Forgiveness Made Easy

By / Jun 22

Forgiveness Made Easy

 

“Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”—Ephesians iv. 32.

 

THE heathen moralists, when they wished to teach virtue, could not point to the example of their gods, for, according to their mythologists, the gods were a compound of every imaginable, and, I had almost said, unimaginable vice. Many of the classic deities surpassed the worst of men in their crimes: they were as much greater in iniquity as they were supposed to be superior in power. It is an ill day for a people when their gods are worse than themselves. The blessed purity of our holy faith is conspicuous, not only in its precepts, but in the character of the God whom it reveals. There is no excellency which we can propose but we can see it brightly shining in the Lord our God: there is no line of conduct in which a believer should excel but we can point to Christ Jesus our Lord and Master as the pattern of it. In the highest places of the Christian faith you have the highest virtue, and unto God our Father and the Lord Jesus be the highest praise. We can urge you to the tenderest spirit of forgiveness by pointing to God who for Christ’s sake has forgiven you. What nobler motive can you require for forgiving one another? With such high examples, brethren, what manner of people ought we to be? We have sometimes heard of men who were better than their religion, but that is quite impossible with us: we can never, in spirit or in act, rise to the sublime elevation of our divine religion. We should constantly be rising above ourselves, and above the most gracious of our fellow Christians, and yet above us we shall still behold our God and Saviour. We may go from strength to strength in thoughts of goodness and duties of piety, but Jesus is higher still, and evermore we must be looking up to him as we climb the sacred hill of grace.

     At this time we wish to speak a little concerning the duties of love and forgiveness; and here we note, at once, that the apostle sets before us the example of God himself. Upon that bright example we shall spend most of our time, but I hope not quite so much as to forget the practical part, which is so much needed in these days by certain unforgiving spirits who nevertheless assume the Christian name. The theme of God’s forgiving love is so fascinating that we may linger awhile, and a long while too, upon that bright example of forgiveness which God has set before us, but from it all I hope we shall be gathering grace by which to forgive others even to seventy times seven.

     We shall take the text word by word, and so we shall obtain the clearest divisions.

     I. The first word to think about is “FOR CHRIST S SAKE.” We use these words very often; but probably we have never thought of their force, and even at this time we cannot bring forth the whole of their meaning. Let us touch thereon with thoughtfulness, praying the good Spirit to instruct us. “For Christ’s sake;” all the good things which God has bestowed upon us have come to us “for Christ’s sake,” but especially the forgiveness of our sins has come “for Christ’s sake.” This is the plain assertion of the text. What does it mean? It means, surely, first, for the sake of the great atonement which Christ has offered. The great God can, as a just Lawgiver and King, readily pass by our offences because of the expiation for sin which Christ has offered. If sin were merely a personal affront toward God, we have abundant evidence that he would be ready enough to pass it by without exacting vengeance; but it is a great deal more than that. Those who view it as a mere personal affront against God are but very shallow thinkers. Sin is an attack upon the moral government of God; it undermines the foundations of society, and were it permitted to have its way it would reduce everything to anarchy, and even destroy the governing power and the Ruler himself. God hath a great realm to govern, not merely of men that dwell on the face of the earth, but beneath his sway there are angels, and principalities, and powers, and we do not know how many worlds of intelligent beings. It would certainly be a monstrous thing to suppose that God has made yonder myriads of worlds that we see sparkling in the sky at night without having placed some living creatures in them; it is far more reasonable to suppose that this earth is an altogether insignificant speck in the divine dominion, a mere province in the boundless empire of the King of kings. Now, this world having rebelled against God high-handedly, as it has done, unless there were a satisfaction demanded for its rebellion it would be a tolerated assault upon the dominion of the great Judge of all, and a lowering of his royal influence over all his domain. If sin in man’s case were left unpunished it would soon be known through myriads of worlds, and in fact by ten thousand times ten thousand races of creatures, that they might sin with impunity; if one race had done so, why not all the rest? This would be a proclamation of universal license to rebel. It would probably be the worst calamity that could happen— that any sin should go unpunished by the supreme Judge. Sometimes in a state, unless the lawgiver executes the law against the murderer, life will be in peril, and everything will become insecure, and therefore it becomes mercy to write the death-warrant: so is it with God in reference to this world of sinners. It is his very love as well as his holiness and his justice which, if I may use such a term, compels him to severity of judgment, so that sin cannot and must not be blotted out till atonement has been presented. There must first of all be a sacrifice for sin, which, mark you, the great Father, to show his love, himself supplies, for it is his own Son who is given to die, and so the Father himself supplies the ransom through his Son, that Son being also one with himself by bonds of essential unity, mysterious but most intense. If God demands the penalty in justice, he himself supplies it in love. ’Tis a wondrous mystery, this mystery of the way of salvation by an atoning sacrifice; but this much is clear, that now God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us, because satisfaction has been made to the injured honour of the divine government, and justice is satisfied. I want you to consider for a moment how readily God may now blot out sin since Christ hath died. The blotting out of sin seems hard till we see the cross, and then it appears easy enough. I have looked at sin till it seemed to blind me with its horror, and I said in myself, “This damned spot can never be washed out; no fuller’s soap can change its hue; sooner might the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots. O sin, thou deep, eternal evil, what can remove thee?” And then I have seen the Son of God dying on the cross, and read the anguish of his soul, and heard the cries which showed the torment of his spirit when God his Father had forsaken him, and it has seemed to me as if the blotting out of sin were the easiest thing under heaven. When I have seen Jesus die 1 have not been able to understand how any sin could be difficult to remove. Let a man stand on Calvary and look on him whom he hath pierced, and believe and accept the atonement made, and it becomes the simplest thing possible that his debt should be discharged now that it is paid, that his freedom should be given now that the ransom is found, and that he should be no longer under condemnation, since the guilt that condemned him has been carried away by his great Substitute and Lord. It is then because of what Jesus Christ has suffered in our stead that God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us.

     The second rendering of the text would be this, that God has forgiven us because of the representative character of Christ. It should never be forgotten that we originally fell by a representative. Adam stood for us, and he was our federal head. We did not fall personally at the first, but in our representative. Had he kept the conditions of the covenant we had stood through him, but, inasmuch as he fell, we fell in him. I pray you cavil not at the arrangement, because there lay the hope of our race. The angels probably fell individually, one by one, and hence they fell irretrievably, — there was no restoring them: but as we fell in one Adam, there remained the possibility of our rising in another Adam; and therefore in the fulness of time God sent forth his Son Jesus Christ, born of a woman, made under the law to become the second Adam. He undertook to remove our burdens and to fulfil the conditions of our restoration. According to covenant he must appear in our nature, and that nature in the fulness of time he assumed. He must bear the penalty: that he hath done in his personal suffering and death. He must obey the law: that he has done to the utmost. And now Christ Jesus, having borne penalty and fulfilled law, is himself justified before God, and stands forth before God as the representative of all that are in him. God for Christ’s sake has accepted us in him, has forgiven us in him, and looks upon us with love infinite and changeless in him. This is how all our blessings come to us— in and through Christ Jesus; and if we are indeed in him, the Lord doth not only forgive us our sin, but he bestows upon us the boundless riches of his grace in him: in fact, he treats us as he would treat his Son, he deals with us as he would deal with Jesus. Oh, how pleasant to think that when the just God looks upon us it is through the reconciling medium, he views us through the Mediator. We sometimes sing a hymn which says—

“Him and then the sinner see,
Look through Jesus’ wounds on me,”

and this is just what the Lord doth. He counts us just for the sake of our Saviour’s atonement, and because of his representative character.

     Now go a little further. When we read “for Christ’s sake” it surely means for the deep love which the Father hears him. My brethren, can you guess a little of the love which the Father hath toward the Only begotten? We cannot pry into the wondrous mystery of the eternal filiation of the Son of God lest we be blinded by excess of light; but this we know, that they are one God, — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and the union which exists between them is intense beyond conception. “The Father loveth the Son,” was always true, and is true now; but how deeply, how intensely he loves the Son no mind can conceive. Now, brethren, the Lord will do great things for the sake of a Son whom he loves as he loveth Jesus, for in addition to the fact of his eternally loving him, as being one with him by nature and essence, there is now the superadded cause of love arising out of what the Lord Jesus hath done as the servant of the Father. Remember that our Lord Jesus has been obedient to his Father’s will— obedient to death, even to the death of the cross, wherefore God hath highly exalted him and given him a name that is above every name. One of the sweetest thoughts, to my mind, which I sometimes suck at when I am alone, is this — that God the Father will do anything for Christ. Here is also another piece of a honeycomb— when I can plead Christ’s name I am sure to win my suit of him. “For Christ’s sake” is a plea that always touches the heart of the great God. Show that for you to receive such and such a blessing will glorify Christ, and the Father cannot withhold it, for it is his delight to honour Jesus. We speak after the manner of men, of course, and on such a theme as this we must be careful, but still we can only speak as men, being only men. It is the joy of the Father to express his love to his Son. Throughout all ages they have had fellowship one with another: they have always been one in all their designs, they have never differed upon any point, and cannot differ; and you notice when our Lord says, “Father, glorify thy Son,” he is so knit with the Father that he adds, “that thy Son also may glorify thee.” Their mutual love is inconceivably great, and, therefore, brethren, God will do anything for Jesus. God will forgive us for Christ’s sake; yea, he has done so in the case of thousands around me. And thou, big black sinner, if thou wilt go to God at this moment and say, “Lord, I cannot ask thee to forgive me for ray own sake, but do it out of love for thy dear Son,” he will do it, for he will do anything for the sake of Jesus. If thou art at this time conscious of sin so as to despair of thyself, it is well that thou shouldest be so, for self-despair is only common-sense, since there is nothing in thyself upon which thou canst rely. But do catch at this hope— it is not a straw, it is a good substantial life-buoy— if thou canst ask forgiveness for the sake of Jesus, God will do anything for Jesus, and he will do anything for thee for his dear sake.

