The New Fashion

By / Jun 22

The New Fashion

 

“And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.” — Mark ii.12.

 

IT is very natural that there should be many surprising things in the gospel, for it is beyond measure remarkable that there should be a gospel at all. As soon as I begin thinking of it I exclaim with Bunyan, “O world of wonders, I can say no less”; and I invite you all to join with the multitude in saying with the text, “We never saw it on this fashion.” When man had sinned God might instantly have destroyed our rebel race, or he might have permitted it to exist as the fallen angels do, in a state of enmity to all goodness, and in consequent misery. But he who passed the angels by took up the seed of Abraham and looked upon man— that insignificant item in the ranks of creatureship— and determined that man should experience salvation, and show forth his divine grace. It was a wonderful thing, to begin with, that there should be a gospel for men; and when we remember that the gospel involved the gift of the only-begotten Son of God, when we remember that it was necessary that God, the invisible Spirit, should be veiled in human flesh, that the Son of God should become the son of Mary, should be subject to pain and weakness, poverty and shame— when we remember all this, we may expect to find great wonders clustering round such a stupendous fact.

     Beholding God in human flesh, miracles no longer strike us as being at all marvellous, for the incarnation of God outmiracles miracle. But we must farther remember that in order to bring the gospel to us it was needful that God should in our nature offer atonement for human sin. Think of it! The holy God making atonement for sin! When the angels first heard of it they must have been lost in astonishment, for they “never saw it on this fashion.” Shall the offended die for the offender? Shall the judge bear the chastisement of the criminal? Shall God take upon himself the transgression of his creature? Yet so it has been, and Jesus Christ has borne, that we might never bear, the consequences of sin— nay, sin itself. “For the transgression of my people was he stricken.” Jesus was made a curse for us, as it is written, “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” Now, a commonplace result could not be imagined as growing out of a gospel sent to rebellious men, and a gospel involving the incarnation and the death of the Son of God. Everything in God’s creation is made to scale. There is a balance between the dewdrop on the rose and the most majestic of yonder orbs that adorn the brow of night. Law regulates everything, from a single drop of water to the ocean itself. Everything is proportionate, and therefore we are persuaded that in an economy in which we start with an incarnate God and an infinite atonement there must be something very striking; and we ought to be prepared frequently to exclaim, “We never saw it on this fashion.” Commonplaces are foreign to the gospel; we have entered the land of wonders, when we behold the love of God in Christ Jesus. Romance is out-romanced in the gospel. Whatever marvels men are able to imagine, the facts of God’s amazing grace are more extraordinary than anything imagination has ever conceived.

     I desire at this time to say two or three things to those who are not familiar with the gospel. Some have dropped in here to whom the gospel, as we believe it, is quite a new thing. I want to say to them, first, do not disbelieve it because it strikes you as being something very strange. In the second place, remember that in the gospel there must be amazing and surprising things; and we shall try to set them out before you, hoping that so far from your disbelieving them, faith may be wrought in your soul as you hear them. And, thirdly, if any of these strange things should have happened to you, and you should have to say, “We never saw it on this fashion,” then glorify God and give new honours to his name.

     I. First, then, DO NOT DISBELIEVE THE GOSPEL BECAUSE IT SURPRISES YOU. Remember, in the first place, that nothing stands so much in the way of real knowledge as prejudice. Our race might have known a great deal more of scientific fact if it had not been so largely occupied and captivated with scientific supposition. Take up books upon most sciences, and you will find that the main part of the material is an answer to divers theories that have been set up in ages gone by, or originated in modern times. Theories are the nuisances of science; the rubbish which must be swept away that the precious facts may be laid bare. If you go to the study of a subject, saying to yourself, “This is how the matter must shape itself,” having beforehand made up your mind what the facts ought to be, you will have put in your own way a difficulty more severe than the subject itself could place there. Prejudice is the stumbling-block of advance. To believe that we know before we do know is to prevent our really making discoveries and coming to right knowledge. When an observer first discovered that there were spots on the sun he reported it, but he was called before his father confessor and upbraided for having reported anything of the kind. The Jesuit father said that he had read Aristotle through several times, and he had found no mention in Aristotle of any spots in the sun, and therefore there could be no such things; and when the offender replied that he had seen these spots through glasses, the father told him that he must not believe his eyes: he must believe him, because it was certain, to begin with, that if Aristotle had not indicated the spots, spots there could not be, and he must not believe it. Now, there are some who come to hear the gospel in that spirit. They have a notion of what the gospel ought to be— a pretty firm and strong cast-iron creed of their own manufacturing, or an hereditary one which they have received with the old family chest of drawers; and they are therefore unprepared candidly to hear and learn, neither do they turn to Scripture to discover the mind of the Spirit of God, but to find some colour for their prejudices. It is easy to show a man a thing if he will open his eyes, but if he shuts his eyes, and resolves not to see, the task is difficult. You may light a candle pretty readily, but you cannot do so if it has an extinguisher over it; and there are persons who have extinguished their souls and covered them over with prejudices. They act as judges of what the gospel ought to be; and so, if there is anything said that does not suit their preconceived notions, straightway they are offended. This is very absurd, and in a matter in which our souls are concerned it is something worse than ridiculous: it is dangerous to the highest degree. We ought to come to the preaching of the word praying: “Lord, teach thou me: blessed Spirit guide me into all truth. Let me see a doctrine to be in thy word and I will accept it, though it should shock all my prejudices. Though it should seem to me to be a totally new thing, yet, if clearly it be the word of God, I am willing to receive it and to rejoice in it.” God give us such a spirit, so that when we have to say in the words of the text, “We never saw it on this fashion,” yet still our prejudices may not prevent our accepting the truth.

     Let us remember, dear friends, that many things which we know to be true would not have been believed by our fathers if they had been revealed to them. I feel morally certain that there were many generations of Englishmen who, if they could have been informed that men would travel at forty or fifty miles an hour over the surface of the earth, drawn without horses by a steam engine, would have shaken their heads, and laughed such a prediction to scorn. Even a little time ago, if some one had prophesied that we should be able to speak across the Atlantic in a single instant, and speedily obtain a reply, by a cable that should be laid along the ocean’s bottom, we ourselves could not have conceived it to be possible. How could it be? And yet these things are common every-day facts with us now. Do let us, therefore, expect that when we come to deal with what is more wonderful than creation, and far more wonderful than any of the inventions of man, we should meet with things which will be hard to be believed. Let us willingly give up our heart and soul to receive the impress of the truth, and constantly exercise a simple faith in what God reveals.

     It is well known that there are many things which are undoubted facts which certain classes of men find it hard to believe. Some time ago a missionary had told his black congregation that in the winter time the water in England became so hard that a man could walk upon it. Now, they believed a good deal that he had said, but they did not believe that, and they whispered to one another that the missionary was a great liar. One of them was brought over to England. He came over with the full conviction that it was a most ridiculous thing to suppose that any man could ever walk across a river. At last the frost came, the river was frozen over, and the missionary took his black friend down to it. The good man stood on the ice himself, but he could not persuade his convert to venture. “No,” he said, “he could not believe it.” “But you can see it, man!” said the other; “come along with you! Come here!” “No,” he said, “but I never saw it so. I have lived fifty years in my own country, and I never saw a man walk on a river before.” “But here I am doing it,” said the missionary, “come along with you!” and he seized his hand, and pulled so vigorously that at last the African tried the frozen water, and found that it did support his weight. Thus a statement proved to be none the less true because it was contrary to experience: the same rule holds good in the case of the gospel. Yet you must expect to find in it certain things which you could not have believed to be true; but if some of us have proved them to be facts, and are living in the daily enjoyment of them, do not stubbornly refuse to try them yourself. If we get you by the hand affectionately, and say, “Come on to this river of life; it will bear you; you can walk in safety here; we are doing so, and have done so for years”, do not act towards us as if we were deceivers, and do not put us off with the absurd argument that the gospel cannot be true because you have not hitherto tried it, and therefore have no experience of its power. Why, my dear friend, it may be true for all that, just as the ice was a matter of fact, though the friend from Africa had never seen it. He did find the ice a reality when he ventured upon it, and you will find Jesus Christ and the precious things of the gospel to be sure and firm and true, as we have found them to be, if you will only venture your soul upon them.

     I merely mention these things to prepare your mind for the full conviction that the fact that a gospel statement seems new and astonishing ought not to create unbelief in the mind. My beloved friend, it may be that you exclaim, “I cannot hope that my sin can be forgiven. I cannot imagine that my heart can be changed. I cannot suppose it possible that, by one simple act of faith, I could be a saved man.” No; but do you not see that every man measures things according to his own standard? We measure other people’s corn, but we always do it with our own bushel. We even try to measure God by our own standard, and there is a text which very sweetly rebukes us for it, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” What I consider it right to expect from God may, very naturally, be a very different thing from what God may be prepared to give me. Perhaps I judge of his behaviour towards me by what I deserve, and if I do so, what can I look for? Or, perhaps, I judge of his mercy by my own, and considering whether I could forgive to seventy times seven— whether, if often provoked, I could still overlook the transgression; I find in my own heart no very great powers of forgiveness; and then I conclude that God is as hard, and as unwilling to forgive, as I am. But we must not so judge. Oh, sinners, you must not do so! If you are longing for a great salvation you must not sit down and begin to calculate the Godhead by inches, and measure out the merit of Christ by ells, and calculate whether he can do this, or can do that. A God— what is there that he cannot do? Did Jesus make an atonement boundless as his nature? Then what sin is there which that atonement cannot wash away? Judge not the Lord according to human judgment. Know thou, O man, that he is no streamlet, or lakelet, which thou canst measure, and whose capacity thou canst calculate: he is a sea without a bottom and without a shore, and all thy thoughts are drowned when thou dost attempt to measure him. Lift up your thoughts as high as ever you will, and think great things of God, and expect great things from God; and when you shall have enlarged your expectation, and your faith shall have grown to its very utmost, God is able to do exceeding abundantly above what you ask, or even think. “Canst thou by searching find out God?” Dost thou expect that thou canst exceed him, and desire more and hope for more than he is able to give? Oh, it cannot be. Consider this— that you are very liable to make a mistake as to what the gospel is, because your mode of estimating it must naturally be a false one, since you judge only from what you know, and what you are capable of, while God is infinitely above all that you know or can conceive.

     Further, let me remind you, dear friend, you who are a stranger to the gospel, that, when we come to speak of it directly, you must not disbelieve it on account of its strangeness, for it is clear that many have made a mistake as to what the gospel is. The Jews who lived in our Saviour’s day heard the best preacher that ever preached, but they did not understand him. It was not from want of a lucid style, for “never man spake like this man”; but yet they mistook all that he said. They thought that they knew his meaning, but they did not. And even his own disciples and the apostles, until they were illuminated by the Spirit of God, mistook the meaning of their Master, and knew but little, after all his teaching. Should you feel at all astonished if you should have been mistaken, dear friend— you who have never found joy and peace in believing? Is it not possible that you may have been mistaken after all? The Jews heard the Saviour himself and yet did not understand the truth. Some of them were men of genius, and well instructed. There was one especially who was a ruler— a doctor among the Jews— who understood not these things; and when the Saviour said to him, “Ye must be born again,” he took it literally: he could not understand the mystic change which the Saviour meant to describe. Now, if Nicodemus did not know, and a great many like Nicodemus, may it not happen to be the case that you also have not found out the secret, and are at this moment without the possession of it? Possibly you may be a person of very considerable education, and of remarkable gifts and parts. My dear friend, if any people are liable to miss the true sense of the gospel it is such as you are. It is strange, you will say, that I should make such a remark, but the observation is founded upon fact. “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty are chosen.” Not many of the learned of this world ever learn of Christ. He teaches babes, but leaves wise men to boast in their own folly. The magi of the east went round about to find the Saviour, even with a star to guide them they missed their way; but the humble shepherds from the plains of Bethlehem, without a star, went immediately to the place where Jesus was. Ah, it was a good and true remark of Augustine, when he said, “While the learned are fumbling to find the latch, the simple and poor have entered into the kingdom of heaven.” Simplicity of heart is more helpful to the understanding of the gospel than culture of mind. To be ready to be taught is a better faculty than to be able to teach, as far as the reception of the gospel is concerned. That degree in divinity may stand in your way for understanding divinity; and the very position that you have taken in the classical tripos may render it the more difficult for you to comprehend that which he the wayfaring man, though he be a fool, knows by heart. Since it is certainly so, I am not offering you any insult when I say perhaps, dear friend, you may hitherto have laboured under a mistake; and, therefore, if at any time the gospel should be spoken to you, it would well become you to give it a fair hearing, and not to reject it because it appears to be new.

     One other remark, and I will go on to the next point, and it is this. The person I am now addressing, and I believe that there are such persons here, if he be the man I mean, must confess that the religion he now possesses has not done much for him. You think you know the gospel, but, say,— could you die upon what you know? Could you die now— now-— happily and contentedly with the hope you have? If you could, I thank God and congratulate you. Has your hope which you possess comforted your heart? Do you feel and know assuredly that your sins are forgiven you? Do you look upon God as your Father? Are you in the habit of speaking with him as a child speaks with his father, confiding in him, and telling all your cares and troubles to him? If it be so, my dear friend, I rejoice with you; but unless yours be the religion of Jesus Christ, I know you have not found such peace. There are many shapes of what is called “religion”; many, many shapes; but they amount to this: they put a man in a position in which he feels that he is about as good as other people, and as well to do in spiritual things as the average of others; and if he does his best, and acts up to his knowledge, and light, he will get better, no doubt; and, perhaps, when he comes to die, possibly by the assistance of a clergyman or a priest— perhaps by some remarkable experience that he may undergo in the use of sacraments— he may get into heaven. It is the general religion of mankind, that they are on a road which they have to follow, and by industriously and carefully pursuing it they will possibly save themselves by the gracious help of the Lord Jesus Christ; they generally tack that on, of course, to make their self-righteousness look a little more respectable. Now, I say deliberately, as in the sight of God, that such religion is not worth one solitary halfpenny. The religion of the Lord Jesus Christ gives a man a complete, full, free, irreversible pardon of all his sins at once, together with the changing of his nature, the implantation of a new life, and the putting of him into the family of God; and it gives to him these things so that he knows that he has them, and consciously enjoys them, and lives in the power and spirit of them, humbly serving the Lord who has done such great things for him. This is the religion of Christ, and this is what we are now going to speak of more fully, while we mention some few things which lead men to say, “We never saw it on this fashion.”

     II. Our second point was to be that THERE ARE VERY SINGULAR AND SURPRISING THINGS IN THE GOSPEL. Let us mention some of them.

     One is this— that the gospel should come to people whom it regards as incapable. In the narrative before us the wonder was that the Lord Jesus dealt with a crippled and paralysed person so far gone that he could not crawl into Christ’s presence, but had to be borne of four. See him! He is incapable and incurable. All that he can do is to lie on that bed on which the kindness of friends has placed him, and there he must remain: he can do nothing. Now, the gospel regards every man to whom it comes as unable to do anything good. It addresses you, not merely as paralysed, but it goes farther, and describes you as dead. The gospel speaks to the dead. I have often heard it said that the duty of the Christian minister is to arouse the activities of sinners. I believe the very reverse: he should rather labour to smite their self-trusting activities dead, and to make them know that all that they can do of themselves is worse than nothing. They can do nothing, for how can the dead move in their graves? How can the dead in sin accomplish their own quickening? The power which can save does not lie in the sinner: it lies in his God. And if any of you be unconverted, I do not come to tell you something which you are able to do, by the doing of which you can save yourselves, but I warn you that you are lost, ruined, and undone; you have power to stray like lost sheep, but if ever you come back your shepherd must bring you back, you will never come back of yourselves. You had power to destroy yourselves, and you have exercised that power; but now your help does not lie in you, it lies in your God. It is a strange thing that the gospel should represent a man to be in such a desperate condition, but it is a fact; and though it be astonishing, let it not be doubted.

     An equally remarkable thing is that the gospel calls upon men to do what they cannot do, for Jesus Christ said to this paralyzed man, “I say unto thee, Arise, take up thy bed and walk.” He could not rise, could not take up his bed, and could not walk, and yet he was bidden to do it. And it is one of the strange things of the way of salvation that

“The gospel bids the dead revive;
Sinners obey the voice and live.
Dry bones are raised and clothed afresh,
And hearts of stone are turned to flesh.”

We have to say, in the name of Jesus, to the man with the withered arm— whose arm is so withered that we know he has no power in it, “Stretch out thy hand”; and we do say it in God’s name. Some of my brethren of a certain order of doctrine say, “It is ridiculous! If you admit that a man cannot do it, it is ridiculous to tell him to do it.” But we do not mind being ridiculous; we care little for the censure of human judgment. If God gives us a commission, that commission will prevent our suffering very seriously from the ridicule of other people. “Ezekiel, dost thou not see before thee that valley of dry bones?” “Yes,” says he, “I see them; they are very many and very dry. Lo! through many a summer the sun has scorched them, and through many a winter the fierce winds have dried them till they are as if they had passed through an oven.” “Prophet, what canst thou do with these bones? If God means to raise them to life they will be raised: therefore let thou them alone. What canst thou do?” Listen to him as he makes solemn proclamation. “Thus saith the Lord, Ye dry bones live!” “Ridiculous, Ezekiel! they cannot live, why speak to them?” He knows they cannot live of themselves, but he also knows that his Master bids him tell them to live, and he does what his Master bids him. So, in the gospel, the minister is to bid men believe, and he is to say, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel.” For this reason alone do we say, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” The gospel bids you believe, albeit that you are dead in trespasses and sins. “I cannot understand it,” says somebody. No, and you never will till God reveals it to you; but, when the Lord comes and dwells with you, you will perfectly understand, and see how the exercise of faith on the part of the preacher of the gospel is a part of the divine operation by which dead souls are raised.

     Another and more remarkable thing is this— that while the gospel comes to men incapable and dead, and bids them do what they cannot of themselves do, they actually do it: there is the marvel. In the name of Jesus we say to the paralyzed man, “Take up thy bed and walk,” and he does take up his bed and walk; for with the word faithfully spoken, in confidence in God, there comes the eternal power into the man who had no power of his own; and God’s elect, called out by the preaching of the gospel, hear the message from heaven, and the power comes with it at the time they hear the message, so that they obey it, and live. Dead as they were, they live. Oh, marvellous operation this— that, out of this congregation, while I say “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” there will be some who will believe and be saved. Those who will believe have no more power, naturally, to believe, than others have; they are by nature all in an equal state of death; but to God’s own chosen the Word comes with power, attended by the Holy Spirit, and they do believe, and live.

     Here are three singular things. It is a strange thing to have to tell you good church people and chapel people, who have always done everything so well, that unless you are converted you are dead in trespasses and sins, and all your good works are so many graveclothes in which your corpse is wrapped up, and nothing better; and it is strange that we should be bound to call upon you to believe in Jesus when we have already told you that you have no spiritual life; and it is remarkable that we should be commanded to warn you that you are living in great sin if you do not believe in Jesus. More singular still, you may judge it to be, that we are confident that the telling you these things, plainly and honestly in the name of God, will be blest by the Spirit of God, and will lead you to believe and to trust in Jesus. It seems strange, but so it is.

     More remarkable still to the crowd, no doubt, was this— that this paralyzed man was healed at once. If ever a cure of paralysis is wrought at any time — and it is very rarely that such a thing occurs — I do not think that it is ever cursed in an instant. This man is unable to stir hand or foot; but Jesus says, “Take up thy bed and walk,” and he rises as if he had never been paralysed. Every ligature is in its place; every muscle is ready for action in a moment. You would have thought it would take a month or two, and a good deal of rubbing and friction to bring the man’s blood into healthy action, to get him round, and warm him into life again; but it did not: he only heard that strange voice which told him to do what he could not do, and he did do what he could not do by a power that went with that message, and he rose up and was healed at once. And here is the marvel of the gospel. A sinner hears the gospel, and all the sins of his whole life are upon him, but he believes that gospel and all his sins are gone in a moment, and he is as clean before the throne of God as if never a sin had defiled him. He was, up to the time of his reception of the gospel, an enemy to God by wicked works; but he accepts the testimony of God concerning his Son Jesus, and he rests in Jesus, and his heart becomes as the heart of a little child. In a moment the stone is taken away, and the fleshy heart is given, He becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus. The darkness disappears as the primeval darkness fled before the fiat which said, “Let there be light.” Tis done— done in a moment.

     You will not comprehend this, I am sure, till you experience it. Oh how I bless God that years ago when I heard the message of God— “Look unto me and be ye saved all ye ends of the earth,” I was enabled to look and live. I pined and longed for salvation, and laboured hard and prayed hard to get it; but I never got one inch the farther. But the message came— “Look!”— how could I look? My eyes were sightless; but I did look, for the power to look came with the command to look, and the moment I looked I was as conscious that I was forgiven as I am conscious of my existence. There was life to me in a look at the Crucified One. Pardon, sure, certain, and sealed home to my conscience, was given to me in the selfsame moment when I looked to Jesus in the bloody sweat, Jesus on the cross, Jesus risen from the dead, and Jesus gone into the glory. A look at him, and it was all done. You had not thought of that, you say, and even now it startles you. You thought you would have to take the sacrament, and keep on attending a place of worship, and gradually work yourself up out of your paralysed condition. That is man’s way of salvation; but Christ’s way of salvation is an instantaneous change of heart, and an instantaneous forgiveness of sin.

     Another thing which they had never seen after that fashion was that the man was healed without any ceremony: for the proper way to heal a paralysed person would have been to fetch the priest down, and to bring water and oil, or to shed the blood of a bullock, and offer it, and then to go through no end of ceremonies, and by degrees, through the mysterious power of ceremonies, at last the man might be cleansed. But here was no one single ceremony. It was just this: “Take up thy bed and walk.” The man, though he cannot take up his bed and walk, yet believes that he who told him to do it will give him power to do it, and he does take up his bed and walk: there is the whole of it in a nutshell. He believes, and acts on that belief; and he is restored. And that is the whole plan of salvation. You believe the gospel, and act upon the truth of it, and you are saved— saved the moment you accept the witness of God concerning his Son Jesus Christ. But is there not baptism? Yes, for the saved: but no baptism in order to salvation. When you are saved— when you are a believer in Jesus — then the instructive ordinances of God’s house become useful to you; but God forbid that we should ever look to baptism as a means of salvation. God forbid that we should even look to the Lord’s Supper for that purpose. May we be preserved from anything approximating to trust in rites and forms. When you are saved, then the ordinances of the house into which you have come— the ordinances of the family of which you are a member— belong to you; but they do not belong to you, and can render to you no service whatever, until you are a saved man. Salvation from death in sin has nothing to do with ceremonies. Believe and live is the sole gospel precept.

     Another remarkable thing was that this man was perfectly restored— not merely restored in a moment, but perfectly so. A partial restoration would not have been one-tenth so memorable. I have known dear friends partially paralysed who, after some time, in the good providence of God, have somewhat recovered; but a twist of the mouth, a weakness in the eye, or a feebleness of the hand has remained as a proof that the paralysis had been there. But this man was perfectly whole, and at once. The glory of salvation is that whosoever believeth in the Lord Jesus is completely pardoned. It is not some of his sin that is put away, but all of it. I rejoice to look upon it as dear Kent does when he sings:—

“Here’s pardon for transgressions past,
It matters not how black their cast;
And, O my soul, with wonder view,
For sins to come here’s pardon too.”

We are plunged into the fountain of redeeming blood and cleansed from every fear of ever being found guilty before the living God. We are accepted in the beloved through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, justified once for all and for ever before the Father’s face! Christ said, “It is finished,” and finished it is. And, oh, what a bliss is this — one of the things that may well stagger those who have never heard it before; but let them not reject it because it staggers them, but the rather let them say,— “This wonderful system which saves and saves completely, in an instant, simply by looking out of self to Christ, is a system worthy of divine wisdom, for it magnifies the grace of God, and meets man’s deep necessities.”

     One other thing, no doubt, astonished them about this man— that his cure was done evidently. There was no deception about it, for he rolled up the mattress that he had lain upon, put it upon his back, and walked away with it and went home to his house. There was no doubt about his being perfectly restored, for he was carrying a burden on his back. And here is the glory of it— that when a man believes in Jesus Christ there is no doubt about his conversion: you see it in his actions. They tell me that a child is born again in baptism. Very well, let me have a look at the child: is there any difference in him? Some of you, perhaps, have had children that were born again in the sacramental fashion. Mine were not: I cannot, therefore, speak from experience. I wonder whether yours have turned out any better than mine— whether, indeed, the watery regeneration made any difference in them. I am persuaded you could not pretend to having seen any result. It is a kind of regeneration that does not show itself in the life, and indeed, produces no result; for these precious regenerate babies, and regenerate boys and girls, are just the same as the unregenerate boys and girls: there is not a pin to choose between them. Send them to the same school, and I will undertake very often to show you that some of those that never were baptismally regenerated are better than those who were; for probably they have had Christian parents who had taken more pains to instruct them than those superstitious parents who merely relied upon the outward ceremony. Now, that regeneration which produces no effect is nothing— less than nothing. It would be like saying, “That man is saved from the paralysis.” “Well, but he lies on the bed.” “Yes, he lies on the bed the same as he did before; but,” you say, “he is— he is delivered from the paralysis.” “But how do you know?” “Well, of course, it may not be an actual cure, but it is a virtual cure, because he has undergone a ceremony, and therefore it must be so; you are to believe it.” This is fine talk; but when the man rose and rolled his bed up, and carried it on his back, that was a deal more convincing. Now, when God’s providence brings into this house a man who has been a drunkard, and he hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, and believes in Jesus, and turns his cups bottom upwards and becomes a sober man, there is something in that. If a man comes here who is proud, haughty, a hater of the gospel altogether, a man who can swear, and who has no regard for the Sabbath day, and he believes in Jesus, and becomes at home as gentle as a lamb, so that his wife hardly knows that he is the same man, and on the Sabbath he delights to go to the house of God, there is something to be seen in that, is there not?— something real and tangible. Here is a man that would cheat you, as soon as look at you, in his business; but the grace of God comes to him, and he becomes scrupulously honest. Here is a man that used to associate with the lowest of the low, and the gospel of Jesus Christ is received by him, and he seeks godly companions, and he loves only those whose talk is sweet and clean and holy. Why, you can see it; you can see it. And this is the kind of salvation we want in these days, a salvation that can be seen,— which makes the paralysed sinner roll up his bed and carry it away— makes him a conqueror over depraved habits— delivers him from the thraldom of his sins, and shows itself in the outer life to all who care to look upon him. Yes, brethren, this is what the gospel has done for us; and if I address any here to-night who have looked upon religion as a kind of salve that they were to use while they continued in their sins, I want them to see what a very different thing it is. Christ has come to save you from your sins: not to keep you in the fire and prevent your burning, but to pluck you like a brand out of the burning. He has come to make you new creatures, and this he can do at this very moment, while you are sitting in your pews. If, while you hear the sound, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,” there be found in you a willing mind, given you of his grace, so that you do trust him, you shall be saved as surely as Christ lives.

     These are strange things, but do not reject them because they are strange. They are things worthy of a God.

     III. So, lastly, IF YOU HAVE EVER FOUND OUT ANY OF THESE THINGS, AND HAD TO SAY, WE NEVER SAW IT ON THIS FASHION, THEN GO AND GLORIFY GOD. Magnify him from your inmost soul.

     If salvation were by works, and we could fight our own way to heaven by our own merits, I for one, when I got up there, would throw up my cap and say, “Well done! I have deserved something, and I have got it;” but since salvation is by grace from first to last, and not of man, neither by man, nor of the will of the flesh, nor by blood or birth— since the Lord begins and carries on and ends— let us give him all the glory. And if ever he gives us, as he will give us, a crown of life that fadeth not away, we will go and cast it at his feet, and say, “Not unto us, not unto us; but unto thy name be praise for ever and ever.” Let us live in this spirit, dear friends. The man who believes in the doctrines of grace, and yet thinks much of himself, is highly inconsistent. A man who believes salvation to be all of grace, and yet does not glorify God continually, acts contrary to his own convictions. “Oh, magnify the Lord with me: let us exalt his name together.” He took us up out of the horrible pit, and out of the miry clay; and he set our feet upon a rock and established our goings. He put a new song into our mouths, even praise for evermore. Praise be unto him, for he hath done it, and he shall be extolled.

     Oh, you cannot praise him, you who do not know this salvation, and I do not exhort you to attempt to do so; but, first of all, may you know this salvation for yourselves. You can know it. Blessed be God, I trust that some of you will know it this very night by ceasing from yourselves, giving up all dependence upon anything you can do or be or feel, and by dropping into the arms of Jesus, resting in his finished work, and confiding in him. He will— he must save you if you trust him, and then you shall give him praise. God bless you, dear friends, for Christ’s sake.



The Story of a Runaway Slave

By / Jun 22

The Story of a Runaway Slave

 

“Perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever.”— Philemon 15.

 

NATURE is selfish, but grace is loving. He who boasts that he cares for nobody, and nobody cares for him, is the reverse of a Christian, for Jesus Christ enlarges the heart when he cleanses it. None so tender and sympathetic as our Master, and if we be truly his disciples, the same mind will be in us which was also in Christ Jesus. The apostle Paul was eminently large-hearted and sympathetic. Surely he had enough to do at Rome to bear his own troubles and to preach the gospel. If, like the priest in the parable of the good Samaritan, he had “passed by on the other side,” he might have been excused, for he was on the urgent business of that Master who once said to his seventy messengers, “Salute no man by the way.” We might not have wondered if he had said, “I cannot find time to attend to the wants of a runaway slave.” But Paul was not of that mind. He had been preaching, and Onesimus had been converted, and henceforth he regarded him as his own son. I do not know why Onesimus came to Paul. Perhaps he went to him as a great many scapegraces have come to me— because their fathers knew me; and so, as Onesimus’s master had known Paul, the servant applied to his master’s friend, perhaps to beg some little help in his extremity. Anyhow, Paul seized the opportunity and preached to him Jesus, and the runaway slave became a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul watched him, admired the character of his convert, and was glad to be served by him, and when he thought it right that he should return to his master, Philemon, he took a deal of trouble to compose a letter of apology for him, a letter which shows long thinking, since every word is well selected: albeit that the Holy Spirit dictated it, inspiration does not prevent a man’s exercising thought and care on what he writes. Every word is chosen for a purpose. If he had been pleading for himself, he could not have pleaded more earnestly or wisely. Paul, as you know, was not accustomed to write letters with his own hand, but dictated to an amanuensis. It is supposed that he had an affection of the eyes, and therefore when he did write he used large capital letters, as he says in one of the epistles, “Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with my own hand.” The epistle was not a large one, but he probably alluded to the largeness of the characters which he was obliged to use whenever he himself wrote. This letter to Philemon, at least part of it, was not dictated, but was written by his own hand. See the nineteenth verse. “I Paul have written it with mine own hand. I will repay it.” It is the only note of hand which I recollect in Scripture, but there it is— an I O U for whatever amount Onesimus may have stolen.

     Let us cultivate a large-hearted spirit, and sympathise with the people of God, especially with new converts, if we find them in trouble through past wrong-doing. If anything needs setting right, do not let us condemn them off-hand, and say, “You have been stealing from your master, have you? You profess to be converted, but we do not believe it.” Such suspicious and severe treatment may be deserved, but it is not such as the love of Christ would suggest. Try and set the fallen ones right, and give them again, as we say, “a fair start in the world.” If God has forgiven them, surely we may, and if Jesus Christ has received them, they cannot be too bad for us to receive. Let us do for them what Jesus would have done had he been here, so shall we truly be the disciples of Jesus.

     Thus I introduce to you the text, and I notice concerning it, first that it contains a singular instance of divine grace. Secondly, it brings before us a case of sin overruled. And, thirdly, it may be regarded as an example of relationship improved by grace, for now he that was a servant for a season will abide with Philemon all his lifetime, and be no more a servant but a brother beloved.

     I. But, first, let us look at Onesimus as AN INSTANCE OF DIVINE GRACE.

     We see the grace of God in his election. He was a slave. In those days slaves were very ignorant, untaught, and degraded. Being barbarously used, they were for the most part themselves sunk in the lowest barbarism, neither did their masters attempt to raise them out of if. It is possible that Philemon’s attempt to do good to Onesimus may have been irksome to the man, and he may therefore have fled from his house. His master’s prayers, warnings, and Christian regulations may have been disagreeable to him, and therefore he ran away. He wronged his master, which he could scarcely have done if he had not been treated as a confidential servant to some extent. Possibly the unusual kindness of Philemon, and the trust reposed in him may have been too much for his untrained nature. We know not what he stole, but evidently he had taken something, for the apostle says, “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account.” He ran away from Colosse, therefore, and thinking that he would be less likely to be discovered by the ministers of justice, he sought the city of Rome, which was then as large as the city of London now is, and perhaps larger. There in those back slums, such as the Jews’ quarter in Rome now is, Onesimus would go and hide; or amongst those gangs of thieves which infested the imperial city, he would not be known or heard of any more, so he thought; and he could live the free and easy life of a thief. Yet, mark you, the Lord looked out of heaven with an eye of love, and set that eye on Onesimus.

     Were there no free men, that God must elect a slave? Were there no faithful servants, that he must choose one who had embezzled his master’s money? Were there none of the educated and polite, that he must needs look upon a barbarian? Were there none among the moral and the excellent, that infinite love should fix itself upon this degraded being, who was now mixed up with the very scum of society? And what the scum of society was in old Rome I should not like to think, for the upper classes were about as brutalised in their general habits as we can very well conceive; and what the lowest scum of all must have been, none of us can tell. Onesimus was part and parcel of the dregs of a sink of sin. Read Paul’s first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, if you can, and you will see in what a horrible state the heathen world was at that time, and Onesimus was among the worst of the worst; and yet eternal love, which passed by kings and princes, and left' Pharisees and Sadducees, philosophers and magi, to stumble in the dark as they chose, fixed its eye upon this poor benighted creature that he might be made a vessel to honour, fit for the Master’s use.

“When the Eternal bows the skies
To visit earthly things,
With scorn divine he turns his eyes
From towers of haughty kings.
He bids his awful chariot roll
Far downward from the skies,
To visit every humble soul,
With pleasure in his eyes.
Why should the Lord that reigns above
Disdain so lofty kings?
Say, Lord, and why such looks of love
Upon such worthless things?
Mortals, be dumb; what creature dares
Dispute his awful will?
Ask no account of his affairs,
But tremble and be still.
Just like his nature is his grace,
All sovereign, and all free;
Great God, how searchless are thy ways,
How deep thy judgments be!”

“I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion,” rolls like thunder alike from the cross of Calvary and from the mount of Sinai. The Lord is a sovereign, and doeth as he pleases. Let us admire that marvellous electing love which selected such a one as Onesimus!

     Grace also is to be observed, in the next place, in the conversion of this runaway slave.

