The ship is often long coming home, because detained on the road by excess of cargo. Expect her freight to be the better when she reaches the port. More honorable than his brethren was the child whom his mother bore with sorrow. As for this Jabez, whose aim was so well pointed, his fame so far sounded, his name so lastingly embalmed—he was a man of prayer. The honor he enjoyed would not have been worth having if it had not been vigorously contested and equitably won. His devotion was the key to his promotion. Those are the best honors that come from God, the award of grace with the acknowledgment of service. When Jacob was surnamed Israel, he received his princedom after a memorable night of prayer. Surely it was far more honorable to him than if it had been bestowed upon him as a flattering destinction by some earthly emperor. The best honor is that which a man gains in communion with the Most High. Jabez, we are told, was more honorable than his brethren, and his prayer is forthwith recorded, as if to intimate that he was also more prayerful than his brethren. We are told of what petitions his prayer consisted. All through it was very significant and instructive. We have only time to take one clause of it—indeed, that one clause may be said to comprehend the rest: "Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed!" I commend it as a prayer for yourselves, dear brethren and sisters; one which will be available at all seasons; a prayer to begin Christian life with, a prayer to end it with, a prayer which would never be unseasonable in your joys or in your sorrows.

     Oh that thou, the God of Israel, the covenant God, would bless me indeed! The very pith of the prayer seems to lie in that word, "indeed." There are many varieties of blessing. Some are blessings only in name: they gratify our wishes for a moment, but permanently disappoint our expectations. They charm the eye, but pall on the taste. Others are mere temporary blessings: they perish with the using. Though for awhile they regale the senses, they cannot satisfy the higher cravings of the soul. But, "Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed!" I wot whom God blesseth shall be blessed. The thing good in itself is bestowed with the good-will of the giver, and shall be productive of so much good fortune to the recipient that it may well be esteemed as a blessing "indeed," for there is nothing comparable to it. Let the grace of God prompt it, let the choice of God appoint it, let the bounty of God confer it, and then the endowment shall be something godlike indeed; something worthy of the lips that pronounce the benediction, and verily to be craved by every one who seeks honor that is substantial and enduring. "Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed!" Think it over, and you will see that there is a depth of meaning in the expression.

     We may set this in contrast with human blessings: "Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed!" It is very delightful to be blessed by our parents, and those venerable friends whose benedictions come from their hearts, and are backed up by their prayers. Many a poor man has had no other legacy to leave his children except his blessing, but the blessing of an honest, holy, Christian father is a rich treasure to his son. One might well feel it were a thing to be deplored through life if he had lost a parent's blessing. We like to have it. The blessing of our spiritual parents is consolatory. Though we believe in no priestcraft, we like to live in the affections of those who were the means of bringing us to Christ, and from whose lips we were instructed in the things of God. And how very precious is the blessing of the poor! I do not wonder that Job treasured that up as a sweet thing. "When the ear heard me, then it blessed me." If you have relieved the widow and the fatherless, and their thanks are returned to you in benediction, it is no mean reward. But, dear friends, after all—all that parents, relatives, saints, and grateful persons can do in the way of blessing, falls very far short of what we desire to have. O Lord, we would have the blessings of our fellow-creatures, the blessings that come from their hearts; but, "Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed!" for thou canst bless with authority. Their blessings may be but words, but thine are effectual. They may often wish what they cannot do, and desire to give what they have not at their own disposal, but thy will is omnipotent. Thou didst create the world with but a word. O that such omnipotence would now bespeak me thy blessing! Other blessings may bring us some tiny cheer, but in thy favor is life. Other blessings are mere tittles in comparison with thy blessing; for thy blessing is the title "to an inheritance incorruptible" and unfading, to "a kingdom which cannot be moved." Well therefore might David pray in another place, "With thy blessing let the house of thy servant be blessed for ever." Perhaps in this place, Jabez may have put the blessing of God in contrast with the blessings of men. Men will bless thee when thou doest well for thyself. They will praise the man who is successful in business. Nothing succeeds like success. Nothing has so much the approval of the general public as a man's prosperity. Alas! they do not weigh men's actions in the balances of the sanctuary, but in quite other scales. You will find those about you who will commend you if you are prosperous; or like Job's comforters, condemn you if you suffer adversity. Perhaps there may be some feature about their blessings that may please you, because you feel you deserve them. They commend you for your patriotism: you have been a patriot. They commend you for your generosity: you know you have been self-sacrificing. Well, but after all, what is there in the verdict of man? At a trial, the verdict of the policeman who stands in the court, or of the spectators who sit in the court-house, amounts to just nothing. The man who is being tried feels that the only thing that is of importance at all will be the verdict of the jury, and the sentence of the judge. So it will little avail us whatever we may do, how others commend or censure. Their blessings are not of any great value. But, "Oh that thou wouldest bless me," that thou wouldest say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Commend thou the feeble service that through thy grace my heart has rendered. That will be to bless me indeed.

     Men are sometimes blessed in a very fulsome sense by flattery. There are always those who, like the fox in the fable, hope to gain the cheese by praising the crow. They never saw such plumage, and no voice could be so sweet as yours. The whole of their mind is set, not on you, but on what they are to gain by you. The race of flatterers is never extinct, though the flattered usually flatter themselves it is so. They may conceive that men flatter others, but all is so palpable and transparent when heaped upon themselves, that they accept it with a great deal of self-complacency, as being perhaps a little exaggerated, but after all exceedingly near the truth. We are not very apt to take a large discount off the praises that others offer us; yet, were we wise, we should press to our bosom those who censure us; and we should always keep at arm's length those who praise us, for those who censure us to our face cannot possibly be making a market of us; but with regard to those who extol us, rising early, and using loud sentences of praise, we may suspect, and we shall very seldom be unjust in the suspicion, that there is some other motive in the praise which they render to us than that which appears on the surface. Young man, art thou placed in a position where God honors thee? Beware of flatterers. Or hast thou come into a large estate? Hast thou abundance? There are always flies where there is honey. Beware of flattery. Young woman, art thou fair to look upon? There will be those about thee that will have their designs, perhaps their evil designs, in lauding thy beauty. Beware of flatterers. Turn thou aside from all these who have honey on their tongue, because of the poison of asps that is under it. Bethink thee of Solomon's caution, "meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips." Cry to God, "Deliver thou me from all this vain adulation, which nauseates my soul." So shalt thou pray to him the more fervently, "Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed!" Let me have thy benediction, which never says more than it means; which never gives less than it promises. If you take then the prayer of Jabez as being put in contrast with the benedictions which come from men, you see much force in it.

     But we may put it in another light, and compare the blessing Jabez craved with those blessings that are temporal and transient. There are many bounties given to us mercifully by God for which we are bound to be very grateful; but we must not set too much store by them. We may accept them with gratitude, but we must not make them our idols. When we have them we have great need to cry, "Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and make these inferior blessings real blessings;" and if we have them not, we should with greater vehemence cry, "Oh that we may be rich in faith, and if not blessed with these external favors, may we be blessed spiritually, and then we shall be blessed indeed."