     So we read our text once more in the light of a truth which grows out of the love of God; namely, that God does forgive sin for the sake of glorifying Christ. Christ took the shame that he might magnify his Father, and now his Father delights to magnify him by blotting out the sin. If you can prove that any gift to you would reflect glory upon Christ, you may depend upon it you will have it. If there is anything under heaven that would make Christ more illustrious the Father would not spare it for a moment. If thou seest that for thee to have thy sin forgiven would raise the fame of the Saviour, go and plead that argument with God, and thou shalt surely prevail. Will it not make Christ glad if he saves such a sinner as thou art? Then go with this argument in thy mouth, “Father, glorify thy Son by exalting him as a glorious Saviour in saving me.” I find this often a great lever at a dead lift,— to say unto the Lord, “Lord, thou knowest the straits I am in; thou knowest how undeserving I am; thou knowest what a poor, undone creature I am before thee; but if thy dear Son shall help and save me the very angels will stand and wonder at his mighty grace, and so it will bring glory to him, therefore I entreat thee be gracious unto me.” Be sure thou art certain to prevail if thou canst plead that it will glorify Christ, and surely thou wouldest not wish to have a thing that would not glorify him. Thy prayer shall always be prevalent, if thy heart be in such a state that thou art willing to have or not to have, according as it will honour thy Lord: if it will not glorify Christ, be thou more than content to do without the choicest earthly good; but be thou doubly grateful when the boon that is granted tends to bring honour to the ever dear and worshipful name of Jesus. “For Christ’s sake.” It is a precious word; dwell upon it, and lay up this sentence in the archives of thy memory— the Father will do anything for the sake of Jesus Christ his Son.

     II. Now, secondly, we pass on to observe what it is which we are told in the text has been done for us, and to us, for Christ’s sake. “God for Christ' s sake HATH FORGIVEN YOU.”

     First notice, that he has done this certainly. The apostle does not say he hopes so, but he says, “God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Are you in the number of the forgiven, my dear hearer? Hast thou believed in the Lord Jesus Christ? Then, as sure as you have believed, God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Have you put your trust in the atoning sacrifice? Then God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. You have not begun to be a Christian, I hope, with the idea that one day, at some future period, you may obtain forgiveness. No. “God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Pardon is not a prize to be run for, but a blessing received at the first step of the race. If you have believed in Jesus your sin has all gone— all gone; all your sin has been erased from the records of the past, never to be mentioned against you for ever. The moment a sinner looks to Christ, the burden of his sin rolls from off his shoulders never to return. If Christ hath washed thee, (and he has if thou hast believed in him,) then thou art clean every whit, and before the Lord thou standest delivered from every trace of guilt. Pardon is not a matter of hope, but a matter of fact. Expectation looks for many a blessing, but pardon is a realized favour which faith holds in her hand even now. If Christ took thy load, thy load cannot remain on thine own back: if Christ paid thy debts, then they do not stand in God’s books against thee. How can they? It stands to reason that if thy Substitute has taken thy sin and put it away, thy sin lies no more on thee. God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven thee. Get hold of that grand truth, and hold it, though all the devils in hell roar at thee. Grasp it as with a hand of steel; grip it as for life: “God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven me,” — may each one of us be able to say that. We shall not feel the divine sweetness and force of the text unless we can make a personal matter of it by the Holy Ghost.

     Then notice that God has forgiven us continuously. He not only forgave us at the first all our sins, but he continues daily to forgive, for the act of forgiveness is a continuous one. I have sometimes heard it said that we were so forgiven when we first believed that there is no need to ask for further forgiveness; to which I reply— We were so completely forgiven when we first believed that we ought continually to ask for the perpetuity of that one far-reaching act, that the Lord may continue to exert towards us that fulness of forgiving grace which absolved us perfectly at the first, that we may continue to walk before him with a sense of that complete forgiveness, clear and unquestioned. I know I was forgiven, when first I believed in Christ; and I am equally sure of it now: the one absolution continues to ring in my ears like joy-bells which never cease. Pardon once given continues to be given. When through doubt and anxiety I was not sure of my pardon, yet it was still true; for he that believeth on him is not condemned, even though he may write bitter things against himself. Beloved friend, catch hold of that, and do not let it go. Divine pardon is a continuous act.

     And this forgiveness on God’s part was most free. We did nothing to obtain it by merit, and we brought nothing wherewith to purchase it. He forgave us for Christ’s sake, not for aught that we had done. True, we did repent, and did believe, but repentance and faith he gave us, so that he did not forgive us for the sake of them, but purely of his own dear love, because he delighteth in mercy, and is never more like himself than when he passeth by transgression, iniquity, and sin.

     Remember, also, that he forgave us fully. It was not here and there a sin that he blotted out, but the whole horrible list and catalogue of our offences he destroyed at once. The substitution of our Lord has finished that matter even to perfection: —

“Because the sinless Saviour died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me.”

All our transgressions are swept away at once, carried off as by a flood, and so completely removed from us that no guilty trace of them remains. They are all gone! O ye believers, think of this, for the all is no little thing: sins against a holy God, sins against his loving Son, sins against gospel as well as against law, sins against man as well as against God, sins of the body as well as sins of the mind, sins as numerous as the sands on the sea shore, and as great as the sea itself: all, all are removed from us as far as the east is from the west. All this evil was rolled into one great mass, and laid upon Jesus, and having borne it all he has made an end of it for ever. When the Lord forgave us he forgave us the whole debt. He did not take the bill and say, “I strike out this item and that,” but the pen went through it all; — PAID. It was a receipt in full of all demands, Jesus took the handwriting which was against us and nailed it to his cross, to show before the entire universe that its power to condemn us had ceased for ever. We have in him a full forgiveness.

     And let it be remembered that this forgiveness which God has given us for Christ’s sake is an eternal forgiveness. He will never rake up our past offences and a second time impute them. He will not find us on an evil day, and say, “I have had great patience with you, but now will I deal with you after your sins.” Far otherwise; he that believeth in Jesus hath everlasting life, and shall never come into condemnation. Irreversible is the pardon of heaven. “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” He never repents what he has given, or forgiven. ’Tis done, ’tis done for ever: Jehovah absolves and the sentence stands fast for ever. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?” Blessed be God for eternal pardon!

     And since I could not find a word to finish with but this one, I will use it: he hath divinely pardoned us. There is such a truth, reality, and emphasis in the pardon of God as you can never find in the pardon of man ; for though a man should forgive all you have done against him, if you have treated him very badly, yet it is more than you could expect that he should quite forget it, but the Lord says, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more for ever.” If a man has played you false, although you have forgiven him, you are not likely to trust him again. It is an old proverb, “Never ride a broken-knee’d horse,” and it is not a bad proverb either. But see how the Lord deals with his people. When Peter was set on his legs again he was a broken-knee’d horse enough, and yet see how gloriously the Lord rode that charger on the day of Pentecost. Did he not go forth conquering and to conquer? The Lord lets bygones be bygones so completely that he trusts pardoned souls with his secrets, for “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him”; and he entrusts some of us with his choicest treasures, for Paul said, “He hath put me in trust with the gospel, though I was a blasphemer.” He commits to our keeping that priceless casket which encloses the best hope of men, namely, the gospel of Jesus. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” This shows how perfect is our forgiveness, — nay, I must put it, how divine is the forgiveness which we have received. Let us rejoice in that grand promise which comes to us by the mouth of Jeremiah of old, “In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve.” Here is annihilation— the only annihilation I know of— the absolute annihilation of sin through the pardon which the Lord gives to his people. Let us sing it as though it were a choice hymn— “The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none.”

     III. Now, if you have drank into the spirit of our subject you will be strengthened to bear what I have to say to you upon a point of practice. “FORGIVING ONE ANOTHER, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Let me say, at the commencement, that I do not know of anyone here present who has fallen out with anybody else, and therefore I shall make no personal allusions. If I did know of quarrels and bickerings it is very likely that I should say about the same, but I do not happen to know of any, and if, therefore, my remarks should come home, I would earnestly beg each one so affected to believe that what I say is intended for him, and to receive it as a pointed, personal message from God.

