A Grateful Summary of Twenty Volumes

By / Dec 27

A Grateful Summary of Twenty Volumes

 

“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” — Ephesians iii. 8.

 

THIS is a very remarkable day to me, for, if I am spared to preach this present sermon, I shall have completed twenty years of printed discourses issued week by week. This will be the last sermon of my twentieth volume, making 1,209 in all. This is by no means a common occurrence; indeed, I have not heard of another case in which for so long a time published discourses have been welcomed by the Christian church, and scattered broadcast over the land. Having obtained help of God, I continue unto this day testifying the gospel of Christ Jesus. For this I magnify the name of the Lord, and ask my dear friends associated with me to assist me in the expression of my thankfulness to Almighty God for such special lovingkindness. I could not find even in the rich volume of inspiration any language more expressive of the deep emotions of my soul than the verse which is now before us, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unspeakable riches of Christ.” How long or how short the time allotted to my future ministry may be I do not wish to know, whether I shall complete another twenty years or become silent in a few months; but for these twenty years of blessed assistance in the ministration of the gospel of Jesus Christ I must and will adore the name of the Lord, even if never again he should permit me to open my lips in his service. It is enough of mercy for one man to have enjoyed, even if there were no more to follow. Bless the Lord, O my soul.

     While we shall consider the verse as Paul’s own expression, we shall retain our own hold upon it, and use it very much as a summary of our own emotions.

     Note from the text that Paul thought very little of himself. “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints,” saith he, “is this grace given.” I am sure Paul was never guilty of mock modesty, and never pretended to be humbler than he really was. At suitable times he could vindicate himself, and claim his position among his fellow men. If any denied his apostleship, he proved it by abundant arguments. Yea, he even became on one occasion what he calls a “fool in glorying”; he recounted his abundant labours, and his frequent sufferings; he pointed to his success, and protested that he was not a whit behind the very chief of the apostles, though he was nothing. Although all this was true, and Paul expressed only the bare truth, when he thus defended himself, yet in his heart of hearts he chose to take the lowest seat in the lowest room, and because there were no adjectives in correct language which could express his opinion of himself, he did violence to language, and said that he was “less than the least of all saints.” His straining of words is not to be censured, for language was made for man, and not man for language, and when within the bounds of grammar a mighty heart cannot express itself, it does well to snap the bonds and let its strength have space to exercise itself. I do not quarrel with Paul’s language, but I do dispute his right to push me out of my place. Less than the least is a position which I had hoped to occupy, but he has taken it from me, and I would fain give him a touch on the shoulder and say, “Friend, go up higher”; for as there are no lower seats, and we could not think of sitting above the great apostle, he must allow us to allot him a higher place.

     Was Paul really less than the least of all saints? Was not this too low an estimate of himself? Brethren, I suppose he meant that he felt this to be the case when he looked at himself from certain aspects. He was one of the late converts, many of his comrades were in Christ before him, and he yielded precedence to the older ones. He had been aforetime a persecutor and injurious, and, though God had forgiven him, he had never forgiven himself; and when he recollected his share in the sufferings and martyrdom of the saints, he felt that, though now numbered among them, he could only dare to sit in the lowliest place. Besides, any devout man, however eminent he may be in most respects, will find that there are certain other points in which he falls short; and the apostle, instead of looking at the points in which he excelled, singled out with modest eye those qualities in which he felt he failed, and in those respects he put himself down as “less than the least of all saints.” This strikes us as being a very different mode of speech from that which is adopted by certain brethren. One friend asserts that he has ceased from known sin for some months; and then another brother, to go a little further, asserts that the very being of sin in him has been destroyed, root and branch; of which I believe in both cases not one single word. If those brethren had said that they were sixteen feet high, that their eyes were solid diamonds, and that their hair was Prussian blue, I should feel towards them very much as I do now. They simply do not know themselves, and the best article of furniture they could have in their houses would be a looking glass which would let them see their own selves; if they had once had such a sight, I warrant you they would sing another tune, pitched to a far lower key. Many who now shine in the highest places of self-estimation, will one day be glad enough to sit at the feet of the poorest of the saints, unless I am greatly mistaken; for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased. For my part I had sooner hear Paul say that he was less than the least of all the saints, than I would hear the holiest brother out of heaven say that he had been living without sin. I could believe the one, but I could not believe the other. Paul was as holy as the holiest now upon earth, but among the humble he was the humblest. The Lord make us each so.

     Our next remark is, that Paul thought very much of his brethren. These two things usually go together— a low opinion of one’s self and a high estimate of others. He calls himself less than the least— not of all the apostles, though even that would have been a lowly judgment, but less than the least of all saints; and yet there were some very imperfect saints among his acquaintance. His pastoral observation had discovered many weak, trembling, half-instructed, and even backsliding brethren. Remember how he differed from Barnabas about John Mark, and how he rebuked Peter to his face, because he was to be blamed. He was not insensible of the defects of the saints, for in some of his epistles he gives us a very sad picture of the condition of some of the members of the churches; ay, and of some who were true saints: he tells them that he could only write unto them as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ, and that when they ought to have been teachers they needed themselves to be taught the very elements of the faith; and yet he says he was less than the least of them. He must have thought very highly of the least instructed and most imperfect of the divine family. After all, dear brethren, though we hear much fault found with professing Christians and church-members, and hear it said that they are no better than men of the world, we dare not be among their detractors. If we cannot find saints in the church of God, certainly we shall find them nowhere else. They are faulty, no doubt, but still they are the Lord’s elect, and the people on whom his heart is set. They are the excellent of the earth, and if we may but be numbered with them we shall be thankful even if our name should stand lowest and last on the list. We count the regenerate and the sanctified to be the true aristocracy, the real nobility of the world. “O God thou art my God, my goodness extendeth not to thee, but to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent in whom is all my delight.” The church, notwithstanding her spots, is fairest among women, and though her garments are sometimes stained, (would God they were not), yet for all that she is all glorious within, her clothing is of wrought gold. She is beautiful in the eyes of her Lord, he loved her well enough to redeem her with his precious blood, and to make her his bride; it would be shameful on our part to despise her. She ought to be lovely in our eyes, yea, and she is, for we love the people of God beyond all others. My inmost soul can say of the church of God —

“My soul shall pray for Zion still
While life or breath remains;
There my best friends, my kindred dwell
There God my Saviour reigns.”

     The next reflection suggested by the text is that Paul thought, very highly of his work. He says, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach.” He looked upon his ministry as a great gift from God, an honour bestowed, a favour granted. Yet, my brethren, Paul’s office was not such a very attractive thing after all, looking upon it after the manner of men. Paul was not a Lord Bishop or a right reverend, his salary was less than nothing; he received no homage from men; his greatest gains were his losses, his honours came from his dishonours, and his glory from his sufferings. Stripes and imprisonments awaited him in every city; stoning and shipwreck, perils of robbers and perils of traitors, care and grief, were his portion. He was made an outcast for Christ’s sake; his Jewish brethren even foamed at the mouth at the very thought of the renegade Pharisee who preached to the Gentiles. He had suffered the loss of all things for Christ’s sake, and he says he “counted them but dung that he might win Christ and be found in him.” If the advowson and next presentation of Paul’s office had been put up at Garraway’s, our modern imitators of Simon Magus would have been very slow in the bidding, they would rather have paid a heavy sum to be excused. Paul himself said of it, “If in this life only we have hope we are of all men most miserable.” Yet so contented was he to preach the gospel that, notwithstanding all the hardships and reproaches which went with it, he considered it to be a special favour granted him of the Lord that he was permitted to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ among the Gentiles.

     The apostle even lifts up his hands in grateful astonishment that so great an honour should be bestowed upon him. He says “Unto me— unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I— the persecutor, the man who breathed out threatenings and slaughter— that I should preach among the Gentiles.” He marvels at it; he cannot make it out; the passage reads as if he paused in his writing, and burst into a song of adoring gratitude because the Lord had honoured him so exceedingly as to put him in trust with the gospel. How deeply do I sympathise with him in his wonder at electing love! My heart cries, “Why me, Lord, why me?”

     Note well that theapostle had a very clear view of what he had to do. “That I should preach,” says he, “among the Gentiles.” Paul does not claim to be sent to regenerate the Gentiles by sprinkling them, to hear their confessions of secret sin, to pry into their private lives with filthy questions, and to absolve them on the fulfilment of appointed penances; he has not a word to say about playing the priest; he does not glory in the grace which enabled him to display a comely ritual, or restore a pompous ceremonialism; he boasts not of carrying a crucifix or a banner in a procession up and down the aisles to delight the Gentiles; nor, in a word, does he set himself up as a sort of demi-god, able to kill and to make alive, to distribute pardons and to regenerate babes. Paul was quite satisfied to preach the Gospel, that was as far as his commission went, and whenever God the Holy Spirit sends forth a minister to bless the Church that is the purport of his mission and nothing else,— he is to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. Neither our Lord nor his apostles command us to set up altars, but the grand command is “preach the gospel to every creature.” O ye priests of the Church of England, take off your tag-rags, and stand out like men and preach the gospel, if indeed ye be ministers of God, and not sappers and miners for the pope of Rome. God sends men to preach the gospel, but he never sends them to intrude into the office of Christ, and set themselves up as priests offering sacrifice for the quick and dead, when in him the priesthood is fulfilled. Paul knew what his vocation was, and he kept to it. Find me one instance of his acting the priest. “Wherever he went he was preaching and teaching, preaching and teaching, preaching and teaching, that was the one object of his life; whether in Damascus or Corinth, Jerusalem or Rome, he must preach. When he was amid the Areopagites on Mars’ Hill why did he not show them the beauty of divine service as performed in the most approved fashion? Why at Lystra did he not offer a sacrifice to God, and wave a censer?— all the materials were ready. No; but he preached everywhere. When detained at Rome he did not train a choir, or instruct a company of clergy in ecclesiastical calisthenics, or Church millinery, but he taught Jesus to all around. We read nothing of his genuflexions and intonations, but a great deal of his preaching the word in season and out of season. This too is our work. The Church must see to it that this ordinance be used above every other for the conversion of men. It pleases God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Stand to your guns, my brethren; preach the word; make full proof of your ministry, and cease not to teach all men the truth concerning Jesus.

     Remark how Paul calls his ministry a “grace.” Every true preacher of the gospel will have to thank God that he has been permitted to preach. I do not know how my soul would have been kept alive if it had not been for the searching of Scripture, the prayer, the faith, and the joy which preaching has involved. Though it may be true that professional familiarity with sacred things is apt to breed a want of personal enjoyment in them, I do not find it so. To me it is a great blessing to have to prepare for preaching; often the best means of grace to my own soul are the groaning, the pleading, the meditation, and the communion needed for the selection of the right subject upon which to feed your souls. Preachers ought to grow in grace, for their very calling places them at a great advantage, since they are bound to search the Scriptures, and to be much in prayer. It is a choice mercy to be permitted to preach the gospel. I wish some of you would be ambitious of it, for earnest preachers are wanted. There are several brethren here who ought to preach, and I believe they would preach with great power if they were once driven to the attempt. A modesty which may be cowardice silences many; a diffidence, which may also be culpable love of ease, keeps them back from speaking in the name of the Lord. Brethren, let it be so no longer.

     Thus, you see, Paul thought little of himself, much of his brethren, and highly of his work.

     Again, Paul thought very lovingly of his congregation. He counted it a great grace that he was permitted to preach among the Gentiles. Peter had a much more respectable sphere, for he was the apostle of the circumcision, and preached to the ancient aristocratic race of the Hebrews; but Paul was sent to preach to the Gentile dogs, who were despised by the Jews as uncircumcised and unclean. Our Lord Jesus Christ him self gave the Gentiles a sad character, for when speaking of worldly things, he said, “After all these things do the Gentiles seek,” as if they were utterly gross and carnal, and entirely besotted with grovelling pursuits. Paul, however, rejoiced to preach to these worldly minded Gentiles, he was glad to bring the outcasts to Jesus. They were such an ignorant crew,— these Gentiles, ignorant of the true God and eternal life; though they were some of them wise in their own conceits, yet were they sunk in spiritual ignorance. There were the Greeks, proud of their learned folly, the Romans, boasting of brute force and despising a merely spiritual kingdom, the Scythians, barbarous and uncouth, and the bondsmen, sunk in vice and degradation; but he who was sent to labour among them preferred them to any other audience. Paul thanked God for his congregation, ignorant as they were. Worse than ignorant, they were worshippers of idols; they had gods many and lords many, and they bowed themselves before the personifications of their own wickedness; yet Paul was glad to preach to idolaters. The first chapter of his epistle to the Romans contains a fearful indictment against the Gentiles, for their horrible vices. They were sunk in a horrible slough of corruption, and yet Paul considered it a great privilege to preach among these ignorant, heathenish, debased, vicious Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and a privilege it was. It is a royal honour to preach to the lowest of the low. Dear brethren and sisters, wherever you and I are called to labour we ought to be thankful that God has given us that particular place to labour in. I like to see Christian workers fall in love with their spheres: for instance, the brethren who work in Golden Lane and Seven Dials do well to look upon their districts as the most important in London; and every city missionary, if he is to succeed, must feel that his particular part of the city is that which is best for him. I like to hear Mr. Moffat speak as if there were no people in the world of more consequence than Bechuanas and Hottentots. I never knew a man succeed among a people unless he preferred them to all others as the objects of his care. When ministers despise their congregations, their congregations are very likely to despise them, and then usefulness is out of the question. When a man thinks himself above his work the probability is that he is in the clouds altogether, or stands in the way of some practical worker of a more commonplace kind, who would do the work which he is despising. Oh you who teach little children, love them or you cannot teach them. If you preach in the street feel a sympathy with the people who gather around you, or you had better give over. Paul became a Gentile for the Gentiles’ sake. Pharisee as he had been, we see nothing of his phylacteries or the broad borders of his garment. He always loved his kinsmen according to the flesh, and would have gladly died to save them, but Jew as he was, and at one time bound by the strongest possible Jewish prejudices, he had broken them all down, and had made the Gentiles his clients, his flock, his children. It was his daily joy that he was ordained to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.

     Upon our next remark we will more fully enlarge, it is this,— Paul thought most of all of his subject. That he had to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ was his highest bliss. The glories of Jesus, whom once he had persecuted, were his one and only theme. All he had to say was contained within the circumference of that word Christ, and all that he aimed at was to glorify his Lord. Neither ceremonies, nor orthodoxies, nor philosophies, nor sects, nor parties did Paul labour for, but he exalted Christ Jesus the Lord. Nor did he feel that his engrossment by one solitary subject restricted him in his thought or speech, for he looked upon his theme as full of riches, riches altogether unsearchable. He had a deep insight into the truth which he had to proclaim, and saw within it veins of precious thought which he could never exhaust, lodes of more than golden treasure which no research could ever fully explore. O to be in this fashion enamoured of the gospel, absorbed in it, and wholly carried away by its charms.

     Let us meditate a few minutes upon the unsearchable riches of Christ, which it has been our joy to preach, even as it was Paul’s.

     Notice, first, that the apostle dwelt much upon the essential riches of Christ’s person. Beloved, there are unsearchable riches in Christ, for he is by nature “God over all, blessed for ever.” Others may make him a mere man, but we behold the unsearchable riches of the Deity in Jesus Christ, “In whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” He is the Creator, without whom was not anything made that was made. He is the preserver of all things, and by him all things consist. What riches there must be in him who both makes and sustains the universe by the word of his power. In Jesus Christ all the attributes of God are manifest: the wisdom, the power, the immutability, the truth, the faithfulness, the justice, and love of God are all to be found in the character of Jesus Christ our Lord. Even while he was here on earth, and clothed himself in mortal flesh, the Godhead shone through the veil. The winds knew him and were silent, the waves knew him and kissed his feet; the angels ministered to him and the devils fled before him; diseases were healed, for his touch was omnipotent; the dead lived, for his voice was almighty. He was God even while to mortal eye he was only the carpenter’s son. To-day he has put off his servant’s garments, and laid aside the towel wherewith he wiped his disciples’ feet, and all power is given unto him in heaven and in earth; let us then proclaim his unsearchable riches. Now is he crowned with universal sovereignty, and the government is upon his shoulders, and his name is called “Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Riches beyond compare belong to him who for our sakes became poor; riches unsearchable, for lie is God, and “Who by searching can find out God? Who can find out the Almighty unto perfection?” Jesus is “very God of very God,” and as such we adore him, and glory in the wealth of his nature.

     Jesus our Lord is also man, man of the substance of his mother, bone of our bone. And here we may descant upon the wealth of human love which is treasured up in him and manifested to his brethren; his wealth of sympathy with his people, for he has been tempted in all points like as they are; his wealth of discernment, for he knows the secrets of our nature, having worn that nature himself. Because of the riches of his love, he is not ashamed to call his redeemed ones brethren. It is a wonderful subject, the wealth of pure manhood which dwelt in Jesus, for he both thought, and spake, and acted as man, with a richness of perfect manhood which never dwelt in any other son of man. He was the true Adam— the sum of humanity’s best glory, made to have dominion over all the works of Jehovah’s hands. Thus in the two natures which make up his mysterious person, Son of man and Son of God, there was a measureless wealth, and this Paul preached.

     My brethren, I boldly appeal to you whether during these twenty years I have not tried to set forth the unsearchable riches of my Lord and Master in his blessed person. I have preached him to you as no mere abstraction, but as a real Christ. I have not talked of him as if he were a myth, I have spoken of him always as an actual personage, who lived and died, and is risen and gone into heaven. I have also preached him as still amongst you in spirit, Head of the church, and Lord over all. Neither have I preached to you a Christ stinted in power or glory. I have endeavoured, according to my ability, to set him forth as King of kings and Lord of lords. Your hearts have rejoiced to hear concerning him, and mine has rejoiced to speak of one so altogether lovely, so good, so kind, so ready to forgive, so faithful, and mighty. In a word, I have preached the unsearchable riches of his person.

     Next, we have to preach the riches of our Lord Jesus as the Christ; that is to say, in his relationship towards us. Now, think a minute or two. In the old eternity, or ever the earth was, the unsearchable riches of Christ were displayed when he entered into covenant with the Father on our behalf. What matchless love it was which prompted the second person of the Divine Unity to become the surety of the covenant of grace for his elect. Unsearchable were the riches of love which suggested the covenant, and the riches of the wisdom which planned it. It was worthy of a God.

     Remember, that as time rolled on his people as they were one by one created were saved simply on the ground of his word and pledge; and if the bare bond of Christ, before he had shed a drop of his blood, was able to save myriads of his elect, what riches there must be in his atonement itself. If his promise to redeem was enough for thousands of years to save multitudes from death and hell, what must be the riches of the finished righteousness and the accomplished substitution?

     Think of the riches of Christ’s grace from the day of man’s fall until the day of his redemption. He saw man in his waywardness, and knew what he would be under the best conditions, yet he did not turn aside from his pledge of love because of the baseness of fallen humanity. He knew that men would prove ungrateful, yet did he resolve to redeem his people. He had throughout those ages an opportunity of estimating what the pangs of death would be, he knew the cost at which he must seek and save the lost; but through those thousands of years such were the riches of his infinite love that he never started back from the compact which he had made, but determined to push on till by his death he had delivered man from sin, and the earth from the curse. Wealth of mercy! What can transcend this?

     Down the Lord descends to Bethlehem’s manger, and there he lies a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. Who shall tell the riches of the condescending love which made the infinite incarnate? Amongst the sons of men he tarries, going about doing good: calculate if you can the riches of that generous heart which detained him for years amongst a sinful and gainsaying generation. The life of Jesus on earth is a mint of grace. But oh, the unsearchable love which led him to give his hands to the nails and his heart to the spear! What love unspeakable is centred in the cross! What riches of grace that he should deign to die a malefactor's death for his enemies! Can any of us conceive the unsearchable riches of merit which must lie in the holy life and painful death of our beloved Lord. If the Son of God himself deigns to die, the just for the unjust, surely no limit can be set to the virtue of that death, neither indeed can we calculate how precious it must be in the Father’s sight. O thou bleeding Saviour, when thou hadst become poorest of all in thine own glory, surely thou didst also become richest of all for the redemption of the sons of men! None shall ever know, nor even eternity itself fully declare, the infinite value of thy tears, and bloody sweat, and agony and death!

     But see, he rises again, for the tomb could not contain him: he rises for our justification. In the risen Saviour what wealth may be seen, for while he justifies all his people by his rising, he also secures to them eternal life, and guarantees to their bodies a glorious resurrection. Think of our Lord as the first fruits of them that sleep, and you will see in his resurrection a truth which is the corner stone of the entire gospel, and the sure pledge of eternal bliss.

     But lo, he spurns the acclivity of Olivet and mounts into the opened heavens, a cloud receiving him from mortal sight. As he ascends, he scatters gifts among the sons of men. The Holy Ghost is given, he rests in tongues of fire upon the heads of chosen men; he gave “some apostles, some pastors and teachers,” for the building up of his church. Those gifts he still continues to bestow, for he “received gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.” The riches of the ascended Saviour it is not possible for the mind to calculate. Look ye again! Behold him in heaven! There he sits at the right hand of the Father to represent his people, is there not a wealth of comfort in that representation? He sits on the throne to rule for his people; — there is another mine of consolation. His presence is the guarantee of our being there— is not this full of richness? He intercedes for all his saints before the eternal throne; there is another treasure house of marvellous instruction and delight. Jesus for ever sits at the right hand of God, because his work is done, he waits until his enemies become his footstool, is he not to us a treasure of unsearchable riches? But he is soon to come, and who shall tell the riches which then shall be revealed, when sin shall fly before him, and this burdened earth shall be eased of the load which has made her groan continually; when instead of thorn and thistle, shall come up the cedar and the rose, when the desert shall rejoice and blossom, and men down-trodden and weary, shall lift up their eyes to behold a new paradise, and enjoy a glory such as eye hath not seen nor ear heard, a splendour of millennial bliss, of which may every one of us be partakers? All this shall be because he cometh. There are unsearchable riches in Christ, whether living, dying, rising, dwelling in heaven, or descending a second time to earth. See what a subject Paul had to preach; and we have preached it too. These twenty years our one theme has been Christ Jesus in his relationship to his people, in his everlasting love, in his once-offered, completely-atoning sacrifice, in his pleading before the Father’s throne, and in the kingdom which is yet to subdue all things to itself. What a mercy it is to have been privileged to preach all this!

     Thirdly and briefly, Paul had preached the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ in and to his people. He had told them that Christ had paid their debts, and they were free. How wondrously had he put it— “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” We cannot stop to repeat the texts, but Paul had been clear enough upon the point, that the riches of Christ in pardoning sin were unsearchable. He had told the saints that Christ had provided all that could be needed by them between where they were and the gates of heaven, for, said he, “ye are complete in him.” “All things are yours, whether things present or things to come.” Paul had delighted to dive into the depth of overflowing grace. What a grand swimmer he was in the sea of joy.

     He had also told the saints that they might have whatever they asked for in answer to believing prayer. How often had he put it before them that he who spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for them, would also with him freely give them all things. What riches of Christ are found at the mercy seat! He who knows how to draw nigh to God by Jesus Christ will find great store of wealth therein.

     He had assured them that the Lord himself was theirs, yea, said he, “all things are yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. He had told them that heaven was theirs, for they had obtained an inheritance in Christ, and were on their way to the glory, every hour bringing them nearer. Truly, if you want to know the deep things of God, you must listen to Paul, for he tells us of the eternity of Christ’s love, a love without beginning and without end. He tells us of the immutability of that love, for Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” He tells us of the infinity of that love, and delights to declare that it passeth knowledge. In fact, he tells us that God himself is ours, to be our portion for ever. Oh, children of God, if you are straitened, you are not straitened in the preaching of the apostle, you are straitened in yourselves. I venture also to say that in my own preaching I have not knowingly restrained any of the blessings of the covenant of grace, nor spoken lightly of the boons which Jesus gives to his beloved. No, I have delighted to expatiate upon what the Lord has given to his saints, and have bidden believers enjoy the fat things full of marrow which he has provided for them. Happy people to have such a Saviour.

     But lastly, the point Paul most rejoiced to preach upon was this— the unsearchable riches of our Lord towards sinners, for he says that he preached among the Gentiles, the sinners, the unsearchable riches of Christ. This is the most delightful theme of all, to tell poor sinners that there is an unspeakably rich Saviour. I lament to say that there are brethren who do not preach this among the Gentiles. They have a great deal to say to God’s own people, but they have nothing to say to the Gentiles, to the sinners, to the insensible, unquickened sinners, nothing to say to them. I have known them close a sermon by saying “The election hath obtained it, the rest are blinded,” and sit down with not a word for those dead in sin. Brethren, we have not so learned Christ; we delight to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery.” What have we to say to Gentile sinners? Why, we have to tell them that our Lord Jesus is so rich in grace that he keeps open house all day and all night long, and “Come and welcome” is written over his palace gates. “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.” We have to tell you that, though millions of sinners have already come, the banqueting table is as loaded as it ever was; he has as much grace and mercy to distribute as he had eighteen hundred years ago; he is as able to cleanse from sin, as able to justify and to sanctify as he was when first he began his work of mercy. There is no limit to his grace to those that come to him; whosoever cometh to him shall receive eternal salvation. My Master is so rich that he wants nothing from any of you. You need not bring a rag with you, he will cover you from head to foot; you need not bring a mouldy crust, he will give you of the bread of heaven. You need not stop to cleanse away a single spot, he will wash you white as snow. Help from you! Does the sun want help from darkness? Christ wants no help from sinners. Let them come empty-handed, naked, sick, helpless, and believe that he is able to do for them all that they require. I am bold to tell you that my Master’s riches of grace are so unsearchable, that he delights to forgive and forget enormous sin; the bigger the sin the more glory to his grace. If you are over head and ears in debt, he is rich enough to discharge your liabilities. If you are at the very gates of hell, he is able to pluck you from the jaws of destruction. So mighty is his mercy, that no case did ever exceed his power to save or ever will.

     I will challenge you to a contest with regard to my dear Lord and Master, that if you will sit down and think the best and largest thoughts you can of him, you will not think him to be so good and loving as he really is: if you will try and wish for the largest blessings you can conceive you shall not be able to wish for such blessings as he is prepared to bestow; and if you will open your mouth wide, and make request for the greatest favour that ever human being asked of God or man, you shall not ask for a tenth of what he is prepared to give. Come and try him! Let it be a wrestling match between your wants and Christ’s abundance— and see which will win the day. I tell you that as Aaron’s rod swallowed up the rods of the magicians, so my Master’s all-sufficiency will swallow up all the demands of your dreadful necessities. Only come and try him now! All that you want between the gates of hell and the gates of heaven you shall find in Christ, and you shall have it all for nothing, all for the asking for. Open your hand and take it, it is all he asks of yon, that you believingly receive what he freely bestows; trust in him, in him as dead and risen, and ascended, and reigning; rely upon him, and by so doing you shall find that there are unsearchable riches of grace in him.

     Now, I have done when I have said just this. I have no doubt Paul would not have been so pleased to preach Christ as he was unless something had come of it. Now, at the close of twenty years of printed sermons, my great delight in having preached the unsearchable riches of Christ lies in this, that something has come of it. How many souls have been converted it is not in my power to tell. I do not think I ever pass a single day, nor have done so for some years, without having intimations of some persons at the very ends of the earth, or at home, having been led to the Saviour by the reading of the sermons. I am not prepared to say how many persons have gone through this church to other churches or to heaven; the number can hardly be far short of those which remain, and of these it may suffice to say that four thousand seven hundred souls are with us, still kept by the power of grace, and knit together in church fellowship. Is not this matter of great thankfulness to God? During these twenty years the dew has never ceased to fall, the church has been planted like a tree by rivers of water, she has brought forth her fruit in her season, and whatsoever she has attempted has prospered. I joy, therefore, and will joy in this.

     Yet once more I think Paul must have felt an especial gladness that through his preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ others had been raised up to preach it too. So has it been with us. How many tongues this day are preaching Christ, out of our church members and students, I cannot assert definitely, but that they are to be counted by hundreds is certain; would to God they were ten times as many. I wish all the rest of this congregation who love Christ would go and talk about him too. Some among you are very diligent, and I bless God for you. I wish more of you were trying to bring these unsearchable riches of Christ within the knowledge of the ignorant and sinful. It is the last Sabbath of the year. Could we not begin next year with a great deal more industry than we have shewn last year? I am afraid there are many members who have no work to do for Jesus, and these are the sort of people to backslide. You that have neither to do nor to suffer are the baggage of the army, the impedimenta which prevent the host from marching on to victory. Bestir yourselves, feed upon Jesus, and then take of the good cheer to those who do not; know the riches of Christ, and as God gives you grace, go you and fulfil this ministry, and you will then say, as I do, and as the apostle said of old, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” The Lord bless you. Amen.



Infallibility – Where to Find It and How to Use It

By / Dec 20

Infallibility – Where to Find It and How to Use It

 

“It is written.” — Matthew iv. 4.

 

THOUGHTFUL minds anxiously desire some fixed point of belief. The old philosopher wanted a fulcrum for his lever, and believed that if he could only obtain it he could move the world. It is uncomfortable to be always at sea; we would fain discover terra firma, and plant our foot upon a rock. We cannot rest till we have found out something which is certain, sure, settled, decided, and no longer to be questioned. Many a mind has peered into the hazy region of rationalism, and has seen nothing before it but perpetual mist and fog, and, shivering with the cold chill of those arctic regions of scepticism, it has yearned for a clearer light, a warmer guide, a more tangible belief. This yearning has driven men into strange beliefs. Satan, seeing their ravenous hunger, has made them accept a stone for bread. Many have held, and still da hold, that it is possible to find your infallible foundation in the Pope of Home. I do not wonder that they would rather have an infallible man than be altogether without a standard of truth; yet is it so monstrous that men should believe in papal infallibility, that did they not themselves avow it we should think it most insulting to accuse them of it. How any mind can by any possible contortion twist itself into a posture in which it will be capable of accepting such a belief is one of the mysteries of manhood. Why, the popes err in trifles, how much more in great matters? In Disraeli’s “Curiosities of Literature” is the following amusing incident, under the head of “Errata”:— “One of the most egregious of all literary blunders is that of the edition of the Vulgate, by Sixtus V. His Holiness carefully superintended every sheet as it passed through the press; and, to the amazement of all the world, the work remained without a rival — it swarmed with errata! A multitude of scraps were printed to paste over the erroneous passages, in order to give the true text. The book makes a whimsical appearance with these patches; and the heretics exulted in this demonstration of papal infallibility! The copies were called in, and violent attempts made to suppress it; a few still remain for the raptures of biblical collectors; at a late sale the Bible of Sixtus V. fetched above sixty guineas— not too much for a mere book of blunders! The world was highly amused at the bull of the editorial pope prefixed to the first volume, which excommunicates all printers who in reprinting the work should make any alteration in the text!” The notion of infallibility residing in mortal man is worthy of a madhouse, and scarcely deserves to be seriously discussed. You can scarcely read a page of such history as even Catholics admit to be authentic without discovering that popes have been men, and not gods, and their bulls have been as blundering and erroneous as the decrees of worldly princes. So long as a clear understanding remains to a man he cannot repose in the imaginary infallibility of a priest.

     Others, however, linger hopefully around the idea of an infallible church. They believe in the judgment of general councils, and hope there to find the rock of certainty. Apparently this is more easy, for in the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom, but in reality it is quite as preposterous; for if you mass together a number of men, each one of whom is fallible, it is clear that you are no nearer infallibility. It is quite as easy to believe that one man is inspired as that five or six hundred are so. The fact is that churches have made mistakes as well as individual men, and have fallen into grievous errors both in practice and doctrine. Look at the churches of Galatia, Corinth, Laodicea, Sardis, and so on; nay, we find that the first disciples of our Lord, who made up the truly primitive and apostolic church, were not infallible, they made a great mistake about a simple saying of our Lord. He said concerning John, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” “Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” Even the apostles themselves could blunder, and did blunder. They were infallible in what they wrote when they were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but at no other time. Yet, brethren, I marvel not that in the sore distress to which the mind is often brought, it is found better to believe in an infallible church than to be left to mere reason, to be tossed to and fro, a desolate waif, driven by ever changeful winds over the awful leagues of questionings which are found in the restless ocean of unbelief. Longing as I do for a sure foundation, and rejecting both popes and councils, where shall I look?

     We have a more sure word of testimony, a rock of truth upon which we rest, for our infallible standard lies in, “Itis written.” The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is our religion. Of this inspired Book we say—

“This is the judge that ends the strife
When wit and reason fail.”

It is said that it is hard to be understood, but it is not so to those who seek the guidance of the Spirit of God. There are in it great truths which are above our comprehension, placed there on purpose to let us see how shallow are our finite minds, but concerning vital and fundamental points the Bible is not hard to be understood, neither is there any excuse for the multitudes of errors which men pretend to have gathered from it. A babe in grace taught by the Spirit of God may know the mind of the Lord concerning salvation, and find its way to heaven by the guidance of the word alone. But be it profound or simple, that is not the question; it is the word of God, and is pure, unerring truth. Here is infallibility, and nowhere else.

     I wish to speak this morning upon this grand, infallible book, which is our sole court of appeal: and I desire to speak especially to the young converts who during the last few days have found the Saviour, for by them this book must be used as the sword of the Spirit in the spiritual conflicts which await them. I would zealously exhort them to take to themselves this part of the whole armour of God, that they may be able to resist the great enemy of their souls.

     “It is written.” I shall commend this unfailing weapon to the use of our young soldiers by noting that this is our Champion’s own weapon; secondly, I shall urge them to note to what uses he turned this weapon; and, thirdly, we shall watch him to see how he handled it.

     I. I commend to every Christian here the constant use of the infallible word, because IT WAS OUR CHAMPION’S CHOSEN WEAPON when he was assailed by Satan in the wilderness. He had a great choice of weapons with which to fight with Satan, hut he took none hut this sword of the Spirit— “It is written.” Our Lord might have overcome Satan by angelic force. He had only to pray to his Father and he would presently have sent him twelve legions of angels, against whose mighty rush the arch-fiend could not have stood for a single moment. If our Lord had but exercised his godhead, a single word would have sent the tempter back to his infernal den. But instead of power angelic or divine he used, “It is written”; thus teaching his church that she is never to call in the aid of force, or use the carnal weapon,” but must trust alone in the omnipotence which dwells in the sure word of testimony. This is our battle-axe and weapon of war. The patronages or the constraints of civil power are not for us; neither dare we use either bribes or threats to make men Christians: a spiritual kingdom must be set up and supported by spiritual means only.

     Our Lord might have defeated the tempter by unveiling his own glory. The brightness of the divine majesty was hidden within the humility of his manhood, and if he had lifted the veil for a moment the fiend would have been as utterly confounded as bats and owls when the sun blazes in their faces. But Jesus deigned still to conceal his excellent majesty, and only to defend himself with “It is written.”

     Our Master might also have assailed Satan with rhetoric and logic. Why did he not discuss the points with him as they arose? Here were three different propositions to be discussed, but our Lord confined himself to the one argument, “It is written.” Now, beloved, if our Lord and Master, with all the choice of weapons which he might have had, nevertheless selected this true Jerusalem blade of the Word of God, let us not hesitate for a moment, but grasp and hold fast this one, only weapon of the saints in all times. Cast away the wooden sword of carnal reasoning; trust not in human eloquence, but arm yourselves with the solemn declarations of God, who cannot lie, and ye need not fear Satan and all his hosts. Jesus, we may be sure, selected the best weapon. What was best for him is best for you.