     Look at him! How unlikely he appears to become a convert. He is an Asiatic slave of about the same grade as an ordinary Lascar, or heathen Chinee. He was, however, worse than the ordinary Lascar, who is certainly free, and probably an honest man, if he is nothing else. This man had been dishonest, and he was daring withal, for after taking his master’s property he was bold enough to make a long journey from Colosse to reach Rome. But everlasting love means to convert the man, and converted he shall be. He may have heard Paul preach at Colosse and Athens, but yet he had not been impressed. At Rome, Paul was not preaching in St. Peter’s: it was in no such noble building. Paul was not preaching in a place like the Tabernacle, where Onesimus could have a comfortable seat— no such place as that— but it was probably down there at the back of the Palatine hill, where the prætorian guard have their lodgings, and where there was a prison called the Prætorium. In a bare room in the barrack prison Paul sat with a soldier chained to his hand, preaching to all who were admitted to hear him, and there it was that the grace of God reached the heart of this wild young man; and, oh, what a change it made in him immediately! Now you see him repenting of his sin, grieved to think he has wronged a good man, vexed to see the depravity of his heart as well as the error of his life. He weeps; Paul preaches to him Christ crucified, and the glance of joy is in his eye: and from that heavy heart a load is taken. New thoughts light up that dark mind; the very face is changed, and the entire man renewed, for the grace of God can turn the lion to a lamb, the raven to a dove.

     Some of us, I have no doubt, are quite as wonderful instances of divine election and effectual calling as Onesimus was. Let us, therefore, record the lovingkindness of the Lord, and let us say to ourselves, “Christ shall have the glory of it. The Lord hath done it; and unto the Lord be honour, world without end.”

     The grace of God was conspicuous in the character which it wrought in Onesimus upon his conversion, for he appears to have been helpful, useful, and profitable. So Paul says. Paul was willing to have had him as an associate, and it is not every man that is converted that we should altogether choose as a companion. There are odd people to be met with who will go to heaven we have no doubt, for they are pilgrims on the right way, but we would like to keep on the other side of the road, for they are cross-grained, and there is a something about them that one’s nature can no more delight in than the palate can take pleasure in nauseous physic. They are a sort of spiritual hedgehogs; they are alive and useful, and no doubt they illustrate the wisdom and patience of God, but they are not good companions: one would not like to carry them in his bosom. But Onesimus was evidently of a kind, tender, loving spirit. Paul at once called him brother, and would have liked to retain him. When he sent him back, was it not a clear proof of change of heart in Onesimus that he would go back? Away as he was in Rome, he might have passed on from one town to another, and have remained perfectly free, but feeling that he was under some kind of bond to his master— especially since he had injured him— he takes Paul’s advice to return to his old position. He will go back, and take a letter of apology or introduction to his master; for he feels that it is his duty to make reparation for the wrong that he has done. I always like to see a resolve to make restitution of former wrongs in people who profess to be converted. If they have taken any money wrongfully they ought to repay it; it were well if they returned sevenfold. If we have in any way robbed or wronged another, I think the first instincts of grace in the heart will suggest compensation in all ways within our power. Do not think it is to be got over by saying, “God has forgiven me, and therefore I may leave it.” No, dear friend, but inasmuch as God has forgiven you, try to undo all the wrong, and prove the sincerity of your repentance by so doing. So Onesimus will go back to Philemon, and work out his term of years with him, or otherwise do Philemon’s wishes, for though he might have preferred to wait upon Paul, his first duty was due to the man whom he had injured. That showed a gentle, humble, honest, upright spirit; and let Onesimus be commended for it: nay, let the grace of God be extolled for it. Look at the difference between the man who robbed, and the man who now comes back to be profitable to his master.

     What wonders the grace of God has done! Brethren, let me add— What wonders the grace of God can do! Many plans are employed in the world for the reformation of the wicked and the reclaiming of the fallen, and to every one of these, as far as they are rightly bottomed, we wish good success; for whatever things are lovely and pure, and of good report, we wish them God speed. But mark this word,— the true reforming of the drunkard lies in giving him a new heart; the true reclaiming of the harlot is to be found in a renewed nature. Purity will never come to fallen women by those hideous Contagious Diseases Acts, which, to my mind, wear, like Cain, a curse upon their forehead. Womanhood will but sink the lower under such laws. The harlot must be washed in the Saviour’s blood, or she will never be clean. The lowest strata of society will never be brought into the light of virtue, sobriety, and purity, except by Jesus Christ and his gospel; and we must stick to that. Let all others do what they like, but God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. I see certain of my brethren fiddling away at the branches of the tree of vice with their wooden saws; but, as for the gospel, it lays the axe at the roots of the whole forest of evil, and if it be fairly received into the heart it fells all the upas trees at once, and instead of them there spring up the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box tree together, to beautify the house of our Master’s glory. Let us, when we see what the Spirit of God can do for men, publish the grace of God, and extol it with all our might.

     II. And now, secondly, we have in our text, and its connections, a very interesting INSTANCE OF SIN OVERRULED.

     Onesimus had no right to rob his master and run away; but God was pleased to make use of that crime for his conversion. It brought him to Rome, and so brought him where Paul was preaching, and thus it brought him to Christ, and to his right mind. Now, when we speak of this, we must be cautious. When Paul says, “Perhaps he departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever,” he does not excuse his departure. He does not make it out that Onesimus did right— not for a moment. Sin is sin, and, whatever sin may be overruled to do, yet sin is still sin. The crucifixion of our Saviour has brought the greatest conceivable blessings upon mankind, yet none the less it was “with wicked hands” that they took Jesus and crucified him. The selling of Joseph into Egypt was the means in the hand of God of the preservation of Jacob, and his sons, in the time of famine; but his brethren had nothing to do with that, and they were none the less guilty for having sold their brother for a slave. Let it always be remembered that the faultiness or virtue of an act is not contingent upon the result of that act. If, for instance, a man who has been set on a railway to turn the switch forgets to do it, you call it a very great crime if the train comes to mischief and a dozen people are killed. Yes, but the crime is the same if nobody is killed. It is not the result of the carelessness, but the carelessness itself which deserves punishment. If it were the man’s duty to turn the switch in such-and-such a way, and his not doing so should even by some strange accident turn to the saving of life, the man would be equally blameworthy. There would be no credit due to him, for if his duty lies in a certain line his fault also lies in a certain line, namely, the neglecting of that duty. So if God overrules sin for good, as he sometimes does, it is none the less sin. It is sin just as much as ever, only there is so much the more glory to the wonderful wisdom and grace of God who, out of evil, brings forth good, and so does what only omnipotent wisdom can perform. Onesimus is not excused, then, for having embezzled his master’s goods nor for having left him without right; he still is a transgressor, but God’s grace is glorified.

     Remember, too, that this must be noticed— that when Onesimus left his master he was performing an action the results of which, in all probability, would have been ruinous to him. He was living as a trusted dependent beneath the roof of a kind master, who had a church in his house. If I read the epistle rightly, he had a godly mistress and a godly master, and he had an opportunity of learning the gospel continually; but this reckless young blade, very likely, could not bear it, and could have lived more contentedly with a heathen master, who would have beaten him one day and made him drunk another. The Christian master he could not bear, so away he went. He threw away the opportunities of salvation, and he went to Rome, and he must have gone into the lowest part of the city, and associated, as I have already told you, with the very grossest company. Now, had it come to pass that he had joined in the insurrections of the slaves which took place frequently about that time, as he in all probability would have done had not grace prevented, he would have been put to death as others had been. He would have had short shrift in Rome: half suspect a man and off with his head was the rule towards slaves and vagabonds. Onesimus was just the very man that would have been likely to be hurried to death and to eternal destruction. He had put his head, as it were, between the lion’s jaws by what he had done. When a young man suddenly leaves home and goes to London, we know what it means. When his friends do not know where he is, and he does not want them to know, we are aware, within a little, where he is and what he is at. What Onesimus was doing I do not know, but he was certainly doing his best to ruin himself. His course, therefore, is to be judged, as far as he is concerned, by what it was likely to bring him to; and though it did not bring him to it, that was no credit to him, but all the honour of it is due to the overruling power of God.

     See, dear brethren, how God overruled all. Thus had the Lord purposed. Nobody shall be able to touch the heart of Onesimus but Paul. Onesimus is living at Colosse; Paul cannot come there, he is in prison. It is needful, then, that Onesimus should be got to Paul. Suppose the kindness of Philemon’s heart had prompted him to say to Onesimus, “I want you to go to Rome, and find Paul out and hear him.” This naughty servant would have said, “I am not going to risk my life to hear a sermon. If I go with the money you are sending to Paul, or with the letter, I shall deliver it, but I want none of his preaching.” Sometimes, you know, when people are brought to hear a preacher with the view of their being converted, if they have any idea of it, it is about the very last thing likely to happen, because they go there resolved to be fireproof, and so the preaching does not come home to them: and it would probably have been just so with Onesimus. No, no, he was not to be won in that way, he must be got to Rome another way. How shall it be done? Well, the devil shall do it, not knowing that he will be losing a willing servant thereby. The devil tempts Onesimus to steal. Onesimus does it, and when he has stolen he is afraid of being discovered, and so he makes tracks for Rome as quickly as he can, and gets down among the back slums, and there he feels what the prodigal felt — a hungry belly, and that is one of the best preachers in the world to some people: their conscience is reached in that way. Being very hungry, not knowing what to do, and no man giving anything to him, he thinks whether there is anybody in Rome that would take pity on him. He does not know anybody in Rome at all, and is likely to starve. Perhaps one morning there was a Christian woman— I should not wonder— who was going to hear Paul, and she saw this poor man sitting crouched up on the steps of a temple, and she went to him and spoke about his soul. “Soul,” said he, “I care nothing about that, but my body would thank you for something to eat. I am starving.” She replied, “Come with me, then,” and she gave him bread, and then she said, “I do this for Jesus Christ’s sake.” “Jesus Christ!” he said, “I have heard of him. I used to hear of him over at Colosse.” “Whom did you hear speak about him?” the woman would ask. “Why, a short man with weak eyes, a great preacher, named Paul, who used to come to my master’s house.” “Why, I am going to hear him preach,” the woman would say, “will you come and hear him with me?” “Well, I think I should like to hear him again. He always had a kind word to say to the poor.” So he goes in and pushes his way among the soldiers, and Paul’s Master incites Paul to speak the right word. It may have been so, or it may have been the other way— that not knowing anybody else at all, he thought, “Well, there is Paul, I know. He is here a prisoner, and I will go down and see what prison he is in.” He goes down to the Prætorium and finds him there, tells him of his extreme poverty, and Paul talks to him, and then he confesses the wrong he has done, and Paul, after teaching him a little while, says, “Now, you must go back and make amends to your master for the wrong you have done.” It may have been either of these ways; at any rate, the Lord must have Onesimus in Rome to hear Paul, and the sin of Onesimus, though perfectly voluntary on his part, so that God had no hand in it, is yet overruled by a mysterious providence to bring him where the gospel shall be blest to his soul.

     Now, I want to speak to some of you Christian people about this matter. Have you a son who has left home? Is he a wilful, wayward young man, who has gone away because he could not bear the restraints of a Christian family? It is a sad thing it should be so— a very sad thing, but do not despond or even have a thought of despair about him. You do not know where he is, but God does; and you cannot follow him, but the Spirit of God can. He is going a voyage to Shanghai. Ah, there may be a Paul at Shanghai who is to be the means of his salvation, and as that Paul is not in England, your son must go there. Is it to Australia that he is going? There may be a word spoken there by the blessing of God to your son which is the only word which ever will reach him. I cannot speak it; nobody in London can speak it; but the man there will; and God, therefore, is letting him go away in all his wilfulness and folly that he may be brought under the means of grace, which will prove effectual to his salvation. Many a sailor boy has been wild, reckless, Godless, Christless, and at last has got into a foreign hospital. Ah, if his mother knew that he was down with the yellow fever, how sad her mind would be, for she would conclude that her dear son will die away at Havannah or somewhere, and never come home again. But it is just in that hospital that God means to meet with him. A sailor writes to me something like that. He says, “My mother asked me to read a chapter every day, but I never did. I got into the hospital at Havannah, and, when I lay there, there was a man near to me who was dying, and he died one night; but before he died he said to me, ‘Mate, could you come here? I want to speak to you. I have got something that is very precious to me here. I was a wild fellow, but reading this packet of sermons has brought me to the Saviour, and I am dying with a good hope through grace. Now, when I am dead and gone, will you take these sermons and read them, and may God bless them to you. And will you write a letter to the man that preached and printed those sermons, to tell him that God blessed them to my conversion, and that I hope he will bless them to yourself’?” It was a packet of my sermons, and God did bless them to that young man who, I have no doubt whatever, went to that hospital because there a man who had been brought to Christ would hand to him the words which God had blessed to himself and would bless to his friend. You do not know, dear mother, you do not know. The worst thing that can happen to a young man is sometimes the best thing that can happen to him. I have sometimes thought when I have seen young men of position and wealth taking to racing and all sorts of dissipation, “Well, it is a dreadfully bad thing, but they may as well get through their money as quickly as ever they can, and then when they have got down to beggary they will be like the young gentleman in the parable who left his father.” When he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land, and he began to be in want, and he said, “I will arise and go to my father.” Perhaps the disease that follows vice — perhaps the poverty that comes like an armed man after extravagance and debauch— is but love in another form, sent to compel the sinner to come to himself and consider his ways and seek an ever merciful God.

     You Christian people often see the little gutter children— the poor little arabs in the street — and you feel much pity for them, as well you may. There is a dear sister here, Miss Annie Macpherson, who lives only for them. God bless her and her work! When you see them you cannot be glad to see them as they are, but I have often thought that the poverty and hunger of one of these poor little children has a louder voice to most hearts than their vice and ignorance; and God knew that we were not ready and able to hear the cry of the child’s sin, and so he added the child’s hunger to that cry, that it might pierce our hearts. People could live in sin, and yet be happy, if they were well-to-do and rich; and if sin did not make parents poor and wretched, and their children miserable, we should not see it, and therefore we should not arouse ourselves to grapple with it. It is a blessing, you know, in some diseases when the patient can throw the complaint out upon the skin. It is a horrible thing to see it on the skin, but still it is better than its being hidden inside; and oftentimes the outward sin and the outward misery are a sort of throwing out of the disease, so that the eye of those who know where the healing medicine is to be had is thereby drawn to the disease, and so the soul’s secret malady is dealt with. Onesimus might have stopped at home, and he might never have been a thief, but he might have been lost through self-righteousness. But now his sin is visible. The scapegrace has displayed the depravity of his heart, and now it is that he comes under Paul’s eye and Paul’s prayer, and becomes converted. Do not, I pray you, ever despair of man or woman or child because you see their sin upon the surface of their character. On the contrary, say to yourself, “This is placed where I can see it, that I may pray about it. It is thrown out under my eye that I may now concern myself to bring this poor soul to Jesus Christ, the mighty Saviour, who can save the most forlorn sinner.” Look at it in the light of earnest, active benevolence, and rouse yourselves to conquer it. Our duty is to hope on and to pray on. It may be, perhaps, that “he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever.” Perhaps the boy has been so wayward that his sin may come to a crisis, and a new heart may be given him. Perhaps your daughter’s evil has been developed that now the Lord may convince her of sin and bring her to the Saviour’s feet. At any rate, if the case be ever so bad, hope in God, and pray on.

     III. Once more. Our text may be viewed as AN EXAMPLE OF RELATIONS IMPROVED. “He therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; not now as a servant, but a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee?” You know we are a long while learning great truths. Perhaps Philemon had not quite found out that it was wrong for him to have a slave. Some men who were very good in their time did not know it. John Newton did not know that he was doing wrong in the slave trade, and George Whitfield, when he left slaves to the orphanage at Savannah, which had been willed to him, did not think for a moment that he was doing anything more than if he had been dealing with horses, or gold and silver. Public sentiment was not enlightened, although the gospel has always struck at the very root of slavery. The essence of the gospel is that we are to do to others as we would that others should do to us, and nobody would wish to be another man’s slave, and therefore he has no right to have another man as his slave. Perhaps, when Onesimus ran away and came back again, this letter of Paul may have opened Philemon’s eyes a little as to his own position. No doubt he may have been an excellent master, and have trusted his servant, and not treated him as a slave at all, but perhaps he had not regarded him as a brother; and now Onesimus has come back he will be a better servant, but Philemon will be a better master, and a slave-holder no longer. He will regard his former servant as a brother in Christ. Now, this is what the grace of God does when it comes into a family. It does not alter the relations; it does not give the child a right to be pert, and forget that he is to be obedient to his parents; it does not give the father a right to lord it over his children without wisdom and love, for it tells him that he is not to provoke his children to anger, lest they be discouraged; it does not give the servant the right to be a master, neither does it take away from the master his position, or allow him to exaggerate his authority, but all round it softens and sweetens. Rowland Hill used to say that he would not give a halfpenny for a man’s piety if his dog and his cat were not better off after he was converted. There was much weight in that remark. Everything in the house goes better when grace oils the wheels. The mistress is, perhaps, rather sharp, quick, tart; well, she gets a little sugar into her constitution when she receives the grace of God. The servant may be apt to loiter, be late up of a morning, very slovenly, fond of a gossip at the door; but, if she is truly converted, all that kind of thing ends. She is conscientious, and attends to her duty as she ought. The master, perhaps,— well, he is the master, and you know it. But when he is a truly Christian man— he has a gentleness, a suavity, a considerateness about him. The husband is the head of the wife, but when renewed by grace he is not at all the head of the wife as some husbands are. The wife also keeps her place, and seeks, by all gentleness and wisdom to make the house as happy as she can. I do not believe in your religion, dear friend, if it belongs to the Tabernacle, and the prayer-meeting, and not to your home. The best religion in the world is that which smiles at the table, works at the sewing machine, and is amiable in the drawing-room. Give me the religion which blacks boots, and does them well; cooks the food, and cooks it so that it can be eaten; measures out yards of calico, and does not make them half-an-inch short; sells a hundred yards of an article, and does not label ninety a hundred, as many tradespeople do. That is the true Christianity which affects the whole of life. If we are truly Christians we shall be changed in all our relationships to our fellow men, and hence we shall regard those whom we call our inferiors with quite a different eye. It is wrong in Christian people when they are so sharp upon little faults that they see in servants, especially if they are Christian servants. That is not the way to correct them. They see a little something wrong, and, oh, they are down upon the poor girls, as if they had murdered somebody. If your Master, and mine, were to treat you in that style I wonder how you would get on? How quick some are in discharging their maids for small errors. No excuse, no trying the persons again: they must go. Many a young man has been turned out of a situation for the veriest trifle, by a Christian employer, when he must have known that he would be exposed to all sorts of risks: and many a servant has been sent adrift as if she were a dog, with no sort of thought whether another position could be found, and without anything being done to prevent her going astray. Do let us think of others, especially of those whom Christ loves even as he does us. Philemon might have said, “No, no, I don’t take you back, Mr. Onesimus, not I. Once bitten, twice shy, sir. I never ride a broken-kneed horse. You stole my money; I am not going to have you back again.” I have heard that style of talk, have not you? Did you ever feel like it? If you have, go home and pray to God to get such a feeling out of you, for it is bad stuff to have in your soul. You cannot take it to heaven. When the Lord Jesus Christ has forgiven you so freely, are you to take your servant by the throat and say, “Pay me what thou owest?” God forbid that we should continue in such a temper. Be pitiful, easily entreated, ready to forgive. It is a deal better that you should suffer a wrong than do a wrong: much better that you should overlook a fault which you might have noticed, than notice a fault which you ought to have overlooked.

“Let love through all your actions run,
And all your words be kind,”

is said in the little hymn which we used to learn when we were children. We should practise it now, and—

“Live like the blessed virgin’s son,
That meek and lowly child.”
God grant we may, of his infinite grace.

     I want to say this, and then I have done. If the mysterious providence of God was to be seen in Onesimus getting to Rome, I wonder whether there is any providence of God in some of you being here to-night! It is possible. Such things do happen. People come here that never meant to come. The last thing in the world they would have believed if anybody had said it is that they would be here, yet here they are. With all manner of twists and turns they have gone about, but they have got here somehow. Did you miss a train, and so stepped in to wait? Does not your ship sail quite so soon as you expected, and so are you here to-night? Say, is that it? I do pray you, then, consider this question with your own heart. “Does not God mean to bless me? Has he not brought me here on purpose that this night I may yield my heart to Jesus as Onesimus did?” My dear friend, if thou believest on the Lord Jesus Christ, thou shalt have immediate pardon for all sin, and shalt be saved. The Lord has brought thee here in his infinite wisdom to hear that, and I hope that he has also brought thee here that thou mayest accept it, and so go thy way altogether changed. Some three years ago I was talking with an aged minister, and he began fumbling about in his waistcoat pocket, but he was a long while before he found what he wanted. At last he brought out a letter that was well nigh worn to pieces, and he said, “God Almighty bless you! God Almighty bless you!” And I said, “Friend, what is it?” He said, “I had a son. I thought he would be the stay of my old age, but he disgraced himself, and he went away from me, and I could not tell where he went, only he said he was going to America. He took a ticket to sail for America from the London Docks, but he did not go on the particular day that he expected.” This aged minister bade me read the letter, and I read it, and it was like this: — “Father, I am here in America. I have found a situation, and God has prospered me. I write to ask your forgiveness for the thousand wrongs that I have done you, and the grief I have caused you, for, blessed be God, 1 have found the Saviour. I have joined the church of God here, and hope to spend my life in God’s service. It happened thus: I did not sail for America the day I expected. I went down to the Tabernacle to see what it was like, and God met with me. Mr. Spurgeon said, ‘Perhaps there is a runaway son here. The Lord call him by his grace.’ And he did.” “Now,” said he, as he folded up the letter and put it in his pocket, “that son of mine is dead, and he is in heaven, and I love you, and I shall do so as long as I live, because you were the means of bringing him to Christ.” Is there a similar character here to-night? I feel persuaded there is— somebody of the same sort; and in the name of God I charge him to take the warning that I give him from this pulpit. I dare you to go out of this place as you came in. Oh, young man, the Lord in mercy gives you another opportunity of turning from the error of your ways, and I pray you now here— as you now are— lift your eye to heaven, and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and he will be so. Then go home to your father and tell him what the grace of God has done for you, and wonder at the love which brought you here to bring you to Christ.

     Dear friend, if there is nothing mysterious about it, yet here we are. We are where the gospel is preached, and that brings responsibility upon us. If a man is lost, it is better for him to be lost without hearing the gospel, than to be lost as some of you will be if you perish under the sound of a clear, earnest enunciation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. How long halt some of you between two opinions? “Have I been so long time with you,” says Christ, “and yet hast thou not known me?” All this teaching and preaching and invitation, and yet dost thou not turn?

“O God, do thou the sinner turn,
Convince him of his lost estate.”

Let him linger no longer, lest he linger till he rue his fatal choice too late. God bless you, for Christ’s sake. Amen.



The God of Bethel

By / Jun 22

The God of Bethel

 

“I am the God of Bethel.”— Genesis xxxi. 13.

 

JACOB had been sent away to Padan-aram, and he might, perhaps, have stopped there if things had been quite as he wished. As it was, he stayed there quite long enough. He seemed almost to forget his father’s house in the cares that his wives and children and the anxious oversight of his constantly increasing flocks involved; but God did not mean him to remain at Padan-aram. He was to lead the separated life in Canaan, and therefore things grew very uncomfortable with Laban. He was not a nice man to live with at any time, but he began to show his crotchets, and his heart-burnings, and a good deal of that scheming spirit of which there was a little in Jacob. It came to him from his mother, who was Laban’s true sister, and had her share of the family failing. So there were endless bickerings, and bargainings, and disputes, and overreachings the one of the other, till at last, as God would have it, Jacob could bear it no longer, and he resolved to take leave of that land, and return to the land of his kindred. An angel appeared to him then to comfort him in going back to his father’s house; and the angel spake in the name of the Lord and said, “I am the God of Bethel,” which must have at once suggested to Jacob that the Lord had not changed, more especially in regard to him. The occurrence at Bethel was the first special occasion, probably, upon which he had known the Lord, and though many years had passed, God comes to him as the same God as he was before. “I am the God of Bethel.” You remember, some of you, perhaps, the first time when pardoning love was revealed to you— when you were brought to see the love of God in the great atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Well, to-night, the Lord says to you, “I am the same God as you have ever found me. I have not changed. I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed, even as your father Jacob was not consumed; for I was even to him the selfsame God.” Brethren, what a mercy it is that we have an immutable God. Everything else changes. Yon moon, which but a little while ago was full, you see now young and new again, and soon she will fill her horns. Everything beneath her beams changes like herself. We are never at one stage, and our circumstances are perpetually varying. But thou, O God, art the same, and of thy years there is no end. Thy creatures are a sea, but thou art the terra firma, and when our soul comes to rest on thee, thou Rock of Ages, then we know what stability means, and, for the first time, we enjoy true rest. Trust ye in the Lord for ever, and rest ye in the Lord alone, for he changes not.

     “I AM THE GOD OF BETHEL. Does not that mean, first, that out God is the God of our early mercies? As we have already said, Bethel was to Jacob the place of early mercy. Let us look back upon our early mercies. Did they not come to us, as they did to him, unsought and unexpected, and when, perhaps we were unprepared for them? I do not know what were Jacob’s feelings when he lay down with a stone for his pillow, but I feel very sure that he never reckoned that the place would be the house of God to him. His exclamation showed this when he said, “Surely, God is in this place, and I knew it not!” It was the last thing on his mind that, amidst those stones, the Lord would set up a ladder for him, and would speak from the top of it to his soul. So, dear friends, with some of us, when God appeared to us, it was in a very unexpected manner. Perhaps we were not looking for him, but in us was fulfilled that memorable word, “I am found of them that sought me not.” We, like Jacob, were glad to meet him, but we had not expected that he would come, or come in so divine a manner, with such fulness of covenant manifestation, and such richness of grace. But lie took our soul or ever we were aware, and carried us right away from ourselves. We, perhaps, like Jacob, were sleeping. God was awake. This was the mercy. And he came to us while yet our heart slept and our mind had not felt awakened towards himself. We seemed slumbering with regard to divine things, but as a dream in the visions of the night so God came to us. He found us sleeping, but nevertheless he manifested himself to us as he doth not unto the world. Do you remember all that? Then the God you have to look to is the God of that unexpected grace. Do you want grace to-night? Why should you not have it? Are you unfit for it? Do you feel more and more how undeserving you are of it? Yet it came to you before when you were in just such a state. Why should not it come again? Sitting in this house of prayer, why should not we again be startled, and be made to say, “Surely God is in this place, and I knew it not. I did not think when I came within these walls that here he would in such a special manner reveal himself to me; but now I shall always think of the seat wherein I sat, and say, ‘How dreadful is this place! It is none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven.’” The God of unexpected manifestations in your early days is the same God still.

     Perhaps, dear friends, some of you can look back upon those early manifestations as having taken place when you were in a very sad and lonely condition. Jacob was alone. He was a man that loved society. There are many signs of that. Perhaps, for the first time in his life, he was then out of the shelter of his tent, and away from the familiar voices of his beloved father and mother. He had always been his mother’s son. Something about him had always attracted her. But now no one was within call. He might, perhaps, have heard the roar of the wild beast, but no familiar voice of a friend was anywhere near. It was a very lonely night to him. Some of us recollect the first night we were away from home— how dreary we felt as children. The same kind of home-sickness will come over men and women when they say to themselves, “Now, at last, I have got out of the range wherein I have been accustomed to go, and I have got away from the dear familiar faces that made life so happy to me.” Yes, but it was just then that God appeared to him, and have not you found it so? Amidst darkest shades Christ appears to you. Have not you had times of real desolation of spirit, from one cause or another, in which the Lord has seemed more sweet to you than ever he was before? When all created streams have run dry, the everlasting fount has bubbled up with more sweet and cooling streams than it ever did at any other time. Well; recollect all those scenes, and the accompanying circumstances which made them seem so cheering, and then say, “This God, even the God of Bethel, is still, my God; and if I am at present in trouble, if I am as lonely now as I was then, if I am brought so low that literally I have nothing but a doorstep for my pillow; if I should lose house, and home, and friends, and be left like an orphan amidst the wild winds, with none to shelter me, yet, O God of Bethel, thou who wast the cover of my head and the protector of my spirit, wilt still be with me, the God of those early visitations in times of my dark distress.” Thus the God of Bethel by that visit cheered Jacob’s heart. I can hardly suppose that there was an individual more unhappily circumstanced that night than Jacob was; but I question whether ever any individual in tent or palace woke up so happy in the morning as the patriarch did. Oh, it was a night that might make us wish to lie beneath the selfsame dews, and look up to the selfsame heaven, if we might see the selfsame vision. We would put from us the downy pillow, the luxurious curtains, and the comfortable well-furnished chambers, and say, “Give us, oh, give us, Lord, if so it might please thee, that same desert place, if we might but see thyself, and hear thy voice, as Jacob did of old.” Oh, how strong he was to pursue his journey after he poured that oil on the top of the stone. I warrant you he went many an extra mile that day in the strength of that night’s sleep. Now he could refrain from pining after his kindred and his father’s house, and keep his face constantly towards Bethuel’s home, whither his father had sent him, for the God of his fathers had said, “I am with thee in all places whither thou goest, and I will bring thee back again unto this place.” Now, do you not recollect how you were strengthened and comforted in like manner? Have not you sung

“Midst darkest shades, if he appear,
My dawning is begun.
He is my soul’s bright morning star,
And he my rising sun.”

Have not you found him all that you wanted, and more than you expected? Has not grace for grace been given, and strength equal to your day, because the Lord appeared of old unto you? Brethren, the presence of God puts the iron shoes on the feet of the weary traveller; nay, makes his feet like hinds’ feet, so that he stands on high places: and while he pours out the oil of gratitude God pours upon him the oil of joy, and puts away his mourning. So the pilgrim foots it merrily over the rough way until he gets to the place whither he is bidden to go. The God of Bethel, then, is the God of early visits unexpected, given when much needed, and yielding just what was needed of peace to the soul.

     “I AM THE GOD OF BETHEL. This title conveys a fresh lesson. Does it not mean, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ? What is “Beth-el” but “the house of God.” Brethren, I hear that term constantly applied to your buildings that are made with stone or iron, with brick and mortar, or with lath and plaster, or whatever it may be. Every little conventicle that is put up, and every huge cathedral that is reared, be it a building with lowly porch or lofty spire, is called the house of God. Well, did you never read where it is said, “God that made heaven and earth dwelleth not in temples made with hands, that is to say, of this building”? Have you never read that magnificent sentence of Solomon at the consecration of the temple, “Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built”? Think ye then that he will dwell in any of these classic buildings, be they of Greek, or Gothic, of Norman or mediaeval architecture? Oh, sirs, God is great and greatly to be praised, as much outside as inside of your petty structures. He is everywhere; he filleth all things: and God’s house is not a place that you can build for him, artistic as your tastes may be. Your memorial windows are not his remembrancers. They may charm you, they cannot cheat him. But there is a place where God ever dwells. What habitation hath he prepared for himself, and what tabernacle hath he builded? There is one abode mysteriously fashioned. We speak of its strange conception and its matchless purity of architecture. It was the body of the Lord Jesus Christ. “A body hast thou prepared me.” And the house of God, the true Bethel, is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, for “In hum dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” For “the word was made flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The house of God is first the person of Christ, and then the church of God, which is the body of Christ mystically. This is the house and the household of God, even the church of the living God.

     Not now to insist upon that meaning of the word Bethel, or on him who came to Bethlehem, and there was born the very house of the divine indwelling, I will rather muse upon that vision which made God, especially to Jacob that night, the God of the Saviour. He saw the ladder, the foot whereof was on earth, and the top whereof reached to heaven— a ladder which can never be explained in any other way than as a figure of that same Christ who came down from heaven, who also is in heaven, by whom we must ascend to heaven, and through whom heaven’s blessings come down to us.

     The God of Bethel is a God who does concern himself with the things of earth, not a God who shuts himself up in heaven, but a God who hath a ladder fixed between heaven and earth. The God of most men— the God of the unregenerate— is an inanimate God, or, if alive and able to see, he is an unfeeling God, careless about them and their personal interests. “Oh, it is preposterous,” say they, “to think that he takes notice of our sorrows and troubles— and still more absurd to suppose that he hears prayer, or that he ever interferes in answer to the voice of supplication, to grant a poor man his requests. It cannot be.” That is their God, you see. That is the God of the heathen— a dead, blind, dumb God. I do not wonder that they do not pray to him. They could not expect an answer. But the God of grace is one who has opened a communication between heaven and earth, who notices the cries of his children, puts their tears into his bottle, sympathises with their sorrows, looks down on them with an eye of pity and a father’s love, has communion with them, and permits them to have communion with him, and all that through the blessed person of the Lord Jesus Christ. See where the foot of this ladder rests on earth, for he lies in the manger at Bethlehem as a babe. He lives on earth the life of a common labourer, wearing the smock-frock of toil. He dies upon the accursed tree a felon’s death, that he may be like man even in bearing the image of death upon his face. This is where the ladder stands, in the miry clay of manhood. But see where it rises, for he is equal with God, co-equal, equal in power, and wisdom, and dignity, and holiness, and every glorious attribute, very God of very God, before whom angels bow. The bottom of the ladder comes down to man, but the top of it reaches right up to God, in all the glory of the mysterious Godhead. Thus, you see, there is a link between the two. And the God whom we worship does hold fellowship with us, and remains no silent spectator of our griefs. Up that ladder angels ascend, and our prayers ascend, our praises, our tears, our sighs. Jesus teaches them the way. And there is a traffic downwards, too, for blessings come, both rich and rare, by the way of the Mediator. We shall never be able to count them. How great is the sum of them! What traffic there is on the rungs of that ladder! Upwards, O my soul, send thy messengers a thousand times a day; but downwards God’s messengers are continually coming— mercies, favours, altogether as innumerable as the sands that are upon the sea-shore, and all coming down that ladder. There is a way of judgment which the swift winged angel takes without a ladder, but the way of mercy always needs that staircase of light. No mercy or favour comes to us, save through Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom we deal with God and God deals with us.

     That way in Jacob’s dream, you will notice, was eminently a way commended to him, for the foot of the ladder was where Jacob lay, and the top of it was where God was. Have we realised this? Do you know God, my brothers and sisters, as one with whom you can speak— with whom you can speak yourself— as real to you as your husband, your father, your friend? Are you in the habit of keeping up constant communication with your God? If you are, you know the God of Bethel. If you are not, I pray that the God of Bethel may reveal himself to you. You could not have had fellowship with God if there had been no Christ. Without the ladder how could there be a connection between Jacob and God? But with the ladder, even Jesus Christ, the way is open, open always, open now. Oh, it has been open many and many a time. We have resorted to it, and never found it closed. We have cried to him in deep distress, but the way upwards has been open when all surrounding ways were shut. We have wanted mercy, and mercy has come when we thought that mercy could not possibly reach us. Yet it came downwards when it could not have come in any other way. And it is just the same to-night. Oh, use the ladder: use it well. Dart thy desires upwards now. They shall tread those rounds. Thy thanks, thy petitions, thy confessions— send them up. They are welcome. The ladder is made on purpose for the traffic. Do thou use it now, and as thou usest it, bless the God of Bethel with all thy heart.