     “Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Now observe how the apostle puts it. Does he say “forgiving another”? No, that is not the text, if you look at it. It is “forgiving, one another.” One another! Ah, then that means that if you have to forgive to-day, it is very likely that you will yourself need to be forgiven to-morrow, for it is “forgiving one another.” It is turn and turn about, a mutual operation, a co-operative service. In fact, it is a joint-stock business of mutual forgiveness, and members of Christian churches should take large shares in this concern. “Forgiving one another.” You forgive me, and I forgive you, and we forgive them, and they forgive us, and so a circle of unlimited forbearance and love goes round the world. There is something wrong about me that needs to be forgiven by my brother, but there is also something wrong about my brother which needs to be forgiven by me, and this is what the apostle means— that we are all of us mutually to be exercising the sacred art and mystery of forgiving one another. If we always did this we should not endure those who have a special faculty for spying out faults. There are some who, whatever church they are in, always bring an ill report of it. I have heard this sort of thing from many— “There is no love among Christians at all.” I will tell you the character of the gentleman who makes that observation; he is both unloving and unlovely, and so he is out of the track of the pilgrims of love. Another cries, “There is no sincerity in the world now.” That man is a hypocrite: be you quite sure of that. Judge a bird by its song, and a man by his utterance. The censorious measure our corn, but they use their own bushels. You may know very well what a man is by what he says of others. It is a gauge of character which very seldom will deceive you, to judge other men by their own judgment of their fellows. Their speech betrays their heart. Show me your tongue, sir! Now I know whether you are sick or well. He that speaketh with an ill tongue of his neighbour hath an ill heart; rest assured of that. Let us begin our Christian career with the full assurance that we shall have a great deal to forgive in other people, but that there will be a great deal more to be forgiven in ourselves, and let us set our account upon having to exercise gentleness, and needing its exercise from others, “Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

     Note again. When we forgive, it is a poor and humble business compared with God’s forgiving us, because we are only forgiving one another, that is, forgiving fellow-servants; whereas when God forgives us it is the Judge of all the earth forgiving, not his fellows, but his rebel subjects, guilty of treason against his majesty. For God to forgive is something great; for us to forgive, though some think it great, should be regarded as a very small matter.

     Then reflect upon the matter to be forgiven. Our Lord in his parable tells us that the fellow-servant owed a few pence, but the servant himself was debtor to his master many talents. What we owe to God is infinite, but what our fellow creature owes to us is a very small sum. What did he do which has so much offended you? “He said a very shameful thing about me.” It was very bad of him, no doubt. “Then he played me a very nasty trick, and acted very ungraciously; in fact, he behaved scandalously, and if you hear the story you will be quite indignant.” Well, I am indignant. He is a bad fellow, there is no doubt about it; and so are you. So were you certainly when you first came to God; bad as he is to you, you have been much worse to the Lord. I will warrant that his blacks towards you are whites compared with your blacks in the presence of God. “Oh, but you would not believe how basely he acted.” No, and I dare say I should hardly believe it if I heard how base you have been to the Lord; at any rate, it should make our eyes fill with tears to think how we have grieved our God, and vexed his Spirit. Some of us have had so much manifest forgiveness, so much outward sin forgiven, that for us to forgive ought to be as natural as to open our hands. After such forgiveness as the Lord has bestowed on some of us, we should be wicked servants indeed if we were to take our brother by the throat and say, “Pay me what thou owest.” We should deserve to be given over to the tormentors by our angry Master if we did not count it joy to pass by a brother’s fault.

     If anyone here who is a Christian finds a difficulty in forgiveness, I am going to give him three words which will help him wonderfully. I would put them into the good man’s mouth. I gave them to you just now, and prayed you to get the sweetness of them; here they are again! “For Christ' s sake.” Cannot you forgive an offender on that ground? Ah, the girl has acted very shamefully, and you, her father, have said some strong things, but I beg you to forgive her for Christ’s sake. Cannot you do it with that motive? It is true your son has behaved very wrongly, and nothing hurts a father’s heart more than the wicked conduct of a son. You did in a fit of anger say a very stem thing, and deny him your house for ever. I entreat you to eat your words up for Christ’s sake. Sometimes when I have been pleading a case like that, the person I have been persuading has kindly said, “I will do it for you, sir.” I have said, “I will thank you if you will do it at all, but I would rather you would have said you would do it for my Master, for what a blessed Master he has been to you! Do it for his sake.” I may be speaking very plainly home to some of you. I hope I am. If there be any of you who have got into a bad state of heart and have said you never will forgive a rebellious son, do not say so again till you have looked at the matter, for Christ’s sake. Not for the boy’s sake, not for your neighbour’s sake who has offended you, not for any other reason do I urge you to mercy, but for Christ’s sake. Come, you two brothers, who have fallen out, love each other for Christ’s sake; come, you two sisters, come you two friends who have been alienated, get together directly, and end all your ill feeling for Christ’s sake. You must not keep a drop of malice in your soul, for Christ’s sake. Oh charming word, how it melts us, and as it melts it seems to leave no trace of anger behind it: for Christ’s sake our love suffers long and never fails.

     I do not know how to put this next word I am going to say. It is a paradox. You must forgive or you cannot be saved; at the same time you must not do it from compulsion; you must do it freely. There is a way of carrying this into practice, though I cannot explain it in words. You must forgive, not because you are forced to, but because you heartily do it. Remember, it is of no use for you to put your money into that offering box as you go out unless you remember' first to forgive your brother. God will not accept the gifts, prayers, or praises of an unrelenting heart. Though you leave all your substance to his cause, he will not accept a penny of it if you die in an unforgiving temper. There is no grace where there is no willingness to overlook faults. John saith, “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” The very prayer that teaches you to ask for mercy bids you say “forgive us, as we forgive our debtors.” Unless you have forgiven others you read your own death-warrant when you repeat the Lord’s prayer.

     Finally, I want to say to you all, brethren, that, as brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, if we are to forgive one another, there must be some other things which we ought to do. And the first is, do not let us provoke each other to offend. If I know that a man does not like a certain thing, I will not thrust it in his way. Do not say, “Well, but if he is short tempered, I cannot help it; he should not be so ready to take offence. I cannot be always paying deference to his absurd sensitiveness.” No; but, brother, your friend is very ready to take offence, and you know that he is; have respect, then, to his infirmity of temper, such as you would have if he were afflicted in body. If you have rheumatism or gout, your friends do not go stamping across the room and saying, “He ought not to mind that; he ought not to feel it.” Kind-hearted people step across the floor with a light step, for fear they should hurt the poor suffering limb. If a man has a diseased mind and is very irritable, treat him gently, pity his infirmity, and do not irritate him. A friend wrote me a short while ago a letter of serious complaint against a brother who had been very angry with him, and had spoken very sharply while excited to passion. I felt bound to hear the other side of the story, and I was obliged to say, “Now, you two brothers are both wrong. You, my brother, lost your temper; but you, my other brother, irritated him, so that I do not wonder he did lose his temper. And when you saw he had lost his temper why did you not go away, or do something to quiet him? No, but you remained to increase the wrath, and then wrote to expose him.” I blame the wood for burning, but what shall I say of the bellows? It was wrong to blaze, but was it right to fan the flame? Very often when a man is angry he may not be the only one to blame. Therefore, brothers and sisters, if we are to forgive each other, do not let us provoke each other to offend.

     In the next place, do not make offences. Oftentimes a man has been offended at another for no reason at all. One person has said of another as he passed him in the street, “He will not even nod to me. He is too proud to own me, because I am a poor man.” Now, that beloved friend who was thus blamed could not see much further than his hand, for he was shortsighted. Another has been censured for not hearing, though he was deaf, and another for not shaking hands when his arm was crippled. Do not imagine offences where they are not intended.

     Next, do not take offences where they are intended. It is a splendid thing if you will not be offended. Nothing makes a man feel so small as when you accept what he intended for an insult as if it were a compliment, and thank him for it. Can you master yourself to that point? Remember, when you have conquered yourself you have conquered the world. You have overcome everybody when you have so fully overcome your own spirit that you remain content with that which naturally would excite your wrath.

     Then, if you must be offended, dear brother, do not exaggerate an offence. Some good women, I was about to say, and men also, when they come as tale-bearers with a charge, make a great many flourishes and additions. They go a long way round, and they bring innumerable beliefs, and suggestions, and hints, and hearsays into the business, until a midge’s egg becomes as huge as ever was laid by an ostrich. I begin coolly to strip off the feathers and the paint, and I say, “Now, I do not see what that point had to do with it, or what that remark has in it: — all I can see when I come to look at the bare fact is so-and-so, and that was not much, was it?” “Oh, but there was more intended.” Do not believe that, dear brother, dear sister. If there must be something wrong, let it be as little as you can. If you have a telescope, look through the large hole and minify instead of magnifying, or, better still, do not look at it at all. A blind eye is often the best eye a man can have, and a deaf ear is better by far than one which hears too much. “Also take no heed,” says Solomon, “unto all words that are spoken, lest thou hear thy servant curse thee.” Something you have done may irritate a servant, and he may make remarks which are unbecoming and impertinent. Don’t hear what he is muttering. Keep out of hearing. He will be sorry to-morrow, and if he thinks you did not hear him he will continue in your service and be faithful to you. What would you do if your master picked you up for every word, and if he caught up every sentence that you uttered? How would you live at all if he reckoned sharply with you? No, dear friends, as you have to forgive one another, do not take offence, and when offence is given do not exaggerate it, and, if you can, do not even observe it.