     This weapon, it is to be noted, our Lord used at the outset of his career. He had not yet come into the public ministry, but, if I may use the expression, while his young hand was yet untried in public warfare, he grasped at once the weapon ready forged for him, and boldly said “It is written.” You young Christians lately converted have probably already been tempted, or ere long you will be, for I remember that the very first week after I found the Saviour I was subjected to a very furious spiritual temptation, and I should not wonder if the like happens to you. Now, I charge you do as Jesus did, and grasp firmly— “It is written.” It is the child’s weapon as truly as it is the defence of the strong man. If a believer were as tall as Goliath of Gath, he need have no better sword than this, and, if he be a mere pigmy in the things of God, this sword will equally befit his hand and be equally effectual for offence or defence. What a mercy it is for you, young Christian, that you have not to argue but to believe, not to invent but to accept. You have only to turn over your Bibles, find a text, and hurl that at Satan, like a stone from David’s sling, and you will win the battle. “It is written,” and what is written is infallible; here is your strength in argument. “It is written;” God has said it; that is enough. O blessed sword and shield which the little child can use to purpose, fit also for the illiterate and simple-hearted, giving might to the feeble-minded, and conquest to the weak.

     Note next, that as Christ chose this weapon out of all others, and used it in his earliest conflict, so, too, he used it when no man was near. The value of Holy Scripture is not alone seen in public teaching or striving for the truth, its still small voice is equally powerful when the servant of the Lord is enduring personal trial in the lone wilderness. The severest struggles of a true Christian are usually unknown to any but himself. Not in the family do we meet the most subtle temptations, but in the closet; not in the shop so much as in the recesses of our own spirit do we wrestle with principalities and powers. For these dread duels, “It is written” is the best sword and shield. Scripture to convince another man is good; but Scripture is most required to console, defend, and sanctify our own soul. You must know how to use the Bible alone, and understand how to meet the subtlest of foes with it; for there is a real and personal devil, as most Christians know by experience, for they have stood foot to foot with him, and known his keen suggestions, horrible insinuations, blasphemous assertions, and fiendish accusations. We have been assailed by thoughts which came from a mind more vigorous, more experienced, and more subtle than our own, and for these there is but one defence— the infallible “It is written.” Conflicts have taken place full many a time between God’s servants and Satan which are more notable in the unpublished annals of the sacred history which the Lord recordeth, than the bravest deeds of ancient heroes whom men praise in their national songs. He is not the only conqueror who is saluted with blast of trumpet, and whose statue stands in the public square; there are victors who have fought with angels and prevailed, whose prowess even Lucifer must grimly own. These all ascribe their victories to the grace which taught them how to use the infallible word of the Lord. Dear friend, you must have “It is written” ready by your side at all times. Some, when a spiritual conflict begins, run to a friend for help; I do not condemn the practice, but it would be much better if they turned to the Lord and his sure promise. Some at the first onslaught are ready to give up all hope. Do not act in so dastardly a manner; seek grace to play the man. You must fight if you are to enter into heaven; look to your weapon, it cannot bend or grow blunt, wield it boldly and plunge it into the heart of your enemy. “It is written” will cut through soul and spirit, and wound the old dragon himself.

     Note, that our Lord used this weapon under the most trying circumstances, but he found it to be sufficient for his need. He was alone; no disciple was there to sympathise, but the word was the man of his right hand, the Scripture communed with him. He was hungry, for he had fasted forty days and nights, and hunger is a sharp pain, and oftentimes the spirits sink when the body is in want of food; yet “It is written” held the wolf of hunger at bay; the word fed the champion with such meat as not only removed all faintness, but made him mighty in spirit. He was placed by his adversary in a position of great danger, high on the pinnacle of the lofty house of the Lord, yet there he stood, and needed no surer foothold than that which the promises of the Lord supplied him. “It is written,” enabled him to look down from the dizzy height and baffle the tempter still. He was placed also where the kingdoms of the world were stretched beneath his feet, a matchless panorama which has full often dazzled great men’s eyes and driven them onward to destruction; but “It is written” swept aside the snares of ambition and laughed at the fascination of power. Or in the desert, or on the temple, or on an exceedingly high mountain, no change in his mode of warfare was required; the infallible “It is written” availed in every position in which he found himself, and so shall it be with us.

     Earnestly do I commend the word of God to you who have lately enlisted beneath the banner of my Lord. As David said of Goliath’s sword, “there is none like it,” even so say I of the Holy Scriptures. Our Lord was tempted in all points like as we are, and therein he sympathises with us, but he resisted the temptations, and therein he is our example; we must follow him fully if we would share his triumphs.

     Observe that our Saviour continued to use his one defence, although his adversary frequently shifted his point of attack. Error has many forms, truth is one. The devil tempted him to distrust, but that dart was caught upon the shield of “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall man live.” The enemy aimed a blow at him from the side of presumption, tempting him to cast himself down from the temple; but how terribly did that two-edged sword fall down upon the head of the fiend, “It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” The next impudent blow was levelled at our Lord with the intent of bringing him to his knee— “Fall down and worship me;” but it was met and returned with crushing force by— “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” This smote leviathan to the heart. This weapon is good at all points; good for defence, and for attack, to guard our whole manhood or to strike through the joints and marrow of the foe. Like the seraph’s sword at Eden’s gate, it turns every way. You cannot be in a condition which the word of God has not provided for; it has as many faces and eyes as providence itself. You will find it unfailing in all periods of your life, in ail circumstances, in all companies, in all trials, and under all difficulties. Were it fallible it would be useless in emergencies, but its unerring truth renders it precious beyond all price to the soldiers of the cross.

     I commend to you, then, the hiding of God’s word in your heart, the pondering of it in your minds. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” Be rooted and grounded, and stablished in its teaching, and saturated with its spirit. To me it is an intense joy to search diligently in my Father’s book of grace. It grows upon me daily. It was written by inspiration in old times, but I have found while feeding upon it, that not only was it inspired when written, but it is so still. It is not a mere historic document, it is a letter fresh from the pen of God to me. It is not a sermon once delivered and ended; it speaks still. It is not a flower dried and put by in the hortus siccus, with its beauty clouded and its perfume evaporated; but it is a fresh blooming flower in God’s garden, as fragrant and as fair as when he planted it. I look not upon the Scriptures as a harp which once was played by skilful fingers, and is now hung up as a memorial upon the wall: no, it is an instrument of ten strings still in the minstrel’s hand, still filling the temple of the Lord with divine music, which those who have ears to hear delight to listen to. Holy Scripture is an Eolian harp, through which the blessed wind of the Spirit is always sweeping and creating mystic music, such as no man’s ears shall hear elsewhere, nor hear even there indeed, unless they have been opened by the healing touch of the Great Physician. The Holy Spirit is in the word, and it is, therefore, living truth. O Christians, be ye sure of this, and because of it make you the word your chosen weapon of war.

     II. Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us TO WHAT USES TO PUT THIS IT IS WRITTEN. Notice first that he used it to defend his sonship. The fiend said, “If thou be the Son of God,” and Jesus replied, “It is written.” That was the only answer he deigned to give. He did not call to mind evidences to prove his Sonship; he did not even mention that voice out of the excellent glory which had said, “This is my beloved Son.” No, but “It is written.” Now, my dear young brother, converted but newly, I do not doubt but that you have been already subjected to that infernal “if.” Oh, how glibly it comes from Satan’s lip. It is his darling word, the favourite arrow of his quiver. He is the prince of sceptics, and they worship him while he laughs in his sleeve at them, for he believes and trembles. One of his greatest works of mischief is to make men doubt. “If ”— with what a sneer he whispers this already in the ear of the newly-converted. “If,” says he,— “if.” “You say you are justified and pardoned, and accepted; but if! “May you not after all be deceived?” Now, dear friends, I beseech you never let Satan get you away from the solid ground of the word of God. If he once gets you to think that the fact of Christ being the Saviour of sinners can only be proved by what you can see within yourself he will very soon plunge you into despair. The reason why I am to believe in Jesus, lies in Jesus and not in me. I am not to say, “I believe in the Lord Jesus because I feel so happy,” for within half an hour I may feel miserable; but I believe in Christ for salvation, because it is written, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. “I believe in the salvation provided by Jesus Christ, not because it comports with my reason or suits my frame of mind, but because it is written, “He that believeth in him is not condemned,” “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth in me hath everlasting life.” Nothing can alter this truth, it stands, and must stand for ever. Believer, abide by it, come what may. Satan will tell you “You know there are many evidences; can you produce them?” Tell him to mind his own business. He will say to you, “You know how imperfectly you have behaved, even since your conversion.” Tell him that he is not so wonderfully perfect that he can afford to find fault with you. If he says, “Ah, but if you were really a changed character you would not have those thoughts and feelings”; argue not at all with him, but dwell upon the fact that it is written, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” If you believe in him, you cannot perish, but you have everlasting life, for so it is written. “It is written,” stand you there, and if the devil were fifty devils in one, he could not overcome you. On the other hand, if you leave “It is written,” Satan knows more about reasoning than you do, he is far older, has studied mankind very thoroughly, and knows all our sore points, therefore the contest will be an unequal one. Do not argue with him, but wave in his face the banner “It is written.” Satan cannot endure the infallible truth, for it is death to the falsehood of which he is the father. So long as God’s word is true, the believer is safe; if that is overthrown our hope is lost, but, blessed be God, not till then. Flee ye to your stronghold, ye tempted ones.

     Our Lord next used the Scripture to defeat temptation. He was tempted to distrust. There lay stones at his feet, for all the world like loaves; there was no bread, and he was hungry, and distrust said, “God has left you; you will starve; therefore leave off being a servant, become a master, and command that these stones be made bread.” Jesus, however, met the temptation distrustfully to provide for himself by saying, “It is written.” Now, young Christians or old Christians, you may be placed by providence where you think you will be in want, and then if you are afraid that God will not provide for you, the dark suggestion will arise, “I will deal after the way of the unjust, and so put myself in comfortable circumstances.” True, the action would be wrong, but many would do it, and therefore Satan whispers, “Necessity has no law; take the opportunity now before you.” In such an hour foil you the foe with “It is written, thou shalt not steal.” We are bidden never to go beyond or defraud our neighbour. It is written, “Trust in the Lord and do good, so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” It is written, “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” In that way only can you safely meet the temptation to distrust.

     Then Satan tempted the Lord to presumption. “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down,” said he; but Christ had a Scripture ready to parry his thrust. Many are tempted to presume. “You are one of God’s elect, you cannot perish; you may therefore go into sin; you have no need to be so very careful, since you cannot fall finally and fatally,”— so Satan whispers, and it is not always that the uninstructed convert is ready to answer the base sophistry. If we are at any time tempted to yield to such specious special pleadings, let us remember it is written, “watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” It is written, “Keep thine heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” It is written, “Be ye holy, for I am holy. Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Begone, Satan, we dare not sin because of the mercy of God; that were indeed a diabolical return for his goodness; we abhor the idea of sinning that grace might abound.

     Then will Satan attack us with the temptation to be traitors to our God and to worship other gods. “Worship me,” says he, “and if thou do this thy reward shall be great.” He sets before us some earthly object which he would have us idolise, some selfish aim which he would have us pursue. At that time our only defence is the sure word, “It is written, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength.” “Ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price.” “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” “Little children keep yourselves from idols.” Quoting such words as those with all our hearts, we shall not be suffered to fall. Beloved, we must keep from sin. If Christ has indeed saved us from sin, we cannot bear the thought of falling into it. If any of you can take delight in sin, you are not the children of God. If you are the children of God you hate it with a perfect hatred, and your very soul loathes it. To keep you from sin, arm yourselves with this most holy and pure word of God, which shall cleanse your way, and make your heart obedient to the voice of the thrice-holy God.

     Next our Lord used the word as a direction to his way. This is a very important point. Too many direct their ways by what they call providences. They do wrong things and they say, “It seemed such a providence.” I wonder whether Jonah, when he went down to Joppa to flee to Tarshish. considered it a providence that a ship was about to sail. If so, he was like too many now-a-days, who seek to lay their guilt upon God by declaring that they felt bound to act as they did, for providence suggested it. Our Lord was not guided as to what he should do by the circumstances around him. Any one but our holy Lord would have obeyed the tempter, and then have said, “I was very hungry, and I was sitting down in the wilderness, and it seemed such a providence that a spirit should find me out and courteously suggest the very thing that I needed, viz., to turn the stones into bread.” It was a providence, but it was a testing providence. When you are tempted to do evil to relieve your necessities, say to yourself, “This providence is testing me, but by no means indicates to me what I ought to do; for my rule is, ‘It is written.’” If you make apparent providence your guide, you will make a thousand mistakes, but if you follow “It is written” your steps will be wisely ordered.

     Neither are we to make our special gifts and special privileges our guide. Christ is on the pinnacle of the temple, and it is possible, nay, it is certain, that if he had chosen to cast himself down he could have safely done so; but he did not make his special privileges a reason for presumption. It is true that the saints shall be kept: final perseverance I believe to be undoubtedly the teaching of God’s word: but I am not to presume upon a doctrine, I am to obey the precept. For a man to say “I am a child of God, I am safe, therefore I live as I list,” would be to prove that he is no child of God at all, for the children of God do not turn the grace of God into licentiousness. It were only according to the devil’s logic to say, “I am favoured more than others, and therefore I may provoke the Lord more than they.” “It is written we love him because he first loved us, and by this we know that we love God, if we keep his commandments.”

     Then Satan tried to make his own personal advantage our Lord’s guide. “All these things will I give thee,” said he, but Christ did not order his acts for his own personal advantage, but replied, “It is written.” How often have I heard people say, “I do not like to remain in a church with which I do not agree, but my usefulness would be quite gone if I were to leave it.” On this system, if our Lord had been a mere man he might have said, “If I fall down and perform this small act of ritualism I shall have a noble sphere of usefulness. All the kingdoms of the earth will be mine! There are all those poor oppressed slaves; I could set them free. The hungry and the thirsty, how would I supply their wants; and with me for a King earth would be happy. Indeed, that is the very thing I am about to die for, and if it is to be done so easily, and in a trice, by bowing the knee before this spirit, why not do it?” Far, far removed was our Lord from the wicked spirit of compromise. Alas, too many now say, “We must give and take in little points; it is of no use to stand out and to be so absurdly wedded to your own ideas; there is nothing like yielding a little to carry your point in greater things.” Thus many talk now-a-days, but not so spoke our Lord. Though the whole world would be at his disposal if he did but once bow his head before the fiend, he would not do it. “It is written” was his guide; not his usefulness or personal advantage. My dear brother, it will sometimes happen that to do the right thing will appear to be most disastrous; it will shipwreck your fortune and bring you into trouble, but I charge you do the right thing at any cost. Instead of your being honoured and respected, and accounted a leader in the Christian church, you will be regarded as eccentric, and bigoted, if you speak straight out; but speak straight out, and never mind what comes of it. You and I have nothing to do with what becomes of us, or our reputations, or with what becomes of the world, or becomes of heaven itself; our one business is to do out Father’s will. “It is written” is to be our rule, and with dogged obstinacy, as men call it, but with resolute consecration as God esteems it, through the mire and through the slough, through the flood and through the flame, follow Jesus and the word infallible. Follow the written word wholly, and never mar the perfection of your obedience to him on account of usefulness, or any other petty plea, which Satan would put in your way.

     Note, further, that our Lord used “It is written” for maintaining his own Spirit. I love to think of the calmness of Christ. He is not one whit flurried. He is hungry, and ne is told to create bread, and he answers, “It is written.” He is lifted to the temple’s summit, but he says, “It is written,” just as calmly as you or I might do sitting in an easy chair. There he is with the whole world beneath his feet, gazing on its splendour, but he is not dazzled. “It is written” is still his quiet answer. Nothing makes a man self-contained, cool, and equal to every emergency like always falling back upon the infallible Book, and remembering the declaration of Jehovah, who cannot lie. I charge you, brethren, see to this.

     The last thought on this point is that our Lord teaches us that the use of Scripture is to vanquish the enemy and chase him away. “Go,” said he to the fiend, “for it is written.” You too shall chase away temptation if you keep firmly to this, “God hath said it, God hath promised it; God that cannot lie, whose very word of grace is strong as that which built the skies.”

     III. As our Lord chose the weapon, and taught us its uses, so HE SHOWED us HOW TO HANDLE IT. How are we to handle this sword of “It is written”? First, with deepest reverence. Let every word that God has spoken be law and gospel to you. Never trifle with it; never try to evade its force or to change its meaning. God speaks to you in this book as much as if again he came to the top of Sinai and lifted up his voice in thunder. I like to open the Bible and to pray, “Lord God , let the words leap out of the page into my soul, thyself making them vivid, quick, powerful, and fresh to my heart.” Our Lord himself felt the power of the word. It was not so much the devil who felt the power of “It is written” as Christ himself. “No,” saith he, “I will not command stones to be made bread; I trust in God who can without bread sustain me. I will not cast myself down from the temple; I will not tempt the Lord my God. I will not worship Satan, for God alone is God.” The manhood of Christ felt an awe of the word of God, and so it became a power to him. To trifle with Scripture is to deprive yourself of its aid. Reverence it, I beseech you, and look up to God with devout gratitude for having given it to you.

     Next have it always ready. Our Lord Jesus Christ as soon as he was assailed had his answer prepared— “It is written.” A ready reckoner is an admirable person in a house of business; and a ready textuary is a most useful person in the house of God. Have the Scriptures at your fingers’ end; better still, have them in the centre of your heart. It is a good thing to store the memory with many passages of the Word— the very words themselves. A Christian ought no more to make a mistake in quoting a text of Scripture, than a classic does when he quotes from Virgil or Homer. The scholar likes to give the ipsissima verba, and so should we, for every word is precious to us. Our Saviour knew so much of Holy Scripture that out of one single book, the book of Deuteronomy, he obtained all the texts with which he fought the wilderness battle. He had a wider range, for the Old Testament was before him; but he kept to one book, as if to let Satan know that be was not short of ammunition. If the devil chose to continue the temptation, the Lord had abundant defence in reserve. “It is written” is an armoury wherein do hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men. It is not merely one, but a thousand, nay, ten thousand weapons of war. It has texts of every kind, suitable for our aid in every emergency, and effectual for repelling every attack. Brethren, study much the Word of God, and have it ready to hand. It is of no use treating the Bible as the fool did his anchor, which he had left at home when he came to be in a storm: have the infallible witness at your side when the father of lies approaches.

     Endeavour also to understand its meaning, and so to understand it that you can discern between its meaning and its perversion. Half the mischief in the world, and perhaps more, is done, not by an ostensible lie, but by a perverted truth. The devil, knowing this, takes a text of Scripture, clips it, adds to it, and attacks Christ with it; but our Lord did not therefore despise Scripture because the devil himself might quote it, but he answered him with a flaming text right in his face. He did not say “The other is not written, you have altered it” but he gave him a taste of what “It is written” really was, and so confounded him. Do you the same. Search the Word, get the true taste of it in your mouth, and acquire discernment; so that when you say “It is written,” you may not be making a mistake; for there are some who think their creed scriptural, and yet it is not so. Texts of Scripture out of their connection, twisted and perverted, are not “It is written,” but the plain meaning of the word should be known and understood. Oh, read the word, and pray for the anointing of the Holy Spirit, that you may know its meaning, for so will you contend against the foe.

     Brethren, learn also to appropriate Scripture to yourselves. One of the texts our Lord quoted he slightly altered. “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” The original text is, “Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God.” But the singular lies in the plural, and it is always a blessed thing to be able to find it there. Learn so to use Scripture that you take home to yourself all its teaching, all its precepts, all its promises, all its doctrines; for bread on the table does not nourish; it is bread which you eat that will really sustain you.

     When you have appropriated the texts to yourself, stand by them whatever they may cost you. If to give up the text would enable you to make stones into bread, do not give it up; if to reject the precept would enable you to fly through the air like a seraph, do not reject it. If to go against the word of God would make you emperor of the entire world, do not accept the bribes. To the law and to the testimony, stand ye there. Be a Bible man, go so far as the Bible, but not an inch beyond it. Though Calvin should beckon you, and you esteem him, or Wesley should beckon, and you esteem him, keep to the Scripture, to the Scripture only. If your minister should go astray, pray that he may be brought back again, but do not follow him. Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel than this book teaches you, do not, I pray yon, give any heed to us— no, not for a single moment. Here is the only infallibility;— the Holy Ghost’s witness in this book.

     Remember, lastly, that your Lord at this time was filled with the Spirit “Jesus, being filled with the Spirit,” went to be tempted. The word of God, apart from the Spirit of God, will be of no use to you. If you cannot understand a book, do you know the best way to reach its meaning? Write to the author and ask him what he meant. If you have a book to read, and you have got that author always accessible, you need not complain that you do not understand it. The Holy Spirit is come to abide with us for ever. Search the Scriptures, but cry for the Spirit’s light, and live under his influence. So Jesus fought the old dragon, “being filled with the Spirit.” He smote Leviathan through with this weapon, because the Spirit of God was upon him. Go you with the word of God like a two-edged sword in your hand, but ere you enter the lists pray the Holy Ghost to baptise you into himself, so shall you overcome all your adversaries, and triumph even to the end. May God bless you, for Jesus’ sake.



A Solemn Impeachment of Unbelievers

By / Dec 13

A Solemn Impeachment of Unbelievers

 

“He that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.” — 1 John v. 10.

 

No doubt if our Lord Jesus were on earth, he would find many persons for whom he would pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It is no doubt true of many who are living in great sin that they do it ignorantly, not knowing the full measure of their guilt, or its real character in the sight of God. It is the duty of the Christian minister, and indeed of all Christians, to render sins of ignorance impossible by imparting scriptural knowledge; we must let men know what they are doing, and never suffer them to go on in the dark. If they will commit sin, let them at least know what is involved in it, for “that the soul be without knowledge is not good.” It is not meet that any man should continue in darkness now that the true light has dawned upon mankind. It is true our testimony will not always be received, for men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil, but our duty remains the same; we are to bear witness of the truth and to be in the hands of God the instruments of convincing the world of the exceeding sinfulness of sin.

     The great sin of not believing in the Lord Jesus Christ is often spoken of very lightly and in a very trifling spirit, as though it were scarcely any sin at all; yet, according to my text, and, indeed, according to the whole tenor of the Scriptures, unbelief is the giving of God the lie, and what can be worse? I earnestly desire that every unbeliever may see his unbelief at this time in its true colours, and perhaps, as the Spirit of God enables him to see the evil of his past unbelief, he will be so shocked at himself, and horrified at his crime, that he will continue in it no longer, but yield himself to the faith. My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth, that grace may be given to the unbelieving, that they may now believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

     When our race had been lost by sin, it was infinite mercy on God’s part to provide a way of salvation, and infinite condescension to make that way of salvation suitable to our lost condition. If it had been a salvation which depended upon works, it would have impossible to us; it would have mocked our sorrow, but could not have relieved it. In abounding mercy God has set forth Jesus Christ to be a propitiation for sin, and he bids guilty men believe in him as the atoning sacrifice, and see in him the love of God made manifest. He bids sinners lay hold upon eternal life by accepting Jesus Christ by faith as their Saviour. Now, had not man been very vile and grossly wicked at heart, he would have leaped for joy at the proclamation of the gospel, and have believed at once the truth to which God bears witness; but being desperately set on mischief, man does not believe in Jesus Christ, and if you preach Christ to him, and set the crucified One before him, yet still, except where the Holy Spirit works effectually, he remains in his unbelief, refuses to receive the witness of God, and rejects the Redeemer. Now, what I desire to do this morning is to bring every man who is in that condition to look at himself as in a glass, and see clearly what he is doing. I wish to make him feel as he hears this discourse, “Yes, I see what I am doing: by not believing Jesus I am despising the blood of atonement, and I am telling God to his face that he is a liar.” It is always well for every man to know exactly what he is at. On the sea of life the oftener we take observations as to our longitude and latitude the better. Many bankruptcies arise from careless trading, and in such cases the traders have no mind to consult their account books, but they go on with their eyes half open, hoping that things will take a turn, which turn is never taken. It is always good for a man to know who he is, what he is, where he is, and whither he is bound. I would plead with the unbeliever, to look well to his position, to see how God regards it, and to judge himself that he be not judged. If I should not seem to speak very tenderly at this time, you must not be astonished. I believe there is such a thing as pitying sinners and comforting them till they consider themselves to be no longer blameworthy, and even regard themselves as unhappy people who deserve sympathy. I talked not long ago with a troubled one, and after much battling I. brought her to this point— “There is the way of salvation. Jesus Christ has come into the world to save sinners, and whosoever believeth in him is saved.” She replied, “I cannot believe in him;” and then I came to push of bayonet and said, “Will you then stand up in the sight of Almighty God, and declare to him that you cannot believe him; which of course is the same thing as saying, in other words, that God is a liar! Rise, then, and let me hear you say what is in your heart.” She replied most earnestly, “I could not say anything of the kind.” My answer was, “But you did say so just now, and by your unbelief you have been saying so for years, and you are practically saying it every moment that you remain in unbelief.” That troubled one said to me as she left, “I thank you for not trying to comfort me. I wanted to be faithfully dealt with, and I bless God that you have done so.” Now I wish, out of love to the souls of those who do not believe in Jesus, to deal faithfully with them, giving them no comfort, for comfort there is none for those who believe not; but making them see what their sin is, that they may be ashamed and confounded, and repent of their wicked unbelief. May the Spirit of God make them see that “he that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.”

     First we shall see the sinner’s inability to believe dissected; then, the nature of his sin detected; then, the unbeliever’s sin execrated; and fourthly, his fate predicted.

     I. First, THE SINNER’S INABILITY TO BELIEVE DISSECTED. He pleads that he cannot believe. He often says this, and quiets his conscience with it. When he is aroused and awakened he declares that he cannot believe in Jesus Christ, and cannot believe God, and goes off to his deadly sleep again. He quotes the Scriptures to back up his excuse, and perhaps reminds us of the words of the Lord Jesus himself— “No man cometh to me except the Father who hath sent me draw him.” To which we reply that the words of our Lord are always very weighty with us, and we would not wrest one of them for a moment; but our Lord explains his own words in another place, where he says, “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.” So then the sinner’s inability lies in his will; it is because he will not that he cannot. Let every sinner be assured of this, and let his conscience confirm the truth of the statement. Hearken, O unbeliever, you have said, “I cannot believe,” but it would be more honest if you had said, “I will not believe.” The mischief lies there. Your unbelief is your fault, not your misfortune. It is a disease, but it is also a crime: it is a terrible source of misery to you, but it is justly so, for it is an atrocious offence against the God of truth.

     Let me take your unbelief to pieces, and show why it is that you cannot believe. The inability of many of you lies in the fact that you do not care to think about the matter at all. A great many of you do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ because you do not care about your souls, or see the importance of being saved. You give your minds to your business, your pleasure, or your sin: you dream that there is time enough yet to think of heavenly things, and you think them to be of secondary importance. This is the source of a large proportion of ordinary unbelief. Let any man who disbelieves the Bible, for instance, answer this question,— Did you ever candidly read that book with the view of seeing for yourself whether or no it is the book of God? Did you ever sit down seriously to study the evidences of its being the revelation of God? It is very seldom that any infidel can be found who will say “yes” to that question. They rail at what they do not understand, and condemn off-hand what they have never studied. Is this right?

     Many, however, say, “Oh, yes, I believe the Bible, I believe it is Gods book, I believe the gospel to be God’s gospel.” Why, then, do you not believe in Jesus? It must be because you do not think the gospel message important enough to be obeyed; and in so doing you are giving God the lie practically, for you tell him that your soul is not so precious as he says it is, neither is your state so perilous as he declares it to be. You are dying: the doctor says, “Here is a medicine which will cure your disease; it is the only medicine that will save your life, and you will die if you do not take it.” Suppose you do not take the medicine, I shall be right in saying that how ever you may view the matter, you give that physician the lie direct in the most practical manner. You do not say in so many words, “I am not as bad as you say I am.” You do not say, “I do not believe in your medicine,” but, by refusing to take it, you say so most unmistakeably. The physician will quite understand your action, even if you do not speak a sentence, and, as he sees you die before his eyes, he will feel that your death lies at your own door. In refusing to come to the gospel feast you do as good as tell the Lord that he makes too much of it, that he makes heaven and earth ring with the glory of it, but in your esteem your farm and your merchandise are far more worthy of attention. You by your neglect of the great salvation declare that you are not in any pressing danger, and do not stand in urgent need of a Saviour; you also say that the pardon of sin, the favour of God, and a good hope of heaven are not worthy to be sought first and above all other things, neither is Jesus the chief among ten thousand, nor is his love needful to make you truly happy. In all these points and many others your carelessness gives the Lord the lie.

     A second reason of the sinner’s inability to believe lies in the fact that the gospel is true. “No,” you reply, “that is precisely why we would believe it.” Yes, but what does Jesus say in John viii. 45? he says, “Because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.” Strange reason for not believing a statement!— because it is true! Yet there are thousands of individuals whose capacity for believing a lie is enormous, but their ability for accepting truth appears to have gone from them. When religious impostures have arisen the very men who have heard the gospel from their youth up, and have not received it because it is true, have become dupes of imposition at once. The truth did not suit their nature, which was under the dominion of the father of lies, but no sooner was a transparent lie brought under their notice than they leaped at it at once like a fish at a fly. The monstrous credulity of unbelief amazes me! I meet with persons who consider themselves to be bold thinkers and philosophers, and they express their astonishment that I can really believe the things which I preach: but no sooner do I learn from them what their positive creed is, than the astonishment comes to be on my side, and is a thousand times greater than theirs could be. The faith which accepts Christ has but a small throat indeed compared with that credulity which believes for instance in the development of man from a protoplasm— that creed requires the swallow of the great fish which swallowed Jonah entire. A lie ye will believe, but because the gospel is true ye do not believe it. “You give us a bad character,” says one. It is your true character. Some of you are so in the habit of accepting no teaching but that which chimes in with your depraved tastes and sceptical notions, that because the gospel is true, and therefore comes across your vitiated tastes, you cannot endure it. If we were to trim it a little, and cut it down, and make it suit you, you would accept it; but in the name of the everlasting God we assure you we will not do it: we dare not do it for God’s sake, nor even for your sakes, for to preach to you another gospel would only be to deceive you.

     There are persons who do not receive the gospel because it is despised among men. The gospel is sneered at by the great ones of the earth, and the mass of mankind ridicule it, and therefore cowards turn their backs upon it. If princes and great men followed after the truth then there might be something in it, but are not believers in Jesus generally a poor company? Do you not virtually say, “I cannot believe God’s witness alone, but I would believe it if a learned professor or a great lord would add his testimony.” What did they say in Christ’s day? “Have any of the rulers believed?” The opinions of the rulers were evidently more considered than the witness of the blessed God. We know a certain class of people who always ask, “Is it fashionable?” And there are others of another class who cautiously inquire, “What do the men in our shop think about it?” They set more store by the judgment of men than by the declarations of God. They will believe their fellow creatures, who are as fallible as themselves, but God they will not believe. Let me tell you that even if you were after a fashion to believe God because his testimony is supported by the great ones of the earth, or by the many around you, it would not be believing God at all, it would at bottom resolve itself into believing the testimony of men. Sinner, this is no small offence, to be ready to accept the verdict of your fellow men, but not ready to accept the declaration of your God.

     Many, however, do not receive the gospel because they are much too proud to believe it. The gospel is a very humbling thing. It says to the sinner, “Now, sir, you have no merits of your own, and what is more you have no power to obtain merit in the future.” The man claims to have been temperate, chaste, honest, and generous, but the gospel says to him, “You have broken God’s law, and you are condemned for it.” All that you have done was but your duty, and cannot avail to blot out your shortcomings in other respects. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all,” so says the book which cannot err (James ii. 10). If you are to be saved, you must be saved as a sinner, or not at all, for Christ has not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. You must be saved through the merits of another, and washed from sin in the precious blood of Jesus; your own works must not have a finger in it, it must be by grace, and grace alone. Of course the proud man cannot believe that; he turns his back upon it in scorn. Why cannot he believe it? Because he will not believe it, he is so proud that it offends him, it goes against the grain, and he will not endure it. Many of you must confess that you do not like the gospel, because it does not leave you room to stow away your pride. If it said to you, “Attend to the sacraments,” why, you would be baptised to-morrow and come to the Lord’s Table, if that would save you; and if I were allowed to preach that if any man walked barefooted from his house to the Land’s End he would be saved, you would start off this afternoon, wet as it is. If there were any great thing for you to do you would do it, but because there is nothing for you to do but to accept what another has done, you will not have it. Your detestable pride is at the bottom of your rejection of free grace. If this is the secret of your inability, does it excuse you? Does it not make your offence the greater?

     Another reason why men cannot believe God’s testimony concerning Jesus, lies in the holiness of the gospel. If the gospel came to them and said, “You can confess your sins and obtain absolution, and then go and sin again,” would not that suit many of you? That is the religion for sinful men! Do you think there ever will be a time when such teaching will cease to be popular? It is a most attractive religion the devil himself could invent, and it shews his genius in lying. Confess your sin to a priest, pay a shilling, get absolved, and go away and live as you like till next time. Rub sin off as you go along with a little penance. Human nature rejoices in that religion. But the gospel says to the man, “You must forsake your evil ways. What is more, the very nature that suggests these sins must be changed. You must be born again.” The gospel cries, “Repent.” Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him turn unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him. The gospel proclaims Jesus, who saves men from their sins, but you do not want that. The impurity of your hearts is that which makes it hard to believe a pure gospel.

     O souls, I pray you, look at this truth. When you say, “I cannot believe,” it is either because you are too careless, or else because your nature itself is too deceitful and too impure to accept the truth. It would be easy enough to believe if these things were gone. Do the angels find it difficult to believe? Would pure spirits find it difficult to believe? No, your sin lies at the foundation of your unbelief; it is the root which beareth this wormwood. We cannot expect a spendthrift to believe in the excellence of economy, or a vicious man to believe in the pleasures of chastity. Loose men even deny that any one is pure. What an opinion bad men have of all mankind! Why think they so ill of others? Because they judge them by themselves. When a dove flies over a landscape it sees the clear streams and the fields of corn; but when a vulture passes over the same landscape what does it see? A dead horse here and there, a carcass, or a piece of carrion. Everybody sees according to his eyes. A graceless, impure minded man cannot see purity. Christ said to the proud Pharisees, “How can ye believe that receive honour one of another?” Their pride stood in the way; and in every case in which a man declares concerning the Lord Jesus, “I cannot believe” the difficulty is in himself, and not in the facts to be believed, nor in the evidence of those facts. There is one excuse for unbelief, and only one. “How can they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” That excuse will avail for the heathen, but not for you, for you have heard and read about Jesus, and know the gospel, so that the only excuse that can be accepted is not for you. Of you it must be said, “He that believeth not hath made him a liar.”

     II. Secondly, I must now come to closer quarters, and describe THE NATURE OF THE SIN OF UNBELIEF, in that it makes God a liar. I will take many forms of it, and show this to be the case.

     Those are guilty of this sin who deny that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised Saviour, the Son of God. Out of heaven God himself declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Peter truly said at Pentecost (Acts ii. 22) that Jesus of Nazareth was “a man approved of God by miracles, and signs, and wonders, which God did by him.” God says in many ways “he is my beloved Son,” and if you say he is not you make God a liar. That is clear enough.

     Some there be who deny his deity. Now, over and over in Scripture we are told that Jesus Christ is “God manifest in the flesh.” “The Word was God.” “By him were all things created that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible” (Col. i. 16). He is “called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God.” The miracles which Christ wrought, and especially his resurrection from the dead, all prove his deity, the Father bearing witness that he is his equal and his fellow. When a man says that Jesus is not God, and the Father says he is, the lie direct is given; but, as I believe there are very few of that kind of unbelievers here, I will leave such persons and pass on.