     Let us review some of these mercies, and just say a word or two about them.

     One of the first cravings of men's hearts is wealth. So universal the desire to gain it, that we might almost say it is a natural instinct. How many have thought if they once possessed it they should be blessed indeed! but there are ten thousand proofs that happiness consists not in the abundance which a man possesseth. So many instances are well known to you all, that I need not quote any to show that riches are not a blessing indeed. They are rather apparently than really so. Hence, it has been well said, that when we see how much a man has we envy him; but could we see how little he enjoys we should pity him. Some that have had the most easy circumstances have had the most uneasy minds. Those who have acquired all they could wish, had their wishes been at all sane, have been led by the possession of what they had to be discontented because they had not more.

 

"Thus the base miser starves amidst his store,

Broods o'er his gold, and griping still at more,

Sits sadly pining, and believes he's poor."

 

Nothing is more clear to any one who chooses to observe it, than that riches are not the chief good at whose advent sorrow flies, and in whose presence joy perennial springs. Full often wealth cozens the owner. Dainties are spread on his table, but his appetite fails, minstrels wait his bidding, but his ears are deaf to all the strains of music; holidays he may have as many as he pleases, but for him recreation has lost all its charms: or he is young, fortune has come to him by inheritance, and he makes pleasure his pursuit till sport becomes more irksome than work, and dissipation worse than drudgery. Ye know how riches make themselves wings; like the bird that roosted on the tree, they fly away. In sickness and despondency these ample means that once seemed to whisper, "Soul, take thine ease," prove themselves to be poor comforters. In death they even tend to make the pang of separation more acute, because there is the more to leave, the more to lose. We may well say, if we have wealth, "My God, put me not off with these husks; let me never make a god of the silver and the gold, the goods and the chattels, the estates and investments, which in thy providence thou hast given me. I beseech thee, bless me indeed. As for these worldly possessions, they will be my bane unless I have thy grace with them." And if you have not wealth, and perhaps the most of you will never have it, say, "My Father, thou hast denied me this outward and seeming good, enrich me with thy love, give me the gold of thy favor, bless me indeed; then allot to others whatever thou wilt, thou shalt divide my portion, my soul shall wait thy daily will; do thou bless me indeed, and I shall be content."

     Another transient blessing which our poor humanity fondly covets and eagerly pursues is fame. In this respect we would fain be more honorable than our brethren, and outstrip all our competitors. It seems natural to us all to wish to make a name, and gain some note in the circle we move in at any rate, and we wish to make that circle wider if we can. But here, as of riches, it is indisputable that the greatest fame does not bring with it any equal measure of gratification. Men, in seeking after notoriety or honor, have a degree of pleasure in the search which they do not always possess when they have gained their object. Some of the most famous men have also been the most wretched of the human race. If thou hast honor and fame, accept it; but let this prayer go up, "My God, bless thou me indeed, for what profit were it, if my name were in a thousand mouths, if thou shouldest spue it out of thy mouth? What matter, though my name were written on marble, if it were not written in the Lamb's Book of Life? These blessings are only apparently blessings, windy blessings, blessings that mock me. Give me thy blessing: then the honor which comes of thee will make me blessed indeed." If you happen to have lived in obscurity, and have never entered the lists for honors among your fellow-men, be content to run well your own course and fulfill truly your own vocation. To lack fame is not the most grievous of ills; it is worse to have it like the snow, that whitens the ground in the morning, and disappears in the heat of the day. What matters it to a dead man that men are talking of him? Get thou the blessing indeed.

     There is another temporal blessing which wise men desire, and legitimately may wish for rather than the other two—the blessing of health. Can we ever prize it sufficiently? To trifle with such a boon is the madness of folly. The highest eulogiums that can be passed on health would not be extravagant. He that has a healthy body is infinitely more blessed than he who is sickly, whatever his estates may be. Yet if I have health, my bones well set, and my muscles well strung, if I scarcely know an ache or pain, but can rise in the morning, and with elastic step go forth to labor, and cast myself upon my couch at night, and sleep the sleep of the happy, yet, oh let me not glory in my strength! In a moment it may fail me. A few short weeks may reduce the strong man to a skeleton. Consumption may set in, the cheek may pale with the shadow of death. Let not the strong man glory in his strength. The Lord "delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man." And let us not make our boast concerning these things. Say, thou that are in good health, "My God, bless me indeed. Give me the healthy soul. Heal me of my spiritual diseases. Jehovah Rophi come, and purge out the leprosy that is in my heart by nature: make me healthy in the heavenly sense, that I may not be put aside among the unclean, but allowed to stand amongst the congregation of thy saints. Bless my bodily health to me that I may use it rightly, spending the strength I have in thy service and to thy glory; otherwise, though blessed with health, I may not be blessed indeed." Some of you, dear friends, do not possess the great treasure of health. Wearisome days and nights are appointed you. Your bones are become an almanac, in which you note the changes of the weather. There is much about you that is fitted to excite pity. But I pray that you may have the blessing indeed, and I know what that is. I can heartily sympathise with a sister that said to me the other day, "I had such nearness to God when I was sick, such full assurance, and such joy in the Lord, and I regret to say I have lost it now; that I could almost wish to be ill again, if thereby I might have a renewal of communion with God." I have oftentimes looked gratefully back to my sick chamber. I am certain that I never did grow in grace one half so much anywhere as I have upon the bed of pain. It ought not to be so. Our joyous mercies ought to be great fertilizers to our spirit; but not unfrequently our griefs are more salutary than our joys. The pruning knife is best for some of us. Well, after all, whatever you have to suffer, of weakness, of debility, of pain, and anguish, may it be so attended with the divine presence, that this light affliction may work out for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, and so you may be blessed indeed.

