Dwell Deep, O Dedan!

By / Jun 22
Dwell Deep, O Dedan!
 
“Dwell deep, O inhabitants of Dedan.” — Jeremiah xlix. 8.

 

WE do not quite know who these inhabitants of Dedan were, but in all probability they were some Arabian tribe or tribes. Perhaps they were descendants of Keturah. This Arabian tribe probably dwelt in the rock city of Petra, and were mingled with the Edomites. The prophet warned them that God was about to destroy the Edomites: “For I have sworn by myself, saith the Lord, that Bozrah shall become a desolation, a reproach, a waste, and a curse; and all the cities thereof shall be perpetual wastes.” And the text intends one of two things — either to inform these inhabitants of Dedan, that, however, deep in the cavernous rocks they should hide themselves, they would certainly be destroyed; or else it was a gracious warning to remove from Edom, strike their tents, and retreat into the depths of the wilderness, and so escape from the invaders. I find the marginal reference of my Comprehensive Bible says, “This is an allusion to the custom of the Arabs, who, when attacked by a powerful foe, withdraw into the wilderness. Always on their guard against tyranny, on the least discontent that is given them they pack up their tents, lade their camels with them, ravage the country, and, laden with plunder, they retire into the burning sands where none can pursue them, and so “dwell deep.” We will take our text in the two senses I have indicated. “Dwell deep, O inhabitants of Dedan.” This may be understood sarcastically and instructively: let us pray that to us, in both senses, it may be instructive. From ancient warnings let us gather present benefit.

     I. Let us take it SARCASTICALLY. It is as though the prophet said to these Edomites, and those that dwelt with them: “You think you never can be destroyed, for your city is situated in a rocky defile, where a handful of men can hold the pass. You suppose that the mightiest armies will fail to conquer you, and therefore you are very proud; but your pride is vain.” “Thy terribleness hath” deceived thee, and the pride of thine heart, O thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, that holdest the height of the hill: though thou shouldest make thy nest as high as the eagle, I will bring thee down from thence, saith the Lord.” That word has been terribly fulfilled, for the ancient rock-city stands as a wonder to all travellers, and when they ride through it, which is not often, for it is with great difficulty that you reach the place at all, they find the city standing, but the houses desolate, and without inhabitants. Edom is a perpetual desolation, because of her sins. Though they carved their houses into the solid rock, and their city seemed out of the spoiler’s reach, God has laid his hand upon it, and its life, as well as its beauty, is gone for ever. Thus said the Lord, and so it has come to pass, “also Edom shall be a desolation: every one that goeth by it shall be astonished, and shall hiss at all the plagues thereof. As in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the neighbour cities thereof, saith the Lord, no man shall abide there, neither shall a son of man man dwell in it.”

     From the text I hear a cry, like the stern voice of Elias, to every profane sinner who thinks that he will ultimately escape the wrath of God. Thou mayest dwell deep, O transgressor, but God shall find thee out. Thou sayest, “How shall he reach me?” The hand of death has only to be stretched out, and thou art his captive at once: and a little thing will do it— the wind has but to pass over thee, and thou art gone. A drop of blood may go the wrong way, a valve may refuse to open, a vessel may burst, a band may snap, and there thou liest, beneath God’s avenging hand, like a stag smitten by the hunter. Thou art dust, and a breath will scatter thee to the four winds. Thy spirit will be equally unable to escape from God. When it leaves this body, whither will it fly? It finds itself naked — disembodied; and straight before it is the throne of God, and the seat made ready for judgment. Devils shall drag the guilty spirit down to hell, and bind it with links of infinite despair. And when the day of judgment shall have fully come, and the body shall have risen, and the entire man shall stand before God, there will be no escape for the sinner! The eye of Christ will look into the face of every man of woman born that shall stand upon the earth and upon the sea in the dread day of wrath, and that look will ensure the eternal condemnation of all the unbelieving. No one will be in so far-off a country that the Judge will not see him, nor will he be able to find a cavern or deep mine wherein he shall be able to conceal himself from the face of him that sits upon the throne. Then will the ungodly bitterly desire to dwell deep; they will call to the rocks to hide them, and to the hills to fall upon them, but all in vain; for thus saith the Lord: “Though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down: And though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence; and though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them.” Darkness will not be able to conceal you; the glance of the Judge’s eye shall shrivel up the vesture of night, and lay all things bare. O, guilty, Christless soul! there is no escape from God. Though thou dwell deep as hell — even there would he find thee. In the days of the old Roman empire, the whole world was so completely under the Imperial sway, that if a man once transgressed against Caesar he was imprisoned already, for all the nations were but one great Roman prison. If a man fled to the uttermost ends of the earth, he would still find the Roman legionary to arrest and the Roman lictor to punish him. Behold, the universe is thus surrounded by Jehovah’s Imperial forces! Earth, hell, and heaven, are the Lord’s; whither then canst thou fly? Do what thou wilt, thou art always before his eye, and always within reach of his hand. “Dwell deep, O inhabitants of Dedan,” but in vain shall be all your craft and cunning concealments, for God will assuredly find you out.

     The same solemn warning may be applied to those who are selfrighteous, and who think that they are forming a hiding-place for themselves. I would turn to them, and say, You think that you will save yourselves by your works. Ah! labour mightily; for hard must be your toil if you think to finish a righteousness of your own. In the very fire must you labour. You would make a dwelling for yourself as secure as the Rock of Ages? You had need build anxiously. I do not wonder that you are ill at ease. I wonder you have any peace, for the labours which you propose are more stupendous than those of Hercules! You would work miracles without the God of miracles! Vanity of vanities, all is vanity! Like Babel’s tower, self-righteous efforts will end in failure, and abide only as a monument of folly. I could fain, if I were in that humour, speak to the self-righteous with bitter irony, as did Elijah to the false prophets, when he said of Baal, “Cry aloud: for he is a god!” If, indeed, there be salvation by works, wear your fingers to the bone, and your bodies to skeletons. Weep out your eyes with penances, and furrow your backs with chastisements. Ye plough the desert sand and sow the salt sea. Plough on, sow on, ye fools and dotards! Rest ye in your sacraments, and your priests! Be born again in sprinkling, be confirmed by episcopal hands, and then eat your breaden god! Get ye up at the daily tinkling of your bell to adore the flour and water, which ye both worship and swallow! Go on your knees and repeat your Paternosters, and your Aves, and count your beads; fast not only on Fridays, but on all days of the week, and put on your hair shirts, and wear a girdle of spikes. You had need do many such things, for no little matters will quiet conscience and give the soul peace. To fill a bottomless tub with water, is nothing to the labour of self-salvation! To build a house with bubbles, twist a rope of sand, or weld an anchor of spray, were easier far. Fools! can sinners keep a perfect law? Can finite effort satisfy infinite justice? Can a bankrupt, without a penny, put his creditor under obligations? Can a vile worm deserve at the hands of the thrice Holy God? But, ah, ’tis folly altogether! “By the works of the law there shall no flesh be justified.” “By the law is the knowledge of sin,” and nothing more. All the efforts that a man can make to earn heaven, must end in disappointment and despair. “Ye must be born again;” ye must believe in Christ Jesus; ye must be saved through his great salvation. There is no hope for you, O ye who are dwelling deep in your own works. It is a sorry, sorry dwelling. I will not use the text to you sarcastically, as I might, but I will rather say, fly from your good works as you would fly from your sins. Have no more confidence in your goodness than in your badness; for if you rely on what you do that is good, you will be as surely lost as if you had depended upon your sins. Whether the sand be white or red is of small consequence; in either case it is a bad foundation. You need a better basis, even that which was laid of old by God in the covenant of grace, even Christ Jesus, the Rock of our salvation.

    The same text, in the same way, might be applied to those who are hypocrites, and are practising secret sins while they yet wear the name of Christ, and are numbered amongst his people. They maintain a creditable position in the church, and yet indulge privately in evil habits. This class is the great trial of the ministry; and in every church there are some of them. They profess to love the Lord Jesus, but they are traitors in the camp. They are fair apples, but rotten at the core!  Gilded cheats, painted shams, counterfeits, impostors! O, it is a horrible thing to find a man coming to the communion table, who worships the bottle and goes to bed intoxicated. He talks about the love of Christ, and yet he is a drunkard; he partakes of the cup of the Lord, and dotes upon the cup of devils! And there is another who is, perhaps, temperate in diet and liberal to the church; but, at the same time, he is dishonest in his transactions abroad. He can never be trusted — he pays no one, except by compulsion. He has no sense of honour, and yet he has an uppermost seat in the synagogue. Nor is this all, for, alas! we have known some who could talk very loudly about what they knew of personal religion and divine grace, who at the same time were raking in the very lowest kennels of vice. How can I bear to think of such beings! O, Paul! I do not wonder at thee, when I hear thee say, “I now tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.” Such base deceivers are the enemies of the cross of Christ above all others. The Trojans were safe inside, and the legions of the Greeks could do them but little harm so long as they were outside, the walls; but when the wooden horse was brought in, with the Greeks concealed inside, the city was taken. The enemies inside the church do her the most serious damage — she suffers most from those fearfully presumptuous sinners who are not satisfied with sinning in the King’s kingdom, but must needs sin in the King’s palace, who dare to bring their filthinesses even to his own table, and pollute it. If any of you who are hypocrites hope to escape, you need dwell deep indeed! Where are the deep places which can afford refuge to religious pretenders? Where shall liars conceal themselves? O, hypocrite! it may be you have planned your sin so cleverly that the wife of your bosom does not know it: your scheme is so admirably cunning that you carry two faces, and yet no Christian sees other than that Christian mask of yours. Ah, sir! but you are a greater fool than I take you for, if you think you can deceive your God. Your own conscience must be very uneasy. Hypocrites are the devil’s martyrs; they endure a life-long martyrdom of constraint and fear. I have seen, when I was a boy, a juggler in the street throw up half-a-dozen balls, or knives and plates, and continue catching and throwing them, and to me it seemed marvellous; but the religious juggler beats all others hollow. He has to keep up Christianity and worldliness at the same time, and catch two sets of balls at once. To be a freeman of Christ and a slave of the world, at the same time, must need fine acting. One of these days you, Sir Juggler, will make a slip with one of the balls, and your game will be over. A man cannot always keep it up, and play the game so cleverly at all hours; sooner or later he fails, and then he is made a hissing and a by-word, and becomes ashamed, if any shame be left in him. O, “dwell deep, ye inhabitants of Dedan,” if you think to escape from God’s eye and from the revealing power of his providence. Better were it for you to come right out, and throw away your cloaks, and be deceivers no longer. Cast off your double-mindedness. “Cease to do evil, learn to do well,” for it is time to seek the Lord, and may God grant you his effectual grace that you may do so at once, ere he condemn you to the lowest hell.

     II. But now we will use the text INSTRUCTIVELY, in which view, the first and natural sense would be, that the prophet warns the tribe of Dedan, who had come to live among the Edomites, to go away from them, and dwell in the depths of the wilderness; so that when the destroyer came, they might not participate in Edom’s doom. It was the warning voice of mercy, separating its chosen from among the multitude of the condemned.

     Now this suggests to me one observation: The people of God, like the tribes of Dedan, to some extent, dwell in Edom. Your business, your duty, is to come out from among them. “Be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing.” I often marvel how some who really love the Lord, and believe his truth, can put up with the errors of the churches with which they are connected. There are churches which preach doctrine that is far other than the gospel of Christ; such, for instance, as the doctrine that unconscious infants are made members of Christ and children of God, by the sprinkling of a little water. God will plague such a church as surely as he is God. Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her plagues! I love the saints in the Church of England, but I marvel at their abiding in such company! It is our duty to flee as far from error as possible, and enter into no confederacy with falsehood. There are Nonconformist churches where the gospel is not preached, and intellect is put in the place of faith; I charge you separate yourselves from such. What fellowship has light with darkness? How can you love the Lord, and be in league with those who despise his word? While some cry out for unity, I would say a word for truth. Unity, indeed! What have we to do with that, while Ritualism and Rationalism with their abominations defile the land? I dare no more be a member of a church which did not hold the pure truth of God in the love of it, than I dare join a band of pirates. Our Lord entered into no covenant with Scribe and Pharisee, Sadducee or Herodian; but remained “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” Better go to heaven alone, than to hell in company. Better be true to God, with Abdiel, “faithful among the faithless found,” than win the applause of the crowd by great liberality and equal inconsistency.

     More important still, however, is the separation of every Christian from worldly habits, customs, and ways. Wherever you are, dear friend, though you must be in the world, take care that you be not of it. “Come ye out from among them: be ye separate, saith the Lord, touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” It is only in the lonely path of the true disciple of Christ, who follows the Lamb whithersoever he goeth, that you can realise your adoption, and cry, Abba, Father. Come out from the world: confess yourself to be on the Lord’s side, and then your fellowship with God shall be sweet beyond degree! Range yourself under the divine banner and by God’s grace remain a separatist from the world until life’s latest hour. So shall you, like Abraham, be a sojourner with God. “Dwell deep, O inhabitants of Dedan,” right away from the world’s customs and sins, and above all from its selfish spirit and grovelling aims! Dwell deep in the solitudes where Jesus dwelt — in the lonely holiness which was fostered on the cold mountain’s side, and then shone resplendent amid temptation and persecution! Commit yourself unto no man; call no man master; lean on no arm of flesh; walk before the Lord in the land of the living, and so dwell deep, as did your Lord.

     But I do not wish to enlarge upon that point. The practical matter I am aiming at lies in another direction. My earnest desire is that every saved soul among you may dwell deep, that is to say, that none of you may be superficial Christians, but that you may be deep believers, well rooted plants of grace, thorough, downright, out-and-out Christians — that you may not only dwell in the Rock of Ages, but dwell deep in it. To this let me call your attention.

     It is highly important, beloved, that every one of us should have a deep sense of sin, and a profound horror of it. Those who have but slight convictions, if those convictions bring them to the Saviour, are safe; but such persons should pray the Lord to deepen in them their sense of the evil of sin. Slight thoughts of sin lead to slight thoughts of grace, and what can be worse? Nothing is more to be dreaded than a flimsy religion, frail as the spider’s web, unsubstantial as the air. Lord, give me deep repentance. Teach me to know my sin, and all the evils which lurk in it; make me to shudder at it, and dread it as a burnt child dreads the fire. Do not, dear friend, be like those people who jauntily confess, “yes, we are sinners,” but who merely intend thereby, to chime in with a general form of speech. Such false speeches are a mockery of God. Thank God, if you have been laid low under the law. Bless God, for deep subsoil ploughing and trenching. I desire to feel, every day, that sin is an exceeding bitter thing, a deadly evil, a moral poison, the essence of hell. O, to loathe iniquity and see with self-abhorrence its heinous character; for so shall we prize the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love which thought it, the blood which bought it, and the grace which wrought it out!

     Should your convictions of sin be already deep, then seek to dwell deep as to your faith in Jesus Christ. Much of the faith which passes current in the world is not faith: it is mere talk. We say we believe, but do we believe? We say “Yes, I trust,” but do we trust? Is it a real trust? Is it such a trust as will stand the test of the dying hour? Are we really divorced from our self-confidences and in very deed married to our Lord Jesus Christ as our only confidence? O, to have solid faith — the faith which will survive the removal of all things outlive the general fire! O, brethren and sisters, ask the Lord to deepen your faith, to confirm, establish, and perfect it. And you who are now coming forward to confess your faith in Jesus — if you have only a grain of mustard seed of faith, it will save you, blessed be God; but I exhort you to seek for larger degrees of it.

     O you who in these regions profess to abide in the Lord, may you dwell deep in Christ. When you get upon the rock of Christ Jesus you are safe, but when you get into the rock then you are happy. A man on the rock will be subject to the wind and to the rain, to the damp of dews, and to the heat of the sun; but, O! a man in the rock — it does not matter to him what weather it is — whether it blows or shines, he is sheltered. O! to get fully into Christ — to have a deep experience of our union with him, and a solemn conviction deepening into a full assurance of our exaltation in him! Beloved, this is indeed to dwell in the Goshen of Christianity. This is to drink the choice wines of the kingdom. The nearer to Jesus the more perfect our peace. The innermost place of the sanctuary is the most divine.

     So would I have you, beloved friends, dwell deep in the matter of Christian study. He who knows himself a sinner, and Christ a Saviour, is certainly justified; but we desire to be something more than saved. The babe in grace is the Lord’s child: but we do not wish to be always infants; there is a time when we should be no more children. Christ’s babes should grow up to be men in Christ Jesus; and my earnest entreaty to all professors, both young and old, is, “Let us seek deeply to study the word of God, that by feeding upon it we may grow.” An instructed Christian is a more useful vessel of honour for the Master, than an ignorant believer. I do not say that instruction is all, far from it; there is much in zeal, and, with but slender knowledge, a man full of zeal may do a great deal; but if the zealous man has knowledge in proportion, how much more will he achieve? Dig deep in your researches into the Scriptures, beloved friends. I am always afraid lest any of you should take your doctrinal views from me, and believe doctrines merely, because I have taught you to do so. I charge you, if I preach anything that is not according to the Lord’s word, away with it! — and though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel than the gospel of Jesus Christ, away with it! — do not regard our persons for a moment, in comparison with divine authority. Study the character of Christ. Do not merely know that he is Christ, but who he is — whose Son he is, and what he is, and what he did, and what was meant by what he did, and what he is doing, and what he will do, and all the glorious hopes which cluster around his first and his second advent — all the precious truths of the covenant of grace, and the glorious attribute of eternal love. Do not be afraid of what are called the “deep things of God.” I do not mean that you young beginners are to give your thoughts to them, to the exclusion of the simplicities of the gospel; but at the same time, when you know the Lord savingly, go on to know yet more and more. Comprehend with all saints, what are the depths and heights. Entrench yourselves in the precious truths of God’s word — no bulwarks are so strong.

     Above all things, and beyond all things, would I earnestly impress upon my beloved friends the need of deep living unto God. There is such a thing as flimsy living, in which you pray, and pray, — yes, but it is a superficial, routine exercise. O, how I bless God when I can pray deep dwelling prayers — when my heart groans unto God, and pours out her very self into his bosom! And how delightful it is to sing one of the deep songs, when the innermost heart praises and magnifies God; and how delightful to get into deep fellowship with Jesus Christ, till the Lord himself is revealed in you, and you eat his flesh, drink his blood, and have his life in you! Dwell deep, beloved! Those who dwell upon the preacher do not dwell deep; but those who feed upon the Master himself, are strong and joyous. Those who live only upon outward ordinances, and do not practice private devotion, and are not abundantly with God in secret communion — those do not dwell deep.

     Get to the roots of things. The gold mines of Scripture are not in the top soil, you must open a shaft; the precious diamonds of experience are not picked up in the roadway, their secret places are far down. Get down into the vitality, the solidity, the veracity, the divinity, of the word of God, and seek to possess with it all the inward work of the blessed Spirit. It is of small use to learn a doctrine, unless, in the most emphatic sense, you learn it by heart. John Bunyan intended this when he said that the truths which he learned were burnt into him. No man in very deed knows a truth till it has forced its way into him, and permanently impressed its image upon him. You may have a doctrine hammered into your head by argument till you are quite convinced, and yet no practical result will follow; but, O, if it is stamped into your heart with divine energy, the consequences will be very different. I am not a Calvinist by choice, but because I cannot help it. The truths I preach are in me, part and parcel of myself: I do not carry my creed, but my creed carries me. It should be so with us as to all we know of divine truth. This deep knowing, deep feeling, deep living — this it is that makes sound work lasting work for eternity! In one word, as the Lord is bringing in many recruits into this church — and we are glad to receive the rawest among you — my anxious desire is that they may be trained to be good soldiers of Christ, able to endure hardness in years to come. We want you new plants to have good roothold, so that you may grow up into Christ in after years, and bring forth fruit to his name. We are anxious that you should make a sound beginning; for, if a man is about to build a house, if he is unused to building he may think he is doing well if he sets to work upon the ground as it is, and runs up several courses of bricks; but every man who is an experienced builder knows that instead of doing well he is wasting his time, since every brick must come down again. If there be no foundation, all he builds will be worthless, and the higher he goes the greater his loss. O, for a good foundation! — to be emptied right out by repentance, and digged deep by conviction, and the rubbish of self-thrown out of you — this is a great blessing; for the deeper the foundation the higher the tower can be carried, and the deeper our sense of sinfulness and nothingness the greater is the possibility of our being built up into the fulness, and strength, and perfection of Jesus Christ our Lord.

     If any enquire what are our reasons for bringing forward at this time such an exhortation as this, I will briefly answer them.

     Brethren, it is well for us to dwell deep, because trials will surely come. Presumest thou, O young beginner, that thy warfare is finished now thou hast enlisted? Ah! simple child, “let not him that putteth on his armour boast as though he put it off.” You have come up to the starting-point, and you already think the prize your own. O man, thou hast but commenced running, and thy life is the length of the race! Thou wilt have to run and run till thou shalt lay down thy race with thy body; thou wilt never have finished till then. “What! But when I am saved, surely I shall have no more fightings.” Hearken: the moment thou art saved the fightings will begin. “But shall I feel an evil heart after I am born again?” Yes, and more than ever; for the new life that is in you will hate the old nature, and the old Adam will hate the new Adam. There will be a conflict in your soul, such as you never knew before, and it will be perpetual. Do not think that Christ has come to send peace into your soul of the sort you look for; he makes no peace with evil, but draws the sword. There will be fightings and wars within your spirit until you die. Now, you must have deep work, or else these inward trials will offend you. You remember John Bunyan’s wise picture, in “Pilgrim’s Progress,” of Christian and Pliable? Christian read his book, and told Pliable of a beautiful city to which he was going, where there were streets of gold, and harps of the richest music; and, says Pliable, “I will go with you: I would gladly be there.” When he told him all about how Evangelist had instructed him, and when he read to him the roll, “Oh,” said Pliable, “this is very pleasant; the hearing of this is enough to ravish one’s heart. Come on, let us mend our pace.” But, as they went on, the road became very muddy, by-and-by their feet began to slip, and after awhile they were both up to their necks in a slough. “Oh,” says Pliable, “is this that happiness you have told me of? If we have such ill speed at our first setting out, what may we expect between this and our journey’s end? May I get out again with my life, you shall possess the brave country alone for me!” And with that he gave a desperate struggle or two, and got out of the mire on that side of the slough which was next to his own house, and Christian saw him no more. O! if it is not a work of grace when you get a little soul-trouble you will say, “Ah! I will have none of this. I thought it was going to be all ' hallelujahs’ and ' bless the Lord!’ I did not look for depressions and bewilderments.” Now, when I hold up my Master’s colours and invite recruits, I am by no means eager to enlist cowards. I want those who for God’s sake and by his Spirit will go through the Slough of Despond, resolved to escape from the City of Destruction. You must “dwell deep,” then, or inward trials will send you back to the world again.

     There will be outward trials, too; for when a man puts on the name of Christ the world soon raises a hue-and-cry against him, and they say, “Here is another of your Methodists,” or “another of your Presbyterians,” and they straightway bring forth some of their old stock epithets, hoping that to give a dog an ill name may go a long way towards hanging him. They have a fine name for some of you who belong to this church, and they daub you over with it as plentifully as Noah pitched his ark. If the work of grace be not deep in the heart of a ridiculed professor, he will say, “I don’t see why I should be laughed at. I wish to be respectable, and cannot afford to be lowered for religion’s sake.” Ah! yours is a poor religion if a set of grinning sinners can laugh you out of it. Only a plant in stony soil will be dried up by the heat of persecution; if you are grounded and settled, no trials of cruel mockings, or any other assaults of the enemy will overturn you.

     Again, there is a necessity that you should dwell deep, beloved, for in these days many errors have gone abroad in the world, and many teachers of heresy and infidelity; and if you do not dwell deep, they will shake you terribly. When a soul is once established in Christ, and has eaten bread with him, and seen the things of the kingdom as they are revealed in him, why, if all the infidels in the world were to come to such a person, and object, and object, and object, their efforts would not be worth a farthing, for they would not turn him the breadth of a hair! Even though such a man may be in other respects ignorant and weak, yet, if he has been with Jesus, he will be wise and strong. Communion with Christ braces up the spirit. He who has been plunged into the sea of divine fellowship is invulnerable. A certain sceptic had often troubled an aged Christian woman about many things, and upon many points he had ridiculed her. At last, she ended the fight by a declaration of faith, which cleared all the ground at once. He said to her, “Why, you are not such a fool as to believe that a great fish swallowed Jonah. You cannot believe such a monstrous fable.” “Man,” said she, “God’s Word says it, and if the Lord had said that Jonah swallowed the whale, I would have believed him.” Her faith in the veracity of God explained all difficulties, and as she was immoveably settled upon that matter, there was no use in arguing against her. Men call this blind faith, but I call it faith with her eyes open looking alone to God. When faith dwells thus deep, the heaviest shells that our foes can hurl from the Krupp guns of their logic are no more injurious to the fortifications of our comfort than so many paper pellets thrown by a schoolboy. No;

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

But you must dwell deep to be able to do that; otherwise, arguments with sceptics and papists will be your terror and your danger, and difficulties will arise which will greatly mar your peace. May you have grace to dwell so near to God that it shall be impossible for evil insinuations to enter into your spirit.

     Dwell deep, dear friends, for there are seasons coming when all your grace will be wanted. I have never heard of a man coming to mischief through having too much grace. I never heard yet of any person falling into danger through living too near to God; nor do I think most men suffer through being too careful in self-examination or too anxious to be right. Presumption brings a thousand evils, but holy carefulness brings very few, if any. You will have to die, beloved, soon; and, though you may rejoice in the prospect of being with Christ, death, after all, is no child’s play. He who would die triumphantly, will need God’s arm to bear him up. The river is in itself a deep and chilling river, and if the Lord, who is immortality and life, be not with us it will be a drowning river; but if we have solid faith we shall pass over safely. But, mark you, no sham faith will help you then. If you are in your senses, and honest, all the bladders of self-confidence will fail you then. What do those poor souls do who have dreamed of heaven, and discover when they are dying that their hope is a mere dream? O, what will false church members do? What will the hypocritical deacon do? Above all, what will the unfaithful minister do, who, when he comes to die, finds that he has preached to others, and has no part nor lot in this matter himself? When it is too late to take to another ship, to have all shipwrecked for ever! What horror this must be! God grant it may not be so with any of you, and, therefore, beloved, in fair weather look to your vessel. It was a shameful thing, say what anyone will, to send the ship to sea we have been reading of lately, that was all worm-eaten, and her iron, even her iron, quite rusted through. It would have been infinitely better to have had her well examined, and not to have sent an unworthy ship out at all. But you see they ran on a beach, and happily saved all the crew; but if you go to sea spiritually in a leaky ship like that, there is no saving you. You are lost, and lost forever! O, if you have got into this professional barque, which is rotten, get out of her, though you lose all your comfort, and see all your experience go down. Let it go down, if if be a lie. It is better that a man be a beggar and be true, than be a prince and be a liar. What care I for the gewgaw tinsel crown, that men put on who strut upon the boards of a theatre? Shall I esteem the mimic sovereigns, and bow down to them, as if they were true kings and princes? No; the poorest man who is himself, is better than the grandest man who is a sham. God grant that we may stand the test of dying. But there is a still more terrible test than dying, for some sleep quietly through death, but, oh, the judgment! I see two ponderous scales, huge as hemispheres of this great globe, and there I see the weights — the standard weights of eternal justice. Into yonder scales every one of us must go, and what if there should be heard the dreadful sound, “Mene, mene, tekel?” “Thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting!” There will be no hope then, of making up the short weight or of coming up to the standard. Lost then, we shall be cast away for ever. O, if you only get an inch towards heaven, let it be a safe inch; for a safe inch is better than a counterfeit yard, and one drachm of grace is better than a million tons of profession. One genuine tear is better than a sea-full of washing your hands in outward ceremonies. Let your religion be real, dear friends. “Dwell deep.”

     And I will give this other reason — dwell deep; because those who live near to God, and are substantial in godliness, are the happiest of people. The top of the cup of religion may be bitter, but it grows sweeter the deeper down you drink. The cup at Satan’s banquet is sweet upon the brim, where the bubbles glow like rainbows, but, ah, the horrid dregs of it! The cup that Christ gives has no dregs, but it has at its bottom the sweetness of the wines on the lees, well refined. And, O, the inexpressible sweetness when you get to the bottom of all — where there is no bottom indeed — when you get a drink of eternal joys and never ending blessings!

     While this deep living gives a man more happiness, it also endows him with more strength. Some single Christians of my acquaintance are worth twenty ordinary ones, because they enter into the very marrow of religion, and then impress others with the reality of it. I know at this moment Christian women, who are worth fifty ordinary professing women. I would not say the others are not very good, too, in their way, but they are superficial compared with these deep-taught daughters of Zion. O God, if the church is to be strong, it must be through those that dwell deep!

     And so, beloved, let me close by saying here, dwell deep, for you will glorify God most. The nearer you get to the sun, the brighter you will be. The nearer you live to Christ, the more like him you will be. Dwell deep, beloved. Beware of levity in godliness: beware of superficiality: beware of skimming. Seek to enjoy the deep, the blessed, the true reality! The Lord grant it to you for his name’s sake. But still let me say to any who have not begun the divine life, this is not for you just now. I talked to you last night and the night before, and you know I bade you come to Christ just as you were; and so I do now, for saving work is coming and touching even the hem of the Redeemer’s garment. If you have touched the hem of his garment, do not be satisfied with that; go on to know him more, and long, like Simeon, to take him up in your arms, and say, “This Christ is mine — the blessed Christ — mine for ever and for ever.” God bless you, beloved friends!



The Life, Walk, and Triumph of Faith

By / Jun 22

The Life, Walk, and Triumph of Faith

 

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

 

BELOVED, all Scripture is the word of God, but some Scripture is expressly so. Much of its teaching comes through inspired men, but some of it was spoken by God's own mouth, directly and without instrumentality: such are the words now before us which were of old spoken into Abram’s ear by the Almighty God. These sentences ought for this reason to be regarded with peculiar reverence, and considered with double attention. The glow of Divinity is fresh upon the lines, bend then your souls to the understanding of them. If a letter were written to you when you were far from home, you would value every line of it if your fond mother had asked a friend to write it in her name, and had dictated the expressions which he should employ; but if there were inserted in the body of the letter several sentences with this preface, “and your mother expressly says” — then you would treasure up the exact words, and repeat them to yourself again and again; would you not? All God’s words in Scripture are pearls, but this is one of the fairest of them. They are all diamonds, but such words as God speaks from his own mouth I may call the Koh-i-noors of Scripture.

     Look, then, at the text. We will read it again: “When Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.” Happy was Abram to have such intimate intercourse with God! These sacred visitations were the grand events of his life; but we need not envy him, for God has appeared unto us in a yet more glorious manner, and the appearance is abiding. Behold, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ the tabernacle of God is among men, and he doth dwell among them; and, in the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, the believer has obtained an intimacy with God, which none of the older dispensation attained unto. The Lord was to the former saints as a wayfaring man who tarried but for a night; but it is our privilege to pray, “Abide with us.” and our joy to know that wherever two or three are met together in the name of our Lord, he is there, and will manifest himself unto them. Permit me, therefore, to encourage you to pray that the words of the Lord to Abram may be words for you, pressed home upon your own spirit, and sounded in your souls with power, as from the lips of the Lord himself. Then shall our meditations be sweet indeed, and we shall be blessed with faithful Abraham. O, Spirit Divine, make it so we entreat thee!

     I. The first thing we shall speak about, upon this occasion, is SURE RELIANCE. The foundation of it is laid before us in the text. True confidence leans alone upon God, who declares himself to be Almighty God, or God All-sufficient — for such is an equally correct rendering of the passage.

     All true faith hangs upon God, as the vessel upon the nail. Strong faith realises the all-sufficiency of God, and that is the secret of its strength, the hidden manna on which it feeds and becomes vigorous The Lord is all-sufficient in power to accomplish his own purposes, all-, sufficient in wisdom to find his own way through difficulties which to us may appear to be like a maze, but which to him are plain enough; and he is all-sufficient in love, so that he will never fail us for want of mercy in his heart, or pity in his bosom. God is God All-sufficient; simple as that truth is for us to speak, and for you to hear, it is a deep unfathomable, and did we really grasp its truth and dwell upon it, it would have a very wonderful effect upon our whole conduct.

     Remember, that Abram was ninety years old and nine, and as yet had no child by his wife Sarah; yet he had received a promise from God that there should be a seed which should spring out of his loins. He was long past the natural term of life in which it was likely that he would be the father of a son. So, also, was it with his wife Sarah. Abram, for a while overcome by unbelief, thought it best to take to himself, at the suggestion of his wife Sarah, her handmaid Hagar; and now, for some few years, Abram had possessed a son named Ishmael, and it is probable that he thought that this son would answer to God’s promise, and that somehow or other the blessing would come through him. But the Lord had not so determined. He took no pleasure in the carnal policy which led to Ishmael's birth. The Lord meant the language before us to be a gentle but unmistakable rebuke for him, for he said in effect, “I am God All-sufficient — quite sufficient to fulfil my own purposes without Abram’s help — quite able to achieve my own. designs without such a questionable expedient as that of Hagar and her son Ishmael.” That is, no doubt, the divine intent in the declaration of all-sufficiency. Hear ye, then, these words if ye also have been at any time distrustful, and let them sink into your souls, — “I am God All-sufficient.” If any of you are tempted at this time to do what is questionable, because you cannot see how God’s promise to you will be effected without it, the Lord tells you he wants no help of yours to achieve his own designs. “I am God Almighty,” saith he; “Is anything too hard for me? Dost thou think I need thy wisdom to set me right, or thy puny arm to strengthen me? Do I want thy help to achieve my purposes, which stand fast as my eternal throne?” It was a tender rebuke of Abram’s very gross mistake, and it is to us a hint that we are never to put forth our hand unto iniquity, or to do anything that is doubtful in any form or shape, under the notion that we are thus effecting the purposes of God. Look at Rebekah. She little understood the all-sufficiency of God. God had promised her that Jacob should have the covenant-blessing, but she seems to think that God cannot keep his word and cause Jacob to inherit the promises unless she has a finger in it. Father Isaac has sent out Esau a- hunting, to bring home savoury meat, and has promised that he will give him the blessing when he returns. And now Rebekah thinks God will be defeated, the anxious mother imagines the Most High to be in a dilemma, and his purposes to be likely to fail unless her inherited craftiness can devise a stratagem to eke out the divine wisdom. Rebekah must tell lies, and Jacob must tell lies too; and poor old Isaac must be deceived, or else God’s purposes will not be accomplished. O foolish Rebekah! Ere we speak thus, and condemn that gracious woman, let us make sure that we confess and condemn the same tendency in ourselves. Have we not also dreamed that we might do evil that good might come? Have we not followed policy where we ought to have sternly adhered to principle, and all this because we thought it necessary, and feared that otherwise evil would triumph? Has not our judgment been bewildered by strange providences, and been led to sanction irregular procedures, or at least to think less severely of them? Under the influence of blind unbelief, have we not been ready, like Uzzah, to lay our hand upon the ark of the Lord to steady it, for fear it should fall, as if God’s ark could not take care of itself without our sinful hand being laid thereon? That lesson learned by Israel at the Red Sea is still a hard one to us: we cannot stand still and see the salvation of God. Because we do not believe in the Almighty God we are eager to make haste, we hurry, worry, fret, fuss and sin! Fear drives us, and self-sufficiency draws us, and the noble quietude of faith in God is lost. O could we but rest in omnipotent love, could we but know the Lord, and wait patiently for him, how much sin and sorrow we should be spared!