     A poor trembling, weeping sinner comes to me, and amongst other things he says, “My sins are so great, that I do not believe they can be pardoned.” I meet him thus. God says, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” “But, Sir, my sin is very great indeed.” “The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” “But my transgressions have been exceedingly aggravated.” “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” “Sir, I cannot believe it.” Stand up, then, and tell the Lord so in the plainest manner,— “O God, thou hast said thou wilt abundantly pardon, but it is a lie.” I challenge you to make that avowal outright, for you are making it in your hearts. It is idle to deny it, for it is so. God says, “I will and I can pardon,” and you say he cannot— what is that but accusing the Lord of falsehood?

     Another will say, “Oh, but my heart is so hard I cannot believe in the power of God to make a new man of me, and deliver me from the love of sin.” Yet God declares in his word, “A new heart also will I give them, and a new spirit will I put within them. I will take away the heart of stone out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh.” That is what God says. “It cannot be,” say you. Very well, then, do not deny it, you give God the lie. God says, “I can;” you say he cannot. There is your position.

     In many there exists a doubt about the willingness of God to save. They say, “I believe that the blood of Jesus Christ does blot out sin, but is he willing to pardon me?” Now, listen to what Jehovah says, for he says it with an oath, and to me it is a very startling thing that God should swear, he swears by himself, because he can swear by no greater. Mark that! “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, but had rather that he turn unto me and live.” Over and over again, in all sorts of shapes, he gives us assurance that he delighteth in mercy. Now, then, sinner, if you say God is unwilling, and Christ is unwilling, and yet the Lord swears that he is willing, and Christ dies to prove it – what, then, is your unbelief? I hardly like to utter what I feel I must say – you do deliberately charge God with perjury, and what could the greatest blashphemer out of hell, or the blackest devil in hell do more than that? That is exactly what you have done, and are doing now.

     “Alas,” cries one, “my ground for doubt is deeper, I hear that God can pardon, regenerate, and all that, and I believe it, but then I cannot see that any of this is for me. I do not see that these things are sent for me.” Listen, then, to what God says, “Ho every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, let him come buy wine and milk.” You adroitly reply, “But I do not thirst.” More shame for you then! Listen again— “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “But I do not labour.” Do not labour? How do you get your living? I am sorry for you if you are such a lazy man that you have no labour. That text includes every labouring man and every heavy laden man under heaven. Listen yet again, “Whosoever will, let him come.” Does not that invite every living man who is willing to come? If you say, “I am not willing,” then I leave you, for you confess that you are unwilling to be saved, unwilling to be reconciled to God, and that is exactly what I am trying to prove:— you cannot believe, because you are unwilling to do so. On your own head be your blood. I do not know what more I can say to you; you must be mad to be willing to incur the flames of hell and the wrath of God for ever. It is not for me to comfort you when you are in such a condition as that: if you choose your own destruction, why, so must it be. Yet hear me once again. Jesus has said to his disciples, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature; he that believeth and is baptised shall be saved.” Are you a creature? “Yes, I am a creature.” Well, man, God has put it as plain as it can be put, that the gospel is to be preached to you, and, therefore, it has a relation to you. Would God send it to you to tantalise you? When you say, “It is not for me,” you give God the lie. He says it is for “every creature;” and you know you are a creature, how then dare you say it is not for you? In speaking thus, you accuse the Lord of trifling with you and mocking you.

     “Well,” says one, “but I cannot see how simply trusting in Christ, and believing God’s witness of him, would save my soul.” My dear man, are you never to believe anything but what you can see, and how are you to see this thing till you have tried it? A physician says “that medicine will heal you.” The patient replies, “I want to see that it does heal me before I take it.” The man is a fool, and so are you if that is how you trifle with God. You must believe the gospel on the evidence of God, and not otherwise, or your faith is not faith in God at all. The faith which is commanded in the gospel is faith in the record which God has given concerning his Son, a faith which takes God at his word. Believe, then, on the Lord Jesus Christ and you have believed God to be true: refuse to trust in Jesus Christ, unless you get some other evidence beyond the witness of God, and you have practically said that God’s testimony is not enough, that is to say, you have made God a liar.

     Many a time I have heard men say, “Oh, but I cannot believe it, it seems so wonderful.” Is not that why you should believe it? What should come from the glorious Lord but that which is wonderful? He is glorious in holiness, fearful in praise, doing wonders.

     Another cries out “that it is too good to be true.” Ah, poor soul, but have you never read, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts”? A less salvation would not avail for you, nor glorify God. Some feel that the gospel is too simple. They want a more complicated system than— “believe and live.” How can it be too simple for finite minds like ours? Then I have heard them turn round and say, “It is too mysterious,” and yet after all where is this mystery? “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” What can be more plain than that? Anyhow, dear friends, let me say to you, whether it is a mystery or not, God bears witness to it, and if you do not believe it you make God a liar. Whether you think it too simple, or too good, or too wonderful, or too anything, you must either believe God or make him a liar, there is no third course; for, be it simple or mysterious, wonderful or commonplace, the Lord asserts it to be true, and if you refuse his witness you make him a liar, and must take the consequences.

     III. And now I pray the Holy Spirit to rest upon my words while I treat for a few minutes upon the third most awful point, namely, THE EXECRATION OF THIS SIN. To disbelieve God is a sin indeed! It was the mother sin of all, the door by which all other evil came into the world. The devil whispered in the ear of mother Eve, “Yea, hath God said?” That insinuated doubt commenced our fall; and when that had tarnished the brightness of her intellect, the fiend added, “Ye shall not surely die”— giving God the lie direct; when she believed him, and her husband joined her in it, our ruin was complete. Unbelief of God turned our race out of Eden, and in consequence we are born in sore travail, and plough the ground with toil. Oh, accursed unbelief! It is time thou wert hung up on a gallows high as that of Haman! Alas, that any man should hug thee to his heart! Thou destroyer of our race, thou art loathsome indeed! When the children of Israel were m the wilderness journeying towards Canaan, how was it that so many graves were digged in the desert, and that out of six hundred thousand footmen who came out of Egypt only two survived to enter the promised land? Who slew all these  The inspired apostle tells us, “They could not enter in because of unbelief.” Go ye at this day to Jerusalem, look beneath the buildings of the modem town, and mark the excavations which reveal the utter ruin of the holy city. See bow fully the prophecy was fulfilled that not one stone should remain upon another. Stand upon the steeps of Zion and ask, “Who destroyed this fair city? Who burned her holy and beautiful house with fire? She was beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, who cast her down to the dust, and why? The palaces of David and Solomon are overthrown, and the ploughshare has been driven over their foundations — why all this? Why was the siege of Jerusalem the most bloody and horrible in all history?” It was because the Jews rejected the Messiah, and would not believe the testimony of the living God. O, accursed unbelief! It spits its venom against the holy God, and he cannot but abhor it. How can the absolutely true submit to be charged with falsehood? This sin of making God a liar I do pray you look at it very solemnly, for it is a stab at God himself! What is it that would most easily provoke yourself? If a person stole your goods, if he smote you in your person, if he injured you in business, you might bear it patiently, but when a man tells you to your face that he cannot believe you, the insult is acutely felt. You are not truthful if you can be content to be called a liar. Nothing stings like it: it is the unkindest cut of all. Oh, do not tell me that you find it difficult to believe my word, for that will cut me to the quick; yet would I a thousand times rather have you treat me thus than offer the same insult to the Lord my God.

     Then, remember, this unbelief insults God on a very tender point. He comes to the guilty sinner and says, “I am ready to forgive.” The sinner says, “I do not believe thee.” “Hear me,” says the Lord, “What proof do you ask? See, I have given my only-begotten Son, he has died upon the tree to save sinners.” “Still I do not believe thee,” says the unbeliever. Now, what further evidence can be given? Infinite mercy has gone its utmost length in giving the Saviour to bleed and die: God has laid bare his inmost heart in the wounds of his dying Son, and still he is not believed. Surely, man has reached the climax of enmity to God in this: nothing proves the utter baseness of man so much as this refusal to believe his God, and nothing proves so much the greatness of almighty grace as that God should after all this condescend to work faith in a heart so depraved. O miracle of sin! O greater miracle of love!

     I would have you recollect that you are not only giving God the lie once or twice, but you deny what he has over and over again declared. To tell a man that he is a liar once is a great insult, but if he continues to asseverate the truth and you still contradict him, the provocation gathers force. If the man be perfectly truthful, it is a piece of wickedness on your part to refuse him credence when he repeats his evidence again and again: but the Lord has gone further than repeating his word, he has sworn it, and yet you will not believe him. I pray you remember that you are in the presence of God at this very moment, and that the Lord is now looking right into your heart, and sees clearly that in your inmost soul your unbelief is saying to him, “O God, the maker of heaven and earth, thou art a liar. O God, who gave thy Son to die, I do believe that fact, but I will not even now trust thee. I do not believe in thy power or willingness to pardon me, though thy word very clearly declares thee to be both able and willing. Thou hast promised to forgive all who in thy Son believe, but I cannot believe. Thou art ready now at once to put away sin from every man that believes thy witness with regard to Christ, but I do not believe thy witness; thou liest.” I know you shudder at such sentiments, and there is good need that you should; but why do you continue to act upon them? Did I not hear some one say, “Ah, sir, I have been trying to believe for years.” Terrible words! They make the case still worse. Imagine that after I had made a statement, a man should declare that he did not believe me, in fact, he could not believe me though he would like to do so. I should feel aggrieved certainly; but it would make matters worse if he added, “In fact, I have been for years trying to believe you, and I cannot do it.” What does he mean by that? What can he mean but that I am so incorrigibly false, and such a confirmed liar, that though he would like to give me some credit, he really cannot do it? With all the effort he can make in my favour, he finds it quite beyond his power to believe me? Now, a man who says, “I have been trying to believe in God,” in reality says just that with regard to the Most High. How idle is it to talk of trying to believe! If a statement is true, a right judgment believes it, not of choice, but because the evidence commands faith. The trying lies in the other direction: men do not want to believe the truth, therefore they are careless and negligent, they raise quibbles and questions, they demand signs and wonders, and feelings, and impressions; they struggle against the evidence, they shut out the light. In you who believe the Bible to be God’s word, and yet are unbelievers, it is evidently so; for if Jesus be the Saviour why do you not believe him? The talk about trying to believe is a mere pretence. But whether pretence or no, let me remind you that there is no text in the Bible which says, “Try and believe,” but it says “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” He is the Son of God, he has proved it by his miracles, he died to save sinners, therefore trust him; he deserves implicit trust and child-like confidence. Will you refuse him these? Then you have maligned his character and given him the lie.

     IV. I shall leave this matter when I have, with a heavy burden on my soul, said a few words upon THE FATE OF THE UNBELIEVER. If this man continues to say he cannot believe God, and that Christ is not to be trusted, what will happen to him? I wonder what the angels think must befall a being who calls God a liar. They see his glory, and as they see it they veil their faces, and cry, “Holy, holy, holy;” what horror would they feel at the idea of making God untrue! The saints in heaven when they see the glory of God fall down on their faces and adore him. Ask them what they think must happen to those who persist in calling God a liar, and a liar in the matter of his mercy to rebels through Jesus Christ. As for me, I cannot conceive any punishment too severe for final unbelief. Only this I know, it is written, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” May you never know what that means, but you will know it as sure as you live if you continue in unbelief. God is not a liar, but if he does not damn the man who dies an unbeliever he will be; and therefore depend upon it he will do it. He has said, “He that believeth not shall be damned if he be false he may let you escape, but if he be true he will cast you into hell. There is nothing else before you. The other day an enquirer said to me, “I cannot believe,” and I gave him no answer but this— “then you must be damned.” Had I nothing else to say? No, nothing else; I had no comforts to offer, no hopes to present to an unbeliever. “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.” There is an honest intolerance about these words of our Lord; he does not stammer and hesitate and say, “I fear some ill may occur to you;” but he says outright that you will be damned. Nothing on earth or in heaven can save you except you believe in Jesus. You may knock at a thousand doors, and you may cry, and pray, and groan, and agonise, and sweat, ay, even to drops of blood, but there is only one door to heaven, and that door is faith in Jesus Christ. If you will not enter by that door God himself will not open another. God has been pleased to empty out the infinite mercy of his heart into the person of his dear Son, and he cries, “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely”: but, if Jesus be rejected by you, and God’s witness about him be refused, do not look for any other help. Think you that God has another son who will die for you? You would not believe in him if he had. Do you think he will alter the whole plan of salvation and the covenant of grace, and reverse the purposes of his wisdom to gratify your wicked whims? That were to make him an accomplice in your wickedness and a patron of your insolence. Believe me, he will keep his word, and if you believe not in Christ, you shall be utterly ashamed at the last great day.

     The last word I have to say is this, not only will the unbeliever be lost, but he will be lost by his unbelief. Thus saith the Lord, “He that believeth not is condemned already.” Why? “Because he hath not believed on the Son of God.” Has he not committed a great deal else that will condemn him? Oh, yes, a thousand other sins are upon him, but justice looks for the most flagrant offence, that it may be written as a superscription over his condemned head, and it selects this monster sin and writes “condemned, because he hath not believed on the Son of God.” When the Spirit of God came into the world to convince men of sin, he began by convincing them of the greatest of all. Which did he choose as the most glaring? “Of sin because they believed not on me.” I am only telling you what I find in the Scriptures. Certain brethren will say, “This sermon is not orthodox.” I care nothing for their criticism: what I have advanced is God’s word, and God’s word against any man’s word all the world over. His word is sharper than a two-edged sword, and I pray him to make it cut to your very marrow this morning,— to wound and kill that afterwards Christ may make alive. If any one of you should be finally cast into the prison of despair, to suffer in hell the wrath of God, the accusation which will appear over your condemned cell will run thus, “This man knew the gospel to be true, and yet he would not believe it.” That thought will torture you with a vengeance, “I am condemned because I believed not the truth, because I made my God a liar, because I trusted not in Christ. He told me it would be so, and it is so. This is the sting of it all, that for my unbelief I am justly left to perish.” Oh, dear hearers, belie the Lord not. By your reason which is yet left to you, by your love to yourselves, by heaven and by hell, by the bleeding wounds of Jesus, and by the truth of God, I entreat you accept Jesus. May the Holy Ghost go with my entreaties that your souls may relent, that your stony hearts may melt before the cross, and you may receive Jesus Christ to be your all in all this day. Amen and Amen.



Heart-Knowledge of God

By / Dec 6

Heart-Knowledge of God

 

“I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord.”— Jeremiah xxiv. 7.

 

WITH what blindness has sin smitten the heart of man, for man does not know his own Maker! It is implied in the text that in his heart he is ignorant of Jehovah, though in him he lives, and moves, and has his being. What an impotence has sin brought upon the mind of man, since being ignorant of God he is also incapable of finding him out! This also may be most readily gathered from the text. The fact that a promise is made in the covenant that to the chosen shall be given hearts to know the Lord is a clear proof that without the divine teaching, and without the reception of a new heart from the Lord, man not only does not know, but cannot find out his God. Thou boastest of thy intellect, O vain man, but thy foolish heart is darkened so that thou stumblest in the noonday as at midnight. Thou hast eyes, and thou sayest “I see,” but thine eyes are closed, thine ears are dull of hearing, and thy heart has waxed gross; and so dull has thy soul become that only he who formed the ear can make thee hear, and only he who fashioned the eye can give thee sight. How can we sufficiently admire the condescension of God, that he should stoop to instruct the heart of man! Man forgets his God, but God does not forget him; though man knows not God, yet God knows him; and, seeing that his powerlessness to grasp divine knowledge lies in his heart, he visits him in grace, and renews the fountain of his strength, and the centre of his nature, by giving him a new heart and a right spirit. The infinitely glorious God might have regarded it as a matter of indifference whether such an insignificant creature as man knew him or not; he might well have said, and it had been consistent with the majesty of his justice to say it, “Seeing that ye do not desire to know me ye shall not perceive me; and inasmuch as ye close your eyes to me ye shall continue in outer darkness; because ye will not glorify me as God your hearts shall abide in midnight, I will leave you to your own devices.” But

the Lord of love said not so to the sons of men, upon whom his heart was set. On the contrary he has made a covenant of mercy on our behalf, and his speech is the reverse of what we might have expected, for he declares in the words of the text, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am Jehovah.”

     By this great promise of the text is not merely meant that God will lead the converted to know that there is a God, because that may be known without a new heart. Any man possessed of reason may know that there is a Supreme Being, who created all things and preserves the universe in existence. The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork. The tokens of divine skill and power are so abundant that “The invisible things of God from the creation of the world are already seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.” The knowledge intended here is much deeper than that which comes from observation, and only affects the intellect. To know that there is a God is a lower step, which every man takes except the fool who hath said in his heart, “There is no God.” The text promises that the favoured ones shall know that God to be Jehovah. So the original text has it, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am Jehovah God leads men to see that the God revealed in Scripture, and manifested in the person of the Lord Jesus, is the God who made heaven and earth. Man fashions for himself a god after his own liking; he makes to himself if not out of wood or stone, yet out of what he calls his own consciousness, or his cultured thought, a deity to his taste, who will not be too severe with his iniquities or deal out strict justice to the impenitent. He rejects God as he is, and elaborates other gods, such as he thinks the Divine One ought to be, and he says concerning these works of his own imagination, “These be thy gods, O Israel.” The Holy Spirit, however, when he illuminates their minds, leads us to see that Jehovah is God, and beside him there is none else. He teaches his people to know that the God of heaven and earth is the God of the Bible, a God whose attributes are completely balanced, mercy attended by justice, love accompanied by holiness, grace arrayed in truth, and power linked with tenderness. He is not a God who winks at sin, much less is pleased with it, as the gods of the heathen are supposed to be, but a God who cannot look upon iniquity, and will by no means spare the guilty. This is the great quarrel of the present day between the philosopher and the Christian. The philosopher says, “Yes, a god if you will, but he must be of such a character as I now dogmatically set before you”; but the Christian replies, “Our business is not to invent a god, but to obey the one Lord who is revealed in the Scriptures of truth.” The God of Holy Scripture is love, but he is also possessed of justice and severity; he is merciful and gracious, but he is also stern and terrible towards evil; therefore unregenerate hearts say, “We cannot accept such a God as this,” and they call him cruel, and I know not what besides. Herein they are idolators, they set up another god and forsake the true God, and it does not alter the case if they plead that they make no graven image, for the first commandment says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The Lord teaches his people that he is Jehovah, who brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage: the Jehovah who smote Pharaoh with plagues, and drowned his hosts in the Red Sea; the Jehovah who led his people through the wilderness, but cast out their enemies from before them with a strong hand and an outstretched arm; the Jehovah that redeemed his people, but chastened them for their iniquities and took vengeance upon their inventions. The God of Sinai even is the selfsame God as the God of Calvary. “I am Jehovah thy God,” is his solemn proclamation, and it is well for the soul when it understands and knows that Jehovah, he is the God, yea, Jehovah, he is God alone. When the heart is content to believe in God as he is revealed, and no longer goes about to fashion a deity for itself according to its own, fancies and notions, it is a hopeful sign.

     The main stress of the promise lies, however, in this: “I will give them a heart to know ME;” that is, not merely to know that I am, and that I am Jehovah, but to have a personal knowledge of myself. I can scarcely express the idea which I wish to convey to you, but you all know the difference between knowing who a man is, what his character is, and all about him, and knowing the man himself. There are hundreds of people of whom we know a great deal; we are favoured by some prying gentleman or other with stories of how our great men dress, and what they say, what they eat, and when they eat it, and all sorts of minute details of their personal habits: still, despite all this information, we do not know these people, we should speak falsely if we said we did. To know them we must be on speaking terms with them, there must be a mutual recognition, there must be dealings of some kind between us. Now, it is so in the far higher matter of which we now speak. It is not enough to know that our Creator is the Jehovah of the Bible, and that he is perfect in character, and glorious beyond thought; but to know God we must have perceived him, we must have spoken to him, we must have been made at peace with him, we must have lifted up our heart to him, and received communications from him. If you know the Lord your secret is with him, and his secret is with you; he has manifested himself unto you as he does not unto the world. He must have made himself known unto you by the mysterious influences of his Spirit, and because of this you know him. I cannot explain this knowledge, but it is delightful to remember that many of you understand what it means by experience. Is it not sweet to traverse the world discerning God on every side? Your Father ever near. Is it not a blessing to be in trouble and find him helping us; to be in a dilemma and to hear his voice saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it”? To be depressed in spirit, and to feel that his comforts rejoice our souls, to be exulting in joy and to feel that his presence calms and sobers us and keeps us from undue delight in created things. It is inexpressibly honourable and joyful to walk with God as Enoch did, to speak with him as Abraham did of old, as a man speaketh with his friend, or to be hidden in the hollow of his hand, as Moses was in Horeb. This is to know God after the manner of the text. My hearer, do you know God? Have you beheld the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ? Have you discerned the Father in the Son? Do you see all the attributes of God shining mildly through the Mediator, toned down to our capacity, lest the

effulgence of the Deity should blind our finite sense? Do you know God by going to Jesus as your Saviour? He that hath seen Christ hath seen the Father. “No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.” If you know Christ and are found in him, then, beloved, you know the Lord, and are among the blessed company who are taught of the Spirit, for flesh and blood have not revealed the Lord unto you.

     We will consider our text in the following manner. We will first of all describe the seat of this knowledge— “I will give them a heart to know me”; then the necessity of this knowledge; then the excellency of this knowledge, and lastly the source of this knowledge. May the Holy Ghost aid us in speaking upon each topic.

     I. THE SEAT OF THIS KNOWLEDGE “I will give them a heart to know me.” Observe that it is not said, “I will give them a head to know me.” As I have already said, man’s great stumbling block in coming to God does not lie in his reason; there is a difficulty in his reason, but not the major one. The first and primary impediment to his knowledge of God lies in the affections. Man’s heart is set upon that which is evil; consequently he wants a God after his own fashion, who will smile upon sin, or at least tolerate it. The Lord complains in the psalm, “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself ”: it is the tendency of man to think that God is like himself. The impure in heart cannot conceive of a pure God, and if he could conceive him he would detest rather than worship him. “The pure in heart shall see God,” is one of the opening benedictions of the Saviour’s ministry, but the impure in heart cannot see God, and cannot therefore know him. The heart is the seat of the blindness; there lies the darkness which beclouds the whole mind. Hence to the heart the light must come, and to the heart that light is promised.

     I understand by the fact that the knowledge of God here promised lies in the heart, first, that God renews the heart so that it admires the character of God. The understanding perceives that God is just, powerful, faithful, wise, true, gracious, longsuffering, and the like; then the heart being purified admires all these glorious attributes, and adores him because of them. You can in a measure test your knowledge of the Lord by the enquiry,— Do you approve the character of God? Perceiving the God of the Scriptures to be the true God, do you admire him as he reveals himself? I must repeat what I have already said. There are many who have imagined God to be what they would like him to be, and then of course they admire the image which they have set up; but to see God as the Scripture reveals him, especially in his holiness, is a gift of his grace. Have you noted how David sings in the hundred and third psalm, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name”? It would have sounded more in accordance with the context to have said his gracious name, for he goes on to speak of the Lord’s deeds of grace— “who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases”: but that which the Psalmist most admired was the Lord’s holiness in all this,— the way in which he could deal mercifully with the guilty, and yet retain his spotless holiness. Holiness is the great terror of the ungodly, and therefore it is a token of our knowing God in our hearts when we can bless his holy name. How do the angels praise him? Do they sing “Mighty, mighty, mighty, Lord God of Hosts?” or “Bounteous, bounteous, bounteous Creator of the universe?” No; but “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.” They adore the whole of God, and God as a whole; holiness means completeness of character, the absence of everything like excess, the presence of everything that is perfection. O my soul, canst thou in some measure see the infinite perfectness of the Lord in all points; and seeing dost thou admire? Dost thou see him as a consuming fire, burning up evil; and dost thou approve him as such? Dost thou see his sovereignty, his hatred of sin, his immutability, his jealousy, and yet admire him? Dost thou indeed delight in even the sterner traits of the divine character, knowing that under all aspects the Lord is good? Then in thee is fulfilled the promise, “I will give them a heart to know me.” The heart-knowledge promised in the covenant of grace means, however, much more than approval: grace enables the renewed heart to take another step and appropriate the Lord, saying, “O God, thou art my God, early will I seek thee.” All the saved ones cry, “This God is our God for ever and ever; he shall be our guide even unto death.” The man who only knows the Lord with his head regards him as anybody’s God, or another man’s God; but the man who knows the Lord with his heart exclaims with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” By an act of appropriating faith the gracious man cries out, “The Lord is my portion saith my soul,” and then in return he dedicates himself to the service of his God; and there is fulfilled in him that other promise of covenant, “I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” Admiration of God leads on to appropriation, and this to something higher still.

     All true knowledge of God is attended by affection for him. In spiritual language to know God is to love him. “He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.” “I love the Lord,” saith David, “because he hath heard my voice and my supplication.” He had been no stranger to the Lord, but had conversed with him in prayer and received tokens of favour, and, therefore, his love overflowed. He cries out in another psalm, “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength,” and then he goes on to heap up and pack together a host of words of love and praise:–  “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.” Where the Lord is fully known he is intensely loved. The spouse first described her beloved as the apple-tree among the trees of the wood, and then she cried out, “I am sick of love.” At another time after drawing a full-length portrait of her Lord, she could not refrain from exclaiming, “His mouth is most sweet, yea, he is altogether lovely.” Such is our love of God when we know him, that we feel bound to glory in him before others. “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear thereof and be glad.” It is the great passion of the renewed soul to glorify God, whom he knows and loves; knowledge without love would be a powerless thing, but God has joined this knowledge and love together in a sacred wedlock, and they can never be put asunder. As we love God we know him, and as we know him we love him.

     Admiration, appropriation, affection are crowned with adhesion. To know a thing by heart is, in our common talk, to know it thoroughly. When a child knows his lesson by heart, we hope that he will not forget it. That which is learned in the head may be unlearned, for our understanding is very fickle and our memory frail, but that which is written upon the heart cannot be erased. Holy Scripture asks, “Can a maid forget her ornaments or a bride her attire?” These she dotes upon, and, therefore, she will not forget them. Can a woman forget her sucking child? No, she cannot, because her knowledge of her child is heart knowledge. Memories of the heart abide when all others depart. A mother’s love, a wife’s fondness, a sweet child’s affection, will come before us even in the last hours of life; when the mind will lose its learning and the hand forget its cunning, the dear names of our beloved ones will linger on our lips; and their sweet faces will be before us even when our eyes are dim with the shadow of approaching death. If we can sing, “O God, my heart is fixed, O my heart is fixed,” then the knowledge which it possesses will never be taken away from it. To know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, is not a fleeting attainment, but shall abide with us and increase until we know even as we are known. This is not the knowledge which shall vanish away, but that which shall be perfected when the day breaks and the shadows flee away.

     Now, beloved friend, have you such a knowledge of God? Do you admire, appropriate, love, and cleave to the Lord your God? Can you hope that you have been taught of the Lord according to that promise, “They shall know me from the least even unto the greatest.” Do not say, “I am so little in Israel that I cannot be expected to know.” Does not the covenant promise imply that the least must know the Lord as well as the greatest? This blessed knowledge is essential to every Christian, do you possess it? If not, do you desire it? If so, plead for it, and say, “I beseech thee shew me thy glory. Let me know thee as the Lord God, merciful and gracious, passing by transgression, iniquity, and sin.” He will hear you if you plead for Jesus’ sake.

     II. This brings us at once to the second point, namely, THE NECESSITY OF THIS KNOWLEDGE. If we think a minute we shall see how necessary it is. To know God is a needful preparation for every other true knowledge, because the Lord is the centre of the universe, the basis, the pillar, the essential force, the all in all, the fulness of all things. Not to know God is as if a student should attempt to construct a system of astronomy and be altogether ignorant of the sun, or a mariner should be a stranger to the sea, or a husbandman should not know the existence of seeds. The place which God occupies must be settled in our minds or we shall have no arrangement in our knowledge, and our science will be nothing but a conglomeration of truth and error. You may learn the doctrines of the Bible, but you do not know them truly till you know the God of the doctrines. You may understand the precepts in the letter of them, and the promises in their outward wording, but neither precept nor promise do you truly know until you know the God from whose lips they fell. The knowledge of God is at once the beginning and the end of wisdom. The ancient sage said, “Man, know thyself.” He spake well, but even for this man must first know his God. I venture to say that no man rightly knows himself till he knows his God, because it is by the light and purity of God that we see our own darkness and sinfulness. There must be a perfect model before us before we can discern our own departures from perfection. You must have a standard by which to weigh yourself or you cannot tell whether you are wanting or no: God is the standard, and until a man knows the standard he does not know how far he himself has fallen short of it. The proper study of mankind is God, and that attended to, the next appropriate subject of study is man. We must know God, or our other knowledge may be dangerous to others, and certainly will be hurtful to ourselves; it will puff us up, or load us with responsibilities which we shall not be able to meet. For the highest and most practical purposes, without the knowledge of God, we abide in utter ignorance.

     The knowledge of God is necessary to any real peace of mind. Suppose a man to be in the world and feel that he is right every way except with regard to God, and as to him he knows nothing. Hear him say, “I go about the world and see many faces which I can recognise, and I perceive many friends upon whom I can trust, but there is a God somewhere, and I know nothing at all about him. Whether he be my friend or my foe I know not.” If that individual be thoughtful and intelligent he must suffer unrest in his spirit, because he will say to himself, “Suppose this God should turn out to be a just God, and I should be a breaker of his laws? What a peril hangs over me. How is it possible for me to be at peace till this dreadful ignorance is removed!” The Old Testament Scripture says, “Acquaint now thyself with God and be at peace.” There is no peace to the heart while God is unknown. He is the God of peace, and there can be no peace till the soul knows him. Does it not strike you as being most certainly so? To leave this point unknown would be to leave in jeopardy the most vital part of happiness, the hinge upon which our eternal destiny must turn. Are you doing this? or is the Lord known to you?

     That this knowledge of God is necessary is clear, for how could it be possible for a man to have spiritual life and yet not to know God? The very first being which a man discerns when he is quickened into spiritual life is the Father of Spirits. His first cry is, “Father, I have sinned,” and all his life long he cries, “Abba Father.” Prayer is his breath, but he cannot truly pray to an unknown God. Faith is his life, but how shall he believe in him whom he does not know? I cannot imagine such a being as a spiritual man who knows not God, it is a self-evident impossibility— to be of the sons of God and not yet know the Father, to be pressed upon the Father’s bosom, to receive the Father’s forgiveness, and yet to be an utter stranger to that forgiving God is impossible— it is utterly inconceivable! The knowledge of God is an absolute and necessary concomitant of the spiritual life, without which we cannot see or enter into the kingdom of heaven

     Certainly it is necessary for the spiritual life when fully developed above. In heaven, and not know the King who reigns there! The golden harp in your hand, and not know for whom to sweep its melodious strings! White robed in glory, and not know the Redeemer in whose blood our robes were washed! Absurd supposition! It cannot be endured for a moment. Sinner, you must know the Lord. If you do not know him you are not a partaker of his grace, but you abide in darkness. Into his heaven you can never enter till he has given you a heart to know him; do not forget this warning, or trifle with it.

     III. Our third theme is THE EXCELLENCY OF THIS KNOWLEDGE. And here I shall spend a little longer time, and I hope I shall not tire you. I shall not weary those who care more for sense than sound. One of the first effects of knowing God in the soul is that it turns out our idols. Paul tells the Galatians in the fourth chapter and eighth verse of his epistle, that it was when they knew not God that they did service unto them which by nature are no gods, but when they knew God, or rather were known of him, they turned from their idols at once. A knowledge of God! O my brethren, it creates an abhorrence of idols, especially of those which have enslaved our own hearts. It seems to us most monstrous that the ancient Greeks and Romans could have worshipped the deities which their poets fabled for them, and yet at this very time, as I have said, men imagine for themselves a god such as they would choose, and then they worship this god of their own fabrication. Only let the Lord reveal himself to the soul; let the heart know the true God, and away these idols go; with loathing are they cast to the moles and to the bats. Get a view of the Jehovah of revelation, shining through the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and you say, “What have I to do any more with idols?” With holy scorn you pour contempt upon the gods of man’s invention, and glory in the living God, the God of Israel. Your hearts burn with the jealousy of Elijah, and flames with indignation against the rivals of the Lord of Hosts, you would take the prophets of Baal and let not one escape, because they have dared to set up “the image of jealousy” in the temple of the Most High, and have seduced the minds of men to pay their worship to the gods that are no God. Beloved, God so enamours the soul of the converted man, so engrosses every spiritual faculty, that he cannot endure an idol, however dear in former times; and if perchance in some backsliding moment an earthly love intrudes, it is because the man has withdrawn his eye from the splendour of the Deity. When once he gets his eye back again to the God of love, then doth Dagon fall before the ark of the Lord, and not so much as the stump thereof is left. Blessed Lord, let us know thee, for then we shall know our idols no more.

     The second good effect of the knowledge of God is that it creates faith in the soul; to prove which I might give a great many texts, but one will suffice, from Psalm ix. 10, “They that know thy name will put their trust in thee.” We cannot trust an unknown God, but when he reveals himself to us by his Spirit, then to trust him is no longer difficult; it is, indeed, inevitable. Whenever a man does not believe God, it is because he does not know him. If you doubt his willingness to pardon sin you do not know the abundance of his mercy. If you doubt his skill to bring you through your present difficulties you do not know the infinite resources of his wisdom. If you dream that he cannot deliver you in this your time of need you have closed your eye to the unlimited energy of his power. If you think he has forsaken you, you have failed to know his immutability. Know him, and you must trust him.

     Thirdly, this knowledge of God not only creates faith, but creates good works also. Turn to 1 John ii. 3, and you read, “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments”; regarding it as absolutely certain that wherever there is a knowledge of God there must follow thereupon the keeping of his commandments; and it certainly is so. Know the Lord, and with holy reverence you will obey him. See what a great deal the apostle ascribes to the knowledge of God in Colossians i. 9: “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” What was to be the benefit of this? Let us read on: “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness.” See what a string of excellent graces spring out of our being filled with the knowledge of God, it is a tree which bears twelve manner of fruits. The soul that knows the Lord is like a tree planted by the rivers of water, which bringeth forth its fruit in its season. Daniel says (xi. 32), that “The people who do know their God shall be strong and do great exploits,” so that courage, valour, and prowess are learned in this sacred school. A heart to know the Lord begets and nurtures every virtue and every grace, and is the basis of the noblest character, the food which feeds grace till it matures into glory.

     Brethren, to know God has over us a transforming power. Remember how the apostle writes (in 2 Corinthians iii. 18), “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” The knowledge of God is the most effectual influence under heaven, for the Spirit works thereby, and by its means we are renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created us. Everything that we learn and know affects our character in some measure, even as the flesh of an animal tastes of its food. A constant sight of any object, good or bad, tells upon us. We heard a German missionary say, last Monday night, that, when he was in Coomassie, the sight of dead bodies and of mangled corpses from week to week so hardened him to it that the horror was almost gone. Every thought which crosses the mind affects it for the better or the worse, every glance is moulding us, every wish fashions the character. A sight of God is the most wonderfully sanctifying influence that can be conceived of. Know God, and you will grow to be like him. Dear hearer, have you beheld this marvellous vision?