     Still further let us remember that this God of Bethel is the God of angels. We do not often say much about those mysterious beings, for it is but little that we know of them. This, however, we know— that angels are set by God to be the watchers over his people. Jacob was asleep, but the angels were wide awake. They were going up and down that ladder while Jacob was lying there, steeped in slumber. So when you and I are sleeping, when the blessed God has put his finger on our eyelids, and said, “Lie still, my child, and be refreshed,” there may be no policeman at the door, no body-guard to prevent intrusion, but there are angels ever watching over us. We shall not come to harm if we put our trust in God. “I will lay me down to sleep, for thou makest me to dwell in safety.” These angels were also messengers. “Are they not all ministering spirits?” and are they not sent with messages from God? To Jacob they had their errand. On more than one occasion angels bore him messages from the Most High. How far or how oft they bring us messages now I cannot tell. Sometimes thoughts drop into the soul that do not reach us in the regular connection of our thoughts. We scarcely know how to account for them. It may be they are due to the immediate action of the blessed Spirit, but they may, for aught we know, be brought by some other spirit, pure and heavenly, sent to suggest those thoughts to our soul. We cannot tell. The angels are watchers certainly, and they are messengers without a doubt. Moreover, they are our protectors. God employs them to bear us up in their hands, lest at any time we dash our foot against a stone. We do not see them, but unseen agencies are probably the strongest agencies in the world. We know it is so in physics. Such agencies as electricity, which we cannot perceive, are, nevertheless, unquestionably powerful, and, when put forth in their strength, quite beyond the control of man. No doubt myriads of spiritual creatures walk this earth, both when we sleep and when we wake. How much of good they do us it is impossible for us to tell. But this we do know — they are “sent forth to minister to them that are heirs of salvation,” and they are in God’s hands the means, oftentimes, of warding off from us a thousand ills which we know not of, and about which, therefore, we cannot thank God that we are kept from them, except we do so by thanking him, as I think we ought to do more often, for those unknown mercies which are none the less precious because we have not the sense to be able to perceive them. Perhaps in mid-air at this moment there may be battles between the bright spirits of God and the spirits of evil. Perhaps full often when Satan might tempt, there come against him a mighty squadron of cherubim and seraphim to drive him back, and those strange battles of which Milton sings in his wondrous epic may not be all a dream. We cannot tell. We know they do dispute; the good angels do dispute with the wicked, and contend. We know that they are mighty in battle, and strong on behalf of God’s people. Anyhow, this is true: Omnipotence has many servants, and some of those least seen are the strongest it employs. If there be an angel anywhere, my friend, he is thy friend if thou be God’s friend. If there be in heaven or earth any bright intelligence flying swiftly at this moment, he flies upon no errand of harm to thee. Be thou full sure of that. Occasionally I meet with very foolish people, who believe in things which are unrevealed, in things superstitious, in glamours strange, and baseless fancies. Ofttimes they are not a little frightened about I scarcely know what— about enchantments, divinations, or sorceries. There is such a credulity that still survives among the extremely ignorant. But whenever I have heard such observations I have always thought of that wonderful text in the Book of Numbers, “Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel.” There can be no spiritual powers which you or I have any need to fear. I remember hearing a good brother speak about courage against the devil, and in reference to spiritual power he said that he believed that a man of God, when he had faith, could kick his way through a street full of devils from one end to the other. I admired his simile. It was worthy of Martin Luther, for it was the kind of thing that Martin Luther would have said. Oh, if the air were as full of devils as it is of fogs, a man that has God within him might laugh them all to scorn. Who can hurt the man whom God protects? Unseen powers and terrible they may be, but they cannot injure us, for there are other unseen powers more terrible still, the hosts of that Lord who is mighty in battle, and all these are sworn to protect the children of God. “Thou hast given commandment to save me,” says David; and if God has charged his angels to protect and save his people from all harm, depend upon it they are secure.

     Moreover, the God of Bethel is the God of Providence. That he is the God of Providence, and that he revealed himself as such, is very clear, for he told Jacob, “Behold I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again to this land, for I will not leave thee till I have done that which I have spoken to thee of so he gave Jacob a promise, that he should have bread to eat and raiment to put on, and should come again to that place in peace. Christian, thy God is the God of Providence. He is the God of Bethel. Doddridge’s hymn, which we sang just now, thus celebrates his praise—

“O God of Bethel, by whose hand
Thy people still are fed;
Who through this weary pilgrimage
Hast all our fathers led.”

Let us think of it. Brethren, God is with his people in all places wherever they go. On the land or on the sea, by day or by night, you never can be where God is not. It is impossible for you to journey out of your Father’s dominions. You may live in a mansion or a hovel, and yet still be in his house, for his house is of vast dimensions. “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” You may dwell here or there, and still be in the great house of the heavenly Father.

     And he is with you to provide you with all things needful. Has not it been so until now? You may have had some very hard pinches. Perhaps you have partaken the bitter fare of widowhood. Your children may have cried about your knee for daily bread. Perchance you have been very poor, and the supply you have received has been scant. Still you are alive. Thy food has been given thee, and thy waters have been sure. Thy garments are worn, but not quite worn out. Thy shoes about thee scarcely defend thee from the damp; but still thou art not altogether unshod. Hitherto the Lord hath helped thee. Jehovah-Jireh has been thy song. The Lord has provided. He whom Jacob worshipped as the God of Bethel, has been the God of Bethel till now. Canst thou not trust him? The little birds in the winter morning sit on the bare boughs and sing when the snow covers all the ground, and they cannot tell where their breakfast will come from. They do the first duty, they sing, and they sing before they have had their breakfast, and God somehow provides for them. Seldom do you pick up a dead sparrow. For the most part the birds of heaven are fed. Perhaps you would like to live in a cage and be fed regularly, and have a pension. I believe that more of those birds die that are taken care of as pets by men and women than of those that are taken care of by God. So it is better for you to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. He has not let you want, nor will he, even to your journey’s end. Take this from his own mouth. “Trust in the Lord and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” There is God’s “verily” for it. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but that “verily” shall never fail.

     He promised Jacob, too, that he should have a seed and a posterity. It did not look like it as Jacob lay there; but yet he proved its verity or ever he came back. Why, when he returned he had some twelve children about him. There was a God of Bethel! He had indeed granted him the desire of his heart. As the good man said a little while after, “With my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now have I become two bands.” Ah, Jacob! he promised to provide for you. Look at the troop of children. “Ay,” but Jacob might have said, “that is part of the burden.” Nay, then, but listen to the bleating of those sheep. Listen to the lowing of the cattle. What meaneth that, Jacob? That is the provision that God has given me in the land of exile.” Ah, and you have most of you got far more than you ever reckoned upon. You have, some of you, to thank God indeed for what he has done for you in providential things, and even those that have least have got more than they deserve. Let them recollect that; and however poor we may be, we shall never be as poor as we were when we were born. We brought nothing into this world. Come as low as we may, we shall have enough to float us into heaven, depend upon that — just enough manna to last until we get across Jordan, and then we shall eat of the old corn of the land that floweth with milk and honey.

     But God had also promised Jacob that he would bring him back to that place again, and that was another engagement of providence— that he was to go there and be brought back again, and by this should it be known that he was the God of Bethel. Now this really looked at one time very unlikely. Seven years he had to serve for Rachel, and then got Leah instead, so there were seven more years to serve for Rachel. Then there came one year during which he had to be after the spotted sheep, and then another after the ring-straked, and so on; so it did not look as if he should ever get away from Mesopotamia at all; howbeit God had said that he would bring him back there in peace. Would he do it? Yes, he would drive, him out of Laban’s house somehow, for return to his fatherland he must. Yet as soon as he gets out of Laban’s house, Laban is after him in hot haste. I do not know what Laban was not going to do— something very horrible indeed — going to slay the father and mother with the children; but by the time that he gets close up to Jacob he cannot help himself: his heart is changed. He wants to kiss his daughters and his grandchildren, and he has not got any thought of anger in him. God had warned him in a dream not to speak to Jacob either good or bad. So Laban tells Jacob that he is very sorry that he did not know that he was going, for he would have sent him out with mirth and with songs, with tabret and with harp. Though the truth is he would not have let him go at all. But God knew how to manage Laban, though Jacob did not; and when Jacob left Laban’s land, Jacob had dwelt long enough in Laban’s land, and so he was never once to pass into it again, for they had left a heap of stones, and that reminded them that neither of them was to go over those stones to hurt one another; and they said, “The Lord watch between us when we are absent from one another.” And they did not interfere with one another anymore.

     There are many things in providence that God will bring to pass in a very mysterious way. He uses trial and trouble full often to compass his wise designs. It is not the winds that blow directly towards the harbour that are always the best for ships. They speed better with cross winds sometimes, as you might think them— winds not altogether favourable, as some would imagine, because they have a little touch of another quarter in them. And so it appears to me that the best wind to take a man to heaven is not the wind that blows due heavenward all the time, as he fondly wishes, but a cross wind that gives you a little chop of sea now and then, and makes you feel the stress of anxiety and adversity. The thing a man wishes for his own welfare is not always the most desirable. Full often the damage we dreaded has brought us a blessing we had not expected. Some sad reverse has issued in a glad result We had better leave it with God to order all our affairs. Brethren, God manages providence; you may rest assured of that. He stands in the chariot and holds the reins. Though the steeds be furious, he holds them in with bit and bridle. Nothing happens but what God ordains or permits. Nothing, however terrible it may seem, can thwart his everlasting purposes of mercy, or turn aside one of his dear children from the eternal inheritance to which he has appointed them all. Rest ye in the Lord, for the Lord liveth and the Lord reigneth. Stay yourselves upon him. Nothing can hurt you. Make him. your refuge, and you shall find a most secure abode, and rejoice in the God of Bethel, who is God of providence.

     Next to this, the God of Bethel is the God of the promises. What a many promises he made that night to Jacob! Yet he kept them all. So the God of Bethel is to you and to me the God of promises.

     The everlasting covenant was confirmed to Jacob— “I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac.” That meant that he was the God of the covenant. And the God with whom you and I have to deal is a God who may do as he wills. He is an absolute sovereign, but he never can do anything but what is right. Nevertheless, he has bound himself— to speak with reverence— with bonds and pledges to us in the person of Jesus Christ, saying, “Surely, blessing, I will bless thee.” There is a covenant entered into on our behalf by the Lord Jesus with the Father. It brings to us unnumbered blessings, assuredly and certainly, for God cannot lie, and he has given us two immutable pledges, that we may have strong consolation, and never doubt his faithfulness. Beloved, the God of the promises has appointed your lot and heritage, and you shall stand in it at the end of the days. The God of the promises has appeared to you in Jesus Christ, and to you also has he sworn an oath; therefore, you also may rest in the blood of Jesus, which makes the covenant sure. He has promised never to leave his people. “I will not leave thee,” saith he to Jacob; and he says the like to you. He has promised that he will never forget to give what he has declared he will give. “I will not leave thee till I have done that which I have spoken to. thee of.” Oh, blessed word! I feel as if my mouth were closed and words failed me. The divine utterance itself is so rich, so full of marrow and fatness, that to talk about it seems like gilding gold, or adding whiteness to the lily’s beauty. Only take it home. May the Spirit of God apply it. The God that changes not has made all the promises, yea and amen, in Christ Jesus to the glory of God by us, and every one of his promises made to believers shall stand fast and firm, though earth’s old columns bow— “though heaven and earth shall pass away, neither jot nor tittle of his word shall fail.”

     But time fails me. I must leave this inspiriting meditation just to notice, once more, that the God of Bethel is the God of our vows. Do not forget this last, for it is the practical part— the God of Bethel is the God of our vows. You remember, brethren, Jacob vowed that God should be his God. You remember when you made a like vow.

“Oh, happy day that fixed my choice
On thee, my Saviour and my God;
Well may this glowing heart rejoice
And tell its rapture all abroad,
High heaven that heard that solemn vow,
That vow renewed shall daily hear,
Till in life’s latest hour I bow,
And bless in death a bond so dear.”

     God who gave himself to us has led us to give ourselves to him. Now we are not our own, for we are bought with a price. Looking up from the inmost recesses of our sincere hearts we can say, “My God, my Father, thou art mine for ever and for ever.” And then Jacob, having made that vow, said— “this stone which I have set up for a pillar shall be God’s house.” In the fresh gratitude of his heart he made a solemn dedication to the Lord. And have you not said something like it? Did not you give your house to God when you gave yourself to him? Have you not given to God not only one place to be a Bethel, but have not you asked him to make your whole life, and every place where you are, a Bethel to his name? So it should be, and I trust so it is, for this is true Christianity— not to account this place or that edifice holy, but to make every place, be it your kitchen, or your, parlour, your bedchamber, or your workshop, holy; and the pots and the pans, and the implements of your daily calling all holy before the Lord. Is that your vow? Let it be your daily desire that that vow should be fulfilled— for God be ye resolved to live, for God ready to die, if need be— never doing anything but what you can ask his blessing on; and whether ye eat or drink, or whatever ye do, doing all to the glory of God, and doing all in the name of the Lord Jesus, give thanks to God and the Father by him. This should be true.

     The other thing that Jacob promised was that he would give a tenth unto the Lord. I do not know whether any of you have made any vow of that kind. I suppose there are few Christians who have not, at some time or other, made a vow. Well, brethren and sisters, perform your vows unto the Lord. God forbid that we should ever say anything in the heat of emotion, or make any pledge without due premeditation, for God is not to be mocked. When we have once devoted anything unto the Lord, let us not draw back our hand. I have known Christian men who have said, “If the Lord should prosper me till I am worth such and such an amount, all that I gain beyond it shall be given as a free-will offering to him.” I know one or two of the largest givers in Christendom who are thus fulfilling the vows they made. Yet I have also known some persons entangled by their vows. They have had in perplexity to ask, “What am I to do? I am in such a position that a larger capital than I ever contemplated is really necessary for the carrying on of my business: yet I have pledged myself to save and call my own no more than a definite sum which I have already in possession.” You must take heed how you vow, for you may entangle yourself. Very often it is best not to vow at all; but if in the hour of sorrow you have opened your mouth unto the Lord, take heed that you do not withdraw from the thing your heart has purposed, and your lips have uttered. Sometimes the Lord directs his people to make some solemn pledge, which otherwise they might not have done, on purpose that they may do more for the glory and honour of his name than they have ever done before. I remember one night, when I was about to preach, my subject went from me, my text and every thought about it were gone. It was in a village chapel, and I sat there I know not in what state of trepidation. I breathed my soul to God; and there came before me as in a moment the face of a certain worthy brother— a poor man, exceedingly poor— who wanted me to assist him in his education, but I had not the means just then: I did not know how to do it. I breathed a prayer to God that he would help me, and I promised that that brother should be taken. He was one of my earliest students, and he has been honoured of God and blessed in the conversion of souls for the past sixteen or seventeen years. I do not think that I should ever have taken him if it had not been for that dilemma of mine. And when I had vowed the vow unto the Lord that I would find the money for him, even if I went without myself, my sermon came back to me, and I preached with pleasure, and I hope with profit. I was glad of my vow, and I was able to keep it. Sometimes such things are right. At other times it would be absurd to think of making such a vow. Better to feel that everything belongs to God already, and therefore you have nothing to spare to vow with, because you have already consecrated everything that you had from first to last to his glory. Yet if you ever do set up an Ebenezer in your pilgrimage, be sure to pour some oil out of your cruse at the time to hallow it, as Jacob did. Then the vows you have ratified will be sweet to look back upon. The God of Bethel, who remembers the vow that thou vowedst unto him, will be the more precious unto thy soul. I should not wonder if that woman who poured the alabaster box of ointment on Christ’s head used often to think what a blessed thing it was that she did. I am sure that there was not one time in all her life that she ever said, “Oh, how handy the money of that alabaster box would come in now; I wish I had not spent it.” No, she would think it over oftentimes. Perhaps she became a poor woman afterwards. At any rate, Christ was gone, and she would say, “Oh, how glad I am that when the opportunity offered, I seized it.” Though Judas said, “To what purpose is this waste?” she did not care much about Judas. She would say, “I anointed my blessed Master and filled the house with the sweet perfume, and I am glad I did it, and I shall be. glad even when I see his face in heaven.” So will you often feel. Take no credit to yourself for anything you do. That we could never tolerate. Yet be thankful if the Lord leads you in his providence, and enables you by his grace to do something special for him. It will make you think with all the more sweetness of the God of Bethel as you read of the way in which God accepts your votive offering; for my text runs like this: “I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me.” So the vow is part and parcel of the title which God loves to remember, and would have us lovingly remember too.

     Dear friends, I am afraid there are some among you who do not know the God of Bethel. Let me tell you that he is the God you want — the God of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the only ladder for your poor souls to get to heaven by. This is a ladder with easy rounds. It is a ladder strong enough to bear the biggest sinner that ever tried his weight on it, and if thou wilt but come and trust Jesus, thou shalt get up that ladder, even to the place where Jehovah dwells in all his purity, and thou shalt be with him for ever and ever.



The Eternal Truth of God

By / Jun 22

The Eternal Truth of God

 
“His truth endureth to all generations.” — Psalm c. 5.

 

IT was very solemn work this morning to lay bare the sin of unbelief. It was the burden of the Lord to him who had to speak, and it could have been but very small pleasure to those who had to listen ; nevertheless, I trust it was something better than pleasure to many, for it drove their souls to pray to God for others, and sinners were moved, as we know already, to yield up their hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ. After meditating upon the heinousness of this sin— the sin of making God a liar — after even thinking of it, horror took hold upon my soul, and it seemed to me that we ought to have a supplementary sermon to-night in honour of the truth of God. As we have, as it were, cleansed the temple, and swept out the dreadful filthiness of giving the Lord the lie, it is now our part to offer a sweet savour offering, by declaring the faithfulness of the Lord. It is my earnest desire that each one of us may join in the devout exercise, and bear our witness that, as far as we have known the Lord, he has been a God of truth to us. We will also rehearse the scriptural testimony to this great and certain fact that God cannot lie, and meditate upon the evidence that in him and in all his actions faithfulness shines in the highest possible perfection. I desire in the courts of the Lord’s house, and in the midst of his people, to extol him whose counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.

     We will consider only two points, though those will subdivide into many others; and the first is, that, according to the text, and according to fact, God is true; and, secondly, that God is true in all generations.

     I. First, then, GOD IS TRUE. He is true in his very nature. There is no deceit, falsehood, or error in the essential nature of God. It could not be. We, from our very birth, have deceitful hearts, deceitful above all things; and in us the old serpent who deceived our first parents has fearfully perverted our judgment, and turned aside our souls from their integrity, so that often we put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter, and frequently we believe a lie and reject the truth. But God is not a man that he should lie. His very name is “The Lord God, abundant in goodness and truth.” This is a part of his holiness: the angels could not cry, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth,” if God were not true. Admit for a single moment untruthfulness on the part of God, and you have at once destroyed the wholeness, or holiness, of his ever blessed and adorable character. What makes men untruthful? Whatever it may be, it is clear that nothing of the kind can operate with God. When a man tells a lie it is often through fear — fear of the consequences of the truth; but the eternal Jehovah cannot dread consequences: he is omnipotent, all things are in his hands. When a man utters a lie he frequently does so because he thinks there is no other way of accomplishing his end; but the infinite wisdom of God is never short of resources: he knows how to accomplish his will and pleasure without adopting the mean devices and paltry schemes of poor pitiful man. Man sometimes promises what he cannot perform, and then he is false to his promise; but that can never be the case with the Almighty, who has but to speak, and it is done; to command, and it stands fast. Falsehood is the wickedness — I dare not call it the infirmity — the wickedness of little natures; but as for the Great Supreme, you cannot conceive him acting in any manner that is otherwise than straightforward, upright, and truthful. A God of truth and righteousness is he essentially. He must be so.

     The Lord our God is not only true in his nature, but he is true to his nature. We are not always true to ourselves. I have known a generous man who, in a pet, has acted very ungenerously. I have known a man universally admitted to be just and upright who, nevertheless, under pressure, has stooped to an action which he could not justify; and we have read of persons exceedingly kind by nature who, nevertheless, have perpetrated cruel deeds in times of fear. They were not true to themselves. They did actions of which any candid person would say, “This is not like the man: we are astonished that he should do this. He seems to have stepped out of his ordinary path to do a something altogether foreign to his better nature.” But the Lord is always true to himself. You never find him doing anything that is not godlike. Select the acts of his creation. If he makes an aphis to creep upon a rosebud, you will find traces of infinite wisdom in it: you shall submit the insect to the microscope and discern a wisdom in it as glorious as that which shines in yonder rolling stars. If in providence some minor event comes under your notice, in that event you shall find no deviation from the constant rule of right and love by which the Most High characterises all his doings. There are no emergencies with God in which he could be driven to act an untruth; no pressures, no difficulties, no infirmities which could produce falsehood in him. “I am Jehovah: I change not,” saith he. Find him where you will, he is what he was and what he ever shall be — the eternal and ever glorious I AM, over whom circumstances can have no kind of influence, — who, indeed, knows nothing of circumstances, for he fills all places, and all times and all ages are present with him. As for the creatures, they are as nothing in his sight, and he is all in all. Ever true, ever true by nature, and true to his nature is the Lord our God, and adored be his thrice holy name. By Jesus Christ, we present to thee, O Jehovah, our adoring praise!

     Let us further notice that God is true in action. He has been true to the first transaction of which we are aware, namely, the making of the eternal covenant What God has done in the eternity which we call the past (but which to him is as the present), we do not fully know. We have no reason to believe that we know much of what God has done. There may be as many other worlds and sorts of beings existent as there are sands upon the sea shore, for aught we know; and the Lord may have been occupied in ages past with ten thousand glorious plans, and economies, as yet unrevealed to man. We cannot tell what he doeth, or what he hath done. We are creatures of a day, and know nothing; we are like insects that are born on a leaf, and die amid our fellows at the setting of the sun, but he lives on for ever. We talk of the “eternal hills,” but they are babes that were born yesterday, as far as he is concerned. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” We say, “Roll on, thou ancient ocean!” but the ocean is not ancient; it is a drop that fell yesterday from the tip of the Creator’s finger.

     We cannot tell all that the Lord did in the past; but we are told in Scripture that he made a covenant in the olden time with his Son, and with us who are believers in his Son; and in that covenant the chief point was that he would give his Son to be a ransom for many, — that Jesus Christ should lay down his life for his sheep, and give himself for his church. That was the most astounding promise that was ever made. Indeed, all the promises made to men are couched in that. Did he keep it? Did he take the darling of his bosom, the pure and holy Christ, and send him down to earth to be made in the likeness of sinful flesh? Did he submit that his peer, his equal, the Son of the Highest, should wear the smock-frock of a peasant and live among the sons of men as a carpenter’s son? Did he fulfil that wondrous word, and allow that dear Son of his to be nailed to a cross — to die on that gibbet like a common felon? Did he permit him to slumber in the dust among the dead? He did. Let Bethlehem and Calvary say, “The Lord is true. He hath kept his covenant.

“True to his word, he gave his Son
To die for crimes which men have done.
Blest pledge! he never will revoke
A single promise he has spoke.”

     But it was a stipulation of that covenant on the Lord’s side that Jesus Christ should have a people who should be his reward for his sufferings. The Father gave to Christ a chosen people — his sheep, his bride. These were to be his. “He shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied.” Has the divine Father kept that part of his covenant? Beloved, he is keeping it every day. By the preaching of the gospel, and by other means in the hand of the Spirit, those for whom Jesus died are being called out from among the mass of mankind. They are reconciled to God by the death of Jesus, and they are saved; and whenever these present themselves before the throne of God he looks upon them as forgiven, regards them as one with his beloved Son and members of the body of Christ, and therefore he accepts them in the Beloved. For Christ’s sake he preserves them; for Christ’s sake he sanctifies them; for Christ’s sake he will by-and-by glorify them. The covenant of grace has many promises in it, but not one of them has failed. As on Christ’s side the covenant was kept by his death, so on the Father’s side the covenant has been kept by the salvation of those whom Jesus redeemed from among men when he gave himself a ransom for many. Oh, beloved, if it could be proved that the covenant of grace had failed, if there had been the smallest faltering in the fulfilment of this divine treaty, then might we speak with bated breath concerning the truthfulness of God, and the sinner would not be so guilty when he makes God a liar. But because in this grand covenant transaction God has not swerved by so much as one jot or tittle from his promise, let his name be blessed! Praise him, all ye saints in heaven! Praise him, ye saints on earth, for “his truth endureth to all generations.”

     God being thus true in his nature, and true to his nature, and true to his covenant, he has been true to all his purposes. Whatever God resolved to do he has done; whatever he decreed has come to pass. There has been no change in the purpose of God at any time. Straight forward he goeth, and none can hinder him. The opposition of men, and the opposition of devils, are as nothing; these can no more avail to change his plans than an infant’s breath could alter the course of the sun. “Hath he said, and shall he not do it?” Who art thou that hopest to thwart the designs of God? What he resolves to do who shall dare to censure, much less to oppose? Who is he that shall say unto the Lord, “Thine arm is short; thou art not able to accomplish thy work”? Behold, his will is omnipotence, and he doeth as he pleases amongst the angels of heaven, and among the inhabitants of this lower world. From the time he planned the whole scheme of providence and grace nothing has ever made him alter so much as one single line of it. There it stands, and he is true to it, and true he will be, till, like a vesture, he shall fold up creation as an outworn mantle, which has answered its wearer’s end.

     This leads us to remark that God is true to his promises. There is not a promise which God has made, but what either he has kept it, or else, being dated for the future, he will keep it when the time appointed comes. Whatever he has said to the sons of men has been meant. How sadly common it is for men to make engagements in public while, under the rose, they never intend to do anything of the sort. How many promises are made to please the ear and cheat the heart. Blessed be the Lord, it is not so with him. I love chat passage wherein it is written, “I have not spoken in secret, in the dark places of the earth. I said not unto the seed of Jacob, seek ye my face in vain.” There are no mental reservations and Jesuitical equivocations with God; there is nothing in his secret purpose which will contradict the promise which he has given. When lie says to the wicked, “Ye shall surely die,” he means it; but when he says, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as wool,” he means it. And when he says, “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more,” it is not mere talk. It is reality. He means it. He is “the Lord God, merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin.” There is truth in what he says, and he fulfils it. Oh, how many of us there are here who can tell of the pardoning mercy of God! We have been forgiven; we have been saved. We sought the Lord and he heard us: we cried unto him and he answered us. We came before him with no plea except the blood of Jesus, and he said, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins, which are many, are forgiven thee.” Blessed be his name, his promises are true. Now, child of God, I want you to note this upon the tablets of your heart. Be sure of it; for on your assurance of G od’s truthfulness very much depends. You cannot come to God and be accepted if you have any suspicion of the divine veracity, for “without faith it is impossible to please him.” Do not play with God’s promises. Do not say, “I hope they are true.” You have no business to hope about it. They are true. Do not go with a promise on your lips and say, “Lord, I sometimes hope that this will be fulfilled.” No, but say, “Lord, I know thou canst not lie: thou hast said it, and thou wilt do it. As the pitcher hangs on the nail, so do I hang upon thy truth.” God deserves to be treated with unbounded confidence. Sooner shall heaven and earth pass away than one promise of our God shall fall to the ground.

“He will not his great self deny;
A God all truth can never lie;
As well might he his being quit
As break his oath or word forget.”

Now, as he is thus true to his secret purposes and true to his promises, I may add that he is true to all his published word, which he has made known to us in holy Scripture. This book, having in it testimonies from God, is not a book for yesterday, nor shall it be merely a book for to-day, but for all time. It stands and must stand fast for ever. Did the law condemn sin? It condemns it still. Did the gospel provide pardon eighteen hundred years ago? It does so still. Is there a promise that believers shall be saved? They are saved still. Is there a declaration that unbelievers shall be damned? Damned they must be, for that word can never alter. Of every gracious declaration of the Most High we may sing, —

“Engraved as in eternal brass
The mighty promise shines,
Nor can the powers of darkness raze
Those everlasting lines.”

Every word of God is true, and standeth fast like the pillars of heaven; neither can it ever be changed; rest ye sure of this.

     Further, let me observe to you to-night that God is true in every relation that he sustains. Is he a King? The kingcraft of God is not like that of many princes, who think that their ambassadors ought to be sent abroad to tell lies for the good of their countrymen at home. No, there are no deceits, and tricks and plots with the court of heaven. Nothing of what is called finesse and intrigue enter into the government of God. It is all straightforward with him, and so plain and clear that it baffles villainy, countermines the mining of deceit, and makes the diviners mad. O blessed King upon thy throne, thy courtiers are men of clean hands, who love the truth in their hearts: they dwell with thee, but as for liars and deceivers, thou hast said that they shall be cast into the lake of fire.

     The Lord will be true as a Judge. When you and I come to be tried before him there will be no bribes taken; there will be no suborning of witnesses, no twisting of the law. In righteousness shall he judge the world, and his people with equity, for he is just and true in all his ways, and will by no means clear the guilty. He will only clear those whom he has made righteous through the righteousness of his Son.

     Blessed be his name, he is true as a Father. Many fathers are bad fathers — hard, forgetful, selfish; we pity the children who have such parents. They are not fathers at all in the true sense. But God is a true father, pitying and compassionating, helping and loving and providing for his children.

     And he is a true friend. There are friends in the world of a sad sort. Friends! — perhaps we have a score of them: friends while we have a shilling, but they leave us when our purse is empty, or we are under a cloud. “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” says our proverb, and such a friend is God; for, oh, how he helps the helpless! How the widow and the fatherless, and those that have no helper, look up to him; and how in our despair, when we are sore pressed and crushed under a burden of trouble, we have turned to him, and he has helped us, truly helped us, for he is a practical friend.

     But I should tire you if I went through all the relationships which God sustains to us: only I may sum up all by saying that he is true and thorough in them all. There is no pretence or mockery with him.

     And I will close this head by saying that God is true to every yuan, to every woman in the world. When you get to the end of life you will find that everything that God said is true. You may have doubted it, but experience will prove it. You may call him a liar, as we proved that unbelievers did this morning, but you will find him true, — true to your cost if you die rejecting him, but assuredly true in all respects. Some dare to charge God with favouritism, and I do not know what they will not say. Such things have I heard said about the living God that I will not defile my lips by repeating them; but, sinner, you will find him to be impartial. Your judgment before God will be so just that you yourself will agree in it. Though it sends you down to hell, you will be obliged by your speechless confusion to confess that God has kept his word with you, and has dealt out impartial justice. You will not at any time be able to turn round upon him and say, “This is not what was written in thy book: this is not what thy ministers told me: this is not what my conscience tells me should be.” Nay, nay, but as it is written so shall you find it. Do not risk the Lord’s driving you for ever from his presence, for if you die in unbelief he will do so. If you reject him, he will reject you; and if you despise his Son, he will despise you. If you will live and die impenitent and unbelieving, you shall be driven from his presence into outer darkness, where shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth; and he has told you so. I sometimes pity persons who are brought up before the magistrates for breaking some of our new laws, which the magistrates themselves cannot administer, and which nobody can understand. The magistrate says, “It is clear you have broken a law,” and the man replies, “I did not know it.” I pity a man in that case. But you do know the law of the Lord. God’s laws have been published, fastened up in your conscience, and printed in the book which is in all your houses; and so if you sin against his commands you sin against light and knowledge, and will be utterly without excuse when he calls you to his bar.

     There I leave this great truth, having illustrated it in a considerable number of ways. God is true.

     II. The second head was to be, that GOD IS TRUE IN ALL GENERATIONS. This fact breaks up into three heads, in the past, in the present, and in the future.

     I should have to detain you here for a long time if I were to go into that first head at any length. God has been true in the past The whole of history, sacred and profane, goes to prove that. Take the beginning of our race. God warned Adam and Eve that if they ate of the forbidden fruit they should surely die. He indicated to them therein a spiritual death, which signifies separation from God. In the day they ate thereof they did die — die as to all spiritual life, and Adam, instead of welcoming God, went to hide himself among the trees of the garden, and felt that he was naked. God then told him that in the sweat of his face he should eat bread, and that his wife should bring forth her children with bitter pangs. Has it not been so? Every man’s labour and every woman’s travail prove that God is true. But then the Lord came in with a voice of mercy, and he said, “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head,” and Jesus came, the woman’s promised seed; and he has bruised the head of Satan, and proclaimed to us salvation through the Man, the Mediator, who is also God over all, blessed for ever. The first promise has been kept.

     Years rolled on, and God destroyed the world with a flood. You know the story. God said he would, and he did it. He told Noah to go into the ark, and he would save him. He went in, and he saved him. But when he came out, perhaps Noah was half afraid the world would be destroyed again; and, when a shower began to fall, he did not know but what the sluices of heaven had been pulled up again, and that once more the floods might come. Presently he saw in the skies, that wonderful sight which I think none of us can look upon without delight— a rainbow, a bow of many colours, not a bloodstained bow, but a bow of joy, many-coloured, like streamers of delight — a bow not turned downwards to shoot at us, but upwards, as if we might shoot our prayers up to God upon it — a bow without an arrow, to show that God has not come out to war with men. And what did God say? “I, behold even I, do set my bow in the cloud, for behold I make a covenant with the world that seed time and harvest, summer and winter, cold and heat, shall never fail; and I will no more destroy the earth with a flood.” Has he not kept it? Have you not felt winter’s cold going through your bones? Did you not sweat with the heat of summer? Did he not say that he would give you the harvest time and the heat? He has kept his covenant. Every time you see the rainbow in heaven, nay, every time you walk upon the earth and find that it is not transformed into one dreary, dreadful, all-devouring sea, you may say to yourself, “God is true.”

     The world went on, and there came an Abraham into the world, and God said, “Get thee hence, from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, to a land that I will show thee. I will give it to thee and to thy seed after thee.” Abraham believed God, and went into a land that he knew nothing of. He found it full of inhabitants, and he dwelt among them in tents, wandering up and down. It did not look likely that God would give him that land, nor to his seed after him, for he had no children, and he was more than a hundred years old, and his wife was well stricken in years. He had to wait long, but Isaac came at last, and made glad that household. Four hundred and fifty years went on, Abraham had been gathered to his fathers, and yet there was not an Israelite in all Canaan; not a foot of that land belonged to them except the cave of Machpelah, in which the dead patriarch still lay. But the time came for Israel to come up into the promised land, and they did come. God sent down Moses and told Pharaoh to let his people go, for the time was come, and they must go up to their own land. Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice? I will not obey his voice, neither will I let Israel go.” But he had to change his note, and bow before the stammering man who spoke for God. God chastened and plagued Egypt till at last they let Israel go; and they did go, though the Bed Sea rolled before them, and Pharaoh’s host pursued them. They did go, for though the wilderness yielded them no meat, the heavens dropped with manna. They went through the great howling wilderness, and failed not for drought, for the rocks gushed with rivers. They did go till they came to Canaan, and there they were called to fight with Anakim and giants; but they threw down the battlements of their cities, and they smote the Canaanites with great slaughter, and took possession of the land, and dwelt therein, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, for the Lord had said it, and the Lord fulfilled it. He gave the land to them, and they possessed it in due time.

     Thus, you see, I might keep on with history as long as you pleased, but it all goes to show that if God says it he does it. He said that Edom should become a desolation, and the traveller can hardly pass through Petra at this present day, He said that Tyre should become a place for the mending of nets; and it is so still in its desolateness. He said that Egypt should be the meanest of all the nations; and who that knows Egypt, where the stick is used on almost every man, does not know that no people yield so meanly to a despot’s will as the Egyptian race? Everything has happened that the Lord has spoken up to this moment.