“With feeble light and half obscure,
Poor mortals Thy arrangements view;
Not knowing that the least are sure,
And the mysterious just and true. 

My favour’d soul shall meekly learn
To lay her reason at Thy throne;
Too weak Thy secrets to discern,
I’ll trust Thee for my guide alone.”

     Here is the fit place to set in contrast the conduct of David. He knew that in God’s decree it was ordained that he should be king over Israel, yet he took no means to secure the crown. He would not lift his hand to smite Saul, nay, he spared him when he was entirely in his power. He did not unbelievingly interfere to make a providence for himself, but left the course of events in the Lord’s hands; and, in consequence, when he came to the throne he had an easy conscience and no innocent blood upon his hands. May our faith teach us the same patient waiting, and confident repose of soul. May we believe, to see the glory of the Lord. The Lord All-sufficient will in the end dear the darkest providences from all question, and our souls shall know how happy are those who put their trust in the Lord alone.

     This blessed text, “I am God All-sufficient,” may apply to us in times when we are inclined to shirk any service for God. Have you never felt on certain seasons that God’s choice of you for a special labour could not be a wise one, for you were so unfit for it? Have you never felt in your own hearts — “I cannot do that; I think the Lord would have me do it, but I cannot. I have not the qualification. I believe I am called to it, but it is too difficult for me. I shall not be able to achieve it”? Have you never had the disposition, like Jonah, to flee to Tarshish, or somewhere else, and to escape from Nineveh and its trials? Have you never pleaded, like Jeremiah, “But I am a child?” Have you never cried, like Moses, “I am slow of speech, send by whomsoever thou wilt send, but not by me”? Now, at such a time the Lord may well remind us, “I am God All-sufficient, cannot I strengthen thee? Weak as thou art, cannot I make thee strong ? Worm of the dust, cannot I make thee thresh the mountains? Why dost thou fear? Thou art feeble, but I am not. Thou art foolish, but I am wise. Give thyself up to my guidance; trust thyself in my hands, and thou shalt achieve marvels; and exceeding great wonders shalt thou accomplish by my power and grace.” It will be sadly sinful if we arrogate to ourselves the right to arrange our own place, and alter heaven’s appointments. We are not where we are by chance, or by a freak of fate: as God’s servants, our work is allotted us wisely and authoritatively. Dare we be wiser than the Lord? Are we also of Jehovah’s council? His choice of instruments is wise, even when he chooses the weak things of the world to work his purposes. Their insufficiency is of no consequence, for their sufficiency is of God. For them to attempt to shun their duty because of conscious feebleness, would be a daring sin against the prerogatives of the King of kings, an impious censure upon the infallible appointments of Infinite wisdom. May not this be a word in season to some brother or sister here, who may happen to be under that temptation? If it be, may the Lord speak it home by his Spirit, and a blessing will come of it! Work on, dear friend, and wait on, for it is no business of yours to correct your Maker’s arrangements. He who placed you where you now are, knew what he was at. Look at your infirmities with another eye. No longer allow them to distress you; but the rather glory in them because they afford room and space for the divine power to rest in you and work by you. Listen no more to the wailings of your trembling flesh, which cries, “Alas, I am weak,” but hear the voice of him who saith “I am God Almighty.”

     This word may also be useful to those who are trembling under some present temporal trial and affliction. They are dreading what may yet happen. Forebodings of what may soon come are upon them. Sometimes we have before us a gloomy prospect: we know the trial must come; we are afraid of it; and though we have the promise, “In six troubles I will be with thee, and in seven there shall no evil touch thee,” yet we stand trembling. “I am God All-sufficient” — will not that brace your nerves and enable you to press on, though it were through a valley as dark as death-shade itself? Is it poverty? God is All-sufficient to supply your needs. Is it physical pain? — and some of us dread that beyond anything else, — the All-sufficient God can put under your aching head such a peace-creating pillow, that in the sweetness of celestial love you shall forget the smarts of the flesh, and your soul shall be comforted when your body is lull of agony. Why, what is it that thou fearest, O child of God? There can be no lack which he cannot supply, no enemy that he cannot subdue. Slander’s cruel tooth, doth that dismay thee! Is not the Lord sufficient for this also? “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” Hast thou not his own word for it? “Every tongue that rises against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.” Hath not he declared it? and doth not he know how to accomplish his own purpose? Therefore, again, I say, cast thy doubts and thy fears to the wind, for God as surely says to thee, O trembling believer, as ever he did to his servant Abram, “I am God, Almighty God.” O rest in the Lord, and be not troubled. He shall, he must appear: only put not forth thine hand unto iniquity, and do nothing before the time. Thou hast no feeble Deity to trust in; be not a coward, but play the man.

     The same may also be applied to each of us when we are under spiritual depressions. Inward tribulations are frequently more severe than temporal trials; the man of God knows this full well. We look within, and we see grace to be at a low ebb with us — at least we think so; our corruptions and our natural depravity — these we see clearly enough, and we are troubled with the sight. Neglects of duty, omissions of devotion, forgotten opportunities of usefulness, all come up and accuse us; and then we are ready to doubt whether we ever knew the Lord at all: and, perhaps, Satan at the same time assails us, and we fall under his foot for awhile. O, let us not, even in such terrible times, ever doubt our God, for he is All-sufficient still! If our salvation depended upon ourselves, it would soon be all over with us; but if it depend upon that arm, the sinews of which can never break, — if it depend upon that heart which can never change and never cense to beat with love omnipotent, why should we be discouraged? “I am God Almighty,” saith the Lord: “Therefore say thou unto the enemy, ‘Rejoice not over me, for though I fall yet shall I rise again.’” And suppose, beloved, you should have temporal troubles and spiritual distresses at the same time? This meeting of two seas is very apt to make the mariner expect immediate shipwreck; but, behold, walking on the waters comes thy God to thee, and saving, “I am God All-sufficient even for thee.” Was there ever a storm that was not of his brewing? Therefore cannot he control it? Was there ever spirit that came up out of the deeps of hell that was not of his loosing? — and can he not hold him in as with a chain and restrain his malignant power? Behold, Jehovah rides upon the wings of the wind, and the storm-cloud is his car, fear not therefore the rattling of the wheels on which thy heavenly Father rides. In the midst of the tempest he reigns supreme, fear not the darkness which is his canopy, or the lightning which is but the glance of his eye. Trust thou him at all times, and let no fear cast thee down or hurry thee into an unbelieving and restless course of action, which would defile thee and bring dishonour upon his blessed name. Yea, if there are signs about thee of approaching departure, — if thy body, weakened by long disease, be like a house that is ready to fall about the tenant’s ears, yet God, who is all-sufficient here, will be all-sufficient on yonder dying bed. He who has been almighty in life will be almighty in death. Fear not that solemn flight through tracks unknown, or the awful appearance at the eternal throne. The God of grace is all-sufficient for all the mysteries of eternity; all-sufficient for the thunders of judgment, the terrors of vengeance, and the dread of hell. Fear not the crash of worlds, when he shall bid them all dissolve; the ever-living Redeemer, able to save unto the uttermost, is all-sufficient to support thy spirit — when all created things shall pass away and the elements shall melt with fervent heat. There exists not a conceivable ground of fear to the man who puts his trust in God Almighty! O beloved, set this as a seal upon thine arm to strengthen thee, and roll it as a stone upon the sepulchre of thy doubts. Never let them rise again. Didst thou trust a puny man, thou mightest doubt; but resting upon God, how canst thou be disquieted? Didst thou rely upon changing humanity, — didst thou place thy confidence in a creature that might love to-day and hate to- morrow, then, indeed wert thou unhappy; but his love is everlasting and his power endureth for ever; why, then, art thou cast down? Thou hast built thy soul’s hope upon the immoveable rock of All-sufficiency, and thou shalt prove the truth of that inspired assurance. “Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble: I will deliver him and honour him.” Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: and cease thou from man whose breath is in his nostrils; then shall thy light shine forth as the morning, and a dew from heaven shall cause thee to bud and blossom with joy and rejoicing. Be glad in the Lord ye righteous, and shout for joy all ye that are upright in heart, for unto you hath he spoken, and given this for the rock of your confidence, — “I am the Almighty God.”

     II. Secondly, our text goes on to speak of our RIGHT POSITION. The Lord says, “I am Almighty God,” and then he adds, “Walk before me.” It is much easier for me to talk about this than it will be to practise it. The meaning is simple — the actual obedience grace alone can work in us. Come, gracious Spirit, and teach us to walk before the Lord in the land of the living. God is an All-sufficient God: then, believer, never go away from him, but abide in him evermore. There is a sense in which we always do walk before God, for “in him we live, and move, and have our being and he sees us altogether. But that is not what is intended here. It means this: Abide, O believer, in a constant sense of God’s presence. “Walk before me, the All-sufficient God.” Do Dot wander into paths wherein you will be made to feel, “I have left my God.” Have thy friend at hand:

“Be thou my heart still near my God,
And thou my God still near my heart.”

Remember, he is a very present help in time of trouble; and do thou strive to realise this as a daily fact. Thou hast not to send for thy God on an emergency, but thou art to walk before thy God believing him to be always near thee. Hagar once felt the power of that word, “Thou God seest me,” but believers ought to feel it every moment. “Seeing him who is invisible” is not a thing for now and then, but an hourly exercise. It should be the general tenor of the believer’s life to live always under the great Father’s inspection. A poet puts it— “live ever under the great task-master’s eye;” but I confess I do not like the word task-masier. To live always as under my Father's eye has all the force of the poet’s line, but has much more of sweetness, lie is near me whether I journey or abide at home, whether I sorrow or rejoice. If I wake, his eyes pour sunlight on mv face; if I sleep, he draws the curtains, and his presence shades me from all ill; if I rest, I sit at his feet in contemplation; if I labour, I work in his vineyard in his name, and for his sake, expecting a gracious reward from him.

     “Walk before me.” Not merely “think before me,” and “pray before me,” but “walk before me.” I know many find it easy to cultivate a sense of God’s presence in their own study, or in the room where they are accustomed to pray, but this is the point— to feel it in business, and in the details of every -day life. God’s eye is upon me when I am weighing out or measuring the goods, when I am engrossed with transactions with my fellow merchants, or when I, as a servant, am sweeping up the hearth or minding the household duties. This you should distinctly recognise and act upon. You are to live in the little things of life, knowing that God is always with you, and always looking at you— doing your work just as will please him. Oh, how we smart ourselves up if there is somebody calling to see us. How we adjust our dress in the presence of those whom we admire. I have sometimes thought I have seen working men proceeding very slowly indeed at their tasks when alone, but when the master comes by they quicken their pace wonderfully. That is all wrong. It is eye-service, the custom of a man-pleaser, but not the habit of one who would please the Lord. We should feel, “God is always looking at me.” There is many a word we should not say if we remembered that he would hear it, and many an act we dare not do if we remembered that he would register it. Yes, there is the believer's true place, — my God is God Almighty, and I am always in his presence. A person might do fifty things in a certain place, which he would not think of doing if he were at court and had just presented a petition to the queen; there is a decorousness of manner which we all observe when we are in such conditions; and, therefore, the reasoning is cogent when I ask you before the King of kings what manner of persons ought we to be! We are always in Jehovah’s courts, and under his royal gaze: “Walk before me.” Live ever as in the court, for remember, O believer, you are not like an ordinary person. If an ordinary person sins, it is only a common subject of the king, but you— why, you are a courtier, a favoured courtier! You are one that he has chosen to tread his courts. Nay, more: the Prince Imperial has espoused you to himself. You are the bride of the everblessed Bridegroom, the spouse of Immanuel, and there is always jealousy where there is much love. “The Lord thy God is a jealous God.” Whatever he may he to others, he is very jealous of those on whom he has set his everlasting love. “Our God is a consuming fire.” Walk before a jealous God, then, with scrupulous regard to his honour and his holiness. Oh, it is a great word this — “walk before me.” Its brevity is not so notable as its fulness. Surely it means realise my presence, and then, in general life and ordinary conversation, continue under a sense of it, serious, devout, holy, earnest, trustful, consecrated, Christ-like.

     But he meant more than that. “Walk before me.” That is, “Delight in my company.” True believers find their choicest joy in communion with God; and did we always walk before God in a sense of communing with him, our peace would be like a river, and our righteousness like the waves of the sea. Would it be possible for us to feel any distress of heart if we always enjoyed the Saviour’s love? Methinks there are no bitters known that would be able to affect our palate if we always had in our mouth the love of the Saviour in its ineffable, all-conquering sweetness. “Walk before me.” Do not interfere with God’s purposes: do not, unbelieving, try to help omnipotence and supplement omniscience, but rejoice in the Lord and find satisfaction in him only. Be filled with his fulness, and satiated with his favour. Go and do your part, which is to obey and to commune, and leave God’s work to God. Walk before him, and attend to that only. Do not doubt God’s power to fulfil his own decrees. Do not doubt that he will keep his word to the letter and to the minute; but do thou cultivate fellowship with God, for this will ennoble thee and help thee to give glory to his name.

     “Walk before me.” Does not it mean just this, in a word, “Do not act as seeing anybody else except me. Walk before me.” Now, Abram had walked before Sarah: he had listened to her, and much mischief had come of his so doing at different times. The dearest friends we have are often those who will lead us most astray when we take counsel with flesh and blood. She was peculiarly qualified from her very excellence of character to influence Abram, and, in her unbelieving moods, to lead him away from the glorious absoluteness of his faith. She meant well enough, but she was too politic in her suggestion as to her handmaid. In the present case the Lord seems to say to him, “Do not suffer Sarah to affect you in these things. Walk before me.” Beloved, mind you keep clear of the unbelieving advice of good people, and then you will have the less to fear from bad ones. And there was Hagar: Abram had been a great deal distressed about her, and it was but right that he should feel much interest in her welfare. And there was her son Ishmael whom he loved, and whom he would have to send, in future time, away with deep regret from the household. God says to Abram, “Do not allow your course to be shaped by regarding Hagar, or regarding Ishmael, or regarding Sarah, or anybody else. “Walk before me.” I am persuaded that a regard for God, a sense of duty, a straightforward following out of convictions, is the only true style of living, for if you begin to notice the whims and wishes of one, then you will have to do the same with another; and if your course of conduct is to be shaped to please men, you will become man's slave and nothing better; and no child of God ought to come into that condition. If I felt I came into this pulpit to please any of you, I should feel mean, utterly mean, and unfit to preach to you; and you would soon know it and find out that God was not blessing me to your souls. And if any of you, in your course of business, are always trying to catch the eye of this person, or cringing and fawning to this other nobleman, or squire, or gentleman, why, you are mean too. But the man who says, “I do the right in God’s sight: I have not swerved from a sense of conscious rectitude, as before the living God,” — why, sir, you have got all the freedom of soul that you can desire this side heaven. To walk before God, that is the point; to fear the Lord, and no one else, that is the state of mind to aim at. Make this the master passion of your soul, “For me to live is Christ”; make the honour of God your chief motive, and the law of God your rule. Walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

     III. But we must pass on, for there is another point, and that is, as we have considered our sure reliance and our right position, we notice next OUR GLORIOUS AIM: “Be thou perfect.”

     Now, the connection shows us that the only way to be perfect is to walk before the Lord. If any man desires holiness, he must get it through communion. The way to be transformed into the likeness of God is to live in the company of God. That, which thou lookest upon, thou wilt soon be like; and if thine eyes look on God, thy character will become like God. Hence the order of our text is highly suggestive, and should be earnestly noted and practically carried out. First, God must be known as All-sufficient; thus he helps and enables his servant to walk before him, and then, as a consequence, that favoured servant labours to obey the word of command, BE THOU PERFECT. There could be no walking before the Lord if all-sufficient grace did not work it in us, and the command, “Be thou perfect,” would be mere mockery if Almighty love did not stand engaged to work all our works in us. To a man who has learned to rest in Almighty faithfulness, the perfect law is delightful; and with confidence in the energy of the Holy Spirit he is not staggered by its commands. I desire you to note this, for the order of Holy Scripture is always full of reason and weight. Whatever ill-taught divines may do, the Holy Spirit never puts the fruit before the root, and never places the pinnacle where the foundation should be. Begin with God’s All-sufficiency, go on to the holy fellowship and obedience, and then aim at scriptural perfection, and so you will take everything in due sequence.

     But we must pass on. As you are aware, our margin reads the text thus, “Be thou sincere,” or “Be thou upright;” and either translation would not be incorrect. Now, child of Bod, you have been saying, “I do not see how God is to fulfil his promise to me.” What have you to do with that? Walk before God, and be you sincere. He will attend to the due performance of all that he has promised. Remember —

“Though dark be your way, since he is your guide,
‘Tis yours to obey,’ tis his to provide.”

     In all things be transparently sincere, never pray a formalistic prayer, or sing a heartless hymn, or prattle out experience you never felt. Shun first and foremost the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Be what you would seem to be. Be down- right; intensely real, thorough, and if you are that, you shall never find God less thorough than you are, nor the Lord less true to his word than you shall be. If you are wavering and doubleminded, you must not expect anything of the Lord, but if you are single-hearted he will abundantly reward you. Mind this, I pray you, every day you live. This is the age of plausible sham, the era of superficiality; therefore be unmistakably true before the God of truth. The margin translates the passage by the word “upright;” and it comes to just this. You are fretting about how the Lord will deal with you. Brother, that is no concern of thine. Thy concern is that thou be upright in business. “My trade falls off,” says one. Be upright, brother: whatever you do, be upright. “But I have drifted into such difficulties, I am afraid I shall be ruined.” Be upright, brother, whatever you do, be upright. “Could not I get away a few of my goods, for instance, which ought to be my creditors’?” Brother, be upright; be upright. “Ah, but then, surley, I shall hardly have a rag left.” Be upright, brother, be upright. “Oh, but I consider my children.” “Walk before me,” says the Lord, “and be thou upright.” “Oh, but a man must take care of himself and his family.” Be upright, brother; that is the main thing to take care about. It will not matter how poor you are, if you do not lose your character. Lose everything else and you may yet be happy; but if you lose your peace of mind who can comfort you? If the worldling can point at you and say, “There is a professor who wronged his creditors,” that will be worse than all. No court is so much to be dreaded as the court of conscience — keep all things clear there. Better an honest pauper than a rich rogue I am sure your fellow Christians will respect you none the less, however low you come, if you come there fairly; all those whose love is worth the having will cling to you in hearty sympathy, and only false friends, the parasites of the hour, will desert you, and a good riddance will their departure turn out to be. But avoid, I implore you, those tricks so common among traders now-a days — those rash speculations, those deceptive accommodations, the lying and duping of others, which men fly to as a drowning man catches at a straw — a straw that he ought never to touch. Not losing, but cheating is the mischief; and the Lord says to you, “I am God All sufficient: I can take care of you: I can bring you through all this; but do not touch forbidden things in order to escape from trial, or your trials will multiply and crush you. Walk before me, as under my eye; and be thou upright.”

     But our version says, “Be thou perfect,” and for my part, I like it as it stands: “Be thou perfect.” “Oh,” says one, “but how can we be perfect?” I will ask thee another question: Wouldst thou have God command thee to be less than perfect? If so, he would be the author of an imperfect law. “The law of the Lord is perfect;” how could it be otherwise? I do not find that he bids us partly keep his law, but wholly keep it. And so the Lord holds up this as the standard of a Christian, “Be thou perfect.”

     And does it not mean, let us be perfect in desiring to have all the round of graces? Suppose a man should have faith, and should have love, but no hope: he would not be perfect. He would be like a child that had two arms, but only one foot; it would not be a perfect child. You must have all the graces, if you are to be a perfect man. I think I have known some Christians who have had all the graces except patience, but they never could be patient. “Walk before me,” saith the Lord, “and be thou perfect in patience.” I have known some others who seemed to have almost every grace except the grace of forgiveness; they could not very readily forget any injury that had been done to them. Dear brother, you must get that grace the grace of forgiveness, and walk before the Lord with that, or you will remain a mutilated character. A Christian's character is spoilt by the omission of any one virtue. And you must labour in the presence of God to have all these things, that they be in you and abound. Be ye in this sense perfect.

     And as we have all the graces, so we should seek to have in our lives exhibited all the virtues, in the fulfilment of all our duties. It is a very sad thing when you hear of a Christian man that he is a very excellent deacon, that he is a very admirable local preacher or Sabbath- school teacher, but that he is a very unkind father. That “but” spoils it all. A saint abroad is no saint if he be a devil at home. We have known men of whom it has been said that out of doors they were all that could be desired, but they were bad husbands. That “but,” — how it mars the tale. It is the dead fly which has got into a very good pot of ointment, and made the whole of it stink. Keep the dead flies out, brethren. By God’s grace may your character be full-orbed! May God grant you grace to be at home and to be abroad, to be in the shop and in the chamber, and to be in every department of life, just that which a man should be who walks before the All -sufficient God.

     Now, I think I hear somebody saying, “How shall we ever reach such a height?” My dear brother, you never will do so except you remember the first part of the text — “I am the Almighty God.” He can help you. If there be any sin that you cannot overcome yourself, he can overcome it for you. If there be any virtue you have not yet reached, he can lead you up to it. Never despair of the highest degree of grace. What the best of men have been, you also may be. There is no reason why you should not yet be elevated beyond all the sin into which you may have fallen from inadvertence or temptation. Have hope, my brother; have hope for a higher platform of character. Have hope yet to be conformed unto the image of God’s dear Son. Aim at nothing less than perfection.

     But I will not detain you longer, except to notice that last word. It is a very sweet word: “I will make mv covenant between me and thee.” How run the words? “I will make my covenant between me and thee.”

     Oh, it is the man that knows an All-sufficient God, and that lives in the presence of God, and that endeavours to be perfect in his life — it is that man that enjoys intercourse and communion with God, such as no one else knows, for “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.” “There shall be a covenant between me and thee.” It sounds so sweetly to me — as if he had said, “I will say nothing to the outside world; neither wilt thou tell them. It shall be with thee and me. We will strike hands together. Abram, thou shalt be my friend, and I will be thy friend for ever. Thou wilt say, ‘My Father,’ and I will say ‘My son.’ Thou wilt put thyself into my hand, and I will carry thee therein. Thou wilt ask to see my glory, and I will make my glory pass before thee. I will tell thee what I mean to do. If 1 am going to destroy Sodom, I will come and tell Abram my friend. I will let thee speak to me, and I will hear thee. Time after time I will stay whilst thou dost plead for fifty, and for forty-five, and thirty, and twenty, and ten. ‘There shall be a covenant between me and thee.’ And I will make it. It shall not be such a one as thy timorous faith would make. I will make it after the manner of my bounty, my eternity, and my all-sufficiency.” When the Lord makes a covenant, it will stand; it will be sure; it will be rich; it will be full. And, O, I pray that every one of you may know that covenant and live upon its incomparable blessings. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him,” and he will show them his covenant. But many a child of God walks forwardly, and the Lord will not fully reveal the covenant to such. Some of his Peters follow afar off, and they get into trouble; but they do not enjoy the sweets of divine fellowship and peculiar manifestation. But this careful walking, this close walking, this keeping near to an All-sufficient God, this resting solely in him — Oh, this it is that brings the sweetness and the joy which are the antepast of heaven — which are, indeed, a young heaven begun this side the tomb. The Lord bring my dear friends all into holy fellowship with God; and if any of you have not come to the border of the happy land, I pray you may be led there at once. The way of salvation is, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Faith is both the road to the highest happiness, and the way to the first safety — faith is both the the highest round of the ladder, and its first step — “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Have done with the self-righteous working, and come to the trusting. Have done with seeking to save self, and accept Jesus alone as your Redeemer.

     The Lord grant you grace so to do; and his shall be the praise for ever and ever! Amen.



Living Temples for the Living God

By / Jun 22

Living Temples for the Living God

 

“Thus saith the Lord, the heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord; but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit and trembleth at my word.”— Isaiah lxvi. 1, 2.

 

THAT is an excellent answer which was given by a poor man to a sceptic who attempted to ridicule his faith. The scoffer said, “Pray sir, is your God a great God or a little God?” The poor man replied, “Sir, my God is so great that the heaven of heavens cannot contain him; and yet he condescends to be so little, that he dwells in broken and contrite hearts.” Oh, the greatness of God, and the condescension of God! I hope we shall be led to think of both this evening, while we meditate upon the words of the text.

     We have no time nor need of a preface. The text first of all teaches us that God rejects all material temples as the places of his abode; but, secondly, it informs us that God has made a choice of spiritual temples, wherein he will dwell.

     I. First of all, then, let us think a little of GOD’S REJECTION OF ALL MATERIAL TEMPLES. There was a time, when it could be said that there was a house of God on earth. That was a time of symbols, when as yet the Church of God was in her childhood. She was being taught her A B C, reading her picture-book, for she could not as yet read the word of God, as it were, in letters. She had need to have pictures put before her, patterns of the heavenly things. Then, even then, the enlightened amongst the Jews knew right well that God did not dwell between curtains, and that it was not possible that he could be encompassed in the most holy place within the veil. It was only a symbol of his presence. The fiery cloudy pillar was merely an indication that he was there, in that Tabernacle where he was pleased to say that he peculiarly revealed himself. But the time of symbols is now passed altogether. In that moment when the Saviour bowed his head, and said, “It is finished!” the veil of the temple was rent in twain, so that the mysteries were laid open. The most august of types I might consider the veil of the temple to be, but the dying hands of the Saviour grasped that veil, and tore it in twain from top to bottom; and then the secrets within, which were all the more secret because they were symbols, were made bare to the gazer’s eye, and no longer did God deign to have a place on earth that should be called his house, nor any symbols of his presence whatsoever among the sons of men; and now it is sheer legality, a defunct-ceremonial, Judaism, carnality, and idolatry, to go about and say of this place, “This is the house of God,” or of such a chapel, or such a stone erection, “This is the altar of God,” or of any man who chooses to put on certain tagrags and ribbons, “This is a man of God,” a priest of the Most High! This is all done away with, and put away for ever. Now, as the church has attained her maturity, she lays aside these childish things. Those orders of divine service which were symbols and nothing more, having answered their ends, are abolished and superseded, and God pours contempt upon the superstitious veneration of their relics. By the mouth of his servant Paul, in the Hebrews, he bids us look not to the shadows but to the substances, not to the symbols but to the great realities. So, brethren, one reason why God saith he dwelleth not in temples made with hands, is, because he would have us know that the symbolical worship is ended and the reign of the spiritual worship inaugurated at this day. As our Lord said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.”

     But our text gives, from God’s own mouth, reasons why there can be no house at the present time in which God can dwell; and, indeed, there never was any house of the kind in reality— only in symbol. For, say now, where is the place to build God a house? Look ye abroad, ye ambitious architects that would erect for God a house! Where will ye place it? Will ye place it in heaven? It is only his throne, not his house! Even all the majesty of heaven is but the seat on which he sits. Where will ye place the house then? On his seat? Build a temple on his throne! It cannot be. Do you say you will erect it here, on earth? What, on his footstool? This whole globe is but his footstool! Will ye put it where he shall put his foot upon it and crush it? A house for God upon his footstool! The very notion contradicts itself, and men may forever forego the idea of building a house where God shall dwell, or a place where he shall rest. Fly through infinite space, and ye shall not find in any place that God is not there. Time cannot contain him, though it range along its millenniums! Space cannot hold him, for he that made all things is greater than the all things that he has made! Yea, all the things that are, do not encompass him. He is without bound or measure, beyond all that he has already made; though the astronomers tell us that so grand is the scale of the visible universe, the scenes opened up by the telescope suffice to baffle the imagination, and overwhelm the reason. All that God has made, is but the drop of a bucket compared with what he could make. Though it might take us endless ages to enumerate the worlds he has created, one single breathing from his lips could create ten thousand times as many, for he is the infinite God. Who then shall imagine, that in heaven, which is his throne, or on earth, which is his footstool, a house shall be built for him?

     But then, the Lord seems to put it,— What kind of a house (supposing we had a site on which to erect it) would we build for God? Sons of men, of what material would ye make a dwelling-place for the Eternal and the Pure? Would ye build of alabaster? The heavens are not clean in his sight, and he charged his angels with folly! Would ye build of gold? Behold, the streets of his metropolitan city are paved therewith, not indeed the dusky gold of earth, but transparent gold, like unto clear glass. And what were gold to Deity? Men may crave it and adore it, but what careth he for it? Whereas that city, wherein the church shall dwell for ever, hath foundations of chrysolyte and sapphire and jasper and all manner of precious stones, will you think to rival that? Ah, your wealth can never equal such costliness, though all the royal treasuries were at your disposal. Find diamonds, as massive as the stones whereof Solomon built his house on Zion, and then lay on rubies and jaspers,— pile up a house, all of which shall be most precious. What were that to him? God is a Spirit. He disdaineth your materialism. How can ye encompass the infinite mind within your walls, for they are tangible substance at the very best. And yet men think, forsooth, when they have put up their Gothic or their Grecian structures, “This is God’s house.” Take me to imperial Russia, and point me to the meanest hovel of the meanest serf; tell me it is the imperial palace— I might believe it possible; but take me to the most gorgeous pile that human skill has ever reared, and tell me that is God’s house!— Impossible! I hold up a snail’s shell, and say, “This is as much the angel Gabriel’s house as that is the house of the living God.” They know not what they speak. Brainless are they, or they would not think so of him who filleth all things!

     And then the Lord show's that the earth and the heavens themselves, which may be compared to a temple, are the works of his hand. How often I have felt as if I were compassed with the solemn grandeur of a temple, in the midst of the pine forest, or on the heathery hill, or out at night with the bright stars looking down through the deep heavens, or listening to the thunder, peal on peal, or gazing at the lightning as it lit up the sky! Then one feels as if he were in the temple of God! Afar out on the blue sea, where the ship is rocking up and down on the waves’ foam — then it seems as if you were somewhere near to God,— amidst the sublimities of nature. But what then? All these objects of nature he has made, and they are not a house for him. He spake, and they were created. “Earth be,” said he, and up sprang the round globe in all her comeliness. He had but to say it, and she was decked in her green mantle. He had but to speak it, and sun and moon shone forth in all their glories. Who then shall think of building a house for God, when even the heavens are but his throne and the earth is but his footstool? The notion, brethren, that there are some places peculiarly sacred will, however, cling to people’s minds; even those who call themselves Christians are prone thereto; yet it is a most wicked notion, I verily believe, and full of mischief. I am sometimes up on the Alps amidst the glories of nature, with the glacier and snow-clad peak; I am in the open, and I breathe the fresh air that comes from the ancient hills, but you tell me that there I am on “unholy ground”! Stands there, hard by, a little place, painted in all gaudy colours, in honour of a woman— blessed among women— it is true. I step inside, look round, and behold, the place is full of dolls and toys! Am I to be told that this is God’s house inside and that outside thereof it is not God’s house? It seems monstrous! How can any rational man credit it? Look into a little shell, full of “holy water.” Go outside,— and see the foaming waters sparkling in the cascade or coming down from the clouds, and they say “There is no holiness in that”! It’s a wicked notion— wicked, I say— to think that your four walls make that place holy, and your incantations, and I know not what, consecrate it. But, where God is, outside there, with the storm and the thunder, the rain and wind, it is not holy. Oh, sirs, I think the outside is the holier of the two! For my part, I can worship best there, and love God, and think of him as being nearer to him there, than I can within. The superstitious notion which makes people think that if they go at particular times to these places, and go through certain actions, they have done service to God, leads them to forget, if not altogether to disclaim, God at ordinary times, and in common circumstances. Their God is a local God, and his worship is local. So we see men, when they have gone through the ritual, go back to revel in their vanities, and to repeat their sins. A change of heart they do not care about : they were regenerated in baptism. To be taught the way of God more perfectly— what does that matter? Were they not confirmed? To live upon Christ and feed upon his flesh and blood in spirit and in truth— that is nothing. They have had the bread and wine at the Communion: will not that suffice? The whole thing generates formalism, and eats out the soul of true piety. Howbeit, the religion of Jesus teaches me that I am always to worship; that family prayer is as good and as much accepted as the prayer in the great congregation; that I may pray in private; that every hour, and not merely at some canonical hour, I ought to pray; that

“Where’er I seek him he is found,
And every place is hallowed ground;”

that the Lord will bless and accept me, and press me to his heart as his own dear child, wherever I am; for in my Father’s house are many mansions, and God’s grace is not here or there, but everywhere that the true heart seeks it. I want you all to feel this, because somehow or other, the Church does not appear to learn it. God was with the Covenanters amidst their glens, as gloriously as ever he manifested himself in cathedrals. God has been as earnestly sought, and as verily found in humble cottages where two or three have met to pray, as ever he has been in the largest tabernacle. The sailor’s service read on the sea has been as acceptable to God as worship on land; and the gatherings of humble Romans in the Catacombs, or of the hunted fathers in the secluded dells of our counties, were as much the gatherings of the true Church of God as any well-appointed assemblies can be in these peaceable times. Thus saith the Lord, “Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool. Where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?” Let us shake ourselves clear of all the idolatry and materialism that is so common in the age.