     I will only dwell upon one more temporal mercy, which is very precious—I mean the blessing of home. I do not think any one can ever prize it too highly, or speak too well of it. What a blessing it is to have the fireside, and the dear relationships that gather round the word "Home," wife, children, father, brother, sister! Why, there are no songs in any language that are more full of music than those dedicated to "Mother." We hear a great deal about the German "Fatherland"—we like the sound. But the word, "Father," is the whole of it. The "land" is nothing: the "Father" is key to the music. There are many of us, I hope, blessed with a great many of these relationships. Do not let us be content to solace our souls with ties that must ere long be sundered. Let us ask that over and above them may come the blessing indeed. I thank thee, my God, for my earthly father; but oh, be thou my Father, then am I blessed indeed. I thank thee, my God, for a mother's love; but comfort thou my soul as one whom a mother comforteth, then am I blessed indeed. I thank thee, Savior, for the marriage bond; but be thou the bridegroom of my soul. I thank thee for the tie of brotherhood; but be thou my brother born for adversity, bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh. The home thou hast given me I prize, and thank thee for it; but I would dwell in the house of the Lord for ever, and be a child that never wanders, wherever my feet may travel, from my Father's house with its many mansions. You can thus be blessed indeed. If not domiciled under the paternal care of the Almighty, even the blessing of home, with all its sweet familiar comforts, does not reach to the benediction which Jabez desired for himself. But do I speak to any here that are separated from kith and kin? I know some of you have left behind you in the bivouac of life graves where parts of your heart are buried, and that which remains is bleeding with just so many wounds. Ah, well! the Lord bless you indeed! Widow, thy maker is thy husband. Fatherless one, he hath said, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." Oh, to find all your relationships made up in him, then you will be blessed indeed! I have perhaps taken too long a time in mentioning these temporary blessings, so let me set the text in another light. I trust we have had human blessings and temporary blessings, to fill our hearts with gladness, but not to foul our hearts with worldliness, or to distract our attention from the things that belong to our everlasting welfare.

     Let us proceed, thirdly, to speak of imaginary blessings. There are such in the world. From them may God deliver us. "Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed!" Take the Pharisee. He stood in the Lord's house, and he thought he had the Lord's blessing, and it made him very bold, and he spoke with unctuous self-complacency, "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are," and so on. He had the blessing, and well indeed he supposed himself to have merited it. He had fasted twice in the week, paid tithes of all that he possessed, even to the odd farthing on the mint, and the extra halfpenny on the cummin he had used. He felt he had done everything. His the blessing of a quiet or a quiescent conscience; good, easy man. He was a pattern to the parish. It was a pity everybody did not live as he did; if they had, they would not have wanted any police. Pilate might have dismissed his guards, and Herod his soldiers. He was just one of the most excellent persons that ever breathed. He adored the city of which he was a burgess! Ay; but he was not blessed indeed. This was all his own overweening conceit. He was a mere wind-bag, nothing more and the blessing which he fancied had fallen upon him, had never come. The poor publican whom he thought accursed, went to his home justified rather than he. The blessing had not fallen on the man who thought he had it. Oh, let every one of us here feel the sting of this rebuke, and pray: "Great God, save us from imputing to ourselves a righteousness which we do not possess. Save us from wrapping ourselves up in our own rags, and fancying we have put on the wedding garments. Bless me indeed. Let me have the true righteousness. Let me have the true worthiness which thou canst accept, even that which is of faith in Jesus Christ."

     Another form of this imaginary blessing is found in persons who would scorn to be thought self-righteous. Their delusion, however, is near akin. I hear them singing—

 

"I do believe, I will believe

That Jesus died for me,

And on his cross he shed his blood,

From sin to set me free."

 

You believe it, you say. Well, but how do you know? Upon what authority do you make so sure? Who told you? "Oh, I believe it." Yes, but we must mind what we believe. Have you any clear evidence of a special interest in the blood of Jesus? Can you give any spiritual reasons for believing that Christ has set you free from sin? I am afraid that some have got a hope that has not got any ground, like an anchor without any fluke—nothing to grasp, nothing to lay hold upon. They say they are saved, and they stick to it they are, and think it wicked to doubt it; but yet they have no reason to warrant their confidence. When the sons of Kohath carried the ark, and touched it with their hands, they did rightly; but when Uzzah touched it he died. There are those who are ready to be fully assured; there are others to whom it will be death to talk of it. There is a great difference between presumption and full assurance. Full assurance is reasonable: it is based on solid ground. Presumption takes for granted, and with brazen face pronounces that to be its own to which it has no right whatever. Beware, I pray thee, of presuming that thou art saved. If with thy heart thou dost trust in Jesus, then art thou saved; but if thou merely sayest, "I trust in Jesus," it doth not save thee. If thy heart be renewed, if thou shalt hate the things that thou didst once love, and love the things that thou didst once hate; if thou hast really repented; if there be a thorough change of mind in thee; if thou be born again, then hast thou reason to rejoice: but if there be no vital change, no inward godliness; if there be no love to God, no prayer, no work of the Holy Spirit, then thy saying, "I am saved," is but thine own assertion, and it may delude, but it will not deliver thee. Our prayer ought to be, "Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, with real faith, with real salvation, with the trust in Jesus that is the essential of faith; not with the conceit that begets credulity. God preserve us from imaginary blessings!" I have met with persons who said, "I believe I am saved, because I dreamt it." Or, "Because I had a text of Scripture that applied to my own case. Such and such a good man said so and so in his sermon." Or, "Because I took to weeping and was excited, and felt as I never felt before." Ah! but nothing will stand the trial but this, "Dost thou abjure all confidence in everything but the finished work of Jesus, and dost thou come to Christ to be reconciled in him to God?" If thou dost not, thy dreams, and visions, and fancies, are but dreams, and visions, and fancies, and will not serve thy turn when most thou needest them. Pray the Lord to bless thee indeed, for of that sterling verity in all thy walk and talk there is a great scarcity.

     Too much I am afraid, that even those who are saved—saved for time and eternity—need this caution, and have good cause to pray this prayer that they may learn to make a distinction between some things which they think to be spiritual blessings, and others which are blessings indeed. Let me show you what I mean. Is it certainly a blessing to get an answer to your prayer after your own mind? I always like to qualify my most earnest prayer with, "Not as I will, but as thou wilt." Not only ought I to do it, but I would like to do it, because otherwise I might ask for something which it would be dangerous for me to receive. God might give it me in anger, and I might find little sweetness in the grant, but much soreness in the grief it caused me. You remember how Israel of old asked for flesh, and God gave them quails; but while the meat was yet in their mouths the wrath of God came upon them. Ask for the meat, if you like, but always put in this: "Lord, if this is not a real blessing, do not give it me." "Bless me indeed." I hardly like to repeat the old story of the good woman whose son was ill—a little child near death's door—and she begged the minister, a Puritan, to pray for its life. He did pray very earnestly, but he put in, "If it be thy will, save this child." The woman said, "I cannot bear that: I must have you pray that the child shall live. Do not put in any ifs or buts." "Woman," said the minister, "it may be you will live to rue the day that ever you wished to set your will up against God's will." Twenty years afterwards, she was carried away in a fainting fit from under Tyburn gallows-tree, where that son was put to death as a felon. Although she had lived to see her child grow up to be a man, it would have been infinitely better for her had the child died, and infinitely wiser had she left it to God's will. Do not be quite so sure that what you think an answer to prayer is any proof of divine love. It may leave much room for thee to seek unto the Lord, saying, "Oh that thou wouldest blessed me indeed!" So sometimes great exhilaration of spirit, liveliness of heart, even though it be religious joy, may not always be a blessing. We delight in it, and oh, sometimes when we have had gatherings for prayer here, the fire has burned, and our souls have glowed! We felt at the time how we could sing—

 

"My willing soul would stay

In such a frame as this,

And sit and sing herself away

To everlasting bliss."