     Now, instead of taking you back to ancient or modern history, I would like to take you to the history of your mother or of your grandmother. I think of my dear old grandfather, and of what he used to say to me. If he were here to-night — I am glad he is not, because he is in heaven, and that is a much better place for him — but if he could come from heaven, and could talk as he used to do when he was here on earth, he would say, “Ah, my boy, I did find him a faithful God.” He had a large family and a very small income, but he loved his Lord, and he would not have given up his preaching of the gospel for anything, not even for an imperial crown. He has told me often how the Lord provided for him. He had a little farm to get his living upon it, and he had a cow which used to give milk for his many children, and one day when he came up to the cow it fell back with the staggers and died. Grandmother said, “James, how will God provide for the dear children now? What shall we do for milk?” “Mother,” said he, “God said he would provide, and I believe that he could send us fifty cows if he pleased.” It so happened that on that day a number of gentlemen were meeting in London, persons whom he did not know, were sitting as a committee for the distribution of money to poor ministers, and they had given it to all who had asked for it. My grandfather had never asked for any; he liked to earn his own money. He did not send in any petition or appeal. Well, after the gentlemen had distributed to all who had asked there was five pounds over, and they were considering what they should do with this balance. “Well,” said one, “there is a Mr. Spurgeon down at Stambourne, in Essex, a poor minister. He stands in need of five pounds.” “Oh,” said another, “don’t send him five pounds. I will put five to it. I know him. He is a worthy man.” “No,” said another, “don’t send him ten pounds. I will give another five pounds if somebody else will put a fourth five to it.” The next morning came a letter to grandfather with ninepence to pay! Grandmother did not like to pay out ninepence for a letter, but there was twenty pounds in it; and as my grandfather opened it he said, “Now, can’t you trust God about an old cow?” These things I tell you, and you smile, and well you may; but, oh, my soul laughs, and my face laughs on both sides, when I think how faithful God has been to me. I can tell you about my grandfather, but I will not tell you about myself, for that would be almost as long as the history I spoke of. From the day that I left my father’s house to this day, if there is no other man in the world that can speak of the faithfulness of God, I can; I must, I will, and none shall stop me of this glorying. He has never lied unto me, or failed me, or forsaken me, but has kept his word to the moment in every respect. Nay, I sometimes think he has gone beyond his word, and done for me exceeding abundantly above what I understood him to promise; he has exceeded my expectation, even when my expectation has been at full tide. If I were to invite the brethren round us, one by one, to get up, and were to say “Brother, has God kept his word to you in the past? Speak as you have found him,” they would all testify to the Lord’s truth. And, oh, it is not merely the brethren, but there is many an aged woman here; there is many a widow here; there is many a poor tried believer here; and as I look round I know the stories of some of you, and I know what you would say. It would be, “Blessed be his holy name, not one good thing hath failed of all that the Lord God hath promised.”

     There is the testimony of history, ancient and modern; there is the testimony of the biographies of our sires; and the testimony of our autobiographies as well. God is true, glory be to his name!

     Now, brethren, I was to have said next, that God is true still. Not only was he true, but he is true: he is true to-night. He is true tonight. If you want to know that, go down many of our streets in London to-night. Go to the casual ward of the workhouse, if you like, and just pick out the vagrants — those that are in rags and poverty. What do you find? In nine cases out of ten, how did they get there? What brought them to poverty? Drink and laziness. And what did God say? “The drunkard and the sluggard shall come to poverty.” God said they should, and they do. He says, “The sluggard shall clothe himself with rags.” Every time I see a sluggard in rags, I say to myself, “God is true: he said it would come to that.” He tells us that sin will bring sorrow; and do you not see it everywhere? Most of the misery in the world can be traced to some sin or other — some direct breach of the divine command. God is true.

     On the other hand, look you to-night on many a happy face. If I were to question the man who owns that happy face — What makes you so happy? — he would say, “Because my sins are forgiven me.” “How came that about?” “I believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I had the promise that my sins should be forgiven me, and they have been.” “You had a burden once, had you not?” “Yes.” “And you have got rid of it?” “Did you go to Jesus Christ’s cross with that burden?” “Yes, and I got rid of it just as he said I should.” “Did you do anything more than that?” “No, I simply trusted Jesus. He said I should have peace, and I have got it.” “Well, but how about your daily troubles? Do you have any?” “Oh, yes, I do.” “I ask you that question because Jesus said, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation.’ Do you find it so?” “That I do,” says one. But then he said, “In me ye shall have peace.” Do you find it so, brethren? How was it with you last week when you had all those troubles? Did you enjoy peace even then? Did you hear him say, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Ye believe in God: believe also in me”? And did you believe in him and find at once that you could cast your burden upon God? Oh, yes, the saints will testify unanimously that whenever they trust God it is well with their souls, and to-night, as well as in the past, we have a faithful God.

     Have we here present to-night any friend in great distress? You have forgotten it, I suppose, during the service, but now you recollect that the brunt of the storm will be upon you next Monday. Does this alarm you? You are a child of God, and do you think that your Father will leave you in the time of need? No, I will, not ask you whether you think so, because it would be a crying shame if you did your Lord such an injustice. If we never doubt our God till we have a cause for it, it will be a long while first. “But it is a new trouble, sir.” Yes, but he who was your God of old will help you through the new trial. Go to him again. “Ah, but I dread the loss of a very dear and precious one.” Yes, but as his will is so should your will be. God maketh all things work together for good. Do you not believe it? All things are moving according to the decree of goodness and wisdom, and you must not doubt it. Like Jacob, you sometimes say, “All these things are against me;” but they are not, they are all for you. God is ordering all for the best.

     Now, last of all, God will be true. I do not know how far we have to go before we shall reach to our journey’s end; but this I know, the whole of the road that we have to travel is paved with love and faithfulness, and we need not be afraid. We shall soon lie down upon our beds and fall asleep in death. I bless God for that. I said to a brother the other day, “So-and-so has gone home,” and the brother replied, “Well, where should he go else?” Whither should a child go, when the day is over, but home? It is very sweet to think that the Lord’s own children shall all go home by-and-by. He has promised that we shall be with him where he is, and we shall find it so; only, like the Queen of Sheba, we shall be astonished when we get there, and we shall say, “The half has not been told us.” We shall leave these poor bodies behind in the grave for a while, but they will not be lost. They are old companions of ours on the journey of life, and, though the worms devour them, yet in our flesh we shall see God. The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and, body and soul, one perfect man, shall “behold the King in his beauty, and the land that is very far off.” God has said so, and it will be so. We shall leave the church behind us, but God will take care of his church: we need not fret about that, he will not fail her nor forsake her. We shall leave the world behind us, and the world is very wicked, but it will not prevail against the truth, for the Lord has said the gates of hell shall not prevail against his church, nor shall they.

     We need not be worrying about what will happen when Mr. So-andso dies. People are always putting the question, “What will they do when their minister is gone?” Do? Trust in God as they did before. God is alive. Martin Luther once said to his friend, when he was fretting and worrying, “When will you leave off trying to govern the world?” And we may say the same to one another when we are anxious and fretful. God does not need any of us. We think ourselves mightily important, and we really are no more important to God’s plans than the caterpillar in the kitchen garden is to a Napoleon when he is marching his armies across a continent. We are nothings and nobodies, except when God pleases to use us; and he can do better without us than with us sometimes, for we get in his way. Oh, brethren, matters are all right, for they are in God’s hands. The everlasting God lives, and he will work his purposes, for he is the true God. The heathen will be converted to Christ, for the Lord has said, “Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” “As I live,” saith the Lord, “surely all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” It shall be done, it must be done. Rest you sure of it. “The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ.” Antichrist on yonder seven hills must be thrown down: the crescent of Mahomet must wane: the gods of the heathen must be utterly abolished. Must, I say; for is it not written, “He must reign till his enemies are made his footstool”? There are croaking prophets about, foretelling horrors enough to make our hair stand on end. Vials are to be poured out, and stars are to fall, before we can turn round. I am no prophet, nor the son of a prophet, and therefore I do not dare set up a theory of futurity, but this one thing I know, “The Lord reigneth,” and the Lord will accomplish his purposes, and preserve his church in the world; truth shall never die, and Christ’s throne shall never shake, for the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hands.

     Thus have we tried to declare the truthfulness of God. How short of the mighty theme have we fallen! These two words, and we have done. Since God is true, ye children of God, why do you mistrust him? Since God is true, ye sinners, why do you belie him by your unbelief? Echo answers, “Why?” And so we leave it. And unto Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, be glory, for ever and ever! Amen.



Hold Fast Your Shield

By / Jun 22

HOLD FAST YOUR SHIELD.

 

“Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of
reward.” — Hebrews x. 35.

 

THE early Christians had to suffer for their faith. They were exposed to great ridicule and enmity: they were, indeed, the by-word, the laughing-stock, and the derision of all mankind. There are still to be seen in Rome, in the prætorian guard-room, caricatures of Christians and of their Lord. I dare not mention what they are, but they are so insulting to everything which we hold dear that they remain as lasting evidence that Christians were counted as the offscouring of all things for the sake of Jesus their crucified Saviour. Nor did it end in ridicule: they were deprived of their goods. Ruinous fines were exacted from them. They were driven from city to city, and not thought worthy to dwell among the sons of men. They were made a spectacle to all men, both in their lives and deaths. Very frequently they were not put to death as other condemned persons were, but their execution was attended with circumstances of cruelty and scorn, which made it still harder to bear: they were daubed with pitch, and set up in the gardens of Nero to be burned alive to light that tyrant’s debaucheries, or taken to the Amphitheatre, there to fight with beasts, and to be torn in pieces. Everything that could be invented that was at once degrading and cruel their persecutors devised for them: malice exhausted its ingenuity upon believers in Christ. Yet there was never a braver race of men. “Men,” did I say? Why, the women were as brave as their brethren. The name of such women as Blandina will remain in everlasting recollection. Set in a hot iron chair, tormented with whips, or tossed upon the horns of bulls, such heroines showed no cowardice. The tenderness of their sex only increased the glory of the courage with which they adhered to their Master under torments unutterable. The despised sect wearied out a long succession of Roman emperors. Those despots passed edict upon edict, each one more ferocious than its predecessor, in order to exterminate the followers of the Nazarene; but the more they persecuted them the more they multiplied, and instead of hiding themselves they came boldly to the courts of the magistrates, confessing Christ, and defying death.

      Never was the victory of patience more complete than in the early church. The anvil broke the hammer by bearing all the blows that the hammer could place upon it. The patience of the saints was stronger than the cruelty of tyrants. Christ within them, the immortal Christ, was stronger than all the pangs of death, and they triumphed though they were slain. Truly did the apostle say, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” The secret reason for the triumph of Christians in those circumstances was their confidence in Christ. Brethren and sisters, we are not subjected to the like persecution, and it will not do for us to wrap ourselves about with the garments of our ancestors and to say that Christians are this and that, as though we were to be honoured without enduring trial. Yet, remember, there are still conflicts for you. If you be real Christians you will have to endure the trial of cruel mockings. In some cases family ties are the source of far greater sorrow than comfort: truly is it written, “A man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” The coming of the gospel into a man’s heart has often rendered him the object of hatred to those who loved him before. In his own house, and in society abroad, the Christian working man has at this day to run the gauntlet much more severely than some suppose; and in almost every sphere of life the genuine Christian meets with the “cold shoulder” and the sneer, and sometimes with cruel misrepresentation and slander; for, until the hearts of men are changed, persecution in some form or other will continue. Those that are born after the flesh will always persecute those that are born after the Spirit.

     For us, then, our only defence is holy confidence— the confidence which sustained the martyrs, and to us Paul speaks as well as unto them. “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.”

     Let us notice first the elements of this confidence of which the apostle speaks, and then speak upon how it may be cast away: God grant we may never attempt to do so. Thirdly, let us consider why it should be held fast, — because it “hath great recompence of reward.”

     I. First, then, WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF THIS CONFIDENCE of
which the apostle speaks?

     Those who are acquainted with the original will know that it is not very easy to explain this word in one English word. The nearest approach to it would be boldness— “Cast not away your boldness,” and it is frequently translated by that word. In the Acts, where we read, “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John,” it is the same word in the Greek as that which is here translated “confidence.” But it means something rather different from boldness, because we read of Christ, in the gospel by Mark, that he spoke openly, and there the word is precisely that which is here used, and translated “confidence.” And the apostle says, “We use great plainness of speech,” and there the word is the same also. It means that freedom, that peace, that at-home-ness, which makes a man feel bold, free, confident. We come back again to the word in the text— your confidence, your child-like plainness, freedom, quietude, peace of heart, rest, sense of security, and, therefore, courage. The apostle meant a great deal when he said, “Cast not away therefore your confidence.”

      And the elements of it seem to me to be these. First, confidence in the principles which you have espoused. Some persons appear to think that a state of doubt is the very best which we can possibly reach. They are very wise and highly cultured individuals, and they imagine that by their advanced judgments nothing in the world can be regarded as assuredly true. Some of the broad church school would seem to believe that no doctrine in the Bible is worth dying for, or worth anybody’s losing over and above a halfpenny for. They do not feel sure of any doctrine: it may be true, and there is a good deal to be said for it, but then a good deal may be said on the other side, and you must hold your mind “receptive,” and be ready to accept “new truth.” Some Robinson or other said something about new truth, as if there ever could be such a thing; and, under cover of his probably misinterpreted speech, like chameleons, they are always taking their hue from the particular light that falls upon them. They have no light in themselves and no truth which they hold to be vital. Such people cannot understand this confidence, but the veriest babes in the family of faith know what it means. Here are certain things which God has taught me; I believe them and am sure about them. “Dogmatical,” says one. Exactly so; call it what you like, but we are bold to confess that there remains no doubt to us after God has spoken. The question is solved by God’s word; the doubt is laid to sleep for ever by the witness of the Holy Spirit. Oh, to know the grand truths of the gospel, and to know them infallibly. For instance, the grand doctrine of the substitutionary sacrifice of the Son of God— to know it and hold it and say, “Let others question and quibble, but I must believe it; it is my only hope, it is all my salvation. I stake my soul upon it: if that be not true, then am I lost.” And so with regard to all the other grand truths of revelation, the thing is to know them and grasp them firmly. There must be leverage if we would move men, and to have a leverage you must have a fixed point. There must be certain undoubted truths about which you can sing, “O God, my heart is fixed; my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise”— things which you perceive to be plainly taught in the Scriptures— things brought home by the power of the Holy Spirit.

     This is the groundwork of true confidence; but to make it complete there must be an open avowal of our belief in our Lord Jesus. The apostle has said, “Hold fast the profession of your faith,” not merely your faith, but the profession of it. To hold a truth which I am ashamed to utter is to be false both to God and man. To have convictions which I stifle, and principles which I dare not avow, is to be unworthy of the Lord that bought me, and unworthy of the Spirit who has instructed me. God forbid that we should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, but God forbid that we should refuse to glory in that. Let us never cloak our faith in Jesus, whatever be the company, and, though we are not to cast pearls before swine, yet, if a time comes to exhibit pearls, let us not conceal them, even though swine should gaze upon them. We are not sent into the world comfortably to sneak through it into heaven, but we are sent, like a troop of soldiers, to fight our way, and to win a victory all along from the beginning of our pilgrimage even to the close of it. The colours are not to be covered up and kept by the colour-sergeant in a tent somewhere in the rear, but they are to be unfurled to the breeze and borne in the van, and every believing soldier is to labour earnestly to bear them farther forward, and to smite the foe that dares to insult the standard of the Lord. “Cast not away your confidence;” that is, hold confidently the truths which God has taught you, and never blush or stammer, or show the slightest sign of hesitancy in avowing them.

     To do all this you must know your own interest in those truths. A man will readily let go a truth which may condemn him. Who will die for a truth in which he has no share? The man who can live and die for Christ is the man who believes that Christ has lived and died for him. A doctrine— what is that? A mere statement written in a book. It stirs no man’s heart, and awakens no one’s enthusiasm; but a blessed truth which has been verified in one’s own experience, in which one feels that he has a share, nay, which is all his own— this is a thing for which a man may well be willing to be counted the offscouring of all things. Beloved Christian friends, do you know that you have passed from death unto life? If so, you do not doubt the doctrine of conversion. Do you know that you have been washed in the blood of Jesus? If so, you do not doubt the doctrine of atonement. Do you know that Christ has saved you, and that you are one with him? Then you do not doubt the doctrine of union to Christ. Do you know that he has preserved you to this day? Then you do not doubt his faithfulness; you have proof of it before your eyes. We must “eat this roll,” as Ezekiel did, before we can bear testimony to it. The truth must be the food of our spirits, the sustenance of our inward life, before we can have that confidence in it which the apostle bids us never to cast away.

     These are the first points of confidence— a full conviction of the truth of the gospel, willingness to confess it, and a full assurance of our own interest in it. But the word, as I have said, cannot have all its meaning brought out by this word boldness, it means beside, a full and firm reliance upon the faithfulness of God, so that we are free from all mistrusts, and fears, and simply rest in God. It is a very sweet thing to know that God is true, and to sing, with the psalmist of old, “His mercy endureth for ever.” “Why,” saith one, “that is a very simple fact, and I never doubted it.” Dear brethren, when the Holy Ghost taught the psalmist to make that psalm whose many verses conclude with “His mercy endureth for ever,” he knew very well that we do not so easily believe in the Lord’s enduring mercy as we think we do; and, therefore, he has given us line upon line, and precept upon precept. Do you not feel that you have a very great deal of faith in God when you have no afflictions? Do you not feel sure about your daily bread when you are in good work, or have an excellent pension, or a good sum of money in the bank? Such faith is very easy and very unreal: the publicans and sinners have that faith. But to trust in God when you see nothing but starvation before you, to believe when you cannot see, ah, this is another kind of faith, and the faith, and the only faith that is of the operation of the Spirit of God. I wonder whether you could have believed in Jesus if, for having been here last night, you had been arrested at the foot of the steps of the Tabernacle, and taken off to Horsemonger-lane gaol, and there kept in prison in the dark, with only bread and water, for several months. Suppose you were occasionally stretched upon the rack, or beaten with rods. Would you feel in the loneliness of the prison, smarting under the wounds you endured, quite sure that all things worked together for good— quite certain of that promise, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee”? If it was intimated to you that tomorrow morning you must go out to be burned to death in the great square of the city, or to be torn to pieces in the amphitheatre by wild beasts, would you be quite sure that the promise of God was faithful and true? Yet, beloved, that is the kind of faith we must have, for God deserves it, he cannot lie. He has promised that those who trust in him shall never be forsaken or confounded, world without end. Now, to have the confidence of the text, we must subscribe in heart to a full surrender — “Whatever happens, I believe in God. Come what may, I rest in his promise, and I leave my matters entirely in his hands, resting them with him as with a faithful Creator.” Happy is the man who has this confidence, let him take care that he never casts it away.

     Where that confidence really reigns in the soul, it takes the form of a sense of full acceptance before God. Let me illustrate that by the condition of a child. A child that lives in full confidence with its father is quite sure of its father’s love, it is also sure about its father's wisdom, and, consequently, quite content with all its father’s dealings. This is confidence, and the sort of confidence which is meant in the text. That, at least, is part of what is meant— confidence towards God — confidence that all is well between my soul and God — that I can walk with him in the light as he is in the light — that the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth from all sin, and that, therefore, I have fellowship with him as a man has fellowship with his friend. We must have confidence so as to avail ourselves of perpetual access to God, so as to be able to speak with him at all times, not merely in the closet where we are accustomed to pray, but everywhere. True confidence makes the believer feel, “I am God’s child; I can speak with my Lord whenever I will, and I can hear his voice everywhere— hear it in nature as well as in the Bible. I dwell always in my Father’s own house at home, and I know that ‘goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.’” Oh, what a sweet feeling that is, to know that you are ever near to God, that he is ever with you, and consequently you are always at home, and your Father is always accessible.

      Upon this there follows that further confidence, of which John says, “This is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he heareth us,” — confidence that when we pray we shall be heard. Now, all Christians accept this as a matter of doctrine, but very few Christians really believe it. When you talk to them about God’s hearing prayer, they open their eyes at you. You tell them some cases in which he has answered you, and they look upon you as a wonder. Dear Mr. Muller’s Orphanage at Bristol is thought to be a sort of miracle, and we ourselves in that and other cases are conscious of a feeling of astonishment when we hear of God’s answering prayer. It should not be so. If we have the confidence we ought to have in our heavenly Father we shall be astonished at his goodness, but we shall not be astonished at the fact that he keeps his promises, and answers his children’s prayers. I sometimes felt, when I was a child, astonished at my father’s goodness in giving me what I asked for; but not when he had previously promised it to me. A loving child asks with expectation. Probably if he had not the expectation he would scarcely ask; but he asks because he expects to receive. And, oh, what a sweet confidence that is— to know that God is your Father, that you are on happy terms with him through Jesus Christ, and that you may speak to him, and whatsoever you desire you may ask of him, pleading that promise. “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he will give thee the desires of thy heart.” Oh, blessed, blessed confidence! May we always enjoy it!

     Over and above that, how delightful to feel that even what we do not pray for, by reason of our ignorance or forgetfulness, our gracious God will bestow. “Your heavenly Father knoweth what ye have need of before ye ask him.” I would pray as if I had to remind the Lord of everything, and yet feel when I have done that he has never forgotten, nor could he fail to give anything that was good for me, for did he not say, “No good thing will I withhold from then that walk uprightly”? Beloved, this is the confidence that we have towards God, that he will bestow upon us all things necessary for this life and godliness, that he will not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able, and that when he sends a trial he will also make a way of escape. “Ah,” says one, “that is a happy way of living if we could only attain to it.” That is how you ought to live, dear brethren, and, if you ever do so live, then remember the text, “Cast not away therefore your confidence.” If you get it, hold it. If you have a childlike simplicity of confidence in God reckon it to be a priceless jewel, and watch it night and day. Let no one rob you of it, but labour with might and main, by his blessed Spirit, to abide in this confidence as long as you live.

     You may add to all this the confidence that he is able to keep that which you have committed to him; for we have this confidence— that whether we sleep or wake we shall be together with him. “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord for we are confident that though we shall drop this tabernacle, “we have a temple of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” With confidence we are looking forward to resurrection after death; looking forward to a grand reunion with the beloved ones that have gone before; looking forward to being satisfied when we awake in his likeness; looking forward to seeing the King in his beauty in the land that is very far off. We are looking forward to sit upon Christ’s throne, even as he overcame and has sat down with his Father upon his throne. We comfort one another with these words; yea, we joy and rejoice, and we reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. Oh, blessed confidence, the confidence that he will keep us while we are here, and will glorify us hereafter! As sure as Christ is glorified so must his people be. “If we suffer with him we shall reign with him.” This is the confidence we have in him. Cast not away your confidence.

     II. Having thus laboured, as best I could, to show the confidence, let us now spend a few moments in considering HOW WE MAY CAST IT AWAY.

     It strikes one, at once, on reading the passage— and the best expositors think so too— that there is here an allusion to the Greek soldier with his shield on his arm. When he went out to battle, wearing his shield, which covered him from head to foot, the rule was that he must either come back with his shield or be brought back upon it, but he must never cast it away. Among the Spartans there was a law that any soldier who cast away his shield must die: he was not fit to be a soldier. You remember how one of the old Scriptural songs speaks of the shield of the mighty which was vilely cast away; showing that in the old war times, the casting away of the shield was a disgrace. It was showing the white feather; it was giving up the conflict, and ceasing to hope for safety, much less victory. Our confidence is our shield, and we are not to cast it away, or suffer any to tear it from our arm, but hold it fast until the battle is fought and the victory is won for ever.

      How can you cast your confidence away? You can cast it away by changing it for self-confidence. You can get off from the platform on which you now stand, which is that of simple confidence in your Saviour, and you can very readily grow confident in yourselves. All along the road to heaven there are many junctions, and at every one of these the devil cries out, “Change here for self-righteousness!” The high level railway of the perfect brethren has been much infested of late by devils which cry, “Change here for self-confidence!” When I hear how good they are, and how they have conquered their tempers, I am delighted to hear that they are on such good terms with themselves; but at the same time I remember the proverb, “Let another praise thee, and not thine own lips,” and I conclude that if they had been quite as good as they say they are they would have held their tongues about it. My dear brother, you who have begun in the Spirit, do you hope to be perfected by the flesh? Hang on to Christ, as a sinner’s Saviour, till you die. If it has been Christ up till now, do not put “Christ and Co.” now; for that firm will break, inasmuch as one of the partners is already a bankrupt; Christ alone will stand, and stand for ever. Whatever run there may be upon that bank it will pay out gold coin without end. When you come in, it is a mésalliance altogether. Better to yoke a cherub with an emmet than to think of yoking yourself with Christ. You have cast away your confidence if, in any measure or degree, you confide in self. God keep us from that, and hold us fast to the platform of simple reliance on Christ. I remember telling you, years ago, a story you have often met with since, of poor Jack the huckster who heard a little ditty sung—

“I’m a poor sinner, and nothing at all,
But Jesus Christ is my all-in-all.”

That exactly suited Jack, because he had nothing of his own, and so he took Christ and trusted him. He wanted to join the church, and they asked what was his experience, and he said he did not think he had any, only he was a poor sinner and nothing at all, and Jesus Christ was his all-in-all. “But,” they said, “don't you have doubts?” And he said, “Well, what is there to doubt? I know that I am a poor sinner, and nothing at all, I cannot doubt that; and Jesus Christ is my all in-all, for the Bible says so, and why should I doubt it?” They could never get him away from that standpoint.

“I’m a poor sinner, and nothing at all,
And Jesus Christ is my all-in-all.”

Ah, brethren, if you get an inch above that platform, you will have to come down again. Be empty, and Christ will be your fulness, but if you become full in yourself you have done with Christ. Cast not away your confidence by leaving your simple reliance upon Jesus Christ.

     Some, however, cast away their confidence by giving way to sin. Look at the child I spoke of just now, who has such confidence in his father. He goes in and out the house, and asks for what he wants, and expects to receive it because he knows his father loves him. But see, he has done what his father told him not to do! Do you not see that his confidence is gone? At night he slinks away to bed. In the morning at breakfast he does not eat much, for his father is grieved. That child does not think that he has ceased to be his father’s child, but he knows that his father is grieved with him, and he cannot act with freedom and confidence. If his brothers were to say, “John, ask father for so-and-so,” he would say, “No, you had better go; I am out of favour with him.” Perhaps the father has not said a word yet, but the boy is conscious of having done wrong, and is ill at ease. If he is a wise child he will go at once and say, “Father, I have done wrong; forgive me”: and after his father has said, “Yes, dear child, I forgive you,” his confidence will return, but by doing wrong he has cast away his confidence. He has faith in his father that he will provide him with food and raiment, and all things needful, he never loses that faith; but when he disobeys he has not that confidence towards his father which enables him to act as a loving, favoured child should do. My brothers and sisters, we cannot enjoy confidence towards God if we live in disobedience. Old Master Brooks says, “Assurance will make us leave off sinning, or sinning will make us leave off assurance;” and, depend upon it, it will. He who lives in the light of God’s countenance must mind what he is at. Kings’ favourites live under a jealous eye. More is expected from those who lean their heads upon Christ’s bosom than from any other of the disciples. You cannot grieve your heavenly Father and yet feel the same confidence towards him.

     Perhaps some of you know that you have not this confidence. Remember that the Lord is ready to forgive you. He is waiting for you to come and say, “Father, I have sinned.” Never let sin rankle in your conscience. It is well every night to clear all out by confession. Dear Mr. Muller said from this pulpit, “Do not begin the day unless you feel happy in the Lord.” The advice is good. See that ye walk in obedience with great watchfulness, so shall you have the freedom of children towards God. “Beloved, if our hearts condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God.”

     There is another way of losing our confidence, and that is by getting into worldly company and mixing up with the gay and frivolous. A child would soon lose his loving, confident feeling towards his father if his father had an enemy opposite, and he constantly went into that enemy’s house, and heard all the language that was used there. Why, he would gradually get hard and wrong thoughts about his father; and if his father knew that he had been associating with his enemies the child could not feel towards his father as before. Have you been cast into company some evening where the conversation was not at all to edification, but light and frivolous, and perhaps worse? If you are a child of God, have you not felt unfit for devotion when you reached home? You wanted to pray, but you could not.

     A deadening influence will come over your intimate communion with God if you are on close terms with unbelievers. You cannot walk with God and his enemies. You cannot be in league with Christ and Belial at the same time, or sit at your Master’s table and expect him to smile upon you after you have partaken of the cup of devils. Do not lose your sweet confidence and holy boldness in God’s presence by associating with the world, but come ye out from among them and be ye separate.

     You can very easily lose your confidence by changing your aim in life. The Christian’s aim in life is to live for God’s glory. If he does so, no persecution can ever shake him. If his goods be spoiled he says, “If it glorifies God for me to lose my property I am no loser. I gave my goods to God years ago.” If he is put in prison, he says, “I have lost my liberty, but I am no loser; I gave up my liberty to God long ago.” If they tell him that he will die, he says, “Well, I am no loser, for I gave him my life long ago. I am altogether Christ’s.” While your object is God you will be bold as a lion, but a sordid motive is the mother of cowardice. Suppose a minister preaches that he may get honour of men, how anxious he will be to please his hearers, and he will cut and trim to do so. But if his sole object be the glory of God he will not smooth his speech or withhold rebukes because of man’s anger. He will care no more for human criticism than for the sighing of the rushes by the river. If we once shift our motive, if we seek after honour from men, or the getting of money, or anything of self, we have cast away our confidence. You can be perfectly confident when you feel, “What I have done I did for God’s glory. I have a clear conscience about it;” but your confidence is gone if your motive is selfish. Why, you can look seven thousand devils in the face, and not care for one of them, when your conscience will bear the piercing eye of God, but if you must confess to sordid motives, you fall from your excellency and stand in doubt of your own rectitude. Cast not away your confidence, then, by shifting your aim.

     Alas, dear friends, some unhappy professors have apparently cast away their confidence in utter unbelief. They set out with a great confidence of a certain sort. Like Pliable, from the City of Destruction, they were going to have the Celestial City, and enjoy it for ever; but they fell into the Slough of Despond, and they felt that their confidence could not be kept up, and so they got out of the slough on the side that was nearest their own house, and went back through sheer despair of better things. May God keep you from this! Remember, if you really are Christians, there is nothing for you but to fight it through. This is what Bunyan impresses upon us in his portrait of the pilgrim, who, when he saw Apollyon standing across the way, and heard him swear that he would spill his soul, would have turned back; but he reflected that he had no armour for his back, so that to retreat would be certain destruction. For you there is nothing but to cut a lane right through your enemies till you come up to the throne of God. To turn back means sure damnation. God’s vengeance rests upon the deserter and the apostate. Oh, then, brethren, we must go forward, and may God the Holy Spirit help us so to do; but if we think of turning aside we are casting away our confidence and renouncing its reward.

      III. I will close by noticing THE REASONS GIVEN IN THE TEXT FOR HOLDING FAST OUR CONFIDENCE.

      The first argument in the text is “therefore.” “Cast not away therefore your confidence.” What does this “therefore” mean? Why, it means this— because you have already endured so much. You were made a laughing-stock, and you suffered the loss of your goods, therefore, cast not away your confidence, for if you do you will have suffered for nothing. I have known a man begin to build his house, and he has spent a great deal of money upon it; and, at length, he has thought, “I do not quite like the situation. Shall I finish the building?” One strong argument for going on has been this, “I have spent so much money oil it; I must go through with it.” Now, some of you have spent much upon your faith; by God’s grace, you have been for years following on to know the Lord. You bore the troubles of your early youth when, perhaps, father and mother were against you, and you were bold then for Christ. Some of you have been known as Christian working-men for years, and you have encountered the chaff of the workshop for many a month, and yet you have not gone back. Well, you have spent a good deal upon your faith: never give it up, my brother, never give it up. If, for your Lord’s sake, you have had the honour to be abused and scandalised, do not turn your back now. What, have you half routed the enemy, and will you now flee? Believe me, the rest of them will be routed too. Yon cowards have fled before you already, fight on till the rest are vanquished. “But,” you say, “they come up thick and fast.” So much the better, for so much the grander the victory in the end. You can overcome them: by God’s grace you can. Do not lose the victories which you have already gained. If it was wise to go so far, it will be wise to go on to the end. Cry for grace to persevere; for he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved, and only he. Having gone so far it will be disgraceful to turn back now, do not even think of it. I recollect going over the Col D’Obbia on the Alps, and when I got a little way down I found myself on a steep mountain side upon a mass of loose earth and slates. There seemed to me to be some miles of almost perpendicular descent and no road. My head began to swim. I set my feet fast down in the loose soil, turned my back to the scene below me, and my face to the hill-side, and stuck my hands into the earth to hold as best I could. I cried to my friend, “I shall never go down there: I will go back.” He coolly replied, “Just look where you have come from.” When I looked up it appeared to be much worse to try and clamber up than it could possibly be to go down, and so he remarked, “I think you had better go on, for it is worse going back.” So, brethren, we must go on, for it will be worse going back. Let us never think of retreating, but gird up the loins of our mind, and push onward with firm resolution, by the help of the Spirit of God.

     Here is the other argument— Do not cast away your confidence, for it has great recompense of reward. There is a reward in it now: for it makes us happy. When we are sweetly confident in God, and do not molest ourselves with doubts and fears, how happy we are! Who has not read Cowper’s beautiful description of the cottager with her pillow-lace and bobbins, who knew no more than “her Bible true, a truth the learned Frenchman never knew” — who was just as happy as the days were long. We are never so happy as when, in childlike simplicity, we trust our God without a doubt. Do not cast away your confidence, since it yields you such pure delight.

     But it makes you so strong, too — strong both to bear and labour. When you are like a child in confidence before God, you can endure pain and reproach right bravely.

“If on my face, for thy dear name,
Shame and reproach shall be,
I’ll hail reproach and welcome shame,
For thou’lt remember me.”

You can bear, like Atlas, a world upon your shoulders, when you have God within you. If he be near, you laugh at difficulties, and as for impossibilities, there are no such things. Brethren, hold fast your confidence, because it ministers to your strength.

     And, moreover, it makes you victorious. Many a man has been won to Christ by the confidence of simple Christians. Our doubts and fears are mischievous; they are thistle seed, they sow unbelief in others; but our childlike reliance upon God, our humble joy in our dear Father’s care, and our unmoved resolution through thick and thin to stick to our Master is likely to convert others, by God’s good Spirit, to the right way. Therefore, cast not away your confidence.

      And, best of all, there is a recompense of reward to come. The day will come when the King will review his troops as the squadrons come back from the battle. The day will come when he shall come down our ranks and look at every one of us; and, if we have been faithful in this evil day, O brethren, it will repay us for anything we suffered if he shall say to us, “Well done!” Oh, those two worlds! These were enough to make us eternally happy; but hear the rest — “Well done, good and faithful servants, enter thou into the joy of the Lord.” Believe me, believe me, my hearers, kings and mighty men, who have rolled in riches, and yet were enemies to Christ, when they hear Christ say, “Well done!” to his poor people, will think themselves selves accursed that they were not martyrs, and that they did not lie in prison, or at least suiter reproach for Christ. The enemies of Christ laugh to-day, but they will laugh on the other side of their faces before long. Let them laugh, for we shall win. The day shall come when shame shall be the promotion of fools; but the royal robe shall be put upon each man’s back who dared to be a fool for Christ. The scars of suffering saints shall shine like diamonds, and they that were most abused shall be the brightest of the shining ones. Gladdest of all will they be who have the ruby crown of martyrdom to cast at the Saviour’s feet: but each one of you who have boldly held on to Christ, though despised and rejected, and dared to suffer slander for his dear name’s sake, you shall be among the first and brightest who wear the white robe, and share their Master’s victory. By the palm and by the white robe, by the crown unfading, by the harps of angels, and the streets of gold, cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward.