     II. Now, secondly, let us muse awhile upon GOD S CHOICE OF SPIRITUAL TEMPLES. “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” Observe, beloved, that God chooses to dwell in men’s hearts. lie is a Spirit, and lie takes our spirits to be the resting place of his Spirit. Will you note carefully, as respects the choice of hearts in which God would dwell, what is not said. It is not said, “I will dwell with men that are of elevated rank.” I never find a single scripture that gives any special privileges to dignity, nobility, or royalty— nay, not a syllable throughout all scripture that gives any peculiar gospel promise to the great and the rich of this world. Indeed , “not many great men after the flesh, not many mighty are chosen.” Nor do I read here anything about a peculiar office. It is not said, “To that man will I look, who is ordained and set apart, and made specially to be a vessel of grace.” No, nothing of the sort — nothing about monks, or priests, or clergy, or ministers— no special class set apart for the reception of the blessing. Far otherwise. Neither do I notice any singular genius necessary. It is not said, “With that man of poetic mind will I dwell,” or, “with that person of refined spirit,” or, “with the man that has an eye to the beauties of colour,” or, “an ear to the harmonies of sound,”— not a word of it. Some men think that genius makes men good, and all who happen to excel are set down as the excellent of the earth. With God it is not so, and it is not said so here. Neither is it written that God will dwell with persons of any special education. It is well to be educated, but a knowledge of Latin and Greek, and Hebrew and Syriac, will not inscribe our names in the Book of Life. A man may be most illiterate, and yet come under the description here given, for there is not a syllable about the learned and highly educated being the temples of God. Neither is there a syllable here said about outward religiousness. It does not say, “I will dwell with that man that attends a place of worship twice a Sunday, joins the church, is baptized, and receives the Lord’s Supper.” Nothing of the sort. The description of the spiritual temple runs not so.

     And then, I want you to notice next, that the points which are selected as descriptive of God’s temple are just such as are frequently despised. “Oh,” the world says, “who wants to be poor?” “Poor in spirit,” we reply. “Ah,” says the world, “we don’t want any of your poor spirited creatures: we like a man full of courage and confidence— your self -made, self-reliant men. Poor in spirit, indeed! And,” says the world, “we find the contrite very dull company. Broken-hearted people are not the sort we love to associate with.” Oh, no; what in their account can be the value of contrition? And as for trembling at God’s word, why you know it was because the Society of Friends were accustomed to speak much of this, and say that they trembled at God’s words, that they called them Quakers, thus turning their good confession into a term of derision and reproach. And now-a-days, if a man is very reverent towards the word of God, and very desirous to obey the Lord’s commands in everything, people say, “He is very precise,” and they shun him; or, with still more acrimony, they say, “He is very bigoted: he is not a man of liberal spirit;” and so they cast out his name as evil. Bigotry, in modern parlance, you know, means giving heed to old truths in preference to novel theories; and a liberal spirit, now-a-days, means being liberal with everything except your own money – liberal with God’s law, liberal with God’s doctrine, liberal to believe that a lie is a truth, that black is white, and that white may occasionally be black. That is liberal sentiment in religion— the broad church school— from which may God continually deliver us; for there is something true in the world after all, and we shall get wrong in heart and rotten at the core if we think there is not.

     Now God is pleased to say that the man who trembleth at his word, the man of broken heart, the man who is poor in spirit, is such an one as he will look to; these are his temples,— these, and these only, are the men in whom he will dwell. And I am so thankful for this, beloved friends, because this is a state which, through God’s grace, is attainable by all here whom the Lord shall call. Oh, if the Lord said he dwelt in the hearts of the great, there would not be much hope for some of us; or if he said he dwelt with the refined and well-instructed, we might never have received a visit from him; but if it be with the poor, happy is it for us, as you see it is easier to grow poor than rich, and God by his grace can soon make us poor in spirit. If he dwells with the contrite, why should not I be among the contrite? And if he dwells with those that tremble at his word,— well, that is not a very high degree of grace,— surely through his love I may get to that, and God may come and dwell with me, and make me to rejoice in his company. For, beloved, these evidences which are here put down, are such as belong to the very least of the saints. If the Lord had said he dwelt with those that had full assurance, it would shut many of us out. If the Lord said he dwelt with those who had attained to the higher life, and walked habitually with him, that might shut us out again. But, oh, how condescendingly he has put it— with the poor, the contrite, and those that tremble at his word. Here is God’s architecture, here is his cathedral, here are his tabernacles in which he dwells— the poor, the contrite, and the trembling heart. Let us thank God that these three marks are what they are. It is consoling to our spirits that they do not shut us out of hope. Note these three marks one by one.

     God will look to the poor, that is, those who are destitute of all merit, who have no good works, who have spent the last rusty farthing of their boasted merit, who have nothing to rely upon of their own. Dear brother , are you emptied clean out of everything you could rely upon? You are the man with whom God would dwell. Devoid of all strength, as well as of all merit, do you feel, “I cannot do what I ought to do in the future any more than I did in the past.” Do you feel that even your repentance must be God’s gift, and faith must come from him; that you lie like a dead man at his feet; and, if saved, salvation must be all of grace from first to last? Oh, dear brother, give me thine hand, for thou art one of those in whose hearts God will dwell. And art thou emptied of all wisdom, now? Once thou didst account thyself to know everything, but now thou art willing to sit on the lowest form in God’s school, to be taught as a little child everything by the great Master. Oh, what a mercy it is to be made to feel one’s self a fool, an utter fool, weak, feeble, dead, hopeless, helpless, and lost! Oh, if the Lord has brought you there, dear friends, sorrowful as your condition may seem to yourself, it is full of the brightest hope, for God has said he will look to him that is poor. Now, why does God come to the poor? Why, because there is room for him there. Other hearts are full, these hearts are empty, and God comes in. God will never come to a heart that is full of self righteousness; or, if he comes, it will be to empty that heart, and make it poor in spirit. But when he once has made the heart empty and waste and desolate, then he comes and makes the wilderness to rejoice, and the desert to blossom as a rose. I do trust that some of you who are poor in spirit, are picking up crumbs of comfort from this precious text.

     The next word is, “the contrite ”— “of a contrite spirit,” that is, the man that feels his sin and hates it, that mourns that he should have rebelled against God, and desires to find mercy. Now, God will come to such, because there is purity in that heart. “Oh,” saith the contrite spirit, “I do not see any purity in my heart.” No, but what do you gee, then? “Oh, I see all manner of sin and evil, and I hate myself because it is so.” There is purity in that hatred; at any rate there is a something that God loves in that hatred in your soul, of the sin that is within, and he will come to you, for there is something there that is akin to his own holiness: he has put it there. You have begun to appeal for mercy. Oh, then, God’s mercy will come, for mercy delights to visit misery. Mercy is always at home where there is a sinner confessing sin.

“Mercy is welcome news indeed
To those that guilty stand;
Wretches, that feel what help they need,
Will bless the helping hand.
We all have sinn’d against our God,
Exception none can boast;
But he that feels the heaviest load
Will prize forgiveness most.”

Besides, I know what will happen to you if you are of a broken spirit: you will value the society of Jesus. None love Christ so well as those that hate themselves for their sin. He that strips himself of all pretensions of his own will, admires much, and longs most passionately for, the robe of righteousness which Christ provides. Beloved, because Christ is in you as a contrite soul, and you prize him,— this is one reason why God will come and dwell in you, for he wants no better company than Christ his Son. Besides, your contrition of heart is the work of the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is at work, there God the Father loves to be. Don’t you see that your contrition comes from the Spirit, and your hope comes from the Son? Should not the Father come and dwell where his Spirit and where his Son already are? Be of good cheer, thou cast down spirit. Though every hope be broken, and all thy joy be dead, though thou be brought very low, even to the extreme of doubting and fear, yet God has said it, and he will keep his word: he will come and dwell with those that are of a contrite spirit.

     The third word describes the temples yet more graphically: God will dwell with those that tremble at his word. Now the man that is in a right state for God to dwell in, trembles at God’s word because he believes it to be all true. If thou doubt God's word, between God and thee there is a disagreement, a rupture, a quarrel; and God never will dwell in thy soul. The trembler believes it to be all true, and therefore he trembles. As he reads the law, he says, “Thy holy law condemns me.” lie trembles at the threatenings of that law, for he feels he deserves them to be fulfilled on him. And when the gospel comes, and he receives it and rejoices in it he trembles at it,— trembles at the love that looked upon him from all eternity,— trembles that he should have nailed the Saviour to the cross,— trembles lest, after all, he should not be washed in the precious blood; and he trembles after he is washed, lest he should not walk as blood-washed spirits should. These things are so high and sublime, that he trembles beneath the burden of the glory that he should receive. He trembles at the promise. “O Lord,” saith he, “let that sweet promise be mine,” and he trembles lest he should miss it,— trembles at a precept lest he should misunderstand it, or not carry it out in a proper spirit. He is not like some, who say of certain precepts, “These are non-essential.” “No,” says the man of God, “I tremble at what you call a non-essential precept.” If there be an ordinance, ordained of God in scripture, and others slight it and say it is trivial, the man of God, says, “No, to me it is not trivial or unimportant. Anything that is in the word of God and has the stamp of his approval, I tremble at.” Some one once said to an old Puritan, “Some have made such rents in their conscience, that you might make a little nick in yours. There is no reason why you should be so precise;” but the other replied, “I serve a precise God.” The God of Israel is a jealous God, and his people know it. Moses was not permitted to enter Canaan, for such a sin that you can hardly tell what it was,— it seemed such a little one; vet was he shut out from the land of promise for it; for God is more particular with those that are near to him than with others. He is jealous with those that are at Court; and he that leans his head on his bosom must expect the great Saviour to be stricter with him than with any of those that are without. Oh, beloved, we must tremble at God’s word. We know we shall enter heaven if we are believers in Jesus, but we tremble lest by any means we should mar our evidence of being inheritors of that goodly land. We know the love of God will never cast us away; we know the eternal love will never reject those it has chosen; but we tremble lest we should abuse that grace. The more gracious the doctrines we hear and believe, the more we tremble, lest we should sin against such a gracious God. We go through the world trembling and rejoicing. Now, if that is our condition, God saith he will dwell with as. Oh, there are some of you dear hearts here that could not lay hold on this text anywhere, except on this particular point. You can say, “Oh, sir, I do tremble under God’s word. How often under a sermon you make me quiver from head to foot; and, when I am reading the Bible alone, I am melted into tears with it.” Dear brother, I am glad of that, I am glad of that; for a holy trembling is a sign of life. If you can quiver before the eternal majesty of God’s voice, you are not altogether like the stocks and stones,— not altogether dead in trespasses and sins. See then (for I will say no more upon it) what a blessed thing it is to be of this character, that God will dwell with us.

     III. I will close, lastly, with this: Those that are of this character secure A GREAT BLESSING. God says he will look to them. That means several things. It means consideration. Whoever and whatever God may overlook, he will look upon a broken heart. This means approbation. Though God does not approve of the most costly building that is meant to be his house, he approves of every one that trembles at his word. It means acceptance. Though God will accept no materialism in his worship, he will accept the sighs and cries of a poor broken spirit. It means affection. Be they who they may that do not receive God’s help, contrite spirits shall have it. And it means benediction. “To this man will I look.” I was reading the other day in an old author the following reflection as near as I can remember it. Saith he, “There may be a child in the family that is very weak and sickly. There are several others that are also out of health, but this one is sorely ill. And the mother says to the nurse, ‘You shall see after the rest, but to this one will I look — even to this one that is so sore sick and so exceeding weak.’” So God does not say to his angels, “You shall look after the poor and the contrite, I have other things to do,” but he saith, “Go ye about, ye spirits, be ye ministering spirits to those that are stronger, and bear them up in your hands, lest they dash themselves against a stone; but here is a poor soul that is very poor: I will look after him myself. Here is a poor spirit that is very broken: I will bind that up myself. Here is a heart that trembles very much at my word: I will comfort that heart myself;” and so, he that telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by name— he healeth the broken in heart; he bindeth up their wounds. Out of special love to them he will do it himself. I should like to be the means of comfort to some contrite spirit to-night. Very likely the Lord will say, “No, I will not make you the means of it.” Very well, Master: be it as thou wilt; but thou wilt do it thyself. When we write books and tracts, we wish that we might comfort the desponding. Very likely the Lord will say, “No, no.” What should we reply to this? “Lord, thou canst do it better than we could. There are some sores we cannot reach, some diseases that laugh at our medicines, but, good Lord, thou canst do it.” And the Lord will come to you, poor broken down in heart,— he will come. Don’t despair. Though the devil says you will never be saved, don’t believe it; and above all, turn your eyes full of tears to Christ on the cross, and trust him. There is salvation in no other, but there is salvation in the crucified Redeemer.

“There is life for a look at the Crucified One;
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner – look unto him, and be saved –  
Unto him who was nail’d to the tree.
It is not thy tears of repentance or prayers,
But the blood that atones for the soul:
On him, then, who shed it believing at once
Thy weight of iniquities roll.
His anguish of soul on the cross hast thou seen?
His cry of distress hast thou heard?
Then why, if the terrors of wrath he endured,
Should pardon to thee be deferr’d?
We are heal’d by his stripes;— wouldst thou add to the word?
And he is our righteousness made:
The best robe of heaven he bids thee put on:
Oh! couldst thou be better array’d?
Then doubt not thy welcome, since God has declared,
There remaineth no more to be done;
That once in the end of the world he appeared;
And completed the work he begun.”

Look to Jesus, and rest your soul -at the foot of his cross, and if you don’t get life to-day, nor to-morrow, you will get it; and if you have not joy and peace in believing for many a day, it will come: it must come, for God will sooner or later look to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at his word.

     Now, many will go away and laugh, and say, “Well, I understand nothing about that.” Poor heart! The more’s the pity! If thou livest and diest, not knowing this, thy lot will be worse than if thou hadst never been born. The Lord have mercy on thee! Though thy pocket be lined with gold, and thy back covered with the finest cloth, and thy house full of splendid furniture, and children on thy knee, God have mercy on thee if thou hast never known what a contrite spirit meaneth, for, as the Lord liveth, a terrible end will be thine— an end without end, for ever and for ever.

     But, and if I speak to the poorest of the poor, who came in hither though they thought their clothes were not fit for decent company, though you have not a home to go to to-night, and though you have not any comfort of conscience by reason of sin; or, if I speak to such as have many creature comforts, but no comfort in spirit, because you are pressed down by guilt; bless the Lord here, as you listen to the proclamation of his tender mindfulness of your low estate; for the message has come, and Jesus is come to set free the captive, to open blind eyes, and recover the lost. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” May you find salvation in him, for his love’s sake. Amen.



A Visit to the Tomb

By / Jun 22

A Visit to the Tomb

 

“He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” — Matthew xxviii. 6.

 

THE holy women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, came to the sepulchre, hoping to find there the body of their Lord, which they intended to embalm. Their intention was good; their will was accepted before God; but, for all that, their desire was not gratified, for the simple reason that it was contrary to God’s design: it was at variance with even what Christ had foretold and plainly declared to them. “He is not here; for he is risen, as he said” I gather from this, that there may be good desires in our hearts as believers, and we may earnestly try to carry them out, and yet we may never succeed in them, because through our ignorance we have not understood, or through our obliviousness we have happened to forget, some word of Christ that stands in our way. I have known this to be the case in prayer. We have prayed, and we have not received, because we had no warrant in the word of God to ask the thing we did. Peradventure there was some prohibition in the Scriptures, which ought to have restrained us from offering the prayer. We have thought in our daily life, amidst the pursuits of business, that if we could gain such and such a position, then we should honour God; yet though we have sought it vigorously, and prayed about it earnestly, we have never gained it. God had never intended that we should; and, had we succeeded in compassing our own project, it might have been evil rather than advantageous, an entail of trouble instead of a heritage of joy. We were seeking great things for ourselves, we forgot that expostulation of the Lord, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not.” Do not, therefore, expect to realise all those desires which seem to you to be pure and proper. They may not happen to run in the right channel. It may be that there is a word from the Lord that forbids your ever seeing them brought to pass.

     These good women found that they had lost the presence of him who had been their greatest delight. “He is not here,” must have sounded like a funeral knell to them. They expected to find him: he was gone. But then the grief must have been taken out of their hearts when it was added, “He is risen.” I gather from this, that if God takes away from me any one good thing, he will be sure to justify himself in having so done, and that very frequently he will magnify his grace by giving me something infinitely better. Did Mary think it would be a good thing to find the dead body of her Lord? Perhaps it would have given her a kind of melancholy satisfaction. So she thought, according to her poor judgment. The Lord took that good thing away. But then Christ was risen, and now to hear of him, then presently to see him, was not that an infinitely better thing? Hast thou lost anything of late around which thy heart had intertwisted all its tendrils? Thou shalt find that there is good cause for the privation. The Lord never takes away a silver blessing without intending to confer on us a golden gain. Depend upon it, for wood he will give iron, and for iron he will give brass, and for brass he will give silver, and for silver he will give gold. All his takings are but preliminaries to larger giving. Hast thou lost thy child? What if thou find thy Lord more dear than ever? One smile of thy Lord will be better to thee than all the cheerful frolics of thy child. Is he not better to thee than ten sons? Hast thou lost the familiar companion who once cheered thee along the vale of life? Thou shalt now by that loss be driven closer to thy Saviour; his promises shall be more sweet to thee, and the Blessed Spirit shall reveal his truth more clearly to thee. Thou shalt be a gainer by thy loss. There is many a plant that has been protected by a great tree, whose spreading branches covered it from the drenching rain and the downfall of the hail. Anon, the tree has been cut down by the cruel woodman’s axe. At the fall of that tree the little plant has been ready to cry out for fear. Henceforth it will remain unprotected. Not so; these sad bodings quickly vanish; for now the sun has come upon it as it never came before, and the dews have fallen more plenteously, and the rain has penetrated to its roots; and the little tender plant springs up to a stature it could never otherwise have known, seeing it was dwarfed by the comfort it enjoyed. Thou shalt find that full many of the comforts taken from thee were drawbacks to thy high culture, and in the absence of them thou shalt get an abundant compensation, a tenfold blessing. “He is not here,”— that is sorrowful. But, “He is risen,”— this is gladsome. Christ, the dead one, thou canst not see. Thou canst not tenderly embalm that blessed body. But Christ, the living one, thou shalt see; and at his feet thou shalt be able to prostrate thyself; and from his lips thou shalt hear the gladsome words, “Go, tell my brethren that I am risen from the dead.” That lesson may be worth your remembering. If God apply it to your soul it may yield you rich comfort. Should the Lord take away one joy from you, he will give you another and a better one. “He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.” You never deny your children any pure gratification, I am sure, without intending their real good. How many of you have a way, when you put your child to a little self-denial, of making it up to him again so that he is no loser by it. And your heavenly Father will deal quite as gently and tenderly with you his children.

     With these two preliminary remarks, we proceed to our text itself. And it may be well to say that some of us have been this afternoon to the funeral of a dear friend and deacon of this church; and as such, the thoughts that stir in our breasts, and the words that will flow from our lips this evening would be more appropriate if the open grave were before us. Let us stand there in imagination; and conceive, if you will, even yonder bell,— though it often hinders our devotions so that I wonder why any Christian people need annoy other Christian people with it,— to be a funeral knell for us. Let it help to bear us on the wings of sound to the grave, that we may the better realise the position in which these meditations will be congruous to the occasion.

     The text contains, first, an assurance; and secondly, an invitation. First, an assurance: “He is not here, for he is risen secondly, an invitation: “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”

     I. The assurance: “He is not here, for he is risen.”

     Jesus Christ has really RISEN FROM THE DEAD. What though savans and sciolists have tried to prove that this well-attested fact is but a fabulous myth? There is not one doctrine of holy writ which has not been in like manner spirited away. At first they denied out and out that such things ever happened, and said that they were a pure invention. But afterwards, when abundant evidence was brought to prove a resurrection, this gross incredulity gave place to a more refined scepticism. Yet beyond a doubt it can be shown that there is as much evidence for the resurrection of Christ as for any fact in history. There is, probably, no fact in history which is so fully proven and corroborated as the fact that Jesus of Nazareth, who was nailed to the cross, and died, and was buried, did rise again. As we believe the histories of Julius Caesar— as we accept the statements of Tacitus— we are bound on the same grounds, even as historical documents, to accept the testimony of Matthew, and Mark, and Luke, and John, and of those persons who were eye-witnesses of his death, and who saw him after he had risen from the dead. That Jesus Christ rose from the dead is not an allegory and a symbol, but it is a reality. There he lay dead, friend or foe to witness,— a corpse fit to be committed to the grave. Handle him, and see. It is the very Christ you knew in life. It is the very same. Look into those eyes. Were there ever such eyes in any other human form? Behold him! You can see the impress of -sorrow on his face. Was there ever any visage so marred as his, any sorrow so real in its effects? That is the Emperor of Misery, the Prince of all Mourners, the King of Sorrow! There he lies, unmistakably the same. Now, mark the nail-prints. There went the iron through those blessed hands; and there his feet were pierced; and there is the gash that found out the pericardium, and divided the heart, and brought forth the marvellous blood and water from his side. It is he, the selfsame Christ! And the holy women lift limb by limb, and wrap him in linen, and put the spices about him, such as they had brought in their haste, and they lay him down in that place— in that new tomb.

     Now, let it be known and understood that our faith is that those very limbs that lay stiff and cold in death became warm with life again— that the very body, with its bones and blood and flesh, which lay there, became again instinct with life, and came forth into a glorious existence. Those hands broke the piece of honeycomb and the fish in the presence of the disciples; and those lips partook thereof; and he held out those wounds and said, “Beach hither thy finger, and put it into the print of the nails and he bared his side, the selfsame side, and said, “Reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.” He was no phantom, no spectre. As he himself said, “A spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have.” He was real man, as much after the resurrection as he had been before; and he is real man in glory now, even as he was when here below. He has gone up: the cloud has received him out of our sight. The selfsame Christ who said unto Peter, “Lovest thou me?”— the selfsame Jesus who said to all his disciples, “Come and dine,”— a real man has really risen from a real death into a real life. Now, we always want to have that doctrine stated to us plainly, for though we believe it we do not always realise it; and even if we have realised it, it is good to hear it again, so as to let our minds be confirmed about it. The resurrection is as literal a fact as any other fact stated in history, and is so to be believed among us. “He is not here: for he has risen.”

     Pursue the narrative, beloved, and you will see that when our Lord Jesus Christ had risen on that occasion, being quickened from the slumbers of death, it was not only true that he had really risen from the sepulchre, but he had risen in order to his being further raised up in his ascension into the glory which he now possesses at the right hand of the Father. When he had burst the iron bonds of the grave, the disciples had this for their consolation— that he was now beyond the reach of his enemies. During the few days that our Lord lingered upon earth, none of his enemies attempted to do him hurt. Against him not a dog dare move his tongue. We can scarcely tell why, but so it was. There seemed to be a remarkable acquiescence in the minds of all his foes during the time in which he sojourned amongst his people below. He was beyond the reach of his enemies. They could hurt him no more. And it is so now. He is not here, in another sense; and he is now beyond the reach of all his malignant adversaries. Does not this cheer you? It does me. No Judas can betray the Master now to be seized by Roman guards. No Pilate can now take him and suborn justice and give him over to be crucified, though he knows him to be innocent. No Herod can now mock him with his men of war: no soldiery can now spit in his dear face. Now none can buffet him, or blindfold him, and say unto him, “Prophesy who it is that smote thee.” The head, the dear majestic head, of Jesus can never now be crowned with thorns again, and the busy feet that ran on errands of mercy can never be pierced by the nails any more. Men shall no longer strip him naked, and stand and exult over his agonies. He is gone beyond their reach. Now they may rail and seek to spite him through his people, who are the members of his body. Now they may rage; but God has set him at his own right hand, and he is inaccessible to their malice. It comforts me, just as I think it would comfort the soldier in the day of battle, when he saw the fight going very hard, to feel that the commander whom he loved was out of bullet’s range. “There,” he would say, “you may smite us as you will. The bullets may rain red death through our ranks, but our commander-in-chief, upon whom all the conflict hangs, is safe.” Oh, blessed are those words, and blessed was the pen that wrote them, and blessed was the Spirit who dictated them,— “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” It matters not, dear brethren, what becomes of us poor common soldiers. We feel as if our being slandered, our being disgraced, our being persecuted, our being put to death, would not matter the turn of a straw in view of the momentous issues, so long as the head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now, and he who stood at Pilate’s bar to be condemned, now sits on his Father’s throne, waiting till he shall come to judge the princes and kings of the earth.

     With regard to our Lord’s not being here, but having risen, it should console us to think that he is now beyond all pain, as well as beyond all personal attack. I comforted myself in thus reflecting of our friend who is lately deceased. He was struck, as many of you know, suddenly with paralysis, and he has lain some six weeks. If it had pleased God he might have lain six years or sixteen years, and it would have been a very painful thing to see him with life still in the body but with a mind sorely darkened. We are thankful— I feel personally grateful to God— that our friend has fallen asleep,— that he has escaped from the miseries of this present evil life. But how much more grateful ought we to be concerning our dear Lord, whom our soul loves! Oh, can you bear to think of him, that he had not where to lay his head? Who among us would not have left his couch to give him a night’s rest?— ay, and have forsworn the bed for ever if we might have given him soft repose. Would we not ourselves have taken to the hillside, and been there all night, till our head was wet with dew, if we might have gained rest for him? He is worth ten thousand of us; and did it not seem as if it were too much for him to have to suffer— to be homeless and houseless? He hungered, brethren; he was athirst; he was weary; he was faint. He suffered our sicknesses: we are told that he took them upon himself. Often had he the heartache. He knew what “cold mountains and the midnight air” were to chill the body; and he knew what the bleak atmosphere and bitter privation were to freeze the souk He passed through innumerable griefs and woes. From the first blood-shedding at his birth, down to the last blood shedding at his death, it seemed as if sorrow had marked him as her peculiar child. Always was he troubled, tempted, vexed, assailed, assaulted, molested, by Satan, by wicked men, and by the evils that are without! Now there is no more of that for him; and we are glad that he is not here for that reason. He is no child of poverty now; no carpenter’s shop for him now; no smockfrock of the peasant, woven from the top throughout, now; no mountain-side and heather for his resting place now; no jeering crowds around him now; no stones taken up to stone him now; no sitting on the well, weary, and saying, “Give me to drink no needing that he should be supplied with food when he is hungry. Now no more can there be any scourgings and flagellations. No more will he give “his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair.” No piercing his hands and his feet now; no burning thirst upon the bloody tree; no cry of “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani.” God’s waves and billows went over him once, but no more can they assail him. He was brought into the dust of death, and his soul was exceeding sorrowful once. He is beyond all that. The sea is passed, and he has come to the Fair Havens, where no storms can beat upon him. He has reached his joy; he has entered into his rest; and he has received his reward. Brethren and sisters, let us be glad about this. Let us enter into the joy of our Lord. Let us be glad, because he is glad;— happy, because he is happy. Oh that we might feel our hearts leaping within us, though we for a little while longer are on the field of battle, because he is clean gone from it, and now is acknowledged and adored King of kings and Lord of lords.

     The fact that our Lord has risen has not only these consoling elements about it, with reference to him, but we must remember that it is the guarantee, to every one of us who believe in him, of our own resurrection. The apostle, in the first epistle to the Corinthians, makes the whole argument for the resurrection of the body hinge upon this one question— did Christ rise from the dead? If he did, then all his people must rise with him. He was a representative man, and as the Lord the Saviour rose, so all his followers must. Settle the question that Christ rose, and you have settled the question that all who are in him, and conformed to his image, must rise too

     As for ourselves, it is certain that we believers in Jesus, if we shall die and be put into the grave, will be fed upon by the worms, — will go back to mother earth and moulder. For my part, I would never wrap the body in lead, or do it up in any way that would keep it from melting back speedily to the earth from which it came. It seems fittest and holiest to let it speedily moulder back to its native dust. But here is the appointed issue. No matter what becomes of that dust, and through what transitions it may pass. It is true the roots of trees may drink up this form: it is true it may turn to grass and flowers to be fed upon by beasts: the winds may waft it thousands of miles away atom from atom: bone may be scattered from its bone: but, as surely, as the Saviour rose, we shall rise too. We say not that each actual particle of this flesh shall rise: it is not necessary for the identity of the body that it should be so; but still the body shall be identical, and the selfsame body that is sown in the earth shall rise again from the earth, in a beauty and a glory of which we know but little as yet,— be assured of it. That body of the dear child of God to which you bade farewell some years ago, shall rise again. Those eyes that you closed— those very eyes— shall see the King in his beauty in the land that is very far off. Those ears that could not hear you when you spoke the last tender word— those ears shall hear the eternal melodies. That heart that grew stone cold and still, when death laid his cold hand upon the bosom, shall beat again with newness of life, and leap with joy amidst the festivities of the home-bringing, when Christ the Bridegroom shall be married to his church, the bride. That selfsame body!— Was it not the temple of the Holy Ghost? Was it not redeemed with blood? Surely it shall rise at the trump of the archangel and at the voice of God! Be thou sure of this: be thou sure of it,— sure for thy friend and sure for thyself. And fear not death. What is it? The grave is but a bath wherein our body, like Esther, buries itself in spices to make it sweet and fresh for the embrace of the glorious King in immortality. It is but the wardrobe where we lay aside the garment for a while. It shall come forth cleansed and purified, with many a golden spangle on it which was not there before. It was a work-day dress when we put it off; it will be a Sabbath robe when we put it on, and it will be fit for Sabbath wear. We may even long for evening to undress, if there is to be such a waking and such a putting on of garments in the presence of the King.

     Further — not to linger too long on any one thought— let us remember that our Lord’s not being here, but having risen, has in it this consolatory thought, that he has gone where he can best protect our interests. He is an advocate for us. Where should the advocate be but in the King’s court? He is preparing a place for us. Where should he be who is preparing a place, but there— making it ready? We have a very active adversary, who is busy accusing us. Is it not well that we have one who can meet him face to face, and put the accuser of the brethren to silence? Methinks, if Christ were here at this very moment in proper person, we should be inclined to say to him, “Good Master, thou canst serve us well here. Thy going about to heal the sick and teach the ignorant is very blessed; and we love to see thee; the vision of thy face makes earth heaven to us; yet still, our great interests demand thy absence; for, good Lord, our prayers want some one to present them at the throne. As one by one our prayers go up to heaven, we would not have thee here, and send them away to a place where thou art not. Besides, where the enemy goes to accuse, we want thee there to defend; and since our best heritage is up above, we want a keeper who shall preserve it for us. Good Master, it is expedient that thou go away.” We have not to say that to him, for he is gone; and if ever the one Christ was of double value, if ever the advantage of his position enhanced the value of his services, it is now that he is in heaven. He would be precious here, but he is more precious there. He is doing more for us in heaven, than it could have been possible for him to do for us here below, as far as our finite intelligence can judge, and as truly as his infinite wisdom can pronounce. Meanwhile his absence is well compensated by the presence of his own Spirit; and his presence there is well consecrated by his personal administration of sacred service for our sake. All is well in heaven, for Jesus is there. The crown is safe, and the harp is secure, and the blessed heritage of each tribe of Israel all secure, for Christ is keeping it. He is, to the glory of God, the representative and preserver of his saints.

     And does not this truth, that Christ is not here, but is gone, fall upon our ears with a sweet force as it constrains us to feel that this is the reason why our heart should not be here? “He is not here:” then our heart should not be here. When this text, “He is not here,” was first spoken, it meant that he was not in the grave. He was somewhere on earth then. But now he is not here at all. Suppose you are very rich, and Satan whispers to you, “These are delightful gardens; this is a noble mansion; take thine ease — reply to him, “But he is not here; he is not here, he is risen; therefore I dare not put my heart where my Lord is not.” Or, suppose thy family make thee very happy, and, as the little ones cluster around thee and sit around the fireside, thy heart is very glad; and though thou hast not much of this world’s goods, yet thou hast enough, and thou hast a contented mind. Well, if Satan should say to thee, “Be well content, and make thy rest here,” say to him, “No, he is not here; and I cannot feel that this is to be my abiding place. Only where Jesus is can my spirit rest.” And have you lately started in life? Has the marriage day scarcely passed over? Are you just now beginning the merry days of youth, the sweet enchantment of this life’s purest joy? Well, delight thyself therein, but still remember that he is not here, and therefore thou hast no right to say, “Soul, take thine ease!” Nowhere on earth is Christ, and therefore nowhere on earth may our heart build her nest. Nowhere,— no, not in the high places, or in the quiet resting places; not in the garden of nuts, or in the beds of spices; not in the tents of Kedar, or between Solomon’s curtains; not even at his sacramental table, nor yet amongst the means of grace, is Christ bodily, actually, present. So we will take the sweetness of all, and the spiritual good there may be in all outward means; but still they shall all point us upward; they shall all draw us away. As the sun exhales the dew, and attracts it upward towards heaven, so shall Christ magnetise and draw our hearts away, and our thoughts up, and our longings up, and our whole spirits up, towards himself! “He is not here.” Then why should I be here? Oh, get thee up, my soul; get thee up, and let all thy sweetest incense go towards him who “is not here, for he is risen.”

     II. I must leave that point, and come with a few words to speak upon the second point, which is AN INVITATION. “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”

     Not, beloved, that I am going to take you to Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. About that I shall not speak much. But I think any tomb might suffice to point the same sacred moral. I felt this afternoon, while I stood by the open grave in Norwood Cemetery, as though I heard a voice saying, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” It does not matter much to us now about the precise spot. He lay in the grave: that is a prominent fact that preaches to us a pithy sermon. Any grave may well suit our purpose. In the little town of Campodolcino I once realised the tomb of Christ very vividly, in an affair which had been built for Catholic pilgrims. I was up on the hillside, and I saw written upon a wall these words, “And there was a garden.” It was written in Latin. I pushed open the door of this garden. It was like any other garden; but the moment I entered there was a hand, with the words, “And in the garden there was a new tomb.” Then I saw a tomb which had been newly painted, and when I came up to it I read thereon, “A new tomb wherein never man lay.” I then stooped down to look inside the tomb, and I read in Latin the inscription, “Stooping down, he looked, yet went he not in.” But there were the words written, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” I went in, and I saw there, graven in stone, the napkin and the linen clothes laid by themselves. I was all alone, and I read the words, “He is not here, for he is risen,” graven on the floor of the tomb. Though I dread anything scenic and histrionic and popish, yet certainly I realised very much the reality of the scene,— as I have this afternoon in standing before the open tomb. I felt that Jesus Christ was really buried, really laid in the earth, and has really gone out of it, and it is good for us to come and see the place where Jesus lay.

     Why should we see it?

     Well, first, that we may see how condescending he was that ever he should lay in the grave. He that made heaven and earth, lay in the grave. He who gave light to angels’ eyes, lay in the darkness three days. He slept in the darkness there. He without whom was not anything made that was made, was given up to death, and lay a victim of death there. Oh, wonder of wonders! Marvel of marvels! He, who had immortality and life within himself, yields himself up to the place of death!

     “Come, see the place where the Lord lay,” in the next place, to see how we ought to weep over the sin that laid him there. Did I make the Saviour lie in the grave? Was it needful that before my sin could be put away, my sweet Prince, whose beauties enchant all heaven, must be chill and cold in death, and actually be laid in the tomb? Must it be so? O ye murderous sins! Ye murderous sins! Ye cruel and cursed sins! Did ye slay my Saviour? Did ye find out that tender heart? Could ye never be content until you had led him to his death, and laid him there? Oh, come and weep, as you see the place where the Lord lay.