     Then, again, do not publish offences. There has been something very offensive said. What then? Do not repeat it. Do not go first to one, and then to another, and say, “Now this is quite private, and mind you keep it a secret; So-and-so has spoken shamefully.” Better that you should let your heart break than go up and down with a firebrand in this fashion. If a brother has done wrong why should you do wrong? You will be doing wrong if you publish his fault. Remember how the curse came upon Noah’s son for exposing his father; and how much better it is for us all when there is anything wrong to go backward and cover it, without even looking at it ourselves, if we can help it. Cover it up: cover it up. Charity covereth a multitude of sins. Not only one, two, three sins will charity cover, but she carries a cloak which covereth a whole host of faults.

     Above all, my brethren, and with this I close, never in any way, directly or indirectly, avenge yourselves. For any fault that is ever done to you, the Master says unto you, — resist not evil. In all things bend, bow, yield, submit. “If you tread on a worm it will turn,” says somebody. And is a worm your example? Christ shall be mine. It is a shocking thing when a Christian man forgets his Lord to find an excuse for himself among the poor creatures under his feet. But if it must be so, what does a worm do when it turns? When you have trodden on a worm, does it bite? Does the worm hurt any one? Ah, no. It has turned, but it has turned in its agony and writhed before you, that is all. You may do that, if you must. Brother, the most splendid vengeance you can ever have is to do good to them that do you evil, and to speak well of them that speak ill of you. They will be ashamed to look at you; they will never hurt you again if they see that you cannot be provoked except it be to greater love and larger kindness. This ought to be the mark of Christians; not “I will have the law of you,” or “I will avenge myself,” but “I will bear and forbear even to the end.” “Vengeance is mine. I will repay it, saith the Lord.” Do not take that into your hand which God says belongs to him, but as he for Christ’s sake has forgiven you, so also forgive all those who do you wrong. “How long am I to do that?” says one. “I would not mind doing it three or four times.” There was one of old who would go the length of six or seven, but Jesus Christ said “unto seventy times seven.” That is a very considerable number. You may count whether you have yet reached that amount, and if you have you will now be glad to begin again, still forgiving, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you. God help us to be patient to the end. Though I have not just now been preaching Christ Jesus as the object of the sinner’s trust, yet remember that he must also be the object of our imitation. This is the kind of doctrine which Christ himself preached, and therefore, since he preached continually this love to our neighbour, and forgiveness of our enemies, we ought both to preach and to practise it. Go ye and believe in him, and be imitators of him, remembering that he forgave his murderers upon the cross whereon he wrought out our redemption. May his Spirit rest upon you evermore. Amen.



A Vile Weed and a Fair Flower

By / Jun 22

A Vile Weed and a Fair Flower

 

“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”— Hebrews xiii. 5, 6.

 

Is it not deeply humiliating, beloved friends, that the best of Christians should need to be cautioned against the worst of sins? May the consecrated become covetous? Is it possible that the regenerate may drivel into misers? Alas, what perils surround us, what tendencies are within us! Although a man may be a sincere believer in the self-sacrificing Jesus, yet it is needful to say to him, “Let your conversation be without covetousness.” Covetousness is a vice of a very degrading kind, and it is therefore the more surprising that those who have a renewed nature, and in whom the Spirit of God dwells, should require to be warned against bowing down their souls before it, and yet such is the necessity that once and again the saints are warned against “covetousness, which is idolatry.” As long as Israel is in the wilderness she is not out of danger from the golden calf. There is no superfluous text in the Bible; had there been no peril, there would have been no precept; but, alas, the best of saints may be betrayed into the basest sins. Moreover, the common talk of the people, with whom we daily mingle in business, is so much about buying and selling and getting gain that we are apt to be entangled in their nets and find ourselves in the meshes of their craft before we are well aware of it. It is hard to live where greed grasps all, and not to try to save a little for ourselves out of the wreck. “Take heed and beware of covetousness,” is a needful caution for these latitudes.

     It appears from our text that the children of God need also to be exhorted to cherish that most simple and natural of virtues— contentment. One would think that, at least in some instances, they would have this good thing as a matter of course. Among our villagers we have met with persons so well satisfied with their lowly lot that they would not cross the sea to gain an empire. Yet their contentment has sprung up wild as the daisies and buttercups of their own meadows, for they have not been acquainted with the truth as it is in Jesus, or the blessed hope which makes trials light to bear. Do Christians, then, need to be admonished with precepts, and stimulated with promises, to make them yield the commonplace virtues of life? Do their fields refuse to grow “the herb called heartsease,” which simple folk have gathered unsown from their little garden-plots? Must believers be exhorted with earnestness if you would have them contented? It is even so. Against the worst of vices they need to be warned, and towards the humblest of virtues they need to be exhorted. O Lord, thou knowest us better than we know ourselves, for thou understandest what poor, faulty things even thine own children are. The best of men are men at the best. Unless the grace of God had engaged to keep them every moment, and to defend them from the temptations of their many foes, they would long ago have utterly perished from the way. Great need have they to say, “The Lord is my helper,” for if he be not so, they will fall a prey to covetousness and discontent.

     At this time I have to address you, not upon some high and lofty theme, but upon a simple matter of every-day life. Here in this sublime epistle, which tells us of the person of Christ— the glory of his sonship and the grandeur of his priesthood— here in this storehouse of interpretation, which opens up the most cherished statutes and ordinances of the Old Testament, only to show how they fade and vanish before the excellence of the New Covenant; here, I say, in this epistle to the Hebrews, we find ourselves charged to avoid a vice which reason itself should cause us to abhor, and challenged to exhibit a virtue which nature itself should commend to us. Plain is the sailing; the rock is conspicuous, shun covetousness; the haven is open, anchor in content. Yet need we even here the teaching of the Holy Spirit, that we may shun covetousness and cultivate contentment. Plain and pointed are the words, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have”: may our lives as plainly show these commands written out in act and deed by the Holy Ghost.

     Our discourse, therefore, like the text which dictates it, must run out in three distinct branches. There is a covetousness to be eschewed, a contentment to be entertained, and a confidence to be established: this last is referred to in the words, — “So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”

     I. First, I shall have to say a little about COVETOUSNESS. We are told that our conversation is to be “without covetousness.” The term “conversation” includes, as you know, the whole of our lives. It is true that we are not to talk covetously, but conversation means far more than speech; it includes thoughts, words, and actions: in fact, the whole of life.

     Taking the first meaning of conversation, namely, talk, we ought not in our words to be on the side of those who grip for wealth or growl for wage, who grasp for power or grind the poor. We ought not in our talk to take part with the churl and the illiberal. If we hear of a mean transaction, and it is called a sharp stroke of business and commended as something clever, we are not to sanction it even with a smile; but make our looks and our language alike discountenance over-reaching and oppression. The skinning of flints and driving of screws are practised by many people as if they were positively meritorious, and there are those who, while they would shrink from doing aught so questionable themselves, will smile at the crooked policy of others, perhaps feebly blaming the fraud, but all the while admiring the cuteness which carried it out and pocketed the result. With satiric praise instead of severe censure, they will say, “Wonderful man that! Nobody can ever get on the blind side of his head. He can get blood out of gateposts, and profits out of losses.” Those who praise sharpers are the patrons of thieves. Never think that dexterity will condone deceit, or cleverness excuse a lie. Let your conversation savour of grace and generosity, and of kindness altogether unselfish: and never let it flatter the successful trickster or the greedy grinder of the needy. Never let your language be such as might help to sharpen the cunning of a Laban or sanction the churlishness of a Nabal. This be far from you. “Let your conversation be without covetousness.”

     But our conversation has to do with our actions as well as our words. The sugar of words is sickening if it be not attended with the honey of deeds. Let our whole life in our dealings with our fellow men be moved by liberal principles, and enriched with a generous spirit. Let us be full of kindness, full of thoughtfulness, full of a desire that others may live as well as ourselves— that our coming into a country may not be like the coming of the Tartar’s horse, of which it is said that no grass will grow where once it sets its foot. The miser is a creature too hungry, too greedy, too ravenous, to allow any other cattle to feed after him; he makes the land barren, by gnawing the very roots out of the ground. There are some whose whole life is the use of the rake to scrape everything to themselves, and these men leave nothing for others, however honest and industrious they may be. This is not Christ-like, nor will Christ own one who thus lives to himself. Let your actions, then, in trade and labour, as well as your words, be without covetousness.