 

So far as that was a blessing we are thankful for it; but I should not like to set such seasons up, as if my enjoyments were the main token of God's favor; or as if they were the chief signs of his blessing. Perhaps it would be a greater blessing to me to be broken in spirit, and laid low before the Lord at the present time. When you ask for the highest joy, and pray to be on the mountain with Christ, remember it may be as much a blessing; yea, a blessing indeed to be brought into the Valley of Humiliation, to be laid very low, and constrained to cry out in anguish, "Lord, save, or I perish!"

 

"If to-day he deigns to bless us

With a sense of pardon'd sin,

He to-morrow may distress us,

Make us feel the plague within,

All to make us

Sick of self, and fond of him."

 

These variable experiences of ours may be blessings indeed to us, when, had we been always rejoicing, we might have been like Moab, settled on our lees, and not emptied from vessel to vessel. It fares ill with those who have no changes; they fear not God. Have we not, dear friends, sometimes envied those persons that are always calm and unruffled, and are never perturbed in mind? Well, there are Christians whose evenness of temper deserves to be emulated. And as for that calm repose, that unwavering assurance which comes from the Spirit of God, it is a very delightful attainment; but I am not sure that we ought to envy anybody's lot because it is more tranquil or less exposed to storm and tempest than our own. There is a danger of saying, "Peace, peace," where there is no peace, and there is a calmness which arises from callousness. Dupes there are who deceive their own souls. "They have no doubts," they say, but it is because they have little heart searching. They have no anxieties, because they have not much enterprise or many pursuits to stir them up. Or it may be they have no pains, because they have no life. Better go to heaven, halt and maimed, than go marching on in confidence down to hell. "Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed!" My God, I will envy no one of his gifts or his graces, much less of his inward mood or his outward circumstances, if only thou wilt "bless me indeed." I would not be comforted unless thou comfortest me, nor have any peace but Christ my peace, nor any rest but the rest which cometh from the sweet savor of the sacrifice of Christ. Christ shall be all in all, and none shall be anything to me save himself. O that we might always feel that we are not to judge as to the manner of the blessing, but must leave it with God to give us what we would have, not the imaginary blessing, the superficial and apparent blessing, but the blessing indeed!

     Equally too with regard to our work and service, I think our prayer should always be, "Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed!" It is lamentable to see the work of some good men, though it is not ours to judge them, how very pretentious, but how very unreal it is. It is really shocking to think how some men pretend to build up a church in the course of two or three evenings. They will report, in the corner of the newspapers, that there were forty-three persons convinced of sin, and forty-six justified, and sometimes thirty-eight sanctified; I do not know what besides of wonderful statistics they give as to all that is accomplished. I have observed congregations that have been speedily gathered together, and great additions have been made to the church all of a sudden. And what has become of them? Where are those churches at the present moment? The dreariest deserts in Christendom are those places that were fertilised by the patent manures of certain revivalists. The whole church seemed to have spent its strength in one rush and effort after something, and it ended in nothing at all. They built their wooden house, and piled up the hay, and made a stubble spire that seemed to reach the heavens, and there fell one spark, and all went away in smoke; and he that came to labor next time—the successor of the great builder—had to get the ashes swept away before he could do any good. The prayer of every one that serves God should be, "Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed." Plod on, plod on. If I only build one piece of masonry in my life, and nothing more, if it be gold, silver, or precious stones, it is a good deal for a man to do; of such precious stuff as that, to build even one little corner which will not show, is a worthy service. It will not be much talked of, but it will last. There is the point: it will last. "Establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it." If we are not builders in an established church, it is of little use to try at all. What God establishes will stand, but what men build without his establishment will certainly come to nought. "Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed!" Sunday-school teacher, be this your prayer. Tract distributer, local preacher, whatever you may be, dear brother or sister, whatever your form of service, do ask the Lord that you may not be one of those plaster builders using sham compo that only requires a certain amount of frost and weather to make it crumble to pieces. Be it yours, if you cannot build a cathedral, to build at least one part of the marvellous temple that God is piling for eternity, which will outlast the stars.

     I have one thing more to mention before I bring this sermon to a close. The blessings of God's grace are blessings indeed, which in right earnest we ought to seek after. By these marks shall ye know them. Blessings indeed, are such blessings as come from the pierced hand; blessings that come from Calvary’s bloody tree, streaming from the Savior's wounded side—thy pardon, thine acceptance, thy spiritual life: the bread that is meat indeed, the blood that is drink indeed—thy oneness to Christ, and all that comes of it—these are blessings indeed. Any blessing that comes as the result of the Spirit's work in thy soul is a blessing indeed; though it humble thee, though it strip thee, though it kill thee, it is a blessing indeed. Though the harrow go over and over thy soul, and the deep plough cut into thy very heart; though thou be maimed and wounded, and left for dead, yet if the Spirit of God do it, it is a blessing indeed. If he convinceth thee of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, even though thou hast not hitherto been brought to Christ, it is a blessing indeed. Anything that he does, accept it; do not be dubious of it; but pray that he may continue his blessed operations in thy soul. Whatsoever leads thee to God is in like manner a blessing indeed. Riches may not do it. There may be a golden wall between thee and God. Health will not do it: even the strength and marrow of thy bones may keep thee at a distance from thy God. But anything that draws thee nearer to him is a blessing indeed. What though it be a cross that raiseth thee? Yet if it raise thee to God it shall be a blessing indeed. Anything that reaches into eternity, with a preparation for the world to come, anything that we can carry across the river, the holy joy that is to blossom in those fields beyond the swelling flood, the pure cloudless love of the brotherhood which is to be the atmosphere of truth for ever—anything of this kind that has the eternal broad arrow on it—the immutable mark—is a blessing indeed. And anything which helps me to glorify God is a blessing indeed. If I be sick, and that helps me to praise him, it is a blessing indeed. If I be poor, and I can serve him better in poverty than in wealth, it is a blessing indeed. If I be in contempt, I will rejoice in that day and leap for joy, if it be for Christ's sake—it is a blessing indeed. Yea, my faith shakes off the disguise, snatches the vizor from the fair forehead of the blessing, and counts it all joy to all into divers trials for the sake of Jesus and the recompense of reward that he has promised. "Oh that we may be blessed indeed!"