     “Come, see the place where the Lord lay,” that you may see where you will have to lie, unless the Lord should come on a sudden. You may take the measure of that tomb, for that is where you will have to repose. It does us good to recollect, if we have great landed estates, that six feet of earth is all that will ever be our permanent freehold. We shall have to come to it — that solitary mound, with two spears’ length of level ground:

“Princes, this clay must be your bed,
In spite of all your towers;
The tall, the wise, the reverent head
Must lie as low as ours.”

     There is no discharge in this war. To the dust return we must. So “Come, see the place where the Lord lay;” to see that thou must lie there too.

     But then, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay,” to see what good company thou wilt have there. That is where Jesus lay: doth not that comfort thee?

Why should the Christian fear the day
That lands him in the tomb;
There the dear flesh of Jesus lay,
And left a long perfume.

     What more appropriate chamber for a prince’s son to go to sleep in than the prince’s own tomb? There slept Emmanuel. There, my body, thou mayest be well content to sleep too! What more royal couch canst thou desire than the bosom of that same mother earth, whereon the Saviour was laid to rest a while? Think, beloved, of the ten thousand saints that have gone that way to heaven. Who shall dread to go where all the flock have gone? Thou one poor timid sheep, if thou alone hadst to go through this dark valley, thou mightest well be afraid; but, oh, in addition to thy Shepherd, who marches at the head of all the flock, listen to the footsteps of the innumerable sheep that follow him. And some were very dear to thee, and fed in the same pasture with thee. Dost thou dread to go where they have gone? No; see the place where Jesus lay, to see what good company is to be had, though it may seem to be in a dark chamber.

     “Come, see the place where the Lord lay,” to sec that thou canst not lie there long. It is not the place where Jesus is. He is gone, and thou art to be with him where he is. Come and look at this tomb. There is no door to it. There was one; it was a huge rock, a monstrous stone, and none could move it. It was sealed. Seest thou not how they have set the stamp of the Sanhedrim, the stamp of the law, upon the seal, to make it sure, that none should move it? But now, if thou wilt go to the place where Jesus lay, the seal is broken, the guards are fled, the stone is gone. Such will thy tomb be. It is true they will cover thee up, and lay on the sods of green turf. If thou art wise thou wilt prefer these things to the heavy slabs of stone they sometimes lay upon the dead. That sweet mound, with here and there a daisy, like the eye of earth looking up to heaven asking mercy, or smiling in joy of expectation— there, there wilt thou sleep; but just as in the morning thou dost but open thine eyes and the curtains are updrawn, and thou comest forth, none standing in thy way, to do the labour of the day, so, when the trump of the resurrection sounds, thou wilt rise out of thy bed in perfect liberty, none hindering thee, to see the light of the day that shall go no more down for ever. You have nothing to confine you. Bolt and bar there are none: guard and watchman none; stone and seal none. “Come, see the place where Jesus lay.” I would not care to go to bed in a prison, where there stood a turnkey with his iron key to fasten me in. But I am not afraid to go to sleep in the chamber out of which I can come at the morning’s call a perfectly free man! And such art thou, beloved, if thou be a believer. Thou comest to lie in a place that is open and free— a fit slumbering place for the Lord’s free men.

     “Come, see the place where the Lord lay,” in order to celebrate the triumph over death. If Miriam sang at the Red Sea we also may sing at Jesus’ tomb. If she said, “Sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously,” shall not we say the same? If all the hosts of Israel went out with her, the women with dances, and the strong men with their voices, in the song, so let all Israel go forth this day, and bless and praise the Lord, saying, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” The place where Jesus lay has told us that —

“Vain the watch, the stone, the seal!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell.”

Now let us sing unto him, and give him all the praise.

     I was thinking to say to you, beloved, let us come and see the place where Jesus lay, to weep there for our sins; let us come and see the place where Jesus lay, to die there to our sins; let us come and see the place where Jesus lay, to be buried there with him; let us come and see the place where Jesus lay, to rise from that place to newness of life, and find our way through resurrection-life into the ascension-life in which we shall sit in the heavenly place, and look down upon the things of earth with joyous contempt, knowing that he hath lifted us up far above them, and made us to be partakers of brighter bliss than this earth can ever know. But I will forbear.

     I have done. I would to God that all here present had some share in this. You all have a share in dying. There is a tree growing out of which your coffin will be made; or perhaps it is already cut down and seasoning against the time when it shall make you a timber-suit— the last suit that you shall ever need. There is a spot of earth that must be shovelled out for you to be laid into to fill up the vacuum. And your soul shall live: your soul shall never die. Let not those who tell you of annihilation be believed for a moment. It must exist. Put it to yourself whether it shall be with the worm that never dieth and the fire that never shall be quenched, or with Christ who liveth in his glory, and who shall come a second time to give glory to his people and raise their bodies like his own. Oh, it will all hinge on this— “Dost thou believe in Jesus?” If thou dost, thou mayest welcome life and welcome death, and welcome resurrection, and welcome immortality. But if thou believest not, then a blast has come upon thee, and to thee it is terrible to die. It is terrible even to live; more terrible to die; it will be terrible to rise again; it will be terrible to be damned, and that for ever I God save thee from it, for Christ’s sake! Amen.



Our Gifts, and How to Use Them

By / Jun 22

Our Gifts, and How to Use Them

 

“Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God. which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.”— 2 Timothy i. 6.

 

I SUPPOSE that Timothy was a somewhat retiring youth and that from the gentleness of his nature he needed to be exhorted to the exercise of the bolder virtues. He is bidden not to be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, and to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. He is called to the front though his modesty would have kept him in the rear, and he is exhorted to command and teach, suffering no man to despise his youth. Perhaps, also, he was not a man of very vigorous action, and needed every now and then a little touch of the spur to induce him to put forth all his dormant energy and keep himself and his church thoroughly up to the mark in labour for Christ. His was a choice spirit, and therefore it was desirable to see it strong, brave, and energetic. No one would wish to arouse a bad man, for like a viper he is all the worse for being awake; but in proportion to the excellence of the character is the desirability of its being full of force. The apostle Paul tells Timothy, in his first epistle, not to neglect the gift that is in him, and in the text before us he bids him stir up that gift: in each case he is sounding the trumpet in his ear, and summoning him to intense action.

     He speaks of the gift that was conferred by the laying on of his hands, and in the former epistle he connects that with the hands of the presbytery. Now, it was no doubt the custom to lay on hands at the ordination of Christian ministers by the apostles, and there was an excellent reason for it, for gifts were thereby conveyed to the ordained, and when we can find anybody who can thereby confer some spiritual gift upon us, we shall be glad to have their hands laid on our heads; but empty hands we care not for. Rites cease when their meaning ceases. If practised any longer they gender to superstition, and are fit instruments of priestcraft. The upholding of the hands of the eldership, when they give their vote to elect a man to the pastorate, is a sensible proceeding; and is, I suspect, all the apostle means when he speaks of the presbytery; but empty hands it seems to me are fitly laid on empty heads, and to submit to an empty ceremony is the idlest of all idle waste of time. If Paul were here, and could confer a gift, we should rejoice to receive it; yea, and if the meanest man in Christendom, or woman either, could confer the smallest drachma of grace by the putting on of their hands, we would bow our head in the lowliest manner; till then we shall beg to decline submitting to the imposition, or assisting in it. For this reason, and others, we cannot use the text exactly as it stands in addressing this congregation, but leaving out the reference to laying on of hands, we may honestly, without violation of the current of inspiration, proceed to exhort each one of you to stir up the gift that is in you.

     There are many kinds of gifts. All Christians have some gift. Some may have but one talent, but all have one at the least. The Great Householder has apportioned to every servant a talent. No single part of a vital body is without its office. True, there are some parts of the body whose office has not been discovered; even the physician and the anatomist have not been able to tell why certain organs are in the human frame, or what office they serve, but as even these are found to be necessary, we are quite sure that they fulfil some useful purpose. Truly, there are some Christians who might be put in that category: it might puzzle anybody to know what they are capable of; and yet it is certain they have some charge committed to them to keep, and that, if true believers, they are essential parts of the body of Christ. As every beast, bird, fish, and insect, has its own place in nature, so has every Christian a fit position in the economy of grace. No tree, no plant, no weed, could be dispensed with without injury to nature’s perfectness; neither can any sort of gift or grace be lost to the church without injury to her completeness. Every living saint has his charge to keep— his talent, over which he is a steward. A measure of gift is in all of us, needing to be stirred up.

     Some have gifts without them rather than within them— gifts, for instance, of worldly position, estate and substance. These ought to be well used, and considering that in these times we have a starving world to deal with, and that one of the great impediments to the spread of the gospel is with some of us the lack of means for the maintenance of those who should preach the word, it does seem a strange thing that professors should lay by God’s money and use it as if it were their own. When for our orphans, our students, our colporteurs, and our missionaries, we need funds, how can men love the Lord with all their hearts, and yet keep their thousands cankering at their bankers, or their tens resting in their purses? They have not learned to provide for themselves bags that wax not old. They do not understand that to keep their money they must give it away, that truly to preserve it they must dedicate it to God. For that which is kept by the miserly for themselves is not really preserved, but wasted. That which is expended in the Master’s service is laid up in heaven, where neither moth nor rust can corrupt. But I am not going to speak about that: I have not much reason to speak upon that subject to those who are immediately connected with me, for I have rather to praise you than to upbraid. Most of our dear friends here do serve the Lord with the gifts that are outside of them— not all as we should, but many with more than ordinary liberality, and some up to the full measure of their means, if not beyond them. There are, however, exceptions to all rules; and there are a few who attend this place who need more than a gentle hint to excite anything like generosity in them. But we must go at once to the point in hand;— “the gift that is in you,” we have now to speak of.

     First, the gift that may be in each one of us; and then, secondly, how we are to stir this gift up; and in conclusion, we will give reasons for the stirring of it.

     I. First, then, WHAT GIFT IS THERE IN US? In some here present there are gifts of mind, which are accompanied with gifts of utterance. It is no mean thing to be able to read the Scriptures and to see their inner meaning, to be able to compare spiritual things with spiritual, and to be so taught in other matters, that we are able to see the hand of God in history, and can upon all such subjects speak to edification. It is not every one who has mind who has also the gift of utterance, but where God is pleased to give to any man mind and mouth, he possesses a gift which he ought abundantly to use. Many a man is mighty in the Scriptures, but not eloquent: when the two things meet, as in Apollos, and are combined with a fervent spirit, a man of God has power indeed. May I suggest that every Christian man here who is possessed of the faculty of eloquent discourse is bound to use it for Jesus Christ. Some young men spend their evenings in Debating Societies and the like, and I have not a word to say against that, but I have this to say— whatever you may do with this talent in other directions, the Lord, who has bought you with his blood if you are a Christian man, has the first claim upon you, and you are bound to use your powers of utterance in his cause. “But I am not a minister!” What do you mean by that? Do you find anything in Scripture about clergy and laity? If so, you have read it with different eyes from mine. There were men called especially to the oversight of the Church and the preaching of the word, but everyone according to his gift had also a call, and there is no man in the Church of God who has ability to speak who has any license to be silent. Not only the golden-mouthed orators, but the silver-tongued speakers— men of the second as well as of the first order— should serve in the gospel of the Son of God. I shall not ask any young man whether he ought to preach, but whether he can prove that he ought not. Every man is bound to tell another who is in danger to escape from that danger. Everyone who has recovered from a dreadful disease is bound to tell others what remedy was made effectual in his case. Nothing can excuse us from, in some way or other, spreading abroad the gospel of Jesus Christ; and, if we have the ability to speak, it will go hard at last with us if we have been silent with our fellow men. The stones in the street might surely cry out against some religious professors who make the Houses of Parliament, the Council-chamber, the Courts of Justice, the Athenaeum, or the Mechanics’ Hall, ring with their voices, and yet preach not Jesus — who can argue points of politics and the like, but not speak a word for Christ,— eloquent for the world, but dumb for Jesus. From this may God deliver us! If thou hast any gift, young man, come out and use it — or old man either, if thou hast laid it by till late in the day. In these straitened times when the harvest is ripe and the labourers are few, let every man that has his sickle come forth into the field. Let no man say, “I pray thee have me excused,” but by the blood that bought you, if ye have tasted of the water of life cry aloud and spare not, and be this your message— “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”

     There are numbers of believers who have not the gift of utterance with the tongue, who nevertheless can speak very fluently and admirably with the pen. If, then, you have the gift of the pen, are you using it for Christ as you ought? I want to stir up the gift that is in you. Letters have often been blessed to conversions; are you accustomed to write with that view? Perhaps you are a great contributor to the postal revenue; let me ask you what sort of matter it is with which you burden her Majesty’s mails? Do you write letters to your children and friends full of loving testimony to what the grace of God has done for you? If you have not done so, dear friends, try at once. Jesus needs consecrated pens, and in his name I claim your service. The writing of tracts, and the dissemination of holy truth by means of the press, are most important,— any person who has any gifts in that direction should be sure to use them. Why are writers upon religion often so dull, while the world commands talent and vivacity? What thousands of pens are running every day upon the idlest nonsense, and making booksellers’ shelves groan with the literature of fiction! Are there none who, with splendour of diction or in humbler guise, could write interestingly of the gospel, and tell of its power among the sons of men? If there be in the tribe of Zebulun any that handle the pen of the ready writer, let them not keep back from the help of the Lord— the help of the Lord against the mighty.

     Another form of gift that belongs to us is influence. We have all of us influence of some sort,— some more, some less. What an influence the parent has. To a great extent you mould your children’s lives. Some of us owe what we never can repay to our mothers. What they have done for us shall make us grateful to them even when they shall slumber in the dust. The nurse girl who has the care of little children should be very careful, for a remark she may make without intention may shape the character,— ay, mar or bless the child’s character throughout eternity. And you who associate daily with working men— is there enough among Christian masters of earnest zeal to use a holy and affectionate influence among the employed? If classes are alienated one from the other, as it is to be feared they are, is it not because we meet each other just as a matter of business, and that there is little of anything like Christian affection and communion between the one and the other? Indeed some scout the idea as ridiculous, and tell me I know very little of the world to dream of such a thing. I will leave that question to the day which shall reveal all things, and I think I know who will prove to be right. Let every one of us reckon up what influence he has, and having done so, let us ask God’s grace that we may use it aright. I shall not go into details here. You are all affecting those round about you for good or evil. As Christian men you are either leading others to Christ even unconsciously, or else you are deadening: their consciences, and leading: them to think there is not much in religion after all; and surely you would not wish to do that. You have the gift of influence: I would stir you up to use it.

     Many of the elder members of the church have another gift, namely, experience. Certainly, experience cannot be purchased, nor taught; it is given us of the Lord who teacheth us to profit. It is a peculiar treasure each man wins for himself as he is led through the wilderness. An experienced Christian is put in the church on purpose that he may guide the inexperienced; that he may help those who are distressed with a word of comfort derived from his own experience of God’s helping hand in time of trouble, that he may warn the heedless by the mischiefs he himself has suffered through carelessness. Now, when an experienced Christian merely uses his experience for his own comfort, or as a standard by which to judge his fellow Christians, or makes use of it for self-exaltion as though he were infinitely superior to the most zealous young men, such a man mars his talent, does mischief with it, and makes himself heavily responsible. Dear brethren and sisters, I, who am so young in years compared with many of you, beseech you who have long walked in the ways of godliness to use your experience continually in your visitation of the sick, in your conversations with the poor, in your meetings with young beginners, in your dealings with backsliders, let your paths drop fatness; let the anointing God has given you fall upon those who are round about you. May you be of such a sort as a certain clergyman I heard of the other day. I asked a poor woman “What sort of man is he?” She said, “He is such a sort of man, sir, that if he comes to sec yon you know he has been there.” I understood what she meant: he left behind him some godly saying, weighty advice, holy consolation, or devout reflection, which she could remember after lie had left her cottage door. May our venerable friends always have this said of them.

     Another gift which many have is the gift of prayer— of prayer with power, in private for the church and with sinners. There be some who have learned by long practice how to knock at heaven’s door, so as to get a readier opening of the door than others. Numbers of these have coupled with this the gift of utterance in public prayer. Such dear friends ought not to be absent from the prayer meeting, except when absolute necessity compels. They should not only be content with coming to prayer meetings that are established, but they should stir up the gift that is in them, and try to establish others in neglected places. There was never a period when the church had too much prayer. “The Sacraments,” as they are called, may have been unduly exalted, but who has ever unduly exalted prayer. Bible-readings may degenerate into mere discussion, and even preaching into a show of oratory; but prayer has vital elements about it which survive many an injury. Alas! Alas! for churches that have given up prayer meetings. You shall judge of the presence of God by the prayer meeting, as accurately as you shall judge the temperature of the air by the thermometer. It is one of the truest signs that God is with the people when they pray, and it is one of the darkest signs that he has departed when prayer is lacking. You who have sweet communion with God in private, look upon your prevalence on the knee not only as a blessing for yourselves, but as a gift that is bestowed upon you for the good of others. There is another gift which is a very admirable one. It is the gift of conversation, not a readiness for chit chat and gossip— (he who has that wretched propensity may bury it in the earth and never dig it up again)— but the gift of leading conversation, of being what George Herbert called the “master-gunner;” when we have that, we should most conscientiously use it for God. There lived some fifty years or so ago a set of great table-talkers, who were asked out to dine because of their lively conversational powers. Now if this be in any of you never waste it in mere pleasantries, but say something worth the saying, and aim at the highest results. Remember Jesus was a mighty table-talker, as the Evangelists take care to note. I wish I could with discreet adroitness break in upon a conversation in a railway carriage and turn it round to the Saviour — turn it round to something worth speaking of. I often envy those of my brethren who can go up to individuals and talk to them with freedom. I do not always find myself able to do so, though when I have been divinely aided I have had a large reward. When a Christian man can get hold of a man and talk to him, it is like one of the old men-of-war laying alongside a French ship and giving her a broadside, making every timber shiver, and at last sending her to the bottom. How many a soul has been brought to Christ by the loving personal exhortations of Christian people who know how to do it? To be able, like Elijah, to stretch yourselves upon the dead child, to put your hands upon his hands, your feet upon his feet and breathe the life by God’s help into the dead — oh, some of you can do this better, perhaps, than those who are called to speak to hundreds and thousands. Do use it if you have the ability; and try to get the ability if you have it not. Peradventure you possess it, and have not found it out. No unconverted person should come to this place without your speaking to him; and as to a person attending the Tabernacle three Sabbath days without being spoken to by some Christian, it ought to be an impossibility, and would be if all were in a right warm-hearted state, earnestly desiring the salvation of others. May God teach us, if we can converse personally with individuals, to furbish up the gift, keep it in good condition, and continually use it.

     My inventory of the gifts which are in us is not complete, nor is it intended to be. Each person may have a separate gift. Even the gift to be able to lie still and suffer is not a small one. The gift of being able to be poor and contented is not to be despised. The gift of nursing the sick, or of interesting children, should be lovingly employed, neither ought any talent to be wrapped in a napkin. But, whatever it is, the word is, “Stir up the gift which is in thee.”

     II. And this brings us, secondly, to the consideration of— now WE ARE TO STIR UP OUR GIFTS.

     First, we should do it by examination to see what gifts we really have. There should be an overhauling of all our stores to see what we have of capital entrusted to our stewardship. May I ask you for a minute to sit quietly and take stock of all God has given you. Remember you shall assess yourself, for I am sure your manhood, not to say your self-esteem, will not let you put yourself down as utterly without gifts. If somebody were to speak of you depreciatingly, you would very soon defend yourself, and argue for your own capacity in many departments. I would put you on your mettle, and bring you to acknowledge your capabilities. Now think of all the abilities you have, dear brother, dear sister. What has God trusted you with? Add up each item, and compute the total sum. What trading-money hast thou of thy Lord’s? To whom much is given, of him much will be required. What, then, has been given to thee? Such an enquiry will help you to stir up the gift that is in you. The self-examination of every mental faculty, every spiritual attainment, every form of characteristic force or individual influence, will be an excellent commencement for a more vigorous course of action. Enquire what you can do, what more you could do, what more you might learn to do, what more you ought at least to attempt. Diminish nothing from the just amount of your possibilities; and it will greatly tend to stir you up, if you then enquire, “How far have I done what I could do? How far have I used all that has been committed to me? How much of my life has been allowed to rust, and how much has been made bright by wear and tear in the service of the Master?” It is not a pleasant duty to which I have invited you. You would be much more gratified if I asked you to consider some precious promise of the covenant, and certainly I should find it more consolatory to myself, but this is necessary. Sweet things are pleasant, but sharp things are often the more beneficial. Pillows for our heads are not our main desire; we wish, as soldiers of the cross, to be found faithful first of all and above all. We shall have to give an account before God. Oh, let us give an account before ourselves now, in the forum of our own conscience, and so stir up the gift that is in us.

     The next mode of stirring up our gift is to consider to what use we could put the talents we possess. To what use could I put my talents in my family? Am I doing all I could for the children? Have I laboured all I ought for my wife’s conversion— my husband’s conversion? Then about the neighbourhood— is there nothing more that I could do for the salvation of my poor godless neighbours? Perhaps I see them drunken, profane, unchaste, irreligious, full of all manner of disobedience to God, can I not by God’s grace uplift them? They never come to a place of worship: have I done all I could to get them there? I was not placed in that neighbourhood without an object. If it is a dark part of London, I am put there to be a lamp if I am a Christian. Am I shining, then? Some people prefer to live where there is light, and for themselves the choice is wise; but methinks, for usefulness, loving hearts might prefer to live in bad districts that they might do good. Are you doing all you can for Jesus? Come, answer like an honest man! Having done so, I have more work for your self-inspection. Will you examine yourself in every relation in which you stand. As a master, stir up your gift in reference to those you employ. As a servant, stir up the gift towards your fellow servants. As a trader, stir up your gift in reference to those with whom you come in contact. Are you a sailor? Have you stepped in here to-night? What an opportunity you have, my friend, in landing on many shores, of doing something for Christ, here and there and everywhere. Are you a commercial traveller, and do you go to many places? Surely you might travel for our Lord with gospel wares, to be distributed without money and without price, and yet attend to your own calling none the less. If our churches were in a right state of spiritual health, men would not first say, “What can I do to make money?” but “What can I do to serve Christ, for I will take up a trade subserviently to that.” But if we cannot bring men to that point, we must at least say (to all of you who profess to be Christians, at any rate), in whatever condition you are placed, high or low, rich or poor, you should live unto Christ. You should each enquire, “What can I do for the Lord in my present condition? What peculiar service does my position involve?” In this way, dear friends, stir up the gift that is in you.

     But, next, stir it up not merely by consideration and examination, but by actually using it. We talk much of working, but working is better than talking about working: “to get really at it, and to do something for soul-winning and spreading abroad the glory of God, is infinitely better than planning and holding committees. Away with windbags, let us get to acts and deeds. None of us know what we can do till we try. The sportsman will tell you that there may be many birds in a field, but you know not how many till you walk through, and then you discover them and see them on the wing. When the wheel turns you will be able to see the force of the current. You will see the speed of the horse when you put him to his best. Work, work! and the tool that is blunt will get an edge by being used. Shine, and the light you have shall grow in the very act of shining! He who has done one thing will find himself capable of doing two; and doing two will be able to accomplish four; and having achieved the four will soon go on to twelve, and from twelve to fifty; and so by growing multiples he will enlarge his power to serve God by using the ability he has.

     Does this tire you? Does my subject seem too much like salvation by works? Nothing is further from my thoughts, I am not now speaking upon salvation at all, neither am I addressing those who are seeking after salvation; I am speaking to you who have been saved already by the grace of God. You are saved, and on that point all is done. You are resting in the finished work of Christ. Should it ever seem hard to you to be stirred up to serve him? Let the vision of his tearful face come up to you. Behold his thorn-crowned brow! Let him turn his back on you, and mark the gashes the Roman scourges made. Look at him — a spectacle of blood and love! And is it possible that any service for him can by you be considered hard? To burn at a stake! if we could do it a thousand times, he well deserves that we should make the sacrifice! To give him every pulse, and every drop of blood, and every breath we breathe— he well deserves it; glory be to his name, he merits our all a thousand times over. I shall not fear to press upon you again and again and again, that you use the gifts which are in you by actual service of so precious a master.

     And then, dear friends, in addition to using our gift, every one of us should try to improve it. We have for years endeavoured to stir up the young Christians of this congregation to educate themselves. By our evening classes it is intended that young men who preach in the street may get education in order to preaching better the gospel of Christ; and out of this congregation have gone hundreds whom God has owned as ministers of Christ, and many such are being trained now; I would have every man put himself in training. I think every man ought to feel, “I have been Christ’s man with two talents; I will be Christ’s man with ten if I can. If now I do not thoroughly understand the doctrines of his gospel, I will try to understand them; I will read , and search, and learn.” We want an intelligent race of Christians, not an affected race of boasters of culture, mental fops, who pretend to know a great deal and know nothing; but we need hard students of the word, adepts in theology, like the Puritans of old. Romanism will never do much with people who know the doctrines of the word of God; it is a bat, and hates sunlight. Every one of us ought to be students and learners, trying to get more ability for usefulness as well as to be built up ourselves in our most holy faith. To the younger members of our churches especially we speak this. Give yourselves to reading, study, and prayer. Grow mentally and spiritually. You teach in the class; you do well, but could not you do better if you knew more? And if you address children in the Sabbath schools we are glad of it, but would you not do that better if you studied more perfectly the truth of God? Apollos was not ashamed to be taught, nor need the most successful labourer be ashamed to learn. Improve your gift, for that is one way of stirring it up.

     And then pray over your gifts: that is a blessed way of stirring them up— to go before God, and spread out your responsibilities before him. In my own case I have often to cry, “Lord, thou hast given me this congregation, and O it is hard to be clear of the blood of them all, and to speak with affection, and prudence, and courage to all, so as not to leave one unwarned, unhelped, untaught. Help me, my Lord, that I may leave no one without his portion of meat in due season. Who is sufficient for these things? Only thy grace is sufficient for me.” It stirs one up to preach with all his might, when he has laid before God in prayer his weakness, and the ability which God has given him, too, and asked that the weakness may be consecrated to God’s glory and the ability accepted to the Lord’s praise. Should we not do just the same, whatever our calling is— take it to the Lord and say, “Assist me, great God, to live to thee. If thy grace in me be only as a handful of meal and a little oil; make it hold out— make it hold out. It is not much I can do, my Master; help me to do it well, and to continue steadfast and unwearied in it.” Pray over yourself, as it were: put your whole self upon the altar, and then let the drink-offering be the pouring out of your tears before God in prayer that he would be pleased to accept you, to qualify you, to anoint you, to direct you, and bless you in all that you do. This would be the most excellent manner of stirring up the gift that is in you. O Spirit of the living God, lead all thy people to downright, earnest, and actual service of the Redeemer, and especially work in us to that end.

     III. I will not linger longer there, but close with the third observation: WHY IS IT THAT WE SHOULD STIR UP THE GIFT THAT IS IN us. There are many replies to this. One or two will answer our purpose.

     We should stir up the gift that is in us, because all we shall do when we have stirred ourselves to the utmost, and when the Spirit of God has strengthened us to the highest degree, will still fall far short of what our dear Lord and Master deserves at our hands. Ah! what must Jesus think of us when he remembers his own love. Was there ever such a contrast between his furnace heated seven times hotter, and our iceberg spirits? He spared not himself, and we are always sparing ourselves. He gives us everything to the last rag, and hangs naked on the cross: we keep almost all to ourselves, and count self-sacrifice to be hard. He labours, is weary, and yet ceases not: we are a little weary, and straightway we faint. He continued to preach on, notwithstanding all the ill return men made; but we take offence and throw up our work, because we are not appreciated as we should be. Oh, the little things which put some workers out of temper and out of heart. Oh, the looks or the not-looks, the words, or the silence, that will make some spirits give up any place, and any service, and any work. “Forbearing one another ” seems to have gone out of fashion with many people. “Forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you,” is forgotten. Brethren and sisters, if being door mats for Christ for all the church to wipe their feet upon would honour him, we ought to think it a great glory to be so used. Among genuine Christians the contention is for the lowest place: among sham Christians the controversy is for the higher positions. Some will ask the question now-a-days — “Which is the higher office— that of elder or deacon,” and so on. Oh, what triviality! When the Master was going up to Jerusalem to die, there was a contention among the disciples which of them should be the greatest; and so it is with us; at times when grace is low, our opinion of ourselves is very high, and then our love to Christ is little, so that we soon take affront, and are quick to resent any little insults, as we think them to be, where perhaps nothing of the kind was meant. Beloved, may we be saved from all this littleness of soul!

     And remember what obligations we are under to our Master— how we should have been dead in trespasses and sins but for him— how we should have been in hell but for him — how our expectations to-night would have been “a fearful looking for of judgment and of fiery indignation but for him;” but we are washed and cleansed, and on the way to heaven, and we owe it all to him. Therefore let us stir up the gift that is in us, and serve him with all our might.

     Another reason is that these are stirring times. If we are not stirring everybody else is. The church of God, it seems to me, is travelling along the road to heaven in a broad-wheel waggon, and all the world is going its own way by express speed. If men become at all earnest in the cause of God, wordly critics shout out “Fanaticism! Excitement!” Did you ever stand on the Paris Bourse— ever hear the raving, raging excitement of those stock-jobbers as they are trying to buy various forms of scrip! Nobody says, “Look at these men! See how fanatical they are!” No, they expect to see excitement on the Bourse; but if we were half as excited for God and his gospel, there would be a hue and cry all over the country, “Here’s a set of madmen! Here’s a set of fanatics let loose.” Of good Mr. Howland Hill they said, “The dear old gentleman’s too earnest.” “Why, said he, “when I was at Wotton-under-Edge I saw a piece of a gravel pit fall in upon two or three men, when I was walking by, so I went into Wotton as fast as my aged legs could carry me, and I shouted with all my might ‘Help! Help! Help!’ and nobody said “the dear old man’s too earnest.” Oh, no; you may be as earnest as you like about saving people’s lives, but if their souls awaken your sympathy, some lukewarm professor or other is sure to be ready with a wet blanket to cool your ardour. And yet were there ever times in which the wheels of life revolved so swiftly as now. The world marches with giant strides: everybody is up and awake, but the church is asleep to a great extent. For other things men labour, and tug, and toil, and make sacrifices; for an idea they slaughter their fellow-creatures; for the unity of a race they fatten fields with blood, and make rivers run with gore; but to preach Christ, and snatch sinners from the jaws of hell, they require of us to be chilled, and insist that we must not be too earnest, we must not go too fast; we must be prudent, we must be cool! From “prudence” and “coolness ” good Lord deliver us! From “decorum” and “propriety” (wherein they stand in the way of our winning souls) good Lord deliver us! And from every conventionality, and every idol that has been set up among us, which prevents our being thoroughly useful and grandly serviceable to the cause of God, good Lord deliver us! Because these are stirring times, we ought to stir up the gift that is in us.

     And then, again, we must stir up our gift because it needs stirring. The gifts and graces of Christian men are like a coal fire which frequently requires stirring as well as feeding with fuel. You must not stir it up too much; the poker docs not give heat; and, stirring up a man of itself does not make him better; indeed, it is as injurious to a weak man to stir him up as it would be to an expiring fire in the grate; but yet there must be stirring, and fires go out sometimes for the want of it. There are times with us when we become dull and heavy, doing little or nothing,— restless, indifferent,— and then it is that we require rebuking. If there be a solid bottom of real grace in us, we only need the poker that we be stirred up, and straightway the fire begins to burn. How I like to stir some of you up! I remember a dear brother dropping in one Thursday night to hear the word preached— an excellent Christian, but sluggish, and the Lord touched his heart with the word spoken, and he began to preach in the streets of the city where he resides. He has now one of the largest houses of prayer, and God has given him hundreds of souls. He only wanted stirring up. Is there no other brother here, who, hearing this earnest word, shall find it like a live coal from off the altar, touching his lips and moving him to go forth and preach the word, and serve his Master according to his ability. We must then, dear friends, stir ourselves up, because if we do not, we may lose the faculty, and rob ourselves of the power of usefulness. The knife which is not used loses its edge, and the man who does not work for God loses much of his ability to do so in the future.

     I shall give you another reason, and that is this. If we will but stir ourselves, beloved, or rather, if God’s Holy Spirit will but stir us, we, as a church may expect very great things. lean hardly tell you how comforted I felt last Monday evening. I said on Sabbath day, “The Eiders and Deacons will meet to pray, and those of you who love souls and are concerned about them will kindly come too, at six o’clock.” I was glad to see many of you who I know love the Lord fervently, and through that warm prayer meeting which we had before our more public gathering, we felt that we had laid hold upon our God. I know there is a blessing coming. Tam sure of it. I hear “a sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees.” The Lord is with us. He never made his people agonize in secret, and join together publicly in deep soul earnestness, without intending to bless them. We might as well fear when the months are warm, that there will be no ripening of the wheat, as to say when Christian’s hearts are warm towards God that there will be no conversions. It can’t be. Enquiring saints always make enquiring sinners. If we enquire of God for sinners, sinners will soon enquire for themselves. Up, therefore; up, therefore, beloved! Bestir yourselves, for God is stirring us.

     And remember, there will be a great stir by-and-bye. Business will all end; politics will be done with, and all the matters in which you are concerned will be closed eternally. What a stir there will be in that day, when We shall stand before the Judgment seat of Christ to give an account of the deeds done in the body! What a stir about ourselves! What a stir about others! Where will they be? Will they be on the right hand, or on the left? Shall I see my boys in heaven, or will they be cast out? What a stir there will be about your husband or your wife! What a stir there will be about your neighbours! Think of it! Think of it, I say, and be stirred now! If they die as they are, they will be damned: they must be. They must sink into hell! There is no hope of their escape if they die unsaved. What a stir there will be throughout all the nations in that day! And, surely, if we look at it in the light of eternity, in the light of that tremendous day when Christ, with clouds, shall come; we shall feel that there is nothing worth living for but serving God; that the very core and centre of all life is to bring glory to God by bringing sinners to Jesus Christ. God grant you may live as if you expected to die. We ought always to preach as though we should go out of the pulpit into heaven, always to pray in that way; and always to spend every day as if we had not another day to spend. For this we need much of the Holy Spirit’s power. But he rests upon his people. May he come and rest upon us now, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.



The Secret Food and the Public Name

By / Jun 22

The Secret Food and the Public Name

 

“Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of Hosts.” — Jeremiah xv. 16.