     The knowledge of God has a further effect. It causes us to praise him. Here is a proof text.— “In Judah is God known; his name is great in Israel.” Wherever the Lord is known he must be magnified. It is not possible for us to have low thoughts of him, or to give forth mean utterances concerning him, or to act in a miserly way towards his cause, when we practically know him. There are some men whom we know whose presence renders paltry actions impossible, you feel that you could not act towards them in any but a generous manner. To know them elevates you; you must do the good and the great and the generous thing when they are concerned. So, when once we know God it is much more so, for to know him constrains us to praise him, not only with our lips, but with our lives; it makes us feel that nothing is good enough for him, and we would even die for his name’s sake. We wish for a glorious high throne on which he may be exalted above the highest heavens, King of kings and Lord of lords.

     The knowledge of God brings comfort, and that is a very desirable thing in a world of trouble. What saith the psalmist? “God is known in her palaces for a refuge.” Do you know him? Then he is your refuge. Blessed be God, in days of storm we put into this harbour, and in days of battle we fly to this castle, and dwell in this high tower. If you know God you will not be ruffled, or if for a little while you are disturbed, your heart will soon come back to its rest. You will cast your care on him, wait patiently for him, and rejoice in him at all times, and surely it shall be well with you.

     To know God also brings a man great honour. I cannot attempt at this time to explain the noble text which I am about to quote. I throw it out as a pleasing theme for meditation. It is the fourteenth verse of the ninety-first psalm. “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.” Think of it— “set on high,” and set on high by the Lord himself, and all as the result of knowing the name of the Lord. There is no getting on high and keeping there, no dwelling above the world and sin, no sitting in the heavenlies, no triumphing over death and hell except by knowing God. When we do know him our meditation of him shall be sweet; then shall our head be lifted up above our enemies round about us, our heart shall mount above the cares and sorrows of the world, and our soul shall dwell on high, where our place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks.

     One thing more, and that is, the man who knows the Lord will have usefulness given him, and to prove that I will quote a passage in 2 Corinthians ii. 14— “Now thanks be unto God which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved and in them that perish.” Do you not see that the apostle knew Christ, and Christ’s name was in him as ointment poured forth. The man who knows God has a savour about him, and wherever he goes he will be a power among men; the savour of Christ will come streaming out of him, as incense from a censer filled with glowing coals. Our usefulness very much depends upon our knowledge of God. We cannot teach others of things what we do not know ourselves. If we have no savour in us there cannot be a savour coming out of us. We shall only be a drag upon the church in any position if we are destitute of the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus; but if we are filled with a knowledge of Christ, then the sweet savour of his name will pour forth from us as perfume from the flowers.

     Thus I have put together many things upon which we cannot expatiate, but they will make you see how excellent a thing it is to know the Lord in the heart.

     IV. Our fourth point is, THE SOURCE OF THIS KNOWLEDGE. Upon this I will dwell but briefly. We are clearly taught in the text that it is a divine work — “I will give them a heart to know me.” None but the Creator can give a man a new heart, the change is too radical for any other hand. It would be hard to give a new eye, or a new arm, but a new heart is still more out of the question. All the preaching, teaching, and reforming in the world cannot do it. The Lord himself must do it. As surely as God made you, God must new make you, or you will never know him.

     It is evidently a work of pure grace. “I will give them a heart,” not “They shall grow into it, or purchase it,” but “I will give it to them.” He freely gives to whomsoever he wills, according to his own declaration, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”

     It is evidently a work which is possible. All things are possible to God, and he says, “I will give it to them.” He does not speak of it as a blessing desirable, but unattainable; on the contrary he says, “I will give them a heart to know me.” It is a work which the Lord has covenanted to do. How many precious passages there are in Holy Writ in which the Lord declares that this shall be done. I have lately read them with much sweetness to my own heart, here are some of them. In Hosea ii. 19, “I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness and in judgment, and in lovingkindness and in mercies, I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness, and thou shalt know the Lord.” Then in the eighth chapter of the prophecy of Hosea, in the second verse we read, “Israel shall cry unto me, my God, we know thee.” That wonderful passage in Jeremiah xxxi. 32— 34, is so nearly reproduced by the apostle in the eighth of the Hebrews that I need only read the New Testament version ( Heb. viii. 10 — 12). “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: and they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” So then it is a promised blessing; a blessing all divine, and divinely guaranteed to those with whom Jehovah has entered into covenant.

     The sum of my discourse is this. If you have received this heart to know the Lord, bless him every minute of your existence for this choicest of all boons, without which you could not enjoy any other covenant blessing. Never cease to praise the Lord, for he has favoured you above measure in giving you so priceless a blessing.

     But suppose you stand in doubt as to whether you do know God, how should you act? Hearken to good counsel. Consider your ways, and turn unto the Lord your God, even now. Confess your ignorance, dear friend. A sense of ignorance is the very vestibule of knowledge. Go before God this very day with an acknowledgment that you know nothing. Tell him how ignorant, and blind, and stupid you are. Confess it all before him. That being done, remember that it is by the knowledge of Christ that you are to be justified: “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.” Study the character of Christ, contemplate with eager attention his work and person. See God in Christ Jesus; and when you have so done, cry mightily unto the Lord, saying, “Thou hast given this promise in thy covenant; Lord let it be a promise unto me, and do thou fulfil it. Thou hast said, “I will give them a heart to know me”; Lord, give me a heart to know thee. “For this,” he says, “I will be enquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them.” Go and inquire of him concerning it. He will give you that heart; he will reveal himself to you, and you shall yet have to bless and praise his holy name, that he has turned you from darkness to light, and from the ignorance of your natural estate unto the true knowledge of his name. God grant it may be so with you this very day. Time flies, we are almost at the end of the year, and some of you still remain ignorant of God. Shall the year return to heaven to accuse you? Let not this blessed Sabbath go until you have thought upon your ways, and turned your steps unto his testimonies. May his Spirit sweetly incline you to seek his face, and he will be known of you. God grant his blessing, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.



All for Jesus

By / Nov 29

All for Jesus

 

“Ye serve the Lord Christ.” — Colossians iii, 24.

 

THE gospel does not barely supply us with directions for holy living but furnishes us with reasons for obedience, and tells us where to find the power to obey. Hence in the commencement of this chapter, before the apostle comes to any practical exhortation, he reminds us of our position and privileges. He bids us remember who and what we are as believers in Christ, that we may act accordingly. We are risen with Christ, and therefore our affection should not be set on earthly things; we are dead to the world, and hence we must not, cannot, live in sin. Christ is our life, and therefore we must walk after his example.

     The apostle knew right well that the conditions of believers here below are various, and therefore he laid down distinct precepts for each position. Some are masters and others servants, some parents and others children, and in each case the requirements differ; but while he suited the exhortation to each one he proposed a common motive for all; he reminded all believers, whether wives or husbands, children or fathers, servants or masters, that there is another and a better life, whose rewards are worthy of our ambition, whose service should engross all our strength. He bade them have respect to that higher life, for they had been representatively lifted up into the highest heaven in the person of Jesus Christ, and with him their hearts and desires should ever be. He bade them live the life of heaven here below, and order their footsteps, not in accordance with the fleeting things of time, but the enduring realities of eternity. He knew that in so doing the inconveniences of the present would be forgotten in the glories of the future, and the trials of to-day would be more than counterbalanced by the joys of the hereafter.

     Our authorised translation is in the indicative, and states the fact, “Ye serve the Lord Christ.” Brethren, is it the fact with each of you? To how many in this place can it be truly said, “Ye serve the Lord Christ”? I find it might also, and not incorrectly, be translated in the imperative. “Serve ye the Lord Christ;” in this sense it may be directed to those who have no share in it as a statement of fact. Let us take it in both senses. If we dare to hope that we do serve the Lord Christ, yet let us listen to further exhortation, and serve him still better; let us thank God for the measure of service which he has wrought in us, and let us earnestly ask him to work in us still further to will and to do. But if any of you are not yet included in the sacred band who call Jesus “Master and Lord,” then when ye have trusted in his blood, come and yield your whole selves unto him. If, indeed, ye be redeemed from wrath through him, I charge you be not disloyal to the obligations under which you are laid, but from this time forth make it your joy to “serve the Lord Christ.”

     To me my text is one of the most joyful sentences from which I have ever preached. “Ye serve the Lord Christ.” What an exaltation for a slave of Satan to become a servant of Christ! With what exultation do I hail permission to do anything for my Lord! To be blessed by him, to be enriched with priceless gifts from his bounteous hand, — this is lovingkindness; but to be allowed to render tokens of gratitude in return is sweetest of all. Truly, we may say of this condescension, “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” By receiving anything from us the Lord has lifted us as beggars from the dunghill, and set us among princes, even the princes of his people. It is a greater honour to serve Christ in the most menial capacity than to occupy the throne of the Cæsars. I speak of honour, I may also dilate upon the happiness of the service of Jesus! It is the purest of pleasures. We long to express our affection for Jesus by acts of zeal. Love pants for expression, and is not obedience the tongue of love? That love is feigned which does not declare itself in some practical form or other, by deeds of kindness, or gifts, or sacrifices, or patient endurance, or hearty praise. Beloved, let us count it an unrivalled honour and an unsurpassed delight to do anything for Jesus. For this service let us be insatiably ambitious, resolved at all costs to show our loyalty to our Prince. To serve us he laid aside his glorious array, and girt about him the garments of a servant; for us he took a basin and towel and stooped to wash his disciples’ feet; for us he became obedient to death, even the death of the cross: now, therefore, in our turn, by all the shame he bore, by all the labour he endured, by all the agonies he suffered, let us serve him and him alone for ever.

     In handling the subject of Christian service, I shall note three things: first, we serve the Lord Christ in the common acts of life; secondly, we serve him in what are usually called religious acts, and thirdly, we have learned to serve him, and, I trust, we may do it more and more, in special acts of direct homage to himself.

     I. First, then “ye serve the Lord Christ” IN THE COMMON ACTS OF LIFE. The fact that our text was addressed to the lowest rather than to the highest in worldly circumstances is very instructive. Paul has been visiting a family, and he has spoken a word to the wife and a word to the husband, he has paid attention to the children, and given a warning to the father, he has also a message for the master of the house; but he does not address to either master, mistress, or children, that choice saying which he reserves for servants— “Ye serve the Lord Christ.” The Greek word here translated servants, may be rendered “slaves,” and though its meaning is not confined to slaves, yet it includes them, and there were many such in the Christian church in Paul’s days, — truly converted men and women, who were still held in bondage according to the cruel Roman law. The apostle goes into the kitchen, the cellar, the field, the wine-press, the stable, and he says to his brethren toiling there— “Ye serve the Lord Christ.” He whispers in the ear of the aged man who acts as porter at the door, whom he knows to be a devout believer, and this is the secret which he whispers, “Fear not, brother, for despite thy bonds thou servest the Lord Christ.” In those hard days, when Paul wrote from Rome to Colosse, many a slave crept out from Cæsar’s household by stealth to listen to his gracious words, and poor workpeople gathered around him, and were converted, and as he felt deep sympathy with them he did not merely admonish them to be honest, industrious, conscientious, and obedient, as many a preacher would have done, but he went further, and cheered them in the performance of their duties by assuring them that they served the Lord Jesus, and of him they would receive a reward. He knew their sorrows and their provocations, and therefore presented them with a rich consolation and a stimulus. He exhorted them to act “as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” This he said to servants, and to no other class in particular. He did not mean thereby that the wife, the husband, the master, and the child might not and did not serve Christ, but he would have us infer that if those did so, whose lot was least distinguished, much more should those do it whose responsibilities and opportunities are so much greater. If my poor servant should serve Jesus, how much more ought I to do it? If those with the least education and means are bound to serve him, how much more should those who have ten talents lay out all for his glory?

     My brethren, you see that those to whom Paul spoke were not preachers, nor deacons, nor elders of the church, neither were they magistrates, or persons of influence, they were simple servants, engaged in domestic duties; but he says of them, “Ye serve the Lord Christ.” Though what I have to say bears upon all present, I will keep to the line of thought which this fact naturally suggests.

     Those who are in low estate serve the Lord Christ by a quiet acquiescence in the arrangement of Providence which has placed them where they are. Every one knows that while the human race exists in its present condition somebody must serve. It is a paradox, but it is also a truth, that if there were no servants we should practically be all servants. There are a thousand offices which, if each person were obliged to perform them for himself, would be exceedingly tedious and unpleasant, but which are now done for us by persons to whom use renders them not at all irksome. As things are at present constituted, there will be poor and there will be rich, there will be servants and there will be masters, and when a man can say, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content, for I bow me to the providence of my heavenly Father,” that man is in his heart serving the Lord Christ. To stand where the Lord places us and keep our position cheerfully has in it the essence of obedience.

     We serve the Lord, next, in service, or in any other form of life, if we exercise the graces of the Holy Spirit in the discharge of our calling. The servant who is in all things trustworthy, and neither wastes his employer’s time nor goods— the servant who does not watch his master’s steps, so as to loiter when he is out of sight, but conscientiously renders a fair day’s work for his wage, treating his master as he would wish to be treated if their positions were exchanged; such an one, exhibiting truthfulness, gentleness, sobriety, honesty, and industry, serves the Lord Christ as much in his labour as if he were an evangelist or an apostle. He does not preach vocally, but his life is a powerful sermon. He is a standing evidence of the power of religion, an argument which logic cannot overthrow, nor the most cunning sophistry confute. Holy living preaches where the minister cannot enter, it preaches from the nursery to a worldly mother, from the shop to a graceless tradesman, from the workroom to a godless employer. Where our words are denied a hearing, your lives will nevertheless win attention. At the first the gospel was very much spread in the noble families at Rome by means of their servants. They noticed how different they were from other servants, and as they observed their conduct they inquired what this new religion was which so much improved them. Christians were Christians then: they made their Lord their first and last object, and surrendered their whole lives to his service, and hence they were a power in all places. The poorest and meanest did not think themselves exempt from the sacred. duty of spreading the faith; none, indeed, asked for a discharge in this war. Domestic servants became missionaries to the families in which they resided, and acted as apostles in houses where the apostles could not enter.

     We serve Christ in such a position by displaying the joy of the Lord in our service. I lay great stress upon this point. Many a soul has been converted to our Lord Jesus by noticing the cheerfulness of poor Christians. If a heathen master had a Christian slave, he noticed how contentedly he accepted his hard toil and hard fare, he saw his countenance beaming with delight, and he even heard him sing for joy. He would naturally want to know the reason of that cheerfulness. Servants had a sorry lot with Roman masters and mistresses; I have seen some of the mere dogholes in which the slave who kept the door found sleeping-quarters in the gay city of Pompeii, yet from such wretched abodes would rise the voice of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and the children would wish to hear them, and the mistresses too. Thus would the truth be spread. The Christian would not join in the general jollity upon heathen festivals, and would be absent from the amphitheatre when all the rest of the family were eager to view the spectacle, but he had a quiet cheerfulness and settled calm of mind which was all his own, and when trouble and distress were in the house he was the general comforter and friend. When he lay sick, and scarce anybody cared for him, he still did not lose heart, and when he was near to die his joy came to a climax, and he breathed out his soul with a song. Such a servant served the Lord most effectually. I hope there are many in this church who in these better days are rendering equally valuable service in households where the name of Jesus is not reverenced. We, too, should be doing the like in the circles in which we move. Our holy cheerfulness should be an invitation to our friends to come to Jesus. We shall never bring men to believe in a Master whose servants are unhappy in his service. To toll a knell as an invitation to a wedding feast is most absurd. When we invite men to the banquet of saving grace let us do it with smiling faces. Beloved, let us mingle with the sternness of our integrity and the solemnity of our life-purpose that cheerfulness and joy which are the most natural and the most attractive ornaments of the Christian character.

     The true way to serve the Lord in the common acts of life is to perform them as unto himself; and this can be done with everything which it is lawful to do. God forbid we should maintain, as some do, a broad, unbending distinction between things secular and religious. This wicked age must, forsooth, have its holy places and its holy days. What is this but a confession that most of its buildings are unholy and its days unholy too. Of heaven it is written, “I saw no temple therein,” and we get nearest to the heavenly state when all superstitious notions about sacred places and sacred substances shall be swept away once for all. To a man who lives unto God nothing is secular, everything is sacred. He puts on his workday garment and it is a vestment to him: he sits down to his meal and it is a sacrament; he goes forth to his labour, and therein exercises the office of the priesthood: his breath is incense and his life a sacrifice. He sleeps on the bosom of God, and lives and moves in the divine presence. To draw a hard and fast line and say, “This is sacred and this is secular,” is, to my mind, diametrically opposed to the teaching of Christ and the spirit of the gospel. Paul has said, “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself.” Peter also saw a sheet let down from heaven in which were all manner of beasts and fourfooted creatures, which he was bidden to kill and eat, and when he refused because they were unclean, he was rebuked by a voice from heaven, saying, “What God hath cleansed that call not thou common.” The Lord hath cleansed your houses, my brethren, he has cleansed your bed chambers, your tables, your shops, he has made the bells upon your horses holiness to the Lord, he has made the common pots and pans of your kitchens to be as the bowls before the altar, if ye know what ye are and live according to your high calling. Ye housemaids, ye cooks, ye nurses, ye ploughmen, ye housewives, ye traders, ye sailors, your labour is holy if ye serve the Lord Christ in it, by living unto him as ye ought to live. The sacred has absorbed the secular, the overarching temple of the Lord covers all your houses and your fields.

     My brethren, this ennobles life. The bondsman is henceforth free, he serves not man but God; the galley -slave tugs the oar for Jesus, the menial ministers to the Lord. This cheers the darkest shades, for now we no longer complain of the hardness of our lot, but we rejoice in it, because we bear all for Jesus, and the burden which carry is his cross, which he himself places on our shoulders. This ensures us a reward for all we do. If in our service we receive but little thanks from man, and if after a life of toil find ourselves but scantily furnished for old age, we will not complain, for our recompense is sure, our reward is in the hand of one who never forgets his servants. There is no unrewarded toil in the service of the Lord Christ, even a cup of cold water he remembers. He who serves Christ shall have it said of him at last, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and in the fulness of his Master's joy, into which he shall enter, he shall forget that for a while he lived unremunerated among the sons of men.

     Let this stimulate your zeal, my brethren: if you serve the Lord Christ, serve him well. If you had work to do for her Majesty the Queen you would try to do your best. If she honoured you with her commands you would cheerfully obey them; how much more should you be aroused to diligence by the call of the Infinite Majesty of him who bled for you! Perform your every-day work with a heartiness which nothing else could beget in you. Serve the Lord with gladness, and do all for love of his name.

     This I thought most important to bring forward, and though I cannot speak upon it as I would, yet I do earnestly urge all of you to remember that piety shines best around the domestic hearth, and that true religion is always best esteemed by unconverted men when they see it in connection with the common-place duties of life. They do not care how beautifully you pray at prayer-meetings; they have very little respect for the excellent addresses you deliver in the Sabbath-school; but to live godly, soberly, righteously, to make other people happy, to be gentle in temper, to be yielding and forgiving, to be strictly upright and honest in your dealings with your fellow men, — this is what the world will read and recognise, and when they see these things in you, the gospel will be commended to them, and they will be the more likely to listen to the truth as it is in Jesus.

     II. Secondly, brethren, we ought to serve the Lord Christ in what we more commonly, but incorrectly, call RELIGIOUS ACTIONS. Every professor of religion should have something to do for Jesus Christ. Though the discipline of our church does not turn out of it every one who is an idler, I almost wish it did. I am afraid such a rule would diminish our numbers, but it would materially quicken our energy. Drones in the hive are of very little use as to honey making; they are at the bottom of all the quarrels, but they cannot really benefit the community. God save us from being drones. Let every man who is really redeemed by the blood of Jesus have something to do and do it. I wish I could go round the whole of this company this morning and say, “Brother, do you serve the Lord Christ? Sister, do you the same?” but I will ask conscience to be my deputy, and leave your own hearts to answer the question. Brother, sister, do you really serve Christ, or does it amount to this, that you enjoy hearing, you enjoy singing, and so on, but you do nothing for Jesus? Bestir yourself, dear brother, put out your talent to interest. Your Lord has said, “Occupy till I come.” Take heed lest he come and find your talent buried in the earth, your Lord’s money rusting and your napkin rotting in the soil. Let each one be serving Christ always according to his ability.

     But supposing that we are serving Christ, as we think, it is well to raise a further question: are we with our whole soul serving Christ. For mark you, it is very easy to make a mistake here: we may be working in a legal spirit, and so not serving Christ. No doubt many attend to the outward matters of religion that they may win merit, or that they may prepare themselves for the receipt of the divine blessing. I do not wonder at the zeal and earnestness which some people show; if they hope to get to heaven by their works they ought to be zealous indeed. The legal spirit has a measure of power in it: the lash drives on the slave, the fear of punishment impels man to toil. But from such bondage ye are free, “ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Do therefore nothing with the hope of deserving well at the Lord’s hands, for this would be serving self. Ye are saved, serve then your Saviour out of gratitude. Work, not to obtain life, but because you have life already, and delight to exercise that life to the honour of him who gave it. Some, I fear, do not serve Christ in what they do, for they go about it as a part of the general routine of their existence. It is the proper thing to go to a place of worship, therefore they go; it is generally expected of persons in their station to teach in the Sunday-school, and they do so accordingly; they reckon that they ought to give a guinea if they see the name of a friend down on the list, therefore they do it. I am afraid that a great deal which is put down as work for Christ is a kind of sleep-walking, done without thought, or heart, or desire to glorify God therein. May the Holy Ghost arouse us out of such mere mechanical acts, and bring us to be in heart and soul the Lord’s willing, ardent workers.

     Some, I fear, render service in a party spirit. They serve, and they think it is Christ they are serving, but in fact it is their own denomination, or little church. They would be almost vexed to hear of God’s being honoured among any other sort of Christians; they hope there will be a revival, but they would like it to be pretty nearly confined to the walls of their own chapel. They serve a clique, not Christ. Their sympathies never go beyond the particular section of the church to which they belong, and they are rather moved by emulation to see their own opinions dominant than by zeal for the glory of God. Oh, brethren, break those bonds if they hold you. We ought to be zealous for the whole truth, and we ought to labour to increase the number of those Christians who hold the gospel in its purity, but still let our jealousy for pure religion never degenerate into bigotry; let us love the whole church more than a part, and Christ best of all.

     In more instances still the self-spirit comes in to usurp the place of Jesus. I wonder how large a proportion of our zeal, if it were analysed, could be accounted for by the desire of prominence, the ambition be thought useful, and the wish to shine among our fellow men. I cannot set up a furnace here and put my own zeal or yours into the crucible just now, but again I ask your conscience to be my deputy to analyse honestly the motive which sways you, and to tell you plainly how far you are serving self and how far you are serving Christ.

     We are not always serving Jesus, I fear, when we think we are most doing so, for our main object may be to please our fellow-creatures. Our parents wish us to be active in the church, and therefore we do it. Our friends would not be pleased if we were idle, and therefore we bestir ourselves. From our position we are expected to be engaged in some department of Christian service, and therefore we enter upon it. Brethren, we must rise above this. What we do, whether we teach in the school, or visit the sick, or distribute tracts, or preach the gospel, we must do as unto the Lord alone, and the master motive, which should indeed crush out every other, must be this, “we serve the Lord Christ.” Brethren, let others take what they will for their motto, I charge you by the Holy Ghost, write this upon your banners, “We serve the Lord Christ.” If any request you to serve this literary coterie or that political faction, or to give your whole attention to some great moral reform, let your answer be, “We serve the Lord Christ.” Aid in anything that is good, for whatsoever things are lovely, and of good report, and are for the benefit of mankind, you are bound to countenance, but still your main life-work, your true business, which must absorb your energies and eat you up, is this— “We serve the Lord Christ.” They beckon us from this point, crying, “Come over and help us.” They call to us from the other corner, “Come and work with us,” but our answer must be, “We are an independent brigade, we are already committed to the noblest cause; we are sworn to a Captain who has no rival; we are not able to promise ourselves to any one of you, though wherein you do good we are your allies; Jesus we serve and none else. God forbid that we should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” May God help us to do this evermore!

     III. Now I am coming to the last part of my discourse, which to me is the most interesting, and I trust it may be so to you. We serve the Lord Christ IN SPECIAL ACTS DONE TO HIMSELF. I cannot tell how you feel, but I often wish I could do something for my Lord himself personally. I frequently meet with kind souls to whom God has blessed my ministry, and they express their thankfulness to God and their love to me, by aiding the various works committed to my charge, for which I am deeply grateful to them: but now and then a friend says, “I will cheerfully subscribe to your work, but I desire also to show my personal thanks to yourself. What can I do for you?” Now, towards those whom we esteem, this is a natural feeling, and in spiritual things there is a similar desire towards our divine Benefactor. Our hearts long to offer somewhat to Jesus, distinctly to Jesus himself. He has gone from us, or we would delight to minister to him of our substance, to make him a feast, to furnish him a chamber, or to wash his feet. How gladly would we lend him our boat, our colt, our guest chamber, or anything we possess. We would watch his every want, and endeavour to forestall it if he were here; but he has gone: are we therefore denied the privilege of rendering personal service to him? I think not. Let it be our pleasant task now to consider what we can do directly and distinctly for him.

     First, we can adore our Lord. We can bow at his feet and worship him as our Lord and our God. We shall do well to exercise our hearts in frequent acts of devotion to the Son of God. I do not mean offering prayers and petitions, excellent as these are, but holy contemplation, meditation, admiration, thanksgiving, and worship of Jesus. Far be it from us to neglect the adoration of anyone person of the adorable Trinity in Unity, that were a grievous sin; but to worship Jesus does not involve forgetfulness of the Father or of the Spirit. Fix your eye on the person of Jesus, view his work on earth, contemplate his holy life and expiatory death. Meditate upon his great love, his dying love, his living love. Follow him from the tomb to Olivet, and from the mountain ’s brow to heaven’s gate and the right hand of the Father. Pay your homage before his throne, blessing, praising, and adoring him. We ought not to be satisfied without special acts of personal thanksgiving, in which we exercise our love and reverence for him who is altogether lovely in our eyes. True, we may be doing nothing for our fellow men while thus occupied, but Jesus is dearer to us than the whole race of men, and it is only his due that we render him when we bow adoringly at his ever-blessed feet.

      Then, brethren, when you have adored him in secret you should do the like in public by speaking well of him and extolling him before others, not so much for their good as for Christ 's glory. I must confess I enjoy a sermon best in which I have to speak most of my Beloved. If I have to set forth rather than to exhort you, I feel best pleased. There are other things to be done beside, but this is the sweetest task. I love to spend all my preaching time in making Jesus lovely in man’s eyes, in lifting him upon a glorious high throne in the esteem of those who listen to me. Brethren, do this yourselves in your common talk. Make a point of turning the conversation round till it bears on him. Frequently begin a conversation about Jesus and let men know that you glorify him. In such special acts of devotion to his person, I pray you abound.

     Next, we should pray for him. Do you understand that? Some do not. The psalmist says, “Prayer also shall be made for him continually.” It is very delightful to pray for sinners and pray for saints, but there should be special prayer for Jesus Christ, for the extension of his kingdom, that he may see of the travail of his soul, and that his second advent may speedily arrive. We should pray for the conversion of those who deny his deity, and those who fall into deadly errors as to his substitutionary sacrifice; we should make earnest supplication for the quickening of the love of Jesus in the hearts of the faithful, and for the turning of the disobedient to the knowledge of the truth. Such prayers should be very frequent with us for his sake, and with an eye to his glory. We pray for this and that, but surely Jesus ought to have a larger measure of our supplications.

     Brethren, next to this there should be much communion with him. Methinks I hear some one say, “Is that serving him? I call it enjoying him!” Yes, I know it is, and you may take it in which way you will, for he says, “If any man serve me let him follow me, and where I am there shall also my servant be.” So that you will be sure to be with him if you serve him. To be near him is one of the great essentials of true service. Remember his dying request, “This do ye in remembrance of me,” and what was that? Why, it was to observe the Lord’s supper, which is the outward and visible sign of communing with him. If he attaches so much importance to the outward sign, how much more does he value the inner act of fellowship with himself. The fact is that the head which leans upon his bosom is thereby consecrated to his love, and is rendering him service. The cheek whereon he imprints the kisses of his mouth is doing him its best homage while it receives his best favours. Walk not at a distance from Jesus, or ye will grieve him. Abide in him, and ye will bring forth fruit to him.

     Let no day pass without a word with Jesus. You are his spouse, — can you live without a loving word from your husband? You are of his flesh and of his bones, — let unbroken communion be the very habit of your being. Brethren, the Lord’s supper is worship rendered to Jesus, and is mainly an act which begins and ends upon him, you commemorate his death, you set forth his flesh and blood; your communion and intercourse with Christ are not so much meant to benefit others, as to spend itself upon him; therefore attend to it for his sake; let your eye be fixed upon him only, and whatever others may think of your raptures and delights in Jesus, however much they may call them emotional and unpractical, do you remain content with having done it unto him.

     Bear with me while I mention other ways in which you may serve Jesus personally. You may do so by sitting at his feet and learning of him, studying the word, and pleading for the Holy Spirit to give you light into its meaning. Martha prepared a feast for him, and our Lord did not blame her, but he gave Mary the preference who sat at his feet. One in the crowd said concerning Christ, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee and the paps that gave thee suck.” To administer to his childhood seemed the highest of earthly favours, but Jesus said, “Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.” Get you that blessing, hear it from his own lips; study his word, make much of every syllable, try to get at the essential spirit, and do not tarry in the killing letter, and you will then be personally serving him, for as a teacher he is pleased when we are his attentive pupils. This is a sweet way of pleasing the Lord Christ.

     Then, brethren, remember if you would serve Christ personally you must obey him. “Oh,” say you, “I did not think that would be a very choice way of serving him.” Listen! “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” He has chosen obedience as the special pledge and token of our love. You have said, “I wish I could build a chapel, or support a minister or a missionary out of my own purse.” I wish you could, but still Jesus has not selected that as the love token, but he has said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Complete, prayerful, habitual obedience to Christ is the very choicest pledge of affection which we can present to our Lord. May infinite mercy help us to present it.

     We may do to Christ personal service next by being willing to bear reproach for his sake. When you are willing to take upon yourself the defence of a man’s character, to throw yourself so completely into him that the reproaches of them that reproach him fall upon you, you have rendered to that man no mean proof of love. Oh, brother, if when they laugh at you for Christ’s sake you clap your hands for very glee to be counted worthy to be ridiculed for him, if you take joyfully the spoiling of your goods, or the slandering of your character, if you know the meaning of this word, “Rejoice ye in that day and leap for joy, for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you,” then have you rendered personal service to him whom you love, and you may sit down and be thankful for having been allowed to drink of his cup and to be baptised with his baptism.

     Further, you can show personal kindness to Christ by caring for his church. The Lord had forgiven Peter, and Peter no doubt wished to do something to prove his love anew. His Lord somewhat vexed him by three times putting to him the question, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” and when the disciple had protested his love, the Master said to him, “Feed my sheep,” and “Feed my lambs.” Go then and teach the little children, and instruct those of riper years. What he has taught you teach you to others, and you will be doing service to him. He bids you consider it so, for to you who love him he says, “Feed my sheep.”

     If you cannot serve with your tongue, there remains another mode of pleasing Jesus. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and relieve distress of every kind. “But that is not doing service to him.” I have the best authority for saying that it is, for “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand I was an hungered and ye gave me meat, I was thirsty and ye gave me drink. Sick and in prison, and ye visited me. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Actual gifts to the poor, and helps afforded to those who need them, are grateful love tokens to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is not here, but his poor saints are. Any saint is an image of Christ, but a poor saint is the express image of Christ; there is a something more about him than about the rich, in which he is even in detail and circumstances more like his Lord. Do ye then to your Lord’s own members what ye would have done to him if he himself were here.

     Still, I think that every now and then for Jesus there ought to be a little special wastefulness of love. The woman with her alabaster box of very precious ointment would no doubt gladly have joined with the holy ones who ministered to him of the substance. I have no doubt she would very gladly have poured water on his feet when he came into the house weary, or she would have waited at the table when he ate. But all this would not have sufficed her ardent love, she wanted to perform an extraordinary act which should be all for him: she looked out that precious box, she must break that, for she would give him something which she could not afford to every day, in fact, which she never did attempt to give but once in her life. Brothers and sisters, think of something special you can do for Jesus. Let it cost you something, and if it pinch you, so much the better; it will be sweet to bear a pinch for him. Think of something that you could not justify in prudence if you had to sit down and talk it over. Do it for him, not to talk about to others afterwards, nor for others to blazen abroad, but do it for him: and then if they do publish it you need not be angry, for Jesus said “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.” Be not ostentatious, but do not be in such a great worry to hide your work for Jesus, for the knowledge of it may do other people good, and lead them to imitate the deed. Still do it unto Jesus only. I cannot suggest what you shall do; and it would be indelicate for me to attempt to do so. Who would think of suggesting to a wife what she should give to her husband as a special private love token. Oh, no! these things are too choice for others to meddle with, they are secrets between the Lord and his elect, suggestions of personal love which cannot come from without. Do you enquire, “What shall I do my Jesus to praise?” Bring forth the choicest that you have, and offer it when your heart is best attuned and readiest for the giving of it. My whole soul thirsts to be often doing this, for I owe all I have and all I am to Jesus, my Lord. Here stands a man before you who has not one single thing in all the world but what he has received from his Lord; who has not a penny but what is lent him, who is clothed by charity and fed by mercy, a pauper by nature, and yet wealthier than a millionaire, because he lives as a gentleman commoner upon the daily bounty of God in Christ Jesus. Here stands before you an unworthy servant of the best of masters, a poor relation of the most generous of householders; happy to be in such a case. Are there other men and women here who owe all to my Lord? If they do, let it be said of them, “Ye serve the Lord Christ.” So let it be said of them while they live, and till they die: what better can they desire? For myself, I am resolved by divine grace more fully to yield my whole body, soul, and spirit to him whose I am, whom I serve. Grace be with you. Amen.



The Reception of Sinners

By / Nov 22

The Reception of Sinners

 

“But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry.”— Luke xv. 22, 23.

 

LAST Lord’s-day we spoke upon the consecration of priests. That theme might seem too high for troubled hearts and trembling consciences, who fear that they shall never be made priests and kings unto God. So glorious a privilege appears to them to hang in the dim, distant future, if, indeed, they reach it at all. Therefore, at this time, we will go down from the elevated regions to comfort those who are seeking the Lord, with the view of helping them in their turn to climb also.

     We speak this morning, not of the consecration of priests, but of the reception of sinners, and this, according to our text, is a very joyful business, it is even described as a merrymaking, accompanied with music and with dancing. We very frequently speak of the sorrow for sin which accompanies conversion, and I do not think we can speak of it too often; but yet there is a possibility of our overlooking the equally holy and remarkable joy which attends the return of a soul to God. It has been a very common error to suppose that a man must pass through a very considerable time of despondency, if not of horror of mind, before he can find peace with God: now in this parable the father seems determined to cut short that period; he stops his son in the very middle of his confession, and before he can ask to be made as one of the hired servants, his mournful style is changed for rejoicing, for the father has already fallen on his neck and kissed his trembling lips into a sweet silence. It is not the Lord’s desire that sinners should tarry long in the state of unbelieving conviction of sin, it is something wrong in themselves which keeps them there; either they are ignorant of the freeness and fulness of Christ, or they harbour self-righteous hopes, or they cling to their sins. Sin lieth at the door, it is no work of God which blocks the way. He delights in their delight, and joys in their joy. It is the Father’s will that the penitent sinner should at once believe in Jesus, at once find complete forgiveness, and immediately enter into rest. If any of you came to Jesus without the dreary interval of terror which is so frequent, I pray you do not judge yourselves as though your conversions were dubious— they are all the more instead of all the less genuine because they bear rather the marks of the gospel than of the law. The weeping of Peter, which in a few days turns to joy, is far better than the horror of Judas, which ends in suicide. Conversions, as recorded in Scripture, are for the most part exceedingly rapid. They were pricked in the heart at Pentecost, and the same day they were baptised and added to the church, because they had found peace with God through Jesus Christ. Paul was smitten down with conviction, and in three days was a baptised believer. Perhaps the figure is inapt, but I was about to say that sometimes God’s power is so very near us that the lightning flash of conviction is often attended at the very same moment by the deep thunder of the Lord’s voice, which drives away our fears and proclaims peace and pardon to the soul. In many cases the sharp needle of the law is immediately followed by the silken thread of the gospel; the showers of repentance are succeeded at once by the sunshine of faith; peace overtakes penitence, and walks arm in arm with her into yet fuller rest.