     Now, I send you away with these three words: "Search." See whether the blessings are blessings indeed, and be not satisfied unless you know that they are of God, tokens of his grace, and earnests of his saving purpose. "Weigh"—that shall be the next word. Whatever thou hast, weigh it in the scale, and ascertain if it be a blessing indeed, conferring such grace upon you as causeth you to abound in love, and to abound in every good word and work. And lastly, "Pray." So pray that this prayer may mingle with all thy prayers, that whatsoever God grants or whatever he withholds thou mayest be blessed indeed. Is it a joy-time with thee? O that Christ may mellow thy joy, and prevent the intoxication of earthly blessedness from leading thee aside from close walking with him! In the night of sorrow, pray that he will bless thee indeed, lest the wormwood also intoxicate thee and make thee drunk, lest thy afflictions should make thee think hardly of him. Pray for the blessing, which having, thou art rich to all the intents of bliss, or which lacking, thou art poor and destitute, though plenty fill thy store. "If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence." But "Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed!"



The Sheep and Their Shepherd

By / Jan 15

The Sheep and Their Shepherd

 

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."—John 10:27

 

     Christians are here compared to sheep. Not a very flattering comparison you may say; but then we do not wish to be flattered, nor would our Lord deem it good to flatter us, While far from flattering, it is, however, eminently consoling, for of all creatures there are not any more compassed about with infirmity than sheep. In this frailty of their nature they are a fit emblem of ourselves; at least, of so many of us as have believed in Jesus and become his disciples. Let others boast how strong they are; yet if there be strong ones anywhere, certainly we are weak. We have proved our weakness, and day by day we lament it. We do confess our weakness; yet may we not repine at it, for, as Paul said, so we find, when we are weak then are we strong. Sheep have many wants, yet they are very helpless, and quite unable to provide for themselves. But for the shepherd's cure they would soon perish. This, too, is our case. Our spiritual needs are numerous and pressing, yet we cannot supply any of them. We are travelers through a wilderness that yields us neither food nor water. Unless our bread drop down from heaven, and our water flow out of the living rock, we must die. Our weakness and our want we keenly feel: still we have no cause to murmur, since the Lord knows our poor estate, and succours us with the tenderest care. Sheep, too, are silly creatures, and in this respect likewise we are very sheepish. We meekly own it to him who is ready to guide us. We say, as David said, "O God, thou knowest my foolishness;" and he says to us as he said to David, "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go." If Christ were not our wisdom, we should soon fall a prey to the destroyer. Every grain of true wisdom that we possess we have derived from him; of ourselves we are dull and giddy; folly is bound up in our heart. The more conscious you are, deer brethren, of your own deficiencies, your lack of stamina, discretion, sagacity, and all the instincts of self-preservation, the more delighted you will be to see that the Lord accepts you under these conditions, and calls you the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. He discerns you as you are, claims you as his own, foresees all the ills to which you are exposed, yet tends you as his flock, sets store by every lamb of the fold, and so feeds you according to the integrity of his heart, and guides you by the skilfulness of his hands. "I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God." Oh, what sweet music there is to us in the name which is given to our Lord Jesus Christ of "the good Shepherd"! It not only describes the office he holds, but it sets forth the sympathy he feels, the aptness he shows, and the responsibility he bears to promote our well-being. What if the sheep be weak, yet is the shepherd strong to guard his flock from the prowling wolf or the roaring lion. If the sheep suffer privation because the soil is barren, yet is the shepherd able to lead them into pasturage suitable for them. If they be foolish, yet he goes before them, cheers them with his voice, and rules them with the rod of his command. There cannot be a flock without a shepherd; neither is there a shepherd truly without a flock. The two must go together. They are the fullness of each other. As the church is the fullness of him that filleth all in all, so we rejoice to remember that "of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace." That I am like a sheep is a sorry reflection; but that I have a shepherd charms away the sorrow and creates a new joy. It even becomes a gladsome thing to be weak, that I may rely on his strength; to be full of wants, that I may draw from his fullness; to be shallow and often at my wit's end, that I may be always regulated by his wisdom. Even so doth my shame redound to his praise. Not to you, ye great and mighty, who lift your heads high, and claim for yourselves honor: not for you is peace, not to you is rest; but unto you, ye lowly ones, who delight in the valley of humiliation, and feel yourselves to be taken down in your own esteem—to you it is that the Shepherd becomes dear; and to you will he give to lie down in green pastures beside the still waters.

     In a very simple way, we shall speak about the proprietor of the sheep. "My sheep," says Christ. Then, we shall have a little to say about the marks of the sheep. After that I propose to talk awhile about the privileges of the sheep. "I know my sheep:" they are privileged to be known of Christ. "My sheep hear my voice."

     I. Who is the proprietor of the sheep? They are all Christ's. "My sheep hear my voice." How came the saints to be Christ's?

     They are his, first of all, because he chose them. Ere the worlds were made, out of all the rest of mankind he selected them. He knew the race would fall, and become unworthy of the faculties with which he endowed them, and the inheritance he had assigned them. To him belonged the sovereign prerogative that he might have mercy on whom he would have mercy; and he, out of his own absolute will, and according to the counsel of his own good pleasure, made choice severally and individually of certain persons, and he said, "These are mine." Their names were written in his book: they became his portion and his heritage. Having chosen them of old so many ages ago, rest assured he will not lose them now. Men prize that which they have long had. If there is a thing that was mine but yesterday, and it is lost today, I might not fret about it; but if I have long possessed it, and called it my patrimony, I would not willingly part with it. Sheep of Christ, ye shall be his for ever, because ye have been his from ever. They are Christ's sheep, because his Father gave them to him. They were the gift of the Father to Christ. He often speaks of them in this way. "As many as thou hast given me:" "Thou hast given them me," saith he, over and over again. Of old, the Father gave his people to Christ. Separating them from among men, he presented them to him as a gift, committed them into his hand as a trust, and ordained them for him as the lot of his inheritance. Thus they become a token of the Father's love to his only begotten Son, a proof of the confidence he reposed in him, and a pledge of the honor that shall be done unto him. Now, I suppose we most of us know how to value a gift for the donor's sake. If presented to us by one whom we love, we set great store by it. If it has been designed to be a love-token, it awakens in our minds many sweet memories. Though the intrinsic worth may be of small account, the associations make it exceedingly precious. We might be content to lose something of far greater value in itself rather than that which is the gift of a friend, the offering of his love I like the delicate sentiment of the poet, as it is expressed in that pretty verse—

 

"I never cast a flower away,

The gift of one who cared for me;

A little flower—a faded flower,

But it was done reluctantly."

 

Yet, oh, how weak the words of human passion! but, oh, how strong the expressions of divine ardor, when Jesus speaks to the Father of "the men whom thou gavest me out of the world"! "Thine they were," he says, "and thou gavest them me; and those that thou gavest me I have kept." Ye sheep of Christ, rest safely; let not your soul be disturbed with fear. The Father gave you to his Son, and he will not lightly lose what God himself has given him. The infernal lions shall not rend the meanest lamb that is a love-token from the Father to his best Beloved. While Christ stands defending his own, he will protect them from the lion and the bear, that would take the lambs of his flock; he will not suffer the least of them to perish.