 

JEREMIAH had been greatly persecuted for his faithfulness in delivering the word of God. He tells us the reason for his continuance in a work which brought him so sorrowful a reward. He gives us to understand that he had been faithful in delivering God’s word, because that word had been overpoweringly precious to his own soul. He could not do otherwise than speak the truth, because that truth had been his own daily food. He had met with nothing but ill-treatment from those whom he addressed; they had vilified him in every way; he had been put into the most noisome dungeon; he had been denied even bread and water; everything short of actually putting him to death had been inflicted upon him by his ungrateful countrymen; but still he went on prophesying. He could not be silent. Though his prophesying brought him nothing but tears, yet he continued still to prophesy; for God’s word came with such sweetness to his own soul, and filled his heart with such ravishing joy and delight, that he could not do otherwise than go and tell out among his fellow men what had been so delightful to himself. I believe this to be the secret of every living ministry. The ministry that is fed upon flattery, and flatters those who flatter it, is a poor feeble counterfeit, and God will never bless it; but the ministry which under great difficulties and fierce opposition is still sustained because the preacher cannot help continuing in it is that which God will bless. It was good advice of a venerable divine to a young man who aspired to be a preacher, when he said to him, “Don’t become a minister if you can help it.” The man who could very easily be a tradesman or a merchant had better not be a minister. A preacher of the gospel should always be a volunteer, and yet he should always be a pressed man, who serves his King because he is omnipotently constrained to do so. Only he is fit to preach who cannot avoid preaching, who feels that woe is upon him unless he preach the gospel, and that the very stones would cry out against him if he should hold his peace. I have said that Jeremiah lets us into a secret. His outer life, consisting in his perpetual faithful ministry, was to be accounted for by his inward love of the word which he preached. Depend upon it, this secret unriddles all true spiritual life. If ever you see any one who walks in holiness stand fast in temptation, and is upheld under affliction, you may rest assured there is a something about him that is not perceived by every eye ; there is a secret which the world knoweth not of,— a hidden fountain, which sustains the stream of his life,— an invisible spring of vitality which keeps him vigorous even in the midst of surrounding death Bunyan’s metaphor was, that he saw a fire which was burning under singular circumstances, for one stood before it who continually threw water upon it to quench it, but though he did so, yet the fire was not put out. Christian could not understand the marvel till the Interpreter took him behind the wall, and there he saw one that cast oil upon the fire as perseveringly as the enemy cast the water, so that the fire being secretly nourished could not be extinguished. Every Christian’s life is of that sort: there is abundance to destroy it, but, if it be sustained, there is a secret something which keeps that soul alive unto God and persevering to the end.

     We shall, then, to-night speak about the secret life of the believer, and afterwards upon his public life. His secret life is described in this way: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.” That was for himself alone. In the next sentence you have his public life, his manifestation before men — “For I am called by thy name O Jehovah, God of hosts.”

     I. Now observe that in the description of Jeremiah’s SECRET LIFE, which consists of his inward reception of the word of God (which description will answer for ourselves) we have three points, — the finding of God's word, the eating of it, and the rejoicing in it with all his heart.

     First, you have the finding of it— “Thy words were found.” Now we have not to find God’s word as Jeremiah had, by waiting until the Spirit of God reveals fresh truth, for the Spirit of God now reveals no fresh truth to us. He takes of the things of Christ— the things which are revealed in the Scriptures— and opens them and applies them to us. We are not to expect any addition to the sacred canon: the book is finished, and there shall be nothing added thereto. We have not to find God’s word therefore in that respect. If any man comes to me and says, “I have God’s word for you”—if he speaks not according to this book you may know at once that he is a liar, and that his utterance is a vain imagination. Yea, though he should come with pretended miracles and should boast proudly of his visions, yet is he to be rejected, for Holy Scripture is the mind of God and novelties are the fancies of men. And, therefore, when we use the term “finding” God’s word, we must use it rightly, and our meaning will be mainly contained in the following senses: —

     First, we read the word. Here it is: God’s word is all here, and, if we would find it, we must read it earnestly. Let me commend to you the frequent reading of the word of God. Young people would do well to form the habit of reading a chapter every day, not as a form, but with a sincere desire to understand what they read. If they continue to do so till life's latest hour they will not regret it. The want of habitual reading of Holy Scripture by professedly Christian people is very much to be regretted. If you trust yourself to read the word only when it is convenient to you, it will very often happen that day after day will pass over without a passage of Scripture having been read at all, but if you make it a point that such a time shall be set apart for the reading of a chapter and keep to it, it will be well for you. Of course the habit of setting apart any time is not binding. None of us may say to his brother, “You ought at such an hour to read the Scriptures for we are not under legal bondage, neither are we to judge our brethren; but, though not binding, I believe it to be very profitable, and as proper a thing as appointing regular times for meals. As the habit of having a time for prayer is good, so also is the habit of reading the Scriptures. Yet it is a mischievous practice to read a great deal of the Bible without time for thought, it flatters our conceit without benefiting our understanding. The practice of always reading the Bible in scraps is also to be deprecated. I recommend the student of Scripture to read through a whole book carefully. As with a poem we could not get the spirit and sense of the poet by reading a stanza here and there, so you cannot expect to discover the drift of Bible teaching by taking a verse or two here and there. The Bible is divided into many books, and I would recommend you all to read through a book, carefully and prayerfully, and get the general run and catch the drift of the author, and so endeavour to perceive the mind of God. But at the same time, do recollect that, like every other valuable book, the Bible needs diligent and prayerful reading. Surface-skimming is of little use. Some go through the Bible just as a traveller may be whirled through a country in a railway carriage: he will know very little indeed about that country though he may traverse it from end to end. He only sees a little of it out of the window, and the conclusions he may come to will be very poor ones and utterly unreliable; and to go whirling through a chapter of Scripture, as it were, at railway speed, is of little or no service to the mind. I recollect an Arminian brother telling me once that he had read the Scriptures through a score or more times, and could never find the doctrine of Election in them. He added he was sure he would have done so if it had been there, for he read them on his knees. I said to him, “I think you read them in a very uncomfortable posture, and if you had read them in your easy chair you would have been more likely to understand them. Pray by all means, and the more the better; but it is a piece of superstition to think there is anything in the posture in which a man puts himself in reading: and as to reading through the Bible twenty times without having found anything about the doctrine of Election, I said, “the wonder is that you found anything at all: you must have galloped through them at such a rate that you were not likely to have any intelligible idea of what the meaning of the Scriptures was at all.” If but once in that man’s life he had taken the Scriptures and really desired to know their meaning, and had weighed them deliberately and studied them verse by verse and word by word, I think he would have been far more likely to find what was the true meaning of the words which the Holy Spirit has used.

     But, to come back to our subject, —we want more Bible reading. I shall not to-night speak of those who waste their time in reading works of fiction though there are innumerable hordes of time-destroying volumes that come pouring forth from the press— but I fear that even our religious literature, the best of it, has in some measure kept men from the word of God itself. I should like to see all the good books themselves burnt, as well as the bad books of Ephesus, if they keep men from reading Holy Scripture for themselves. Here is the well of purest Gospel undefiled: it springs up in this precious volume with freshness and sweetness unequalled. We who write upon it, hand out that same sweet water to you in our own cups and goblets, but to some extent all our vessels are defiled. There is in the purest intellect some measure of error; and the living water which we hand out to the people must in some measure participate in our imperfection. Do not be content to drink from our pipkins and our chalices, but come and put your lips right down to where the living water, with all the self-sufficient fulness of the deeps eternal, comes welling up from the very heart of God. This is the way to find the word— to read it for yourselves, to read it from the Book. If you can read it from the original books so much the better, but if you cannot, be thankful that you have so good a translation as that which is to be found in every Englishman’s house. Be sure you read it until you can say, “Thy words were found.”

     But we have not found God’s word when we have read it, unless we add to it an understanding of the word. The mere words of Scripture are no better than any other words, only so far as they contain a higher and nobler sense. It is man’s superstitiousness to think a text is any more because it is in the Bible than anywhere else— I mean the words of the text— the mere sound. Yet I have known a great many who, when they have just repeated a text of Scripture or read a text of Scripture, think that something good is done. Why, dear friend, you want to get the meaning— the inner sense. Nuts must be cracked, so must Scripture— you must get out the meaning, or you have got nothing. Marrow bones, who can feed on them? Split them, take out the marrow, and then you have luscious food. Merely verbal utterances, even though they be the utterance of the Holy Spirit, cannot feed the soul. It is the inward meaning, the truth that is revealed, which we should labour after. Too often they stick in the letter, and advance not to the soul of divine truth. Pray, dear friends, as you read the Scriptures, that God may illuminate you; ask that you may not read in the dark as many do, who therefore stumble at the words in disobedience. The best interpreter of a book is generally the man who wrote it. The Holy Ghost wrote the Scriptures. Go to him to get their meaning, and you will not be misled. Oh, when shall the time come when every Christian shall sav, “By the grace of God I read the Scripture, and I am enabled by the Holy Spirit to mark it, to learn it, and to understand it. I earnestly labour to know what God means by what he has said, as far as the human intellect can understand his meaning.”

     To find God’s word, however, means more than this. I think it means sometimes the discovery of select and appropriate words to suit our case. “Thy words were found.” You know when you have lost your key, and your cupboard or your drawer cannot be opened, you send for a locksmith, and he comes in with a whole bunch of keys. First he tries one — that does not fit; then he tries another— that will not do; and the good man perseveres, perhaps with twenty keys, it may be with fifty. At last he gets the proper key, which springs the lock, and he opens your treasure for you. Now Scripture to us is much of the same nature. We have many promises in the time of trouble, and it .is a great blessing to find the promise that suits our case. We turn them all over and say, “Well that is a precious promise, but then I am not exactly in that condition. That is a choice word, but then I do not think I can lay claim to it. And then again, this third passage is very cheering, but then it is evidently not spoken to a person in my position.” At last you find one, and you say, “Ah, this is the word spoken to a person of my character— in my condition of soul. My God, now apply this to my heart with power, and make this truth be to my soul comforting and cheering. Thy words are found. I have found the divine utterance which emphatically pertains to me.” And truly, dear brethren, if we desire to find a word of God that would suit us we need never be long in searching, if we seek sacred direction. We have come to a point, perhaps, in life, where two roads meet, and neither of them seems to diverge from the straight path, and yet we feel solemnly that in a moment we may change the whole current of our life from peace to sorrow by making a mistake. Kneel down at the cross roads and cry, “Lord lead me,” and then go to the Book and ask that the proper guidance for this condition may be indicated by the written word; and you shall often find a text leap out of Scripture to you, seizing your soul with loving violence, and drawing you into the appointed path. I do not mean by this the idle and wicked practice of opening upon texts as a sort of lottery, but a far higher and more spiritual matter by far. The Holy Spirit still remains to us, and is the Urim and Thummim of the Christian Church, even as Providence is the pillar of cloud and fire. “‘Thy words were found’ — I went to thee and to thy Book for them that I might be guided and comforted by them, and I was guided to, and guided by, the text appropriate to the occasion.”

     At the same time, in opposition, or apposition, to this remark, let me say it looks to me as if Jeremiah made no selection at all in another sense: “Thy words were found.” They were thy words, everyone of them, and I did eat them. No matter what the words were— were they bitter words, I did eat them, —they were my medicine; were they sweet words, I did eat them, —they were my consolation; were they words of instruction, I did eat them, —they were my daily bread. I did not find fault with doctrinal truth, for I found it among thy words. On the other hand, were they words of precept, I did not say, “I do not want to be legal; I hate the very word duty. No, but when I found thy words, if they were precept words I did eat them. There were some of thy words that looked black in the face upon me, they threatened me, they rebuked me, they humbled me, they spoiled my beauty, they laid me in the dust; but these very words I loved, because ‘I felt that faithful were the wounds of a friend.’ I laid bare my breast to these lancets. I asked the good physician to use these sharp texts upon me.” Now this ought to be our constant spirit— searching for the text appropriate to the occasion, and yet willing that any Scripture and every Scripture should have its due effect upon our souls. Beware of picking and choosing in God’s word. It is a very dangerous symptom when there is any portion of Scripture that we are afraid to read. If there is one single chapter in the Book that I do not like, it must be because I feel it accuses and condemns me, and my duty ought to be to face that chapter at once and answer its accusation, and endeavour as far as possible to purify myself by God’s help from that which the passage of Scripture condemns. Brethren, read that passage most which stings you most. When I go to visit the aged or the sick, I generally know whereabouts the Bible will be marked with dog’s ears, and thumbed and rubbed. Of course one of the favourites is the chapter, “Let not your heart be troubled,” and another— the eighth of Romans— “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God;” and then, again, they are sure to read again and again the precious Book of Psalms. We are sure to find that the Saints have been there. And I cannot blame them; I think so many of the ripest saints would not have fallen into the habit if it had been a wrong one; but, at the same time, I pray you all, do not be afraid to read, or hesitate to read, or be slow to read portions which are not comfortable— passages which are full of rebuke, for we all want rebuke, and need it continually, and as soon as we find the word of God, whether we like it or not for the time, it is ours to receive it and feed upon it by God’s gracious help.

     “Thy words were found;” that is, I felt I had got a hold of them; I knew I had got them; I had discovered them— they were thy words to my inmost soul. Do you know there is a habit springing up in these times, when a passage of Scripture is quoted, to put the name of the author at the bottom, as, for instance, Isaiah, Paul, Christ. Now I think the habit is a very absurd one, for the moment you read a verse of Scripture you do not want to know who wrote it — you feel quite sure it is a Scriptural text. When a man quotes a text of Scripture and puts the name of Christ at the bottom, you feel it to be a superfluity. You know Christ’s words: there is a particular ring about them, there is a something golden in them that cannot be imitated by the utterances of other men. So it is with the whole of the word of God — we perceive by instinct that the words are the Lord’s own. Perhaps we could not tell to others why we know; but there is a peculiar majesty, a remarkable fulness, a singular potency, a divine sweetness, in any word of God, which is not discoverable, nor anything like it, in the word of man, except that word of man be itself drawn directly from the word of God. Now we hear of some who try to take away from us God’s word. “This book is not inspired,” they say, “and that book is not authentic, — this chapter there is a dispute about;” and, as for the whole of it, the gentry of these days tell us that there may be a sort of inspiration in it, and so on. Well sirs, the Bible shall be to you what you like; you shall treat it as you please, and you shall look upon it as a mere commonplace book if you will; but this know, that to us it is God’s inspired teaching, infallible, and infinitely pure. We accept it as the very word of the living God, every jot and tittle of it, not so much because there are external evidences which go to show its authenticity, — a great many of us do not know anything about those evidences, and probably never shall, — but because we discern an inward evidence in the words themselves. They have come to us with a power that no other words ever had in them, and we cannot be argued out of our conviction of their superlative excellence and divine authority. We have found the words of our heavenly Father: we know we have, for children know their own fathers voice. When we speak God’s truth, we speak what we do know, what we have tasted, and handled, and tested, and proved.

     Dear brethren, I have been rather lengthy upon this first and most important matter of finding God’s word, and I will tell you why. I have dwelt thus fully upon it because it is just this which is the secret of the thorough Christian life in all its departments. Jeremiah would not have been so bold a preacher if he had not thus found God’s word. If you hold God’s word with a loose hand, if you are an inattentive reader, if you are a superficial believer, if you have loose views about the authority of divine revelation, you will be lax in everything else, you will be loose in your obedience to the precept, in your love to the doctrine, and in your hope in the promise. It stands to reason if the word of God be not God's word to you, it will not comfort you to the same extent as it did Jeremiah, neither will you obey it with the same reverence or teach it with like perseverance. If you do not attach reverence and divinity and inspiration to the word of God it will not yield to you the force and power which it ought to yield, and your whole life will suffer therefrom.

     Thus much upon the finding of God’s word. A second view of the inner' life must now be considered. “Thy word was found, and I did eat it.” The surest way to preserve the truth of God, is to put it into the casket of the soul, to enclose it in one’s inner man. “I did eat it.” By that term is signified, first, the prizing of God’s word. When Jeremiah received a sentence which he knew came from God’s mouth he prized it, he loved it so that he ate it; he could not lay it aside; he did not merely think of it; he loved it so that he put it into his very self. Oh, when we get God’s truth do not let us love it so little as to shelve it by saying, “I accept it formally as belonging to the Articles of the Church of which I am a member,” but let us prize it so that we may say. “I must carry it about me, nay, better than that, I must carry it in me, it is meat and drink to me.” “I did eat it.”

     The term eating implies, moreover, that he derived nourishment from it. The food we eat, if it be fit for eating, nourishes and supports us. So when a man reads God’s word as he ought to do, he feeds upon it, and finds in it a something that makes him a better man, a stronger man, more bold in holy service, and more patient in submission to God’s will. It is delightful to sit down and suck the soul out of a text, to take it and feel that not the letter only but the inner vitals of the text are our own, and are to be received into the very nature of our spirit to become assimilated with it. Many foolish persons, when they come to the Lord’s table, imagine that in eating the bread and drinking the wine there is some eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood of Christ in a corporeal manner; but those who understand the mysteries know that eating the flesh of Christ signifies considering, meditating, and feeding upon the truth that Christ was incarnate, was of our nature, and is still partaker of the nature of man. The humanity of Christ becomes food for our souls, and that is the meaning of eating his flesh. So, when we drink the wine, the atonement, the sufferings of Christ are thought upon, weighed, and considered; and these become food for our faith, our gratitude, our love, our confidence, and holiness. So, too, with every truth— we are to feed upon it, we are not merely to accept the statement as being true, but we are to get out of it that nourishment for our inner man which God intended it should render. “Thy word was found, and I did eat it.” It is a very different thing from saying, “Thy word was found, and I did admire it,” or “Thy word was found, and I did criticise it,” or “Thy word was found, and I did divide it and make a sermon of it.” That is a minister’s temptation. But “Thy word was found, and I did eat it.” I said to my soul, Here is something to make thee better, to make thee more Christlike, something to help thee in thy struggle against sin.” Brethren, let us use the word for that purpose. By the help of God’s blessed Spirit let us eat it as our every-day food, the bread and the salt, the wine and the water of our life.

     But the figure of eating means more, it sets forth an intimate union. That which a man eats gets intertwined with his own self, his own personality. The body is built up from the elements which are received in the form of food. So the man, the real man, the soul, is made up of the truth which he lives upon. Some feed on error, and their whole manhood, their hope, their confidence, everything is built up of error, and their religion is deceitful throughout; but he that feeds upon God’s word gets God’s word to be a part of himself, and his faith and hope are all based upon truth. I sometimes hear of a person giving up a certain doctrine. Well, I am certain if a man gives up any doctrine of God’s word he never knew it, for he who knows God’s truth knows that it has a clinging power, and will not be separated from us. The diligent believer when he knows the word, learns it so well that he assimilates it into his own being. Let me illustrate this by a fact which is notable in a lower sense in certain natural persuasions. When Galileo was convinced that the world moved, they put him in prison for it, and in his weakness he recanted, and said he believed it stood still and that the sun moved, but the moment he got away from his persecutors he stamped his foot, and said, “But it does move, though.” And so he who knows the truth as it is in Jesus has even a higher persuasion than that which ruled Galileo. He cannot belie the truth: he has got it so into himself that he cannot give it up. Sirs, if you can run from Christ you have not yet become his disciple. If you can leave him, you never knew him. If you can deny the truth, and utterly give it up, you have never known it savingly; but he that can say, “Thy word was found, and I did eat it,” may confront the foe, and when his enemy cries, “Give it up!” his reply will be, “How can I give it up? I have eaten it.” You remember the faithful servant who was sent by his master with a very valuable diamond, and who, when he was attacked on the road, swallowed the diamond. Well, but even then it might have been taken from him had the robbers killed him; but if the diamond had been of such a nature that the man in eating it could digest it and assimilate it into himself, all the thieves that ever attacked him could not take away from him that which he had eaten. And so, when a soul feeds upon the precious truth of God, all the devils in hell multiplied fifty thousand times could not take the truth away from him. It is most important for this very reason that we should get such grip of truth that it should be, as it were, burnt into our souls, interwoven into the warp and woof of our very being, to run like a silver thread right through our entire existence, so that you could rend that existence to pieces and destroy it before you could destroy the truth that is inwrought in it. “Thy word was found, and I did eat it.”

     See here, then, my beloved, the secret power that will support a Christian’s life — the eating of God’s word— the getting it thoroughly into one’s soul. This is it which will make you speak and act as a Christian. There is a great deal of error in many Christians, and a great deal of sin, and many try to correct the error and remove the sin, and they do well; but have you never heard a doctor say, when a person has been covered with some eruption, “I shall not deal with these eruptions at all; I shall apply no ointment. They are caused by the poorness of the patient’s blood. I shall recommend to him a generous diet; I shall give him a strengthening medicine which will invigorate the system, and these blotches will disappear as a natural consequence.” Depend upon it very many of the faults which are to be condemned in Christians are the result of their not leaning upon God’s word, their not knowing the whole of it, especially the strong meat parts of it, as they ought to do; and if they did come to find God’s word, and to eat it, their spiritual constitution would be stronger, and then they would throw off many of the ailments that are now such an injury to them, and they would become healthy, vigorous, mighty in the service of God.

     Notice, then, the third glimpse into the inner life. “Thy word was found, and I did eat it, and it was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.” Nothing makes a man so happy as the word of God. Nothing makes him so full of delight and peace of soul as feeding upon the word. “The joy and rejoicing of mine heart.” I preached the gospel on a certain occasion in a certain place of worship, and I preached the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints, and it was not believed in by the minister. However, many of his people who heard the doctrine, and never would have believed it if I had mentioned the words “Final perseverance,” drank it in, and it made them so very happy that the minister declared I had done a world of mischief by it, for he believed the good souls would never give up the doctrine! Truly, when God’s word comes with the power that makes you joy and rejoice in it, your inward delight becomes to your heart a main reason for holding it tenaciously. I would cheerfully give up many doctrines if I believed that they were only party watchwords, and were merely employed for the maintenance of a sect; but those doctrines of grace, those precious doctrines of grace, against which so many contend, I could not renounce or bate a jot of them, because they are the joy and rejoicing of my heart. When one is full of health and vigour, and has everything going well, you might, perhaps, live on the elementary truths of Christianity very comfortably; but in times of stern pressure of spirit, when the soul is much cast down, you want the marrow and the fatness. In times of inward conflict, salvation must be all of grace from first to last; then it must be not according to the will of the flesh, but according to the will of God; then you want an everlasting li covenant ordered in all things and sure then “the sure mercies of David are precious,” and then it is that you come to understand how those glorious truths which have been called Calvinistic, but which are really the truth of God’s own word, are so much prized by old and advanced believers. Aged and tried saints, having had their senses exercised to discern good and evil, have also come to a period of life in which they need consolation, to a time in which deep experience calls for solid sustenance, and therefore they fall back on the eternal verities and rejoice in them. Beloved, may you know every truth of God’s word by rejoicing in it: may you know its power to console you and uplift you in the time of distress, for, when you know the joy that flows from the truth into the regenerate heart, you will say—

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

These three things are the secret of a strong spiritual life— to find, to eat, and to rejoice, in God’s word.

     II. Now, very briefly, we shall describe THE CHRISTIAN IN HIS OUTWARD LIFE, as he is mentioned here: — “I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts.” Now I think these words may be used in three ways.

     First, the condition of Jeremiah was one which he had attained by his conduct. He was so continually preaching about Jehovah, so constantly insisting upon Jehovah’s will, and going upon Jehovah’s errands, that they came to call him “Jehovah’s man,” and he was known by Jehovah’s name. Now the man who loves God’s word, and feeds on it, and rejoices in it, will so act that he will come to be called a Christian. He will not only be so, but he will be called so. Men will take knowledge of him that he has been with Jesus. If they do not give him the name in the sense of honouring him, they will give it him as a nickname, but they will be sure to call him in their hearts at least by such a title. An esteemed city missionary, who for years frequented public houses to preach the gospel there, was known as “the man with the book,” because he always carried his Bible with him. Oh, I wish many of us were known as “the man with the book.” Among the heathen it has frequently happened that earnest missionaries have been known as “Jesus Christ’s men,” or the heathen have said “Here comes God’s man.” We don’t expect them to give us that title by word of mouth, but I would earnestly pray that every one of us may have it in some shape or other. You know generally the world will pick out some religious leader, and then they will abuse those who listen to him by calling them by his name. They need not blush at that, since it is often only the world’s way of owning that they are Christians— their acknowledging that they are the followers of that which is right and true. Years ago, when a man spoke of the things of God with great emotion, so that he quaked with holy trembling, they called him a “Quaker.” It was but acknowledging that a power was influencing the man which the world did not understand. And when other persons were methodical and precise in their lives, they called them “Methodists” — persons who lived by method and rule. They needed not to be ashamed of that, and they were not. It was only another way of the world’s pointing them out, and saying “These are God’s people.” They thought it a sneer and meant it for a sneer, but it was an honour. To be called “Jehovah’s man” was an honour to Jeremiah; and to be called by any of these nicknames, which signify that we belong to God, is an honour to aspire after and not to be regretted. May we all win some opprobrious name, and wear it as our title of holy chivalry.

     But this is a name, in the second place, which is involved in the profession of every Christian. “I am called by thy name, O Jehovah, God of hosts.” Of course you are so called, if your profession be true. You were baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and you there and then accepted that name. You are a believer in Christ, and therefore you are rightly called a Christian. You cannot escape from it. By being a believer in Christ’s name, you have Christ’s name named upon you. Oh, friend, consider what your obligations are! There was a soldier in the Macedonian army who was named Alexander, — a coward; and he was called before the king, and asked, “What is your name?” He said, “Alexander.” Then, said the king, “You must give up your name, or you must cease to be a coward.” So we call before us those who are Christians, and we say, “What is your name? You are named with the name of Christ; therefore you must give up being covetous; you must give up being bad tempered, worldly, slothful, lustful, or else you must give up Christ’s name, for we cannot have Christ’s name dishonoured any more than Alexander would have his name dishonoured.” You were spitting fire just now against that person who had irritated you. Suppose I had stepped in at that moment, and said, “You are called by the name of Christ!” what a colour would have risen in your face! Perhaps to-day you were talking the idlest stuff with vain persons, and supposing some one whom you honoured and loved had laid his hand on you and whispered, “What, you a Christian, and talk like that?” How would you have felt? Oh, that we remembered always that we are Christians, and therefore must always act up to the name that is named upon us. God grant you friends, that, in the power of the eating of God’s word, you may be constrained to act ever as becometh those upon whom the name of Christ is named.

     Once more, this word may be used in the sense which arises out of the gospel itself. “I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts: I belong to thee. When they gather up the nations, and they say, ‘This man belongs to Babylon, and that man to Assyria, and that man to Egypt,’ I belong to thee, and am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts.” What a comfort this is— we who believe in Christ belong to God. We are his portion, and he will never lose us. “They shall be mine,” saith the Lord, “when I make up my jewels.” We see the broad arrow put here and there upon royal property— upon government property, — let us recollect that we have the broad arrow of the King of Kings set upon us as believers in Christ. The Lord will take care of us because his name is named upon us, and we belong to him. “Ye are not your own: ye are bought with a price.” “All things are yours: and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” You are poor: but you are Christ’s. Does not that mitigate your poverty? You are sick: but you are God’s. Does not that comfort you? The poor lamb lies in the cold field, but, if it belongs to a good shepherd, it shall not die. The sheep is sick, or it has wandered; but, if it belongs to an Omnipotent shepherd, it shall be healed and it shall be brought back. The name of Christ being named upon us is the guarantee of our present comfort and of our future security.

     Oh, brethren, I come back to the point I began with: — Find God’s word, eat God’s Word, rejoice in God’s word; and then go and live as those who are alive from the dead, who wear not the name of the first Adam now, but the name of the second Adam; who are not known any longer as the servants of sin, but known as the servants— the sons— of God, for ever and ever. God bless you, and, if you have not believed, may you be led to trust in Jesus crucified this very night, that you may be called by his name. We pray it for his name’s sake. Amen.



The Poor Man’s Friend

By / Jun 22

The Poor Man's Friend

 

"For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper."—Psalm 72:12

 

     This is a royal psalm. In it you see predictions of Christ, not upon the cross, but upon the throne. In reference to his manhood as well as to his godhead, he is exalted and extolled and very high. He is the king—the king's son, truly with absolute sway, stretching his scepter from sea to sea, and "from the river even unto the ends of the earth." It is remarkable that in this psalm which so fully celebrates the extent of his realm and the sovereignty of his government, there is so much attention drawn to the minuteness of his care for the lowly, his personal sympathy with the poor, and the large benefits they are to enjoy from his kingdom. Where Christ is highest and we are lowest, and the two meet, there is "glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men." I might almost raise the question whether this psalm is more a tribute of homage to the Messiah, or a treasury of comfort for his poor subjects. We will compound the controversy by saying that as Christ here is highly exalted, so his poor needy ones are highly blessed, and while it is a blessing to them that he is exalted, it is an exaltation to him that they are blessed.

     Turning to our text without further preface, we shall note in it the special objects of great grace. "He shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper;" then, the special blessings which are allotted to them. Here it is said that he shall deliver them, but all through the psalms there are scattered promises full of instruction and consolation all meant for them. And, lastly, the special season which God has appointed for the dispensing of these favors. "He shall deliver the needy when he crieth." That shall be God's time. When it is our time to cry, it shall be God's time to deliver.

     I. First, then, notice THE SPECIAL OBJECTS OF GREAT GRACE. There is a three-fold description—they are needy, they are poor, they have no helper.

     They are needy. In this they are like all the sons of men. We begin life in a needy state. We are full of needs in our infancy, and cannot help ourselves. We continue throughout life in a needy state. The very breath in our nostrils hath to be the gift of God's goodness. In him we live, and move, and have our being. And, as we grow old our needs become even more apparent. The staff on which we lean reveals to us our needs, and our infirmities all tell us what needy creatures we are. We need temporal things and we need spiritual things. Our body needs, our soul needs, our spirit needs. We need to be kept from evil; we need to be led into the paths of righteousness; we need on the outset that grace should be implanted; when implanted, we need that it be nurtured; when nurtured, we need that it be perfected and made to bring forth fruit. We are never a moment without need. We wake up, and our first glance might reveal our needs to us, and when we fall asleep it is upon a poor man's pillow, for we need that God should preserve us through the night. We have needs when we are on our knees, else where would be the energy of our prayers? We have needs when we try to sing, else how should our uncircumcised lips praise him aright? We have needs when we are relieving the needs of others, lest we become proud of our almsgiving. We have need in preaching, need in hearing; we have need in working, need in suffering, need in resting. What is our life but one long need? All men are full of needs. But God's peculiar people feel this need—they not only confess it is so, but they know it experimentally. They are full of needs. Once they thought that they were rich and increased in goods, and had need of nothing, but now, through the enlightenment of God's Spirit, they feel themselves to be naked, and poor, and miserable. Their needs were great before, but they appear now to be incalculable, more in number than the hairs of their heads. They have need of a covering for the sin of the past; they have need of help against the temptation of the present; they have need of perseverance as to the entire future. If there are any people under heaven who could claim the title of "needy," above all others, it is not the pauper in the workhouse, nor the mendicant who asks alms in the streets, but it is the child of God, for he feels himself to be so dependent that the more he gets from his great Benefactor the more he requires, and the more he must have to satisfy the enlarged desires of a heart that begins to know the will of God concerning us. Our needs are great and constant.

     The second description given is that he is poor—"the poor also." A man might be needy, and be able to supply his own need. As fast as his needs arose, he might have sufficient wealth to be able to procure what he wanted. I speak merely of his temporal wants. But, with regard to us in spiritual things, we are not only needy, but we are poor to utter destitution—there is nothing within our reach that we can help ourselves with. We have need of water for our thirst, but nature's buckets are empty, and her cisterns are broken. We have need of bread, but nature's granary is bare. Like the prodigal son in a far off country, there is a famine, a mighty famine, in that land, and we are in want. We have need of clothing; we have found that we are naked, and we are ashamed, but our fig leaves will not serve us, and we are too poor to buy a garment for ourselves. We are so poor that when a want comes it only shows us how empty the treasury is; and every want while it draws upon us meets with no fitting response; there is nothing, nothing, nothing, in human nature at its very best, that can keep pace with its own needs. Speak of self-reliance!—'tis well enough in matters of the world, but self-reliance is absolutely madness in the things of God. We have heard of self-made men, but if any man would enter heaven, he must be a God-made man from first to last, for all that can come out of human nature will still be defiled. The stream shall never mount higher than the fountain-head, and the fountain-head of human nature is pollution, total depravity. It cannot rise higher than that, let it do its best. We are very needy, and very poor. If there be any poor in all the world, who have tasted the bitter ingredients of this cup of sorrow, it is God's people. We are very needy and very poor, though we did not always think so. When the discovery was first made to us, we felt the smart as those do "who have seen better days." Once we fancied ourselves able to do our work and sure to get our wages; we did hope to merit a reward for our good conduct; and we thought it was only for us to add a little piety to our decent morals in order to be well pleasing to God and our own conscience. Ah, sirs! when we woke from these foolish dreams, and faced our own abject poverty, how ashamed we were; how we shunned the light; how we sat alone and avoided company; how fear preyed on our heart; with what anguish we chattered to ourselves, saying, "What shall I do? What shall I do?" Poor indeed we are and we know it.

     Moreover, it is said they have no helper. Now, until God enlightens us, we seem to have a great many helpers. We fancy—perhaps we once fancied—that a priest could save us. If we have a grain of grace we have given up that idea. Perhaps we imagined that our parents would help us, that our godly ancestry might stand us in some stead:—but we have long ago been brought to the conviction that we must each stand personally before God, for only personal religion is of any value. At one time we placed some dependence upon the ministry we attended, and hoped that in some favored hour that ministry might be of use to us; but, if God has awakened us, we look higher than pulpits and preachers now. Our eyes are up towards the hills whence cometh our help, and as to all earthly things, we see no help in them. "Cursed is he that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm." "He shall be like the heath in the desert—he shall not see when good cometh." The Lord grant us all to be reduced to this—that we have no helper, because when we have no helper here, he will become our helper and our salvation. Put the three words together and you have a very correct description of the awakened people of God—needy, poor, and having no helper.

     We have felt this, beloved, very keenly some of us just before we looked to Christ. Oh! we can remember now when we wanted to have our sins forgiven us, we would have given all we had if we could but have found mercy;—we were full of needs. We turned all our good works over, but they had all become mouldy and worm-eaten, and they stank in our nostrils. We tried our prayers. We used to fancy if we began to pray earnestly it would all be well with us, but alas! alas! we found our prayers to be poor comforts—broken reeds. We looked all around us, and we could get no consolation. Even Scripture did not seem to cheer us; the very promises seemed to shut their doors against us. We had no helper. Oh, do you remember then when you cried to God in your trouble, and he delivered you? I know you verified the truth of the promise in our text, "He shall deliver the needy when he crieth."