     Oh, you that know not Christ, and have no confidence in him, beware! for he is coming —coming to call you to judgment. Beware, for in the day of his appearing he will look upon you, and he will know that you never trusted him, and never suffered for him, but chose the broad road that leadeth to destruction. Oh, how you will tremble then, and with what agony will you cry to the mountains, “Hide us from the face; hide us from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne.”

      God grant that you may not thus be carried away with terror, but may you believe your Lord, and then have a full confidence in him; a confidence which you will never cast away, “for it hath great recompense of reward.”



The Turning of Job’s Captivity

By / Jun 22

THE TURNING OF JOB’S CAPTIVITY.

 

“The Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the
Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”— Job xlii. 10.

 

SINCE God is immutable he acts always upon the same principles, and hence his course of action in the olden times to a man of a certain sort will be a guide as to what others may expect who are of like character. God does not act by caprice, nor by fits and starts. He has his usual modes and ways. The psalmist David uses the expression, “Then will I teach transgressors thy ways,” as if God had well-known ways, habits, and modes of action; and so he has, or he would not be the unchangeable Jehovah. In that song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, which is recorded in the fifteenth chapter of the Revelation, we read, “Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.” The Lord has ways as high above our ways as the heavens are above the earth, and these are not fickle and arbitrary. These ways, although very different if we view them superficially, are really always the same when you view them with understanding. The ways of the Lord are right, though transgressors fall therein by not discerning them; but the righteous understand the ways of the Lord, for to them he makes them known, and they perceive that grand general principles govern all the actions of God. If it were not so, the case of such a man as Job would be of no service to us. It could not be said that the things which happened aforetime happened unto us for an ensample, because if God did not act on fixed principles we could never tell how he would act in any fresh case, and that which happened to one man would be no rule whatever, and no encouragement whatever, to another. We are not all like Job, but we all have Job’s God. Though we have neither risen to Job’s wealth, nor will, probably, ever sink to Job’s poverty, yet there is the same God above us if we be high, and the same God with his everlasting arms beneath us if we be brought low; and what the Lord did for Job he will do for us, not precisely in the same form, but in the same spirit, and with like design. If, therefore, we are brought low to-night, let us be encouraged with the thought that God will turn again our captivity; and let us entertain the hope that after the time of trial shall be over, we shall be richer, especially in spiritual things, than ever we were before. There will come a turning point to the growing heat of affliction, and the fire shall cool. When the ebb has fallen to its lowest, the sea will return to its strength; when mid-winter has come, spring will be near, and when midnight has struck, then the dawning will not be far away. Perhaps, too, the signal of our happier days shall be the very same as that of the patient patriarch, and when we pray for our friends, blessings shall be poured into our own bosoms.

      Our text has in it three points very clearly; firstly, the Lord can soon turn his people' s captivity: “The Lord turned the captivity of Job.” Secondly, there is generally some point at which he does this: in Job’s case he turned his captivity when he prayed for his friends. And, thirdly, believers shall never be losers by God, for he gave Job twice as much as he had before.

      I. First, then, TIIE LORD CAN SOON TURN HIS PEOPLE S CAPTIVITY.

      That is a very remarkable expression — “captivity.” It does not say, “God turned his poverty,” though Job was reduced to the extremity of penury, having lost all his property. We do not read that the Lord turned his sickness, though he was covered with sore boils. It does not say that he turned away the sting of bereavement, reproach, and calumny, although all those are included. But there is something more meant by the word captivity. A man may be very poor, and yet not in captivity, his soul may sing among the angels when his body is on a dunghill, and dogs are licking his sores. A man may be very sick, and yet not be in captivity; he may be roaming the broad fields of covenant mercy though he cannot rise from his bed; and his soul may never enjoy greater liberty than when his body is scarcely able to turn from side to side. Captivity is bondage of mind, the iron entering into the soul. I suspect that Job, under the severe mental trial which attended his bodily pains, was, as to his spirit, like a man bound hand and foot and fettered, and then taken away from his native country, banished from the place which he loved, deprived of the associations which had cheered him, and confined in darkness. I mean that, together with the trouble and trial to which he was subjected, he had lost somewhat the presence of God; much of his joy and comfort had departed; the peace of his mind had gone, and the associations which he had formed with other believers were now broken: he was in all these respects like a lone captive. His three friends had condemned him as a hypocrite, and would not have association with him except to censure him, and thus he felt like one who had been carried into a far country, and banished both from God and man. He could only follow the occupation of a captive, that is, to be oppressed, to weep, to claim compassion, and to pour out a dolorous complaint. He hung his harp on the willows, and felt that he could not sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. Poor Job! He is less to be pitied for his bereavements, poverty, and sickness than for his loss of that candle of the Lord which once shone about his head. That is the worst point of all when trouble penetrates to the heart. All the bullets in the battle, though they fly thick as hail, will not distress a soldier like one which finds a lodging in his flesh. “To take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing and them,” is a grand and manly thing; but when that sea of trouble fills the cabin of the heart, puts out the fires of inward energy, washes the judgment from the wheel, and renders the pumps of resolution useless, the man becomes very nearly a wreck. “A wounded spirit who can bear?” Touch a man in his bone, and in his flesh, and yet he may exult; but touch him in his mind— let the finger of God be laid upon his spirit— and then, indeed, he is in captivity. I think the term includes all the temporal distress into which Job came, but it chiefly denotes the bondage of spirit into which he was brought, as the combined result of his troubles, his sickness, the taunts of his friends, and the withdrawal of the divine smile. My point is that God can deliver us out of that captivity; he can both from the spiritual and the temporal captivity give us a joyful release.

      The Lord can deliver us out of spiritual captivity, and that very speedily. I may be addressing some, to-night, who feel everything except what they want to feel. They enjoy no sweetness in the means of grace, and yet for all the world they would not give them up. They used at one time to rejoice in the Lord; but now they cannot see his face, and the utmost they can say is, “Oh that I knew where I might find him!” It little matters that some live in perpetual joy, the triumphs of others cannot cheer a man who is himself defeated. It is idle to tell a distressed soul that it ought to rejoice as others do. What one ought to do and what one can do are sometimes very different, for how to perform that which we would we find not. In vain do you pour your glad notes into a troubled ear. Singing songs to a sad heart is like pouring vinegar upon nitre, the elements are discordant, and cause a painful effervescence. There are true children of God who walk in darkness and see no light; yea, some who are the excellent of the earth, nevertheless are compelled to cry aloud, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Throughout all time some of these have been in the church, and there always will be such, let our perfect brethren condemn them as they please. The Lord will always have his mourners, his church shall always have an afflicted and poor people in her midst. Let us all take warning, for we also may be tried and cast down ere our day is over; it may be that the brightest eye among us may yet be dimmed, and the boldest heart may yet be faint, and he that dwells nearest to his God at this moment may yet have to cry out in bitterness of soul, “O God, return unto me, and lift up the light of thy countenance upon me.”

     Therefore mark well this cheering truth, God can turn your captivity, and turn it at once. Some of God’s children seem to think that to recover their former joy must occupy a long period of time. It is true, dear brother, that if you had to work your passage back to where you came from it would be a weary voyage. There would have to be most earnest searchings of heart and purgings of spirit, stragglings with inbred lusts and outward temptations, and all that, if joy were always the result of inward condition. There must needs be a great deal of scrubbing and cleansing and furbishing up of the house, before you could invite your Lord to come, if he and you dwelt together on terms of law. But albeit, that all this cleansing and purifying will have to be done, it will be done far better when you have a sense of his love than it ever can be if you do it in order to make yourself fit for it. Do you not remember when first you sought him you wanted him to deal with you on the legal ground of making yourself better, and you prepared the house for him to come and dwell in it; but he would not come on such terms. He came to you just as you were, and when he came he himself drove out the intruders which profaned the temple of your soul, and he dwelt with you, in order to perfect the cleansing. How he will vouchsafe to you the conscious enjoyment of his presence on the same terms as at first, that is, on terms of free and sovereign grace. Did you not at that time admit the Saviour to your soul because you could not do without him? Was not that the reason? Is it not a good reason for receiving him again? Was there anything in you when you received him which could commend you to him? Say, were you not all over defilement, and full of sin and misery? And yet you opened the door, and said, “My Lord, come in, in thy free grace, come in, for I must have thee or I perish.” My dear friend, dare you invite him now on other terms? Having begun in the Spirit, wouldst thou be made perfect in the flesh? Having begun to live by grace, wouldst thou go on to live by works? When thou wast a stranger, didst thou trust in his love, and now that thou art his friend, wilt thou appeal to the law? God forbid. O, brother, Jesus loves thee still, and in a moment he will restore thee. O, sister, Jesus would fain come back to thy heart again, and that in an instant. Hast thou never read that joyful exclamation of the spouse, “Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Ammi-nadib”? Why, can he not do the same with you now, and quicken and enspirit you even in a moment? After all, you are not worse than you were when he first visited you; you are not in so sorry a plight after all, as your first natural state, for then you were dead in trespasses and sins altogether, and he quickened you, and now, though you say you feel dead, yet the very expression proves that there is some life lingering in you. Did I not hear you say,

“Return, O Sacred Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest,
I hate the sins that made thee mourn,
And drove thee from my breast.”

Why, friend, those sighs and groans are sweet to the Lord, and they would not have been in thee if he had not put them there; they are sure tokens that his grace has not been altogether taken from thee. Knowest thou not, O child of God, that the grace of God is intended to meet all thy sins after conversion as well as before conversion? Dost thou not know that the Lord loved thee of old, despite thy sins, and he loves thee still? Understandest thou not that the ground of thy salvation is not thy standing or thy character, but the standing of Christ before God, and the character and work of Christ in the presence of God? Believe thou firmly that still he loves thee, for so indeed he does. Cast thine eyes upon those dear wounds of his, and read his love still written there. Oh, unbelieving Thomas, do not put thy finger into thine own wounds, for that will not help thee, but place them, in the wounds of Jesus. Come close to him. and thou shalt cry with ecstacy of spirit, “My Lord and my God.” Well do I know what it is to feel this wondrous power of God to turn our captivity. When one is constantly engaged in ministry, it sometimes happens that the mind wanders, the spirit flags, and the energy is damped, yet, all in a minute, the Lord can quicken us into vigorous activity; the tow catches fire and blazes gloriously, when the Holy Spirit applies the fire. We have heard a hymn sung, and we have said, “I cannot join in that as I could wish,” and yet, on a sudden, a mighty rushing wind has borne us away with the song right into heaven. The Lord does not take days, months, weeks, or even hours, to do his work of revival in our souls. He made the world in six days, but he lit it up in an instant with one single word. He said, “light be,” and light was, and cannot he do the same for us, and chase away our gloom before the clock ticks again? Do not despair, nay, do not even doubt your God. He can turn your captivity as the streams in the south.

     Beloved, he can do the same as to our temporal captivity. We do not often say much about temporals when we are preaching; I fear we do not say enough about them, for it is wonderful how the Old Testament is taken up with the narration of God’s dealings with his people as to temporal things. Many people imagine that God has a great deal to do with their prayer-closet, but nothing to do with their store-closet; it would be a dreadful thing for us if it were so. Indeed, my brethren, we ought to see as much the hand of our Lord on the table in the kitchen when it is loaded as we do at the communion table, for the same love that spreads the table when we commemorate our Saviour’s dying love, spreads the table which enables us to maintain the bodily life without which we could not come to the other table at all. We must learn to see God in everything, and praise him for all that we have. Now, it may be I address some friend who has been a great sufferer through pecuniary losses. Dear friend, the Lord can turn your captivity. When Job had lost everything, God readily gave him all back. “Yes,” say you, “but that was a very remarkable case.” I grant you that, but then we have to do with a remarkable God, who works wonders still. If you consider the matter you will see that it was quite as remarkable a thing that Job should lose all his property as it was that he should get it back again. If you had walked over Job’s farm at first, and seen the camels and the cattle, if you had gone into his house and seen the furniture and the grandeur of his state— if you had seen how those who passed him in the street bowed to him, for he was a highly respected man, and if you had gone to his children’s houses, and seen the comfort in which they lived, you would have said, “Why, this is one of the best-established men in all the land of Uz.” There was scarcely a man of such substance to be found in all that region, and if somebody had foretold that he would in one day lose all this property— all of it — and lose all his children, why you would have said, “Impossible! I have heard of great fortunes collapsing, but then they were built on speculations. They were only paper riches, made up of bills and the like; but in the case of this man there are oxen, sheep, camels, and land, and these cannot melt into thin air. Job has a good substantial estate, I cannot believe that ever he will come to poverty.” Why, when he went out into the gate where the magistrates sat to administer justice, they rose up and gave him the chief seat on the bench. He was a man whose flocks could not be counted, so great were his possessions—possessions of real property, not of merely nominal estate: and yet suddenly, marvellously, it all took to itself wings and disappeared. Surely, if God can scatter he can gather. If God could scatter such an estate as that, he could, with equal ease, bring it back again. But this is what we do not always see. We see the destructive power of God, but we are not very clear about the upbuilding power of God. Yet, my brethren, surely it is more consonant with the nature of God that he should give than take, and more like him that he should caress than chastise. Does he not always say that judgment is his strange work? I feel persuaded that it was strange work with God to take away all Job’s property from him and bring him into that deep distress; but when the Lord went about to enrich his servant Job again, he went about that work, as we say, con amore— with heart and soul. He was doing then what he delights to do, for God’s happiness is never more clearly seen than when he is distributing the largesses of his love. Why can you not look at your own circumstances in the same light? It is more likely that God will bless you and restore to you than it was ever likely that he would chasten you and take away from you. He can restore you all your wealth, and even more.

       This may seem to be a very trite observation, commonplace, and such as everybody knows, but, beloved, the very things that everybody knows are those which we need to hear, if they are most suitable to our case. Those old things which we did not care about in our prosperity are most valued when we are cast down by the terrible blows of tribulation. Let me then repeat the truism, the Lord who takes away can as easily restore. “The Lord maketh sore, and bindeth up; he woundeth, and his hands make whole. He killeth, and he maketh alive.” Believe that he will put forth his right hand soon if the left has been long outstretched, and, if you can believe it, it will not be long before you will be able to say, he hath regarded the low estate of his servant. He hath lifted the poor from the dunghill and set him among princes, even the princes of his people. For the Lord putteth down the mighty from their seat, but he exalteth them that are of low degree. I leave with you this simple truth. The Lord can turn the captivity of his people. You may apply the truth to a thousand different things. You Sunday-school teachers, if you have had a captivity in your class, and no good has been done, God can change that. You ministers, if for a long time you have ploughed and sowed in vain, the Lord can turn your captivity there. You dear wives who have been praying for your husbands, you fathers who have been pleading for your children, and have seen no blessing yet, the Lord can turn your captivity in those respects. No captivity is so terrible but God can bring us back from it; no chain is so fastened but God can strike it off, and no prison-house is so strong but God can break the bars and set his servants free.

      II. I pass on to our second remark, which is this. THERE IS GENERALLY SOME POINT AT WHICH THE LORD INTERPOSES TO TURN THE CAPTIVITY OF HIS PEOPLE.

      In Job’s case, I have no doubt, the Lord turned his captivity, as far as the Lord was concerned, because the grand experiment which had been tried on Job was now over.

      The suggestion of Satan was that Job was selfish in his piety— that he found honesty to be the best policy, and, therefore, he was honest— that godliness was gain, and therefore he was godly. “Hast thou not set a hedge about him and all that he hath?” said the old accuser of the brethren. The devil generally docs one of two things. Sometimes he tells the righteous that there is no reward for their holiness, and then they say, “Surely, I have cleansed my heart in vain and washed my hands in innocency”; or else he tells them that they only obey the Lord because they have a selfish eye to the reward. Now, it would be a calamity if the devil could charge the Lord with paying his servants badly: it would have been an ill thing if the fiend had been able to say, “There is Job, a perfect and an upright man, but thou hast set no hedge about him. Thou hast given him no reward whatever.” That would have been an accusation against the goodness and justice of God; but, as the devil cannot say that, he takes the other course, and says— “Thou hast set a hedge about him and all that he has; he serves thee for gain and honour; he has a selfish motive in his integrity.” By God’s permission the matter was tested The devil had said, “Put forth now thy hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.” But Job had done no such thing. In his extremity he said, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, and blessed be the name of the Lord.” God puts his servants sometimes into these experiments that he may test them, that Satan himself may know how true-hearted God’s grace has made them, and that the world may see how they can play the man. Good engineers, if they build a bridge are glad to have a train of enormous weight go over it. You remember when the first Great Exhibition was built they marched regiments of soldiers, with a steady tramp, over the girders, that they might be quite sure that they would be strong enough to bear any crowd of men; for the regular tramp of well disciplined soldiers is more trying to a building than anything else. So our wise and prudent Father sometimes marches the soldiery of trouble right over his people’s supports, to let all men see that the grace of God can sustain every possible pressure and load. I am sure that if any of you had invented some implement requiring strength you would be glad to have it tested, and the account of the successful trial published abroad. The gunsmith does not object to a charge being fired from the barrel at the proof-house far greater than any strain which it ought ordinarily to bear; for he knows that it will endure the proof. “Do your worst or do your best; it is a good instrument; do what you like with it”; so the maker of a genuine article is accustomed to speak; and the Lord seems to say the same concerning his people. “My work of grace in them is mighty and thorough. Test it Satan; test it world; test it by bereavements, losses, and reproaches; it will endure every ordeal.” And when it is tested, and bears it all, then the Lord turns the captivity of his people, for the experiment is complete.

     Most probably there was, in Job' s character, some fault from which his trial was meant to purge him. If he erred at all, probably it was in having a somewhat elevated idea of himself and a stern manner towards others. A little of the elder-brother spirit may, perhaps, have entered into him. A good deal that was sour came out of Job when his miserable comforters began to tease him— not a hundredth part as much as would come out of me, I warrant you, or, perhaps, out of you; but, still, it would not have come out if it had not been in. It must have been in him or otherwise all the provocation in the world would not have brought it out; and the Lord intended by his trials to let Job have a view of himself from another standpoint, and discover imperfections in his character which he would never have seen if he had not been brought into a tried condition. When through the light of trial, and the yet greater light of God’s glorious presence, Job saw himself unveiled, he abhorred himself in dust and ashes. Probably Job had not humbled himself of late, but he did it then; and now, if any sort of selfishness lurked in him it was put away, for Job began to pray for his cruel friends. It would take a good deal of grace to bring some men to pray for such friends as they were. To pray for one’s real friends, I hope, comes natural to us; but to pray for that Bildad and the other two, after the abominable things they had spoken and insinuated — well, it showed that there was a large amount of sweetness and light in Job’s character, and abounding grace deep down in his soul, or he would scarcely have interceded for such ungenerous tramplers upon a fallen friend. Now, behold, Job has discovered his fault, and he has put it away, and the grand old man bows his knee to pray for men who called him hypocrite— to pray for men who cut him to the very soul. He pleads with God that he would look in mercy upon men who had no mercy upon him, but had pitilessly heaped all kinds of epithets upon him, and stung him in his tenderest places, just when they ought to have had pity upon him. His misery alone ought to have stopped their mouths, but it seems as if that misery egged them on to say the most cruel things that could possibly have been conceived — the more cruel because they were, all of them, so undeserved. But now Job prays for his friends. You see the trial had reached its point. It had evidently been blessed to Job, and it had proved Satan to be a liar, and so now the fire of the trial goes out, and like precious metal the patriarch comes forth from the furnace brighter than ever.

      Beloved friends, the point at which God may turn your captivity may not be the same as that at which he turned Job’s, for yours may be a different character. I will try and indicate, briefly, when I think God may turn your trial.

      Sometimes he does so when that trial has discovered to you your especial sin. You have been putting your finger upon divers faults, but you have not yet touched the spot in which your greatest evil is concentrated. God will now help you to know yourself. When you are in the furnace you will begin to search yourself, and you will cry, “Show me wherefore thou contendest with me.” You will find out three or four things, perhaps, in which you are faulty, and you will commit yourself to the Lord and say, “Give me grace, good Lord, to put away these evil things.” Yes, but you have not come to the point yet, and only a greater trial will guide you to it. The anger of the Lord smokes against your house, not for this or that, but for another evil, and you have need to institute another search, for the images may be under the seat whereon a beloved Rachel sits, The evil in your soul maybe just at the point where you think that you are best guarded against temptation. Search, therefore, and look, dear brother, for when the sin has been found out, and the Achan has been stoned, then the valley of Achor shall be a door of hope, and you shall go up to victory, the Lord going with you.

      Perhaps, too, your turning point will be when your spirit is broken. We are by nature a good deal like horses that want breaking in, or, to use a scriptural simile, we are as “bullocks unaccustomed to the yoke.” Well, the horse has to go through certain processes in the manage until at last it is declared to be “thoroughly broken in,” and we need similar training. You and I are not yet quite broken in, I am afraid. We go very merrily along, and yield to the rein in certain forms of service; but if we were called to other sorts of work, or made to suffer, we should need the kicking strap put on, and require a sharper bit in our mouths. We should find that our spirit was not perfectly broken. It takes a long time of pain and sickness to bring some down to the dust of complete resignation to the divine will. There is a something still in which they stick out against God, and of many it is true, “Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him.” We have been brayed in that mortar, and with that pestle day after day, and week after week, and yet we are still foolish. When our soul shall cheerfully say, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt,” then our captivity will be almost over, if not quite. While we cry, “It must not be so, I will not have it so,” and we struggle and rebel, we shall only have to feel that we are kicking against the pricks, and wounding our foot every time we kick; but when we give up all that struggling, and say, “Lord, I leave it entirely with thee, thy will be done”— then will the trial cease, because there will be no necessity for it any longer. That is with some the culmination and turning point of trouble. Their Gethsemane ends when, like the Lord Jesus, they cry, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

      Sometimes, again, trial may cease when you have learned the lesson which it was intended to teach you, as to some point of gospel truth. I think I have sometimes said that many truths of the gospel are like letters written with sympathetic ink. If you have ever had a letter written with that preparation, when you look at it you cannot see anything whatever: it is quite illegible. The proper thing to do is to hold the writing up to the fire. As it warms at the fire the acid writing becomes manifest, and the letters are before you. Many of God’s promises need to be held before the scorching fires of adversity and personal trouble, and then we read the precious secret of the Spirit’s consolation. You cannot see the stars in the day time upon the surface of the earth, but if you go down into a well you can, and when you go down the deep well of trouble it often happens that you see a beauty and lustre in the promise which nobody else can see, and when the Lord has brought you into a certain position in which you can see the glory of his grace as you never could have seen it anywhere else, then he will say, “It is enough; I have taught my child the lesson, and I will let him go.”

       I think, too, it may be with some of us that God gives us trouble until we obtain a sympathetic spirit. I should not like to have lived forty years in this world without ever having suffered sickness. “Oh,” you say, “that would have been very desirable.” I grant you it appears so. When I met with a man that never had an ache or a pain, or a day’s sickness in his life, I used to envy him; but I do not now, because I feel very confident that he is a loser by his unvarying experience. How can a man sympathise with trouble that he never knew? How can he be tender in heart if he has never been touched with infirmity himself? If one is to be a comforter to others, he must know the sorrows and the sicknesses of others in his measure. It was essential to our Lord, and, certainly, what was essential to him is necessary to those who are to be shepherds of others, as he was. Now, it may be that by nature some of us are not very sympathetic; I do not think Job was: it is possible that though he was kind, and generous to the poor, yet he was rather hard, but his troubles taught him sympathy. And, perhaps, the Lord may send you trouble till you become softer in heart, so that afterwards you will be one who can speak a word in season to the weary. As you sit down by the bedside of the invalid, you will be able to say, “I know all the ins and outs of a sick man’s feelings, for I have been sore sick myself.” When God has wrought that in you, it may be he will turn your captivity.

      In Job’s case, the Lord turned his captivity token he prayed for his friends. Prayer for ourselves is blessed work, but for the child of God it is a higher exercise to become an intercessor, and to pray for others. Prayer for ourselves, good as it is, has just a touch of selfishness about it: prayer for others is delivered from that ingredient. Herein is love, the love which God the Holy Spirit delights to foster in the heart, when a man’s prayers go up for others. And what a Christlike form of prayer it is when you are praying for those who have illtreated you and despitefully used you. Then are you like your Master. Praying for yourselves, you are like those for whom Jesus died; but praying for your enemies, you are like the dying Jesus himself. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” has more of heaven in it than the songs of seraphs, and your prayer when offered for those who have treated you ill is somewhat akin to the expiring prayer of your Lord. Job was permitted to take a noble revenge, I am sure the only one he desired, when he became the means of bringing them back to God. God would not hear them, he said, for they had spoken so wrongly of his servant Job, and now Job is set to be a mediator, or intercessor on their behalf: thus was the contempt poured upon the patriarch turned into honour. If the Lord will only save the opposer’s soul through your prayer, it will be a splendid way of returning bitter speeches. If many unkind insinuations have been thrown out, and wicked words said, if you can pray for those who used such words, and God hears you and brings them to Jesus, it will be such a triumph as an angel might envy you. My brother, never use any other weapon of retaliation than the weapon of love. Avenge not thyself in anywise by uttering anything like a curse, or desiring any hurt or mischief to come to thy bitterest foe, but inasmuch as he curses, overwhelm him with blessings. Heap the hot coals of thy good wishes and earnest prayers upon his head, and if the Lord give thee to bring him to a state of salvation, he shall be praised, and thou shalt have happiness among the sons of men.

      Perhaps some of you are in trouble now because you cannot be brought sincerely to pray for your enemies. It is a grievous fault when Christian men harbour resentments; it is always a sad sign when a man confesses, “I could not heartily pray for So-and-so.” I would not like to live an hour at enmity with any man living, be he who he may; nor should any Christian man, I think. You should feel that however treacherous, dishonourable, unjust, and detestable the conduct of your enemy may have been to you, yet still it is forgiven, quite forgiven in your heart, and, as far as possible, forgotten, or wherein remembered, remembered with regret that it should have occurred, but with no resentment to the person who committed the wrong. When we get to that state, it is most probable that the Lord will smile upon us and turn our captivity.

      III. The last word I have to say— the third word— is this, that BELIEVERS SHALL NOT BE LOSERS FOR THEIR GOD. God, in the experiment, took from Job all that he had, but at the end he gave him back twice as much as he had — twice as many camels and oxen, and twice as many of everything, even of children. I heard a very sweet remark about the children the other day, for somebody said, “Yes, God did give him twice as many children, because his first family were still his. They were not lost but gone before.” So the Lord would have his people count their children that are gone to heaven, and reckon them as belonging to the family still, as the child did in Wordsworth’s pretty poem, “Master, we are seven.” And so Job could say of his sons and daughters, as well as of all the other items, that he had twice as many as before. True, the first family were all gone, but he had prayed for them in the days of their feasting, he had brought them together and offered sacrifice, and so he had a good hope about them, and he reckoned them as still his own. Tried brother, the Lord can restore to you the double in temporal things if he pleases. If he takes away he can as certainly give, and that right early. He certainly can do this in spiritual things; and if he takes away temporals and gives spirituals we are exceedingly great gainers. If a man should take away my silver and give me twice the weight in gold in return, should I not be thankful? And so, if the Lord takes away temporals and gives us spirituals, he thus gives us a hundred times more than he takes away.

      Dear brethren, you shall never lose anything by what you suffer for God. If, for Christ’s sake, you are persecuted, you shall receive in this life your reward; but if not, rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven. You shall not lose anything by God’s afflicting you. You shall, for a time, be an apparent loser; but a real loser in the end you shall never be. When you get to heaven you will see that you were a priceless gainer by all the losses you endured. Shall you lose anything by what you give to God? Never. Depend on it, he will be no man’s debtor. There dwells not in earth or heaven any man who shall be creditor to the Most High. The best investment a man makes is that which he gives to the Lord from a right motive. Nothing is lost which is offered to the cause of God. The breaking of the alabaster box of precious ointment was not a wasteful thing, and he who should give to the Lord all that he had would have made a prudent use of his goods. “He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the. Lord,” and he that giveth to the Lord’s church and to the Lord himself lays up his treasure in heaven, where it shall be his for ever.

      Beloved, we serve a good Master, and if he chooses to try us for a little we will bear our trial cheerfully, for God will turn our captivity ere long.

      In closing, I wish I could feel that this subject had something to do with you all, but it is not the case. Oh, no, there are some of you who have felt no captivity, but you have a dreadful captivity to come, and there is no hope of God’s ever turning that captivity when once you get into it. Without God, without Christ, strangers from the commonwealth of Israel, you are in bondage until now, and there will ere long come upon you bondage that will never end. You cannot pray for your friends: you have never prayed for yourself. God would not hear you if you did pray for others, for, first of all, you must be yourself reconciled to him by the death of his Son. Oh, that you would mind these things and look to Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, for if you do he will accept you, for he has promised to cast out none who come to him. And then look at this: after all is right between God and your soul you need not fear what happens to you in the future, for, come sickness or health, come poverty or wealth, all is right, all is safe, all is well. You have put yourself into the hand of God, and wherever God may lift that hand you are still within it, and therefore always secure and always blessed; and, if not always consciously happy, yet you have always the right to be so, seeing you are true to God, and he delights in you. God bless you, and give you all salvation, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.



There Go the Ships

By / Jun 22

There Go the Ships

 
“There go the ships.” — Psalm civ. 26.

 

I WAS walking the other day by the side of the sea, looking out upon the English Channel. It so happened that there was a bad wind for the vessels going down the Channel, and they were lying in great numbers between the shore and the Goodwins. I should think I counted more than a hundred, all waiting for a change of wind. On a sudden the wind shifted to a more favourable quarter, and it was interesting to see with what rapidity all sails were spread, and the vessels began to disappear like birds on the wing. It was a sight such as one might not often see, but worth travelling a hundred miles to gaze upon, to see them all sail like a gallant squadron, and disappear southward on their voyages. “There go the ships,” was the exclamation that naturally rose to one’s lips. The psalmist thought it worth his while to pen the fact which he too had noticed, though it is very questionable whether David had ever seen anything like the number of vessels which pass our coasts, certainly he had seen none to be compared with them for tonnage.

     The first lesson which may be learned from the ships and the sea is this — every part of the earth is made with some design. The land, of course, yields “grass for the cattle and herb for the service of man but what about the broad acres of the sea? We cannot sow them, nor turn them into pasturage. The reaper fills not his arm from the briny furrows, they give neither seed for the sower nor bread for the eater, neither do herds of cattle cover them as they do the thousand hills of earth. Remorselessly swallowing up all that is cast upon it, the thankless ocean makes no return of fruit or flower. Is not the larger part of the world given up to waste? “No,” says David, and so say we — “There go the ships.” The sea benefits man by occasioning navigation, and yielding besides an enormous harvest of fishes of many kinds. Besides which, as the blood is needful for the body, so is it necessary for this world that there should be upon its surface a vast mass of water in perpetual motion. That measureless gathering together of the waters is an amazing instance of divine wisdom in its existence, its perpetual ebb and flow, and even in its form and quantity. In the ocean there is not a drop of water too much nor a drop too little. There is not a single mile of sea more than there ought to be, nor less than there should be. An exact balance and proportion is maintained, and we little know how the blooming of the tiny flower or the flourishing of the majestic cedar would be affected were the balance disturbed. Between the tiny drop of dew upon each blade of grass and the boundless main there is a relation and proportion such as only an infinite mind could have arranged. Remember also that the ocean’s freshness tends to promote life and health among the sons of men. It is good that there is sea, or the land might devour its inhabitants by sickness. God has made nothing in vain. Ignorance gazes on the stormy deep and judges it to be a vast disorder, the mother of confusion and the nurse of storms; but better knowledge teaches us, what revelation had before proclaimed, namely, that in wisdom has the Lord made all things.

     But does not the ocean grievously separate lovers and friends? Many a wife thinks of her husband on the far off Pacific; many a mother casts an anxious thought towards her sailor boy; and both are half inclined to think it a mistake to place so vast a portion of the globe as a cruel dividing gulf between loving hearts. Others evidently thought so in years gone by, for among the figurative excellencies of the new earth we are told that there shall be no more sea. But what a mistake it is to think that the sea is a divider: it is the great uniter of the races of men, for “there go the ships.” It is the highway of nations, by which they reach each other far more readily than they could have done had no sea existed, and arid deserts or towering mountains had intervened. This is one instance in which we do not understand God’s designs, for we judge them upon the surface. As the sea apparently divides, but really unites, nations, so often in providence things look one way, but go another. We say, “All these things are against me,” when all things are working together for our good. We judge that to be a curse which, in the deep intent of God, is a rich blessing; and we write that down among the ills of life which, in God’s esteem, is reckoned to be amongst its choicest mercies. Judge not according to the sight of the eyes, or the changeful feelings of the heart, but unstaggeringly believe in the infallible goodness of our great Father in heaven. As the child mistakes God’s design in the sea, so will you also mistake his designs in providence, if you set up yourself as the measurer of the infinite.

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace.”
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”

     Our subject, however, shall not be the uses of the sea, but this one simple matter — “There go the ships.”

     I. And, first, WE SEE THAT THE SHIPS GO. “There go the ships.” The ships are made to go. The ship is not made to lie for ever upon the stocks, or to be shut up in the docks. It is generally looked upon as an old hulk of little service when it has to lie up in ordinary, and rot in the river. But a ship is made to go, and, as. you see that it goes, remember that you also were made to go. Activity in Christian work is the result and design of grace in the soul. How I wish we could launch some of you. You are, we trust, converted, but you as yet serve but slender uses, very quiet, sluggish, and motionless you lie on the stocks by the month together, and we have nearly as much trouble to launch you as Brunei had with the “Great Eastern.” I have tried hard to knock away your blocks, and remove your dogshores, and grease your ways, but you need hydraulic rams to stir you. When will you feel that you must go, and learn to “walk the water as a thing of life.” Oh for a grand launch. Hundreds are lying high and dry, and to them I would give the motto, “launch out into the deep.” The ships go, when will you go too?

     The ships in going at last disappear from view. The vessel flies before the wind, and very speedily it is gone: and such is our destiny ere long. Our life is gone as the swift ships. We think ourselves stationary, but we are always moving on. As we sit in these pews so quietly the angel of time is bearing us between his wings at a speed more rapid than we guess. Every single tick of the clock is but a vibration of his mighty wings, and he bears us on, and on, and on, and never stays to rest either by day or night. Swift as the arrow from the bow we are always speeding towards the target. How short time is! How very short our life is! Let each one say, “How short my life is!” No man knows how near he is to his grave. Perhaps if he could see it, it is just before him: I almost wish he could see it, for a yawning grave might make some men start to reason and to thought. That yawning grave is there, though they perceive it not.

“A point of time, a moment’s space,
May land me in yon heavenly place,
Or shut me up in hell.”