     "My sheep," says Christ. They are his, furthermore, because, in addition to his choice and to the gift, he has bought them with a price. They had sold themselves for nought; but he has redeemed them, not with corruptible things as with silver and gold, but with his precious blood. A man always esteems that to be exceedingly valuable which he procured with risk—with risk of life and limb. David felt he could not drink the water that the brave warriors who broke through the host of the Philistines brought to him from the well at Bethlehem, because it seemed to him as though it were the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives; and he poured it out before the Lord. It was too precious a draught for him, when men's lives had been hazarded for it. But the good Shepherd not only hazarded his life, but even laid it down for his sheep. Jacob exceedingly valued one part of his possessions, and he gave it to Joseph: he gave him one portion above his brethren. Now, you may be sure he would give, Joseph that which he thought most precious. But why did he give him that particular portion? Because, he says, "I took it out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow." Now, our blessed Shepherd esteems his sheep because they cost him his blood. They cost him his blood—I may say, he took them out of the hand of the Amorite with his sword and with his bow in bloody conflict, where he was victor, but yet was slain. There is not one sheep of all his flock but what he can see the mark of his blood on him. In the face of every saint the Savior sees, as in a glass, the memorial of his bloody sweat in Gethsemane, and his agonies at Golgotha. "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price." That stands as a call to duty, but it is at the same time a consolation, for if he has bought me, he will have me. Bought with such a price, he will not like to lose me, nor suffer any foe to take me out of his hand. Think not that Christ will suffer those to perish for whom he died. To me the very suggestion seems to draw near to the verge of blasphemy. If he has bought me with his blood, I cannot conceive he cares nothing for me, will take no further concern about me, or will suffer my soul to be cast into the pit. If he has suffered in my stead, where is justice gone that the substitute should bear my guilt, and I should bear it too? and where is mercy fled, that God should execute twice the punishment for one offense! Nay, beloved, those whom he hath bought with blood are his, and he will keep them.

     "My sheep," says Christ. They are his, or in due time they shall become so, through his capturing them by sacred power. As well by power are we redeemed as by price, for the blood-bought sheep had gone astray even as others. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way," but, my brethren, the good shepherd has brought many of us back with infinite condescension: with boundless mercy he followed us when we went astray. Oh, what blind slaves we were when we sported with death! We did not know then what his love had ordained for us: it never entered our poor, silly heads that there was a crown for us; we did not know that the Father's love had settled itself on us, or ever the day-star knew its place. We know it now, and it is he that has taught us; for he followed us over mountains of vanity, through bogs and miry places of foul transgression; tracked our devious footsteps on and on, through youth and manhood, till at last, with mighty grace, he grasped us in his arms and laid us on his shoulder, and is this day carrying us home to the great fold above, rejoicing as he bears all our weight and finds us in all we need. Oh, that blessed work of effectual grace! He has made us his own, he has defeated the enemy, the prey has been taken from the mighty, and the lawful captive has been delivered. "He hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron asunder," to set his people free. "O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!"

     "My SHEEP," saith Christ, as he stands in the midst of his disciples. "My Shepherd," let us one and all reply. All the sheep of Christ who have been redeemed by his power, become his by their own willing and cheerful surrender of themselves to him. We would not belong to another if we might; nor would we wish to belong to ourselves if we could; nor, I trust, do we want any part of ourselves to be our own property. Judge ye whether this be true of you or not. In that day when I surrendered my soul to my Savior, I gave him my body, my soul, my spirit; I gave him all I had, and all I shall have for time and for eternity. I gave him all my talents, my powers, my faculties, my eyes, my ears, my limbs, my emotions, my judgment, my whole manhood, and all that could come of it, whatever fresh capacity or new capability I may be endowed with. Were I at this good hour to change the note of gladness for one of sadness, it should be to wail out my penitent confession of the times and circumstances in which I have failed to observe the strict and unwavering allegiance I owe to my Lord. So far from regretting, I would fain renew my vows and make them over again. In this I think every Christian would join.

 

"'Tis done!

the great transaction's done:

I am my Lord's, and he is mine:

He drew me, and I follow'd on,

Charm'd to confess the voice divine.

Now rest, my long-divided heart;

Fix'd on this blissful center, rest:

With ashes who would grudge to part,

When call'd on angels' bread to feast?

High heaven, that heard the solemn vow,

That vow renew'd shall daily hear:

Till in life's latest hour I bow,

And bless in death a bond so dear."

 

And yet, brethren, though our hearts may now be all in a glow, lest they should presently grow cold, or the bleak atmosphere of this evil world should chill our devotion, let us never cease to think of the good Shepherd in that great, good act, which most of all showed his love when he laid down his life for the sheep. You have heard the story told by Francis de Sales. He saw a girl carrying a pail of water on her head, in the midst of which she had placed a piece of wood. On asking her why she did this, she told him it was to prevent the motion of the water, for fear it might be spilt. And so, said he, let us place the cross of Christ in the midst of our hearts to check the movement of our affections, that they may not be spilt in restless cares or grievous troubles.

     "My sheep," says Christ, and thus he describes his people. They are Christ's, his own, a peculiar property. May I hope that this truth will be henceforth treasured up in your soul! It is a common truth, certainly; but when it is laid home by the Holy Spirit it shines, it beams, not merely as a lamp in a dark chamber, but as the day-star rising in your hearts. Remember this is no more our shame that we are sheep, but it is our honor that we are Christ's sheep. To belong to a king carries some measure of distinction. We are the sheep of the imperial pastures. This is our safety: he will not suffer the enemy to destroy his sheep. This is our sanctity: we are separated, the sheep of the pasture of the Lord's Christ. This is sanctification in one aspect of it: for it is the making of us holy, by setting us apart to be the Lord's own portion for ever. And this is the key to our duty: we are his sheep: then let us live to him, and consecrate ourselves to him who loved us and gave himself for us. Christ is the proprietor of the sheep; and we are the property of the good Shepherd.

     II. Now, let us commune together awhile upon the marks of the sheep. When there are so many flocks of sheep, it is necessary to mark them. Our Savior marks us. It has been very properly observed, that there are two marks on Christ's sheep. One is on their ear, the other is on their foot. These are two marks of Christ's sheep not to be found on any other; but they are to be found on all his own—the mark on the ear: "My sheep hear my voice."—the mark on the foot: "I know them, and they follow me."