     But this will not do unless the word “conversation” takes in our desires, our projects, our plans, our thoughts. We must be without covetousness within, for if that vice reigns in the soul it is sure to rule in the life. Our prayer should be that of David, “Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.” Why is a man miserly in his actions? Why, because he is miserable in his thoughts. If the inner man were right, the outer man could not be wrong. Beloved, may God cleanse our way, both in private and in public, from anything like greed, that we may be obedient to the text, “Let your conversation be without covetousness.”

     It is so very easy a thing to be covetous, that no class of society is free from it. A man may be very poor and covetous withal, and a man may be exceedingly rich and still may think that he is not half rich enough. It is not possible to satisfy the greedy. If God gave them one whole world to themselves they would cry for another; and if it were possible for them to possess heaven as they now are, they would feel themselves in hell, because others were in heaven too, for their greed is such that they must have everything or else they have nothing. Unless they can call all things theirs, they are as miserable as Haman, who, although all Shushan bowed before him, was not content, because one poor Jew who sat in the gate would not pay him homage. A covetous spirit can enter anywhere, and can live anywhere. It is necessary that we search ourselves, lest the wretched lust of greed should fix itself upon us; for, remember, it can live in one room in a back street, but it can also live in the most sumptuous mansion of Belgravia; it can starve itself to save a shilling, and it can indulge itself in all manner of extravagance to grasp a fortune. Covetousness has many ways of manifesting itself; and the text does not warn us against one of those ways, but against them all. “Let your conversation be without covetousness.”

     I have said that covetousness has many ways of showing itself; let me mention some of them. In some it is most seen in repining and complaining against their lot. God has so circumstanced them that they scarcely ever have more than barely enough. They have struggled to rise, but they have never succeeded; probably because they have not the capacity for so doing. There must be people in the world to take the rough side of it, and these men are evidently of the number, for although they are anxious to make head-way in the world, yet they never rise an inch. Now, if we know our lot, it is idle to refuse it. If we do so, our conversation is not without covetousness; we are not satisfied with the things that we have. We are not satisfied with our heavenly Father’s will, nor willing that he should be Father and that we should be children. We have not learned to say, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Here is the neglected part of our education, and we must go to school again to the Holy Spirit. There are some complaining ones who would be no happier if their lot were changed. If they were lifted from a cottage to a palace they would repine still, for repining is far more a matter of the heart than of the condition; and a mind that has not bowed to the will of God in one place would be rebellious also in another, and would rebel still. There be some who have all that heart could wish who still murmur, and still think that God deals hardly with them. This disease is born and bred in our very bones, and it needs the grace of God to get it out of us. It is ill when it shows itself in a perpetual fault-finding with all that providence appoints, in always grumbling that we are left out in the cold, as if in every distribution of divine love we came in for the last portion and the least share, and were doomed to be the forgotten ones of the family. Shake off that spirit, beloved. God help us all to get rid of every particle of it, for it savours not of grace, but it is earthly, sensual, devilish.

     In some others this covetous principle shows itself in envying others. If others are better off, or more esteemed, they straightway seem to regard them as enemies, cannot think well of them, cannot wish them well, would almost rejoice to see them dragged down. I have known some rich persons that were very proud; I have known some poor people who were prouder still: and their envying of those who were better off has developed in them a pride of an almost ferocious character, akin to the fury of savages. Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous, but who is able to stand before envy? Now, if I envy a man, I am clearly guilty of covetousness, for I wish that something which he has were not his, but mine. And that may happen to you when you do not think about his property. You may be covetous of his gifts. Somebody in the little school to which you belong can address the children better than you: do you ever catch yourself feeling jealous of him? Go before God and weep over it, and pray the feeling down. Possibly you are a minister, and alas, even with us this wretched feeling will come in. Some star outshines ours, and we are likely to be eclipsed, and straightway we are covetous of our honour. We do not like it, brethren, but if we were right at heart with God as we ought to be we should glory in being excelled by our fellow-servants; we should be glad for our heavenly Father to be better served than we can serve him, and for the church of God to have more valued servants in it than we are ever likely to be. This is not easy, because envy preys upon us, that compound of meanness and malice, that vilest reptile of the old serpent’s brood, This ill-natured vice shows itself generally in finding fault. Of course our brethren are not perfect; but why should we take a delight in pointing out their peculiarities, their eccentricities, or their shortcomings? If they win a great many to Christ the question is sceptically mooted, “But how will their converts wear?” What makes us raise the question? Is it brotherly love? If throngs gather around them, we say, “Ah, they are a nine days’ wonder: that little excitement will soon pass off.” Is it grace or envy which makes us hope so? Perhaps we complain that they are very young. This, I suppose, they cannot help; we were once young ourselves, and would like to be so still. Or else we say, on the other hand, they have passed their meridian, and if they flourish for a little while, their sun is setting, and it is not much they will ever achieve. Ah, greed of honour, what is there which thou wilt not say? Would God that Christians would cease from tearing one another! Let your conversation be without that covetousness which shows itself in envy. If the Lord has given you one talent, use it; but do not waste your time in finding fault with him who has five talents. If your Master makes you a hewer of wood, throw your strength into your felling and cleaving, do not throw the axe at your fellow-servant; and if he makes you a drawer of water, do not empty your buckets on your neighbour, but do your own service well, and bring what you have done and lay it at your Master’s feet. This will be thankworthy: this will be Christlike. You will then be obeying the injunction, “Let your conversation be without covetousness.”

     And covetousness may show itself in another way, namely, by perpetually craving and desiring that which we have not. The old moralists used to say that the man who would be truly rich had better retrench his appetites than increase his fortune. Some men seem as if they never could fix their thoughts on what they have, but they are always in the other tense and mood, thinking of what they could, would, or should have. They have swallowed the two daughters of Solomon’s horseleech, and these continually cry, “Give, give.” They must have something more: their desires are boundless, the sea is not more ready to swallow up all that it can come at. A little more they told us would content them some years ago, and a great deal more has been added to their stores, but still they want a little more now. Let your conversation be without covetousness in that respect, and be content with such things as ye have.

     In many— perhaps in the most numerous class— this anxiety for acquisition betrays itself in fretful fears about the future; and I must in all honesty grant that this form of the vice has sometimes the appearance of being the most excusable of the whole. “What shall I do,” we are apt to say, “in case I should be laid aside, and a precarious income should suddenly come to an end? It is not for myself alone: it is for my wife and numerous family that I am chiefly concerned— how could they be provided for?” Many a man lies awake at night desiring to increase his income, not because he is ambitious to be rich, but because he is haunted with the fear of being poor. Gifted, perhaps, for the present with competency, he is still scared with dire forebodings— “What will become of my family if I die?” “Or should such and such a source of income be dried up, and it is very precarious, what then will become of my household? What then?” Full many are not content with such things as they have because the dread of a distant season of trial is constantly harassing them. They cannot be happy in the present sunshine because mayhap a storm is brewing out of sight. They cannot lie down in peace because they want to lay up against a rainy day. In vain for them their table is bountifully spread unless they have a store in hand against every contingency that may happen.

     Do you notice how precious is that promise which provides for all possible casualties that may befall you? “He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” The censure, therefore, falls where this sacred pledge is unheeded; and he is accounted covetous who walks after the cravings of the flesh rather than after the counsel of the Spirit of God. If God would have thee live by the day, why dost thou want to gather enough for seven days at once? If thy Father bids thee trust him, why dost thou distrust his paternal care? Use prudent thrift by all means; do not waste what he gives, nor heedlessly forget that you will have wants on the morrow as well as to-day; but abstain from fretfulness, abjure murmuring, and abhor every tendency to unbelief, lest you provoke him to anger: —

“Commit thou all thy griefs
And ways unto his hands;
To his sure truth, and tender care,
Who earth and heaven commands.”

He would not have you careful about those earthly things after which the Gentiles seek. “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.” “Let your conversation be without covetousness.”

     This covetousness is a great and crying evil. It is expressly forbidden in the law. It has a commandment all to itself: “Thou shalt not covet.” O brother, wouldst thou wish to fly into an evil which the Lord himself accounts so gross that he has branded it across the brow with one of the ten commands of the decalogue: “Thou shalt not covet”?

     Covetous people, I have often observed, are classed in Scripture with the worst of criminals. How revolting to be included in such bad company! Here in this very chapter we read, “Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. Let your conversation be without covetousness.” Thus covetousness is classed with the very filthiest of vices of the flesh. In another place the apostle says “covetousness, which is idolatry”; and thus it is identified with a loathsome impurity of the spirit. Let the Christian dread it. God is not selfish, God is love: God hoards not, he giveth liberally; he refuses not the poor, he delighteth in mercy. He spreads abroad in the midst of his creatures the good things which belong to him, and he bids them freely gather what he freely gives; even thus would he have us distribute generously and disperse freely without covetousness.