     Since that time, we have been equally needy; we have been making fresh proof of our indigence; and getting into straits from which we could by no means extricate ourselves. Indeed, when a Christian is richest in grace he is poorest in himself. The way to grow rich in grace is to feel your poverty. Whenever you think you have stored up a little strength, a little comfort, a little provision against a rainy day, you are pretty sure to have the trouble you bargained for, and to miss the resources you counted on. Estimate your true wealth before God by your entire dependence on him. The more you have, the less you have, and the less you have, the more you have. When you have nothing at all in yourself, then Christ is all in all to you. The perpetual condition of every child of God in himself is that of a needy and a poor and a helpless one—on the high mountains with his Lord, rejoicing in his love, yet is he even there in himself less than nothing and vanity—still poor and needy.

     There have been times when we felt this very powerfully, perhaps, very painfully. Has Satan ever beset you, my brethren, with his fierce temptations? No doubt many of you have had to feel the ferocity of his attacks. Perhaps, blasphemous thoughts have been injected into your mind—dark forebodings, such as these, "God has forsaken me." Perhaps, he has said, "He has sinned himself out of the covenant—he is a castaway," and your poor little faith has tried to hold on to Christ, but it seemed as if she must be driven from her hold. While others found it as you thought easy to get to heaven, you realised the truth of the text—"The righteous scarcely are saved." You have had to fight for every inch of ground, and it seemed to you often as though you had not a spark of grace in you, not a ray of hope, and not so much as a single grain of the grace of God within your heart. Ah! and at such times you have been poor and needy, and you have had no helper. And, perhaps, at such seasons, too, temporal trouble may have come in. Whoever may go through the world without trouble, God's people never do.

 

"The path of sorrow, and that path alone,

Leads to the place where sorrow is unknown."

 

     "In the world ye shall have tribulation" is as sure a promise as that other, "In me ye shall have peace." The trials of God's servants are sometimes extremely severe. Not a few are literally as well as spiritually poor. Hunger, privation, and embarrassment haunt their steps. And when you once come to be poor, how often does it happen that you have no helper. In the summer of prosperity your friends and acquaintances are numerous as the leaves of the forest, but in the winter of your losses and distresses, your friends are few indeed; your neighbors stand aloof, your old mates desert you, for like the wind your trials have borne them all away as sere leaves, and you cannot find them.

     But, do not think that the Lord has cast you off, because he is thus chastening you with the rod of men; take it as an exercise of your faith, and go to him and plead this promise, "He shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper."

     Thus I have set before you the character of God's especial objects of sovereign grace; they are poor and needy spiritually. Do you ask why is it that God selects these? Our first answer is, he giveth no account of his matters; he doeth as he will. He is a sovereign; who shall say unto him, "What doest thou?" And, in order that he may make that sovereignty clear to the sons of men, he is pleased to select those whom naturally we might expect him to pass by. Did not Jesus lift his eyes to heaven full of gratitude and say, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight." Not many great men after the flesh, not many mighty are chosen, but God hath chosen the poor of this world, he hath chosen the things that are despised, (and as the Apostle puts it) "Things that are not hath God chosen to bring to nought the things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence." When the chariot of the Eternal comes from above, he bids it roll far downward from the skies; he passes by the towers of haughty kings; he leaves the palaces of princes and the halls of senates, and down to the hovels of cottagers the chariot of his grace descends, for there he sees with joy and delight the objects of his everlasting love. "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion," is the word of divine sovereignty, and God makes it true by taking the poor and the needy, and them that have no helper.

     Still, if we may enquire into the reason, we see in the poor, and the needy, and the helpless, a reason for God's grace. They are the persons who are most willing to accept it, for they are the persons who most require it. Your generosity will not stand to be dictated to, but, at the same time, you usually prefer to give to those who want most. Wise mercy seeks out chief misery, and God therefore delights to give his blessings to those who need them most, not to those who fancy they deserve them—they shall have none of them, but those who need them, they shall have all of them.

     When a soul is made to feel its own poverty, it does not set itself up in rivalry with Christ; it does not pretend to be able to help itself; it has no disputing about the terms of the gospel. A sinner, when he is thoroughly famished, has such an appetite that he eats such things as God's mercy sets before him, and he raises no question. A proud Pharisee will say, "I will not submit to this, to be saved by faith alone—I will not have it. To accept mercy as the absolute gift of heaven, irrespective of my character, I cannot endure it." The high soul of a Pharisee, I say, kicks at it. But when God has brought a man low, till like the publican he cries, "God be merciful to me a sinner," he is glad to be saved in God's way, and no matter however humbling the plan of grace, nor how the sinner is debased and Christ exalted, the poor sinner loves to have it so. It is a way suitable to his own wants, a way which he accepts for the very reason that God has adapted it to his position. Hence, if there be reasons they lie here, not in man's merit but on the Lord's mercy. The fact that bare misery, when touched and guided by the Spirit of God, makes the soul to open its mouth like the hard chapped soil to drink in the rain, as soon as the rain descends from above, is an argument why grace so commonly flows in this course.

     In choosing to bless the poor and needy by his grace, the Lord finds for himself warm friends, those who will give him much praise, contend earnestly for his reign and for his sovereignty, and endure much obloquy for very love to his dear name. Why if the Lord were to save the Pharisees, they would hardly say, "thank you," they are so good themselves. They reckon themselves to be so excellent, that if they had salvation they would take it as a matter of course, and, like the lepers, they would never return to thank him that healed them. But when the Lord saves a great sinner, a man that feels there is nothing good in him; oh, how that man talks of it and tells it to others. He cannot take any praise to himself, he knows that he had nothing to do with it, that it is all of the grace of God. And, oh, see that man how he will stand up for the doctrines of grace! He is as the valiant men in Solomon's song, "each man with a sword on his thigh because of fear in the night;" for the doctrines of grace are not to him matters of opinion, but matters of experience. They are dear to him as his own life. "What," says he, "is not God the giver of salvation? Is not salvation all of God, from first to last? I know it is," saith he. "Don't tell me. Whatever your arguments, however smooth may be the form and fashion of your theology, it does not tally with what I have tasted and handled and felt; for unless it is grace from first to last, I am a lost man; and, if I be indeed a child of God, then can I contend for the doctrines of grace, and will do till I die." I know I felt myself last Sunday night, after I had talked to you about the difficulties of salvation, that if ever I got to heaven, I would praise and bless God with all my soul. I felt like that good old woman who said, that if the Lord ever saved her he should never hear the last of it, for she would tell it everywhere, and publish it abroad throughout all eternity, that the Lord had done it, that he was a good and gracious God to have mercy on such a soul as she was. Now, since one object of God in bestowing his mercy is to glorify himself, he does wisely in bestowing his mercy upon the poor and the needy, and such as have no helper. The Lord give to you, my dear hearer, to be brought down to this tonight. I know many of you have been brought there and are there now. Let my text encourage and cheer you. Dear objects of Almighty love, he finds you on the dunghill, but he lifts you from it. He finds you in the dust, but is not this the song of Hannah and the song of Mary too—"He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and he hath exalted them of low degree: he hath filled the hungry with good things, but the rich he hath sent empty away?" It is God's way of dealing with the poor and lost; rejoice at it, it is full of encouragement to you. But I say to any of you that have never been humbled, good people, who have always been good people, you that have always kept the law from your youth up, and gone to church regularly, or to chapel regularly, very people—The Lord have mercy upon you, and let you see that your goodness is filthiness, that your righteousness is unrighteousness, and that the best that is in you is bad, and that the bad that is in you that you have never seen as yet will be your ruin, your eternal destruction, unless God set it before your eyes, and bring you down to loathe yourself, and feel yourself to be abominable in his sight, and abominable also in your own sight, when his law comes with power home to your souls. Thus I have spoken upon the special objects of divine grace.

     II. Now, a few words upon THE SPECIAL BLESSING WHICH THE GREAT KING HAS STORED UP FOR THESE PEOPLE. Kindly look at the second verse. "He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment;" so that one of the special blessings for God's poor is that they shall be judged with judgment. Alas! they are often judged with harshness; or they are judged in ignorance; or they are judged by malice—not judged by righteousness, nor by judgment. When their enemies see them, they say, "These are a broken-spirited people; they are moping and melancholy, wretched and sad." Thus hard things are spoken against them, and unkind stories are told of them. Sometimes they say they are out of their minds, and then they will insinuate that they are only hypocrites and pretenders. Slander is very busy with the children of God. God had a Son that had no fault; but he never had a son that was not found fault with. Ay, God himself was slandered in paradise by Satan: let us not expect, therefore, to escape from the venomous tongue.

     One blessing, however, that will always come to God's needy ones is this—Christ will right them, he will judge them with judgment. Are you harshly spoken of at home? Don't be angry, don't provoke in return, don't answer railing with railing. "He shall judge his poor with righteousness." Leave it to him. Wait, wait, till the judgment sits, for who are these that they should judge you? Their opinion, though it is bitter as gall to your spirit, does not really affect your character or your destiny. If you are right before the Lord, through faith in Christ, they cannot make you wrong by anything they say. God judges and God knows. "He searcheth the heart and tries the reins." You remember how David, among his brethren, was much despised. He had not the appearance and the carriage that his elder brethren had, and even Samuel, the Lord's prophet, thought the others to be better than David, and said of them, "Surely the Lord hath chosen these." David was therefore despised of his brethren, but what mattered it? The Lord looked not as man looks, for man looked upon the outward appearance, but God looketh at the heart. Bide your time you that are one of a family and alone. Or, if for Christ's sake you have been despised, have courage to-night and let not your spirit be bowed down. "Rejoice ye in this day and leap for joy, for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you." The King will speedily come, and when he cometh then will this word be verified. "He shall judge his people with righteousness and his poor with judgment." There is one mercy for you—to have your wrongs righted and your character cleared.

     God's poor and needy ones, you will perceive, if you turn a little further down, shall be saved from oppression. Fourth verse: "He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor." The Lord's people are like sheep among wolves, the wolves treat them injuriously. Christ himself was oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. His people may expect to be oppressed too; but they have this for their comfort, that Christ will surely deliver them, and he will break their oppressors in pieces. Are you to-night oppressed by Satan? Have you things laid to your charge by him that you know not of, and doth conscience oppress you with the remembrance of sins which have been forgiven? Have you ever believed concerning them in the atonement of Christ? Well, bow your head meekly, and go to the mercy-seat once again, pleading the precious blood, and he shall break in pieces the oppressor. There is no answer for Satan like the blood! and there is no answer for conscience but the blood. Plead it before God, plead it in your own soul, and you shall find that the great and glorious King in Zion shall, in your hearts, break in pieces the oppressor. There is another special mercy, then—help against the oppressor.

     The third blessing is that of our text: "He shall deliver the needy." Deliver them! You are brought into great troubles; you shall be delivered out of them. You are just now the subject of many fears: you shall be delivered from your fears. It seems as though the enemy would soon exult over you, and put his foot upon your neck, and make an end of you; you shall be delivered. You are like a bird taken in the fowler's net, and he is ready to wring your neck and take the breath out of you; but you shall be delivered out of the hand of the fowler, and brought safely through the perils that threaten you. Oh, that we all had faith! Oh, that we all could exercise faith when in deep waters. It is a fine thing to talk about faith on land, but we want faith to swim with when we are thrown into the flood. May you, tonight, get such a grip of this precious word that you may take it before the Lord and say, "I am poor and needy, and have no helper. O God, deliver my soul now."

     But, we have not exhausted the string of blessings. A little further down in the psalm, at the thirteenth verse, you will notice it is said of the King: "He shall spare the poor and needy." If he lays heavily upon them apparently, yet will he by-and-by stay his hand; if he bids one of his rough winds blow, he will save the other. As he is said to temper the wind to the shorn lamb, so will he certainly temper it to his people; they shall be afflicted, but it shall be in measure; he shall spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him: the rod shall make them smart, but shall not make them bleed; they shall be made to suffer, but they shall not be called to die. Perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; there shall always be a gracious limit put to the blows that come from Jehovah's hand for his own people. Oh, what a mercy to be amongst his poor ones, and to feel that he will spare us; he spared not his own Son, but he will spare us, the poor and needy; he smote him with the blows of avenging justice, but concerning us it is written, "The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but the covenant of my love shall not depart. As I have sworn that the waters shall no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee." He will spare his people; he will bring them safely through, and, meanwhile, he will not let the waters be deep enough to overwhelm them.

     There is one other blessing which sums up all the rest; you find it in the fourteenth verse: "He shall redeem their souls from deceit and violence." Redemption belongs to the Lord's poor people. He bought with a price his poor ones, and as the ransom has all been paid, they belong to Christ, and none shall take them out of his hand. He that redeemed them by price will redeem them by power. He will, if it be needful, divide the Red Sea again to redeem his people; and, if by no usual means his servants can be preserved, he will bring unusual means into the field. There are no miracles now, we say, but if they are ever wanted for the safety of God's people, there shall be miracles as timely and as plentiful as of yore. "Heaven and earth may pass away, but his word shall never pass away." He would sooner shake the heavens themselves than suffer one of his children to famish, or utterly to perish, rest assured of that. Oh, what glorious comfort there is in all this! We shall be spared, we shall be redeemed, we shall be delivered, we shall be saved, we shall be revenged and cleared before the judgment-bar of God; and, all because the great King has made the poor and needy the special objects of his love. Oh! my soul revels in this. I cannot speak out the thoughts I feel, much less the joy that arises out of them; but what a mercy it really is, that the great King, the King who rules from the river to the ends of the earth, is the poor man's friend. I am very poor and needy and helpless to-night, but the king has made me his favourite, counts me one of his courtiers: it is the same with you, dear brother, if you too are poor and needy, he rules, and he rules on the throne for us; he is great and hath dominion, but he uses all his greatness and his dominion for us. As Joseph in Egypt was invested with power for the good of his brethren, or at least such sovereignty as he held of Pharaoh he laid out for the welfare of his father's house, so Jesus has all power and authority in heaven and earth; all might, majesty, and dominion for the good of his people. He has the king's signet ring upon his finger, but he uses it for his own beloved ones that he may enrich, and honor, and cheer, and perfect them. His glory is concerned in every one of us. If one of the least of his people should perish, his crown would suffer damage. He is the shepherd and surety of the flock, and at his hand will the Father require all those who are committed to him. He cannot, therefore, let us perish, for then he would not be able to say at the last, "Of all that thou hast given me I have lost none." He must and will preserve us. We are wrapped up in his honor. His power, I say, his crown, his glory, his very name, as the Christ of God anointed to save sinners, all are wrapped up and intertwisted in the salvation of every poor and needy soul that is brought to rest in him.

     III. And, now, our closing word is, THE SPECIAL SEASON WHEN ALL THIS SHALL BE TRUE. He shall deliver the needy when he crieth.

     Ah! while I have been preaching there may have been some poor child of God here who has said, "I am poor and needy, and I am in great distress, but I have not been delivered." And there may be some sinner here who has said, "God has taught me my poverty and need, and I know I have no helper, but I cannot find I have been delivered." Perhaps, dear friends, you have been praying for months, praying very bitterly too, after a sort, and you have been desirous that you might find mercy. God's time, when will it come? Well, it will come when you cry. That is something more, I take it, than a mere ordinary prayer. A child asks you for something, and you may perhaps deny it; but you know there is a difference between asking for a thing and crying for a thing. Oh, when you get so that you must have it, and your heart breaks for it, when your needs are so extreme that you cannot stand up under them—well, now, it comes to this, that you must have Christ or perish. "Give me Christ or else I die," when it seems as if you could not put your prayer into words any more, that you could only fall at the foot of the cross, and say, "O God, I cannot pray, but my very soul groans after thee, to have mercy upon me," then is the time, then is the time, but not till then, when God will deliver you. The Lord loves to hear the prayers of his people, and he sometimes keeps them waiting at the posts of his door, that they may pray more. It is always a blessing for us to pray as well as to get the answer to prayer. Prayer is in itself a blessing. When the Lord hears us knock faintly at the door, he does not open; we may knock and knock again—he likes us to knock; it does us good to knock. But when it comes to this, that it is all knocking with us, and our very soul and body seem to knock, and our heart and flesh cry after God, the living God: when we shall thus come to appear before God, and open our mouth and pant vehemently for the mercy he has promised, then it will come. When thou canst not take a denial, thou shalt not have a denial. The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. There is none so violent as the man who is in desperate need. There is a person who has been without bread many hours, and he asks you for charity in the street. You would pass him by, but he is famished, and he says, "Oh give me bread! I die." He compels you to it. And such is the prayer that prevails with God. When the soul cannot wait, dare not wait, fears lest it should shut its eyes and open them in hell. Oh! God will not keep such a soul long waiting. I am always glad when I hear of convinced souls saying, "I went up into my chamber with the resolution that I would never come down again till I had found the Savior." I always delight to hear of men and women who say, "I went upon my knees and cried to him, saying, I will not let thee go except thou bless me." He will bless thee. If thou wilt let him go, he will go, but if thou wilt not let him go, thou shalt have thy request of him. "But who am I," saith one, "that I should plead thus? I have no right to hold him thus." 'Tis true, but when a man is hungry, when a man is dying, he does not think of rights. He holds you right or wrong. His need is his right. Poor soul, go and plead your need before God. Plead your sin, tell him you are wretched and undone without his sovereign grace. Use the strange argument which David used, the strangest in all the world, "For thy name's sake, O Lord! pardon mine iniquity, for it is great." Plead the very greatness of your sin as a reason for mercy; the damnable character of your sin; the certainty that you will soon be cast into hell, the fact that he might justly drive you from his presence for ever; plead all that before him; and say, "Lord, if ever the heights and depths of thy grace might be seen in saving an undeserving soul, I am just that one. If thy mercy wants to honor itself by saving the most undeserving, ill deserving, hell deserving sinner that ever lived, Lord, I am the man. If thou wantest a platform on which to erect a monument of infinite grace, that men shall stand and wonder, and angels shall gaze on it with astonishment, Lord, here am I. If thou wantest emptiness, here is one who is all emptiness. If thou as the good physician wantest a bad case, a glaring case, a desperate case, to operate on, thou wilt never have a worse case than mine. O God, turn aside and have pity upon me, and show thy mighty power." This is the way to plead. Not your merits—they will never get a hearing, but your misery, your sin, your guiltiness before God—these are the arguments. And then if faith can come in and plead the blood, and say, "Didst thou not send thy Son to save sinners?" has he not said he came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance? Is it not written that the Son of Man is come to seek and to save not the good, but that which was lost? Oh! if you can plead the blood in that fashion, you will not fail. His name is the Savior—he came to save his people from their sins. He died for the ungodly, he justifieth the ungodly—the unrighteous he makes righteous through his own merits. If you can plead this, oh, then, you shall not long wait, for though God does not deliver till we cry, yet he does deliver when we cry. "He will deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper." Oh, what a mercy it is when the tide is ebbed right out, and there is nothing left. It will turn now, it will turn now. The streams of grace will turn now. When you are empty, when you are overwhelmed, when you are like a dish wiped out, and there is not anything good left in you—now will God come to you. The darkest part of the night is that which precedes the dawn of the day. When God has killed you, he will make you live. When he has wounded you through and through, he will come to your healing.

 

"'Tis perfect poverty alone,

That sets the soul at large;

While we can call one mite our own,

We get no full discharge.

But let our debts be what they may,

However great or small;

As soon as we have nought to pay,

Our God forgives us all."

 

May it be so now, for his name's sake. Amen.



The Pilgrim’s Longings

By / Jun 22

The Pilgrim's Longings

 

"And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city."—Hebrews 11:15-16

 

     Abraham left his country at God's command, and he never went back again. The proof of faith lies in perseverance. There is a sort of faith which does run well, but it is soon hindered, and it doth not obey the truth. That is not the faith to which the promise is given. The faith of God's elect continues and abides. Being connected with the living and incorruptible seed, it lives and abides for ever. Abraham returned not; Isaac returned not; Jacob returned not. The promise was to them as "strangers and sojourners," and so they continued. The apostle tells us, however, that they were not forced so to continue; they did not remain because they could not return. Had they been mindful of the place from whence they came out, they might have found opportunities to go back. Frequent opportunities came in their way; there was communication kept up between them and the old family house at Padan-Aram: they had news sometimes from the old quarters. More than that, there were messages exchanged, servants were sometimes sent, and you know there was a new relation entered into—did not Rebekah come from thence? And Jacob, one of the patriarchs, was driven to go down into the land, but he could not stay there; he was always unrestful, till at last he stole a march upon Laban and came back into the proper life—the life which he had chosen, the life which God had commanded him, the life of a pilgrim and a stranger in the land of promise. You see, then, they had many opportunities to have returned, to have settled comfortably, and tilled the ground as their fathers did before them; but they continued to follow the uncomfortable shifting life of wanderers of the weary foot, who dwelt in tents, who own no foot of land—they were aliens in the country which God had given them by promise.

     Now, our position is very similar to theirs. As many of us as have believed in Christ have been called out. The very meaning of a church is, "called out by Christ." We have been separated. I trust we know what it is to have gone without the camp, bearing Christ's reproach. Henceforth, in this world we have no home, no true home for our spirits; our home is beyond the flood; we are looking for it amongst the unseen things; we are strangers and sojourners as all our fathers were, dwellers in this wilderness, passing through it to reach the Canaan which is to be the land of our perpetual inheritance.

     I. I propose, then, first of all this evening, to speak to you upon the opportunities which we have had, and still have, to return to the old house, if we were mindful of it. Indeed, it seems to me as if the word "opportunity" as it occurs in the text, were hardly strong enough to express the influence and incentive, the provocations and solicitations, by which, in our case, we have been urged. It is a wonder of wonders that we have not gone back to the world, with its sinful pleasures and its idolatrous customs. When I think of the strength of divine grace, I do not marvel that saints should persevere; but, when I remember the weakness of their nature, it seems a miracle of miracles that there should be one Christian in the world who could maintain his steadfastness for a single hour. It is nothing short of Godhead's utmost stretch of might that keeps the feet of the saints, and preserves them from going back to their old unregenerate condition. We have had opportunities to have returned. My brethren, we have such opportunities in our daily calling. Some of you are engaged in the midst of ungodly men, and those engagements supply you with constant opportunities to sin as they do, to fall into their excesses, to lapse into their forgetfulness of God, or even to take part in their blasphemies. Oh, have you not often strong inducements, if it were not for the grace of God, to become as they are? Or, if your occupation keeps you alone, yet, my brethren, there is one who is pretty sure to intrude upon our privacy, to corrupt our thoughts, to kindle strange desires in our breasts, to tantalise us with morbid fancies, and to seek our mischief. The Tempter he is, the Destroyer he would be, if we were not delivered from his snares. Ah, how frequently will solitude have temptations as severe as publicity could possibly bring. There are perils in company, but there are perils likewise in our loneliness. We have many opportunities to return. In the parlour, pleasantly conversing, or in the kitchen, perhaps, occupied with the day's work—toiling in the field, or trading on the mart, busy on the land or tossed about on the sea, there are critical seasons on which destiny itself might appear to hang contingent. Where can we fly to escape from these opportunities that haunt us everywhere and peril us in every thing? If we should mount upon the wings of the wind, could we find "a lodge in some vast wilderness," think ye, then, we might be quite clear from all the opportunities to go back to the old sins in which we once indulged? No. Each man's calling may seem to him to be more full of temptation than his fellow's. It is not so. Our temptations are pretty equally distributed, I dare say, after all, and all of us might say, that we find in our avocations, from hour to hour, many opportunities to return.

     But, dear brethren, it is not merely in our business and in our calling; the mischief lies in our bone and in our flesh. Opportunities to return! Ah! Who that knows himself does not find strong, incentives to return. Ah! how often will our imagination paint sin in very glowing colors, and, though we loathe sin and loathe ourselves for thinking of it, yet how many a man might say, "had it not been for divine grace, where should I have been?—for my feet had almost gone, my steps had well nigh slipped." How strong is the evil in the most upright man! How stern is the conflict to keep under the body, lest corruption should prevail. You may be diligent in secret prayer, and, perhaps, the devil may have seemed asleep till you began to pray, and when you were most fervent, then will he also become most rampant. When you get nearer to God, Satan will sometimes seem to get nearer to you. Opportunities to return, as long as you are in this body, will be with you. To the very edge of Jordan you will meet with temptations. When you sit expectant on the banks of the last river, waiting, for the summons to cross, it may be that your fiercest temptation will come even then. Oh, this flesh, the body of this death—wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from it? But while it continues with me, I shall find opportunities to return.

     So too, dear brethren and sisters, these opportunities to return are adapted to our circumstances and adjusted to any condition of life, and any change through which we may pass. For instance how often have professors, when they have prospered, found opportunities to return! I sigh to think of many that appeared to be very earnest Christians when they were struggling for bread, who have become very dull and cold now that they have grown rich and increased in goods. How often does it happen in this land of ours, that a poor earnest Christian has associated with the people of God at all meetings, and felt proud to be there, but he has risen in the world and stood an inch or two above others in common esteem, and he could not go with God's people any longer: he must seek out the world's church and join in to get a share of the respectability and prestige that will always congregate in the domain of fashion. Henceforth, the man has turned aside from the faith, if not altogether in his heart, at least in his life. Beware of the high places: they are very slippery. There is not all the enjoyment you may think to be gathered in retirement and in ease. On the contrary, luxury often puffeth up, and abundance makes the heart to swell with vanity. If any of you are prospering in this world, oh watch, for you are in imminent danger of being mindful to return to the place whence you came out.

     But, the peril is as instant every whit in adversity. Alas, I have had to mourn over Christian men—at least I thought they were such—who have waxed very poor, and when they have grown poor, they hardly felt they could associate with those they knew in better circumstances. I think they were mistaken in the notion that they would be despised. I should lie ashamed of the Christian who would despise his fellow, because God was dealing with him somewhat severely in Providence. Yet there is a feeling in the human heart, and, though there may be no unkind treatment, yet, oftentimes, the sensitive spirit is apt to imagine it, and I have observed some absent themselves by degrees from the assembly of God with a sense of shame. It is smoothing the way to return to your old place; and, indeed, I have not wondered when I have seen some professors grow cold, when I have thought where they were compelled to live, and how they have been constrained to pass their time. Perhaps they were living at home before, but now they have to take a room where they can have no quiet, but where sounds of blasphemy greet them, or, in some cases, where they have to go to the workhouse, and be far away from all Christian intercourse or anything that could comfort them. It is only God's grace that can keep your graces alive under such circumstances. You see, whether you grow rich or whether you grow poor, you will have these opportunities to return. If you want to go back to sin, to carnality, to a love of the world, to your old condition, you never need to be prevented from doing so by want of opportunities: it will be something else that will prevent you, for these opportunities are plentiful and countless.

     Opportunities to return! Let me say just one thing more about them. They are often furnished by the example of others.

 

"When any turn from Zion's way,

Alas, what numbers do!

Methinks I hear my Savior say,

Wilt thou forsake me too?"

 

The departures from the faith of those whom we highly esteem are, at least while we are young, very severe trials to us. We keenly suspect whether that religion can be true which was feigned so cunningly and betrayed so wantonly, by one who seemed to be a model, but proved to be a hypocrite. It staggers us: we cannot make it out. Opportunities to return you have now; but ah! may grace be given you so that, if others play the Judas, instead of leading you to do the same, it may only bind you more fast to your Lord, and make you walk more carefully, lest you also prove a son of perdition.

     And ah, my brethren and sisters, if some of us were to return, we should have this opportunity—a cordial welcome from our former comrades. None of our old friends would refuse to receive us. There is many a Christian who, if he were to go back to the gaiety of the world, would find the world await him with open arms. He was the favourite of the ball-room once; he was the wit "that set the table in a roar;" he was the man who above all was courted when he moved in the circles of the vain and frivolous: glad enough would they be to see him come back. What a shout of triumph would they raise, and how would they fraternize with him! Oh, may the day never come to you, you young people especially, who have lately put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and professed his name, when you shall be welcomed by the world, but may you for ever forget your kindred and your father's house, so shall the king greatly desire your beauty, for he is the Lord, and worship you him. Separation from the world will endear you to the Savior, and bring you into conscious enjoyment of his presence; but, of opportunities to return there is no lack.

     Perhaps, you will say, "Why does the Lord make them so plentiful? Could he not have kept us from temptation?" There is no doubt he could, but it was never the Master's intention that we should all be hothouse plants. He taught us to pray, "Lead us not into temptation," but, at the same time, he does lead us there, and intends to do it, and this for the proving of our faith, to see whether it be true faith or not. Depend upon it, faith that is never tried is not true faith. It must be sooner or later exercised. God does not create useless things: he intends that the faith he gives should have its test, should glorify his name. These opportunities to return are meant to try your faith, and they are sent to you to prove that you are a volunteer soldier. Why, if grace was a sort of chain that manacled you, so that you could not leave your Lord; if it had become a physical impossibility to forsake the Savior, there would be no credit in it. He that does not run away because his legs are too weak, does not prove himself a hero; but he that could run, but will not run; he that could desert his Lord, but will not desert him, has within him a principle of grace stronger than any fetter could be—the highest, firmest, noblest bond that unites a man to the Savior. By this shall you know whether you are Christ's or not. When you have opportunity to return, if you do not return, that shall prove you are his. Two men are going along a road, and there is a dog behind them. I do not know to which of them that dog belongs, but I shall be able to tell you directly. They are coming to a crossroad: one goes to the right, the other goes to the left. Now which man does the dog follow? That is his master. So when Christ and the world go together, you cannot tell which you are following; but, when there is a separation, and Christ goes one way, and your interest and your pleasure seem to go the other way, if you can part with the world and keep with Christ, then you are one of his. After this manner these opportunities to return may serve us a good purpose: they prove our faith, while they try our character; thus helping us to see whether we are indeed the Lord's or not.

     But, we must pass on (for we have a very wealthy text) to notice the second point.

     II. We cannot take any opportunity to go back, because we desire something better than we could get by returning to that country from whence we came out. An insatiable desire has been implanted in us by divine grace which urges us to—

 

"Forget the steps already trod,

And onward press our way."

 

Notice how the text puts it:—"But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly." Brethren, you desire something better than this world, do you not? Has the world ever satisfied you? Perhaps it did when you were dead in sin. A dead world may satisfy a dead heart; but ever since you have known something of better things, and brighter realities, have you been ever contented with earthly things and emptier vanities? Perhaps you have tried to fill your soul with the daintiest provisions the world can offer; to wit—God has prospered you, and you have said, "Oh, this is well." Your children have been about you, you have had many household joys, and you have said, "I could stay here for ever." Did not you find very soon that there was a thorn in the flesh? Did you ever gather a rose in this world that was altogether without a thorn? Hare you not been obliged to say, after you have had all that the world could give you, "Vanity of Vanities, all is vanity?" I am sure it has been so with me, with you, with all my kinsfolk in Christ, and with all my yokefellows in his service. All God's saints would confess that were the Lord to say to them, "You shall have all the world, and that shall be your portion," they would be broken-hearted men. "Nay, my Lord," they would reply, "do not put me off with these biding presents; feed me not upon these husks. Though thou shouldst give me Joseph's lot, the ancient mountains, and the precious things of the lasting hills," "Thou art more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey;" yea, though thou shouldst confer on me the precious things of the earth, and the fullness thereof, I would prefer before them all the goodwill of him that dwelt in the bush. Give me thyself, and take these all away, if so it please thee, but do not, my Lord, do not think I can be content with Egypt since I have set forth for Canaan, or that I can settle down in the wilderness now that I am journeying to the land of promise. We desire something better.

     There is this about a Christian that, even when he does not enjoy something better, he desires it; of that, verily, I am quite sure. How much of character is revealed in our desires. I felt greatly encouraged when I read this, "Now they desire a better"—The word "country" has been inserted by our translators. It weakens the sense; vague but vast is the craving expressed in the sentence, "They desire a better"—I know I long for something far better, something infinitely preferable to that which my eyes can see or that my tongue can express. I do not always enjoy that something better. Dark is my path; I cannot see my Lord; I cannot enjoy his presence; sometimes I am like one that is banished from him; but I desire his blessing, I desire his presence; and, though to desire may be but a little thing, let me say a good desire is more than nature ever grew: grace has given it. It is a great thing to be desirous. "They desire a better country." And, because we desire this better thing, we cannot go back and be content with things which gratified us once.

     More than that, if ever the child of God gets entangled for awhile, he is uneasy by reason of it. Abraham's slips, for he had one or two, were made when he had left the land, and gone down among the Philistines; but he was not easy there: he must come back again. And Jacob—he had found a wife—nay, two—in Laban's land, but he was not content there. No, no child of God can be, whatever he may find in this world. We shall never find a heaven here. We may hunt the world through, and say, "This looks like a little paradise," but there is not any paradise this side of the skies, for a child of God at any rate. There is enough out there in the farm yard for the hogs, but there is not that which is suitable for the children. There is enough in the world for sinners, but not for saints. They have stronger, sharper, and more vehement desires, for they have a nobler life within them, and they desire a better country, and even if they get entangled for awhile in this country, and in a certain measure identified with citizens of it, they are ill at ease—their citizenship is in heaven, and they cannot rest anywhere but there. After all, we confess to-night, and rejoice in the confession, that our best hopes are for things that are out of sight: our expectations are our largest possessions. The things that we have a title to, that we value, are ours to-day by faith: we do not enjoy them yet. But when our heirship shall be fully manifested, and we shall come to the full ripe age—oh, then shall we come into our inheritance, to our wealth, to the mansions, and to the glory, and to the presence of Jesus Christ our Lord.

     Thus you see the reason why the Christian cannot go back. Though he has many opportunities he does not embrace any, he shrinks with repugnance from them all, for, through divine grace, he has had produced in his heart desires for something better.

     Even when he does not realize as yet, or actually enjoy, that infinite good, which is something better than creature comfort or worldly ambition, the desires themselves become mighty bonds that keep him from returning to his former state. Dear brethren, let us cultivate these desires more and more. If they have such a separating, salutary, sanctifying influence upon our heart, and effect upon our character, in keeping us from the world, let us cultivate them much. Do you think that we meditate enough upon heaven? Look at the miser. When does he forget his gold? He dreams of it. He has locked it up tonight and he goes to bed, but he is afraid he heard a footstep down the stairs, and he goes to see. He looks to the iron safe: he would be quite sure that it is well secured. He cannot forget his dear gold. Let us think of heaven, of Christ, and of the blessings of the covenant, and let us thus keep our desires wide awake, and stimulate them to active exercise. The more they draw us to heaven, the more they withdraw us from the world.