     Think of this mark on their ear. "My sheep hear my voice." They hear spiritually. A great many people in Christ's day heard his voice who did not hear it in the way and with the perception that is here intended. They would not hear; that is to say, they would not hearken or give heed, neither would they obey his call or come unto him that they might have life. These were not always the worst sort of people: there were some of the best that would not hear Christ, of whom he said, according to the original, as translated by some, "Ye search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life." They would get as far as curiosity or criticism might allure them; but they would not go any farther: they would not believe in Jesus. Now, the spiritual ear listens to God. The opening of it is the work of the Holy Spirit, and this is a mark of Christ's chosen blood-bought people, that they hear not only the hollow sound, but the hidden sense; not the bare letter, but the spiritual lesson; and that too not merely with the outward organ, but with the inward heart. The chief point is that they hear his voice. Oh, if all that heard my voice heard Christ's voice, how would I wander down every street in this city to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ; but, alas! the voice of the minister is utterly ineffectual to save a soul, unless the voice of Christ reach the conscience and rouse its dormant powers. "My sheep hear my voice;" the voice of Jesus, his counsel, his command, clothed with the authority of his own sacred sovereign utterance. When the gospel comes to you as Christ's gospel, with demonstration of the Spirit, the invitation is addressed to you by him. You can look upon it in no other light; so you must accept and receive it. When his princely power comes with it—being mighty to save, he puts saving power into the word—then you hear Christ's voice as a fiat that must be obeyed, as a summons that must be attended to, as a call to which there must be a quick response. O beloved, do not ever rest satisfied with hearing the voice of the preacher. We are only Christ's speaking-trumpets: there is nothing in us: it is only his speaking through us that can do any good. O children of God, some of you do not always listen to Christ's voice in the preaching. While we comment on the word, you make your comments on us. Our style, or our tone, or even our gesture, is enough to absorb—I might rather say, to distract—your thoughts. "Why look ye so earnestly on us?" I beseech you, give less heed to the livery of the servant, and give more care to the message of the Master. Listen warily, if you please; but judge wisely, if you can. See how much pure grain, and how much of Christ, there is in the sermon. Use your sieve; put away all the chaff; take only the good wheat; hear Christ's voice. Well were it if we could obscure ourselves that we might manifest him. I could wish so to preach that you could not see even my little finger; might I but so preach that you could get a full view of Jesus only. O that you could hear his voice drowning ours! This is the mark, the peculiar mark of those who are Christ's peculiar people: they hear his voice. Sometimes, truly it sounds in the ministry; sometimes it thrills forth from that book of books, which is often grossly neglected; sometimes it comes in the nightwatches. His voice may speak to us in the street. Silent as to vocal utterance, but like familiar tones that sometimes greet us in our dreams, the voice of Christ is distinctly audible to the soul. It will come to you in sweet or in bitter providences; yea, there is such a thing as hearing Christ's voice in the rustling of every leaf upon the tree, in the moaning of every wind, in the rippling of every wave. And there be those that have learned to lean on Christ's bosom, till they have looked for all the world as though they were a shell that lay in the ocean of Christ's love, listening for ever to the sonorous cadence of that deep, unfathomed, all-mysterious main. The billows of his love never cease to swell. The billowy anthem still peals on with solemn grandeur in the ear of the Christian. O may we hear Christ's voice each one of us for ourselves! I find that language fails me, and metaphors are weak to describe its potent spell.

     One point is worth noticing, however. I think our Lord meant here that his sheep, when they hear his voice, know it so well that they can tell it at once from the voice of strangers. The true child of God knows the gospel from the law. It is not by learning catechisms, reading theological books, or listening to endless controversies, that he finds this out. There is an instinct of his regenerate nature far more trustworthy than any lessons he has been taught. The voice of Jesus! Why there is no music like it. If you have once heard it, you cannot mistake it for another, or another for it. Some are babes in grace: others are of full age, and by reason of use, have their senses exercised; but one sense is quickly brought out—the sense of hearing. It is so easy to tell the joy-bells of the gospel from the death-knell of the law; for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life. "Do, or die," says Moses. "Believe, and live," says Christ: you must know which is which. Yes; and I think they are equally shrewd and quick to discriminate between the flesh and the Spirit. Let some of the very feeblest of God's people sit down under a fluent ministry, with all the beauties of rhetoric, and let the minister preach up the dignity of human nature, and the sufficiency of man's reason to find out the way of righteousness, and you will hear them say: "It is very clever; but there is no food for me in it." Bring, however, the best and most instructed, and most learned Christian man, and set him down under a ministry that is very faulty as to the gift of utterance, and incorrect even in grammar; but if it is full of Jesus Christ, I know what he will say: "Ah! never mind the man, and never mind the platter on which he brought the meat; it was food to my soul that I fed upon with a hearty relish; it was marrow and fatness, for I could hear Christ's voice in it." I am not going to follow out these tests; but certain it is, that the sheep know Christ's voice, and can easily distinguish it. I saw hundreds of lambs the other day together, and there were also their mothers; and I am sure if I had had the task of allotting the proper lamb to each, or to any of them, it would have kept me till now to have done it. But somehow the lambs knew the mothers, and the mothers knew the lambs; and they were all happy enough in each other's company.

     Every saint here, mixed up as he may be at times with parties and professors of all sorts, knows Christ, and Christ knows him, and he is therefore bound to his owner. That is the mark on the ear. You have seen sometimes in the country two flocks together on the road, and you say: "I wonder how the shepherds will manage to keep them distinct? They will get mixed up." They do not; they go this way and that way; and after a little commingling they separate, for they know their master's voice; "and a stranger will they not follow." You will go to-morrow, many of you, out into the world, some to the Exchange, others to the market, and others again into the factory: you are all mixed. Yes; but the seeming confusion of your company is temporary, not real and permanent. You will come right again, and you will go to your own home and your own fellowship. And at the last, when we shall have ended our pilgrimage, the one shall wend his way to the glory land, and the other to the abyss of woe. There will be no mistake. You will hear the Master's call, and obey. There is a mark on the ear which identifies every saint.

     Christ's sheep hear his voice obediently. This is an important proof of discipleship. Indeed, it may serve as a reproof to many. Oh, I would that you were more careful about this! "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them," said Jesus, "he it is that loveth me." "He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings." How comes it to pass, then, that there are certain commands of Christ which some Christians will suffer to lie in abeyance? They will say, "The Lord commands this, but it is not essential." Oh, unloving spirit, that can think anything unessential that thy Bridegroom bids thee do! They that love, think little things of great moment, especially when they are looked upon as tokens of the strength or the tenderness of one's regard. It may not be essential, in order to prove the relation in which a wife stands to her husband, that she should study his tastes, consult his wishes, or attend to his comfort. But will she the less strive to please, because love, not fear, constrains her? I trow not. And can it be that any of you, my brethren, would harbour such a thought as your negligence implies? Do you really suppose that after the choice of Christ has been fixed on you, and the love of Christ has been plighted to you, you may now be as remiss or careless as you like? Nay, rather, might we not expect that a sacred passion, an ardent zeal, a touch of inspiration would stir you up, put you on the alert, make you wake at the faintest sound of his voice, or keep you listening to do his will? Be it ours, then, to act out with fidelity that verse we have often sung with enthusiasm:—

 

"In all my Lord's appointed ways

My journey I'll pursue."