     Covetousness is an evil thing, it leads to all sorts of evil; and it is especially evil in times of persecution. The apostle knew that men who loved the world, and hugged it, were not the men to stand fast for God in the day of trial. Those who had the greatest fondness for worldly wealth were the first to turn aside, and forsake the Saviour, when they had to undergo losses and crosses for his name’s sake.

     Covetousness is a deadly poison, destructive of all virtue; it dries up the milk of human kindness in a man’s breast, and makes him hard, callous, indifferent towards the needs of his fellow creatures. How much infamy it fosters! The man whose heart is set on covetousness will do anything for gold: he will venture to stain his hands with blood itself if he may but gain it. I scarcely know any other vice which can more effectually damn its victim: and I speak the more earnestly about it because covetousness can readily enter into a man’s heart, and he may not know it. St. Francis de Sales, said that many came to him to confess all manner of sins, and many of them of a glaring nature; but that all his life long he never knew anybody acknowledge covetousness. Do you exclaim, “I wonder why this is?” Well, it is because a man does not like to think that he can be covetous; he cannot bring himself to acknowledge that he has quite gone that length. When his avarice is the most heartless he generally calls it by a prettier name, such as prudence, thrift, or carefulness, so as to make it look more respectable. There is a great propensity about gold and silver, and houses and lands, to stick to one’s heart and blind the judgment. It is difficult for those who have much to do with wealth to be quite clear of self. Some men, by divine grace, get much, and give much, and use the world, and do not abuse it: but it is of the earth earthy after all, and when it comes into contact with these hearts of ours it will corrupt and corrode. He that has this world’s goods has need to watch himself lest his possessions should injure him; and he that has them not had need to watch himself lest his indigence should injure him. There is an evil that cometh by either the having or the not having. And let each man, therefore, be on his guard against it while he listens to the warning voice of the apostle, “Let your conversation be without covetousness.”

     II. Secondly, as there is a vice to be shunned so there is a virtue to be sought. The theme is more pleasing now that we speak upon CONTENTMENT. “Be content with such things as ye have.”

     It is, after all, no very great virtue if we should attain it: the more pity, therefore, if we should miss it. The old moralists constantly twit us with the fact that we may have the necessaries of life upon very easy terms, whereas we put ourselves to great pains for its luxuries. There have been contented persons whose heads have been clear, their hearts simple, and their habits temperate, though they have not known the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We ought surely then to rise to that low average of sanctity in which our moderation shall be known unto all men.

     To be content with such things as we have should be specially easy to us, because we have so much to be thankful for, such constant communications from the great Benefactor, and so certain an assurance that he will withhold no good thing from those that walk uprightly. I am not speaking now of those who have houses and land and goods in abundance, for their repinings are discord indeed; but I speak of all Christians. This world is ours, and worlds to come. Earth is our lodge, and heaven our home. It ought to be easy for us to be contented since all things are ordered for our good. Arranged by our own dear Father’s hand, his appointments ought not to be difficult for a loving child to approve. The trial of our faith will soon be over; a long life of affliction is but a pin’s point of time. Be it never so painful, we ought to be willing to bear the light affliction, which is but for a moment. We know that God loves us, for we feel his love shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost. Should not contentment be easy under such circumstances?

     They say, “There is nothing ill that is well taken,” and that is the testimony of a heathen: but that no harm can come of that which our God means for our good is quite certain. With his sorest chastisements often come to us his sweetest caresses. Beyond this lower sky, when this brief day is over, we shall be rich to all the intents of bliss. We have a heritage which will require everlasting ages to unfold: we have a treasure laid up which fancy cannot paint, whereof it would sound fabulous to tell. Do we grope just now in darkness? Yet are we children of the day! In reversion now, in possession soon, are the things that are to be revealed to us; and they are far more real than aught we have ever seen with these mortal eyes. It ought not to be a difficult thing for us to be contented here for this brief hour. “What does it matter?” says a traveller, “I shall only stay here one night, I shall be up and away in the morning.” And what does it matter to us, brothers and sisters? Till the day break, and the shadows flee away, we may put up with a few hard things, for we may be where our Lord is in his glory within the twinkling of an eye.

     True contentment is absolutely essential to happiness. There is a plant called selfishness, and if you will pull it up by its roots you will find that it grows in the soil of misery. Were self completely renounced, and Christ fully received as all in all, sorrow would be so sweetly accepted by us that the sting of it would be taken away. We must be satisfied with what God appoints, or else we shall be constantly the prey of discomfort and the victims of disappointment. O Christian men and women, will ye not seek to be content with such things as ye have?

     I believe that contentment depends very much upon taking right views of things. There is, to wit, a short view. To live by the day is the way to be cheerful. If you try to live by the month you will bring home a month’s troubles to eat up a day’s meat. God has not constructed his people to live by the month: their souls, like their bodies, are fashioned to live by the day. His supplies, his promises, the very prayers he puts into our mouths, all deal with days: “Give us this day our daily bread.” “As thy days so shall thy strength be.” Live by the day, then, and you will be content.

     Take also long views as well as short views. Take the view which says, “It will be all the same a hundred years hence.” Take the view which says, “We shall soon laugh at this present little vexation.” Take that distant view which says, “When I get to heaven, this great trial will seem very small: when I look from the hill-tops of glory at my present dilemma, it will probably cause me many a smile, to think that I should have been so vexed and tormented by it.” Take this view of things— that a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things that he possesses. Full often the more your goods increase the more your cares multiply; the care to keep is often greater than the care to win; while, after all, the care rightly to use ought to be the most weighty care of all. If thy God has loaded a neighbour with ten thousand a year, thank God that he has not burdened thee in that way. Be glad if he has given thee as much as thou canst carry easily, and no more. When I go for a walk, I like a staff, — just one, but I should not like to be compelled to carry a hundred. Some men appear to me to have a hundred times as much as they can possibly want, and so they are hampered with what might, in moderation, have been their help. Be not eager for great riches, nor seek after large domains in this world, lest thou wallow in wealth, stick in it as in a bog, and drown thy soul. Why load thyself with more clay when thou hast as much to carry now as thou canst well get along with? Be not surprised, therefore, any of you, but rather be thankful if God doth sometimes lighten your load a little to quicken your pace in the heavenly journey.

     The secret of true contentment, and the way to get at it, is admirably expressed in these words, “Be content with such things as ye have, for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Some of the most easy-going people in the world are those who have a government pension of so much a month. It is little, but it is sure. If all the banks break, they will get it. They have no trouble as to how the markets fluctuate, or how different stocks rise and fall in value; or what dividends they might derive from investments. It is not a large income that falls to their lot, ’tis true; but then it is all they require, and it is always sure. You say to such a person, “You may set your heart at rest because your supplies come from a sure source.” Now, then, that is exactly where the child of God stands: for ye know who hath said— “Thy bread shall be given thee, and thy water shall be sure.” Between now and heaven I do not know who may starve; but I never shall, because the Lord is my Shepherd, and I shall not want. Those clever lawyers, those sharp-teethed schemers, those greedy oppressors, those young lions may lack and suffer hunger; but they that fear the Lord shall not want any good thing. The Christian man’s fortune is made. “Oh, but he may be in great straits.” Yes, but he shall be supplied in due time. All that he needs in this time state his heavenly Father will give him. He wants but faith to believe this, and he shall find it to be really so: “for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” God’s word ought to be taken as truth itself. A promise from the mouth of God is better than a bond signed and sealed by the wealthiest of men. No negociable securities can be comparable in value to this declaration of the Lord, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” It is put very strongly. In the original there are five negatives, as in the verse you sang just now: —

“The soul that on Jesus hath lean’d for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavour to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

The five negatives in the last line of that verse correspond with the five placed in this text— “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” It means that in no one single instance will the Lord leave thee, nor in any one particular will he leave thee, nor for any reason will lie leave thee. If thou hast cast thyself upon his infinite power and grace, he will carry thee to the end. Not only will he not desert thee altogether, but he will not leave thee even for a little while. He may seem for a small moment to hide his face from thee, but he will still love thee and still supply thy needs. Behind the wall he will pour oil upon the flame if in the front of the wall he permits Satan to throw water upon it. He will feed thee somehow — by the back door, if not by the front— by the ravens if not by the doves. If the brook Cherith fails, he will find a widow woman, even in a distant land, who in all her straits shall, nevertheless, feed the servant of God.

     “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Surely we cannot fail to be contented if we do but get fast hold of this promise. Are you not always in the divine presence? Saith he not “I will never leave thee.” No carpet on the floor, no paper on the walls; no pictures, no furniture—the room mean and unsightly. Yes, but suppose God is there, what matters it? Buckingham Palace has not a drawing-room to compare with that little room upstairs against the thatch, or with that garret where you cannot stand upright, where the stars peep in at night between the tiles. If God be there, I would sooner five in the worst cottage’s worst room, on the pittance of the parish, than where the floor was paved with marble and the richest hangings adorned the ample chambers but the divine glory was unknown. If God be there — (“I will never leave thee”)—then wherever the child of God is cast, there is a glory round about him which makes him sublime in the midst of his poverty.