“There go the ships,” and there go you also; you are never in one stay. You are always flying, swift as the eagle, or, to come back to the text, as the swift ship, yet “all men think all men mortal but themselves.” The oldest man here probably thinks he will outlive some of the younger ones. The man who is soonest to die may be the very man who has the least thought of death of us all; and he that is nearest to his departure is, perhaps, the man who least thinks of it. Just as in the ship all were awake, and every man praying to his God except Jonah, for whom the storm was raging, so does it often happen that in a congregation every man may be aroused and made to think of his latter end except the one man, the marked man, who will never see to-morrow’s sun. As you see the ships, think of your mortality!

     The ships as they go are going upon business. Some few ships go hither and thither upon pleasure, but for the most part the ships have something serious to do. They have a charter, and they are bound for a certain port, and this teaches us how we should go on the voyage of life with a fixed, earnest, weighty purpose. May I ask each one of you, Have you something to do, and is it worth doing? You are sailing, but are you sailing like a mere pleasure yacht, whose port is everywhere, which scuds and flies before every fitful wind, and is a mere butterfly with no serious work before it? You may be as heavily laden and dingy as a collier, there may be nothing of beauty or swiftness about you, but after all, the main thing is the practical result of your voyage. Dear friend, what are you doing? What have you been doing? And what do you contemplate doing? I should like every young man here just to look at himself. Here you are, young man; you certainly were not sent into this world merely to wear a coat, and to stand so many feet in your stockings; you must have been sent here with some intention. A noble creature like man — and man is a noble creature as compared with the animal creation— is surely made for something. What were you made for? Not merely to enjoy yourself. That cannot be. You certainly are not “a butterfly born in a bower,” neither were you made to be creation’s blot and blank. Neither can you have been created to do mischief. It were an evil thing for you to be a mere serpent in the world, to creep in the grass and wound the traveller. No, you must be made for something. What is that something? Are you answering your end? For God’s glory we were made. Nothing short of this is worthy of immortal beings. Have we sought that glory? Are we seeking it now? If not, I commend to your consideration this thought, that as the ships go on their business so ought men to live with a fixed and worthy purpose. I would say this, not only to young men, but with greater earnestness still to men who may have wasted forty years. Oh, how could I dare to stand before this congregation to-night and have to say, “Friends, I have had no object; I have lived in this world for myself alone, I have had no grand purpose before me”? I should be utterly ashamed if that were the fact. And if any man is obliged to feel that his purpose was such that he dares not avow it, or that he has only existed to make so much money, or gain a position in life, or to enjoy himself, but he has never purposed to serve his God, I would say to him, Wake up, wake up, I pray you, to a noble purpose, worthy of a man. May God, the ever-blessed Spirit, set this before you in the light of eternity, and in the light of Jesus’ dying love, and may you be aroused to solemn, earnest purpose and pursuit. “There go the ships,” but not idly: they go upon business.

     These ships, however, whatever their errand be, sail upon a changeful sea. To-day the sea is smooth like glass: the ship, however, makes very small headway. To-morrow there is a breeze, which fills out the sail, and the ship goes merrily before it. Perhaps, before night comes on, the breeze increases to a gale, and then rushes from a gale into a hurricane. Let the mariner see to it when the storm-winds are out, for the ship need be staunch to meet the tempest. Mark how in the tempestuous hour the sea mingles with the clouds, and the clouds with the sea. See how the ship mounts up to heaven on the crest of the wave, and then dives into the abyss in the furrow between the enormous billows, until the mariners reel to and fro and stagger like drunken men. Anon they have weathered the storm, and perhaps to-morrow it will be calm again. “There go the ships” on an element which is a proverb for fickleness, for we say, “false as the smooth, deceitful sea.” “They go,” say you, “upon the sea, but I dwell upon the solid earth.” Ah, good sir, there is not much to choose. There is nothing stable beneath yon waxing and waning moon. We say “terra flrma,” but where, where is terra firma? What man is he who has found out the rock immovable? Certainly not he who looks to this world for it. He has it not who thinks he has, for many plunge from riches into poverty, from honour to disgrace, from power to servitude. Who says “My mountain standeth firm, I shall never be moved”? He speaks as the foolish speak. It is a voyage, sir, and even with Christ on board it is a voyage in which storms will occur, a voyage in which you may have to say, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” Expect changes, then. Do not hold anything on earth too firmly. Trust in God and be on the watch, for who knoweth what may be on the morrow? “There go the ships.”

     II. But now having spoken upon that, our second point is, HOW GO THE SHIPS? What makes them go? For there are lessons here for Christian men. We leave our steam ships out of the question, as they were not known in David’s day, and therefore not intended. But how go the ships? Well, they must go according to the tuind. They cannot make headway without favouring gales. And if our port be heaven, there is no getting there except by the blessed Spirit’s blowing upon us. He bloweth where he listeth, and we need that he should breathe upon us. We never steer out of the port of destruction npon our venturesome voyage till the heavenly wind drives us out to sea; and when we are out upon the ocean of spiritual life we make no progress unless we have his favouring breath. We are dependent upon the Spirit of God, even more than the mariners upon the breeze. Let us all know this, and therefore cry,

“Celestial breeze, no longer stay,
But fill my sails and speed my way.”

It is not possible to insist too much on the humbling truth, “Without me ye can do nothing”: it helps to check self-confidence, and it exalts the Holy Ghost, Unless we honour him he will not honour us, and therefore let us cheerfully acknowledge our absolute dependence upon him.

     But still the mariner does not go by the wind without exertion on his own part, for the sails must be spread and managed so that the wind may be utilised. One man will go many knots, while another with the same breeze goes but few, for there is a good deal of tacking about wanted sometimes, to use the little wind, or the cross wind, which may prevail. Sometimes all the sails must be spread, and at other times only a part. Management is required. If some were spread they might take the wind out of others, and so the ship might lose instead of gaining. There is a deal of work on board a ship. I believe that some people have a notion that the ship goes of itself, and that the sailors have nothing to do but sit down, and enjoy themselves; but if you have ever been to sea as an able-bodied seaman, you have discovered that for an easy life you must not be one of a ship’s crew. And so, mark you, we are dependent upon the Spirit of God, but he puts us into motion and action; and if Christian men sit down and say, “Oh, the Spirit of God will do the work,” you will find the Spirit of God will do nothing of the sort. The only operation which he will be likely to perform will be to convince you that you are a sluggard, and that you will come to poverty. The Spirit of God makes men earnest, fervent, living, and intense. He “works in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure.” We have sails to manage to catch the favouring breeze, and we shall want all the strength we can obtain if we are to make good headway in the voyage of life. Some professors say “God will save his own people.” I am afraid he will never save them. They expect there will come good times when a great number of the elect will be gathered in, but they fold their arms and do nothing at all to promote the spread of the gospel. When they see others a little busy, they say, “Ah, mere excitement!” and so on, and they tell us God will have his own, to which I generally reply that I believe he will, but I do not believe he will have them, because if they were his own they would not talk in that fashion, for those who are God’s own people have a zeal for God and a love for souls. Do you not remember what God said to David? “When thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees then shalt thou bestir thyself.” Not “Then shalt thou sit still, and say God will do it.” When David heard the angels coming over the tops of the trees to fight the Philistines, and when he heard their soft tread amongst the leaves, like the rustling of the wind, then he was to bestir himself: and so, when God’s Spirit comes to work in the church, the Christian must bestir himself and not sit still. “There go the ships.” They go with, the wind, but they are the scene of great industry, or else the wind would whistle through the yards, and the ship would make no voyages. Thus, brethren, we see dependence and energy united; faith sweetly showing itself in good works.

     “There go the ships.” How do they go? Well, they have to he guided and steered by the helm. The helm is a little thing, but yet it rules the vessel. As the helm is turned so is the vessel guided. Look ye well to it, Christian men, that your motives and purposes are always right. Your love is the helm of the vessel; where your affection is your thoughts and actions tend. If you love the world you will drift with the world, but if the love of the Father be in you, then will your vessel go towards God and towards divine things. Oh, see to it that Christ has his hand on the tiller, and that he guides you towards the haven of perfect peace.

     The ship being guided by the helm, he who manages the helm seeks direction from charts and lights. “There go the ships,” but they do not go of themselves, without management and wisdom. Thought is exercised, and knowledge and experience. There is an eye on deck which at night looks out for yonder revolving light, or the coloured ray of the light ship just ahead there, and the thoughtful brain says, “I must steer south-west of such a light,” or “to the north of such a light, or I shall be upon the sands.” Besides mere outlooks upon the sea, that anxious eye also busies itself with the chart, scans the stars, and takes observations of the moon. The captain’s mind is exercised to learn exactly where the vessel is, and where she is going, lest the good ship unawares should come to mischief. And so, dear brethren, if we are to get to heaven, we must study well the Scriptures, we must look well to every warning and guiding light of the Spirit’s kindling, and ask for direction from above; for as the ships go not at haphazard, so neither will any Christian find his way to heaven unless he watch and pray and look up daily, saying, “Guide me in a plain path, O God.”

     The voyage of a ship on the main ocean seems to me to be an admirable picture of the life of faith. The sailor does not see a road before him, or any land mark or sea mark, yet is sure of his course. He relies upon fixed lights in heaven, for far out he can see no beacon or light on the sea. His calculations, based on the laws of the heavenly bodies, are sure guides on a wild wilderness where no keel ever leaves a furrow to mark the way. The late Captain Basil Hall, one of the most scientific officers in the navy, tells the following interesting incident. He once sailed from San Bias, on the west coast of Mexico; and after a voyage of eight thousand miles, occupying eighty-nine days, he arrived off Rio de Janeiro, having in this interval passed through the Pacific Ocean, rounded Cape Horn, and crossed the South Atlantic, without making land or seeing a single sail except an American whaler. When within a week’s sail of Rio, he set seriously about determining by lunar observations the position of his ship, and then steered his course by those common principles of navigation which may be safely employed for short distances between one known station and another. Having arrived within what he considered from his computations fifteen or twenty miles of the coast, he hove to, at four o’clock in the morning, to await the break of day, and then bore up, proceeding cautiously, on account of a thick fog. As this cleared away, the crew had the satisfaction of seeing the great Sugar Loaf Rock, which stands on one side of the harbour’s mouth, so nearly right ahead, that they had not to alter their course above a point, in order to hit the entrance of the port. This was the first land they had seen for nearly three months, after crossing so many seas, and being set backwards and forwards by innumerable currents and foul winds. The effect upon all on board was electric, and giving way to their admiration, the sailors greeted the commander with a hearty cheer. And what a cheer will we give when after many a year’s sailing by faith we at last see the pearly gates right straight ahead, and enter into the fair havens without needing to shift a point. Glory be to the Captain of our salvation, it will be all well with us when the fog of this life’s care shall lift, and we shall see in the light of heaven.

     Once more, how go the ships? They not only go according to the wind, guided by the helm and the chart, but some ships will go better than others, according to their build. With the same amount of wind one vessel makes more way than another. Now it is a blessed thing when the grace of God gives a Christian a good build. There are some church members who are so queerly shaped that somehow they never seem to cut the water, and even the Holy Spirit does not make much of them. They will get into harbour at last, but they will need a world of tugging. The snail did get into the ark: I often wonder how he did it, he must have got up very early that morning However, the snail got in as well as the greyhound, and so there are many Christian people who will get to heaven, but heaven alone knows how, for they are such a queer sort of people that they seem to make no progress in the divine life. I would sooner live in heaven with them forever than be fifteen minutes with them here below. God seems to shape some Christian minds in a more perfect model than others, so that, having simplicity of character, warmth of heart, zealous temperaments, and generous spirits, when the wind of the Spirit comes they cut through the foam.

     Now, I suspect that some good people have by degrees become like the “Great Eastern” a short time since, namely, foul under water. They cannot go, because they are covered with barnacles. A ship is greatly impeded in its voyage if it carries a quantity of barnacles on her bottom. I know lots of Christian people — I could point them out to-night, but I will not — who are covered with barnacles. They cannot go, because of some secret inconsistency, or love of the things of this world rather than the love of God. They want laying up and cleaning a bit, so as to get some of the barnacles off. It is a rough process, but it is one to which some of God’s vessels have to be exposed. What headway they would make towards heaven if that which hindereth were removed. Sometimes when a man is on a bed of sickness, he is losing his barnacles; and sometimes, when a man has been rich and wealthy, and he has lost all he had, it takes off the barnacles. When we have lost friends we love, and whom we have made idols of, we have been sorry to lose them, but it has cleaned off our barnacles; and when we have got out to sea there has been an ease about the going, and we have scarcely known how it was, but God knew that he had made us more fit for his service by the trials of life to which he exposed us.

     That is how the ships go. There are many mysteries about them, and there are many in us. God makes us go by the gales of his Spirit. Oh, that we may be trim for going, buoyant, and swift to be moved, and so may we make a grand voyage to heaven with Christ Jesus at the helm.

     III. Thirdly and briefly. When I saw these ships go I happened to be near a station of Lloyd’s, and I noticed that they ran up flags the vessels went by, to which the vessels replied. I suppose they were asking questions — to know their names and what their cargo was. and where they were going, and so on. Now I am going to act as Lloyd’s to-night, and put up the flags and ask you something about yourselves. The third point will then be — the ships go, LET US SIGNAL THEM.

     And, first, who is your owner? “There go the ships,” but who is your owner? You do not reply, but I think I can make a guess. There are some hypocrites about, who make fine pretensions, but they are not holy living people, they even dare to come to the Lord’s table, and yet they drink of the cup of devils. They will sing pious hymns with us, and then sing lascivious ditties with their familiars. I would say to such a man, — you are a rotten vessel, you do not belong to King Jesus. Every timber is staunch in his vessels. They are not all what we should like them to be, and as I have said already they too often are covered with barnacles, but still they are all sincere. The Lord builds his vessels with sound timber, and unless we are sincere, true, and right, Christ is not our owner, but Satan is. The painted hypocrite is known through the disguise he wears.

     There is another vessel over there, a fine vessel too. Look, she is newly painted, and looks spick and span. You can see nothing amiss with her. What white sails, and do you notice the many flags? Take the glass and read the vessel’s name, and you will see in bold letters, “Self-righteousness.” Ah, I know that the owner is not the Lord Jesus Christ, for all the ships that belong to him carry the red cross flag, and cannot endure the flaunting rag of self-righteousness. All God’s people own that they must be saved by sovereign grace, and anything like righteousness of their own they pump overboard as so much leakage and bilge-water. I see another vessel over yonder, with her sails all spread, and every bit of her colours flying. There, there, what a blaze she makes! How proud she seems as she scuds over the water. That vessel is “The Pride,” from the port of Self-Conceit, Captain Ignorance. I do not know where she is oftenest to be seen, but sometimes she crosses this bit of water. I should not wonder if she is in sight here now, and you may be sure she does not belong to our Lord Jesus. Whether it is pride of money, or person, or rank, or talent, it cometh of evil, and Jesus Christ does not own it. You must get rid of all pride if you belong to him. God grant us to be humble in heart. I could mention some more vessels that I see here to-night, but I will not. I will rather beg each man to ask himself, “Can I put my hand on my heart and say, ‘I am not my own, I am bought with a price?’ Did Jesus buy me with his precious blood, and do I own that there is not a timber, spar, rope, or bolt in me but what belongs to him?” Blessed be his name, some of us can say there is not a hair of our head or a drop of our blood but what belongs to him. Thine are we, thou Son of David, and all that we have.

     I hope there are vessels here which are owned by the Lord Jesus Christ. Let them never be ashamed to confess their Owner A vessel on proper business is never ashamed to answer signals. If there should be a smuggler or pirate in the offing the crews would not be likely to answer signals, but those who are on honest business are ready to reply. And so, brethren, be ye ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear; never show in your actions that you are ashamed of Jesus, but ever let the broad flag be flying in whatever waters you are — “Christ is mine, and I am his. For him I live, his reproach would I bear, and his honour would I maintain.”

     Our next inquiry is, what is your cargo? “There go the ships,” but what do they carry? You cannot tell from looking at them far out at sea, except that you can be pretty sure that some of them do not carry much. Look at that showy brig! You can tell by the look of her that she has not much on board; from the fact of her floating so high it is clear that her cargo is light. Big men, very important individuals, very high-floating people are common, but there is nothing in them. If they had more on board they would sink deeper in the water. As we said this morning, the more grace a man has the lower he lies before God. Well, brethren, what cargo have you got? I am afraid some of you who lie down in the water are not kept down by any very precious cargo, but I fear you are in ballast. I have gone aboard some Christians; I thought there was a good deal in them, but I have not been able to find it. They have a deal of trouble, and they always tell you about it. There is a good old soul I call in to see sometimes: I begin to converse with her, and her conversation is always about rheumatism: nothing else: you cannot get beyond rheumatism : that good sister is in ballast. There is another friend of mine, a farmer, if you talk with him, it is always about the badness of the times: that brother is in ballast too. There are many tradesmen who, though they are Christians, cannot be made to talk of anything but the present dulness of business. I wish they could get that ballast out, and fill up with something better, for it is not worth carrying. You must have it sometimes, I suppose; but it is infinitely better to carry a load of praises, prayers, good wishes, holy doctrines, charitable actions, and generous encouragements.

     Some ships, I think, carry a cargo of powder. You cannot go very near them without feeling you are in danger, they are so very apt to misjudge and take offence. I wish that such persons were made to carry a red flag, that we might give them a wide berth.

     It is well to be loaded with good things. Young people, study the word of God, ask to be taught by experience, and, wherever you go, seek to carry the precious commodities which God has made dear to your own soul, that others may be enriched thereby. It is an interesting sight to see those immense ships loaded with passengers for the colonies. I cannot help praying as I look at them, “God grant that no harm may come to them, but may they safely reach their desired haven.” When I look at some of our brethren whom God is blessing, so that they have a cargo of blessed souls on board, consisting of hundreds who have been brought to Jesus by them, I would to God we had many more. Thank God, I have sometimes had my decks crowded with passengers who have from my ministry received the gospel. The Lord has brought them on board, and oh, I trust before I die he will give me thousands more who will have to thank God that they heard the gospel from these lips. – May we be emigrant vessels bearing souls away into the glory-land where the days of their mourning shall be ended. Of course we can only be humble instruments, but still, what honour God puts upon his instruments when he makes use of them for this object. “There go the ships.” Not ships of war are we, with guns to carry death, but missionary vessels carrying tidings of peace and glad news to the utmost ends of the earth.

     Our last signal asks the question— where go the ships? Where go the ships? Oh, yes, they went merrily down the Channel the other day, but where are they now? In a year’s time who will report all the good vessels which just now passed by our coast? I am looking out upon all of you, anxious to know what port you are making for. Some of you are bound for the port of peace. Swiftly may the winds convey you over the waters, and safely may you voyage under the convoy of the Lord Jesus. I will try and keep pace with you. I hope that you will sail in company with others of my Master’s vessels, but if you have to sail alone over a sea in which you cannot see another sail, may God, the blessed One, protect and guard you. Bound for the port of peace, with Christ on board, insured for glory, bound for life eternal, let us bless the name of the Lord.

     But alas, alas, many ships which bid fair for the desired haven are lost on the rocks. Some soul-destroying sin causes their swift destruction. Others equally fair to look upon are lost on the sands. They seemed bound for heaven, but they were not the Lord’s. The sands are very dangerous, but they are only a mass' of little atoms, soft and yielding, yet as many ships are lost on the sands as on the rocks. Even so there are ways and habits of evil which are deceptive — there is nothing very bad about them apparently; nothing heartbreaking, like rocks, but oh, the multitudes of souls that have been sucked in by sandy temptations. Dear brother, I hope you are not going that way. God grant you grace to avoid little sins, and I am sure you will keep off the rocks of great sin. In any case may we turn out to be the Lord’s own, and so be kept to the end. Woe unto us if we should prove to be mere adventurers, and perish in our presumption.

     Among the ships that go to sea there are some that founder. One does not know how, but they are never heard of more. They were sighted on such a day, but never more shall we hear any tidings of them. How is that? I have known some of the members of this church go down in mid-ocean. I never thought it could have happened, but they have gone. I can only imagine how it was. They seemed seaworthy vessels, but they were doubtless rotten through and through. Oh, brethren, may God keep you from foundering, as some do by some mysterious sin, which seems as if it clasped the soul and dragged it down to the deeps of hell.

     Some vessels have I known, too, that have become derelict — waifs and strays upon the sea — men that were the hope of churches, but who have abandoned themselves to reckless living. They used to worship with the people of God, and seemed to be very earnest and zealous; and now, perhaps, at this very moment they are passing through the gin palace door, or spending this evening in vices which we dare not mention. Oh, it is dreadful. Many start on their voyage, and look as if they were Christ’s own vessels, and yet for some strange, unreasonable reason they give all up, and they will be met with, in years to come, drifting about, rudderless, captainless, crewless, dangerous to others, and miserable to themselves. God save you from this, young man! And you, my friend, though you have been a member of this church for twenty years, God save you from despairing, and sinning furiously; for there sometimes come over men strange moments of insanity in which they reverse the whole of their lives, lay violent hands upon an excellent character, and become castaways. The grace of God will save the truly regenerate from this: but, alas, how many high professors never were regenerate at all!

     Where will some of the vessels I see before me go? It is a fine fleet I am looking upon. Brothers and sisters, I hope all of us will be found in that great harbour in heaven which can accommodate all his Majesty’s fleet. Oh, it will be a great day when we all arrive. Will you give me a hail when you get into port? Will you know me? I shall look out for some of you. I cannot help believing that we shall know each other. We have been in rough waters together these twenty years, and we have had some glorious weather too, have we not? We have seen the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep: I hope we shall keep together till we reach that blessed haven, where our fellowship will be eternal. How we will glorify him who gets us there, even Jesus, the Lord High Admiral of the seas. Christ shall never hear the last of it if I get to heaven. I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto his name. I remember preaching once, when half of my congregation quarrelled with me when I had done preaching, for I had said —

“Then loudest of the crowd I’ll sing
While heaven’s resounding mansions ring
With shouts of sovereign grace.”

     As I came downstairs I met one who said, “You will not sing loudest, for I owe more to grace than you do;” and I found that all the Lord’s people said the same. Well, we will have it out when we get to heaven: we will try this contention among the birds of Paradise, and see which of us can sing the most loudly to the praise of redeeming grace. Till then let us trust the Lord Jesus and obey his orders, for he is our Captain, and it is our duty to do his bidding.

     But it would be a dreadful supposition — and yet, mayhap, it may be worse than a supposition — that some of you will have to cast anchor for ever in the Dead Sea, whose waves are fire, where every vessel is a prison, where every passenger feels a hell. What must it be to be in hell an hour! I wish some of you could think it over. What must, it be to be shut up in despair for one single day! If you have the toothache a few minutes how wretched you are, and how anxious to get rid of it; but what must it be to be in hell even if were for a time, — even it were but for a time. Oh, if it came to an end, still would I say, by all the humanities that are in my soul, I charge you, brother, do not risk the wrath of God; go not down to the pit. Pull down that black flag, man: pull it down and cast off your old owner. Ask Christ to be your owner. Run up the red flag of the cross and give yourself to Jesus, for if you do not your voyage must lead to the gulf of black despair, where you will suffer for ever the result of your sin. God have mercy upon us, and may we never have to pass through the straits of judgment into the gulf of damnation. May it never be said, “There goes one of the ships that the Tabernacle pilot signalled; it is gone to destruction.” May it rather be said, of all of us, all in full sail together, as we go towards heaven," There go the ships:” not one of them is drifting to the gulf of destruction. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and all is well with you. Reject him, and all is ill with you. May he by his word enable you to make a right choice to-night, for his love’s sake. Amen.



The Blessings of Following On

By / Jun 22

The Blessings of Following On

 

“Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.”— Hosea vi. 3.

 

I MUST first remove the mouldy piece from the text, and that is the word “if,” which has no sort of business here whatever. You notice that the translators put it in italics, to intimate to us that it was no word of God, but one of their own words which they thought necessary to complete the sense. We might read— and we should be far nearer the sense— “Then shall we know when we follow on to know the Lord.” Or, perhaps, better still, “We shall know: we shall follow on to know the Lord”; for there is no trace of question in the matter, and no indication of an “if.” We will cut out man’s “if,” and then take the text as it should have been — “Then shall we know when we follow on to know the Lord. His going forth is prepared as the morning.”

     I continue hear it said concerning those who have been converted, or profess to have been converted of late, “We hope they will hold on.” I wish people would speak what they mean, and not veil their speech, for the plain English of that expression frequently is, “We do not believe that they will hold on.” “We hope they will” means, “We do not expect it.” One thing is quite sure, however: those who are truly converted to God can be safely left in God’s hands. If they have indeed believed in Jesus Christ, in Jesus only, with all their hearts, their salvation is as sure as if they were already within the gates of paradise. The Redeemer will not suffer any soul to perish trusting in him.

“His honour is engaged to save
The meanest of his sheep,
All that his heavenly Father gave
His hands securely keep.
Nor death, nor hell, shall e’er remove
His favourites from his breast,
In the dear bosom of his love
They must for ever rest.”

Question whether it is a work of grace if you will, though I would much rather the questioning spirit were laid aside; but if it be the Lord’s work it will stand, for neither time nor eternity, nor life nor death, shall ever cast down that which divine omnipotence builds up. Jehovah puts not his hand to a work which shall ultimately crumble into nothingness.

     My dear young friends, if you have believed in Jesus, and are tormented by these quibblers, with their pretended hopes as to your holding on, I beseech you be in earnest to disappoint the fears of your friends and the expectations of your foes, by living near to God, by asking for persevering grace, by watching carefully every step you take, and by guarding jealously, by the aid of the blessed Spirit, your own hearts in private, lest by any means the enemy get an advantage over you. Let it be the great object of your ambition that you may hold on and hold out to the end, and so prove that the Lord has indeed looked upon you with an eye of love. There is a sweet verse in one of our hymns, which I commend to you who are beginners in the divine life, —

“We have no fear that thou shouldst lose
One whom eternal love could choose;
But we would ne’er that grace abuse,
Let us not fall, let us not fall.”

     The first part of the text meets all doubts about perseverance in the grace, and the second comforts souls distressed for another reason. While some young Christians are troubled about whether they shall hold on, others are very much exercised because of the slenderness of their knowledge. They compare themselves with older Christians, and they say, “How can I be a child of God when I know so little?” They even contrast themselves with their teachers, and because they, as they might naturally expect, are somewhat behind them, they conclude that surely they cannot have been taught of God at all. I beseech these friends to remember that the green blade has not the ripeness of the full ear, nor can it expect to have as yet: that the child has not the experience nor the strength of the man, nor can he expect to have as yet: that the early morning has not the warmth of noon, nor can we expect it should have: it has its own peculiar beauties, though it has not yet the full glory of meridian splendour. There is a growth in the divine life. You do not know what you shall know, you are not what you shall be, you have not yet what you shall have, you do not enjoy what you shall enjoy; but these are among the things to come which are yours. I begin, therefore, the handling of my text with this double remark: let not the fears of some that you will not hold on disturb you, rather let them excite you to lean more fully upon Christ; and let not your own consciousness of ignorance depress you, let that also lead you nearer to the Saviour, who alone teaches us to profit.

     In our text there are three points. The first is, our business— “Follow on to know the second is, God' s promise— “Then shall you know;” and the third is, the modes by which this promise is fulfilled— “His going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.”

     I. First, then, here is OUR BUSINESS. It is to follow on to know the Lord.

     And that implies, first, that we login with knowing the Lord. You cannot follow on with that which you have not commenced. There is a religiousness which contains in it no knowledge of God whatever. Beware of it. The religion which consists only in the knowledge of outward rites and ceremonies, or the knowledge of orthodoxies, the knowledge of doctrinal distinctions, the knowledge of religious language, and brogues and experiences or the knowledge of popular hymns— that religion is vain. There must be a knowledge of God. And, mark you, if you know God you will think very little of yourself. He who knows not God thinks man a noble being; he who has seen God thinks man to be dust and ashes. He who knows not God’s holiness thinks himself to be a good creature, but when he sees a thrice-holy God he says, “I abhor myself.” He who knows not God thinks man to be a wonderful being, able to accomplish whatsoever he wills; but in the sight of God human strength is burned up, and man becomes lighter than vanity. Do you know God? O my dear hearer, do you know God in the majesty of his justice as condemning your sin, and you for sin? Do you know God in the splendour of his love, as giving Jesus Christ to die for sinners, blending that love with justice— for love gave Jesus, and justice slew him? Do you know God in the fulness of his power to save, renewing the heart, changing the mind, subduing the will? Do you know him even in this, which is, comparatively, a slender branch of knowledge? If you do, you have begun to know him, and you have begun to know yourself too, for he knows not himself who does not know something of God. Oh, to know the Father as my Father, who hath kissed me, and put the best robe upon me! Oh, to know the Son as my brother, in whose garments I am accepted, and stand comely in the sight of God! Oh, to know the Spirit as the quickener and the divine indweller and illuminator, by whose light alone we see, and in whose life we live! To know the Lord— that is true religion, and I say again, any religion, whatever it is— Churchianity or Nonconformity, or what you like— if it does not lead you to know God, is of no use whatever. The knowledge of God is the basis of all-saving experience. “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” “Acquaint now thyself with him and be at peace.” This is the one great business of human life— to know the Lord.

     And next, our business is to advance in this knowledge. We must shut out of our minds all idea that we do fully know the Lord, for the text says, “Then shall we know when we follow on to know.” Now a man will never follow on if he judges that he has reached the end. If he comes to the conclusion, “I know the Lord: I know all about him: I know all that is knowable” — that man will not follow on, and therefore I am afraid that he will never know the Lord at all. I trembled for a very beloved brother the other day when I heard that he had declared that he could not sing “Nearer my God to thee,” for he was already as near to God as it was possible to be. Brethren, my soul feels a horror creeping over it when such expressions are used, and the more so when they fall from those I love. I know nothing about such talk as that; it seems to me to be sheer vanity. I think I know the Lord — nay, I know that I know him; I have been favoured with his presence and have enjoyed a very clear sense of my acceptance in the Beloved, but to suppose that I know all that is to be known, or that I possess in myself all the holiness that a creature can attain this side the grave, is as far from me as the east is from the west. I feel growingly my unworthiness: I sink lower and lower in my own judgment. I was nothing; but I am less than nothing. I do not know the Lord as I hope to know him. I would have you remark that the apostle Paul said that he desired to know Christ, and if you look at the Epistle to the Philippians, which contains that wish, you will find that it was written by Paul at least twenty years after he had been converted. He had enjoyed twenty years of very near walking with God, and of very marvellous revelations— twenty years of very successful working for God, such as, perhaps, were never accorded to any other man: and yet he still aspires, “That I may know him.” What, Paul, do you not know him? “Oh, yes,” he would reply, “I know him so sweetly, so blessedly, that I would fain know him still better. The more I know him the more I find there is yet to be known. He is such a deep of love, he is such a mountain of mercy, that as I dive deeper a further deep opens below me; and as I climb higher a loftier peak towers above me.” Dear hearer, if you think you can never be better than you are, I do not think you ever will be. Self-contentment is the end of progress. When you have attained, why, what remaineth for you but to rest and be thankful, and do a little pious boasting? I do not believe in you if you have got to the ultimatum. As long as you are this side of heaven there will be room for progress, and something yet beyond you after which you will labour. “Then shall we know when we follow on to know.” You will still have to press forward, and still will the exhortation sound in your ears; —

“Forget the steps already trod,
And onward urge your way.”

Not as though you had already attained, either were already perfect, this one thing you do, forgetting the things that are behind, you press forward, still looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith. Our business, then, is to begin with the knowledge of God, to press forward in the knowledge of God, and not to flatter ourselves into the idea that we have no more to learn.

     Another thought. Our business is to continue in what we know. There are some persons who are everything by turns and nothing long. They say that they have begun to know the Lord in the right way; but very soon you find them following another route. A tree which is often transplanted is not likely to bring forth much fruit. The vessel which changes its course, because its captain is full of caprice, is not likely to make headway to any desired haven. Brethren, whereunto ye have attained, mind the same thing; rush not after novelties, as certain vagrant bands in this city are always doing. If ye have begun in the Spirit, do not hope to be made perfect in the flesh. If all that you have already known concerning your Lord has come to you by faith, do not expect the rest of it to come by feeling. Some Christians seem to live by jerks. They live as bankrupt sinners, dependent upon the mercy of God one day; and then they get encouraged, and set up to live as saints rolling in riches of realised sanctification, but ere long they are insolvent again, and no wonder, for this sort of paper money generally leads to a collapse. Keep to the one point— “I am nothing: Christ is everything. I am sin: he is my righteousness. I am death: he is my life. I look to him for everything. I trust not in frames or feeling, or attainments, or graces, or doings, but I rely on Jesus only.” Brother, that is the right clue to follow. Follow on. Turn not to the right hand or to the left. Your hope of knowing more of divine things must lie in your persevering in this course.

     But take care that you persevere eagerly. I find the Hebrew here is strong enough to bear to be translated, “Then shall ye know when ye eagerly follow on to know the Lord.” The knowledge of God is not to be attained, certainly no great proficiency in it is to be attained, without an intense desire. Even to obtain human knowledge a man separates himself, and engages in much study, which is “a weariness of the flesh.” If we would know God it will not be by trifling over his word, nor by neglecting the assembling of ourselves together, nor by slighting the mercy-seat, or neglecting private meditation. There must be a keen scent and an eager pursuit, as when the hound pursues the stag; for we cannot know much of God so as to feel his goings forth as the morning, and his refreshings as the dew, except our heart thirsts after God as the hart thirsteth for the waterbrooks. Let me urge you, newly-converted ones, to be very diligent in searching the word of God. Be much in attendance upon the means of grace; but, especially, be much with God privately, holding personal intercourse with God alone. You may learn something of a person by reading his books, you may get a better idea of him by hearing him speak; but if you want to know him best you must live with him. Even so you may know much of God from his word, and much from the speech of his servants; but if you want to know him you must abide with him in habitual communion. I urge this upon you: then shall ye know when in this manner ye follow on to know the Lord.

     Once more. Our business is to be receptive. If we are to know the Lord we must follow on to know the Lord by being willing to learn. Notice that the text says “he shall come unto us as the rain.” Now, the earth drinks in the rain. That portion of the soil which repels the rain — the rock, which turns it off from its surface— cannot be blest thereby. It is a great blessing to have a soul capable of receiving divine truth. Alas! there are some who have heard the gospel so long that they have almost become grace-proof. I have seen a new tent when a shower has come on let in the wet in a hundred places; but, after a while, when the canvas has been well swollen with the rain, it has become water-proof, and not a drop has come through. Certain hearers seem to be so saturated with the rain of the word that they are gospel-proof, the heavenly moisture does not penetrate them. They hear, but hear in vain— insensible as steel. Open your breasts to Christ whene’er he comes: let the gates of your heart be set wide open that he may enter. Let him not knock, and knock, and knock again, in vain. When Jesus of Nazareth passeth by let him see that there is an open door to your house, so that if to-day he must abide in your house he may come in and welcome. The Lord open the door of our hearts like that of Lydia, “whose heart the Lord opened.” Prejudice often shuts out the word; some people do not know the Lord, or much about him, because they do not want to know. Certain points of God’s truth would disturb what they call their “settled views and therefore they wear blinkers for fear of seeing too much. Happy is that man who wants to find truth wherever she may be, and is glad to discover and amend his errors, because his heart is set upon being right before the Lord, and he longs to follow the Lord fully, as Caleb did of old.