 

However little the precept may appear in the eyes of others; however insignificant as compared with our salvation, yet—doth the Lord command it?—then his sheep hear his voice, and they follow him.

     Christ has marked his sheep on their feet as well as their ears. They follow him: they are gently led, not harshly driven. They follow him as the Captain of their salvation; they trust in the power of his arm to clear the way for them. All their trust on him is stayed; all their hope on him they lean. They follow him as their teacher; they call no man "Rabbi" under heaven, but Christ alone. He is the infallible source of their creeds; neither will they allow their minds to be ruled by conclaves, councils, nor decrees. Hath a Christ said it? It is enough. If not, it is no more for me than the whistling of the wind. They follow a Christ as their teacher.

     And the sheep of Christ follow him as their example; they desire to be in this world as he was. It is one of their marks, that to a greater or less degree they have a Christ-like spirit; and if they could they would be altogether like their Lord.

     They follow him, too, as their Commander, and Lawgiver, and Prince. "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it," was his mother's wise speech; and it is the children's wise rule: "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it." Oh, blessed shall they be above many of whom it shall be said, "These are they that have not defiled their garments." "These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth." Some of his followers are not very scrupulous. They love him. It is not for us to judge them. Rather we place ourselves among them and share in the censure. But happiest of all the happy are they who see the footprint—the print of that foot that once was pierced with the nail—and put their foot down where he placed it, and then again, in the selfsame mark, follow where he trod, till they climb at last to the throne. Keep close to Christ; take care of his little precepts unto the end. Remember, "Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven." Do not peril being least in the heavenly kingdom though it is better to be that than to be greatest in the kingdom of darkness. O seek to be very near him, to be a choice sheep in his chosen flock, and to have the mark distinctly upon your foot!

     I will not stay to apply these truths, but leave each one of you to make such self-searching enquiries as the text suggests. Have I the ear mark? Have I the foot mark? "My sheep hear my voice," "and they follow me." I hope that I am among the number.

     III. The last point, with which we now proceed to close, is—THE PRIVILEGE OF CHRIST'S SHEEP. It does not look very large, but if we open it we shall see an amazing degree of blessedness in it. "I know them," "I know them." What does it mean?

     I have not time now to tell you all it means. "I know them." What is the reverse of this but one of the most dreadful things that is reserved for the day of judgment? There will be some who will say, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out devils?" And he shall say, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, I never knew you; depart from me, ye cursed." Now measure the height of that privilege by the depth of this misery. "I never knew you." What a volume of scorn it implies! What a stigma of infamy it conveys! Change the picture. The Redeemer says, "I know them," "I know them." How his eyes flash with kindness; how their cheeks burn with gratitude, as he says, "I know them "! Why, if a man had a friend and acquaintance that he used to know, and some years after he found him a disreputable, abandoned, wicked, guilty criminal, I feel pretty sure he would not say much about having known such a fellow, though he might be driven to confess that he had some years ago a passing acquaintance with him. But our Lord Jesus Christ, though he knows what poor, unworthy ones we are, yet when we shall be brought up before the Lord, before the great white throne, he will confess he knew us. He does know us, we are old acquaintances of his, and he has known us from before the foundation of the world, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called." There are riches of grace in this; but we will consider it in another way. Our Savior knows us, our Shepherd knows us. Beloved, he knows your person and all about you. You, with that sick body, that aching head, he knows you and he knows your son with all its sensitiveness; that timidity, that anxiety, that constitutional depression—he knows it all. A physician may come to see you, and be unable to detect what the disease is that pains or prostrates you, but Christ knows you through and through; all the parts of your nature he understands. "I know them," saith he; he can therefore prescribe for you. He knows your sins. Do not let that dismay you, because he has blotted them all out; and he only knows them to forgive them, to cover them with his righteousness. He knows your corruptions; he will help you to overcome them; he will deal with you in providence and in grace, so that they shall be rooted up. He knows your temptations. Perhaps you are living away from your parents and Christian friends, and you have had an extraordinary temptation, and you wish you could go home and tell your mother. Oh, he knows it, he knows it; he can help you better than your mother can. You say: "I wish the minister knew the temptation I have passed through." Do not tell it; God knows it. As Daniel did not want Nebuchadnezzar to tell him the nature of his dream, but gave him the dream and the interpretation at the same time, so God can send you comfort. There will be a word as plainly suited to your case as though it were all printed and the preacher had known it all. It must be so. Depend upon it, the Lord knows your temptation, and watches your trial; or be it a sick child, or be it a bad matter of business that has lately occurred; or be it a slander that has wounded your heart, there is not a pang you feel but God as surely sees it as the weaver sees the shuttle which he throws with his own hand. He knows your trial, and he knows the meaning of your groans: he can read the secret desire of your heart, you need not write it nor speak it: he has understood it all. You were saying: "O that my child were converted! O that I grew in grace!" He knows it: he knows it every whit. There is not a word on your tongue, nor a wish in your heart, but he knoweth it altogether. O dear heart, he knows your sincerity! Perhaps you want to join the church, and your proposal has been declined, because you could not give satisfactory testimony. If you are sincere, he knows it; he knows, moreover, what your anxiety is. You cannot tell another what it is that is bitter to you—the heart knoweth its own bitterness—he knows it. As his secret is with you, so your secret is with him. He knows you: he knows what you have been trying to do. That secret gift—that offering dropped so quietly where none could see it—he knows it. And he knows that you love him. "Yes," you are saying in your soul, "if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, 'tis now." No, you cannot tell him, nor tell others; but he knows it all.

     So, now, in closing, let us say that in the text there is mutual knowledge. "I know them, but they also know me, because they hear my voice, and recognize it." Here is mutual confession. Christ speaks, else there would be no voice: they hear, else were the voice not useful. "I know them;" that is his thoughts go towards them. "They follow me;" that is, their thoughts go towards him. He leads the way, else they could not follow. They follow, however, whom he leads the way. Being the counterpart of each other, what the one does the other returns through grace; and what grace puts into the sheep the shepherd recognises, and makes a return to them. Christ and his church become an echo of each other: his the voice, theirs is but a faint echo of it; still it is a true echo, and you shall know who are Christ's by this. Do they echo what Christ saith? Oh, how I wish we were all sheep! How my soul longs that we may many of us who are not of his fold be brought in. The Lord bring you in, my dear hearers. The Lord give you his grace, and make you his own, comfort you, and make you to follow him. And if you are his, show it. These, dear brethren and sisters, here at this time, desire to confess Christ in your presence. If they are doing right, and you are not doing as they do, then you are doing wrong. If it is the duty of one, it is the duty of all; and if one Christian may neglect making a profession, all may do so, and then there will be no visible church whatever, and the visible ordinances must die out. If you know him, own him, for he hath said: "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, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven." God bless you, for Christ's sake. Amen.