     “I will not forsake thee,” he adds: by which I understand that, as he will not withdraw his presence, so will he not withhold his help. “I want,” say you. “I want, I want.” Go on with the list. “I want— a thousand things.” “I will not forsake thee,” says he. “I will see thee through the trial; I will carry thee over the difficulty. I will bear thee on. I will lift thee over. I will bring thee out. I will abide with thee to the end. I will not leave thee nor forsake thee.” Is not that enough for thy faith to feed on? What more dost thou want? Suppose he had said, “I will send my angels with thee,” or, “I will move all mankind to help thee,” it would not come to so much in its real meaning as this. “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

     But when did God originally say this? Well, you cannot find the exact words in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, but he did say the same in effect to Jacob at Bethel, and to Joshua before he went to the invasion of Canaan; David said it in the Lord’s name to Solomon, and Isaiah said the same to the whole people of God. Whatever God says to one saint he says, virtually, to all saints who have like faith. This renders the Bible such a rich storehouse of comfort to us. No Scripture is of private interpretation, but all Scripture is given for our personal appropriation. No promise is hedged about as the exclusive property of the one man who received it. If thou be of like character and in like case, thou mayest, O believer, take the Lord’s words to others as being spoken to thyself. Thou mayest plead a promise which God made to Joshua or to Jacob with just as much confidence as if he had made it especially to thee. Remember this, and be content with such things as ye have.

     III. Our last point, upon which our time will only admit of a word or two, is the CONFIDENCE with which we may encourage ourselves and bid defiance to a frowning world. “So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man can do unto me.”

     This promise of the Lord is fitted to nerve us with courage, as well as to solace us with contentment. Chicken-hearts and craven fears ill become the disciples of Christ. If we are oppressed, or if we have to encounter opposition, we may just go straight ahead in the strength of our text, and say, “What can man do unto me?” If God be our helper, dear brethren, why should we shrink or falter; why should we droop or look dismayed; why should we hold our peace or speak with bated breath? Are there any of you who are afraid to confess my Lord’s name before men, to enlist in his service, to buckle on his armour, to avow yourselves his followers? Parley no longer, I beseech you, with such ungracious fears. Great thoughts have stirred within your breasts while we have presented the consoling word, and the Spirit of God has rested upon it. Be great in act as you have been in thought. Since he has said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” why are you ashamed to come and own him? “I am afraid I might dishonour his name,” say you. But he has said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” “I am very weak,” say you. He has said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” “I might bring dishonour upon the church to which I should unite myself.” Very likely you would if he left you, but he has said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” It is always safe to do what God bids. There can be no sound policy in neglecting a divine precept. So come forward and say boldly, “The Lord is my helper.”

     Possibly some of you have been persecuted. Hard names have been hurled at you: I hope you did not cry because of that. Poor child of God, thy strength is very small if thou art afraid of an ugly name. We have had a good many in our time; they have not broken any of our bones, nor will they injure you. “Oh, but you do not know what the chaff of the shop is.” No, but give them some of your wheat in return. Let them see how a Christian can bear and forbear when their fun grows foul; how he can endure reproach for righteousness''''' sake. You will be master of the situation yet. “Alas, sir, but I am threatened with the loss of my situation unless I will go contrary to divine commands.” Then do not flinch, but tell your heavenly Father all about it. Commit your cause to him. Let not fifty places or five hundred people make you swerve from the course that faith dictates and duty demands. Appeal to God, and he will provide for you. Any temporary loss you may sustain will be much more than made up in the prosperity he awards you: or if not in that way, in the peace he vouchsafes you and the honour he confers on you in suffering for Christ’s sake.

     Oh that this very night the veil might be taken off many faces, the burden unloaded from many shoulders, and fear dispelled from many hearts! If you have cast off your grievous disquietudes while I have been talking, do not put them on again when you get outside. I have known many a poor tried child of God forget his trouble when he was sitting here, but he looked it up before he reached his home, and so he returned to his old condition. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee. He will never suffer the righteous to be moved.” You have been looking too far ahead, dear brother. Cure that fault by looking further still. Recollecting the coming of our Lord, and the joy of his appearing, you may ease your pains in the present. Oh to live exempt from care by the energy of prayer! Oh, to believe in God implicitly, to rest in him calmly, to trust in Christ steadfastly, and to take his yoke upon us cheerfully: then we shall find rest to our souls by learning of him. The Lord help us all to do so, for his name’s sake. Amen.



Three Crosses

By / Jun 22

Three Crosses

 

“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”— Galatians vi.14.

 

WHENEVER we rebuke other people we should be prepared to clear ourselves of their offence. The apostle had been rebuking those who wished to glory in the flesh. In denouncing false teachers and upbraiding their weak-minded followers he used sharp language, while he appealed to plain facts and maintained his ground with strong arguments; and this he did without fear of being met by a flank movement, and being charged with doing the same things himself. Very fitly, therefore, does he contrast his own determined purpose with their plausible falseness. They were for making a fair show in the flesh, but he shrunk not from the deepest shame of the Christian profession; say, so far from shrinking, he even counted it honour to be scorned for Christ’s sake, exclaiming, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Galatians, and all others to whom his name was familiar, well knew how truly he spoke; for the manner of his life as well as the matter of his teaching had supplied evidence of this assertion, which none of his foemen could gainsay. There had not been in all his ministry any doctrine that he extolled more highly than this of “Christ crucified”; nor any experience that he touched on more tenderly than this “fellowship with Christ in his sufferings nor any rule of conduct that he counted more safe than this following in the footsteps of him who “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” His example accorded with his precept. God grant, of his grace, that there may always be with us the like transparent consistency. Sometimes when we notice an evil, and protest as boldly and conscientiously as we can against it, we feel that our protest is too obscure to have much influence; it will then be our very best resource resolutely to abstain from the evil ourselves, and so, at least in one person, to overthrow its power. If you cannot convert a man from his error by an argument, you can at least prove the sincerity of your reasoning by your own behaviour; and thus, if no fortress is captured, you will at least “hold the fort,” and you may do more: your faithfulness may win more than your zeal. Vow faithfully within your own heart, and say frankly to your neighbour, “You may do what you will; but as for me, God forbid that I should remove the old landmarks, or seek out new paths, however inviting, or turn aside from that which I know to be the good old way.” A determined resolution of that sort, fully adhered to, will often carry more weight and exert more influence on the mind of an individual, especially of a waverer, than a host of arguments. Your actions will speak more loudly than your words.

     The apostle in the present case warms with emotion at the thought of anybody presuming to set a carnal ordinance in front of the cross, by wishing to glory in circumcision or any other outward institution. The idea of a ceremony claiming to be made more of than faith in Jesus provoked him, till his heart presently grew hot with indignation, and he thundered forth the words, “God forbid!” He never used the sacred name with lightness; but when the fire was hot within him he called God to witness that he did not, and could not, glory in anything but the cross. Indeed, there is to every true-hearted believer something shocking and revolting in the putting of anything before Jesus Christ, be it what it may, whether it be an idol of superstition or a toy of scepticism, whether it be the fruit of tradition or the flower of philosophy. Do you want new Scriptures to supplement the true sayings of God? Do you want a new Saviour who can surpass him whom the Father hath sealed? Do you want a new sacrifice that can save you from sins which his atoning blood could not expiate? Do you want a modern song to supersede the new song of “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain”? “O foolish Galatians!” said Paul. O silly Protestants! I am inclined to say. We might go on in these times to speak warmly to many of the parties around us— the doting Ritualists, the puffed-up Rationalists, and the self-exalting school of modern thought. I marvel not at Paul’s warmth. I only wish that some who think so little of doctrinal discrepancies, as they call them, could but sympathise a little with his holy indignation when he saw the first symptoms of departure from godly simplicity and sincerity. Do you not notice that a little dissembling of a dear brother made him withstand him to his face? When a whole company turned the cold shoulder to the cross of Christ it made him burn with indignation. He could not brook it. The cross was the centre of his hopes; around it his affections twined; there he had found peace to his troubled conscience. God forbid that he should allow it to be trampled on. Besides, it was the theme of his ministry. “Christ crucified” had already proved the power of God to salvation to every soul who had believed the lifegiving message as he proclaimed it in every city. Would any of you, he asks, cast a slur on the cross— you who have been converted— you before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth crucified among you? How his eyes flash; how his lips quiver; how his heart grows hot within him; with what vehemence he protests: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He spreads his eagle wing, and rises into eloquence at once, while still his keen eye looks fiercely upon every enemy of the cross whom he leaves far beneath. Oftentimes in his epistles you observe this. He burns, he glows, he mounts, he soars, he is carried clean away as soon as his thoughts are in fellowship with his Lord Jesus, that meek and patient Sufferer, who offered himself a sacrifice for our sins. When his tongue begins to speak of the glorious work which the Christ of God has done for the sons of men it finds a sudden liberty, and he becomes as “a hind let loose; he giveth goodly words.” May we have something of that glow within our breasts to-night, and whenever we think of our Lord. God forbid that we should be cold-hearted when we come near to Jesus; God forbid that we should ever view with heartless eye and lethargic soul the sweet wonders of that cross on which our Saviour loved and died.