     Having thus reminded you that God would have penitents very soon rejoice, I want to spend this morning in setting forth the joy which is caused by pardoned sin. That joy is threefold. We will talk about it, first, as the joy of God over sinners; secondly, the joy of sinners in God; and, thirdly, what is so often forgotten, the joy of the servants, for they too rejoiced, for the father said, “Let us eat and be merry;” and one of the points of the parable is just this, that as in the case of the lost sheep the shepherd calleth together his friends and neighbours, and as in the case of the piece of money the woman calleth her neighbours together, so in this case, also, others share in the joy which chiefly belongs to the loving father and the returning wanderer.

     I. THE JOY OF GOD OVER SINNERS. It is always difficult to speak of the ever-blessed God becomingly when we have to describe him as touched by emotions; I pray, therefore, to be guided in my speech by the Holy Spirit. We have been educated into the idea that the Lord is above emotions, either of sorrow or pleasure. That he cannot suffer, for instance, is always laid down as a self-evident postulate. Is that quite so clear? Cannot he do or bear anything he chooses to do? What means the Scripture which says that man’s sin before the flood made the Lord repent that he had made man on the earth, “and it grieved him at his heart”? Is there no meaning in the Lord’s own language, “Forty years long was I grieved with this generation”? Are we not forbidden to grieve the Holy Spirit? Is he not described as having been vexed by ungodly men! Surely, then, he can be grieved: it cannot be an altogether meaningless expression. For my part, I rejoice to worship the living God, who, because he is living, does grieve and rejoice. It makes one feel more love to him than if he dwelt on some serene Olympus, careless of all our woes, because incapable of any concern about us, or interest in us, one way or the other. To look upon him as utterly impassive and incapable of anything like emotion does not, to my mind, exalt the Lord, but rather brings him down to be comparable to the gods of stone or wood, which cannot sympathise with their worshippers. No, Jehovah is not insensible. He is the living God, and everything that goes with life, — pure, perfect, holy life, is to be found in him. Yet must such a subject always be spoken of very tenderly, with solemn awe, because, albeit we know something of what God is, for we are made in the image of God, and the best likeness of God undoubtedly was man as he came from his Maker’s hand, yet man is not God, and even in his perfectness he must have been a very tiny miniature of God; while now that he has sinned he has blotted and blurred that image. The finite cannot fully mirror the Infinite, nor can the grand, glorious, essential properties of Deity be communicated to creatures: they must remain peculiar to God alone. The Lord is, however, continually represented as displaying joy Moses declared to sinful Israel, that if they returned and obeyed the voice of the Lord, the Lord would again rejoice over them for good, as he rejoiced over their fathers (Deut. xxx. 9). The Lord is said to rejoice in his works and to delight in mercy, and surely we must believe it. Wherefore should we doubt it? Many passages of Scripture speak very impressively of God’s joy in his people. Zephaniah puts it in the strongest manner: “He will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.” Our God is for ever the happy or blessed God; we cannot think of him as other than supremely blessed. Still, from the Scriptures we gather that he displays on certain occasions a special joy which he would have us recognise. I do not think that it can be mere parable, but it is real fact, that the Lord does rejoice over returning and repenting sinners.

     Every being manifests its joy according to its nature, and seeks means for its display suitable to itself. It is so with men. When the old Romans celebrated a triumph because some great general returned a victor from Africa, Greece, or Asia with the spoils of a long campaign, how did the fierce Roman nature express its joy? Why, in the Colosseum, or in some yet vaster amphitheatre, where buzzing nations choked the ways, they gathered in their myriads to behold not only beasts, but their fellow men, “butchered to make a Roman holiday.” Cruelty upon an extraordinary scale was their way of expressing the joy of their iron hearts. Look at the self-indulgent man! He has had a prosperous season, and has made a lucky hit, as he calls it, or some event has occurred in his family which makes him very jubilant; what will he do to show forth his joy? Will he bow the knee in gratitude, or lift a hymn of praise? Not he. He will hold a drinking bout, and when he and his fellows are mad with wine his joy will find expression! The sensual show their joy by sensuality. Now, God whose name is good, and whose nature is love, when he has joy expresses it in mercy, in lovingkindness, and grace. The father’s joy in the parable before us showed itself in the full forgiveness accorded, in the kiss of perfect love bestowed, in the gift of the best robe, the ring, and the sandals, and in the gladsome festival which filled the whole house with hallowed mirth. Everything expresses its joy according to its nature; infinite love, therefore, reveals its joy in acts of love.

     The nature of God being as much above ours as the heaven is above the earth, the expression of his joy is therefore all the loftier, and his gifts the greater. Still, there is a likeness between God’s way of expressing joy and ours, which it will be profitable to note. How do we express ourselves, ordinarily, when we are glad? We do so very commonly by a display of bounty. When in the olden time our kings came into the city of London, or a great victory was celebrated, the conduit in Cheapside ran with red wine, and even the gutters flowed with it. Then were there tables set in the street, and my lords, and the aldermen, and the mayor kept open house, and everybody was fed to the full. Joy was expressed by hospitality. You have seen the picture of the young heir coming of age, and have noticed how the artist depicts the great yard of the manor-house as full of men and women, who are eating and drinking to their hearts’ content. At Christmas seasons, and upon marriage days and harvest homes, men ordinarily express their joy by bountiful provision; so also does the father in this wondrous parable exhibit the utmost bounty, representing thereby the boundless liberality of the great Father of spirits, who shows his joy over penitents by the manner in which he entertains them. The best robe, the ring, the shoes, and the fatted calf, and the “Let us eat and be merry,” all show by their bountifulness that God is glad. His oxen and his fatlings are killed, for the feast of mercy is the banquet of the Lord. So unrivalled are the gifts of his gracious hand that the receivers of his favours have cried out in amazement, “Who is a God like unto thee!” Beloved, consider awhile the Lord’s bounty to returning sinners, blotting out their sins like a cloud, and like a thick cloud their iniquities, justifying them in the righteousness of Christ, endowing them with his Holy Spirit, regenerating them, comforting them, illuminating them, purifying them, strengthening them, guiding them, protecting them, filling them with all his own fulness, satisfying their mouth with good things, and crowning them with tender mercies. I see in the bounty of God with which he so liberally endows returning sinners a mighty proof that his inmost soul rejoices over the salvation of men.

     At glad times men generally manifest some speciality in their bounty. On the day of the young heir’s coming of age the long stored cask of wine is broached, and the best bullock is roasted whole. So here in the parable we read, “Bring forth the best robe,” indicating that it had been laid by and kept in store until then. Nobody had used that robe, it was locked up in the wardrobe, only to be brought out on some very special occasion. This was the happiest day that ever had made glad the house, and therefore “Bring forth the best robe,” no other will suffice. Meat is wanted for the banquet. Let a calf be killed. Which shall it be? A calf taken at random from the herd? No, but the fatted calf which has been standing in the stalls, and is well fed, and has been reserved for a festival. Oh, beloved, when God blesses a sinner he shows his joy by giving him the reserved mercies, the special treasures of everlasting love, the precious things of grace, the secret of the covenant: yea, he has given to sinners the best of the best in giving them Christ Jesus, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The best that heaven affords God bestows on sinners when they come to him. No scraps and odds and ends are dealt out to hungry and thirsty seekers, but in princely munificence of unstinting love the heavenly Father deals out abundant grace. I would that sinners would come and try my Lord’s hospitality; they would find his table to be more richly loaded than even that of Solomon, though thirty oxen and a hundred sheep did not suffice for one day’s provision for the household of that magnificent sovereign. If they would but come, even the largest-hearted among them would be wonder-struck as they saw how richly God supplied all their need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

“Rags exchanged for costly treasure,
Shoes and ring and heaven’s best robe!
Gifts of love which knows no measure;
Who can tell the heart of God?
All his loved ones— his redeemed ones,
Perfect are in his abode.”

     We also show our joy by a concentration of thought upon the object of it. When a man is carried away with joy he forgets everything else, and gives himself up to the one delight. David was so glad to bring back the Ark of the Lord that he danced before the Lord with all his might, being clad only with a linen ephod. He laid aside his stately garments, and thought so little of his dignity that Michal sneered at him; he was so much absorbed in adoring his Lord that all regard to appearances was quite gone. Observe well the parable, and think you hear the father say, “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet, and let us eat and be merry, for this my son was dead and is alive again.” The son alone is in the father’s eye, and the whole house must be ordered in reference to him. Nothing is to be thought of to-day but the long-lost son, he is paramount in the wardrobe, the jewel room, the farmyard, the kitchen, and the banquetting chamber. He that was lost, he that was dead, he being found and alive, engrosses the whole of the father’s mind. Sinner, it is wonderful how God sets all his thoughts on you according to his promise, “I will set mine eyes upon them for good,” (Jer. xxiii. 6); and again, “I will watch over them to build and to plant saith the Lord.” The Lord thinketh upon the poor and needy, his eyes are upon them and his ears are open to their cry. He thinks as much of each penitent sinner as if he were the only being in the universe. O penitent, for you is the working of the Lord’s providence to bring you home, for you the training of his ministers that they might know how to reach your heart, for you the gifts of the Spirit upon them that they might be powerful with your conscience; yea, for you his Son, his eternal Son once bleeding on the cross, and now sitting in the highest heavens making intercession for you. I saw in Amsterdam the diamond cutting, and I noticed great wheels, a large factory and powerful engines, and all the power was made to bear upon a small stone no larger than the nail of my little finger. All that huge machinery for that little stone, because it was so precious! Methinks I see you poor insignificant sinners, who have rebelled against your God, brought back to your Father’s house, and now the whole universe is full of wheels and all those wheels are working together for your good, to make out of you a jewel fit to glisten in the Redeemer’s crown. God is not represented as saying more of creation than that “it was very good,” but in the work of grace he is described as singing for joy. He breaks the eternal silence and cries, “my son is found.” As the philosopher when he had compelled nature to yield her secret ran through the street crying, "Eureka! Eureka! I have found it! I have found it!” so does the Father dwell on the word, “my son that was dead, is alive again, he that was lost is found.” The whole of Scripture aims at the bringing back again of the Lord’s banished, for this the Redeemer leaves his glory, for this the church sweeps her house and lights her candle, and when the work is done all other bliss is secondary to the surpassing joy of the Lord, of which he bids his ransomed ones partake, saying, “Enter ye into the joy of your Lord.”

     We also show our joy by an alacrity of motion. I quoted David just now. It was so with him, he danced before the ark. I cannot imagine David walking slowly before the ark, or creeping after it like a mourner at a funeral. I often notice the difference between your coming to this place and people going to other places of worship. I remark a very solemn, stately, and sombre motion in almost everybody else, but you come tripping along as if you were glad to go up to the house of the Lord; you do not regard the place of our joyous assemblies as a sort of religious prison, but as the palace and banquetting house of the great King. When any one is joyous he is sure to show it by the quickness of his motions. Hearken to the father, he says, “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet, and bring hither the fatted calf, and let us eat and be merry.” As quickly as possible he pours out sentence after sentence. There is no delay; no interval between the commands. Might he not have said, “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him, and let us look at him awhile, and sit down and prepare him for the next step; and in an hour’s time, or to-morrow, we will put a ring on his hand; and then soon we will put shoes on his feet; he is best without shoes for the present, for perhaps if he has shoes on he will run away. As to the festival, perhaps we had better rejoice over him when we see whether his repentance is genuine.” No, no, no, the father’s heart is too glad; he must bless his boy at once, heap on his favours, and multiply his tokens of love. When the Lord receives a sinner, he runs to meet him, he falls on his neck, he kisses him, he speaks to him, he forgives him, he justifies him, he sanctifies him, he puts him among the children, he opens the treasures of his grace to him, and all in quick succession. Within a few minutes after he has been cleansed from sin, the prodigal is robed, and adorned, and shod for service. The love of our Redeemer’s heart made him say to the poor thief, “To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise;” he would not let him linger in pain on the cross, but carried him away to Paradise in an hour or two. Love and joy are ever quick of foot. God is slow to anger, but he is so plenteous in his mercy that his grace overflows and rushes on like a torrent when it leaps along the ravine.

     Once more, the joy of the father was shown as ours often is by open utterance. It is hard for a glad man to hold his tongue. What can dumb people do when they are very happy? I cannot imagine how they endure silence at such times; it must then be a terrible misfortune. When you are very happy you must tell somebody. So does this father. He pours out his joy, and the utterance is very simple. “My son was dead, and is alive again, was lost, and is found.” Yet, simple as it is, it is poetry. The poetry of the Hebrews consisted in parallelism, or a repetition of the sense or a part of the words. Here are two lines which pair with each other, and make a verse of Hebrew poetry. Glad men when they speak naturally and simply always say the right thing in the very best manner, using nature’s poetry, as does the father here. Note, also, that there is reiteration in his utterance. He might have been satisfied to say, “This my son was dead and is alive again.” No; the fact is so sweet he must repeat it, “He was lost, and is found.” Even thus we speak when we are very full of sweet content; the heart bubbleth up with a good matter, and over again and over again we rehearse our joy. When the morsel is sweet we roll it under the tongue. We cannot help it. So the Lord rejoices over sinners, and tells his joy in holy scripture in varied phrase and metaphor, and though those scriptures are simple in their style, yet they contain the very essence of poetry. The bards of the Bible stand in the first rank amongst the sons of song, God himself deigning to use poetry to utter his joy because a more prosaic manner would be all too cold and tame. Hear how he puts it: “As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.” “I will rejoice in Jerusalem and joy in my people.” We might have been left in the dark about this joy of God; we might have been coldly informed that God would save sinners, and we might never have known that he found such joy in it; but the divine joy was too great to be concealed, the great heart of God could not restrain itself, he must tell out to all the universe the delight which the exercise of mercy brought to him. It was meet that he should make merry and be glad, and therefore he did it, for nothing that is meet to be done will ever be neglected by the Lord our God.

     Thus, dear friends, have I feebly spoken of the joy of God, and I want you to notice that it is a delight in which every attribute of God takes a share. Condescension ran to meet the son, love fell on his neck, grace kissed him, wisdom clothed him, truth gave him the ring, peace shod him, wisdom provided the feast, and power prepared it. No one attribute of the divine nature quarrels with the forgiveness and salvation of a sinner; not one attribute holds back from the beloved employ. Power strengthens the weak, and mercy binds up the wounded; justice smiles upon the justified sinner, for it is satisfied through the atoning blood, and truth puts forth her hand to guarantee that the promise of grace is fulfilled; immutability confirms what has been done, and omniscience looks around to see that nothing is left undone. The whole of Deity is brought to bear upon a poor worm of the dust, to lift it up and transform it into an heir of God, joint-heir with the Only Begotten. The joy of God occupies the whole of his being, so that when we think of it we may well say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name,” since all that is within him is engaged to bless his saints.

     This joy of the Lord should give every sinner great confidence in coming to God by Jesus Christ, for if you would be glad to be saved, he will be glad to save you; if you long to lay your head in your Father’s bosom, your Father’s bosom longs to have it there; if you pant to say, “I have sinned,” he equally longs to say to you, by acts of love, “I forgive thee freely.” If you pine to be his child in his own house once more, the door is open, and he himself is on the watch. Come and welcome, come and welcome, and no more delay.

     II. I have now to speak of THE JOY OF THE SINNER. The son was glad. He did not express it in words, as far as I can see in the parable, but he felt it none the less— but all the more. Sometimes silence is discreet, and it was so in this case; at other times it is absolutely forced upon you by inability to utter the emotion, and this also was true of the prodigal. The son’s heart was too full for utterance in words, but he had speaking eyes, and a speaking countenance as he looked on that dear father. As he put on the robe, the ring, and the shoes, he must have been too astonished to speak. He wept in showers that day, but the tears were not salt with grief; they were sweet tears, glittering like the dew of the morning. What would make the son glad, think you? Why, the father’s love, the father’s forgiveness, and restoration to his old place in the father’s heart. That was the point. But then each gift would serve as a token of that love and make the joy overflow. There was the robe put on, — the dress of a son, and of a son well beloved and accepted. Have you noticed how the robe answered to his confession? The sentences match each other thus: “Father, I have sinned “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him.” Cover all his sins with Christ’s righteousness; put away his sin by imputing to him the righteousness of the Lord Jesus. The robe also met his condition; he was in rags, therefore, “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him,” and you shall see no more of his rags. It was fit that he should be thus arrayed, in token of his restoration. He who is re-endowed with the privileges of a son should not be dressed in sordid clothes, but wear raiment suitable to his station. Moreover, as a festival was about to begin he ought to wear a festive garment. It would not be seemly for him to feast and be merry in his rags. Put the best robe on him that he may be ready to take his place at the banquet. So when the penitent comes to God he is not only covered, as to the past, by the righteousness of Christ, but he is prepared for the future blessedness which is reserved for the pardoned ones, yea, he is fitted to begin the rejoicing at once.

     Then came the ring, a luxury rather than a necessary, except that now he was a son it was well that he should be restored to all the honours of his relationship. The signet ring in the east in former times conferred great privileges: in those days men did not sign their names, but stamped with their signet upon wax, so that the ring gave a man power over property, and made him a sort of other self to the man whose ring he wore. The father gives the son a ring, and how complete an answer was that gift to another clause of his confession. Let me read the two sentences together, “I am no more worthy to be called thy son.” “Put a ring on his hand.” The gift precisely meets the confession. It also tallied with his changed condition. How singular that the very hand which had been feeding swine should now wear a ring. There were no rings on his hands when they were soiled at the trough, I warrant you; but now he is a swine-feeder no longer, but an honoured son of a rich father. Slaves wear no rings. Juvenal laughs at certain freed-men because they were seen walking up and down the Via Sacra with conspicuous rings on their fingers, the emblems of their new-found liberty. The ring indicated the penitent’s liberty from sin, and his enjoyment of the full privileges of his Father’s house. O, beloved, the Lord will make you glad if you come to him, by putting the seal of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling upon you, which is both the earnest of the inheritance and the best adornment of the hand of your practical character. You shall have a sure and honourable token, and shall know that all things are yours, whether things present, or things to come. This ring upon your finger will declare your marriage union to Christ, set forth the eternal love which the Father has fixed upon you, and be the abiding pledge of the perfect work of the Holy Ghost.

     Then they put shoes on his feet. I suppose he had worn out his own. In the east servants do not usually wear shoes at home, and especially in the best rooms of the house. The master and the son wear the sandals, but not the servants, so that this order was an answer to the last part of the penitent’s prayer, “Make me as one of thy hired servants.” “No,” says the father, “put shoes on his feet.” In the forgiven sinner the awe which puts off its shoes is to be overmatched by the familiarity which wears the shoes which infinite love provides. The forgiven one is no longer to tremble at Sinai, but he is to come unto Mount Zion, and to have familiar intercourse with God. Thus also the restored one was shod for filial service— he could run upon his father’s errands, or work in his father’s fields. He had now in every way all that he could want— the robe that covered him, the ring that adorned him, and the shoe that prepared him for travel or labour.

     Now ye awakened and anxious ones who are longing to draw nigh to God, I would that this description of the joy of the prodigal would induce you to come at once. Come, ye naked, and he will say, “Bring forth the best robe.” Come, ye that see your natural deformity through sin, and he will adorn you with a ring of beauty. Come, ye who feel as if you could not come, for ye have bleeding, weary feet, and he will shoe you with the silver sandals of his grace. Only do but come, and you shall have such joy in your hearts as you have never dreamed of. There shall be a young heaven born within your spirit, which shall grow and increase until it comes to the fulness of bliss.

     III. The time has now come for us to dwell upon THE JOY OF THE SERVANTS. They were to be merry, and they were merry, for the music and the dancing which were heard outside could not have proceeded from one person only, there must have been many to join in it, and who should these be but the servants to whom the father gave his commands? They ate, they drank, they danced, they joined in the music. There are many of us here who are the servants of our own heavenly Father; though we are his children, we delight to be his servants. Now, whenever a sinner is saved, we have our share of joy. We have joy, first, in the Father's joy. They were so glad, because their lord was glad— good servants are always pleased when they see that their master is greatly gratified, and I am sure the Lord’s servants are always joyous when they feel that their Lord is well pleased. That servant who went out to the elder brother, showed by his language that he was in sympathy with the father, for he pleaded with the son upon the matter; and when you are in sympathy with God, my dear brother or sister, if the Lord lets you see poor sinners saved you must and will rejoice with him. It will be to you better than finding a purse full of money, or making a great gain in business; yea, nothing in the world can give you more delight than to see some brother of yours or some child of yours made to rejoice in Christ. A mother once beautifully said, “I remember the new and strange emotions which trembled in my breast when as an infant he was first folded to my heart— my first-born child. The thrill of that moment still lingers; but when he was ‘born again,’ clasped in my arms a ‘new creature in Christ Jesus,’ my spiritual child, my son in the gospel, pardoned, justified, adopted, saved, for ever saved! Oh! it was the very depth of joy; joy unspeakable! My child was a child of God! The prayers which preceded his birth, which cradled his infancy, which girdled his youth, were answered. My son was Christ’s. The weary watchings, the yearning desires, the trembling hopes of years were at rest. Our first-born son was avowedly the Lord 's.” May every father and mother here know just such joy by having sympathy with God.

     But they had sympathy with the son. I am sure they rejoiced to see him back again, for somehow usually even bad sons have the goodwill of good servants. When young men go away, and are a great grief to their fathers, the servants often stick to them. They will say, “Well, Master John was very inconsiderate and gay, and he vexed his father a great deal, but I should like to see the poor boy back again.” Especially is this true of the old servants who have been in the house since the boy was born: they never forget him. And you will find that God’s old servants are always glad when they see prodigal children return; they are delighted beyond measure, because they love them after all, notwithstanding their wanderings. Sinner, with all your faults and hardness of heart we do love you, and we should be glad for your sake to see you delivered from eternal ruin and from the wrath of God which now abideth on you, and brought to rejoice in pardoned sin, and acceptance in the Beloved.

     We should rejoice for the sinner’s sake, but I think the servants rejoiced most of all when they were the instruments in the father’s hand of blessing the son. Just look at this. The father said to the servants, “Bring forth the best robe.” He might have gone to the wardrobe himself with a key and opened it, and brought out the robe himself, but he gave them the pleasure of doing it. When I get my orders from my Lord and Master on the Lord 's-day morning to bring forth the best robe, I am delighted indeed. Nothing delights me more than to preach the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, and the substitutionary sacrifice of our exalted Redeemer. “Bring forth the best robe.” Why, my Master, I might be content to keep out of heaven if thou wouldst always give me this work to do— to bring forth the best robe and extol and exalt Jesus Christ in the eyes of the people. Then he said, “Put it on him.” When our Lord gives us grace to do that there is more joy still. How many times I have brought forth the best robe, but could not put it on you. I have held it up, and expatiated on its excellencies, and pointed to your rags, and said what a delightful thing it would be if I could put it on you, but I could not; but when the heavenly Father, by his divine grace and the power of the Spirit, makes us the means of bringing these treasures into the possession of poor sinners, oh, what joy! I should rejoice to bring forth the ring of the Spirit's sealing work, and the shoes of the preparation of the gospel of peace, for it is a joy to exhibit these blessings, and a greater joy still to put them upon the poor, returning wanderer. God be thanked for giving his servants so great a pleasure! I would not have dared to describe the Lord’s servants as putting on the robe, the ring, and the shoes, but as he has himself done so I am rejoiced to use the Holy Spirit’s own language.

     How sweet was the command, “Put it on him.” Yes, put it on the poor trembling, ragged, shivering sinner, “Put it on him,” even on him, though he can hardly believe such mercy to be possible. “Put it on him?” Yes, on him. He who was a drunkard, a swearer, an adulterer? Yes, put it on him, for he repents. What joy it is when we are enabled by God’s commission to throw that glorious mantle over a great sinner. As for the ring, put it on him; that is the beauty of it. And the shoes, put them on him; that they are for him is the essence of our joy— that such a sinner, and especially when he is one of our own household, should receive these gifts of grace is wonderful! It was most kind of the father to divide the labour of love. One would put on the robe, another the ring, and a third the shoes. Some of my brethren can preach Jesus Christ in his righteousness gloriously, and they put on the best robe; others seem most gifted in dwelling upon the work of the Spirit of God, and they put on the ring: while yet another class are practical divines, and they put on the shoes. I do not mind which I have to do, if I may but have a part in helping to bring to poor sinners those matchless gifts of grace, which at infinite expense the Lord has prepared for those who come back to him. How glad those were who helped to dress him I cannot tell. Meanwhile, another servant was gone off out of doors to bring in the fatted calf, and perhaps two or three were engaged in killing and dressing it, while another was lighting a fire in the kitchen, and preparing the spits for the roast. One laid the table, and another ran to the garden to bring flowers to make wreaths for the room, — I know I should have done that if I had been there. All were happy. All ready to join in the music and dancing. Those who work for the good of sinners are always the gladdest when they are saved. You who pray for them, you who teach them, you who preach to them, you who win them for Christ, you shall share their merriment.

     Now, dear brethren, we are told that they “began to be merry,” and according to the description it would seem that they were merry indeed, but still they only “began.” I see no intimation that they ever left off. “They began to be merry,” and as merriment is apt to grow beyond all bounds when it once starts, who knows what they have come to by this time. The saints begin to be merry now, and they will never cease, but rejoice evermore. On earth all the joy we have is only beginning to be merry, it is up in heaven that they get into full swing. Here our best delight is hardly better than a neap tide at its ebb; there the joy rolls along in the majesty of a full spring tide.

“Oh what rapturous hallelujahs
In our Father’s home above!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
O’er the embraces of his love!
Wondrous welcome— God’s own welcome,
May the chief of sinners prove.

“Sweet melodious strains ascending,
All around a mighty flood;
Servants, friends, with joy attending—
Oh! the happiness of God!
Grace abounding, all transcending,
Through a Saviour’s precious blood.”

     Let us begin to be merry this morning. But we cannot unless we are labouring for the salvation of others in all ways possible to us. If we have done and are doing that, let us praise and bless the Lord, and rejoice with the reclaimed ones, and let us keep the feast as Jesus would have it kept; for I hope there is no one here of the elder brethren who will be angry and refuse to go in. Let us continue to be merry as long as we live, because the lost are found and the dead are made alive. God grant you to be merry on this account world without end. Amen.



The Consecration of the Priests

By / Nov 15

The Consecration of the Priests

 

“This is the thing that thou shalt do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto me in the priest’s office.”— Exodus xxix. 1.

 

UNDER the law, only one family could serve God in the priest’s office, but under the gospel all the saints are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood” (I. Peter ii. 9). In the Christian church no persons whatsoever are set apart to the priesthood above the rest of their brethren, for in us is fulfilled the promise which Israel by reason of her sin failed to obtain — “Ye shall be a kingdom of priests unto me.” Paul, in addressing all the saints, bids them present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God, which is their reasonable service. It is the grand design of all the works of divine grace, both for us and in us, to fit us for the office of the spiritual priesthood, and it will be the crown of our perfection when with all our brethren we shall sing unto the Lord Jesus the new song, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” This honour have all the saints: according to Peter, in the second chapter of his First Epistle, it belongs even to newborn babes in grace, for even such are spoken of as forming part of an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices. Nor is this confined to men as was the Aaronic priesthood, for in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female. My subject to-day is the consecration of priests, but it does not refer exclusively or even specially to persons called clergymen, or ministers, but to all of you who believe in Jesus, for ye are God’s clergy, his cleros, that is, his inheritance, and ye should be all ministers, ministering according to the grace given to you.

     The family of Aaron was chosen unto the priesthood, “for no man taketh this honour upon himself, but he that was called thereunto aa was Aaron,” and even thus all the Lord’s people are chosen from before the foundation of the world. Being chosen, Aaron and his sons were at God’s command brought nigh unto the door of the tabernacle. None ever come to God except they are brought to him; even the spouse sings, “he brought me into the banquetting house.” Jesus said, “No man can come unto me except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” We are made nigh by the blood of Jesus and brought nigh by the drawings of the Holy Ghost.

     Assuming that you and I have made our calling and election sure, let us further see what is needed to qualify us to serve as priests at the altar of the living God. Follow me carefully as I mention the ceremonies prescribed in the chapter before us, for they teach us necessary things: the outward ceremonies are abolished, but their inner meaning remains.

     I. First, THE PRIESTS WERE WASHED. We read in the fourth verse, “Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water.” The pure and holy God cannot be served by men of unclean hands and impure hearts; he would not endure it under the law, nor will he tolerate it under the gospel. “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord,” and, “Be ye holy for I am holy,” are standing precepts of our priesthood. It was well said by the psalmist, "I will wash my hands in innocency, so will I compass thine altar, O Lord.”

     This washing is afforded us in two ways, answering to our double need. First, it is given to us in regeneration, wherein we are born of water and of the Spirit. By the power of the Holy Ghost we are made new creatures in Christ Jesus, and in us is fulfilled the type set forth in Naaman, who washed in Jordan, and his flesh came again unto him, even as a little child. Not in the waters of baptism, but in the living water of the Holy Spirit are we cleansed from nature’s original defilement; he it is who causes old things to pass away, and makes all things new. Through his sanctifying operations we are cleansed from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit, and made vessels fit for the Master’s use. This washing is in every case essential. You may say, “I desire to serve God,” but you cannot do it till first you are born again. Your whole nature must be cleansed, or you will never be qualified to stand as a priest before the thrice holy God. I marvel how some who know nothing about regeneration can dare to call themselves priests. They are strangers to the renewing influences of the Spirit, and yet they style themselves God’s ministers. Has God set blind men to be guides, and dead men to quicken souls? Unto such as these God saith, “What hast thou to do to declare my statutes?”

     The need of another form of washing was indicated by the double stream which flowed from the pierced breast of Christ, for “forthwith came there out blood and water.” We must be washed by remission of sin, of which David sang, “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” In the first moment of our faith in Jesus there is given to us a washing which makes us clean every whit in the sight of God, once for all. It is that washing to which the Lord Jesus referred when he said, “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, for he is clean.” The priests were washed once from head to foot, to make them ceremonially clean, and after that they needed only to wash their feet when they came into the holy place; and even thus our Lord told his disciples when he washed their feet that they had no need of another complete bathing, for they were clean every whit. Believers should not pray to their heavenly Father as if their sins still rested upon them and had never been forgiven, for the Lord has put away their sin, and as far as the east is from the west so far hath he removed their transgressions from them: yet as they continually accumulate some evil and stain by being in this body, and in this world, they have need to come each day with, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.” Our first washing has removed all sin as before God the Judge; our daily washing cleanses us from offences towards God as our Father. Even when we walk in the light as God is in the light, and have fellowship one with another, we yet need daily cleansing from all sin by the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, and blessed be God we have it.

     Now, my dear hearers, have you thus been cleansed from all sin? Do ye know to-day the power of that word, “Being made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness”? Have you the blessedness of that man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile? Do not try to stand as a priest before God till you have received this double washing. Remember the great aim of the gospel is to make us priests unto God, but the consecrating process must begin by our being cleansed as sinners from the guilt of sin and the defilement of our nature. He who would serve the Lord must first confess his iniquities and obtain remission, or he can no more approach the living God than a leper could enter into the holy place.

     II. After being washed THE PRIESTS WERE CLOTHED. They might not wear one of the garments which belonged to themselves or to their former calling. Under garments were provided for them, and outer garments too, within and without their raiment was new and appropriate. They put on what was given them, nothing more and nothing less. No man can serve God acceptably in his own righteousness, it is but filthy rags. We must have the fine linen of an inward sanctification, and the outer garment, for glory and for beauty, of the imputed righteousness of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We must, in a word, sing with the hymn,

“Jesus, thy blood and righteousness,
My beauty are, my glorious dress.”

We cannot stand to worship God unless it be so; he will drive us from his presence.

     Note, that these garments were provided for them. They were at no expense in buying them, nor labour in weaving them, nor skill in making them; they had simply to put them on. And you, dear child of God, are to put on the garments which Jesus Christ has provided for you, at his own cost, and freely bestows upon you out of boundless love. These garments formed a complete apparel. They had no shoes upon their feet, it is true, but they would have been superfluous, for the place whereon they stood was holy ground. They were sandalled with reverence. The child of God when he is bedecked in the righteousness of Christ still feels a solemn awe of the Lord, and comes into the presence of the Most High with lowliest adoration, for he remembers that he is but a creature at his best.

     These garments were very comely to look upon. Though the common priests did not wear the breastplate of jewels, nor the bells and pomegranates, nor the girdle of blue and fine twined linen, yet, in their ordinary dress of pure white, they must have been very comely to look upon. Fine white linen is the emblem of the righteousness of the saints, and truly in God’s eye, with the exception of his dear Son, there are no lovelier objects in the world than his own people when they are dressed in the garments of salvation.

     The dress provided was absolutely necessary to be worn. No priest might offer sacrifice without the appointed garments, for we read in the forty-third verse of the twenty-eighth chapter, “They shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they come near unto the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity, and die.” They would have died had they attempted to sacrifice without being clothed according to the law. A man pretending to serve God without the divine righteousness upon him, puts himself in a most perilous position; he is where the flaming wrath of God burns terribly. Better for him to keep his own place in the distance, than to draw near unto the service of God, unless he is adorned with the glorious array which Christ has woven in the loom of his life and dyed in his own blood. Dear brethren, if you desire to worship God aright in holy labour, or prayer, or praise, you must go to your engagements dressed in the righteousness of Jesus, for you can only be “accepted in the Beloved.”

     III. Then, thirdly, THESE PRIESTS WERE ANOINTED. It does not appear that they were each one personally anointed so early in the ceremony, but they saw the fragrant oil poured upon Aaron on their behalf. So you find it written in the seventh verse, “Then shalt thou take the anointing oil, and pour it upon his head, and anoint him.” So that in order to serve God aright, anointing which has been given to our covenant Head, without measure. But you say to me, “Of what benefit can that be to us? We require the unction of the Holy Spirit upon ourselves.” True, but the oil which was poured upon Aaron’s head went down his beard, and its copious flow descended even to the skirts of his garments; and what you need to know if you are to be a true priest to God is, that the Holy Spirit comes to you through Christ and from Christ, and that it is because your Head is anointed, that you have an unction from the Holy One. You could not have been Christians if he had not first been the Christ. Be of good cheer concerning this, for though you may be one of the lowest members of the mystical body of Jesus Christ, you have an anointing from the Holy One, because Jesus has that anointing, and in the power of that anointing you may minister before the Lord. Further on in the discourse we shall have to show you the personal anointing which you must individually receive, but it is highly important for every worker to see where his fragrance before God must lie, — never in himself, but always in his covenant Head. Be ye filled with the Spirit, but do not dream that the Spirit of God comes to you apart from your Lord. You are the branch, and the sap can only come to you through the stem. You are the member, and your life dwells in your head; divided from Jesus you are dead. Never forget this, for any attempt at independence will be fatal. A man in Christ is fragrant with a holy perfume before the Lord, but out of Christ he is an unclean thing, and cannot approach the altar.