     Here, then, beloved, is our business. May grace be given to us to attend to it— to know the Lord to begin with, to exclude all idea that there is nothing further to know, to continue in what is known, to persevere eagerly in the endeavour to know more, and to be daily receptive of divine influences.

     II. Now, secondly, we have GOD S PROMISE— “Then shall we know, when we follow on to know the Lord.” You shall know, young friend; God says that you shall know. What will you know? Why, you will know, when you follow on to know the Lord, more about the past. Take the text in its connection. You observe that it details the experience— the very perplexing experience—of a quickened soul. “he hath torn and he will heal; he hath smitten and he will heal us up; after two days he will revive us,” and so on. Now, you do not know, perhaps, at this time, what your present experience means. You thought that as soon as you believed in Jesus you would have perfect peace and joy, and that your delight would never depart from you. You have heard others sing, “Oh, happy day,” and you have sung it yourself, but just now you do not feel at all as happy as you hoped to be. On the contrary, you feel very miserable, because you have found out that the devil is not dead, and that your sins are not dead, and that outside in the world people do not look upon you with any greater love because you are a Christian, but, on the contrary, they oppose you. Some of your dearest relatives even scoff at you for loving the name of Jesus, and you are a good deal staggered by their opposition. Besides, you do not enjoy prayer as you did at first, and the Bible itself scarcely seems to glitter before your eyes as in your first love; and the sermons which seemed to be so very sweet appear somehow to have become sharp and cutting to you. Well, you will understand all this by-and -by. When we are very little our mothers carry us in their arms, but when we get a little bigger they set us on our own feet. It is natural that the child that has to walk alone should, when weary, regret that the time is over when it lay so closely in the mother’s bosom: yet it is good for the babe to try its own feet, good for it to tumble down and know its own weakness, or else it might always be helpless. Many things in the beginning of Christian life are very pleasant and delightful, but trials come in due time to exercise our graces that we may be no longer children. We do not understand this at the time, and to the raw recruit I would say, do not wish to understand it now; you shall understand it when you follow on to know the Lord. Leave your experience to God. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and hang on to that; and when you cannot comprehend your own feelings, and your religion all seems to be in a tangle, never mind; hold on to the cross and sing—

“I the chief of sinners am,
But Jesus died for me.”

Stand to that. Best you in the precious blood once shed for many for the remission of sins, and by-and-by you shall know all about the winding experiences through which you are now going. Then shall you know when you follow on to know the Lord.

     Beloved, the text means, not only that we shall know about the past, but as we follow on to know the Lord we shall know in the present the sweet things of the gospel and the enjoyments which are stored up for the Lord’s people. “Eye hath not seen, neither hath ear heard, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him; but he hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit, for the Spirit searcheth all things, even the deep things of God.” You will not know the choice things which God has prepared for his people except as, by degrees, the Spirit of God reveals them unto you. Press on to know more of God. I know it sometimes puzzles you to hear us talk of election. You cannot quite understand the doctrine of eternal love, which had no beginning and never shall have an end; of immutable love which neither shifts nor changes; of vital union to Christ, justification through imputed righteousness, and the like. Very well, we will not trouble you with high sounding terms, and theological phrases; but as you follow on to know the Lord you will know the deep things of God. Continue to follow on to know more about Christ. Stick to the one desire, — to know more about him, and you will find your way through difficulties. As in a maze, if you follow the clue you will get to the centre of it, so Christ is the clue to all gospel mysteries, follow that silken clue stained with scarlet, and you will arrive at all those precious truths one by one, and have the present enjoyment of them as God shall see that you are able to bear them. He deals with us in much prudence, and according as our strength is so does he reveal these choice things to us. “Ye cannot bear them now,” said Christ concerning certain truths which he would fain have taught to his disciples; so you beginners cannot bear the higher doctrines now, and if we were to preach them to you we should stagger you, but you will bear them soon, nay, you will love them soon; and, whereas they may seem bugbears to you to-night, the day shall come when you shall bless God that ever he revealed them in Scripture, and you will be prepared to die in defence of them.

     Beloved Christian friends, those of you who have gone to greater lengths than others in divine knowledge may well take this promise to yourselves as to the future: “Then shall we know, when we follow on to know the Lord.” We know something of our Lord’s love and faithfulness, and truth, and power to save, we know the covenant of grace, and we have seen something of its lengths and breadths and depths and heights, but we are conscious that we have no more fully understood the boundless love and grace than the child who takes up a handful of water from the sea has held the Atlantic in his palm; but we shall know, we shall know. We shall know more and more and more, and especially we shall know more as we get nearer to heaven. That land Beulah teaches very much; saints grow speedily wise in that region, where the angels bring bundles of spices from the other side the river, and stray notes from the harps of angels are borne on favouring breezes to the blessed ears of God’s beloved ones who are waiting to be called away. We shall know. All that has been revealed to the saints shall be revealed to us when we follow on to know the Lord. Their rapturous enjoyments when they have been overcome with love divine— we shall drink of those wines on the lees, well refined. Their confident assurance when they were as certain of their interest in divine love as of their own existence — we shall climb to that, and stand upon our high places too. “Then shall we know, when we follow on to know the Lord.” Oh, brethren and sisters, can you guess what yet is to be revealed to you? Could you have imagined at the outset of the Christian life that you would, or could have had such confidence and rest and peace as you now have? I ask those of you who have had many trials and have been rooted and established in the faith thereby— could you have thought it possible that you would have had such a grip and hold on Christ as you now have? Perhaps you were for many years under a misty, cloudy ministry, and yourselves in a sort of semi-darkness, “not light, but darkness visible”; but the Lord has brought you out to see all things finished in Christ, and to understand the covenant of grace. Oh, what brightness is before you now! but— but the day cometh, even before you get to heaven, when the light of this day shall be as dimness compared with what you shall behold; for the light of one day shall then be as the light of seven days, if you press forward in this knowledge as God shall help you. There are ascending rounds in the ladder of grace and stages each one above the other in the divine climbing. The mount of the Lord is very high: he who stands even at the base thereof is saved, but there are higher platforms, and we ascend first to one, and then to another, and from the elevations, gradually rising, the scene widens and the air grows clearer. Oh, to be higher, higher, higher, and so nearer to light, nearer to perfection, nearer to God. Press on, O climber, and thou shalt find that thou shalt know more and more of the Lord as thou pressest towards him.

     III. The third and last point is THE FULFILMENT OF THIS PROMISE. I will not be very long over the two figures lest I should weary you, but they are both very suggestive.

     “His going forth is prepared as the morning.” That is to say, press you on to know the Lord, and you shall know the Lord more fully in the light and heat which he brings to men. The going forth of the morning is peculiarly bright, because it stands in contrast with the night. There are countries in which the night suddenly gives place to the morning: here we have long intervals of twilight, but in those lands after the eye has been in darkness all the night long, the sun suddenly seems to leap above the horizon, and there is light. Now, it has been so with you already who know the Lord, and it shall be more and more so with you. The contrast between your sorrow and your joy shall be very striking. As your tribulations abound so also shall your consolations abound. Your broken bones shall rejoice; the place of your weeping, the valley of Achor, shall be the door of your hope. Now, be joyous about this. Follow on to know the Lord, and there shall be light for you, light out of darkness; your midnight shall blaze into day. The Lord will come as the morning as to his freshness, for every morning is a new morning. No second-hand morning has ever dawned upon the earth yet; the dawn is always fresh with the sweet breath of the zephyrs, and bright with the sparkling dews which hang like new jewels in the ears of nature. The light is ever as of newly minted gold, and the air is as perfume fresh pressed from its spices. All the earth seems like a newly married bride in the early morning. Well, now, such shall you find true religion to be as you press forward— it will be always fresh to you, and never fiat and stale. I have wearied of a thousand things, but never of my Lord. Ask the saints whether they ever wearied of the sight of Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness who rises with healing beneath his wings. It is said of our Lord in “the Song” that his locks are black as a raven; that is to say, he is ever young. Truly he wears the dew of his youth to our hearts. Never does our Lord grow old, though he is so ancient that his locks are white as snow, yet is he still so new and fresh that the raven’s plume has not more jet. You shall find it so as you press forward, joy shall be given to you, and that joy shall be for ever new.

     This blessing shall come irresistibly, for when the morning cometh to the earth none can stay it. Can any human hand seize the reins of the horses of the sun and restrain them from passing through the gates of the morning. Impossible! God bids the sun arise, and rise he does. So with you Christians, abiding in the knowledge of God and pressing forward, the light must come to you. Nothing can prevent it. The sun rejoiceth to run his race, and defies all competitors, and even so shall the Lord your Redeemer scorn all who would restrain him and come to you in the fulness of his love.

     The blessing shall come increasingly too, for the morning awakes, at first, with a few grey streaks; then follow the redder hues which stain the sky, as though night in retreating hung out the banners of defeat: anon succeed the brighter tints, and soon the sun himself is seen above the mountain’s height, and all the earth is robed in splendour. So with your soul. At first there is a little light, then more, and more, and more, till you come unto the perfect day, and see Jehovah face to face, and fear no ill. His coming forth shall be prepared as the morning. The text says, “is prepared as the morning.” I find that the word may be read “is decreed”— determined, fixed, appointed, prepared. Christ’s coming to gladden your soul, O you that know the Lord, is a fixed thing, not a peradventure, but determined of God. You must have it. It is a decree as powerful as that fiat which said “Let there be light,” and there was light; and therefore the blessing must come to you. It should be no small joy to the believer in God through Jesus Christ that the mercies he is to enjoy are measured out, fixed, and determined by an unalterable will which has been framed of old by eternal love and infinite wisdom. Follow on to know the Lord, and if all the devils in hell try to keep you in the dark they cannot, the sun must rise for you. Follow on to know the Lord, and if all apparent providences should seem to keep you back, they cannot, for the secret and omnipotent decrees which rule the providences shall carry the point. His going forth is prepared as the morning, and that going forth shall be for your joy and delight.

     The second figure of the text has less to do with the light of the knowledge of Christ, and more to do with the inward power which comes of that knowledge. “He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and farmer rain unto the earth” This is the inward power. Dwell upon those words “unto us”— not only “shall he come as the rain,” but “shall come unto us” I rejoice to feel the gospel come home to me. It is very sweet to preach it, but when I get to hear it for myself, and it comes unto me, then I know its power to refresh my soul. Now, the Lord Jesus Christ has a way of coming unto us which is as the rain when it waters the earth. The earth is dry and dusty, parched, barren: the rain does not ask the earth for anything, but it looks down from the heights and sees the gaping mouths of the parched fields, and the clods crumbling as they lie baking in the cruel sun, and the rain says, “I will go and bless that field;” and down it comes, drop after drop, in plenteous refreshment. Each drop finds its way, until the rain enters the crevices, and descends into the bosom of mother earth, and the field is refreshed, the hidden seeds start up to life, and the green blades take another shoot. Now, follow on to know the Lord, beloved, and you shall find the Lord Jesus Christ, not only giving you more light and knowledge like the sun, but giving you more life within yourself, more sap of grace, more vigour within your own soul, so that you shall become fruitful, and shall grow to perfection. As you drink in from heaven the rain of grace, you shall yield back to heaven the fruits of righteousness, to the honour and glory of God.

     Observe that it is written, “He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and the former rain.” Now, these come in their season. The former rain came in Palestine, at the end of autumn, when they had sown the corn. The latter rain came at the beginning of our spring, when corn in the East is getting nearly ripe. It is not so with us, of course, but it is so in Palestine. The latter rain came to plump out the ears. Now, God will give you grace when you want it, grace to help in time of need; a shower when you begin, and another shower when you go on, and perhaps the heaviest shower just as you are ripening. Do not be frightened when you see a cloud of trouble. If we were to expect rain without clouds we should be very great fools, and I sometimes think that to expect a shower of blessing without trial is almost as great a folly.

“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.”

God knows how to send a shower of rain when it is wanted, and to send grace when it is needed— to give us the former rain and the latter rain in their season.

     Notice, again, it is a repeated gift. He shall give the former rain and the latter rain. If you have had grace once the Lord has more for you. Did you have happy times when old Dr. So-and-so was your pastor? Well, the doctor is dead, but God is not. Were you very much delighted when you used to sit in such-and-such a church, in years gone by, and have you moved into the country now? Yes, but God has not moved. He is in the country as well as in the town. You tell me you had such happy times when you were young. Yes, but God is neither younger nor older. Go to him, for he is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Do you suppose that, because he gave you the former rain, he has emptied the bottles of heaven? It is not so. The clouds, “those wandering cisterns of the sky,” fill again and empty again, and fill again and empty again: and so is it with the mighty grace of God. There is an exhaustless fulness in the Lord; however much you have had from him you shall have more. Follow on to know the Lord, and you shall have grace upon grace. The showers shall never cease to fall till you get to the land where you shall be as a tree planted by the rivers of water, and shall drink in unfailing supplies from the river itself.

     One word more only, and it is this: all this fulfilment of the promise that you shall know comes only to you through the Lord himself. If we are to know, it must be by his going forth, and because he shall come unto us: there is no knowing in any other way. Oh, my brother, I know that your desire is like mine— to know more of the Lord by that deep, vital, practical knowledge which makes the soul like to the God it knows; never let us forget that our sole way of knowing the Lord is through his coming to us. We may read the Bible — I trust we shall; but there is such a thing as resting in Bible reading, and if we do so we shall fall short. Our Lord denounced that in his day when he said, “Ye search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me that ye might have life:” as much as if he had said, “Your searching the Scriptures is well enough, but coming to me is the main business.” It is not the letter-God, but the living God that we want. It is not the book of God so much as the God of the book that we must know. We must seek Christ Jesus, the personal Christ, really existent to ourselves, and falling at his feet, confessing our sin, looking up to his wounds, trusting and confiding in him we shall be indeed blessed. You cannot know the Lord in any other way than by his coming to you in the reality of his incarnation as the very Christ of God. I wish I knew how to put the matter so that every one here would recognise to the full my meaning. You know the moment people begin to think about religion they say, “Well, yes, we must keep the Sabbath, we must attend a place of worship, we must have family prayer.” Thus they dwell upon the many things that they “must do,” all of which things are right enough, but they are only the shell. What the sinner has to say is not, “I will arise and go— to church.” No, no. “I will arise and go to my closet and pray.” No, that is not it, first. “I will arise and go and read a chapter of the Bible.” No, that is not it, good as that is: but “I will arise and go unto my Father.” That is where you have to go— to a real God. “How can I go?” Well, not with these feet; but he is not far from any one of you. In him you live and move and have your being: you are also his offspring. Let your hearts think of him now; let your hearts mourn that you have broken his law; let your hearts listen to his gracious words; for he says, “Return unto me, and I will return unto you. 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.” No turn will do but a turning unto the Lord. No new birth, but a birth by his Spirit.

     If you do not know the Lord, remember that he has revealed himself very clearly in the person of his only-begotten Son, who took our nature, and died in the stead of his people upon the cross. Whosoever looks to Jesus, the man, believing him to be the Son of God, sees all of God that he wants to see in the person of the crucified Redeemer. Look you to him, however weak and feeble your eye may be. Trust him, trust him fully, trust him only, trust him now. God enable you so to do, by his ever-blessed Spirit, and you are saved. You know the Lord, and as you go on to know more about him, you shall find him to be as the sun in his brightness, and as the rain in its sweetness and life. God bless you. May we all meet in heaven, for Christ’s sake. Amen.



Why Men Cannot Believe in Christ

By / Jun 22

Why Men Cannot Believe in Christ

 

“How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” — John v. 44.

 

OUR Saviour was addressing himself to Pharisees, who would not receive him, and who, no doubt, pleaded that they could not believe on him. They had just seen a very notable miracle wrought by him: — a man who had been many years sick had been suddenly restored, and that by a word. That miracle, being of the same nature as the wonderful works of the great Father, a miracle of tenderness and omnipotence, ought to have convinced them that Christ was the Son of God. They saw the miracle, however, and instead of drawing the proper inference they began to cavil at the Master because he had performed it upon the Sabbath-day: the teaching of our Lord’s wonderful work of mercy and power was lost upon them; they could not, they would not see the finger of God. Before this miracle had occurred John the Baptist had come, the Elias who was foretold to herald the Messiah. These Pharisees had felt a partial belief in John, and the popular voice compelled them to stifle any unbelief concerning him which may have lingered in their hearts. They dared not say that his ministry was altogether of man, and consequently they were posed by the Saviour’s question, “The ministry of John, was it from heaven or of men?” They could not answer the question; because if they denied his mission the people would cry out against them, and, on the other hand, if they confessed that John came from heaven, our Lord’s reply would be, “Why, then, did ye not believe him, and accept his testimony concerning me?” They had, therefore, in addition to the miracle which Jesus wrought, the testimony of John the Baptist, but still they could not believe. In addition to this, these men were exceedingly well acquainted with the Scriptures. The scribes made it their business to transcribe the Old Testament; they learned chapters and books by heart. Many of them were so well acquainted with the letter of Scripture that they could tell you which was the middle verse in each book, and they have left us Masoretic notes which tell us what is the middle verse of the Bible, and the middle letter of the Bible', and the like trifles. They were very curious and careful concerning all the little jots and tittles of the sacred manuscripts. Now, those books speak plainly of Christ. It is marvellous that men conversant with Old Testament Scripture could see Jesus Christ, and observe his doings, and not discover that he was the Messiah, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write. What witness can be plainer than that of Isaiah? Here was testimony upon testimony, and yet in the teeth of it all the Christ was rejected.

     There are persons of this kind in the world still. They believe the Scriptures to be the Word of God, though they do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. They accept the gospel narrative; they have no doubt whatever that Jesus, the Son of God, did live on earth a life of perfection and died as a substitutionary sacrifice. They also believe that he has risen from the dead and is gone into glory, and has all power to save: they believe that the gospel message is true, and yet they do not believe on the Lord Jesus: I mean that they do not so believe in him in spirit, and in truth, as to believe unto salvation. They stop short with the knowledge of the outward facts, and they do not come with their hearts and rest upon him as their whole salvation: and if you ask them why not, they will not say that they will not, and shall not, but that they cannot. They plead a want of ability, and they endeavour, as well as they can, to screen themselves behind that want of ability. It is a monstrous thing, beyond all things monstrous, that a man should plead that he is under a necessity to give his God the lie direct. It is an amazing thing that a man should actually urge as an apology for remaining at enmity to God that he cannot believe him; that is to say, he actually pleads the great sin of making God a liar, as an excuse for his rebellion. What is that but to insult the majesty of heaven with an excuse which is in itself the highest insolence? To say I cannot believe a man is to malign his character; and to say that I cannot believe God is to do him the highest conceivable dishonour. To what a pitch has the human heart gone in extravagance of presumptuous daring when it boldly tells God that it cannot believe his testimony concerning his Son; and though he says, “Believe in my Son and ye are saved,” dares to answer him thus, “We cannot believe in your Son,” as if the Christ of God were a liar too, and he who died for us, and gave the best pledge of his love, were not to be trusted. Alas for our race! Has it indeed come to this, that it is a hard thing to rely upon one who cannot deceive us, and difficult to place our dependence upon one who is able to save to the uttermost?

     Now, I want to deal as gently as I dare with those of you who have pleaded inability. It is very likely true that you cannot believe: let us try to find out the reason of it. The difficulty does not lie in the truth to be believed, for it is neither absurd nor incredible; neither does it lie in any want of mental faculty in yourself by which you might believe. In your case the difficulty is not a mental one, for you already believe in the inspiration of the word of God, and in the mission of Christ, and so on: your difficulty is a moral one, and I shall be faithful with you, and try to put my finger upon it, just as Christ was faithful with these people and pointed out their moral difficulty. “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another?” May the Holy Ghost put power into my words.

     First, let us speak of the hindrance which was in the way of these Pharisees; and then, secondly, let us make some guesses at the hindrances in the way of some of you who cannot believe.

     First, THE HINDRANCE IN THE WAY OF THE PHARISEES.

     It may be in the way of some here, and therefore let us note it carefully. They received honour one of another. Now, the mere fact of receiving honour, even if that honour be rightly rendered, may make faith in Christ a difficulty. A man gets to feel that he is something when others honour him, and this is dangerous; for a man never believes in Jesus till he knows himself to be nothing. If others praise us, if they dwell upon our good points, if they pay respect to our rank, if they notice our abilities and talents, we are very apt to think that there should be some special way to heaven for us— some platform tickets to let us in by a back-door a little apart from the common crowd of sinners, because we are so respected; and when the gospel says, “You must be saved as a sinner or not at all, you must give up all claim of merit and all reliance upon what you can do, or else you never can be saved,” then in all probability the mere fact of our having received honour from other people will render it the more difficult for us to believe a doctrine which gives no honour to men, but stains the pride of all glory, and casts human excellency into the dust.

     It is still more 'perilous if, receiving honour, we come to expect it, as these people did. They expected their countrymen to pay them homage. Were they not called by their brethren “great,” and “distinguished,” and “learned”? Were they not styled “doctor,” and “rabbi,” and the like? They came to think that the people ought to honour and esteem them; and thus they went a step deeper into the perilous floods, for when a man gets to feel that he ought to be honoured, he is in extreme danger. I have known some who have been worthy of much honour, and have received it without being in any degree elevated ; with a proper modesty they have shunned the fame which followed them, and blushed when it has overtaken them: but it is not given to all men to bear the serious trial of honour: too many men, receiving honour, come to expect honour ; and he who expects honour is not in that condition of heart which renders it easy to fall down on his knees at the throne of divine mercy and cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

     Now, some of you may be very much esteemed in your families—I am very glad you are; but, perhaps without your knowing it, there is growing up the feeling that you ought to be esteemed. Now, dear friend, take care lest that should fester into a dangerous pride which will be your ruin. You know the simple story (I dare say you have heard it told), of the slave-owner who was under conviction, and who had a servant under impressions too. But poor Sam found Christ and peace long before his master did, at which the master expressed his wonder. The slave replied, “Do you see, massa, when de angel come along with a white robe he says to massa, ‘Here is a new robe for you.’ Massa looks at his coat, a little worn, and a few holes, but still pretty fine. ‘Ah,’ says massa, ‘it will patch up and do a little longer,’ so massa does not get de new robe. De angel come to Sam and says, ‘Sam, new robe for you.’ Sam says, ‘Ah, I am all rags— I am all rags; thank you,’ and I put on de new robe at once, massa.” Now, there is just that fear lest your very amiable character and the respect it brings you should lead you to be all the longer in accepting the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That perhaps is where your difficulty may be found at the present time; and if so, dear friend, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, and you shall be exalted in due time; “for God resisteth the proud, but he giveth grace to the humble.” Remember, you may not be at all offensively proud to other people, and yet there may be much pride in your heart in the sight of God, and this may be hindering you from believing the simple, precious gospel which is meant for the guilty and the lost and the ruined, and which, dear friends, is really meant for you if you did but know your own condition.

     In the case of the Pharisees, however, there was something more than that. They not only received honour and expected honour, but this honour was quite undeserved. These men won respect by a false character. Oh, they were wonderfully good men, and marvellously religious! They had two pennyworth of halfpence to give away, and they sounded a trumpet in the street, and everybody said, “What a generous man that Rabbi Ben Simeon is! He has been giving money away at the corner of the street.” When they paid their tithes they were very particular to send the servant down into the garden to cut exactly a tenth-part of the mint, the anise, and the cummin. True, it was not worth twopence, it would not have made up a pound sterling in a hundred years; but it was intended to let everybody see their thorough-going principles. Everybody said, “Rabbi Ben Simeon is so very exact in the payment of his tithes. He is such a very holy man, he actually begged the collector to give him change for half a farthing, so as to be quite correct, and not have even a sprig of mint on his conscience. He is very holy; look at the border of his garment— other people wear theirs about an inch wide, but his is six inches at least. His tailor says that he is one of the godliest men he ever knew, and spends a deal in trimmings. He is very holy, and observes all the fasts, you can tell that by his sad countenance. He fasts twice in the week. Whoever heard of such self-denial? It is true he has a famous appetite on the other five days; but yet he is a very holy man.”

     They extolled one another for this ostentatious religiousness— this wonderful piety; but if you could have seen the Pharisee in private you would have discovered that he really did not deserve a word of praise, for there, behind the door, what is that he is eating? Our Lord tells you: it is a widow’s substance. “Ye devour widows’ houses, and for a show make long prayers.” He has been washing his hands, because he has been to market, and they need it, for an orphan’s plunder defiles them. He carefully washes before he eats bread, but though he has made clean the outside of the cup and the platter, his inner part is full of filthiness. Albeit that he was strict as to ceremonies, he taught men to set aside the commandments of God, and follow instead the commandments of men. The fellow, instead of deserving to be praised, ought to have been hooted off the stage for his hypocrisy. Now, be sure of this, if a man has a fine character, but does not deserve it— if he allows that piece of dishonesty to go on, I do not wonder that he cannot believe in Jesus Christ. How should he? A man so false through and through— how should he believe the truth? If a man has lived in the dark all his life, do you wonder that the light makes his eyes ache, and that therefore he hates it? If a man has been incrusted in filth from his birth and thrived in it, there is no wonder that he judges purity to be quite a superfluity. Believe in Jesus Christ? Oh, man, while you are acting so vile a part there is no wonder that you cannot believe in the honest, truthful Saviour. Now, is there anybody here who wears before the eye of men a fair character, and yet, in secret, is anything but what he ought to be? O sir, if you cannot believe in Jesus, I can very well comprehend your difficulty; but, oh, may God make you sincere — may he turn you into that honest and good ground on which the seed will grow, for it never will grow in a hypocrite’s heart, let us preach to him as long as we may.

     These people who received honour had a further difficulty, namely, that, always receiving this undeserved honour, they deceived themselves into believing that they deserved it. A man who deludes other people, by degrees comes to delude himself. The deluder first makes dupes of others and then becomes a dupe to himself. I should not wonder but what the Pope really believes that he is infallible, and that he ought to be saluted as “his holiness.” It must have taken him a good time to arrive at that eminence of self-deception, but he has got to that, I dare say, by now, and everyone who kisses his toe confirms him in his insane idea. When everybody else believes a flattering falsehood concerning you, you come at last to believe it yourself, or at least to think that it may be so. These Pharisees, being continually called “the learned rabbi,” “the holy scribe,” “the devout and pious doctor,” “the sanctified teacher,” almost believed the flattering compliments. They used very grand phrases in those days, and doctors of divinity were very common, almost as common as they are now; and the crowd of doctors and rabbis helped to keep each other in countenance by repeating one another’s fine names till they believed they meant something. Dear friends, it is very difficult to receive honour and to expect it, and yet to keep your eyesight; for men’s eyes gradually grow dull through the smoke of the incense which is burned before them; and when their eyes become dim with self-conceit, it will not be at all marvellous if they say, “We cannot believe in Jesus Christ.” Their own great selves conceal the cross, and. make them unable to believe the truth.

     Once more, the praise of men generally turns the receivers of it into great cowards. How could they believe in Jesus? Why, the people would leave off terming them “the learned rabbi,” and “the celestial doctor,” and their brethren would put them out of the synagogue. How could they believe, and lose their status? Why, the people would say, “Has rabbi So-and-so become a disciple of the carpenter’s son? Has he put aside his wisdom and become a child, that he may be instructed by the Nazarene?” Why, the whole sanhedrim would hiss out indignation against the learned man, the pious man, the devout man, with his phylactery, and the broad border of his garment, if he were to follow with publicans and harlots at the heels of the rejected Messiah. They were afraid! They were afraid! That same spirit which makes us love the praise of men makes us dread the threats of men. You cannot be pleased with the adulation of mankind without becoming fearful of their censure. It is a perilous thing to taste of human honour: if it makes you sick, it is the best thing it can do for you. If you despise it utterly, it is the only way of bearing it without being injured by it; for I say again, delight in the praises of others saps the foundations of a man’s manhood: delight in the praise of men takes a man off from following after the glory of God, and makes him afraid of following the truth if it cost him ridicule.

     Now, I am afraid that there are many here who cannot believe in Jesus Christ because they are afraid. Yes, there is a commercial traveller over there! If he were to become a Christian, why the next time he went into the commercial room it would be known, and there would be many queer remarks and no end of chaffing. You, Mr. Commercial, cannot follow Christ, can you? It is plain that you cannot believe, and the reason is plain too, — you are a great coward! There is a working man over there, and he knows that it is right to be a believer in Jesus Christ, but he cannot believe; and the reason is that he could not stand those coarse remarks which he would be sure to get in the shop to-morrow morning. He has not spirit enough to bear with ridicule; he is the slave of others, and trembles at their laughter! I would sooner lie in my grave than be so mean a thing. Some are afraid of their brothers, others are afraid of the companions that they spend their evenings with. They have been hitherto the first to lead the laugh at the evening convivial; if they were to be converted they would lose their little empire, and be no longer a favourite. They could not stand contempt! Oh, the fear of man, the fear of man, what cowards it makes of intelligent beings! It is not conscience that makes cowards of us one-half so much as the want of conscience: if we had more conscience we should have less fear of men, and should brave their scowls, and scorn their scorn, and bid defiance to their threats. But, oh, how many live on the breath of their fellow men; to be approved— to be applauded— that is their heaven; but to be despised, to be sneered at, to be called fool, to have some nickname applied to them; oh no, they would sooner go to hell than bear that. I say that they are fools with an emphasis if that be the case, and if they will use their wits for a moment I think they will see it so, for surely to be lost to please fools is to be a fool yourself. Please your friends as far as it is right, but never go to such an expense as the ruin of your souls to keep up friendship with sinners. That man is no friend of mine who would have me ruin my soul. I have known friends come to a man and suck all his estate out of him, lead him into speculations and schemes that serve their turn, and desert him when they have ruined him. Do you call such men friends? We do not, when we speak honestly, call them such; and shall I call him a friend who leads me into sinful amusements, who seeks my favour by teaching me how to indulge my passions, and courts my praise while ruining my soul? He is my decided enemy: he cannot be my friend at all. Flee from all of his class, young man, if you cannot convert him. Do not be such a coward as to be afraid of anybody. Stand straight up as God made you, and say, “No, he never made me to be afraid of man or woman either. He has made me a man, and the very least thing I can do is to pray him to make me manly enough to buy the truth and sell it not, and take up my cross and follow Christ, come what may of it.”

     Thus much upon the point as it concerned the Pharisees and some here.

     II. Now, secondly, I am going to make some guesses as to OTHER HINDRANCES, and you must all help me. You who cannot believe must help me by trying to find out how far I am describing your cases.

     It is, no doubt, true that some are unable to believe in Christ because they have a very high opinion of themselves. They have never done anything amiss; at least, not much, and they have got very good hearts at bottom; and if there has been anything awry they mean to mend and set it all right; and they have no doubt that they will fare as well as the most of people, anyhow. They will just do their best, and God Almighty is very merciful, and, no doubt they will, by some means, get on the right side of the Judge at last. Ah, dear friend, you must be purged of this perilous stuff, or you cannot be saved. Your self-satisfaction is founded upon falsehood. Your heart is not so good as you think it, nor your conduct so commendable as you suppose. You have not done your best. If you will examine your past life your conscience will find out many instances in which you did not do your best; and you cannot— mark that word— despite the apparent strength of that resolve of yours— you cannot conquer sin. I must say to you as Joshua to the children of Israel, “Ye cannot serve the Lord.” You are going to fight a stout enemy, and the spear you carry in your hand is but a reed, which will snap in battle’s perilous hour. You think that you shall chase out the Canaanites; but they have chariots of iron, and you cannot drive them out. I wish you would give up thinking that you can, for as long as you are strong and good and meritorious you will never be saved. Confess that you have failed; confess that you are weakness itself; lay hold on the divine strength; leave yourself in the hands of Jesus; yield to his Holy Spirit, and sin will be conquered. Unless you do this, the real reason why you cannot believe in Christ is because you believe in yourself, and that is a very sorry reason for unbelief. The lie of self-conceit prevents your seeing the great truth of Christ’s ability to save.

     In many cases there is a strong aversion to confession of sin and to an approach to God, and that is the reason why men cannot believe. When they are told that “Whosoever believeth in the Lord Jesus hath everlasting life,” they make answer, “I wish I could believe; but I cannot.” Now, let me ask one who speaks in that fashion, did you ever go to God with tears and say, “Lord, I have sinned?” Did you ever acknowledge your transgressions before the Lord, and, acknowledging them, did you then say, “God be merciful to me a sinner”? No, you have not done that, and you cannot bring your mind to it. You do not like to make a clean breast of it. Now, he that confesses his sin shall find mercy, but none else. David said, “When I kept silence my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.” Moreover, if you do not confess your sin to the Loid, I do not see how you can believe in Christ, because Christ has come to pardon sin, and if you will not confess that you have transgressed, how can you believe in his power to pardon? How can you rightly value forgiveness when you are not awake to the fact that you have offended? The Lord Jesus has come to cleanse you by virtue of his blood; but if you do not want cleansing, or will not acknowledge that you do, I can well understand you when you say, “I cannot believe in him.” It is your hardness of heart, your hatred of God, your esteem of yourself, that hinders.

     Many also are unable to believe in Jesus Christ because they are too indolent. They are slothfully thoughtless and careless. A great many young people and some older ones too do not like thinking; it is too much trouble. If you do think, some of you women, it is about how that ribbon will suit your complexion; and some of you men, if you do think at all, it is only about how you shall get an extra five-pound-note by your speculations. Thinking is a kind of work which the mass of the present race abhor. They will no more think than butterflies will make honey; they flit from flower to flower, but gather nothing. I know that this is true of multitudes in this country, and I confess it was true of myself before the Lord in mercy met with me. I did not want to think about sin, and death, and heaven, and hell: I did not mind hearing a sermon, because that was the proper thing, and one could soon shake off any uneasy impression produced by it. To spend an hour quite alone, to look into another world, to face death, judgment, and eternity, that is very dreary work to you whose main consideration is to kill time and keep yourselves amused. Now, my dear friend, if you are a trifler, indifferent, careless, frivolous, superficial, giddy, for ever giggling, not even serious enough to laugh; if life is all surface work with you, I can very well understand why you cannot believe in Jesus Christ. You do not seem to have mind enough, or sense enough; for you degrade yourself into a semi-idiotic state by your frivolity. May God awaken you. This life was given us for something better than to be sported away. It is not all a game of battledore, or skipping-rope. This life is given you to be followed by another, and that other will be moulded by this. What you are here you will be for ever. He that is filthy here will be filthy still; and he that is holy here will be holy still. Mind what you are at. The hours you try to get rid of, when you speak of “killing time,” will accuse you before God as their murderer, and bear blood-red evidence upon their hands against you. Wake up from such indolence, I charge you, lest you start up when it will be too late: already such sluggishness has kept you from believing, it will soon sleep you into hell.

     There are some, again, who cannot believe in Jesus Christ because they are very, very fond of what they call pleasure. Now, every man is desirous of happiness, and is not to be condemned for being so. The human mind was constituted to enjoy pleasure, but it was never created that it might be content with the vanities which now-a-days are falsely called pleasures. It makes one blush for the age in which we live when we think of the trifles light as air in which our neighbours take delight. Sinful pleasures are a great bar to faith, and must be renounced. That evil companion who has charmed you with questionable jests must be given up. Do you say that you cannot quit him? Then I see why you cannot believe in Jesus. That house of unclean amusement, which leads to vice— unbelievers know that they must forsake it if they believe in Christ, and they cannot believe because they love the place of temptation. They hesitate; they deliberate; they say that they cannot believe in Jesus; but if they would speak the truth they mean they cannot give up sweet sin. Sin is such a dainty, that they must needs roll it again under their tongue, and relish it once more. They prefer their pleasure to their Saviour.