     III. It would be unreasonable if we did not vehemently resist every opportunity and every solicitation to go back.

     The men of faith to whom the apostle referred in our text were not only strangers and pilgrims, but it is specially observed that they confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. They were a grand company. From an unit they had multiplied into a countless host. Sprang there not even of one, and him as good as dead, as many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the seashore innumerable? Now, brethren, you see we have here a very strong reason for not returning. It is because you are the descendants, the spiritual descendants, of the patriarchs. Let me try to show you how urgent a motive for steadfastness this is. Practically, it comprises two or three considerations of the highest moment. One thing it implies very obviously is that you thoroughly admire their example and fervently emulate their spirit. As you have glanced over the scroll of history, or narrowly scanned the records of men's lives, the pomp of Pharaoh has not dazzled you, but the purity of Joseph has charmed you; the choice of Moses was to your taste, though it did involve leaving a court where he was flattered, for fellowship with enslaved kinsmen by whom he was suspected; and, you would rather have been with Daniel in the lions' den than with Darius on the throne of empire. You have transferred their strong will to your own deliberate choice. And, when the jeer has been raised against canting methodists, you have said, "I am one of them." You have confessed as occasion served before the world, you have professed as duty called before the church, you have accepted the consequences as honesty demanded before angels and men. Therefore, in your heart of hearts you feel that you cannot go back. The vows of God are upon you. It is well they are. Review them often: refresh your memory with them frequently; recur to them and renew them in every time of trial and temptation. Howbeit, repent of them never, or woe betide you. There is a secret virtue in the confession, if it be steadfastly adhered to and zealously maintained. It is a talisman, believe me, against the contagion of an evil atmosphere that might otherwise instil poison into your constitution.

     Again, there is another thing; you have joined yourself to an ancient fraternity that has something more than rules to guide or legends to captivate; for it has a combination of both, seeing it is rich in poetic lore. Why, it is on this that patriotism feeds as its daintiest morsel. "Thy statutes," said David, "have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage." Brother! there hath no sorrow befallen thee but what thy noble ancestors have celebrated in cheery tones, and set to music in cheerful strains. Oh, beloved! if you could forget the statutes, can you ever fail to remember the songs? There has never been a revival in the church that has not witnessed to the value of our psalmody. God be praised for our psalms and spiritual songs. Oh, how often they have made melody in our hearts to the Lord! While our voices blend, do not our very souls become more and more richly cemented? They are, in truth, the pilgrim's solace.

     Another thing strikes me. I should not like you to overlook it. There is, in this chapter, a special commendation for faith in a pleasing variety of operations. But the speciality of the strangers and pilgrims is that they all died in faith. So, then, you cannot go back, because you cannot accomplish the end for which you went forward till you die. You have joined the company that makes the goal of life the object for which you live. Your aim is to make a noble exit. "Prepare to meet thy God" was the motto you started with. To go back can hardly cross your thoughts, when to look back seems to you charged with peril. Our lease of mortal life is fast running out. The time of our sojourn on earth is getting more and more brief. Therefore, because our salvation is nearer than when we first believed, it is but meet that our desire to reach the better country, and to enter the heavenly city should become more and more vehement, as "we nightly pitch our roving tent a day's march nearer home." It comes to this, brethren. You feel that you have little to show for your faith. It never built an ark like Noah; it never offered a sacrifice like Abraham; it never subdued kingdoms like Joshua; it never quenched the violence of fire as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Well, be it so; but he that endureth to the end shall be saved; and all those that die in faith are gathered with the great cloud of witnesses. Is not this enough to cheer the rank and file of the church?

     IV. But, I must close with the sweetest part of the text, wherein it is shown that we have a great and blessed assurance vouchsafed to us as an acknowledgment, on the part of God, of those opportunities, and those yearnings persisted in. "Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared for them a city." Because they are strangers, add because they will not go back to their old abode, "therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God." He might well be ashamed of that. What poor people God's people are—poor, many of them, in circumstances, but how many of them I might very well call poor as to spiritual things. I do not think if any of us had such a family as God has, we should ever have patience with them. We cannot, when we judge ourselves rightly, have patience with ourselves; but, how is it that God bears with the ill manners of such a froward, weak, foolish, forgetful generation as his people are. He might well be ashamed to be called their God, if he looked upon them as they are, and estimated them upon their merits. Own them! How can he own them? Does he not himself sometimes say of them, "How can I put them among the children?" Yet he devises means, and brings about the purposes of his grace. Viewed as they are, they may be compared to a rabble in so many respects, that it is marvellous he is not ashamed of them. Still, he never does discountenance them, and he proves that he is not ashamed of them, for he calls himself their God. "I will be your God," saith he, and he oftentimes seems to speak of it as a very joyful thing to his own heart. "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." While he calls himself their God, he never forbids them to call him their God. In the presence of the great ones of the earth they may call him their God—anywhere—and he is not ashamed to be so called. Matchless condescension this! Have you not sometimes heard of a man who has become rich and has risen in the world, who has had some poor brother or some distant relative. When he has seen him in the street, he has been obliged to speak to him and own him. But oh, how reluctantly it was done. I dare say he wished him a long way off, especially if he had some haughty acquaintance with him at the time, who would perhaps turn round, and say, "Why, who is that wretched, seedy-looking fellow you spoke to?" He does not like to say, "That's my brother;" or, "That's a relative of mine." Not so our Lord Jesus Christ. However low his people may sink, he is not ashamed to call them brethren. They may look up to him in all the depths of their degradation. They may call him a brother. He is in very fact a brother, born for their adversity, able and ready to redress their grievances, he is not ashamed to call them brethren. One reason for this seems to me to be, because he does not judge of them according to their present circumstances, but much rather according to their pleasant prospects. He takes account of what he has prepared for them. Notice the text, "Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city." They are poor now, but God, to whom things to come are things present, sees them in their fair white linen, which is the righteousness of the saints. All you can see in that poor child of God is a hard-working laboring man, mocked and despised of his fellows. But what does God see in him? He sees in him a dignity and a glory assimilated to his own. He hath put all things under the feet of such a man as that, and crowned him with glory and honor in the person of Christ, and the angels themselves are ministering servants to such. You see his outward attire, not his inner self—you see the earthly tabernacle, but the spirit newborn, immortal and divine—you see not that. Howbeit, God does. Or, if you have spiritual discernment to perceive the spiritual creature, you only see it as it is veiled by reason of the flesh, and beclouded by the atmosphere of this world; but he sees it as it will appear, when it shall be radiant like unto Christ, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. God sees the poorest, the least proficient disciple as a man in Christ; a perfect man come unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; such indeed as he will be in that day when he shall see Christ, for then he shall be like him as he is. It seems too, in the text, that God looks to what he had prepared for these poor people. He hath prepared for them a city. Methinks, that by what he has prepared for them, we may judge how he esteems and loves them—estimating them by what he means them to be, rather than by what they appear to be at present. Look at this preparation just a minute. "He hath prepared for them"—"them." Though I delight to preach a free gospel, and to preach it to every creature under heaven, we must never forget to remind you of the speciality. "He hath prepared for them a city"—that is, for such as are strangers and foreigners—for such as have faith, and, therefore, have left the world, and gone out to follow Christ. "He hath prepared for them"—not "for all of you"—only for such of you as answer the description on which we have been meditating has he prepared "a city."

     Note what it is he has made ready for them. It is a city. This indicates a permanent abode. They dwelt in tents—Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob—but he has prepared for them a city. Here we are tent dwellers, and the tent is soon to be taken down. "We know that this earthly house of our" tent "shall be dissolved, but we have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." "He hath prepared a city." A city is a place of genial associations. In a lonely hamlet one has little company. In a city, especially where all the inhabitants shall be united in one glorious brotherhood, the true communism of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity may be realised in the purest sense and highest possible degree. In a city such as this there are plentiful occasions for intercourse, where mutual interests shall enhance mutual joy. "He hath prepared a city." It is a city too possessing immunities, and conferring dignity upon its residents. To be a burgess of the City of London is thought to be a great honor, and upon princes is it sometimes conferred; but, we shall have the highest honor that can be given, when we shall be citizens of the city which God has prepared.

     I must not dwell on this theme, delightful as it is; I want a few words with you, my friends, direct and personal, before I close. Do not wonder, those of you who are the children of God, do not wonder if you have discomforts here. If you are what you profess to be, you are strangers: you do not expect men of this world to treat you as members of their community. If they do, be afraid. Dogs don't bark as a man goes by that they know: they bark at strangers. When people persecute you and slander you, no marvel. If you are a stranger, they naturally bark at you. Do not expect to find the comforts in this world that you crave after, that your flesh would long for. This is our inn, not our home. We tarry for a night: we are away in the morning. We may bear the annoyances of the eventide and the night, for the morning will break so soon. Remember that your greatest joy, while you are a pilgrim, is your God. So the text says, "Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God." Do you want a richer source of consolation than you have? Here is one that can never be diminished, much less exhausted. When the created streams are dry, go to this eternal fountain, and find it ever springing up. Your joy is your God: make your God your joy.

     Now, what shall be said to those who are not strangers and foreigners? Ah, you dwell in a land where you find some sort of repose; but I have heavy tidings for you. This land in which you dwell, and all the works thereof, must be burned up. The city of which you, who have never been converted to Christ, are citizens, is a City of Destruction, and, as is its name, such will be its end. The King will send his armies against that guilty city and destroy it, and if you are citizens of it, you will lose all you have—you will lose your souls—lose yourselves. "Whither away?" saith one—"Where can I find comfort then and security?" You must do as Lot did, when the angels presses him and said, "Haste to the Mount lest thou be consumed." To what mountain, say you, shall I go? The mountain of safety is Calvary. Where Jesus died, there you shall live. There is death everywhere else but there. But there is life arising from his death. Oh, fly to him. "But how?" saith one. Trust him. God gave his Son, equal with himself, to bear the burden of human sin; and he died, a substitute for sinners,—a real substitute, an efficient substitute, for all who trust in him. If thou wilt trust thy soul with Jesus, thou art saved. Thy sin was laid on him: it is forgiven thee. It was blotted out when he nailed the handwriting of ordinances that were against thee to his cross. Trust him now and you are saved; you shall become, henceforth, a stranger and a pilgrim. In the better land you shall find the rest which you never can find here, and need not wish to find, for the land is polluted; let us away from it. The curse has fallen: let us get away to the country that never was cursed, to the city that is for ever blessed, Where Jesus dwells there may we find a home and abide for aye. God add his blessing to this discourse, and give a blessing to your souls, for Jesus Christ' sake. Amen.



The Essence of Simplicity

By / Dec 29

The Essence of Simplicity

 

“Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when ho had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?” — John ix. 35, 36.

 

THIS text is from the story of the blind man to whom Jesus had given sight. His narrative of the cure provoked the anger of the Jews and their rulers; and, as the man could not be brought to see with them that one who had opened his eyes could also be a bad man, they cast him out of their assembly, and by that act signified to him that he would be, or already was, cast out of the Jewish Church, set aside from the synagogue, and made the victim of the greater excommunication. This was one of the most fearful calamities that could befall a Jew, and I do not doubt but what the man considered it to be so. Now, it is not at all likely that any person here is feeling the same trouble, but many may be suffering from something similar. It may be that you have excommunicated yourselves. Within the court of your own bosom conscience has held a solemn court, and pronounced upon you a sentence which continually rings in your ears. You scarcely dare mingle with those who assemble in the house of God, for you feel yourselves unworthy to be among them. Up till lately you were upon the best of terms with yourselves, and reckoned that all was right with God. You hoped that you stood on as good a footing, at any rate, as other men, and perhaps were somewhat better than many around you; but now a process of enlightenment has come over your mind— practices have been seen to be seriously evil which before were regarded as trifles, and Bin itself has worn another aspect than any which it bore in former times. Does such a person stand here this morning? Then let me assure him that his state of mind is well known to me, for I knew its horrors by the space of many months together. I, too, felt that I was cut off from the congregation of the hopeful, and must not hope for mercy from God. I dared not lift so much as mine eyes towards heaven, but complained to the Lord as Jonah did — “I am shut out of thy sight.” Hence with brotherly sympathy I speak to any man who reckons himself a castaway, shut out from the house of the Lord.

     The man in the narrative, most happily for him, at the time when the sentence began to cast its gloom over him, was met by the Lord Jesus Christ, who at once proceeded to afford him the necessary cordial. Christ has come as the consolation of Israel, and where he finds that men are burdened in spirit he commences his gracious work: but, observe, he brings but one cordial, and prescribes but one way by which its efficacy can be realised. He spoke to the oppressed man concerning the Son of God and personal faith in him, for this is the master-consolation for broken hearts, this is the surest and best means of bringing joy to souls which sit in the dungeons of despondency. Our Lord began by saying to the cast-out one, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” Now, if any here present are in the state which I have thus hurriedly sketched, feeling themselves guilty before God, with spirits ill at ease, with hearts alarmed at coming and deserved judgment, I would come in Christ’s name to them this morning with words of comfort, but they will be no other than those which Jesus uttered of old. I have nothing to speak to you by way of comfort but concerning the Son of God, and concerning him only, by demanding that ye believe on him, for only as you receive him by faith will he be to you a relief from sorrow. He that believeth on the Lord Jesus shall not be ashamed, but without faith you are without salvation.

     We shall this morning labour to bring you all to the point in hand. There shall be between the doctrine of the gospel and your soul this morning, O thou who art not yet a believer, a direct encounter. Thou shalt come up this morning and face the gospel, whether thou spurn it or accept it. Thou shalt know, if the plainest words can tell it thee, that if thou believest in Christ Jesus thou shalt be saved, and it shall be put to thee whether thou wilt do this or not, and thou shalt either believe on the Son of God or incur anew the sin of putting from thee the only name given under heaven among men whereby thou canst be saved. I say thou shalt be brought to this if words can bring thee to it, and then I must leave the work of deciding you in the hands of God the Holy Ghost. I entreat you who love the Lord, and have prevalence in prayer, to aid me with your supplications, that the result of bringing the sinner face to face with the gospel may be that he may decide to believe in Jesus, that faith may be given him, that the Son of God may become the object of his soul’s confidence, and that in no case the hearer may be left to continue in unbelief, and to reject the Son of God. You have seen at the mouth of the coal pits how the full wagons as they run down the incline draw the empty ones up to the pit’s mouth that they also may be filled: I would to God that you who have grace may exert the power God has given you with himself; and so by prevalent intercession you may draw others to the Saviour. While we are preaching do you be praying, and God will work by us both. Look upon the unsaved around you with an eye of pity, then look to Christ, your exalted Saviour, with the eye of faith, and say to him, “Jesu, thou who hast redeemed myriads by thy blood, now work by thine eternal Spirit, and redeem also by power. Let the Spirit that rested on thine own ministry, the Spirit that was with thy servants at Pentecost, the Spirit that has converted ns also to thy truth, work mightily among the congregation this morning, that all these may be led to obey thee. When thy cross is lifted high, let it bring life to the dead throughout the camp, and be to the awakened a lighthouse of safety, to the despairing a pillar of hope”

     I. The run of our discourse this morning being solemnly practical, we shall, in the most distinct manner, lay down and define THE MATTER IN HAND. With thee, my anxious friend, the greatest and weightiest business that can concern thee is that thou find salvation. Thou hast it not at present, thy conscience tells thee that; and though thou art well aware that thou must obtain it, or be for ever lost, yet thou hast as yet but small prospect of ever finding it. Thou hast sinned, and punishment awaits thee; neither canst thou escape! The point above all points with thee is that thou be saved, and if thou be really awakened thou desirest to be saved from sin as well as from its punishment; thou wouldst not only escape from the consequences of doing wrong, but from the propensity to do wrong; from the constant power and defilement of past sin, and from the tendency to sin again. Thou desirest also to be forgiven, and by forgiveness to be set clear from the anger of a justly offended God, and to be rendered acceptable to the Most High; and if thou be in thy right mind thou desirest that all this should be done really and truly, not in pretence or fiction, but in deed and in truth. God forbid that thou shouldst ever be content with the name of being saved, with an external and professional salvation of outward rites and ceremonies, while your heart remains unpurified and your nature uncleansed. In some other departments we may be deceived and not be very great losers, but in soul matters we must make all things sure; for if we are deceived there, it is all over with us indeed. Let me be cheated with base metal instead of gold, if you will, but not with falsehoods in the place of saving truth, or deceptive notions in lieu of gracious operations. Let me be deceived as to the food I eat, and find every morsel of it adulterated, if so it must be; but not in the life-bread eternal, which my soul craves after. Be true to my soul, if all else be a lie!

     Do you, my hearer, desire salvation from the power and guilt of sin, and do you desire it to be thorough and real? Do you not also long for it now? If God has at all quickened you, you long to be saved at once, and tremble at the idea of delay. Sin is bitter to you now, it is a present plague. The matter before us now is present salvation, personal salvation to be realised for your own self. If there be such a thing as looking up to the smiling face of a reconciled Father in heaven, you desire to enjoy it now: if it be possible for the load of sin to be rolled from off a mortal’s shoulders for ever, you desire to be quit of that burden at this instant: if there be, indeed, a fountain in which, if a man be washed, every stain shall disappear, you long to plunge beneath its cleansing flood at once, and be made whiter than the driven snow. If your soul is so far awakened I bless God indeed, for there is nothing beneath the sun— and, indeed, there is nothing above it— that can rival in importance your soul’s salvation.

     Now the matter which I must press upon you is this. If you are ever to be saved, God has declared that salvation must come to you as a gift of his grace, as an act of his free favour, and can only be received by you through your believing in his Son. As Christ consoled the man in the temple by saying to him, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” so to-day there is no consolation, much less salvation for thee, except through believing in God’s own Son. A hundred times have you heard the story of God’s only begotten Son, who is the lover of men’s souls; but we must tell it you yet again. God will not save men on the ground of their merits; indeed, if they have any merits they do not require saving. If God owes you anything, produce the account and you shall have it. If there be any obligations on God’s part towards you, say what they are, and if they can be proved to exist, God will never give you less than you can justly claim. Alas! my friend, if you are lodged where you deserve to be, where will it be but in the pit of hell? It were well for you then to have done with all claims and demands. God will only save you as a guilty person who deserves to be destroyed, but whom he saves because he chooses to save him — because he resolves to manifest in him the abundance of his mercy. “By grace are ye saved,” is the immutable purpose of heaven; and it is further decreed, that this grace shall be received by men through the channel of faith, and by that channel only. God will save only those who trust in his Son. Jesus Christ the Lord came into this world and took upon himself our nature, as we taught you last Sabbath Day, and being found in fashion as a man, he took the transgressor’s place; the transgressions of his people were numbered upon him, imputed to him, charged to his account, and he suffered for them as if they had been his own sins. He was scourged, tormented, crucified, and slain; the stripes he bore were the chastisments due to human sin, and the death he endured was the death threatened to transgressors; and now, whosoever will trust in Jesus shall participate in the result of all the Redeemer’s substitutionary agonies, and the case shall stand thus — the sufferings of Christ shall be instead of the believer’s suffering, and the merits of Christ shall be instead of the obedience which man ought to have rendered. Faith in Jesus makes us righteous through the righteousness of another; it causes us to be accepted in the Beloved, perfect in Christ Jesus. As by the first Adam we fell, so by the second Adam we rise again. Now the way to partake in the benefits of the death of the Lord Jesus is simply by believing in him. Here let it be understood that believing in Jesus is not a mysterious and complex action. It does not require a week to explain what faith is. Faith believes what God has revealed concerning Christ, and it therefore trusts in Christ as the divinely-appointed Saviour. I believe that Jesus was God’s Son, that God sent him into the world to save sinners, that to do so he became a substitute to justice for all those who trust him, and, as I trust him, I know that he was my substitute and that I am clear before God. Since Jesus died for me, God’s justice cannot put me to eternal death for whom Jesus my substitute has died; God’s truth cannot demand a second time the debt which has already been fully paid on my behalf. The rationale of the whole thing is as plain as possible, and whoever in this world, old or young, Jew or Gentile, literate or illiterate, rich or poor, debauched or moral, will trust in Jesus shall be saved— nay he is saved the moment he does so; but whosoever of woman born refuses to trust m Jesus is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the Son of God. Let a man’s character be what it may, if in that character there be no faith, he is a lost soul; but on the other hand, let that character have been what it may, if now he cometh to the cross and believeth in Jesus, he beginneth from that moment a new life; God will give to him all the graces and excellencies of character which will adorn his faith, and his faith shall save him. Trusting in Jesus, believing in Jesus, that is the matter. I want to bring my hammer down upon this anvil at every stroke, and if the Lord will be pleased to place before me some heart that he has melted in the furnace of conviction, the strokes will tell, if the Eternal God will lay to his almighty arm and smite with energy divine. If any soul be but brought to faith in Jesus the work is done; to believe in the Son of God is the point, and nothing else.

     II. This being the matter in hand, we will make an advance, in the second place, to notice that there is A QUESTION IN OUR TEXT WHICH INVOLVES THE WHOLE BASIS OF FAITH. The man said to Jesus, “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?” This man all through the narrative proves himself to be a very shrewd fellow. I do not know that holy Scripture gives us an instance of a more common-sense man than this man whose eyes were opened; and so, when he is told that he must believe in the Son of God, he comes to the point at once, and says, “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?” as if that was all he wanted to know — “Who is he?” and then the faith would surely come. When a soul is seeking faith, this question is the main point; the hinge of the whole matter lies there. This man did not say, “Lord, who am I that I should believe?”— not at all; that would have been wide of the point. If I read a story in the newspapers, about the truthfulness of which there is a question, I do not begin asking what my own character is, as though that had anything to do with it, but I ask who the authority for the story may be. I do not look within, but I look to the person claiming belief. The story is true or not, whatever I may be. My character does not concern the truth or falsehood of the statement, I must enquire into the statement itself. So this man did not make any remarks about what he might have been or might still be, but he hung the issue on this nail— “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?” So now, dear hearer, all the arguments for thy faith lie within the compass of that question, “Who is he, Lord, that I should believe in him?” Thou needest not say, “Who am I that I should believe? I have lived a life that has been defiled with sin; I have gone from one transgression to another; I have resisted conscience; I have stood out against the gospel; I have defiled myself by sins against light and knowledge.” It mattereth not. There thou standest, with all thy defilement taken for granted, and God says to thee, “Whosoever believeth on the Lord Jesus Christ hath everlasting life.” That is the saving matter; that, and nothing more nor less. Wilt thou believe in the Lord Jesus or not? What thou art is nothing to the point. If God’s witness be true, it is true whether thou be black or white, whether thou be a big sinner or a little sinner; and if it be false it will not be any the truer, whether you be good or bad, worthy or unworthy. If Jesus be able to save he ought to be trusted: and if he be not able none ought to rely upon him— the whole question turns on that.

     Neither raise any quibbles as to your present condition. You say, “But I at this moment feel myself so hard of heart; I cannot weep as some can; repentance is hid from my eyes; prayer is heavy, groaning work with me; even while I am listening to the gospel this morning my attention is not riveted as it ought to be upon the truth which I know to be vital; I am destitute of every good point; I am empty of everything that can recommend me to mercy.” I answer, what of that? Suppose I tell a man that the sum of ten thousand pounds has been left him in a will, is it anything to the point if he shows me his rags, his empty cupboard, and his wretched bed? Does his poverty make me a liar? Why does the man introduce such extraneous matter into the good news? Either it is true or it is not; his condition has nothing to do with the truth or falsehood of my declaration. If the man were wrapped in scarlet and fine linen, that would not make my statement any the truer; and if the dogs lick him as they did Lazarus, that does not give him a right to deny my truthfulness when I tell him a fact. So, O sinner, your condition has nothing to do with the question whether Jesus is to be trusted or not. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Will you believe in him? Will you trust the Lord Jesus? If you desire to trust him the subject for enquiry is, “Is he worth trusting?” But it is a question far away from the point to say, “I am this,” or “I am that.” Is not this so? I appeal to your own common sense.  

     “But still, as to the future,” says one; “I might go back to my old sins. I cannot trust myself, I have made some reformations before, and they have been but poor ventures; my ship has gone out to sea, and foundered in the first gale; I cannot expect with such temptations as will await me, that 1 shall bear up and enter heaven.” Now, what has the question of believing in Jesus to do with thy good resolutions, or thy miserable failures? Whosoever trusts Christ shall be saved. If thou be lost trusting him in the future, God’s word will not be true. The question is, Canst thou trust Christ? and that turns on that other “is he worthy to be trusted?” No other question can be admitted for a single moment. The case is something like that of a man in yonder sea; his ship is wrecked; she is breaking to pieces; her decks have been swept; he barely retains his hold on a floating spar. See! the life-boat comes up close to his side, and is ready to take him on board. Now, if there be a question in that man’s mind about getting into that life-boat in order to be saved, the only rational one that I can conceive is, “Will the boat carry me to shore? Is she sea-worthy? Will she outlive the breakers? Can she reach the land safely?” You cannot conceive the poor fellow’s saying, “I quiver too much with ague to be rescued by that boat,” or “The sea has washed the last rag from off my back, the boat will not suit me,” or “Another time I may be wrecked on the coast of Africa, and there may be a life-boat.” No, no. Man alive, there is the boat! Is she sea-worthy? That is the question. If so, get into her. If Christ be not worth trusting, do not trust him; and if he be worthy of all confidence, then have done with idle questions and cast yourself upon him. “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John v. 9— 12).

     Still, we will keep to this point— Jesus is worth trusting, worthy of the sinner’s unwavering faith. He is worth trusting, O sinner, because first of all he on whom thou art bidden to rely this day by the command of the gospel, is God himself. Thou hast offended God, and it is God who came into the world to save sinners. Against Christ thy sins were launched as arrows from a bow, but he against whom those bolts were shot has come in the fulness of his power and the infinity of his mercy to save them that believe. Canst thou not trust thyself in almighty hands— almighty to save? Is anything impossible with God? An angel could not save thee, but surely God himself can? How canst thou limit the Holy one of Israel? How canst thou set bounds to boundless love, or limits to limitless grace? If Jesus were man and not God, unbelief would have good excuse; but if the Saviour be divine, where can distrust find a cloak for itself?

     I feel this morning as if I could not help believing in Christ now that I know him to be divine. Faith has grown to be a necessary act of my mind. Save me! Who shall persuade me that he cannot? Come forth ye devils with your arguments and plead with me, and ye cannot inject a doubt into my soul while I know him to be God; he can shake the heavens when he pleases and make the earth to tremble; he bears up the universe upon his shoulders; cannot he save my poor soul? Ay, that he can. “Who is he that I might believe on him?” He is divine, and therefore I believe.

     But next, the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the sinner is bidden to trust, is commissioned by God to save. He came into the world as a Saviour, not alone on his own account, but as Messiah sent of God. He has the full concurrence of the sacred Trinity. It is the will of the Father, it is the will of the Holy Spirit, as well as the will of the Son, that whosoever believeth in Jesus should be saved. He was anointed of the Lord for his peculiar work. Now, I feel as if this was a special ground for trust in him. If Christ were an amateur Saviour who had taken up the trade of saving on his own account, there might be a question; but if God has divinely commissioned him to save, O soul, why canst thou doubt any more? Warranted of God, authorised of the Eternal, O heart, rest thou in him.

     Then, mark, the Lord Jesus Christ has actually done all that is necessary for him to do for the salvation of all who trust him. Years ago, before Jesus Christ came into the world, if I had been sent to preach the gospel, I must have cried “Jesus will take upon him the sins of believers and laydown his life for his church,” but now I have a more encouraging message;— Jesus has carried his people’s sins away for ever, he has suffered on their behalf all that was required to make an end of their transgressions. Whatever was demanded by the justice of God as a recompense for the injured honour of the law he has rendered. The equivalent for all the sufferings of all the elect in hell for ever Christ has suffered to the utmost: everything that was necessary that God might be just, and yet the justifier of him that believeth, Christ has endured. The cup of vengeance is not full, and to be drained; it is empty, and turned bottom upwards, Jesus has drank it dry. The labours needful for our redemption, superlatively greater than the labours of Hercules, have all been accomplished. Christ has gone into the grave, has gone out of the grave, and gone up to his glory. He has entered heaven because his work is done; and now he sits down at the right hand of the Father in the posture of rest and honour, because he has perfected for ever all those who put their trust in him. Now, soul, how canst thou refuse to believe in Jesus? To me the argument seems impossible to be resisted. If it be so, that Christ hath died, the just for the unjust, and that all who trust him shall be saved, I will also trust him, and I shall find peace through his blood.

     Moreover, soul, the point we trust God’s grace is bringing thee to is this — Jesus deserves to be trusted, and trust him we will— for he is full of power to save, for he is now upon the throne, and all power is given him in heaven and in earth. He is full of power to save we know, because he is saving souls every day. Some of us are the living witnesses that he can forgive sin, for we are pardoned, accepted, and renewed in heart; and the only way in which we obtained those boons was this — we trusted him, we did nothing else but trust him. If any soul here that believes in Jesus should perish, I must perish with him. I sail in that boat, and if it sinks I have no other to fly to, I avow before you all that I have no other confidence; I have not so much as the shred of a reliance in any sacrament I have undergone or enjoyed, in any sermon I have ever preached, in any prayer I have ever prayed, in any communion with God I have ever known. My hope lies in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ; and I shake off as though it were a viper, into the fire, as a deadly thing only fit to be burned, all pretence of relying on anything I may be, or can be, or ever shall be, or do. “None but Jesus,”— this is the settled pillar upon which we must build; it will bear us up, but nothing else can. Now, since by the authority of infallible Scripture, we know that Jesus has this power, wherefore is it that souls seeking rest do not obey the command, and rest themselves freely upon him. This is the climax of human depravity, that it rejects the witness of God himself, and chooses to perish in unbelief.

     Moreover, remember also that Jesus Christ this morning is by no means unwilling to save sinners, but on the contrary, he delights to do it. You have never to drag mercy out of Christ, as money from a miser, but it flows freely from him, like the stream from the fountain, or the sunlight from the sun. If he can be happier, he is made happier by giving of his mercy to the undeserving. When a poor wretch who only deserves hell, comes to him, and he says, “I have blotted out thy sins,” it is joy to Christ’s heart to do it. When a poor blasphemer bows his knee, and says, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner,” it makes Christ’s heart glad to say, “Thy blasphemies are forgiven: I suffered for them on the tree.” When a poor little child, by her bedside, cries, “Gentle Jesus, teach a little child to pray, and forgive the sins which I have done;” the Saviour loves to say, “Suffer these little children to come to me, for this also is a part of my recompense for the wounds I endured in my hands, my feet, and my side.” When any of you come to him and confess your transgressions and trust yourselves in his hands, it will be a new heaven to him; it will put new stars into his ever bright and lustrous crown; it will make him see of the travail of his soul and give him satisfaction. Have we not here also arguments to prove that Jesus is worthy to be trusted?

     III. This leads us in the third place to say, by all these answers to the question,— “Who is he? EVERY SINNER IN THIS TABERNACLE IS SHUT UP THIS MORNING TO THE ALTERNATIVE OF FAITH OR UNBELIEF. You are shut up either to trust in Christ, in whom God commands you to trust, or to refuse to trust him. I am not sent to preach to some of you this morning, but to every one who has ears to hear. I have never learned to preach a restricted gospel to a part of a congregation; the commission received by every true minister of Christ is, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature: he that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.” As you are all creatures, the gospel is hereby preached to all of you; sensible or insensible, spiritually dead or spiritually alive, so long as you are able to hear the gospel, one message comes to you all out of the excellent glory. “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.” “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” But I know what will be your course of action unless the Spirit of God prevent it. Many of you will try to decline the alternative between believing and not believing, which I have put so nakedly before you. You will not like to say, “I will not trust Christ,” and yet you will not trust in him. What, then, will you do? Why, you will ring the changes on the old bells, “But I am such a sinner. I am so unworthy!” I have already shown that the plea is not relevant and ought not to be thrust into the business. The question is one and indivisible, “Wilt thou believe on the Son of God?” Why then do you raise another question about yourself which has nothing to do with it. Yet I will take you on your own ground and answer you. Granted that you are a special and abominable sinner: then of all men in the world you are the man who should trust Christ, because it is written, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” You have been a drunkard, a fornicator, an adulterer, a thief, in fact, a devil of a man; well then, you have been a sinner;— that is all it comes to, and Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; therefore instead of being shut out by your character, you are shut in by it. You are the sort of man that Christ came to save. You cannot run away and say, “He did not come to save me because I am not a sinner.” You dare not do that.

     Very likely you will turn round upon me and say, “My reason for unbelief is that I do not feel as I should.” I again say the plea ought never to be urged. Because I feel a pain in my foot this morning, is that a reason why I should not trust in an honest man, or believe a statement which comes to me upon good authority. I will, however, take you on your own ground. You are so sinful that you are, in all respects, undeserving; well, then, Jesus came to save his people from their sins. Clearly, you are one of the very sort of persons whom he came to save, for you are full of sins. His salvation is all of grace, and since you have no good thing about you whatsoever, you are a most fit case for mercy, free mercy, great mercy! Salvation, all of grace, exactly suits you. You are an empty vessel, then it is clear you want to be filled; you are a filthy vessel, then you need washing; and Jesus proposes both to cleanse and fill. His overtures are exactly adapted to your circumstances. You are the very man for grace to bless.

     “Ah, but,” says another, “I feel myself lost, utterly lost.” What! are we first to do battle with some of you because you feel too little, and then with others because they feel too much; then we must come back to our one fixed point, and remind you again that both excuses are wide of the mark, and that the one point is— will you, or will you not, believe in the Lord Jesus, whom God has set forth to be the Saviour of men? But still if you are crushed with sorrowful feelings, there are special reasons for your attending to the gospel call, since some invitations are especially directed to you, such as, “Ho everyone that thirsteth come ye to the waters,” and “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” If there are special messages of grace for you who are somewhat awakened to a sense of need, then I entreat you, hasten to accept the testimony of God that so your souls may live.