     IV. Fourthly, having been washed, clothed, and representatively anointed, they had next TO SHARE IN THE SIN OFFERING. They were sinful men, how could they approach a thrice holy God? You and I are sinful, as we know by bitter experience; how can we hope to stand before the mercy-seat, and present acceptable sacrifices unto such an one as God is? There is no way of approaching him while our sin is seen, it must be covered, covered by a sin-offering. We are told that the sin-offering selected was a bullock without blemish, of the first year, strong, and vigorous, a perfect being as far as it could be. Lift your eyes to Jesus, in whom is no spot of sin, being undefiled in nature and immaculate in life. He it is who stands for you, even he who knew no sin, and yet was made sin for you that you might be made the righteousness of God in him. He, in the fulness of his strength, and in the perfection of his manhood, gave himself a ransom and a substitute for you. View him with wondering gratitude.

     The bullock of the sin-offering being brought to the altar, Aaron and his sons were to lay their hands upon it. Read the tenth verse: — They “shall put their hands upon the head of the bullock.” The Hebrew word means more than lightly placing the hand, it gives the idea of pressing hard upon the bullock’s head. They came each one and leaned upon the victim, loading him with their burden, signifying their acceptance of its substitution, their joy that the Lord would accept that victim in their stead. When they put their hands on the bullock, they made a confession of sin, and the Rabbis have preserved for us the form in which that confession was made, but time forbids our reading it to you. The act was evidently understood by all concerned as a typical transfer of guilt, and the placing of the bullock of the sin-offering in the place of the sinner. Come, brethren and sisters, though washed, though clothed, though anointed, come as penitents, and rejoice in the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus. Draw nigh unto the Lord with sincere hearts and acknowledge your transgressions, and again accept your Saviour as your sin-bearer; for a sin-bearer who is not accepted by you can be of no service to you. The hands of faith must be laid upon the sacrifice: for my part, I like to lay them there every day, nay, I desire to keep them there always, believing without ceasing that my sin is imputed no more to me, but by a sacred act of God was laid upon Jesus, according to that sentence, “He hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

     The bullock was killed as a token that just as the poor beast was slain so they deserved to die for their sins, and that done, the blood was caught in bowls and taken to the altar, and there it was poured out, at the bottom of the altar, round about. Read the 17th verse. There must have been a pool of blood all round the altar, or at any rate a crimsoned line. What did it signify? Did it not show that our only access to God is by the blood? They were washed and robed and anointed, and yet they could not reach the altar till the way to it had been paved with atoning blood. Oh, my brother, there is no way for thee to God as his priest except through the precious blood. We cannot draw near to God, or serve him aright, if we forget the blood of atonement. Our standing is upon and within the blood of sprinkling; we must bring our prayers, praises, preachings, almsgivings, and all other offerings, to the altar, around which the blood is poured. In vain are all good works which are not so presented. See ye well to this, my brethren. It is essential beyond all else.

     This done, the choicer and more vital parts of the bullock were taken, and burned upon the altar, to show that even when our Lord Jesus is viewed as a sin offering, he is still a sweet savour unto God, and however he might hide his face from his Son because of our sin, yet he was always in himself well pleasing unto the Father. Hence the inwards of the bullock were burned on the altar, where nothing could be presented but that which was a sweet savour to God. O thou Lamb of God, under whatever aspect we behold thee, thou art still precious to thy Father! Thou wert beloved by him even when thou hadst to cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!”

     But because the bullock was a sin-offering, and therefore obnoxious to God, its flesh, and its skin, and all that remained were carried outside the camp, and burned with a quick, consuming fire, as a thing worthy to be destroyed, for sin was upon it, and it must be burned up. Believer, have you seen Jesus as the great offering for sin, made a curse for us? You will never serve God in the priestly office aright unless you see that sin is a hateful thing to God, so hateful that, even when it only lay upon his dear Son by imputation, he could not look upon him, but bruised and smote him until he cried in anguish, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.” “Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the camp,” to show that not without his being treated as a transgressor could we be treated as righteous, and also that sin is in itself a deadly pest, which must not be endured in the camp of the chosen. Never let your joy concerning the atonement lessen your horror of transgression: —

“With your joy for pardoned guilt,
Mourn that you pierced the Lord.”

     I am persuaded that no one will ever serve the Lord humbly and devotedly unless he obtains a clear view of the Lord Jesus as his sin-offering, and substitute. Some preachers either do not know that truth, or else they think too little of it to make it prominent in their sermons, hence their ministry does not save souls. The great saving truth is the doctrine of atonement by substitution. Without it ministers will keep souls in bondage year after year, because they do not proclaim the finished redemption, nor let men know that sin was laid on Jesus that it might be for ever removed from the believer. “He was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him;” brethren, get that truth clearly into your heads, and intensely into your hearts, and you will become devoted to the Lord. Do not only believe that grand truth, but in the spirit of it serve ye the Lord without weariness, seeing ye have been redeemed with a price far more precious than silver and gold.

     V. After the sin-offering the consecrated ones went on to TAKE THERR SHARE IN THE BURNT-OFFERING. The burnt-offering differed widely from the sin-offering. The sin-offering indicated Christ as bearing our sin, but the burnt-offering sets him forth as presenting an acceptable offering unto the Lord. God required of us perfect obedience, he demanded from us a pure and holy life, and the requirement was a just one: but among us all there is none righteous, no, not one; how then could we stand before the thrice Holy Lord? Beloved, Jesus stands in the gap. Before God his righteousness was perfect, acceptable, and delightful, and for us it is presented. He is made of God unto us righteousness. The burnt-offering does not bring to light the remembrance of sin except so far as it reminds us that we were in need of a perfect righteousness; it brings before us only the thought of Jesus offering himself as a sweet savour unto God, and making us accepted in the Beloved. The priests were to bring a ram without blemish, and when killed, before it was laid on the altar, its inwards were to be washed, for otherwise the natural foulness of its body would prevent its being a fit type of that Saviour who is pure within, in whom there is no taint of original sin. When this ram was brought the priests were to lay their hands upon it, as much as to say, “We accept this ram, that it may represent us as acceptable before God.” Oh, beloved, lay your hands on Jesus now by faith, and say, “Jesus, I accept thee as my righteousness before the Lord, and believe that as God sees in thee all that is delightful, and smells a sweet savour of rest, so he will be well pleased with me for thy sake.”

     This offering when placed upon the altar was wholly burnt; not a fragment of it was put outside the camp, not a morsel of it was eaten by man, but the whole ram was utterly consumed with fire, for it was a burnt-offering unto the Lord. And thus, dear friends, it is very delightful to us to see that God received Jesus, the whole of Jesus; there was nothing in him to reject, and nothing that could be done without. He satisfied the Lord; he asked no more, he would have no less. Jesus has rendered to the Father all that he could desire from men, and the Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake. A sense of acceptance is a very necessary thing to those who would worship God aright, for if you do not enjoy it the legal spirit will begin to work to win acceptance by merit, and that will spoil all. If men dream that they are to pray or preach their way to heaven, or to do this, and to do that, to be acceptable with God, they will offer strange fire on the Lord’s altar and bring sacrifices with which he can never be pleased. Vain oblations he will call them, and frown on the offerers. How delightful it is to serve God with a sense that we are pleasant in the sight of God; for this fills us with gratitude, inspires us with zeal, creates boldness, and fosters every grace. With what joy will you stand to minister daily whatever your calling may be, whether it be as a mother in the family, a servant in the house, a minister in the pulpit, or a teacher in the class. You will not need driving like a slave to his toil, but like a dearly beloved child you will rejoice to please your Father in all things. Work in the prison-house of the aw under the lash of conscience is a very different thing from holy work in the sunlight of the Lord’s countenance and the liberty of full acceptance. He who knows that he is not now to be judged and condemned by the law, but stands for ever justified because of what Christ has done for him, serves his God with a holy alacrity unknown to others.

     VI. After the priests had seen for themselves the sin-offering and the burnt-offering, it was needful that they should partake of a third sacrifice, which was A PEACE OFFERING. Another ram was brought as unblemished and vigorous as the former, for Jesus is never to be typified by anything but the best of its kind. We are told in the nineteenth verse that Aaron and his sons were to put their hands upon it, for, whatever view of the great sacrifice they might gaze upon, it was imperatively necessary that they should have a personal interest in it; mere theory will never do, we must have personal acquaintance with the Lord, and we must have him to be our own. So long as we have no part or lot in Jesus we are as much excluded from the service of the Lord as were the uncircumcised and the unclean. No man can run the heavenly race unless he is looking unto Jesus, he cannot be a soldier of the Lord unless he has Christ for his Captain, he cannot feed others until he has himself fed on Jesus, nor bring others to Jesus till he has come himself. “The husbandman that laboureth must first be partaker of the fruits”; this is one of the laws of spiritual husbandry, and cannot be set aside. Lay your hand upon the head of the substitute, before you venture to lay it upon the work of the Lord.

     When this was done, the peace-offering was slain. A sin-offering was a thing obnoxious to God, and represented expiation made for sin, a burnt-offering was a sweet-savour offering unto God, and it was all burned on the altar, all being for the Lord alone, — thus representing the Lord Jesus as rendering to the Lord a complete obedience, which magnified the law and made it honourable; but the peace offering was shared between the Lord and the priest or offerer. The Lord’s part was consumed with fire upon the altar, and another portion was eaten by man in the holy place. The peace offering was thus an open declaration of the communion which had been established between God and man, so that they ate together, rejoicing in the same offering. Beloved brethren, when you have felt the sweets of seeing the Lord as a sin-offering, and then have tasted the high joys of acceptance as you have gazed upon him as the burnt-offering, satisfying Jehovah’s heart, it is surpassingly delightful to behold the Lamb of God as our peace-offering, making glad the heart of God and man, and bringing both in bonds of friendship to a common meeting-place. The eternal Father says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” and we cry, “This is our beloved Lord, in whom our inmost soul rejoices.”

     In the peace-offering the communion between the priests and the Lord commenced outwardly by their being consecrated by the blood of the peace-offering. Moses dipped his finger in the blood, and smeared first the priest’s right ear, then his thumb, and then his toe; as Matthew Henry says, as if they marked the boundaries and extremities of man’s being, to show that all that was enclosed within the crimson lines was consecrated unto the Lord. We go not too far when we add that it signified the dedication of each faculty. The ear was henceforth to hear God’s commands, to listen to divine teaching, and to drink in divine promises, and no more to regard falsehood, vanity, and vice. The hand was now henceforth to be engaged in the divine service with diligence and intelligence, for the right hand was thus marked, and the thumb, the most useful part of it: for holy work the hand must be reserved. The feet were to be equally holy, the priest, wherever he stood, or walked, or ran, was to be “holiness unto the Lord.” He had no right to go anywhere if that blood-marked foot would be out of place. The whole man was thus consecrated by the blood of the everlasting covenant: a solemn seal indeed! Our personal share of the blood of Jesus has already done this for us, it has constrained us to yield unto God our whole manhood, spirit, soul, and body. My brother, you can never serve God as his priest unless you are wholly given up to God through the blood of Jesus. You must have this verse in your very soul, and must masticate it, digest it, assimilate it into your nature— “Ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your bodies and your spirits, which are his.” This surrender of yourself unto the Lord commences your communion with the Lord; the peace-offering has begun.

     The next thing was to sprinkle the priests all over with a mixture of oil and blood, and this is that anointing which I said we should see by-and-bye. “Thou shalt take of the blood that is upon the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it upon Aaron, and upon his garments, and upon his sons, and upon the garments of his sons with him: and he shall be hallowed, and his garments, and his sons, and his sons’ garments with him.” Yes, brethren, we need to know that double anointing, the blood of Jesus which cleanses, and the oil of the Holy Spirit which perfumes us. It is well to see how these two blend in one, Jesus and his atonement, the Spirit and his sanctification; the work for us and the work in us. Read the third of John, and there you find, “Ye must be born again;” but side by side with it you get, “Whosoever believeth in him is not condemned.” It is not so easy for the preacher always to give these two doctrines with equal clearness and distinctness; he is very apt, when he is preaching up simple faith, and saying, “Only believe,” to forget that equally important statement, “Ye must be born again.” It is a terrible blunder to set the blood and the oil in opposition, they must always go together. Yet there are some who have even spoken depreciatingly of repentance, which is an essential part of the work of the Spirit of God; their zeal for holding up the righteousness of Christ by faith has driven them beyond the bounds of truth. Brethren, do not err in this matter, but abide in equal loyalty to these equally sure and important verities. If you would serve the Lord aright, you must have the blood and the oil sprinkled upon you, that is to say, you must know personally the influence of them both. What a strange sight these men in white garments must have presented, bespattered all over with blood and oil. Did that stain their garments? No, it adorned and perfumed them. Remember that saying, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” No purity is comparable to that which comes by the Spirit and by the atoning blood: in God ’s sight these priests thus distained were more beautiful by far than they had been before. Oh, my soul, prize Jesus and his blood, and never forget that thou needest the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. Bless God for justification, but seek after sanctification. Praise him for perfection in Christ Jesus, and go on to obtain the perfect work of the Holy Ghost. We have a cleansing and we also have an unction from the Holy One: as our experience is, so let our teaching be, for the priests’ garments taught the people. We are to go forth as priests, and declare the virtue of the atoning sacrifice, but we must also manifest the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.

     The next part of the ceremony was very singular. The priests had their hands filled. Certain parts of the ram were taken, and “one loaf of bread, and one cake of oiled bread, and one wafer out of the basket of unleavened bread, which is before the Lord,” and all these were put into the hands of Aaron and his sons, so that they stood with their hands full before the Lord. See the beauty of this, and pray for a complete realization of it yourself. The Lord intends to make you a priest, but your hands are full of sin. What have you to do? You must lay those guilty hands on the sin-offering, and make confession, and exercise faith: then the sin is gone, being transferred to another, and your hands are empty. What next? Will the Lord leave you empty-handed? No, he gives you somewhat to offer. He allows you a part of the peace-offering to fill your hands withal, and this you present before him as a wave-offering. It is a blessed thing to stand before God with your hands full of Christ. The service which consists in holding forth Jesus is most blessed. I love preaching when I have to preach Jesus only. Then I come before you, not emptyhanded, but loaded with meat and bread for you. How idle it is for us to stand before God with nothing to offer, and if we have not Jesus we have nothing, or worse than nothing. We may also interpret the full hands of the priests as representing our being enriched with the truth. I believe it used to be a ceremony in the English church that, when the bishop ordained a minister, he always placed the Bible in his hands, to set forth what he was expected to deal out to the people. When the Lord ordains his people to be priests unto him he puts the Bible into their hands, and fills their heads and hearts with the truth thereof. When you have the inspired word in your hands, you have both meat for strong men and bread for children; you have all sorts of spiritual food for all sorts of persons, and you need not fear that they will turn away dissatisfied, they cannot need more to feed upon than the bread of God’s altar and the flesh of God’s peace-offering.

     When their hands were full, and they stood at the altar, it indicated the way in which they brought to the Lord all that they had. We cannot act as priests before God with empty hands. “None of you shall appear before me empty,” is his command. Has he given us wealth? Let us give without grudging, devising liberal things. Never neglect weekly storing and weekly offering, these are fit parts of Sabbath worship. Have we time, talent, influence, let us consecrate them all, and come with those possessions which Jesus has lent us, and present them with the flesh of the peace-offering, and the sacred oil.

     Holding this in their hands, the priests had to wave their pleasant burden to and fro. I scarcely know why, except that you who are God’s priests have not had your hands filled that you may stand still; but that you may move them to and fro in the earth, that east, west, north, and south may know the benefit thereof, and that your brethren on either hand may commune with you in your ministering. Every now and then the priests stopped the horizontal motion, and heaved or lifted up their offering, as if to say, “It is all for thee, O Jehovah. We lift it up into the presence of thine august Majesty, for it is thine, and we are about to lay it on thine altar.” Believers, if you have had your hands filled by God, you must not be idle. Your fulness is meant for distribution to God’s glory. If the clouds be full of rain they empty themselves upon the earth; if the rivers be full of water they run into the sea, and if God gives you a fulness, it is that you may communicate it to others and devote it to himself. Jesus Christ breaks the bread and multiplies it, and gives it to the disciples to divide among the multitude. Many a man becomes empty handed because he does not know the art of distribution. He has his hands full and cries out, “Where shall I bestow my goods? my hands are full and I would keep it for myself and my family.” My brother, wave it among your neighbours, lift it up to God in solemn consecration, and then let it be laid upon God’s altar, since for this purpose you were called to be a priest unto the Most High.

     Last of all there followed a very pleasant part of the matter— they sat down and feasted. God had received his part in the burning of the victim on the altar, and now Aaron and his sons were to “eat those things wherewith the atonement was made.” You cannot serve God without strength; you cannot have strength except you eat, and you must be careful what you take into your soul, for according to what your food is will your strength be. The Lord would have his people fed daily upon Christ, and fed in the holy place where they serve. Christ is delightful to God and is delightful to you, and you must feed on him in communion with God, in the place of holy fellowship. There is no sustenance for our inner nature anywhere but in Jesus, but, blessed be his name, no other sustenance can be desired, for he fills us to the full, and gives us a strength which is equal to our day.

     I know some good people who are very busy indeed in the services of God, and I am very delighted that they should be, but I would caution them against working and never eating. They give up attending the means of grace as hearers, because they have so much to do as workers. That is very well, and some strong men may be able to do it safely, but I do not think many of us can afford to do without the regular hearing of the word. Whatever may be our zeal to work like Martha, we must also sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary, or we shall become “cumbered with much serving.” The priest is to offer sacrifice, but he must have time, also, to feed on the portion allotted to him. How sweet it is to enjoy the food of God, the flesh of Jesus, the bread of heaven. Aaron and his sons had the breast and the shoulder for their part— the love of Christ’s heart and the power of Christ’s arm. I am thankful, as one of God’s priests, to have the shoulder and breast, for power and love are needful for my comfort and support. Eli’s vile sons were wont to drive a three-pronged hook into the cauldron, and bring up what they thought the choicer portions, but my soul is more than content with what the rule of the house allots me, in fact, these are the best parts of the sacrifice.

     In closing, I would call the attention of believers for a moment to the fact, that Aaron and his sons received this consecration for life. You will find in the ninth verse the words, “The priests’ office shall be theirs for a perpetual statute.” “Once a priest, always a priest,” is the rule in the priesthood to which we belong. We abide in Christ, and we also have an anointing which abideth in us, for we have been sealed with “that Holy Spirit of promise.” Do not act at any time as if you were not priests. If you profess to be the Lord’s do not lie about it, let it be truly so, and that every day, and all the day, and in all things, for he hath made us kings and priests unto God for ever. Do not, I beseech you, dishonour your sacred character.

     I shall ask two questions in closing. Do you and I offer sacrifice continually? Unto this we are called, according to the apostle, that we should offer the sacrifice of prayer and praise continually. To him the cherubim continually cry “Holy, holy, holy.” Do we every day feel that our whole being is “Holiness unto the Lord?” In the workshop, in the home, at the fireside, in the field, as well as in the prayer meeting, the vows of God are upon us; we are a separated people, and belong unto God alone? O see ye to this!

     What have you to offer now? Have you brought an offering now? What will you render unto God for all his benefits towards you? Is there nothing to be done for Christ this afternoon? no sick one to be visited, no poor child to be instructed, no backslider to be reclaimed? Shall a single hour go by without a sacrifice? I charge you, brethren, continually bring of your substance, continually bring of your talent, continually bring of your influence. If God be God, and if you be his priests, serve him. If you be not his ordained ones, then you live unto yourselves, and it will be well to know it: anything is better than to be hypocrites: but if you be true men I beseech you by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies, your souls, your spirits unto God, which is but a reasonable service. When you have once for all made the consecration, may God grant you grace continually to stand to it, and he shall have the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.



Holy Water

By / Nov 8

Holy Water

 
“Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” — John iv. 14.

 

ALL things that are of earth are unsatisfactory. Our spirit craveth for something more than time and sense can yield it. Nothing which comes of earth, even if it should yield a transient satisfaction, can long maintain its excellency. Pointing to the water in Jacob’s well, our Lord said, “He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again;” and therein he took up his parable against all earthly things, whether they be fame, or riches, or fleshly pleasure, or aught else beneath the sun. He that drinketh at these shallow wells shall not quench his thirst, or if for a time he imagines that he has so done, he will be undeceived, and in a little season the old craving will return. That which is born of the flesh is flesh even at its best, and all flesh is grass, and the goodliness thereof is as the flower of grass; the grass withereth and the flower thereof fadeth away, and in like manner fadeth the flesh and its glory. The religion of the flesh shares in the common fate, if it has a man’s own self for its author, his own energy as its impulse, and his own opinions for its creed, it may for a little while flourish like the flower of the field, but the wind passeth over it and it is gone. Waters from his own cistern may stay a man’s desires for a space, but ere long he must thirst again. Nothing can abide for ever but that which comes from the Eternal One. Not from the will of man, but from the work of the Holy Ghost, all truly satisfying religion must proceed. It is the prerogative of the gospel of Christ thoroughly to satisfy the soul of man, and to do this abidingly: the chief object of our present discourse is to set forth that most admirable fact.

     I. Finding that it greatly helps the memory of the hearer if the preacher keeps to the words of the text, I shall do so, and note first that we have here before us THE WAY OF OBTAINING TRUE RELIGION. “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” It is clear from this that true religion must come to us as a gift. The water that I shall give him, says Christ. There is no suggestion as to digging deep with much learning into the bowels of mysterious truth to find the water for ourselves; this priceless draught is freely handed out to us by our Redeemer, without our bringing either bucket or line. There is no hint in the text that we are to purchase the lifegiving water; it is presented to us without money and without price. There is no allusion to a certain measure of fitness to qualify us for the draught, it is purely a gift to be received by us here and now. Our Lord Jesus told the woman that had she known the gift of God she would have asked and he would have given. Sinner as she was, She had only to ask and have. There is no other way of obtaining eternal life but as the free gift of sovereign grace. The divine life is not in us by nature, it cannot be produced in us by culture, nor infused into us by ceremonies, nor propagated in us by natural descent, it must come as a boon of infinite charity from heaven, unpurchased, undeserved. Wisdom cannot impart it, power cannot fashion it, money cannot buy it, merit cannot procure it, grace alone can give it. If men desire wages they may earn them beneath the mastership of sin, for “The wages of sin is death.” On the side of God all is of grace, for “the gift of God is eternal life.” Whoever, then, is to be saved must be saved by the boundless charity of God, in other words by the free gift of the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is an elementary truth of the gospel, but it needs to be told out in every sermon, for man is so hostile to it, and the natural mind so runs upon merit, and its own boasted doings, that man will not understand the doctrine of salvation by grace though it is as plain as the sun at noonday.

     Observe next that true religion is a gift from Jesus. Our Lord says, “the water that I shall give him.” The only true religion in the world is that which comes from Jesus Christ, and the only realisation of that true religion in your own soul is by receiving it from the hand of Christ; for it is in all its details connected with him. Do we want peace of conscience because sin is forgiven? We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. Do we desire deliverance from the power of sin within us? We can only overcome by the blood of the Lamb. Do we need teaching? The best instruction comes from his lips. Do we desire an example which will inspirit us to obey the teaching? He is our pattern, yea, “he is made of God unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” He is our all in all. If any man dreams that he has a God-given religion, he is in deadly error if there be not the mark of the pierced hand upon it. That peace which does not come to us sealed with the blood of the Mediator’s sacrifice is a false peace. Your soul is deceived with the semblance of satisfaction, but its thirst will soon be upon you again, like an armed man. unless you have been drinking from the fountain opened upon Calvary. Drink from the cup which Jesus fills, think not that satisfying waters can be drawn from any well but himself.

     True godliness is next described in the text as a gift which must be received. “He that drinketh of the water that I shall give him.” It is received, you see, not merely into the hand, but into the inward parts. When we drink water it enters into us, saturates us, becomes a part of our being, and helps to build up the fabric of our body: even so we must receive Jesus Christ into our innermost self, not professing to believe with the creed of the head, while the heart remains in unbelief; not paying to our Lord the empty compliment of praising his character while we reject his mission; but so trusting him, depending upon him, loving him, following him, yielding ourselves up to him, living upon him, living in him, that it may be clear that he has entered into and become one with us for ever. We need Christ in us, — Christ in the secret fountain of our being. The Holy Spirit must create in us a new heart and a right spirit, and then dwell in our renewed nature as a king in his palace. My brethren, be ye sure that this, is so with you; be not content with the outward name, which is no more a part of yourself than if it were a label hung about your neck: be not satisfied with mere externals which do not enter into the heart; never rest till ye have the divine life within. We need not the faith which prates and talks, but the faith which eats the flesh of the Son of Man and drinks his blood. What we want is not Jesus Christ pictured on the wall, nor his name on the lip, nor words about him from pious books; we want the Lord himself received into our heart — “Christ in you the hope of glory.” Oh for Christ living, dwelling, reigning within our entire nature, looking out from our eyes, speaking by our lips, blessing the poor by our hands, going about doing good with these feet, and magnifying God in these mortal bodies as once he did on earth in his own body. This, then, is true religion, — Jesus Christ received by an act of faith into our innermost soul. Dear friend, have you got this? Before we go an inch further let every man and woman among us press this question home. Do I know what it is to drink of the life-giving stream which Jesus Christ bestows?

     II. We notice in the second place THE SATISFYING POWER OF TRUE RELIGION. We are told in the text, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” Grace relieves our soulthirst as soon as it is received. In Eastern countries the idea of thirst is much more vivid than it is with us. Owing to the great heat and the dryness of the atmosphere, and the frequency with which thirst really happens to men, they feel it to be one of the severest physical sufferings. To the Oriental thirst would be a forcible metaphor of the longing of an awakened soul, let it be so to us. A man once startled from the sleep of sinful indifference so as to look about him, and to ask what he is, and where he is, and whither he is going, finds in his spirit an eager craving; he scarce knows what it is, nor what will satisfy it, but urged onward by an insatiable sense of need, he searches after a something which will fill what Dr. Watts has very aptly called the “aching void” within him. He tries the virtue of riches, but gold and silver cannot fill a soul: he seeks after knowledge, and it is no mean pursuit, but science has no well from which a weary spirit may be refreshed: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” It may be he dazzles his fancy with fame, or charms his eye with beauty, and his ear with music; but “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, thus saith the preacher,” and the preacher’s verdict finds a thousand echoes in experience. There is a horseleech in human nature which continually crieth, “Give, give and had it all the stars for a possession, it would still cry for more, for like the sea it cannot be quiet. Man, though he knows it not, wants his God, he needs reconciliation to his offended Maker, and until he gets it he cannot rest; he is like “a rolling thing before the whirlwind,” he is tossed up and down like a thistledown in the breeze, and like Noah’s dove, he finds no rest for the sole of his foot. He who believes in Christ has received the atonement, and finds in it an at-one-ment with God; the great quarrel is ended; his nature is also changed, and now he seeks after that which God delights in, and in the Lord his soul is satisfied. He has the new birth, he belongs to the family of God; he begins to understand divine realities, and to see them, taste them, handle them, and to find rest for his soul in them. “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

     Faith in Jesus quenches our souls’ thirst, and it continues to do so. This is the beauty of it. He that drinketh of the water from earth’s wells is refreshed, but after a little time the effect of his drinking is gone, and he thirsts again; but he that drinketh of the water that Christ shall give him, shall never thirst. That one draught has created in him an inexhaustible fountain of supply, which will satisfy his mouth with good things, so that his youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s. Though the thirst will for ever strive to return, yet shall it be always met by the well within, which shall spring up into everlasting life. Accept the gospel of Christ, poor thirsty heart, and you have accepted a satisfaction which will endure as long as you endure. Glory be to God that we have such living water to present to you in Jesus Christ’s name this morning.

     Here is the secret cause of this abiding satisfaction— it continues because the grace continues. Our Lord adds, “The water that I shall give him shall be in him.” The water drank to-day has its uses and is gone; it serves our present purpose and disappears; but he that drinks of the water which Jesus gives, has it always in him, and hence he enjoys always a freedom from spiritual thirst. Whatever effect the grace of God produces to-day, it will be capable of producing the same to-morrow, and other effects as they shall be required, for it retains its potency, and the same cause will produce the same effect. O matchless draught, which never leaves the man who drinks it, but remains in him, as part and parcel of his noblest self, for ever contenting his whole nature, and causing rivers of living water to flow out of him, even the Spirit which those who believe in Jesus have received. Well may every instructed heart pray, “Lord, give us of this water.”

     Now this final and abiding removal of thirst by a draught of grace, which remains in the man, is a matchless blessing, and averts a thousand ills. It is often useful to measure our mercies by their negative aspect, asking ourselves, What should we have been without them? O sinner, without the living water, thou art thirsting now, or if not thirsting, a deadly stupor is upon thy soul, which is worse than thirst. How mournful is thy condition! And yet, my brother in the Lord, thou hadst been in a like pitiable case hadst thou not believed; thou hadst been cast into the same lethargic sleep with which sin steeps the senses of thy fellow-man; or hadst thou been awakened out of that sleep, thou hadst been in bondage to fears, and dreads and horrors innumerable. Now would sin have been as a burning fever to thy nature, and all the joys of earth a mockery to thine anguish. Now wouldst thou kave been crushed beneath an awful sense of present wrath, and a deadly fear of coming judgment; perhaps also at this time thou hadst been going from bad to worse, trying to satisfy thy cravings with the delusions of Satan, poisoning thy heart by drinking down what seemed to be water, but turned out to be liquid fire, inflaming tby passion* with intoxicating vices, and preparing in thy heart a flame which shall burn even to the lowest hell. Thy fleshly lusts might at this hour have been steeling thy spirit more and more with a dreadful hate of God, and proud disdain of his gospel. Ah, perhaps at this moment thou wouldst have been in hell, where thirst rages both in body and in soul for ever, and not a drop of water can be found to allay the torment. But now thou hast drunk of what Jesus Christ has given thee, and thou art satisfied, and at peace. Blessed be the Lord for this. The ills averted and the good bestowed thou canst not sufficiently calculate, but thou canst to-day adore that dear hand which bestowed this matchless draught upon thee.

     I think I hear some one interpose the observation that there is still in the believer a thirst. I answer, yes, it is true, and blessed be God for it. We sang right well in our hymn just now —

“I thirst, but not as once I did,
The vain delights of earth to share;
Thy wounds, Immanuel, all forbid
That I should find my pleasure there.”

The moment a man knows Christ he thirsts to know more of him; but there is a very great difference between the thirsting of horrible, unappeased longings, and the thirsting of unutterable joy which longs to continue, and of burning love which fain would know more and more of its adorable Lord. The inward desires of the Christian after more holiness, more communion with God, and more love to Christ, are not so much a thirst for grace as the bubblings up of the well of spiritual life which is in the soul already. I would not wish to be in such a state as to be satisfied with myself, or satisfied with my attainments. Satisfied with Christ the Christian always is, but altogether and entirely satisfied with his own realisation of the blessings which Jesus brings, so as to desire no more, I think he never will be till he gets to heaven. Have you never heard of that great painter who one day breaking his palette, and putting aside his brush, said to a friend that he should paint no more, for his day was over; and when his friend inquired why he had come to that singular conclusion, he said, “Because the last painting which I executed perfectly contented me, and therefore I feel that the high ideal which led me on has departed and I shall succeed no more.” It is so. There is in every man who is a master of his art a high ideal after which he strains, and the fact that he has that ideal ever above him is one of the tokens of his lofty genius. I suppose that Milton as a poet never reached the “height of that great argument” as he desired to reach it: when he had composed a portion of his wondrous epic he would feel that his thoughts were above his words, and that he had an inner unshaped conception towering higher than his actually formed and shapen thoughts. He was a poet because that was the case, and other rhymesters are not poets because their verses please them. That man is holy who mourns the unholiness of his holiest deeds, and that man is no longer holy who conceives himself to be without sin and to have reached the highest attainable excellence. The mariner who has reached the Ultima Thule, and dreams that he has cast anchor hard by earth’s utmost bound where the universe comes to an end, will never be a Columbus. Up with your anchor, my brother, for there are wide seas beyond, and a land of gold across the main. Self-satisfaction is the grave of progress; he who thinks himself perfect is never likely to be so. Brethren, shun the spirit of self-content. Whatever doctrinal views you may hold as to the higher life, I will not dispute with you, but practically I beseech you to shun the spirit which lulls the heart into soft slumbers by the music of spiritual flattery. Whoever you are, I make bold to say that you are not all you should be, nor all you can be. There is a blessed hungering and thirsting after righteousness, a panting after God as the hart panteth after the water brooks, which still abides in the Christian, but it is in no degree akin to the thirst which is mentioned in the text. Grace in the heart gives rest, peace, joy, and holy calm of soul; it satisfies our cravings and fills our largest desires, and all because by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit it daily enables us to realise Jesus and God in Jesus. What fulness there is in him: —

“In want, my plentiful supply;
In weakness, my almighty power;
In bonds, my perfect liberty;
My refuge in temptation’s hour;
My comfort ’midst all grief and thrall,
My life in death, my all in all.”

     III. Having noticed the way of obtaining true religion, and the satisfying effect of it, we will now observe ITS ABIDING CHARACTER. “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” There is a theory of religion which supposes that a man may be regenerated, and yet may so depart from the Lord that the inner life may become extinct, and I have met with persons of whom I have been told that they have been born again three or four times, — that after experiencing regeneration they had fallen from grace altogether, and yet had been renewed again unto repentance. I must confess I have not believed what I have been told, for it is contrary to those many scriptures which declare that “if these shall fall away it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance,” for “if the salt have lost its savour wherewith shall it be seasoned.” My heart believes, and as I read the Scriptures I believe it more and more, that where a good work is begun by God, he will carry it on, and that the new life bestowed upon us is an incorruptible seed which liveth and abideth for ever, so that “the righteous shall hold on his way and he that hath clean hands shall wax stronger and stronger.” Notice how the text describes the matter. “The water that I shall give him shall be in him; — not of him, not upon him, not around him, but in him, and hence it cannot be lost. You know how we use that expression. Here is a man trying to write poetry; (Ah, how many are guilty of that folly) but it is not in him, and it cannot come out of him; so he rhymes his nonsense, but a poet he never becomes; but if a man has it in him who can take it away? Another sits down to paint; but if it is not in him he becomes eminent in the school of Van Daub, but reaches no further, it is not in him; but if in him who shall deprive him of the gift? True religion is, however, more than a faculty, it is a new life, and so is even more abidingly in the man than my illustration sets forth. The poet may be despoiled of his goods, he may be deprived of his liberty, he may be shut up within iron bars, but he sings still; you cannot rob him of his poetic faculty, for it is in him. The artist may scarce be allowed a ray of light in the dark dungeon into which he is thrust, but he follows the lone sunbeam around his prison wall, and works by its light, for his art is in him. We all agree with the remark that it is better to give a lad ah education than a fortune, for the one he carries in him and cannot lose, but the other may soon be gone, since it is no part of himself. That part of our inheritance which we carry in us is beyond the thief’s cunning and the tyrant’s power. If we have the grace of God we shall have it still, for Jesus says — “it shall be in him.” Blessed be God it is not in our frail body nor in our feeble mind, but in our heaven-born spirit, and so it is in that part of our nature which death itself cannot cause to die, which no power on earth is able to touch. If religion were a garb it could be laid aside; if it were a rite its efficacy might cease; but since it is a life, a vital principle, an essential part of our new nature, and is interwoven with the warp and woof of our renewed manhood, it is ours eternally. Christ has said it, and we believe it, “The water that I shall give him shall be in him,” and in us it shall be as long as we live.