     Let me say, there are some who are unable to believe in Jesus Christ, for reasons which I hardly care to utter publicly now, and yet I must do it. I have sometimes had sorrowful proof of the reason why some men have lived in unbelief of Christ. After death I have heard what it would have been a shame to whisper in the ear of an unsuspecting wife. The man was a respectable merchant in the City, he went into the “best society,” but he was keeping a mistress and living in fornication all the while. He said he could not believe in Christ! Do you wonder? How could he? I speak plainly, because these things are very common among your respectable merchants, and they need to be told plainly of their sins. Do not come whining to me about “can’t believe in Jesus Christ.” Of course you cannot while you live in filthy lusts.

     Some cannot believe, but why is it? Why, about once a fortnight, or perhaps once a month, the bottle gets the upper hand of them; they cannot believe; no, and there is another thing they cannot do, they cannot walk straight. They cannot believe, but they could if they would fling that brandy bottle out of the window; the vile drink stands between them and Christ. To show us that they cannot believe, they hunt up some of Tom Paine’s blasphemies, and when they get “half seas over” they blubber out their religious difficulties, and want us to believe that they are troubled about them. They are only acting a part, they are not honest infidels, they only use scepticism to quiet their consciences, for they know very well that drunkenness is their real master. There are plenty of very respectable people who never have to pay “five shillings and costs,” and yet do not go to bed sober as a rule; I mean women as well as men. These also cannot believe.

     Have I not told some of you why you cannot believe? I will not mince matters with you; you know that what I say is true.

     I cannot go into all the sins which separate between men and Christ, but some there are who live for gain, and therefore cannot believe. They must make money: their first aim and their last is to make money; and they are making money; but they are making money in a way they would not like to have known. “There are tricks in all trades,” they say; as if they would smudge everybody else with their black brush to make themselves seem clean. Now, I do not believe that every tradesman practises dishonesty. I believe there are many who would scorn a trick, if they could win millions thereby, and therefore it is not fair to blacken our neighbours to excuse ourselves. There are men about who seek gain, and will not stick at any lie if they can make profit. They are making “great sacrifices” always, — of their customers, I suspect, mainly; they misrepresent their goods, and puff them with barefaced lies; the world is full of this rotten trading. Are any of you engaged in such trading? Dare you go God and say, “Lord, help me to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,” and then take down your shutters and cheat people? Why, the Lord will never help you to do anything of the sort. You must give up knavery and puffery, for you cannot serve God and Mammon, and God will never help you to do so. There is no promise in the Bible that God will allow a man to remain dishonest and yet be saved. You need to be saved from your dishonesty, to be saved from your drunkenness, to be saved from your injustice; and unless you are saved from these you can by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

     May God grant us grace to shake these vipers into the fire; for, oh my brothers, though I have spoken sternly, just now, even as John the Baptist might have done, I also am a man, and would plead with you tenderly. What sin can be worth indulging at the expense of your soul? Young soldier, over yonder, is there any sin which prevents your being a Christian in your regiment? Can any sin repay you for losing your soul? Young woman, over there, tempted by pleasure, can any gaiety be worth losing heaven for? Whether young or old, I ask you, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” I have spoken roughly to you in love— love to your souls. If the whole host of pleasurable sins could be put together, and gold piled upon them high as the moon, the whole mass would not repay a man for being cast into the fires of hell. Do not run such risks, I pray you. May great grace enable you to cast your sins away and take Christ at once.

     There is one other thing I will mention, which I am persuaded prevents a great many from believing in Christ, and it is this: they complain that they cannot believe that God will forgive such sinners as they are, and they try to make out that it is impossible that their iniquities should be pardoned. I have on several occasions discovered that the true reason has been that they have not forgiven other people. Now, let us not deceive you; you must forgive everyone his trespasses against you, or your Father in heaven will never forgive you. An unforgiving man is an unforgiven man. Let us say that again, — An unforgiving man is an unforgiven man. If you take your brother by the throat and say, “Pay me what thou owest,” you cannot wonder that the great King should be angry and refuse to hear you when you pray unto him. It is a very dreadful thing when this kind of spirit springs up between relatives, but it does do so. We have known parents who cannot forgive children, and we have known brothers who cannot forgive brothers, so that two of the same family will not speak to each other by the year together. I hope they are not so daring as to come to the communion table in such a temper as that, because they have no right there, certainly. It is not possible for us to be at peace with God if we will not be at peace with one another. May I not have put my finger upon the cause of unbelief in some now present? I know I have.

     And now to sum up all in a word. If these be the reasons why you cannot believe in Jesus Christ, are they not reasons which aggravate your sin? You dare not plead any one of them before God. They are reasons which will fail you when you come to die. Remember they will all be made known at the day of judgment. Every secret sinner here will have to stand forth to be seen as I stand publicly before you now; yea and much more so. Every man will be visible to the eyes of the assembled universe, and all his actions will be read out in the face of the sun—and more, his motives will be published too. Who—who among you but must feel some dread of the great day of assize? If you are not covered by the righteousness of Christ, how will you endure the revelation of that day? There will be no secrets then. A trumpet voice shall proclaim aloud every hidden thing, and the lightning flash of the divine eye shall discover the deeds of darkness. Oh, soul, if you have any of these reasons for not believing, what shall I say to you? Put away such unreasonable reasons. God has given his Son to bleed and die for sinners: all he bids sinners do is to come and trust his Son, and if they will but trust his Son they are saved; their transgressions are forgiven the moment they believe in Jesus, they receive a new life and begin a new career. “But,” you say, “how am I to know that it is so?” God says it is so. Is not that enough? There are hundreds of us here besides who have tried and proved the truth of the promise.

“Oh, believe the message true, —
God to us his Son has given.”

Rest on him and you shall have the blessings which he came to give to the guilty and the lost. I feel as if I could not utter what I feel, or feel as I ought to feel, when I look round upon this congregation, and remember that there are many here who are refusing Jesus Christ, and that some of them in a very short time will be where they will have no more space for believing unto life, but will be shut out for ever from all hope. I cannot bear the thought that one among you should then say, “I went to hear the preacher at the Tabernacle one Sabbath evening, and he preached to us about the reasons why we could not believe; but he was so very smooth-tongued and velvet-mouthed that he did not deal with our consciences fairly and honestly.” No, sirs, you will not dare to say that. You will not dare to say that. I have spoken plainly to you. What then will you say? You will have to admit, “I was plainly warned, but I persisted in not believing in Jesus Christ. I said I could not, but the reason was that I would not. I harboured evils in my heart, and I refused to get rid of them, and so I could not believe in Christ. I chose my own destruction, and now that I have accomplished it, I have no one to blame but myself. Over the roof of that dreadful prison house in which I am shut in for ever, I continually read these words, ‘Ye knew your duty, but ye did it not. Ye heard of Jesus, but ye rejected him; and your blood is on your own head.’” God grant it may not be so; but instead thereof, may many of you come to believe in Jesus now, and then we will meet in heaven and praise redeeming grace. Hoping that free grace will make it so, we will sing one of Mr. Sankey’s joyful hymns— “Ring the Bells of Heaven.”

“Ring the bells of heaven! there is joy to-day,
For a soul returning from the wild!
See! the Father meets him out upon the way,
Welcoming his weary wand’ring child.
Glory! glory! how the angels sing,
Glory! glory! how the loud harps ring;
’Tis the ransomed army, like a mighty sea,
Pealing forth the anthem of the free.”



Messrs. Moody and Sankey Defended; or a Vindication of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith

By / Jun 22

Messrs. Moody and Sankey Defended; or a Vindication of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith

 

"They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts."—Galatians 5:24.

 

From several quarters we have heard lately intensely earnest objections to the matter and tenor of the preaching of the evangelists from America, who have been working among us. Of course, their teaching as well as our own is open to honest judgment, and they, we feel sure, would rather court than shun investigation of the most searching sort. Criticisms upon their style of speaking and singing, and so on, are so unimportant, that nobody has any need to answer them, "Wisdom is justified of her children." It is a waste of time to discuss mere matters of taste, for no men however excellent can please all, or even become equally adapted to all constitutions and conditions: therefore we may let such remarks pass without further observation. But upon the matter of doctrine very much has been said, and said also with a good deal of temper not always of the best. What has been affirmed by a certain class of public writers comes to this, if you boil it down—that it cannot really do any good to tell men that simply by believing in Jesus Christ they will be saved, and that it may do people very serious injury if we lead them to imagine that they have undergone a process called conversion, and are now safe for life. We are told by these gentlemen, who ought to know, for they speak very positively, that the doctrine of immediate salvation through faith in Christ Jesus is a very dangerous one, that it will certainly lead to the deterioration of the public morality, since men will not be likely to set store by the practical virtues when faith is lifted up to so very lofty a position. If it were so it were a grievous fault, and woe to those who led men into it. That it is not the fact we are sure; but meanwhile let us survey the field of battle.

     Will you please to notice that this is no quarrel between these gentlemen and our friends Messrs. Moody and Sankey alone. It is a quarrel between these objectors and the whole of us who preach the gospel; for, differing as we do in the style of preaching it, we are all ready to set our seal to the clearest possible statement that men are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, and saved the moment they believe. We all hold and teach that there is such a thing as conversion, and that when men are converted they become other men than they were before, and a new life begins which will culminate in eternal glory. We are not so dastardly as to allow our friends to stand alone in the front of the battle, to be looked upon as peculiar persons, holding strange notions from which the rest of us dissent. So far as salvation through faith in the atoning blood is concerned, they preach nothing but what we have preached all our lives; they preach nothing but what has the general consent of Protestant Christendom. Let that be known to all, and let the archers shoot at us all alike.

     Then, further, if this be the point of objection, we should like those who raise it to know that they do not raise it against us merely, and these friends who are more prominent, but against the Protestant faith which these very same gentlemen most probably profess to glory in. The Protestant faith in a nutshell lies in this very same justification by faith which they hoot at. It was the discovery that men are saved by faith in Jesus Christ which first stirred up Luther. That was the ray of light which fell upon his dark heart, and by the power of which he came into the liberty of the gospels This is the hammer by which popery was broken in the old time, and this is the sword with which it still is to be smitten—the very "Sword of the Lord and of Gideon." Jesus is the all-sufficient Savior, and "He that believeth in him is not condemned." Luther used, in fact, to say—and we endorse it—that this matter of justification by faith is the article by which a church must stand or fall. That so-called church which does not hold this doctrine is not a church of Christ, and it is a church of Christ that does hold it, notwithstanding many mistakes into which it may have fallen. The contest lies really between the Popish doctrine of merit and the Protestant doctrine of grace, and no man who calls himself a Protestant can logically dispute the question with us and our friends.

     We shall go somewhat further than this. The objection is not against Messrs. Moody and Sankey, but against all evangelical ministers; not against them only, but against our common protestantism; and yet more, it is against the inspired word of God; for if this book teaches anything under heaven, it certainly teaches that men are saved by faith in our Lord Jesus. Read the Epistle to the Galatians, and your judgment may be very perverse, but you cannot, by any common wresting of words, expel that doctrine from the Epistle. It was written on purpose to state that truth plainly, and defend it fully. Neither can you get rid of that doctrine from the whole New Testament. You shall find it not merely seasoning all the epistles, but positively saturating them, tin, as you take chapter by chapter, you may wring out of them, as out of Gideon's fleece, this one truth, that justification before God is by faith, and not by the works of the law. So that the objection is against the Bible; and let those who shoot their errors understand that they fight against the Eternal Spirit of God and the witness which he has borne by his prophets and apostles. Deny inspiration, and you have ground to stand on; but while you believe the Bible you must believe in justification by faith.

     But now let us look this matter in the face. Is it true or not that persons who believe in Jesus Christ do become worse than they were before? We are not backward to answer the inquiry, and we stand in a point of observation which supplies us with abundant data to go upon. We solemnly affirm that men who believe in Jesus become purer, holier, and better. At the same time I confess that there has been a good deal of injudicious and misleading talk at times by uninstructed advocates of free grace. I fear, moreover, that many people think that they believe in Jesus Christ, but do nothing of the sort. We do not defend rash statements, or deny the existence of weak-minded followers; but we ask to be heard and considered. Some persons say, "You tell these people that they will be saved upon their believing in Christ." Exactly so. "But will you kindly tell me what you mean by being saved, sir?" I will, with great pleasure. We do not mean that these people will go to heaven when they die, irrespective of character: but, when we say that if they believe in Jesus they will be saved, we mean that they will be saved from living as they used to live—saved from being what they now are, saved from licentiousness, dishonesty, drunkenness, selfishness, and any other sin they may have lived in. The thing can readily be put to the test, if it can be shown that those who have believed in the Lord Jesus have been saved from living in sin, no rational man ought to entertain any objection to the preaching of such a salvation. Salvation from wrongdoing is the very thing which every moralist should commend and not censure, and that is the salvation which we preach. I am afraid that some imagine that they have only to believe something or other, and they will go to heaven when they die, and that they have only to feel a certain singular emotion, and it is all right within them. Now, if any of you have fallen into that error, may God in his mercy lead you out of it, for it is not every faith that saves, but only the faith of God's elect. It is not any sort of emotion that changes the heart, but the work of the Holy Ghost. It is a small matter to go into an inquiry-room and say, "I believe"; such an avowal as that proves nothing at all, it may even be false. It will be proved by this,—if you have rightly believed in Jesus Christ you will become from that time forward a different man from what you were. There will be a change in your heart and soul, in your conduct and your conversation; and, seeing you thus changed, those who have been honest objectors will right speedily leave off their objections, for they will be in the condition of those who saw the man that was healed standing with Peter and John; and therefore they could say nothing against them. The world demands facts, and these we must supply. It is of no use to cry up our medicine by words, we must point to cures. Your change of life will be the grandest argument for the gospel, if that life shall show the meaning of my text—"They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts."

     Let us discuss this text in an apologetic manner, hoping to overcome prejudice, if God permit.

     Notice, first of all, that THE RECEPTION OF JESUS CHRIST BY FAITH IS, IN ITSELF AN AVOWAL THAT WE HAVE CRUCIFIED THE FLESH WITH THE AFFECTIONS AND LUSTS. If faith be such an avowal, why say that it is not connected with holy living?

     Let me show that this is the case. Faith is the accepting of Jesus Christ. In what respects? Well, principally as a substitute. He is the Son of God, and I am a guilty sinner. I deserve to die: the Son of God stands in my stead and suffers for me, and when I believe in him I accept him as standing for me. To believe in Jesus was very beautifully set forth in the old ceremony of the law, when the person bringing a sacrifice laid his hands upon the head of the bullock or the lamb, and hereby accepted the victim as standing in his place, so that the victim's sufferings should be instead of his sufferings. Now, our faith accepts Jesus Christ as standing in our stead. The very pith and marrow of faith's confidence lies in this—

 

"He bore, that I might never bear,

His Father's righteous ire."

 

Christ for me, Christ in my room and stead.

     Now, try to catch the following thought.—When you believe, you accept Christ as standing instead of you, and profess that what he did he did for you, but what did Christ do upon the tree? He was crucified and died. Follow the thought, and note well that by faith you regard yourself as dead with him—crucified with him. You have not really grasped what faith means unless you have grasped this. With him you suffered the wrath of God, for he suffered in your stead: you are now in him—crucified with him, dead with him, buried with him, risen with him, and gone into the glory with him—because he represents you, and your faith has accepted the representation. Do you see, then, that you did, in the moment when you believed in Christ, register a declaration that you were henceforth dead unto sin. Who shall say that our gospel teaches men to live in sin, when the faith which is essential to salvation involves an avowal of death to it? The convert begins with agreeing to be regarded as dead with Christ to sin: have we not here the foundation stone of holiness?

     Observe also that, if he follows the command of Christ, the very first step which a Christian takes after he has accepted the position taken up by the Lord Jesus on his behalf is another avowal more public than the first, namely, his baptism.

     By faith he has accepted Christ as dead, instead of him, and he regards himself as having died in Christ. Now, every dead man ought to be buried, sooner or later; and so, when we come forward and confess Christ, we are "buried with him in baptism unto death, that like as Jesus Christ rose from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also might rise to newness of life." Though baptism does not avail anything as a ceremony, having no power or efficacy in and of itself, yet as a sign and symbol it teaches us that true believers are dead and buried with Christ. So, you see, the two ways in which, according to the gospel, we actually and avowedly give ourselves to Christ, are by faith and baptism. "He that believeth, and is baptised, shall be saved." Now, the essence of faith is to accept Christ as representing me in his death: and the essence of baptism is to be buried with Christ because I am dead with him. Thus at the very doorstep of the Christian religion, in its first inward act and its first outward symbol, you get the thought that believers are henceforth to be separated from sin and purified in life. He who truly believes, and knows what it is to be really buried with Christ, has begun—nay, he has, in a certain sense, effected completely—what the text describes as the crucifixion of the flesh with the affections and lusts. For, dear friends, let it never be forgotten that the grand object for which we lay hold on Christ is the death of sin. Who among us has believed in Christ that he might escape the pangs of hell? Oh, brother, you have but a very poor idea of what Jesus Christ has come into the world to do: he is proclaimed to be a Savior who "shall save his people from their sins." This is the object of his mission. True, he comes to give pardon, but he never gives pardon without giving repentance with it; he comes to justify, but he does not justify without also sanctifying. He has come to deliver us, not from thee, O death, alone! nor from thee, O hell, alone! but from thee, O sin, the mother of death, the progenitor of hell! The Redeemer lays his axe at the root of all the mischief, by killing sin, and thus, as far as we are concerned, he puts an end to death and hell. Glory be to God for this! Now, it does seem to me that if the very commencement of the Christian faith be so manifestly connected with death to sin, they do us grievous injustice who suppose that in preaching faith in Jesus Christ we ignore the moralities or the virtues, or that we think little of sin and vice. We do not so, but we proclaim the only method by which moral evil can be put to death and swept away. The reception of Christ is an avowal of the crucifixion of the flesh with the affections and lusts, what more can the purest moralist propose? What more could he avow himself?

     II. But secondly, AS A MATTER OF FACT, THE DECEPTION OF CHRIST IS ATTENDED WITH THE CRUCIFIXION OF SIN. I shall now state my own experience when I believed in Jesus; and while I am doing so I rejoice to remember that there are hundreds, if not thousands in this place who have experienced the same, and millions in this world, and millions more in heaven, who know the truth of what I declare. When I believed that Jesus was the Christ, and rested my soul in him, I felt in my heart from that moment an intense hatred to sin of every kind. I had loved sin before, some sins particularly, but those sins became from that moment the most obnoxious to me, and, though the propensity to them was still there, yet the love of them was clean gone; and when I at any time transgressed I felt an inward grief and horror at myself for doing the things which aforetime I had allowed and even enjoyed. My relish for sin was gone. The things I once loved I abhorred, and blushed to think of.

     Then I began to search out my sins. I see now a parallel between my experience in reference to sin, and the details of the crucifixion of Christ. They sent Judas into the garden to search for our great substitute, and just in that way I began to search for sin, even for that which lay concealed amid the thick darkness of my soul I was ignorant, and did not know be sin, for it was night in any soul; but, being stirred up to destroy the evil, my repenting spirit borrowed lanterns, and torches, and went out as against a thief. I searched the garden of my heart through and through, with an intense ardor to find out every sin; and I brought God to help me, saying, "Search me, O God, and try me, and know my ways;" nor did I cease till I had spied out my secret transgressions. This inward search is one of my most constant occupations; I patrol my nature through and through to try and arrest these felons, these abhorred sins, that they may be crucified with Christ. O ye in whom iniquity lurks under cover of your spiritual ignorance, arouse yourself to a strict scrutiny of your nature, and no longer endure that your hearts should be the lurking-places of evil. I remember when I found my sin. When I found it I seized it, and I dragged it off to the judgment-seat. Ah, my brethren, you know when that occurred to you, and how stern was the judgment which conscience gave forth. I sat in judgment on myself. I took my sin to one court, and to another. I looked at it as before men, and trembled to think that the badness of my example might have ruined other men's souls: I looked at my sin as before God, and I abhorred myself in dust and ashes. My sin was as red as crimson in his sight and in mine also. I judged my sin, and I condemned it—condemned it as a felon to a felon's death. I heard a voice within me which, Pilate-like, pleaded for it—"I will chastise him and let him go; let it be a little put to shame; let not the wrong deed be done quite so often; let the lust be curbed and kept under." But, ah, my soul said, "Let it be crucified! Let it be crucified!" and nothing could shake my heart from this intent, that I would slay all the murderers of Christ if possible, and let not one of them escape for my soul hated them with a deadly hatred, and would fain nail them all to the tree. I remember, too, how I began to see the shame of sin. As my Lord was spit upon, and mocked, and despitefully used, so did my soul begin to pour contempt upon all the pride of sin, to scorn its promises of pleasure, and to accuse it of a thousand crimes. It had deceived me, it had led me into ruin, it had well nigh destroyed me, and I despised it, and poured contempt upon its briberies, and all it offered of sweetness and of pleasure. O sin, how shameful a thing didst thou appear to be! I saw all that is base, mean, and contemptible concentrated in thee. My heart scourged sin by repentance, smote it with rebukes, and buffeted it with self-denials. Then was it made a reproach and a scorn. But this sufficed not—sin must die. My heart mourned for what sin had done, and I was resolved to avenge my Lord's death upon myself. Thus my soul sang out her resolve—

 

"Oh, how I hate those lusts of mine

That crucified my God;

Those sins that pierced and nail'd his flesh

Fast to the fatal wood!

Yes, my Redeemer, they shall die;

My heart was so decreed:

Nor will I spare the guilty things

That made my Savior bleed."

 

Then I led forth my sins to the place of crucifixion. They would fain have escaped, but the power of God prevented them, and like a guard of soldiery, conducted them to the gibbet of mortification. The hand of the Lord was present, and his all-revealing Spirit stripped my sin as Christ was stripped; setting it before mine eyes, even my secret sin in the light of his countenance. Oh, what a spectacle it was as I gazed upon it! I had looked before upon its dainty apparel, and the colors with which it had bedizened itself, to make it look as fair as Jezebel when she painted her face: but now I saw its nakedness and horror, and I was well nigh ready to despair; but my spirit bore me up, for I knew that I was forgiven, and I said "Christ Jesus has pardoned me, for I have believed in him; and I will put the flesh to death, by crucifying it on his cross." The driving of the nails I do remember, and how the flesh struggled to maintain its liberty. One, two, three, four, the nails went in, and fastened the accursed thing to the wood with Christ, so that it could neither run nor rule; and now, glory be to God, though my sin is not dead, it is crucified, and must eventually die. It hangs up there; I can see it bleeding out its life. Sometimes it struggles to get down, and tries to wrench away the nails, for it would fain go after vanity; but the sacred nails hold it too fast, it is in the grasp of death, and it cannot escape. Alas, it dies a lingering death, attended with much pain and struggling: still it dies, and soon its heart shall be pierced through with the spear of the love of Christ, and it shall utterly expire. Then shall our immortal nature no more be burdened with the body of this death, but, pure and spotless, it shall rise to and behold the face of God for ever.

     Now, I am not talking allegorically of things which ought to be realized, but as a matter of fact remain mere ideas. I am describing in figure what happens in reality; for every man who believes in Jesus immediately bestirs himself to get rid of sin; and you may know whether he has believed in Jesus Christ or not by seeing whether there is a change in his motives, feelings, life, and conduct. Do you say that you doubt this? You may doubt what you like, but facts speak for themselves. There will come before me, I dare say, before this week is over, as there have almost every week of my life, men who have been slaves to intoxication made sober at once by believing in Jesus Christ; women, once lost to virtue, who have become pure and chaste by believing in Jesus; men who were fond of all manner of evil pleasures, who have turned instantly from them, and have continued to resist all temptation, because they are new creatures in Christ Jesus. The phenomenon of conversion is singular, but the effect of conversion is more singular still; and it is not a thing done in a corner, it can be seen every day. If it were merely an excitement in which men felt a distress of mind, and then by-and-by thought they were at peace, and became happy because self-satisfied, I should not see any particular good in it; but if it be true that regeneration changes men's tastes and affections, that it, in fine, changes them radically, making them altogether new creatures; if it be so, I say, then may God send us thousands of conversions! And that this is so we are quite sure, for we see it perpetually.

     III. Thirdly, we go a step farther, and say that THE RECEPTION OF JESUS CHRIST INTO THE HEART BY SIMPLE FAITH IS CALCULATED TO CRUCIFY THE FLESH.

     When a man believes in Jesus the first point that helps him to crucify the flesh is that he has seen the evil of sin, inasmuch as he has seen Jesus, his Lord, die because of it. Men think that sin is nothing; but what will sin do? What will it not do? The virus of sin, what wilt it poison? Ay, what will it not poison? Its influence has been baleful upon the largest conceivable scale. Sin has flooded the world with blood and tears through red-handed war; sin has covered the world with oppression, and so has crushed the manhood of many, and broken the hearts of myriads; sin begat slavery, and tyranny, and priestcraft, and rebellion, and slander, and persecution; sin has been at the bottom of all human sorrows; but the crowning culminating point of sin's villainy was when God himself came down to earth in human form—pure, perfect, intent on an errand of love—came to work miracles of mercy, and redemption. Then sinful man could never rest till he had crucified his incarnate God. They coined a word when the Parliamentary party executed the king in England, and called the king's destroyers "regicides," and now we must make a word to describe sin: sin is a deicide. Every sinner, if he could, would kill God, for he says in his heart, "No God." He means he wishes there were none. He would be rejoiced indeed if he could learn for certain that there was no God. In fact, that is the bugbear of his life, that there is a God, and a just God, who will bring him into judgment. His secret wish is that there were no religion and no God, for he might then live as he pleased.

     Now, when a man is made to see that sin in its essence is the murderer of Emmanuel, God with us, his heart being renewed, he hates sin from that very moment. "No," he says, "I cannot continue in such evil. If that be the true meaning of every offense against the law of God—that it would put God himself out of his own world if it could—I cannot bear it." His spirit recoils with horror, as he feels—

 

"My sins have pulled the vengeance down

Upon his guiltless head:

Break, break, my heart, oh burst mine eyes!

And let my sorrows bleed.

Strike, mighty grace, my flinty soul,

Till melting waters flow,

And deep repentance drown mine eyes

In undissembled woe."

 

     Then the believer has also seen in the death of Christ an amazing instance of the great grace of God; for if sin be an attempt to murder God—and it is all that—then how wonderful it is that the creatures who committed this sin were not destroyed at once. How remarkable that God should consider it worth his while to devise a plan for their restoration; and yet he did, with matchless skill, contrive a way which involved the giving up of his only-begotten and well-beloved Son. Though this was an expense unequalled, yet he did not withdraw from it. He "so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life:" and this for a race of men who were the enemies of their good and gracious God. "Henceforth," saw the believer in Christ, "I can have nothing to do with sin, since it does despite to so gracious a God. O, thou accursed sin, to drive thy dagger at the heart of him who was all grace and mercy! This makes sin to be exceedingly sinful."

     Further, the believer has had a view of the justice of God. He sees that God hates sin intensely, for when his only begotten Son tools sin upon himself, God would not spare even him. That sin was not his own, in him was no sin, but when he voluntarily took it upon himself, and was made a curse for us, the Judge of all the earth did not spare him. Down from his armoury of vengeance he took his thunderbolts and hurled them at his Son, for his Son stood in the sinner's stead. There was no mercy for the sinner's substitute. He had to cry as never one cried before or since, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Torrents of woe rushed through his spirit; the condemnation of sin overwhelmed him; all God's waves and billows went o'er him.

     Now, when a man sees this wonderful fact he can no longer think lightly of transgression. He trembles before the thrice holy Jehovah, and cries in his secret heart, "How can I sin if this be God's opinion of it? If in his justice he smote it so unsparingly, even when it was only laid by imputation upon his Son, how will he smite it when its actual guilt lies on me? O God deliver me from it."

     The believer has also had one more sight which, perhaps, more effectually than any other changes his view of sin. He has seen the amazing love of Jesus. Did you ever see it, my hearer? If you have seen it you will never love sin again. O think, that he who was master of all heaven's majesty came down to be the victim of all man's misery! He came to Bethlehem, and dwelt among us, offering thirty years and more of toilsome obedience to his Father's will; and at the close he reached the crisis of his griefs, the crowning sorrow of his incarnation—his bloody sweat and death agony. That was a solemn passover which he ate with his disciples, with Calvary full in view. Then he arose and went to Gethsemane,

 

"Gethsemane, the olive-press,

(And why so called let Christians guess,)

Fit name, fit place, where vengeance strove,

And griped and grappled hard with love.

'Twas there the Lord of life appeared

And sighed, and groaned, and prayed, and feared;

Bore all incarnate God could bear

With strength enough, and none to spare."

 

Behold how he loved us! He was taken to Pilate's hall, and there was scourged—scourged with those awful Roman whips weighted with little bullets of lead, and made of the intertwisted sinews of oxen, into which they also inserted small slivers of bone, so that every blow as it fell tore off the flesh. Our beloved Lord had to suffer this again and again, being scourged often as that verse seems to intimate which says, "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." Yet he loved us, loved us still. Many waters could not quench his love, neither could the floods drown it. When they nailed him to the tree, he loved us still. When, every bone being dislocated, he cried in sad soliloquy, "I am poured out like water, all my bones are out of joint," he loved us still. When the dogs compassed him and the bulls of Bashan beset him round, he loved us still. When the dread faintness came upon him till he was brought into the dust of death, and his heart melted like wax in the midst of his bowels, he loved us still. When God forsook him, and the sun was blotted out, and midnight darkness covered the midday, and a denser midnight veiled his spirit—a darkness like that of Egypt, which might be felt, he loved us still. Till he had drunk the last dregs of the unutterably bitter coo, he loved us still. And when the light shone on his face, and he could say, "It is finished," that light shone on a face that loved us still. Now, every man to whom it has been given to believe in Jesus, and to know his love, says, "How can I offend him? How can I grieve him? There are actions in this life which I might otherwise indulge in, but I dare not now, for I fear to vex my Lord." And if you say "Dare not, are you afraid of him?" the answer will be, "I am not slavishly afraid, for into hell I can never go." What am I afraid of, then? I am afraid of that dear face, on which I see the gutterings of tears which he once shed for me. I am afraid of that dear brow which wore the thorn-crown for me; I cannot rebel against such kindness, his bleeding love enchains me. How can I do so great a wickedness as to put my dying Lord to shame? "Do you not feel this, my beloved brother? If you have ever trusted the Lord Jesus, you crouch at his feet, and kiss the prints of his nails, for very love; and if he would use you as a footstool, if it would raise him any higher, you would count it the highest honor of your life. Ay, if he bade you go to prison and to death for him, and would say it himself, and put his pierced hand on you, you would go there as cheerfully as angels fly to heaven. If he bade you die for him, though the flesh is weak, your spirit would be willing; ay, and the flesh would be made strong enough, too, if Jesus did but look upon you, for he can with a glance cast out selfishness and cowardice, and everything that keeps us back from being whole burnt-offerings to him. Is it not so?

 

"Speak of morality! Thou bleeding Lamb

The best morality is love to thee!"

 

When we once are filled with love to thee, O Jesus, sin becomes the dragon against which we wage a lifelong warfare; holiness becomes our noblest aspiration, and we seek after it with all our heart and soul and strength. If candid minds will but honestly consider the religion of Jesus Christ, they will see that Christian men must hate sin if they are sincere in their faith. I might go farther into that, but I will not.

     IV. The last thing of all is this. THE HOLY SPIRIT IS WITH THE GOSPEL, AND WHERE HE IS HOLINESS MUST BE PROMOTED.

     Let it never be forgotten that—while the reception of Jesus Christ by simple faith is an avowal of death to sin, and does bring with it an experience of hating sin, and is calculated to do so—there in one thing more. If, dear friends, in any work of revival, or ordinary ministry, there was nothing more than you could see or hear, I think that many criticisms and cavils might be, at least, rational, but they are not so now; for one grand fact makes them for ever unreasonable. Wherever Jesus Christ is preached, there is present One sublime in rank and high in degree. You will not suppose that I am speaking of any—earthly potentate. No, I am speaking of the Holy Ghost—the ever blessed Spirit of God. There is never a gospel sermon preached by an earnest heart but what the Holy Ghost is there, taking of the things of Christ and revealing them unto men. When a man turns his eye to Jesus, and simply trusts him—for we adhere to that as being the vital matter—there is accompanying that act—nay, I must correct myself, there is as the cause of that act—a miraculous, supernatural power which in an instant changes a man, as completely as if it flung him back into nothingness and brought him forth into new life. If this be so, then believing in Christ is something very marvellous. Now, if you will turn to the third chapter of John's gospel, and also to his Epistles, you will see that faith is always linked with regeneration, or the new birth, which new birth is the work of the Spirit of God. That same third of John which tells us, "Ye must be born again," goes on to say, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." Wherever there is faith in Jesus Christ a miracle of purification has been wrought in the heart. Deny this and you deny the testimony of the Scriptures, which say plainly, that "whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." "And whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not." Wherefore do you doubt, for we who are personal examples can assure you that it has been so in our case? I mean not that myself and one or two others affirm this, but the witnesses may be met with by hundreds and thousands, and they all agree in asserting that the power of the Holy Ghost has changed the current of their desires, and made them love the things which are holy, and just, and true. Therefore, sirs, whether you believe it or not, you must be so kind as to understand one thing from us very decidedly, namely, that if to preach salvation through faith be vile we purpose to be viler still. Surely you cannot blame us for acting as we do if our stand-point be correct. If the preaching of the cross, though it be to them that perish foolishness, be to them that believe in Christ the wisdom of God and the power of God, we shall not give up preaching Christ for you. If it be so that men are made new creatures—that, while others are talking about morals, our gospel plants and produces them—we shall not give up work for talk, nor the efficient agency of the gospel for the inventions of philosophy.

     To the front, my brethren, with the cross, more and more; in your schools and in your pulpits set forth Christ crucified as the sinner's hope more and more plainly. Bid the sinner look to Jesus! Look and live! The gospel is the great promoter of social order, the great reclaimer of the waifs and strays of society, the elevator of the human race; this doctrine of free pardon and gracious renewal, freely given to the most worthless upon their believing in Jesus, is the hope of mankind. There is no balm in Gilead, and never was; but this is the balm of Calvary, for there is the true medicine, and Jesus Christ is the infallible Physician. Do but try it, sinners! Do but try it! Look to Jesus, and the passions which you cannot else overcome shall yield to his cleansing power. Believe in Jesus, and the follies which cling to you, and crush you as the snakes engirdled Laocoon and his sons, you shall be able to untwist. Yea, they shall die at Jesus' glance, and shall fall off from you. Believe in Jesus, and you have the spring of excellency, the bath of purity, the source of virtue, the destruction of evil, the bud of perfection.

     God grant us still to prove the power of the Lord Jesus in ourselves, and to proclaim his power to all around us.

 

"Happy if, with our latest breath,

We may but gasp his name;

Preach him to all, and cry in death

Behold behold, the Lamb!"