     The one question for every unconverted sinner here is, Wilt thou believe on Jesus Christ? But I hear you saying, “Well, I must do better in the future; I think after all I may perhaps, by some exertions of my own, get into a better condition.” How can you hope so? Have you not made a pretty mess of it up till now? You had better give up the vain attempt. If you have done so badly in the past, you have little encouragement to try the future. Let despair drive you to faith. The worst of your conduct is you are going clean contrary to God’s plan. God says, “I will not save you on the ground of merit, for you have none.” That is really a gracious declaration of his, for it only shuts out false hopes, since “ by the works of the law shall no flesh living be justified.” Now, if you say, “I will seek salvation on the ground of works,” you are flying in God’s face. Is this wise? I should far rather recommend you to accept at once what he so freely gives. Follow the course of action adopted by a person the other day in dealing with another. He wanted to purchase something of his brother. His brother had asked him a certain amount for it, and he said, “I will give you half.” “No,” said the brother, “sooner than take so small a price I will give it to you.” “Thank you; I will have it,” was the immediate reply. That is what I would have you do. Do not offer your petty price to God, when he is ready to give the blessing without money and without price! I never knew such fools as men are about the things of God. If they can get a good thing for nothing, all the world over they will have it without pressing, and yet they rebel against free grace. Years ago we paid twenty millions to set free the slaves in Jamaica, but before the bill was carried there were no end of objections raised in the House of Commons and elsewhere. Many persons pleaded their objections, but I never heard of a negro appearing at the bar of the house to urge objections on behalf of the slaves. No black man came forward to say that the blacks were unworthy and undeserving, neither did the slaves propose that a part of the money should be paid by themselves. O no, it is not in human nature to request others to encumber their free gifts in that fashion; yet here we are so false to all that is reasonable that wo want to encumber sovereign grace. When God says, “I will blot out your transgressions now and save you once for all; only trust my dear Son;” ’tis strange, ’tis passing strange, ’tis madness at its consummation, that men should invent objections, and plead for a gospel with conditions and hard terms.

     Now, what will men do if driven out of this? I have often seen the sinner in the next place turn to downright falsehood and say, “It is too late,” though he knows right well it never can be too late; for the gospel says, “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved.” It does not say, if he believes when he is twenty-five years of age, or thirty-five, or fifty-five, or one hundred and five, but it stands the same for all ages. It is never too late to believe a truth, and that is the point. — “Wilt thou believe on the Son of God? Then the sinner will say that he feels within himself that there is no hope, and so because he happens to believe a lie he will make out that God’s truth also is a lie, and refuse to believe that which God solemnly declares, namely, that there is salvation in Jesus Christ! But I cannot stay to mention all these falsehoods, nor indeed to run into all the subterfuges of men who seek to escape from their own mercies. I saw in Pompeii, on a shop door, the motto, “Eme et Habe bis” — “Buy and you shall have,” and I could not but think that if I were walking the streets of the New Jerusalem, I should have seen a very different device, “Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price.” Now if there could be a shop opened in London in which all the goods were to be had without money and without price, would you quarrel with the shopkeeper, and petition for an Act of Parliament to shut his shop up, and say it was wicked, because you would rather go on the old terms and pay for all you have? Not a bit of it. Yet why is it you stand out against free grace’s golden motto, “Trust in Christ and you shall have.” Here is instantaneous pardon, perfect pardon, everlasting pardon, sonship through Christ, safety on earth, glory in heaven, and all for nothing, all for nothing;— the free gift of a gracious God to undeserving sinners, who trust in Jesus! Never angel had a more gracious, more god-like message of mercy than I have, how I wish I could glow with a seraph’s zeal, and cry with a cherub’s voice while proclaiming it. Would God that men would leave their foolish reasonings, and believe in Jesus Christ.

     IV. Lastly, on this alternative, this day, may hang EVERLASTING THINGS TO MANY OF YOU. I remember well, for the anniversary of the season has almost come round, when I was placed in a similar condition to many now present, when I knew myself to be ruined and undone, and heard, for the first time truly to understand it, that word, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth.” I know how it stood that morning. I was like Naaman by the Jordan’s brink. There flowed the flood. The old nature said, “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them and be clean?” Human nature said, “I want to feel something; I want to have John Bunyan’s experience; I want to have my mother’s experience; I want to feel a broken heart; I want to groan more bitterly; I want to be kept awake so many more nights; and all that sort of thing.” Suppose I had resisted still; if God’s grace had not come in and made all that wicked pride of mine give way, I might have been at this hour I know not where, if still living among men. I might have been in hell, gnawing my tongue to think I should ever have heard a plain gospel sermon, and should have put far from me the gospel when it was proclaimed, and all because I would not believe what is indisputably true, and would not trust in him whom no one ever trusted in vain. This morning I know there are some in my condition here, in whom the good Spirit will say, “Wash and be clean and the soul will sigh, “It seems too good to be true:” but the good Spirit will reply, “Are not my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts?” Unbelief will say, “Your sins are many,” but the good Spirit will answer, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Then the heart will suggest, “But I have rebelled against thee, O God, so long;” and the sweet Spirit of God will whisper, “I have blotted out thy sins like a cloud, and like a thick cloud thine iniquities: Return unto me, for I am married unto thee, saith the Lord.” And I do trust that now, at this very moment, many a heart will say, “I will, then, simply rest my soul’s salvation upon Christ the Son of God, who is the only Saviour of the lost: I will never from this day hope to be a self-saved man, nor look to anything but to him who on the bloody tree endured the wrath of God in the behalf of as many as believe on him.” Soul, if thou dost so trust Jesus, as surely as thou livest thou art saved! Go in peace. Not I speak these words only this morning from these poor lips of clay, but he who was nailed on the tree, whom all heaven adores, speaks this morning through me— and he saith to one, “Daughter, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee;” and to another, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee: take up thy bed and walk.” O forgiven one, I charge thee do it, and as thou goest out of this house this morning, saved, and full of joy, tell others about it; never leave off telling about it, and live to love him who has saved thee! I saw the other day a picture by Rubens, in which he has painted Mary Magdalene kissing the feet of Christ while still they are gushing with founts of blood on the cross. It was a strange picture, but I felt if I had been there I would have kissed them too, though they had been crimson with his gore. O blessed feet! O blessed Saviour! O blessed Father who gave his Son to be so blessed a Saviour! O blessed Spirit of the blessed God that led our wicked, proud hearts into obedience and trust in Jesus: yea, blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The Lord bless you. Amen.



The Hexapla of Mystery

By / Dec 22

The Hexapla of Mystery

 

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” — 1 Timothy iii. 16.

 

THE apostle tells us in the preceeding verse that the Lord has a double design in maintaining his church in the world. The first is that it may be the place of his abode, for the church of the living God is “the house of God,” the home wherein he reveals himself unto his own children, the resting-place of his love which he has of old appointed. Jehovah still inhabits the praises of Israel, and still he fulfills his promise to his chosen, “I will dwell in them and walk in them” (2 Cor. vi. 16). Blessed is the church which has realised this first design of God, and so has continued to enjoy the Lord’s presence and power. May we in this place be a building fitly framed together, and grow unto a holy temple in the Lord, for a habitation of God through the Spirit. God’s next purpose in sustaining a church in the world is that it may preserve and uphold his truth among men, for the church of the living God is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” The gospel must be believed, practised, and proclaimed by men of God, or it will not have power. God does not trust the conservation of his truth to books, or to the most accurately written creeds, or to some one person supposed to be infallible, but he puts the incorruptible seed into the hearts of his chosen, and in such good soil its vitality and its growth secure its preservation. Even the inspired word, as a letter, has small power till it gains a lodging-place for the truth in a warm heart, and then it grows and yields fruit, till its boughs spread far and wide, and its seeds are wafted on the wings of every wind, to spring up on the hills and among the vallies where none had looked for them. As long as one copy of the Holy Scriptures remains in the world we shall have the pure truth among us, but it will be like an unplanted seed. For the propagation of the gospel, human voices are required; for the establishment and confirmation of it among men, human lives are needed; and God intends that his gospel shall be set forth and held up, published, defended, maintained, and supported in the world by his church; not alone by his ministers, nor by a hierarchical establishment, but by the entire company of faithful men. To the sacramental host of his elect has he committed the banner of the truth, which they are always to unfold, and carry on by the power of his Spirit, from victory to victory. In this sense, the church of the living God is, and ever must be, “the pillar and ground of the truth;” let us take care, in our measure to make her so.

     While dealing with this question, it was most fitting for the apostle to tell us what the truth is, and now is the most proper time for each one of us to learn what are the vital and essential truths which the church of God is for ever to maintain. Our text is for this reason deeply interesting; it deals not with questionable and debatable topics, but with things verily, and, indeed, received among us. Its testimony is short, but weighty. We cannot spare a single word from it, and it would be a crime to add anything to it. The apostle calls it a “mystery,” and so, indeed, it is, for exceeding greatness of meaning, but not for obscurity of language, for it is as plain as it is full. Neither is it a mystery because it speaks of recondite opinions, or philosophical theories, for it deals only with facts, and is an historical summary of actual occurrences.

     Observe that the comprehensive summary of the gospel here given is contained in six little sentences, which run with such regularity of measure in the original Greek, that some have supposed them to be an ancient hymn; and it is possible that they may have been used as such in the early church. There is a poetic form about the six sentences. You are aware, of course, that the Orientals do not consider it essential to sacred psalms and hymns that they should resound with jingling rhymes; we are the slaves of mere sound in that respect, but they are free. Their fashion of verse-making has more respect to the sense than ours, and lies, as a rule, very much in introducing pleasant parallels and contrasts. These you have here, whether the six paragraphs are verses of a hymn or no. Note that “manifest in the flesh” is contrasted with “justified in the spirit;” “seen of angels,” who are nearest to the throne of God, is fitly set by the side of “preached unto the Gentiles,” who stand at the opposite pole, and are far off. And then the third duplicate is made up of the evident opposites, “believed on in the world,” “received up into glory” Thus, all through, the lights and shades are set over against each other by evident design. Moreover, you will perceive an equally plain parallelism, if you wall read attentively. The first two stanzas deal with the revealing of the Lord Jesus;— he is manifest in the flesh, and he is yet more fully made manifest by being justified in the spirit. Then follows a making known of the Lord by sight to angels, and by hearing to the Gentiles; and, in the third pair of lines, there is a twofold reception,— the one by grace among men who believe, and the other into his actual glory in heaven. To all this add that pairs are also discernable in the first and last, the second and fourth, and the two middle lines. Just for an instant notice that the first clause of the series deals with Christ’s descent, and the last with his ascent; the second and the fifth are both intensely spiritual; and the third and fourth have to do with the senses only. Thus you find another set of parallels, whose existence can hardly be a mere accident.

     Note this, for it teaches us that our memories need to be helped and strengthened in every way, and so it is well to have condensed truth to carry about with us, and exceedingly advantageous to us to have it arranged for us in such a shape that we are likely to recollect it. The apostle has been led by the Spirit to give us goodly words, helping our infirmities; of this help we should gratefully avail ourselves to the utmost. If we be somewhat instructed in the word we have here an example of practical usefulness; we may for ourselves and for others, especially for the young, try to put truth into forms which will help it to retain its hold upon the memory.

     I shall call my text a hexapla of essential truth, a sixfold mystery of godliness. You have six great points clearly set forth before you, and these constitute the main, the essential elements of our holy faith, which the church of God is for ever to set forth, and uphold to the end of time.

     The apostle has said, “without controversy great is the mystery of godliness.” When he says “without controversy,” I suppose he means that there ought to be no controversy about these facts, though controversies have arisen concerning them, and always will, since the most self-evident truth will always find self-evident fools to contradict it. He means that, in the church of God, at any rate, there is no question about these fundamentals. Outside of the church these statements are denied, but inside the house of God no one ever questions them for a moment; and he who does so is by that very act proven to have no part nor lot in the matter. Without controversy all Christians agree that these are truths, and also that they are no trifles, but involve a mystery, and a great mystery; that is to say, that they were things hidden in themselves, and so concealed that reason could not have found them out; and even now, though they be revealed, they concern matters so vast and so profound that none of us comprehend them to the full, and the best instructed scribe in the kingdom recognises in them infinite deeps which he cannot hope fully to explore. The facts are unquestioned by the church of God, and are without dispute, among the faithful, regarded as containing in their inner depths a world of weighty meaning, even the great mystery of godliness.

     Have you ever noticed that there are six New Testament mysteries? There may be more, but these six are the chief. The first is the mystery of the incarnation, which is now before us; “Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh.” The next is the mystery of the union of Christ with his church, of which we read, in Ephesians v. 31, 32, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Thrice blessed union with Jesus, may our souls find their heaven in thy holy mystery.

“Oh teach us, Lord, to know and own
This wondrous mystery,
That thou with us art truly ONE,
And we are ONE with thee!”

The third mystery is the mystery of the calling of the Gentiles, to which Paul refers in Ephesians iii. 4— 6, where he says, “Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ; which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” Herein we have a joyful portion, for which we can never be too grateful. The fourth mystery concerns the Jews, and deals with the restoration of Israel, whom we ought to remember with abounding sympathy and brotherly love. Of this you will read in Romans xi. 25, 26: “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” For a fifth mystery I would bid you remember the doctrine of the removal of corruption from the body, and of its resurrection as spoken of in the famous passage, “Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” And then, alas! to close the list, there is that mystery of iniquity which began to work so soon, and worketh yet more and more of evil.

     Our text, then, is one of six mysteries, but it has this pre-eminence, that it is a great mystery, and is besides peculiarly the mystery. It is called “the mystery of godliness,” because it most intimately concerns a godly life, because those who receive it in their hearts become thereby godly men ; and because, moreover, it builds up its believers in godliness, and is to them a grand motive for the reverent love and holy fear of the Lord their God.

     Let so much as we have already spoken stand for our preface, and let us now, by the Holy Spirit’s aid, consider one by one the six branches of the mystery which is now before us

     I. The first sentence is GOD WAS MANIFEST IN THE FLESH. I believe that our version is the correct one, but the fiercest battlings have been held over this sentence. It is asserted that the word Theos is a corruption for “Os;” so that, instead of reading “God was manifest in the flesh,” we should read, “who was manifest in the flesh.” There is very little occasion for fighting about this matter, for if the text does not say “God was manifest in the flesh,” who does it say was manifest in the flesh? Either a man, or an angel, or a devil. Does it tell us that a man was manifest in the flesh? Assuredly that cannot be its teaching, for every man is manifest in the flesh, and there is no sense whatever in making such a statement concerning any mere man, and then calling it a mystery. Was it an angel, then? But what angel was ever manifest in the flesh? And if he were, would it be at all a mystery that he should be “seen of angels”? Is it a wonder for an angel to see an angel? Can it be that the devil was manifest in the flesh? If so, he has been “received up into glory,” which, let us hope, is not the case. Well, if it was neither a man, nor an angel, nor a devil, who was manifest in the flesh, surely he must have been God; and so, if the word be not there, the sense must be there, or else nonsense. We believe that, if criticism should grind the text in a mill, it would get out of it no more and no less than the sense expressed by our grand old version. God himself was manifest in the flesh. What a mystery is this! A mystery of mysteries! God the invisible was manifest; God the spiritual dwelt in flesh; God the infinite, uncontained, boundless, was manifest in the flesh. What infinite leagues our thought must traverse between Godhead selfexistent, and, therefore, full of power and self-sufficiency, before we have descended to the far-down level of poor flesh, which is as grass at its best, and dust in its essence! Where find we a greater contrast than between God and flesh, and yet the two are blended in the incarnation of the Saviour. God was manifest in the flesh; truly God, not God humanised, but God as God. He was manifest in real flesh; not in manhood deified and made superhuman, but in actual flesh.

Oh joy! there sitteth in our flesh,
Upon a throne of light,
One of a human mother born,
In perfect Godhead bright!
For ever God, for ever man,
My Jesus shall endure;
And fix’d on Him, my hope remains
Eternally secure.

Matchless truth, let the church never fail to set it forth, for it is essential to the world’s salvation that this doctrine of the incarnation be made fully known.

     O my brethren, since it is “without controversy,” let us not controvert but sit down and feed upon it. What a miracle of condescension is here, that God should manifest himself in flesh. It needs not so much to be preached upon as to be pondered in the heart. It needs that ye sit down in quiet, and consider how he who made you became like you, he who is your God became your brother man. He who is adored of angels once lay in a manger; he who feeds all living things hungered and was athirst; he who oversees all worlds as God, was, as a man, made to sleep, to suffer, and to die like yourselves. This is a statement not easily to be believed. If he had not been beheld by many witnesses, so that men handled him, looked upon him, and heard him speak, it were a thing not readily to be accepted that so divine a person should be manifest in flesh. It is a wonder of condescension!

     And it is a marvel, too, of benediction, for God’s manifestation in human flesh conveys a thousand blessings to us. Bethlehem’s star is the morning star of hope to believers. Now man is nearest to God. Never was God manifest in angel nature, but he is manifest in flesh. Now, between poor puny man that is born of a woman, and the infinite God, there is a bond of union of the most wonderful kind. God and man in one person is the Lord Jesus Christ! This brings our manhood near to God, and by so doing it ennobles our nature, it lifts us up from the dunghill and sets us among princes; while at the same time it enriches us by endowing our manhood with all the glory of Christ Jesus in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. Lift up your eyes, ye down-trodden sons of man! If ye be men ye have a brotherhood with Christ, and Christ is God. O ye who have begun to despise yourselves and think that ye are merely sent to be drudges upon earth, and slaves of sin, lift up jour heads and look for redemption in the Son of Man, who has broken the captives’ bonds. If ye be believers in the Christ of God, then are ye also the children of God, and if children then heirs,— heirs of God, joint heirs with Jesus Christ.

     What a fulness of consolation there is in this truth, as well as of benediction; for if the Son of God be man, then he understands me and will have a fellow feeling for me. He knows my unfitness to worship sometimes — he knows my tendencies to grow weary and dull my pains, my trials, and my griefs: — he knows

“He knows what fierce temptations mean,
For he has felt the same.”

Man, truly man, yet sitting at the right hand of the Father, thou, O Saviour, art the delight of my soul. Is there not the richest comfort in this for you, the people of God?

     And, withal, there is instruction, too, for God was manifest in the flesh; and if you desire to see God, you must see him in Christ Jesus. It does not say God was veiled in the flesh, though under certain aspects that might be true; but God was “manifest in the flesh.” The brightness of the sun might put out our eyes if we gazed upon it, and we must needs look through dim glass, and then the sun is manifested to us; so the excessive glory of the infinite Godhead cannot be borne by our mind’s eye till it comes into communication and union with the nature of man, and then God is manifest to us. My soul, never try to gaze upon an absolute God: the brightness will blind thine eye: even our God is a consuming fire! Ask not to see God in fire in the bush, nor God in lightning upon Mount Sinai; be satisfied to see God in the man Christ Jesus, for there God is manifested. Not all the glory of the sky, and of the sea, nor the wonders of creation or providence, can set forth the Deity as does the Son of Mary, who from the manger went to the cross, and from the cross to the tomb, and from the tomb to his eternal throne. Behold ye now the Lamb of God, for God is manifest in him! People of God, look ye nowhere else for God.

     I shall leave the point when I have put a personal question. Have we each one of us seen God in Christ Jesus? Remember, this is essential to salvation. We speak not now that which is harsh or severe, we only speak that which is honest and true; if you rebel against it we still can say no less. Ye cannot be right anywhere unless ye are right about the person of the Lord Jesus. If you do not accept him as the Son of God he cannot be a Saviour to you, and without him for a Saviour you are as surely lost as you are born, whatever profession you may make. I trust we can say, many of us, “Yes, Jesus Christ is to us Lord, to the glory of God the Father, and we worship him, and obey him, putting all our trust in him, and rendering our adoration to him.” If you be not now his worshippers, may the blessed Spirit bring you to Jesus, and not suffer you to attempt to go to the Father first, for the Lord Jesus hath told us “no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” May you go to the throne of God by the way of the cross, for that is the only open way, and may you go by that road at once.

     II. The second clause concerns our Lord’s vindication by the Spirit. He who was “manifest in the flesh” was also JUSTIFIED IN THE SPIRIT. When our Lord came in human flesh and declared himself to be the Son of God there were many reasons why his statement would be doubted, for he came in such poverty, weakness, and disrepute. In any case, the appearance of God in flesh would need great proof, but the circumstances which surrounded our Saviour were such as to cast, especially in carnal minds, great doubt upon his pretensions; but our Lord, however the flesh might seem to cloud his claims, was “justified in the Spirit,” which may mean, and perhaps does, that his spiritual nature as man was so elevated by his Godhead that it abundantly justified his claim to be the Son of God. What a spirit was his for purity and dignity! What nobility ever came near to his! What a mind was his, what wisdom dwelt in him! Even as a child ho baffled Rabbis, and as a man he confounded all who would entrap him in his speech. Was there ever such teaching as his? Listen to him, and you feel that the spirit which flashes from those eyes and distils from those lips justifies his claim to be the Son of the Highest.

     Hearken also to his words of command, when his Godhead glows through his humanity and proves him divine. He speaks, and it is done; he commands and it stands fast. At his bidding waves sleep and winds rest; pain flies, strength returns, health smiles, and death lives! Has not his spiritual nature, by deeds so astounding, fully justified him?

     And see, dear friends, how he was justified— not only by his own spirit, which wrought beyond the reach and compass of all other spirits — but he was justified by the Holy Spirit which rested upon him without measure, and made his human spirit strong. It was this anointing which made him the chief of all prophets, teachers, and revealers of the mind of God. All who heard him confessed his unrivalled power, even when they resisted it. The Spirit of God bore witness in him— his words were full of unction; the Spirit of God bore witness with him— his words went to men’s hearts. The Spirit of God bore witness to Christ, and justified all his claims at the time of his baptism, when out of the excellent glory there appeared the form of a dove, and a voice cried out of heaven, “This is my beloved Son.” That same Spirit justified him audibly again in his transfiguration; but silently, and yet more evidently, the seal of God was always on him, everywhere the Spirit witnessed to him. Only blind eyes, blinded by hate, refused to see the divine light which hung about his every word and act, as radiance enrobes a star. Above all, our Lord’s claims were justified by the Spirit in his resurrection, when he was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” Nor less so when, after forty days, he was received up into glory, and the Spirit of God justified all that Christ had said, by coming down like a rushing mighty wind and cloven tongues of fire, and resting upon his disciples. If Christ had not risen from the dead he would have been a convicted impostor, and after his rising from the dead, if the Spirit of God had not been given, his claim would still have remained under a cloud! But now it is clear that “he hath ascended on high, and received gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them;” for the scattering of the Spirit of God among men was that promised largess which our mighty Conqueror distributed among his people, when he entered upon the possession of his crown.

     The Holy Spirit has justified Christ. This is a part of the testimony of the church — that Christ’s claims are to be justified by the spirit of his teaching, and also by the Holy Spirit whose supernatural power will accompany the proclamation of the gospel. Now, let the church always stand to this. I am afraid we are on wrong ground when we begin to defend the gospel by mere reason. The true defence of the gospel is the spirit of Christ; Jesus is justified in the Spirit, and needs no other justification. O, brethren, if we exhibit the spirit of Christ we shall answer cavillers, and if the Spirit of God rests on the ministry of the church, cavillers will cease to cavil; they will see her glory and they will be ashamed. The Holy Ghost is our strength, our glory, the abiding witness that our great Leader is Lord and God.

     Brethren, has the Holy Spirit ever justified Christ in your soul? He has come to save, has the Holy Spirit revealed him as your Saviour? He has come to blot out sin, has the Holy Ghost ever revealed him in all his power to pardon you? This is the sure vindication of Christ — your own personal experience of his preciousness and his power: if the Holy Ghost has given you that, none can confound you, but if you have it not you lack the one thing needful. God grant you may not lack it long!

     III. The third clause of our hexapla is, “SEEN OF ANGELS. This is an important point, for angels had waited to see the Lord, patiently gazing on the mercy-seat. There had been rumours in heaven of this mystery of the manifold wisdom of God, but they had not understood it; and it is now in Christ that the mystery of incarnate God has been revealed to them. If I may so say, the brightness of the Godhead had confounded even the angels; they were not able to see God, but when God came and manifested himself in the flesh, then God was seen of angels. The Godhead was seen in Christ by angels, as they had never seen it before. They had beheld the attribute of justice, they had seen the attribute of power, they had marked the attribute of wisdom, and seen the prerogative of sovereignty; but never had angels seen love, and condescension, and tenderness, and pity, in God as they saw these things resplendent in the person and the life of Christ. They were astounded to think that God was such a one. They knew him to be thrice holy, for they had chanted “Holy, holy, holy,” in their perpetual sanctus; but they did not know him to be love— essential love — as they knew it when they saw that “he spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all.” The angels, seeing God thus manifest in flesh, ministered to him; they watched around the manger; they were messengers to his foster-parent to warn him of intended evil to the child; and they waited on the Redeemer in the desert of his temptation. One of their number strengthened him in the garden, another rolled away the stone from his grave, while others sat at the head and foot of the sepulchre where Jesus had lain. I doubt not it is true as we sang just now:—

“They brought his chariot from above,
To bear him to his throne;
Clapped their triumphant wings, and cried,
‘The glorious work is done.’”

Jesus was all along seen of angels, and this is one reason why they sing so sweetly of him— why they tune their notes so heartily to the song, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain for they saw him live, and die, saw him labour and suffer; and therefore is their song so vivid and so full of adoration. “Thou wast slain,” say they, though they cannot add, “and hast redeemed us unto God by thy blood.” Now the joy of this truth lies here: it brings the angel host so near to us, for they saw Jesus and waited on him, and we see him, and therefore our eyes and the angels’ eyes meet upon the person of Christ. We have one common love, one common Lord; and now the ministering spirits that waited upon him are ready to wait upon us. They love the members for the sake of the Head. Beloved, we rejoice this day to know that Christ is head of angels and principalities and powers, as well as head of his church; and so in him broken unity is restored, and the household of God is one in him. Angelic eyes beheld and loved; they love on still, and wonder yet. Fair spirits, charmed with the beauty of our Bridegroom, ye rejoice with us, and make it your delight to swell his train!

     One question, and we leave the point. Have you ever seen Jesus? He was seen of angels. Has your eye ever seen him— your inner, spiritual eye? If not, the Lord help you this morning to look unto him and be saved! It is nothing that he was seen of angels, unless he be seen of me also, even as of one born out of due time. O! to see him as my Saviour, my all, and rest in him! This is the main business. May God grant us that gladness!

     IV. Briefly, the fourth part of the great mystery does not look, at first sight, to be at all mysterious. There is much of mystery in the facts that God was “manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, and seen of angels;” but the next appears very common-place— PREACHED UNTO THE GENTILES. Yet it is not without a marvel: those who reflect will see a great mystery of grace in it. Until Christ came, nothing was “preached to the Gentiles.” They were accounted dogs, and few were the crumbs that fell to them from the master’s table; but after our Lord had ascended on high he was proclaimed to the Gentiles. To a Jew especially this would seem a very strange thing. The Jew thought that if the Gentile perished, it was but a matter of course; but for the Gentiles to be visited with the gospel was strange indeed. That God should work effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision was to them readily a matter of faith, but that the same should be equally mighty in Paul towards the Gentiles was incredible yet true. Well, blessed be God, you and I are partakers in this mystery, for we have heard and believed the love which God hath toward us. We are Gentiles also, but unto us has the gospel been preached as well as unto the ancient people; yea, and we have been more highly favoured than they, for at this day, more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife. God hath multiplied the seed of Abraham after the Spirit among the Gentiles, whereas the seed of Abraham after the flesh have, in these times, rejected the Saviour. Rejoice then, in the mystery, that Christ is preached among the Gentiles. Mark you, preached! For he is to be set forth in that manner. The church is ever to maintain this great, uncontroverted mystery, that the setting forth of Christ to the Gentiles is to be by preaching, and not by any other means of man’s devising. Suppose I could take my pencil now, and draw the Saviour with such matchless skill, that a Raffaelle or a Titian could not rival me: God has never ordained that so Christ should be set forth to the Gentiles. Or, suppose I should perform the ceremony of the mass with all the exactness, and with all the gorgeousness which the church of Rome would require; such a setting forth of Christ among the Gentiles would not be according to the divine mystery. Christ is to be preached among the Gentiles: the appointed way of manifesting the incarnate God to the sons of men is by preaching— the church must always maintain this. The strongest castle of the walls of Zion for offence and defence must ever be the pulpit. God is pleased by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. I hate to see, as I do sometimes, in certain modern buildings, the pulpit stuck in the corner, and the altar in the most conspicuous place. The altar of sacrifice, indeed, the place of defilement and remembrance of sin. how comes that to be in the holy place at all? God has never ordained it to be there. Where in Holy Scripture have we mention of a material altar in the assemblies of believers? Our only altar is the spiritual altar of our Lord’s person, whereof they have no right to eat that serve the tabernacle of outward forms of rites and ceremonies. Altars belong to Jews and heathens, and even they never bow before them; none but your Popish idolaters have fallen so low as that. The most prominent agency in the church of God is the preaching of Christ— this is the trumpet of heaven and the battering-ram of hell! By this door salvation comes, for faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, and how shall they hear without a preacher? God’s way of creating faith in men’s hearts is not by pictures, music, or symbols, but by the hearing of the word of God. This may seem a strange thing, and strange let it seem, for it is a mystery, and a great mystery, but a fact beyond all controversy; for ever let the church maintain that Christ is to be preached unto the Gentiles. A part of the greatness of the mystery lies in the persons who preached the gospel. It was a strange thing that Jesus should be preached unto the Gentiles by unlearned and ignorant men. One of the apostles, it is true, was of another class, but he declares that he never preached with excellency of speech, but in all simplicity he laid bare the mystery of God in plain language. It was wonderful that Christ should be preached unto the Gentiles so rapidly. It was but the other day the hundred and twenty were in the upper room, and within a few years there was no part of the civilized globe which had not heard the name of Jesus; they had penetrated Scythia, they had subdued the barbarians, their only weapon being the cross; they had triumphed at Athens, in the stronghold of classic learning; they had passed into Rome, and set up the cross amidst the luxurious vices of the capital. No place was untrodden by the Christian missionary, and no place was unaffected by the power of the gospel which he preached. This is a great mystery: the Lord repeat the mystery again and again! O that preaching might once again be recognised to be God’s power unto salvation, and used everywhere— in the church, in the lecture hall, in the street — in foreign lands and at home; for the voice of truth in the preaching of Jesus is the great power of God.

     One question here, and we leave it— Have you reverently heard the gospel? for there goes with the declaration that God saves through preaching, the warning, “Take heed how ye hear,” for if God waits to bless by hearing, woe unto the men who hear inattentively and disrespectfully, woe unto the hearers only who are not doers of the word! A responsibility goes with hearing, and God grant that you may be obedient hearers, so that we who preach may give a good account of you at the last, that our ministry may not have been in vain, but may have been to you the voice of God to your salvation.

     V. And now the fifth part of the mystery is a very remarkable one: like that which preceded, it does not appear to be mysterious on the surface, but it is so: “BELIEVED ON IN THE WORLD. This is the most glorious of all the six points, this wonderful fact that Jesus is “believed on in the world.” Why, when the humble preachers went out first to tell of Jesus, their story was so strange you could not imagine that any would believe it. And then the doctrines that they taught were so contrary to all the prejudices of flesh and blood, so humbling to human pride, so insulting to all our self-esteem, that it was not probable that men would accept them. And the world, too, what a world it was! It was steeped up to its throat in cruelty, in vice, in luxury, in sins infamous and unmentionable, and was it likely that a pure Saviour, with a perfect doctrine like his, would find followers? But he did; he was “believed on in the world.” Why, I think the first preachers must have been ready to leap for joy when they found that men believed them. If I had been Peter, I should scarce have slept for joy for many a night if I had found three thousand willing to believe my testimony, and willing to be baptised into Christ! And Paul— oh, methinks, with all his sorrows, he must have been a very happy man— must have been struck with wonder to see that though he went into idolatrous lands to tell this new, and strange, and incredible story, yet in every place there were found men or women who received it joyfully.

     Mark well that the church is bound to maintain this mystery, that it is by believing in Christ that the efficacy of his sacrifice comes to men. The mystery is not that Christ is served in the world, that is not put here; not that Christ is worshipped in the world, that is not the first point— those things will be sure to follow: but the vital mystery is that Christ is “believed on in the world,” that is to say, trusted as the Saviour. Men leave all other trusts, and trust in him; they give up their self-righteousness, they leave their vaunted sacraments, they forsake all ways and modes of self-salvation, and come and trust in Christ, — this is the great mystery. “Well,” says one, “I do not see that there is a mystery in it.” Have you ever believed in Jesus yourself, beloved friend? If you have, you will say “this is the finger of God.” Belief in Jesus is as great a work of divine power as the making of this globe. One of the visitors to this place lately said, “I am willing to be a believer, if the preacher can persuade me.” Very likely, but no preacher can create true faith— it needs a mightier power than the preacher’s, even the power of the Holy Ghost. God gives to his elect the blessing of faith, and others wilfully remain in unbelief. Faith, simple as it is, is supernatural, divine, and not to be attained by human aid, nor human eloquence; they who have it know that it is a blessed mystery, this believing on Jesus Christ in the world.

     Have you this faith? Do you believe in Jesus? Everything else in my text leads up to this. If he be manifest in the flesh what is that unless I believe in him? What if he be justified in the Spirit. What is that unless faith in him justifies me? What if he be seen of angels, how does that help me unless I see him too? And even if he be preached among the Gentiles, that does but involve greater guilt upon my soul if, after hearing, I have not believed in him? O dear hearers, I may not long speak to you, and every time that I am kept away from addressing you I feel a deep anxiety that by some means my preaching may be made effectual to your salvation. Many of you have believed in my Lord— this is my comfort; but, on the other hand, how many there are who still hear, and hear, and hear, and that is all. How long halt ye? How long cause ye us to labour for nought? No one is so worth trusting as the Saviour is, and nothing is so true as that he came to save sinners.

     VI. The last point of the church’s witness is that Jesus was “RECEIVED UP INTO GLORY. Only this word about it: he was so received because his work is finished. He would never have gone into his glory if he had not finished all his toil. He would have accepted no reward had he not fully earned it. My soul, believe thou that Christ is received up into glory; that will let thee know that thou art resting in a finished work, an atonement which has put away all sin, a satisfaction which has made all believers accepted in the Beloved. He has gone into glory, thus he is personally rewarded; and moreover, he has thus representatively taken possession of all that he has purchased. Is Christ in glory? then the believer is in glory, not literally but in his covenant Head. What Christ takes possession of he claims in our name: “I go to prepare a place for you.” O ye who sorrow over the present, rejoice also; for even now at this moment heaven is yours,— your Jesus has taken possession in your name.

     And oh, it is joyous to know that our great Lord is eternally exalted! If he were not exalted what comfort could we have? He is received up into glory ! Men say he is not God— they cannot hurt him, for he is received up into glory! They revile his gospel— they cannot dim the lustre of his crown, he is received up into glory! They would fain slay his people if they could, but he is received up into glory! They struggle and they strive against his cause, and would fain overthrow it; but O, what matters it, he is everlastingly exalted, and he will shortly come— that same Jesus who was received into glory shall so come, in like manner as he was seen to go up into heaven. Here are great wells of comfort. He has to his glory gone, and has taken to himself his great power; but every hour is bringing nearer the time when he shall lay bare his sword in the midst of his foes, and shall unveil his face in the midst of his friends. Let us rejoice in him this day, and go our way to bear, with all the church of the living God, the six-fold testimony of our text concerning our precious Saviour. Amen.