     Our Lord also promises that this water shall be in the man “a well of living water.” It shall always remain in him as an operative force, full of freshness and life. It shall not be there like water in a cistern, which may gradually evaporate, and cannot have the freshness of spring water; nor as a stagnant pool which becomes useless and even pestilential to all around. It shall not even be as water forced into our houses by pressure, it shall have an upspringing power of its own. It shall be as permanent and changeless as Jacob’s well which was there in the patriarch’s day, and is there still as full as ever; it shall be ever new, yet ever the same; it shall have an energy and force in it which shall cause a perpetual uprising in the soul. Like the village brook born at the spring-head our new life shall flow on, and as it flows it shall sing,

“Men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.”

As surely as the well continues to fill itself without machinery of man’s invention, or force-pump of earthly power, so surely shall the new life within the Christian continue to stir and move and bubble up. There will always be in it a vitality which comes from the quickening Spirit. Mechanical religion, which consists in ceremonies and observances, is a very stale thing. I should think after seeing the mass, or any other Popish display some fifty times, it must become rather a dreary business, however prettily the show may be arranged; and the mere repetition of a liturgical service, without heart, with the same words and tones, must become very monotonous; certainly extempore prayer and the most varied service is heavy enough when the soul is taken out of it. Anything which has not spiritual life in it becomes in due time insipid, flat, wearisome. As well be a blind horse going round in a mill as the performer of religious acts without the inner life. Coming to this place, and sitting in these seats, and listening to me may soon become a piece of mere clockwork to you if your hearts are not alive towards God. How very different is worship, in spirit and in truth. Real inward vitality is as perpetually beautiful as the sea, which never appears to be twice alike, though it is ever the same; or like the rising of the sun, a perpetual novelty, for ever exhibiting some new phase of glory. It is a joy to me to linger near a spring, and mark the widening circles, the countless wavelets, the sparkling ripples, and the translucent streams, which in their perpetual variety and laughing joyousness are the very image of youth and freshness.

     True religion is like a well, because it is independent of its surroundings, in summer and in winter does it flow. The pond overflows because there has been a shower of rain, but the deep well is full in the drought, and the villagers flock to it in the dryest season, for they never knew it fail. Its secret sources are too abundant to be affected by a few weeks of parching heat. Would you go in search of them, they are far away on yonder cloud-capped hills, where the river of God which is full of water, empties itself into reservoirs which the Lord has digged. “I will look unto the hills from whence cometh my help,” saith the Christian. He directs his expectations to the all-sufficiency of God, and sings, “All my fresh springs are in thee.” He knows that it is the Lord who “sendeth the springs into the valleys which run among the hills.” The believer is independent of his outward surroundings, he is not exalted by riches, nor crushed by poverty; he trusts not in man whose breath is in his nostrils, for wherein is he to be accounted of. Nothing earthly can feed or famish the divine life in man, and even the visible means of grace are not absolutely needful to it, for concerning them it may be said, “man shall not live by bread alone.” Should a Christian be cast into a heathen land, or caled to live where truth has fallen in the streets, and zeal is dead, and corruption abounds, he is greatly tried, but still the inner well springs up, because his faith has tapped “the deep which lieth under,” and he draws his supplies from the infinity of God and not from outward ordinances. Elijah is strong amid idolators, Paul’s faith is vigorous on board ship among heathen, just as wells are found in places where all around is arid as a desert. Elim was in the wilderness, not in the king’s garden, and many a believer is found in a dry and thirsty land where no water is. God is infinite, and all-sufficient, and the man whose sources lie in the All-sufficient One receives of his fulness; and when natural religion and fleshly excitement are gone, the faith, and hope, and joy of vital godliness, manifest the dew of their youth. Alas, how often is the contrast seen! Do I not know some who were converted under a very earnest preacher, and as long as they heard him they remained in their apparent godliness, but when he was gone what became of them? I enquired the other day as to the permanent results of a certain revival, which at the time I hoped was a genuine one: some two or three hundred were added to a certain church, but the pastor left, and I asked his successor whether the converts remained, and he replied, “I cannot give a good account of them. Very few are with us now.” That is not a rare case, I have other instances within my knowledge where churches have been revived into absolute annihilation. The balloon has been filled till it burst. Warmed up into a furnace heat by tremendous blasts of excitement, a cold of corresponding intensity has set in when the heating apparatus has consumed its fuel. Not a word have I to say against real spiritual revivals, but I warn you excitable people that principle is the main matter, not passion. Give me a man who does not depend upon a preacher, nor drink in his inspiration from warmhearted friends, and crowded meetings, but has inward, vital experience by which he knows the Lord for himself, and has had personal dealings with a personal Saviour. Such a man will follow the Lamb though every preacher should die, and every outward ministry should be struck dumb at once. The indwelling power of the Holy Spirit rises superior to all disadvantages, like a spring which cannot be kept under, do what you may. Our engineers and builders know how hard it is to bind up the earth-floods from overflowing, and the spiritual floods are yet more unconquerable. It is wonderful how springs will bubble up in places where we least expect them. The great desert of Sahara will no doubt be made a very easy country to traverse, and, perhaps, may even become a fertile plain, from the fact that there is water everywhere at no very great depth below the surface, and where it is reached an oasis is formed. The government of Algeria has sent engineers into parts of the Sahara bordering on the French possession, and these men have bored the rock by Artesian wells, and greatly astonished the natives, for in the wilderness have waters leaped out and streams in the desert. At the magic touch of the living water, palm trees have sprung up and an undergrowth of vegetation, so that the solitary places have been made to sing together. When the Lord gives our souls to drink from the fountains of the great deep of his own eternal love, and to have a vital principle of grace within us, our wilderness rejoices and blossoms as the rose, neither can the Sahara around us wither our verdure ; our soul is as an oasis , though all around is barrenness. Happy is the man whose life is hid with Christ in God, for he shall be filled with all the fulness of God: —

“From thee the overflowing spring,
His soul shall drink a fresh supply;
While such as trust their native strength
Shall melt away and droop and die.”

When God shall fail, the believer will fail, but not till then; on him rests the blessing given to Joseph, securing to him the precious things of heaven, and of the dew and of the deep which coucheth beneath.

     Observers tell us, and we may have noticed ourselves, that wells are not always equally full, for verily earthly things must change, and none of them are full types of the heavenly. Springs which are never frozen in the coldest winter, and never dry in the hottest summer, yet exhibit certain ebbs and flows, and even so the Christian, because he is still in the body, is not always at his best, by reason of infirmity and fault. There are happy times when we overflow delightfully, and there are other seasons when we have to cry most anxiously, “Spring up, O well.” Yet, blessed be God, the well is always there, and as it is never disconnected from its springs, it never utterly fails. Our Lord says the well shall always be in us, and, therefore, we may exultantly cry, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Who shall destroy the life which is one with his? The notion that our Lord’s spiritual body is undergoing a constant change in the loss of its members and the growth of new ones is so strange, and withal so dishonouring to him, that I must leave its defence to those who can tolerate it. I believe that no member of Christ shall be amputated from his body, and “not a bone of him shall be broken.” He says, “I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” “Because I live, ye live also.” He has said moreover, “Verily, verily I say unto you, he that believeth in me hath everlasting life.” But a life which expires is not everlasting, and, therefore, we are sure that it will live on eternally. The principle implanted in us when we believe is an abiding one, for we were “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” If it be so, how can we perish? No, brethren, grace will remain in us, and the Lord will perfect that which concerneth us.

     The text further says it is a well which is springing, a well which never ceases to flow; upon which we will not dwell, only we will say this, that God worketh hitherto, and worketh ever; and therefore the life of God in the soul is usually operative in some form or other. The great motives which set the Christian working at first are as forcible in his old age as in his youth, and his obedience to them is even more complete, therefore he ceases not from spiritual activity. His soul bubbles up in prayer, and praise, and love, and hope, and joy evermore; he must do the will of him that sent him; he cannot but work out his own salvation, for God continues to work in him to will and to do of his good pleasure. Thus all that happens to a Christian, overruled by the grace of God, tends to keep him springing up. Is he surrounded by the wicked? He feels it his duty to bear his protest the more vigorously. Is he in the midst of the righteous? He owns that in such congenial society he ought to do more for Christ. Is he poor? He feels that he had need be rich in faith to sustain his spirits. Is he rich? He knows that uncertain riches are certain temptations, and that he needs great grace both to escape the snare and bear up under the responsibility of his station. Thus even adverse things are made to help him, and even as the Nile overflows in the hot season because of the melting of the snows on the far-off mountains, so does the inner life flow all the more when we might have imagined it would be drawn dry.

     The text adds, “Springing up into everlasting life — not to life merely but to that life which is everlasting, and I for one shall never be able to attach any meaning to the word everlasting but that of lasting for ever, even though it compels me to remain among those bigoted people who believe in the never-ending duration of future punishment. The believer lives on for ever, and grace blossoms into glory. The life of the saints on earth is of the same essence as the life of the saints in heaven; they receive no new life when they enter into glory, only that which they received in regeneration is purged from every hindrance, and is developed to perfection. Our life below tends in the same direction as the heavenly life, for both flow towards God, and seek his glory, and delight in fellowship with him. We have now within us the germs of the glorified character; a holy life, a humble life, an obedient life, a blessed life, we have ever here, and such is the life of the golden city. Our life is sustained by the same power as the life of those in heaven. “Because I live, ye shall live also,” is the life both of saints in heaven and saints on earth; it is guaranteed by the same covenant, and if a child of God on earth can perish, a child of God in heaven may for aught I can see. The fidelity which will keep the blessed is the same fidelity which preserves us while here below, and if our life, which is hid with Christ, can fail, I know not what additional security belongs to a soul in heaven.

     The whole text together gives us this full assurance, that if we have drunk of the water which Christ gives us, it cannot be extracted from us or fail to save us; it is a living well, and must spring up into everlasting life.

     The practical outcome of it all is just this. Let each one answer this question — where did you get your religion? Does any one reply, “I am of the religion of my father before me, and that’s enough for me.” Yes, that is what the old heathen chieftain said, when he had one foot in the baptismal font, and turned round to the missionary and asked where his ancestors’ souls were, and when he heard that they had gone to hell he said he would not be parted from them. I see no sense in such talk. 1 suppose if your parents had been blind you would have put your eyes out; or if they had been lame, you would have made yourself a cripple. No, dear friends, we should follow our parents so far as they followed Christ, but when they leave Jesus we must take another road! Where did you get your religion from? Is it of your own home manufacture? Is it the creature of your own power and will? Then it will come to nought. Nothing is worth having as to everlasting life but that which comes from the hand which was nailed to the cross, and there bought our redemption, and now freely bestows it upon us.

     The next question is, what has your religion done for you? Has it satisfied your heart? Does it bring rest to your soul? Has it quenched your thirst? Now, there are many religions in the world which do not profess to do this. When nine persons out of ten talk of what they call the Christian religion, their notion is that perhaps a man may know he is safe when he is dying, perhaps he may get his sins forgiven in the last solemn article, but as to any idea of being saved now, they do not comprehend it: their religion does not deal with present salvation. How few rejoice in that text, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” How few can say “Being justified by faith we have peace with God.” They think it presumption, for they are ignorant of the power of faith. Go to Jesus Christ then, dear friends, and receive from him the free gift of his mercy, and you will say “Lord, it is enough, my soul is satisfied.”

     The next question is this: Does your religion abide with you? You had great joy in it once? Do you possess it now? Is it in you? That religion which you can lose it might be well to lose at once, that you might be driven to seek a better; but that religion which you never can lose is the religion of Christ. Now for a straightforward question. Does your religion always dwell in you? I know some people whose godliness lies in their best hats. They put them on when Sunday comes round, and then they are wonderfully religious, and when they get into a place of worship they look into the hats to which they owe so much; but when the new garments are laid by, and the work-day hat is on, in which they go to the City or the workshop, they act as badly as other men. The Sunday bonnet and go-to-meeting dress make a deal of difference to some people. When the hymn book and the Bible are near at hand, they are devout; when the ledger and the day book are near what a change comes over the scene. Genuine religion is in a man, you cannot lay it aside as the soldier may hang up his sword or put away his regimentals, but you carry it with you everywhere, it is your delight to do so.

     Lastly, does your religion spring up within your soul by the secret energy of the Spirit of God? Do you feel emotions, longings, regrets and desires, arising in you without any outward prompting? You do not pray by order, but because you cannot help it: you are in need and must pray. Nobody stands by and says, “Lament before God;” you groan because you must groan, and sing because you feel like singing. You pray continually because your soul’s needs are constant, and you praise frequently because your soul’s gratitude bursts forth like a mighty spring. Your obedience does not arise from a law upon stone, but from a law written on your hearts, from life in you, from heavenly instinct, from the sacred impulses of the Spirit. “For me to live is Christ.” Happy is the man who feels the well within him bubbling up, so that it is in his very life to obey the Lord Jesus. God grant we all may drink of the living water for Jesus’ sake. Amen.



Providence – As Seen in the Book of Esther

By / Nov 2

Providence – As Seen in the Book of Esther

 
“Though it was turned to the contrary, that the Jews had rule over them that hated them.” — Esther ix. 1.

 

You are probably aware that some persons have denied the inspiration of the Book of Esther because the name of God does not occur in it. They might with equal justice deny the inspiration of a great number of chapters in the Bible, and of a far greater number of verses. Although the name of God does not occur in the Book of Esther, the Lord himself is there most conspicuously in every incident which it relates. I have seen portraits bearing the names of persons for whom they were intended, and they certainly needed them, but we have all seen others which required no name, because they were such striking likenesses that the moment you looked upon them you knew them. In the Book of Esther, as much as in any other part of the word of God, and I had almost committed myself by saying — more than anywhere else, the hand of Providence is manifestly to be seen.

     To condense the whole of the story of the Book of Esther into one sermon would be impossible, and therefore I must rely upon your previous acquaintance with it; I must also ask your patience if there should be more of history in the sermon than is usual with me. All Scripture is given by inspiration, and is profitable, whether it be history or doctrine. God never meant the Book of Esther to lie dumb, and whatever it seemed good to him to teach us by it, it ought to be our earnest endeavour to learn.

     The Lord intended by the narrative of Esther’s history to set before us a wonderful instance of his providence, that when we had viewed it with interest and pleasure, we might praise his name, and then go on to acquire the habit of observing his hand in other histories, and especially in our own lives. Well does Flavel say, that he who observes providence will never be long without a providence to observe. The man who can walk through the world and see no God, is said upon inspired authority to be a fool; but the wise man's eyes are in his head, he sees with an inner sight, and discovers God everywhere at work. It is his joy to perceive that the Lord is working according to his will in heaven, and earth, and in all deep places.

     It has pleased God at different times in history to startle the heathen world into a conviction of his presence. He had a chosen people, to whom he committed the true light, and to these he revealed himself continually: the rest of the world was left in darkness, but every now and then the divine glory flamed through the gloom, as the lightning pierces the blackness of tempest. Some by that sudden light were led to seek after God, and found him; others were rendered uneasy, and without excuse, though they continued in their blind idolatry. The wonderful destruction of Pharaoh and his armies at the Red Sea was a burst of light, which startled the midnight of the world by giving proof to mankind that the Lord lived, and could accomplish his purposes by suspending the laws of nature and working miracles. The marvellous drama enacted at Shushan, the capital of Persia, was intended to be another manifestation of the being and glory of God, working not as formerly, by a miracle, but in the usual methods of his providence, and yet accomplishing all his designs. It has been well said that the Book of Esther is a record of wonders without a miracle, and therefore, though equally revealing the glory of the Lord, it sets it forth in another fashion from that which is displayed in the overthrow of Pharaoh by miraculous power.

     Let us come now to the story. There were two races, one of which God had blessed and promised to preserve, and another of which he had said that he would utterly put out the remembrance of it from under heaven. Israel was to be blessed and made a blessing, but of Amalek the Lord had sworn that “The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” These two peoples were therefore in deadly hostility, like the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, between whom the Lord himself has put an enmity. Many years had rolled away; the chosen people were in great distress, and at this far off time there still existed upon the face of the earth some relics of the race of Amalek; among them was one descended of the royal line of Agag, whose name was Haman, and he was in supreme power at the court of Ahasuerus, the Persian monarch. Now it was God’s intent that a last conflict should take place between Israel and Amalek: the conflict which began with Joshua in the desert was to be finished by Mordecai in the king’s palace. This last struggle began with great disadvantage to God’s people. Haman was prime minister of the far-extending empire of Persia, the favourite of a despotic monarch, who was pliant to his will. Mordecai, a Jew in the employment of the king, sat in the king’s gate; and when he saw proud Haman go to and fro, he refused to pay to him the homage which others rendered obsequiously. He would not bow his head or bend his knee to him, and this galled Haman exceedingly. It came into his mind that this Mordecai was of the seed of the Jews, and with the remembrance came the high ambition to avenge the quarrel of his race. He thought it scorn to touch one man, and resolved that in himself he would incarnate all the hate of generations, and at one blow sweep the accursed Jews, as he thought them, from off the face of the earth. He went in to the king, with whom his word was power, and told him that there was a singular people scattered up and down the Persian empire, different from all others, and opposed to the king’s laws, and that it was not for the king’s profit to suffer them. He asked that they might all be destroyed, and he would pay into the king’s treasury an enormous sum of money to compensate for any loss of revenue by their destruction. He intended that the spoil which would be taken from the Jews should tempt their neighbours to kill them, and that the part allotted to himself should repay the amount which he advanced, thus he would make the Jews pay for their own murder, He had no sooner asked for this horrible grant than the monarch conceded it; taking his signet ring from off his finger, he bade him do with the Jews as seemed good to him. Thus the chosen seed are in the hands of the Agagite, who thirsts to annihilate them. Only one thing stands in the way, the Lord has said, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper, and every tongue that riseth against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.” We shall see what happens, and learn from it.

     I. First, we shall learn from the narrative that GOD PLACES HIS AGENTS IN FITTING PLACES FOR DOING HIS WORK. The Lord was not taken by surprise by this plot of Haman; he had foreseen it and forestalled it. It was needful, in order to match this cunning, malicious design of Haman, that some one of Jewish race should possess great influence with the king. How was this to be effected? Should a Jewess become Queen of Persia, the power she would possess would be useful in counteracting the enemy’s design. This had been all arranged years before Haman had concocted in his wicked heart the scheme of murdering the Jews. Esther, whose sweet name signifies myrtle, had been elevated to the position of Queen of Persia by a singular course of events. It happened that Ahasuerus, at a certain drinking bout, was so far gone with wine as to forget all the proprieties of eastern life, and send for his queen, Vashti, to exhibit herself to the people and the princes. No one dreamed in those days of disobeying the tyrant’s word, and therefore all stood aghast when Vashti, evidently a woman of right royal spirit, refused to degrade herself by being made a spectacle before that ribald rout of drinking princes, and refused to come. For her courage Vashti was divorced, and a new queen was sought for. We cannot commend Mordecai for putting his adopted daughter in competition for the monarch’s choice; it was contrary to the law of God, and dangerous to her soul in the highest degree. It would have been better for Esther to have been the wife of the poorest man of the house of Israel than to have gone into the den of the Persian despot. The Scripture does not excuse, much less commend, the wrong doing of Esther and Mordecai in thus acting, but simply tells us how divine wisdom brought good out of evil, even as the chemist distils healing drugs from poisonous plants. The high position of Esther, though gained contrary to the wisest of laws, was overruled for the best interests of her people. Esther in the king’s house was the means of defeating the malicious adversary. But Esther alone would not suffice; she is shut up in the harem, surrounded by her chamberlains and her maids of honour, but quite secluded from the outside world. A watchman is needed outside the palace to guard the people of the Lord, and to urge Esther to action when help is wanted. Mordecai, her cousin and foster-father obtained an office which placed him at the palace gate. Where could he be better posted? He is where much of the royal business will come under his eye, and he is both quick, courageous, and unflinching: never had Israel a better sentinel than Mordecai, the son of Kish, a Benjamite — a very different man from that other son of Kish, who had suffered Amalek to escape in former times. His relationship to the queen allowed him to communicate with her through Hatach, her chamberlain, and, when Hainan’s evil decree was published, it was not long before intelligence of it reached her ear, and she felt the danger to which Mordecai and all her people were exposed. By singular providences did the Lord place those two most efficient instruments in their places. Mordecai would have been of little use without Esther, and Esther could have rendered no aid had it not been for Mordecai. Meanwhile, there is a conspiracy hatched against the king, which Mordecai discovers, and communicates to the highest authority, and so puts the king under obligation to him, which was a needful part of the Lord’s plan.

     Now, brethren, whatever mischief may be brewing against the cause of God and truth, and I dare say there is very much going on at this moment, for neither the devil, nor the Jesuits, nor the atheists are long quiet, this we are sure of, the Lord knows all about it, and he has his Esther and his Mordecai ready at their posts to frustrate their designs. The Lord has his men well placed, and his ambushes hidden in their coverts, to surprise his foes. We need never be afraid but what the Lord has forestalled his enemies, and provided against their mischief.

     Every child of God is where God has placed him for some purpose, and the practical use of this first point is to lead you to inquire for what practical purpose has God placed each one of you where you now are? You have been wishing for another position where you could do something for Jesus: do not wish anything of the kind, but serve him where you are. If you are sitting at the King’s gate there is something for you to do there, and if you were on the queen’s throne, there would be something for you to do there; do not ask either to be gatekeeper or queen, but whichever you are, serve God therein. Brother, are you rich? God has made you a steward, take care that you are a good steward. Brother, are you poor? God has thrown you into a position where you will be the better able to give a word of sympathy to poor saints. Are you doing your allotted work? Do you live in a godly family? God has a motive for placing you in so happy a position. Are you in an ungodly house? You are a lamp hung up in a dark place; mind you shine there. Esther did well, because she acted as an Esther should, and Mordecai did well, because he acted as a Mordecai should. I like to think, as I look over you all, — God has put each one of them in the right place, even as a good captain well arranges the different parts of his army, and though we do not know his plan of battle, it will be seen during the conflict that he has placed each soldier where he should be. Our wisdom is not to desire another place, nor to judge those who are in another position, but each one being redeemed with the precious blood of Jesus, should consecrate himself fully to the Lord, and say, “Lord, what would thou have me to do, for here I am, and by thy grace I am ready to do it.” Forget not then the fact that God in his providence places his servants in positions where he can make use of them.

     II. Secondly, the Lord not only arranges his servants, but HE RESTRAINS HIS ENEMIES. I would call your attention particularly to the fact that Haman, having gained a decree for the destruction of all the Jews upon a certain day, was very anxious to have his cruel work done thoroughly, and therefore, being very superstitious and believing in astrology, he bade his magicians cast lots that he might find a lucky day for his great undertaking. The lots were cast for the various months, but not a single fortunate day could be found till hard by the close of the year, and then the chosen day was the thirteenth of the twelfth month. On that day the magicians told their dupe that the heavens would be propitious, and the star of Haman would be in the ascendant. Truly the lot was cast into the lap, but the disposal of it was of the Lord. See ye not that there were eleven clear months left before the Jews would be put to death, and that would give Mordecai and Esther time to turn round, and if anything could be done to reverse the cruel decree they had space to do it in. Suppose that the lot had fallen on the second or third month, the swift dromedaries and camels and messengers would scarcely have been able to reach the extremity of the Persian dominions, certainly a second set of messengers to counteract the decree could not have done so, and, humanly speaking, the Jews must have been destroyed; but oh, in that secret council chamber where sit the sorcerers and the man who asks counsel at the hands of the infernal powers, the Lord himself is present, frustrating the tokens of the liars and making diviners mad. Vain were their enchantments and the multitude of their sorceries; the astrologers, the star-gazers, and the monthly prognosticators were all fools together, and led the superstitious Haman to destruction. “Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, nor divination against Israel.” Trust ye in the Lord ye righteous, and in patience possess your souls. Leave your adversaries in the hands of God, for he can make them fall into the snare which they have privily laid for you.

     Notice attentively that Haman selected a mode of destroying the Jews which was wonderfully overruled for their preservation. They were to be slain by any of the people among whom they lived who chose to do so, and their plunder was to reward their slayers. Now, this was a very cunning device, for greed would naturally incite the baser sort of men to murder the thrifty Jews, and no doubt there were debtors who would also be glad to see their creditors disposed of: but see the loophole for escape which this afforded! If the decree had enacted that the Jews should be slain by the soldiery of the Persian empire it must have been done, and it is not easy to see how they could have escaped, but, the matter being left in private hands, the subsequent decree that they might defend themselves, was a sufficient counteraction of the first edict. Thus the Lord arranged that the wisdom of Haman should turn out to be folly after all.

     In another point, also, we mark the restraining hand of God: namely, that Mordecai, though he had provoked Haman to the utmost, was not put to death at once. Haman “refrained himself.” Why did he do so? Proud men are usually in a mighty tiff if they consider themselves insulted, and are ready at once to take revenge; but Haman “refrained himself;” until that day in which his anger burned furiously, and he set up the gallows, he smothered his passion. I marvel at this; it shows how God makes the wrath of man to praise him, and the remainder he doth restrain. Mordecai must not die a violent death by Hainan’s hand The enemies of the church of God, and of his people, can never do more than the Lord permits; they cannot go a hair’s breadth beyond the divine license, and when they are permitted to do their worst there is always some weak point about all that they do, some extreme folly which renders their fury vain. The wicked carry about them the weapons of their own destruction, and when they rage most against the Most High, the Lord of all brings out of it good for his people and glory to himself. Judge not providence in little pieces, it is a grand mosaic, and must be seen as a whole. Say not of any one hour “This is dark,” — it may be so, but that darkness will minister to the light, even as the ebon gloom of midnight makes the stars appear the more effulgent. Trust ye in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Jehovah there is everlasting strength. His wisdom will undermine the mines of cunning, his skill will overtop the climbings of craft; “he taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong.”

     III. Next we will notice that GOD IN HIS PROVIDENCE TRIES HIS PEOPLE. You must not suppose that those who are God’s servants will be screened from trial; that is no part of the design of providence. “If ye be without chastisement,” says the apostle, “then are ye bastards and not sons.” God’s intent is to educate his people by affliction, and we must not therefore dream that an event is not providential because it is grievous, nay, ye may count it to be all the more so, for “the Lord trieth the righteous.” Observe that God tried Mordecai; he was a quiet old man, I have no doubt, and it must have been a daily trial to him to stand erect, or to sit in his place when that proud peer of the realm went strutting by. His fellow servants told him that the King has commanded all men to pay homage to Haman, but he held his own, not, however, without knowing what it might cost him to be so sternly independent. Haman was an Amalekite, and the Jew would not bow before him. But what a trouble it must have been to the heart of Mordecai, when he saw the proclamation that all the Jews must die: the good man must have bitterly lamented his unhappy fate in being the innocent cause of the destruction of his nation. “Perhaps,” he thought within himself, “I have been too obstinate. Woe is me; my whole house, and my whole people are to be slain because of what I have done.” He put on sackcloth and cast ashes on his head, and was full of sorrow, a sorrow which we can hardly realise; for even if you know you have done right, yet if you bring down trouble, and especially destruction, upon the heads of others it cuts you to the quick. You could bear martyrdom for yourself, but it is sad to see others suffer through your firmness.

     Esther also had to be tried. Amid the glitter of the Persian court she might have grown forgetful of her God, but the sad news comes to her, “Your cousin and your nation are to be destroyed.” Sorrow and dread filled her heart. There was no hope for her people, unless she would go in unto the king — that despot from whom one angry look would be death; she must risk all, and go unbidden into his presence, and plead for her nation. Do you wonder that she trembled? Do you marvel that she asked the prayers of the faithful? Are you surprised to see both herself and her maids of honour fasting and lamenting before God? Do not think, my prosperous friend, that the Lord has given you a high place that you may escape the trials which belong to all his people: yours is no position of ease, but one of the hottest parts of the battle. Neither the lowest and most quiet position, nor the most public and exposed condition will enable you to escape the “much tribulation” through which the church militant must fight its way to glory. Why should we wish it? Should not the gold be tested in the crucible? Should not the strong pillar sustain great weights? When the Menai bridge was first flung across the straits the engineer did not stipulate that his tube should never be tried with great weights; on the contrary, I can imagine his saying, “Bring up your heaviest trains and load the bridge as much as ever you will, for it will bear every strain.” The Lord trieth the righteous because he has made them of metal Which will endure the test, and he knows that by the sustaining power of his Holy Spirit they will be held up and made more than conquerors; therefore is it a part of the operation of providence to try the saints. Let that comfort those of you who are in trouble at this time.

     IY. But we must pass on to note, fourthly, that THE LORD S WISDOM IS SEEN IN ARRANGING THE SMALLEST EVENTS SO AS TO PRODUCE GREAT RESULTS. We frequently hear persons say of a pleasant or a great event, “What a providence!” while they are silent as to anything which appears less important, or has an unpleasant savour. But, my brethren, the place of the gorse upon the heath is as fixed as the station of a king, and the dust which is raised by a chariot-wheel is as surely steered by providence as the planet in its orbit. There is as much providence in the creeping of an aphis upon a rose leaf as in the marching of an army to ravage a continent. Everything, the most minute as well as the most magnificent, is ordered by the Lord who has prepared his throne in the heavens, whose kingdom ruleth over all. The history before us furnishes proof of this.

     We have reached the point where Esther is to go in unto the king and plead for her people. Strengthened by prayer, but doubtless trembling still, Esther entered the inner court, and the king’s affection led him instantly to stretch out the golden sceptre. Being told to ask what she pleases, she invites the king to come to a banquet, and bring Haman with him. He comes, and for the second time invites her to ask what she wills to the half of his kingdom. Why, when the king was in so kind a spirit, did not Esther speak? He was charmed with her beauty, and his royal word was given to deny her nothing, why not speak out? But no, she merely asks that he and Haman will come to another banquet of wine to-morrow. O, daughter of Abraham, what an opportunity hast thou lost! Wherefore didst thou not plead for thy people? Their very existence hangs upon thy entreaty, and the king has said, “What wilt thou?” and yet thou art backward! Was it timidity? It is possible. Did she think that Haman stood too high in the king’s favour for her to prevail? It would be hard to say. Some of us are very unaccountable, but on that woman’s unaccountable silence far more was hanging than appears at first sight. Doubtless she longed to bring out her secret, but the words came not. Tod was in it; it was not the right time to speak, and therefore she was led to put off her disclosure. I dare say she regretted it, and wondered when she should be able to come to the point, but the Lord knew best. After that banquet Haman went out joyfully at the palace gate, but being mortified beyond measure by Mordecai’s unbending posture, he called for his wife and his friends, and told them that his riches and honours availed him nothing so long as Mordecai, the Jew, sat in the king’s gate. They might have told him, “You will destroy Mordecai and all his people in a few months, and the man is already fretting himself over the decree; let him live, and be you content to watch his miseries and gloat over his despair!” But no, they counsel speedy revenge. Let Mordecai be hanged on a gibbet on the top of the house, and let the gallows be set up at once, and let Haman early in the morning ask for the Jew’s life, and let his insolence be punished. Go, call the workmen, and let the gallows be set up at a great height that very night. It seemed a small matter that Haman should be so enraged just at that hour, but it was a very important item in the whole transaction, for had he not been so hasty he would not have gone so early in the morning to the palace, and would not have been at hand when the king said, “Who is in the court?”

     But what has happened? Why, that very night, when Haman was devising to hang up Mordecai, the king could not sleep. What caused the monarch’s restlessness? Why happened it on that night of all others? Ahasuerus is master of one hundred and twenty and seven provinces, but not master of ten minutes’ sleep. What shall he do? Shall he call for soothing instruments of music, or beguile the hours with a tale that is told, or with a merry ballad of the minstrel? No, he calls for a book. Who would have thought that this luxurious prince must listen to a reader at dead of night. “Bring a book!” What book? A volume perfumed with roses, musical with songs, sweet as the notes of the nightingale? “No, bring the chronicles of the empire.” Dull reading, that! But there are one hundred and twenty seven provinces, — which volume shall the page bring from the recorder’s shelves? He chose the record of Shushan the royal city. That is the centre of the empire, and its record is lengthy, in which section shall the reader make a beginning? He may begin where he pleases, but ere he closes the book the story of the discovery of a conspiracy by Mordecai has been read in the king’s hearing. Was not this a singular accident? Singular if you like, but no accident. Out of ten thousand other records the reader pitches upon that one of all others. The Jews tell us that he began at another place, but that the book closed and fell open at the chapter upon Mordecai. Be that as it may, this is certain, that the Lord knew where the record was, and guided the reader to the right page. Speaking after the manner of men, there were a million chances against one that the king of Persia should, in the dead of the night, be reading the chronicle of his own kingdom, and that he should light upon this particular part of it. But that was not all, the king is interested, he had desired to go to sleep, but that wish is gone, and he is in haste to act. He says, “This man Mordecai has done me good service, has he been rewarded?” “No.” Then cries the impulsive monarch, “He shall be rewarded at once. Who is in the court?” It was the most unlikely thing in the world for the luxurious Ahasuerus to be in haste to do justice, for he had done injustice thousands of times without remorse, and chiefly on that day when he wantonly signed the death warrant of that very Mordecai and his people. For once, the king is intent on being just, and at the door stands Haman, — but you know the rest of the story, and how he had to lead Mordecai in state through the streets. It seems a very small matter whether you or I shall sleep to-night or toss restlessly on our beds, but God will be in our rest or in our wakefulness; we know not what his purpose may be, but his hand will be in it, neither doth any man sleep or wake but according to the decree of the Lord.

     Observe well how this matter prepared the way for the queen at the next banquet; for when she unfolded her sorrow and told of the threatened destruction of the Jews, and pointed to that wicked Haman, the king must have been the more interested and ready to grant her request, from the fact that the man who had saved his life was a Jew, and that he had already awarded the highest honours to a man in every way fitted to supersede his worthless favourite. All was well, the plotter was unmasked, the gibbet ready, and he who ordered it was made to try his own arrangements.

     V. Our next remark is THE LORD IN HIS PROVIDENCE CALLS HIS OWN SERVANTS TO BE ACTIVE. This business was done, and well done, by divine providence, but those concerned had to pray about it. Mordecai and all the Jews outside in Shushan fasted, and cried unto the Lord. Unbelievers inquire, “What difference could prayer make?” My brethren, prayer is an essential part of the providence of God, so essential, that you will always find that when God delivers his people, his people have been praying for that deliverance. They tell us that prayer does not affect the Most High, and cannot alter his purposes. We never thought it did; but prayer is a part of the purpose and plan, and a most effective wheel in the machinery of providence. The Lord sets his people praying, and then he blesses them. Moreover, Mordecai was quite sure the Lord would deliver his people, and he expressed that confidence, but he did not therefore sit still: he stirred up Esther, and when she seemed a little slack, he put it very strongly, “If thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then enlargement •and deliverance will arise from another place, but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed.” Nerved by this message, Esther braced herself to the effort. She did not sit still and say, “The Lord will arrange this business, there is nothing for me to do,” but she both pleaded with God, and ventured her life and her all for her people’s sake, and then acted very wisely and discreetly in her interviews with the king. So, my brethren, we rest confidently in providence, but we are not idle We believe that God has an elect people, and therefore do we preach in the hope that we may be the means, in the hands of his Spirit, of bringing this elect people to Christ. We believe that God has appointed for his people both holiness here and heaven hereafter; therefore do we strive against sin, and press forward to the rest which remaineth for the people of God. Faith in God’s providence, instead of repressing our energies, excites us to diligence. We labour as if all depended upon us, and then fall back upon the Lord with the calm faith which knows that all depends upon him.

     VI. Now must we close our historical review with the remark that in the end THE LORD ACHIEVES THE TOTAL DEFEAT OF HIS FOES AND THE SAFETY OF HIS PEOPLE. Never was a man so utterly defeated as Hainan, never was a project so altogether turned aside. He was taken in his own trap, and he and his sons were hanged up on the gibbet set up for Mordecai. As for the Jews, they were in this special danger, that they were to be destroyed on a certain day, and though Esther pleaded with the king for their lives, he was not able to alter his decree, though willing to do so, for it was a rule of the constitution that the law of the Medes and Persians altered not. The king might determine what he pleased, but when he had once decreed it he could not change it, the people feeling it better to submit to the worst established law than to be left utterly to every capricious whim of their master. Now, what was to be done? The decree was given that the Jews might be slain, and it could not be reversed. Here was the door of escape, — another decree was issued giving the Jews permission to defend themselves, and take the property of any who dared to attack them; thus one decree effectually neutralized the other. With great haste this mandate was sent all over the kingdom, and on the appointed day the Jews stood up for themselves and slew their foes. According to their tradition nobody attempted to attack them except the Amalekites, and consequently only Amalekites were slain, and the race of Araalek was on that day swept from off the face of the earth. God thus gave to the Jews a high position in the empire and we are told that many became Jews, or were proselytes to the God of Abraham, because they saw what God had done. As I commenced by saying that God sometimes darted flashes of light through the thick darkness, you will now see what a flash this must have been. All the people were perplexed when they found that the Hebrews might be put to death, but they must have been far more astonished when the decree came that they might defend themselves. All the world enquired “Why is this?” and the answer was “The living God whom the Jews worship, has displayed his wisdom and rescued his people.” All nations were compelled to feel that there was a God in Israel, and thus the divine purpose was fully accomplished, his people were secured, and his name was glorified to the world’s end.

     From the whole we learn the following lessons.

     First, it is clear that the divine will is accomplished, and yet men are perfectly free agents. Haman acted according to his own will, Ahasuerus did whatever he pleased, Mordecai behaved as his heart moved him, and so did Esther. We see no interference with them, no force or coercion; hence the entire sin and responsibility rest with each guilty one, yet, acting with perfect freedom, none of them acts otherwise than divine providence had foreseen. “I cannot understand it,” says one. My dear friend, I am competed to say the same, — I do not understand it either. I have known many who think they comprehend all things, but I fancy they had a higher opinion of themselves than truth would endorse. Certain of my brethren deny free agency, and so get out of the difficulty; others assert that there is no predestination, and so cut the knot. As I do not wish to get out of the difficulty, and have no wish to shut my eyes to any part of the truth, I believe both free agency and predestination to be facts. How they can be made to agree I do not know, or care to know; I am satisfied to know anything which God chooses to reveal to me, and equally content not to know what he does not reveal. There it is; man is a free agent in what he does, responsible for his actions, and verily guilty when he does wrong, and he will be justly punished too, and if he be lost the blame will rest with himself alone: but yet there is One who ruleth over all, who, without complicity in their sin, makes even the actions of wicked men to subserve his holy and righteous purposes. Believe these two truths and you will see them in practical agreement in daily life, though you will not be able to devise a theory for harmonising them on paper.

     Next, we learn what wonders can be wrought without miracles. When God does a wonderful thing by suspending the laws of nature men are greatly astonished and say, “This is the finger of God”, but now-a-days they say to us, “Where is your God? He never suspends his laws now!” Now, I see God in the history Pharaoh, but I must confess I see him quite as clearly in the history of Haman, and I think I see him in even a grander light; for (I say it with reverence to his holy name) it is a somewhat rough method of accomplishing a purpose to stop the wheel of nature and reverse wise and admirable laws; certainly it reveals his power, but it does not so clearly display his immutability. When, however, the Lord allows everything to go on in the usual way, and gives mind and thought, ambition, and passion their full liberty, and yet achieves his purpose, it is doubly wonderful. In the miracles of Pharaoh we see the finger of God, but in the wonders of providence, without miracle, we see the hand of God. To-day, whatever the event may be, whether it be the war between the Germans and the French, or the march into Coomassie, or the change of our own government, the attentive eye will as clearly see the Lord as if by miraculous power the hills had leaped from their places, or the floods had stood upright as an heap. I am sure that God is in the world, ay, and is at my own fireside, and in my chamber, and manages my affairs, and orders all things for me, and for each one of his children. We want no miracles to convince us of his working, the wonders of his providence are as great marvels as miracles themselves.

     Next we learn how safe the church of God is. At one time the people of God seemed to be altogether in Haman's power. Nero once said that he wished his enemies had but one neck that he might destroy them all at a blow, and Haman seemed to have realised just such power. Yet the chosen nation was delivered, the Jewish people lived on until the Messiah came, and does exist, and will exist till they shall enjoy the bright future which is decreed for them. So is it with the church of God to-day. The foes of truth can never put out the candle which God has lit, never crush the living seed which the Lord Jesus has sown in his own blood-bought people. Brethren, be ye not afraid, but stablish your hearts in God.

     Again, we see that the wicked will surely come to an ill end. They may be very powerful, but God will bring them down. They may be very crafty, and may plot and plan, and may think that even God himself is their accomplice, because everything goes as they desire; but they may be sure their sin will find them out. They may dig deep as hell, but God will undermine them, and they may climb as high as the stars, but God will be above them to hurl them down. Wicked man, I charge you if you be wise, turn you from your career of opposition to the Most High, you cannot stand against him, neither can you outwit him. Cease, I beseech you, from this idle opposition, and hear the voice of his gospel which says, “Confess your sin and forsake it. Believe in Jesus, the Son of God, the great atoning sacrifice, and even you shall yet be saved.” If you do not so, upon your own head shall your iniquities fall.

     Last of all, let each child of God rejoice that we have a guardian so near the throne. Every Jew in Shushan must have felt hope when he remembered that the queen was a Jewess. To-day let us be glad that Jesus is exalted.

“He is at the Father’s side,
The Man of love, the crucified.”

How safe are all his people, for “if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” There is one that lieth in the bosom of God who will plead for all those who put their trust in him. Therefore be ye not dismayed, but let your souls rest in God, and wait patiently for him, for sooner shall heaven and earth pass away than those who trust the Lord shall perish. “They shall not be ashamed nor confounded, world without end.” Amen.



The Power of the Risen Saviour

By / Oct 25

The Power of the Risen Saviour

 

“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”— Matthew xxviii. 18— 20.

 

THE change from “the man of sorrows ” before his crucifixion to the “Lord over all” after his resurrection is very striking. Before his passion he was well known by his disciples, and appeared only in one form, as the Son of man, clad in the common peasant’s garment without seam, woven from the top throughout; but after he had risen from the dead he was on several occasions unrecognized by those who loved him best, and is once at least described as having appeared to certain of them “under another form.” He was the same person, for they saw his hands and his feet, and Thomas even handled him, and placed his finger in the print of the nails; but yet it would seem that some gleams of his glory were at times manifested to them, a glory which had been hidden during his previous life, save only when he stood on the Mount of Transfiguration. Before his death, his appearances were to the general public— he stood in the midst of Scribes and Pharisees and publicans and sinners, and preached the glad tidings; but now he appeared only to his disciples, sometimes to one, at another time to two, on one occasion to about five hundred brethren at once, but always to his disciples, and to them only. Before his death his preaching was full of parable, plain to those who had understanding, but often dark and mysterious even to his own followers, for it was a judgment from the Lord upon that evil generation that seeing they should not see, and hearing they should not perceive. Yet with equal truth we may say that our Lord before his death brought down his teaching to the comprehension of the uninstructed minds which listened to it, so that many of the deeper truths were slightly touched upon because they were not able to bear them as yet. Till his crucifixion he veiled the effulgence of many truths, but after his resurrection he spake no more in parables, but introduced his disciples into the inner circle of the great doctrines of the kingdom, and as it were showed himself face to face to them. Before his death the Lord Jesus was ever with his followers, and even the secret places of his retirement were known to them, but after he had risen he came and went among them at irregular intervals. Where he was during many of those forty days who among us can tell? He was seen in the garden upon Olivet, he walked to Emmaus, he comforted the assembly at Jerusalem, he showed himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, but where went he when, after the various interviews, he vanished out of their sight? They were in the room alone, the doors were shut, and suddenly he stood in the midst of them; again he called to them from the sea-beach, and on landing they found a fire of coals kindled, and fish laid thereon, and bread; his appearings were strange, and his disappearings equally so. Everything betokened that, after he had risen from the dead, he had undergone some marvellous change, which had revealed in him that which had been concealed before, though still his identity was indisputable.

     It was no small honour to have seen our risen Lord while yet he lingered here below. What must it be to see Jesus as he is now! He is the same Jesus as when he was here; yonder memorials as of a lamb that has been slain assure us that he is the same man. Glorified in heaven his real manhood sits, and it is capable of being beheld by the eye, and heard by the ear, but yet how different. Had we seen him in his agony, we should all the more admire his glory. Dwell with your hearts very much upon Christ crucified, but indulge yourselves full often with a sight of Christ glorified. Delight to think that he is not here, for he is risen; he is not here, for he has ascended; he is not here, for he sits at the right hand of God, and maketh intercession for us. Let your souls travel frequently the blessed highway from the sepulchre to the throne. As in Rome there was a Via Sacra along which returning conquerors went from the gates of the city up to the heights of the Capitol, so is there another Via Sacra which you ought often to survey, for along it the risen Saviour went in glorious majesty from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea up to the eternal dignities of his Father’s right hand. Your soul will do well to see her dawn of hope in his death, and her full assurance of hope in his risen life.

     To-day my business is to show, as far as God the Spirit may help me, first, Our Lords resurrection power; and secondly, Our Lords mode of exercising the spiritual part of that power so far as we are concerned.

     I. OUR LORD S RESURRECTION POWER. “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” At the risk of repeating myself, I should like to begin this head by asking you to remember last Sabbath morning’s sermon, when we went to Gethsemane, and bowed our spirits in the shade of those grey olives, at the sight of the bloody sweat. What a contrast between that and this! There you saw the weakness of man, the bowing, the prostrating, the crushing of the manhood of the Mediator; but here you see the strength of the Godman:— he is girt with omnipotence, though still on earth when he spoke these words he had received a privilege, honour, glory, fulness and power which lifted him far above the sons of men. He was, as Mediator, no more a sufferer, but a sovereign; no more a victim, but a victor; no more a servant, but the monarch of earth and heaven. Yet he had never received such power if he had not endured such weakness. All power had never been given to the Mediator if all comfort had not been taken away. He stooped to conquer. The way to his throne was downward. Mounting upon steps of ivory, Solomon ascended to his throne of gold; but Our Lord and Master descended that he might ascend, and went down into the awful deeps of agony unutterable that all power in heaven and earth might belong to him as our Redeemer and Covenant Head.

     Now think a moment of these words, “All power.” Jesus Christ has given to him by his Father, as a consequence of his death, “all power.” It is but another way of saying that the Mediator possesses omnipotence, for omnipotence is but the Latin of “all power.” What mind shall conceive, what tongue shall set in order before you, the meaning of all power? We cannot grasp it; it is high, we cannot attain unto it. Such knowledge is too wonderful for us. The power of self-existence, the power of creation, the power of sustaining that which is made, the power of fashioning and destroying, the power of opening and shutting, of overthrowing or establishing, of killing and making alive, the power to pardon and to condemn, to give and to withhold, to decree and to fulfil, to be, in a word, “head over all things to his church,” — all this is vested in Jesus Christ our Lord. We might as well attempt to describe infinity, or map the boundless as to tell what “all power” must mean; but whatever it is, it is all given to our Lord, all lodged in those hands which once were fastened to the wood of shame, all left with that heart which was pierced with the spear, all placed as a crown upon that head which was surrounded with a coronet of thorns.

     “All power in heaven” is his. Observe that! Then he has the power of God, for God is in heaven, and the power of God emanates from that central throne. Jesus, then, has divine power. Whatever Jehovah can do Jesus can do. If it were his will to speak another world into existence, we should see to-night a fresh star adorning the brow of night. Were it his will at once to fold up creation like a worn out vesture, lo the elements would pass away, and yonder heavens would be shrivelled like a scroll. The power which binds the sweet influences of the Pleiades and looses the bands of Orion is with the Nazarene, the Crucified leads forth Arcturus with his sons. Angelic bands are waiting on the wing to do the bidding of Jesus of Nazareth, and cherubim and seraphim and the four living creatures before the throne unceasingly obey him. He who was despised and rejected of men now commands the homage of all heaven, as “God over all, blessed for ever.”

     “All power in heaven” relates to the providential skill and might with which God rules everything in the universe. He holds the reins of all created forces, and impels or restrains them at his will, giving force to law, and life to all existence. The old heathen dreamed of Apollo as driving the chariot of the sun and guiding its fiery steeds in their daily course, but it is not so: Jesus is Lord of all. He harnesses the winds to his chariot, and thrusts a bit into the mouth of the tempest, doing as he wills among the armies of heaven and the inhabitants of this lower world. From him in heaven emanates the power which sustains and governs this globe, for the Father hath committed all things into his hands. “By him all things consist.”

     “All power” must include— and this is a practical point to us— all the power of the Holy Ghost. In the work which lies nearest our heart the Holy Spirit is the great force. It is he that convinces men of sin, and leads them to a Saviour, gives them new hearts and right spirits, and plants them in the church, and then causes them to grow and become fruitful. The power of the Holy Ghost goes forth among the sons of men according to the will of our Lord. As the anointing oil poured upon Aaron’s head ran down his beard, and bedewed the skirts of his garments, so the Spirit which has been granted to him without measure flows from him to us. He hath the residue of the Spirit, and according to his will the Holy Ghost goeth forth into the church, and from the church into the world, to the accomplishment of the purposes of saving grace. It is not possible that the church should fail for want of spiritual gifts or influence while her heavenly Bridegroom has such overflowing stores of both.

     All the power of the sacred Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit, is at the command of Jesus, who is exalted far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but in that which is to come.

     Our Lord also claimed that all power had been given to him on earth. This is more than could be truly said by any mere man; none of mortal race may claim all power in heaven, and when they aspire to all power on earth it is but a dream. Universal monarchy has been strained after; it has seldom, if ever, been attained; and when it seemed within the clutch of ambition it has melted away like a snowflake before the sun. Indeed, if men could rule all their fellows, yet they would not have all power on earth, for there are other forces which scorn their control. Fell diseases laugh at the power of men. The King of Israel, when Naaman came to him to be recovered of his leprosy, cried, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy?” He had not all power. Winds and waves, moreover, scorn mortal rule. It is not true that even Britannia rules the waves. Canute, to rebuke his courtiers, places his throne at the margin of the tide, and commands the billows to take care that they wet not the feet of their royal master; but his courtiers were soon covered with spray, and the monarch proved that “all power” was not given to him. Frogs and locusts and flies were more than a match for Pharaoh; the greatest of men are defeated by the weak things of God. Nebuchadnezzar, struck with madness and herding with cattle, was an illustration of the shadowy nature of all human power. The proudest princes have been made to feel by sickness, and pain, and death that after all they were but men; and oftentimes their weaknesses have been such as to make the more apparent the truth that power belongeth unto God, and unto God alone, so that when he entrusts a little of it to the sons of men, it is so little thus they are fools if they boast thereof. See ye, then, before us a wonder. A man who has power over all things on earth without exception, and is obeyed by all creatures, great and small, because the Lord Jehovah has put all things under his feet.

     For our purposes it will be most important for us to remember that our Lord has “all power” over the minds of men, both good and bad. He calleth whomsoever he pleaseth into his fellowship, and they obey. Having called them, he is able to sanctify them to the highest point of holiness, working in them all the good pleasure of his will with power. The saints can be so influenced by our Lord, through the Holy Ghost, that they can be impelled to the divinest ardours, and elevated to the sublimest frames of mind. Often do I pray, and I doubt not the prayer has come from you too, that God would raise up leaders in the church, men full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, standard-bearers in the day of battle. The preachers of the gospel who preach with any power are few; still might John say, “Ye have not many fathers.” More precious than the gold of Ophir are men who stand out as pillars of the Lord’s house, bulwarks of the truth, champions in the camp of Israel. How few are our apostolic men! We want again Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitfields, men fit to mark eras, whose names breathe terror in our foemen’s ears. We have dire need of such. Where are they? Whence will they come to us? We cannot tell in what farmhouse or village smithy, or school house such men may be, but our Lord has them in store. They are the gifts of Jesus Christ to the church, and will come in due time. He has power to give us back again a golden age of preachers, a time as fertile of great divines and mighty ministers as was the Puritan age, which many of us account to have been the golden age of theology. He can send again the men of studious heart to search the word and bring forth its treasures, the men of wisdom and experience rightly to divide it, the golden-mouthed speakers who, either as sons of thunder or sons of consolation, shall deliver the message of the Lord with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. When the Redeemer ascended on high he received gifts for men, and those gifts were men fitted to accomplish the edification of the church, such as evangelists, pastors, and teachers. These he is still able to bestow upon his people, and it is their duty to pray for them, and when they come, to receive them with gratitude. Let us believe in the power of Jesus to give us valiant men and men of renown, and we little know how soon he will supply them.

     Since all power on earth is lodged in Christ’s hands, he can also clothe any and all of his servants with a sacred might, by which their hands shall be sufficient for them in their high calling. Without bringing them forth into the front ranks he can make them occupy their appointed stations till he comes, girt with a power which shall make them useful. My brother, the Lord Jesus can make you eminently prosperous in the sphere in which he has placed you; my sister, your Lord can bless the little children who gather at your knee through your means. You are very feeble, and you know it, but there is no reason why you should not be strong in him. If you look to the strong for strength he can endue you with power from on high, and say to you as to Gideon, “Go in this thy might.” Your slowness of speech need not disqualify you, for he will be with your mouth as with Moses. Your want of culture need not hinder you, for Shamgar with his ox goad smote the Philistines, and Amos, the prophet, was a herdsman. Like Paul, your personal presence may be despised as weak, and your speech as contemptible, but yet like him you may learn to glory in infirmity, because the power of God doth rest upon you. Ye are not straitened in the Lord, but in yourselves, if straitened at all. You may be as dry as Aaron’s rod, but he can make you bud and blossom, and bring forth fruit. You may be as nearly empty as the widow’s cruse, yet will he cause you still to overflow towards his saints. You may feel yourself to be as near sinking as Peter amid the waves, yet will he keep you from your fears. You may be as unsuccessful as the disciples who had toiled all night and taken nothing, yet he can fill your boat till it can hold no more. No man knows what the Lord can make of him, nor what he may do by him, only this we do know assuredly that “all power” is with him by whom we were redeemed, and to whom we belong. Oh, believers, resort ye to your Lord, to receive out of his fulness grace for grace. Because of this power we believe that if Jesus willed he could stir the whole church at once to the utmost energy. Does she sleep? His voice can awaken her. Does she restrain prayer? His grace can stimulate her to devotion. Has she grown unbelieving? He can restore her ancient faith. Does she turn her back in the day of battle, troubled with scepticisms and doubts? He can restore her unwavering confidence in the gospel, and make her valiant till all her sons shall be heroes of faith and put to flight the armies of the aliens. Let us believe, and we shall see the glory of God. Let us believe, I say, and once again our conquering days shall come, when one shall chase a thousand, and two shall put ten thousand to flight. Never despair for the church; be anxious for her, and turn your anxiety into prayer, but be hopeful evermore, for her Redeemer is mighty and will stir up his strength. “The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” Degenerate as we are, there standeth one among us whom the world seeth not, whose shoe’s latchet we are not worthy to unloose: he shall again baptise us with the Holy Ghost and with fire, for “all power is given unto him.”

     It is equally true that all power is given unto our Lord over the whole of mankind, even over that part of the race which rejects and continues in wilful rebellion. He can use the ungodly for his purposes. We have it on inspired authority that Herod and Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatsoever the Lord’s hand and counsel determined before to be done. Their utmost wickedness did but fulfil the determinate counsel of God. Thus doth he make wrath of man to praise him, and the most rebellious wills to be subservient to his sacred purposes. Jesu’s kingdom ruleth over all. The powers of hell and all their hosts, with the kings of the earth, and the rulers set themselves and take counsel together, and all the while their rage is working out his designs. Little do they know that they are but drudges to the King of Kings, scullions in the kitchen of his imperial palace. All things do his bidding, his will is not thwarted, his resolves are not defeated; the pleasure of the Lord prospers in his hands. By faith I see him ruling and overruling on land and sea, and in all deep places. Guiding the decisions of parliaments, dictating to dictators, commanding princes, and ruling emperors. Let him but arise, and they that hate him shall flee before him; as smoke is driven, so will he drive them away; as wax melteth before the fire, so shall all his enemies perish at his presence.

     As to sinful men in general, the Redeemer has power over their minds in a manner wonderful to contemplate. At the present moment we very much deplore the fact that the current of public thought runs strongly towards Popery, which is the alias of idolatry. Just as, in Old Testament history, the people of Israel were always breaking away after their idols, so is it with this nation. The Israelites were cured of their sin for a little while, so long as some great teacher or judge had power among them, but at his death they turned aside to worship the queen of heaven or the calves of Bethel, or some other visible symbols. So it is now. Men are mad after the idols of old Rome. They are turning the old churches into joss-houses, and building new ones on all sides. Idol-temples are becoming as numerous in London as in Calcutta. The worshippers and priests call themselves Christians, but they might better call themselves wafer-worshippers or adorers of a fetish made of flour and water, for that is nearer the truth. Well, what next? Are we despairing? God forbid that we should ever despond while all power is in the hand of Jesus. He can turn the whole current of thought in an opposite direction, and that right speedily. Did you not observe when the Prince of Wales was ill some months ago that everybody paid respect to the doctrine of prayer? Did you not notice how the Times and other newspapers spoke right believingly as to prayer? At this moment it is fashionable to poohpooh the idea of God’s hearing our requests; but it was not so then. A great philosopher has told us that it is absurd to suppose that prayer can have any effect upon the events of life; but God has only to visit the nation with some judgment severely felt by all and your philosopher will become as quiet as a mouse. In the same way, I am firmly persuaded that, by one turn of the wheel of Providence, the Popery which is now so fashionable will be made, as it has been before, a red rag to set mobs a rioting, and my lords and ladies, instead of hastening to the Pope, will be most anxious to disown all connection with the whole concern. To my mind it matters very little which way these fine folks go at any time, except that they are the straws which show which way the wind blows. I repeat it, the current of thought can readily be turned by our Lord; he can as easily manage it as the miller controls the stream which flows over his wheel, or rushes past it. The times are safe in our Redeemer’s management, he is mightier than the devil, the Pope, the infidel, and the ritualist, all put together. All glory be to him who has all power in earth and heaven.

     So too, our Lord can give, and he does give to the people an inclination to hear the gospel. Never be afraid of getting a congregation when the gospel is your theme. Jesus, who gives you a consecrated tongue, will find willing ears to listen to you. At his bidding deserted sanctuaries grow crowded, and the people throng to hear the joyful sound. Ay, and he can do more than that, for he can make the word powerful to the conversion of thousands. He can constrain the frivolous to think, the obstinately heretical to accept the truth, and those who set their faces like a flint to yield to his gracious sway. He has the key of every human heart; he openeth, and no man shutteth: he shutteth, and no man openeth. He will clothe his word with power and subdue the nations thereby. It is ours to proclaim the gospel, and to believe that no man is beyond the saving power of Jesus Christ. Doubly dyed, yea, sevenfold steeped in the scarlet dye of vice, the sinner may be cleansed, and the ringleader in vice may become a pattern of holiness. The Pharisee can be converted— was not Paul? Even priests may be saved, for did not a great multitude of the priests believe? There is no man in any conceivable position of sin, who is beyond the power of Christ. He may be gone to the uttermost in sin, so as to stand on the verge of hell, but if Jesus stretch out his pierced hand, he will be plucked like a brand out of the burning.

     My soul glows as I think of what my Lord can do. If all power is given unto him in heaven and in earth, then this morning he could convert, pardon, and save every man and woman in this place; nay, he could influence the four millions of this city to cry, “What must we do to be saved?” Nor in this city only could he work, but throughout the whole earth: if it seemed good to his infinite wisdom and power he could make every sermon to be the means of conversion of all who heard it, every Bible and every copy of the Word to become the channel of salvation to all who read it, and I know not in how short a time the cry would be heard, “Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” Heard that cry shall be, rest assured of that. We are on the conquering side. We have with us One who is infinitely greater than all that can be against us, since “all power” is given unto him.

     Brethren, we have no doubts, we entertain no fears, for every moment of time is bringing on the grand display of the power of Jesus. We preach to-day, and some of you despise the gospel; we bring Christ before you, and you reject him; but God will change his hand with you before long, and your despisings and your rejectings will then come to an end, for that same Jesus who went from Olivet, and ascended into heaven, will so come in like manner as he was seen to go up into heaven. He will descend with matchless pomp and power, and this astonished world which saw him crucified shall see him enthroned; and in the self same place where men dogged his heels and persecuted him, they shall crowd around him to pay him homage, for he must reign, and put his enemies under his feet. This same earth shall be gladdened by his triumphs which once was troubled with his griefs. And more. You may be dead before the Lord shall come, and your bodies may be rotting in the tomb, but you will know that all power is his, for at the blast of his trumpet your bodies shall rise again to stand before his terrible judgment seat. You may have resisted him here, but you will be unable to oppose him then; you may despise him now, but then you must tremble before him. “Depart ye cursed,” will be to you a terrible proof that he has “all power,” if you will not now accept another and a sweeter proof of it by coming unto him who bids the labouring and heavy laden partake of his rest. “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”

     II. I have, secondly, by your patience, to show OUR LORD’S USUAL MODE OF EXERCISING HIS GREAT SPIRITUAL POWER. Brethren, the Lord Jesus might have said, “All power is given to me in heaven and earth; take ye then your swords and slay all these my enemies who crucified me.” But he had no thoughts of revenge. He might have said, “These Jews put me to death, therefore go ye straightway to the Isles and to Tarshish and preach, for these men shall never taste of my grace,” but no, he expressly said, “beginning at Jerusalem,” and bade his disciples first preach the Gospel to his murderers. In consequence of his having “all power” his servants were bidden to disciple all nations. My brethren, the method by which Jesus proposes to subdue all things unto himself appears to be utterly inadequate. To teach, to make disciples, to baptize these disciples, and to instruct them further in the faith! Good Master, are these the weapons of our warfare? Are these thy battleaxe and weapons of war? Not thus do the princes of this world contemplate conquest, for they rely on monster guns, ironclads, and engines of death-doing power. Yet what are these but proofs of their weakness? Had they all power in themselves they would not need such instruments. Only he who has all power can work his bidding by a word, and dispense with all force but that of love.

     Mark that teaching and preaching are the Lord’s way of displaying his power. To-day they tell us that the way to save souls is to rig out an altar with different coloured silks and satins, variable according to the almanack, and to array priests in garments of divers colours, “of divers colours of needlework, on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil,” and to make men wear petticoats, dishonourable to their sex. With these ribbons and embroideries, joined with incense burning, posturing, and incantations, souls are to be saved! “Not so,” saith the Master, but “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Do any of you fear that, after all, the preaching of the gospel will be defeated in this land of ours by these new editions of the old idolatry? God forbid. If there were only one of us left to preach the gospel, he would be a match for ten thousand priests. Only give us still the tongue which is set on fire by the Holy Ghost, and an open Bible, and one solitary preacher would rout the whole rabble of your monks and friars and father-confessors, sisters of misery, and nuns, and pilgrims, and bishops, and cardinals, and popes: because preaching and teaching and baptizing the disciples are Christ’s way, and priestcraft is not Christ’s way. If Christ had ordained sacramental efficacy it would succeed, but he has ordained nothing of the kind; his mandate is – All power is given unto me in heaven and earth, go ye, therefore, disciple, baptize, and then still further instruct in the name of the Triune God.

     My brethren, remember who the men were who were sent on this errand. The eleven who were foremost were mostly fishermen. Does the omnipotent Jesus choose fishermen to subdue the world? He does, because he needs no help from them; all power is his. We must have an educated ministry, they tell us; and by “an educated ministry” they mean, not the ministry of a man of common sense, clear head and warm heart, deep experience, and large acquaintance with human nature, but the ministry of mere classical and mathematical students, theorists, and novices, more learned in modern infidelities than in the truth of God. Our Lord, if he had wished to employ the worldlywise, might certainly have chosen an eleven in Corinth or in Athens who would have commanded general respect for their attainments, or he could have found eleven learned rabbis near at home; but he did not want such men: their vaunted attainments were of no value in his eyes. He chose honest, hearty men who were childlike enough to learn the truth, and bold enough to speak it when they knew it. The church must get rid of her notion that she must depend on the learning of this world. Against a sound education we cannot have a word to say, especially an education in the Scriptures, but to place learned degrees in the place of the gift of the Holy Spirit, or to value the present style of so-called culture above the spiritual edification of our manhood, is to set up an idol in the house of the living God. The Lord can as well use the most illiterate man as the most learned, if so it pleaseth him. “Go ye,” he said, “ye fishermen, go ye, and teach all to nations.” Carnal reason’s criticism on this is,— a feeble method to be worked out by feebler instruments!

     Now let it be noted here that the work of preaching the gospel, which is Christ’s way of using his power among men, is based only upon his having that power. Hearken to some of my brethren; they say, “You must not preach the gospel to a dead sinner, because the sinner has no power.” Just so, but our reason for preaching to him is that all power is given unto Jesus, and he bids us preach the gospel to every creature. “But when you tell a sinner to believe, you have not the power to make him believe.” Truly so, nor do we dream that we have, for all power lies in Christ. Neither in the sinner is there power to believe, nor in the preacher power to make him believe, all power is in our Lord. “But do you think,” say they, “that your persuasions will ever make a man repent and believe?” Certainly not. The power that leads men to repent and believe does not lie in rhetoric or in reason, or in persuasion, but in him who says, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” I tell you this, if my Lord and Master should bid me go to-morrow to Norwood cemetery and bid the dead to rise I would do it with as much pleasure as I now preach the gospel to this congregation; and I would do it for the same reason which now leads me to urge the unregenerated to repent and be converted; for I regard men as being dead in sin, and yet I tell them to live, because my Master commands me do so: that I am right in thus acting is proved by the fact that while I am preaching sinners do live; blessed be his name, thousands of them have been quickened into life. Ezekiel had to cry, “Ye dry bones, live.” What a foolish thing to say! But God justified his servant in it, and an exceeding great army stood upon their feet in what was once a large charnel house. Joshua’s men were bidden to blow their trumpets around Jericho— a most absurd thing to blow a trumpet to fetch city walls down— but they came down for all that. Gideon’s men were bidden simply to carry lamps within their pitchers, and to break their pitchers, and stand still and cry aloud, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon,”— a most ridiculous thing to hope by this means to smite the Midianites,— but they were smitten, for God never sends his servants on a fool’s errand. It pleases God by the foolishness of preaching to accomplish his divine purposes, not because of the power of preaching, nor the power of the preacher, nor any power in those preached to, but because “all power” is given unto Christ “in heaven and in earth,” and he chooses to work by the teaching of the Word.

     Our business, then, is just this. We are to teach, or as the Greek word has it, to make disciples. Our business is, each one according to the grace given, to tell our fellow men the gospel, and to try and disciple them to Jesus. When they become disciples, our next duty is to give them the sign of discipleship, by “baptising them.” That symbolic burial sets forth their death in Jesus to their former selves and their resurrection to newness of life through him. Baptism enrols and seals the disciples, and we must not omit or misplace it. When the disciple is enrolled, the missionary is to become the pastor, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The disciple is admitted into the school by obeying the Saviour’s command as to baptism, and then he goes on to learn, and as he learns he teaches others also. He is taught obedience, not to some things, but to all things which Christ has commanded. He is put into the church not to become a legislator or a deviser of new doctrines and ceremonies, but to believe what Christ tells him, and to do what Christ bids him. Thus our Lord intends to set up a kingdom which shall break in pieces every other; those who know him are to teach others; and so from one to the other, the wondrous power which Christ brought from heaven shall spread from land to land. See, then, my brethren, your high calling, and see also the support you have in pursuing it. In the van behold “all power ” going forth from Christ! In the rear behold the Lord himself,— “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” If you are enlisted in this army, I charge you be faithful to your great captain, do his work carefully in the way which he has prescribed for you, and expect to see his power displayed to his own glory.

     I would close this sermon very practically. The greater part of my congregation at this time consists of persons who have believed in Jesus, who have been baptised, and have been further instructed. You believe that Jesus has all power, and that he works through the teaching and preaching of the gospel, and therefore I wish to press you with a home question. How much are you doing as to teaching all nations? This charge is committed to you as well as to me; for this purpose are we sent into the world; ourselves receivers that we may be afterwards distributors. How much have you distributed? Dear brother, dear sister, to how many have you told the story of redemption by the blood of Jesus? You have been a convert now for some time: to whom have you spoken of Jesus, or to whom have you written? Are you distributing as best you can the words of others if you are not capable of putting words together yourself? Do not reply, “I belong to a church which is doing much.” That is not to the point. I am speaking of that which you are personally doing. Jesus did not die for us by proxy, but he bore our sins in his own body on the tree. I ask, then, what are you personally doing? Are you doing anything at all? “But I cannot go for a missionary,” says one. Are you sure you cannot? I have been long looking for a time when numbers of you will feel that you must go to preach the gospel abroad, and will relinquish comforts and emoluments for the Lord’s sake. I shall never feel that we have reached the full degree of Christian zeal until it becomes a very common thing among us to have young brethren, such as the two who left us a little while ago, consecrating themselves to the grandest of all services. Perhaps some among you have that intent half formed in your hearts; I hope you will not repress it, and that your parents will not hinder you from the blessed sacrifice. There can be no greater honour to a church than to have many sons and daughters bearing the brunt of the battle for the Lord. Lo, I set up a standard among you this day, let those whose hearts God has touched rally to it without delay. The heathen are perishing; they are dying by millions without Christ, and Christ’s last command to us is “Go ye, teach all nations:” are you obeying it? “I cannot go,” says one, “I have a family and many ties to bind me at home.” My dear brother, then, I ask you, are you going as far as you can? Do you travel to the utmost length of the providential tether which has fastened you where you are? Can you say “Yes.” Then, what are you doing to help others to go? As I was thinking over this discourse, I reflected how very little we were most of us doing towards sending the gospel abroad. We are, as a church, doing a fair share for our heathen at home, and I rejoice at the thought of it; but how much a year do you each give to foreign missions? I wish you would put down in your pocket-book how much you give per annum for missions, and then calculate how much per cent, it is of your income. There let it stand — “Item: Gave to the collection last April . . . Is.” One shilling a year towards the salvation of the world. Perhaps it will run thus — “Item: Income £5000, annual subscription to mission £1.” How does that look? I cannot read your hearts, but I could read your pocket-books and work a sum in proportion. I suggest that you do it yourselves, while I also take a look at my own expenditure. Let us all see what more can be done for the spread of the Redeemer’s kingdom, for all power is with him; and when his people shall be stirred up to believe in that power, and to use the simple but potent machinery of the preaching of the Gospel to all nations, then God, even our own God shall bless us, and all the ends of the earth shall fear him. Amen.