     Let us, then, in that spirit approach our text; and we notice at once three crucifixions. These are the summary of the text. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ that is, Christ crucified. “By whom,” or, “by which” (read it whichever way you like), “the world is crucified unto me”; that is, a crucified world. “And I unto the world”; that is, Paul himself, or the believer, crucified with Christ. I see, again, Calvary before me with its three crosses— Christ in the centre, and on either side of him a crucified person: one who dies to feel the second death, and another who dies to be with him in paradise. At these three crosses let us proceed to look.

     I. First, then, the main part of our subject lies in CHRIST CRUCIFIED, in whom Paul gloried. I call your attention to the language; “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross.” Some popular authors and public speakers, when they have to state a truth, count it necessary to clothe it in very delicate language. They, perhaps, do not quite intend to conceal its point and edge; but, at any rate, they do not want the projecting angles and bare surfaces of the truth to be too observable, and therefore they cast a cloak around it; they are careful to scabbard the sword of the Spirit. The apostle Paul might have done so here, if he had chosen, but he disdains the artifice. He presents the truth “in the worst possible form,” as his opponents say— “in all its naked hideousness,” as the Jew would have it; for he does not say, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the death of Christ”; but in the cross. You do not realize, I think— we cannot do so in these days— how the use of that word “cross” would grate on ears refined in Galatia and elsewhere. In those days it meant the felon’s tree, the hangmans gibbet; and the apostle, therefore, does not hesitate to put it just so: “Save in that gibbet on which my Master died.” We have become so accustomed to associate the name of “the cross” with other sentiments that it does not convey to us that sense of disgrace which it would inflict upon those who heard Paul speak. A family sensitively shrinks if one of its members has been hanged; and much the same would be the natural feeling of one who was told that his leader was crucified. Paul puts it thus baldly, he lets it jar thus harshly, though it may prove to some a stumblingblock, and to others foolishness; but he will not cloak it, he glories in “the cross!”

     On the other hand, I earnestly entreat you to observe how he seems to contrast the glory of the person with the shame of the suffering; for it is not simply the death of Christ, nor of Jesus, nor of Jesus Christ, nor of the Lord Jesus Christ, but of “our Lord Jesus Christ.” Every word tends to set forth the excellence of his person, the majesty of his character, and the interest which all the saints have in him. It was a cross, but it was the cross of our Lord: let us worship him! It was the cross of our Lord Jesus the Saviour: let us love him! It was the cross of our Jesus Christ the anointed Messiah: let us reverence him! Let us sit at his feet and learn of him! Each one may say, “It was the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ”; but it sweetens the whole matter, and gives a largeness to it when we say, “It was the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Oh yes, we delight to think of the contrast between the precious Christ and the painful cross, the Son of God and the shameful gibbet. He was Immanuel, God with us; yet did he die the felon’s death upon the accursed tree. Paul brings out the shame with great sharpness, and the glory with great plainness. He does not hesitate in either case, whether he would declare the sufferings of Christ or the glory which should follow.

     What did he mean, however, by the cross? Of course he cared nothing for the particular piece of wood to which those blessed hands and feet were nailed, for that was mere materialism, and has perished out of mind. He means the glorious doctrine of justification— free justification— through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is what he means by the cross— the expiation for sin which our Lord Jesus Christ made by his death, and the gift of eternal life freely bestowed on all those who by grace are led to trust in him. To Paul the cross meant just what the brazen serpent meant to Moses. As the brazen serpent in the wilderness was the hope of the sin-bitten, and all that Moses had to do was to bid them look and live, so to-day the cross of Christ— the atonement of Jesus Christ— is the hope of mankind, and our mission is continually to cry, “Look and live! Look and live!” It is this doctrine, this gospel of Christ crucified, at which the present age, with all its vaunted culture and all its vain philosophies, sneers so broadly, it is this doctrine wherein we glory. We are not ashamed to put it very definitely: we glory in substitution, in the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus in our stead. He was “made sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” We believe in the imputation of sin to the innocent person of our covenant Head and Representative, in the bearing of the penalty by that substituted One, and the clearing by faith of those for whom he bore the punishment of sin.

     Now we glory in this. We glory in it, not as men sometimes boast in a creed which they have received by tradition from their forefathers, for we have learned this truth, each one for himself by the inward teaching of the Holy Ghost, and therefore it is very dear tons. We glory in it with no empty boast, but to the inward satisfaction of our own hearts; we prove that satisfaction by the devout consecration of our lives to make it known. We have trusted our souls to its truth. If it be a fable our hopes are for ever shipwrecked, our all is embarked in that venture. We are quite prepared to run that risk, content to perish if this salvation should fail us. We live upon this faith. It is our meat and our drink. Take this away there is nothing left us in the Bible worth the having. It has become to us the head and front of our confidence, our hope, our rest, our joy. Instead of being ashamed to preach it, we wish that we could stand somewhere where all the inhabitants of the earth should hear us, and we would thunder it out day and night. So far from being ashamed of acknowledging it, we count it to be our highest honour and our greatest delight to tell it abroad, as we have opportunity, among the sons of men.

     But why do we rejoice in it? Why do we glory in it? The answer is so large that I cannot do more than glance at its manifold claims on our gratitude. We glory in it for a thousand reasons. We fail to see anything in the doctrine of atonement that we should not glory in. We have heard a great many dogs bark against it, but dogs will bay the moon in her brightness, and therefore we mind not their howlings. Their noise has sometimes disturbed, though never yet has it frightened us. We have not yet heard a cavil against our Lord or an argument against his atoning blood which has affected our faith the turn of a hair. The Scriptures affirm it, the Holy Ghost bears witness to it, and its effect upon our inner life assures us of it. The analogy between Jewish fasts and festivals and our Christian faith endorses it; there is a chasm that no man yet has been able to bridge without it; it lightens our conscience, gladdens our hearts, inspires our devotion, and elevates our aspirations; we are wedded to it, and daily glory in it.

     In the cross of Christ we glory, because we regard it as a matchless exhibition of the attributes of God. We see there the love of God desiring a way by which he might save mankind, aided by his wisdom, so that a plan is perfected by which the deed can be done without violation of truth and justice. In the cross we see a strange conjunction of what once appeared to be two opposite qualities— justice and mercy. We see how God is supremely just; as just as if he had no mercy, and yet infinitely merciful in the gift of his Son. Mercy and justice in fact become counsel upon the same side, and irresistibly plead for the acquittal of the believing sinner. We can never tell which of the attributes of God shines most glorious in the sacrifice of Christ; they each one find a glorious high throne in the person and work of the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. Since it has become, as it were, the disk which reflects the character and perfections of God it is meet that we should glory in the cross of Christ; and none shall stay us of our boasting.

     We glory in it, next, as the manifestation of the love of Jesus. He was loving inasmuch as he came to earth at all; loving in feeding the hungry, in healing the sick, in raising the dead. He was loving in his whole life: he was embodied charity, the Prince of philanthropists, the death King of kindly souls. But oh, his death! — his cruel and shameful death — bearing, as we believe he did, he wrath due to sin, subjecting himself to the curse, though in him was no sin— this shows the love of Christ at its highest altitude, and therefore do we glory in it, and will never be ashamed to do so.

     We glory in the cross, moreover, because it is the putting away of sin. There was no other way of making an end of sin, and making reconciliation for iniquity. To forgive the transgressions without exacting the penalty would have been contrary to all the threatenings of God. It would not have appeased the claims of justice, nor satisfied the conscience of the sinner. No peace of mind can be enjoyed without pardon, and conscience declares that no pardon can be obtained without an atonement. We should have distracted ourselves with the fear that it was only a reprieve, and not a remission, even if the most comforting promises had been given unsealed with the atoning blood. The instincts of nature have convinced men of this truth, for all the world over religion has been associated with sacrifice. Almost every kind of worship that has ever sprung up among the sons of men has had sacrifice for its most prominent feature; crime must be avenged, evil and sin cry from the ground, and a victim is sought to avert the vengeance. The heart craves for something that can calm the conscience: that craving is a relic of the ancient truth learned by man in primeval ages. Now, Christ did make his soul an offering for sin, when his own self he bare our sins in his own body on the tree. With his expiring breath he said, “It is finished!” Oh, wondrous grace! Pardon is now freely published among the sons of men, pardon of which we see the justice and validity. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath God removed our transgressions from us by the death of Christ. This and this alone will put away sin, therefore in this cross of Christ we glory; yea, and in it alone will we glory evermore.

     It has put away our sins, blessed be God, so that this load and burden no more weigh us down! We do not speak at random now. It has breathed hope and peace and joy into our spirits. I am sure that no one knows how to glory in the cross unless he has had an experimental acquaintance with its peace-breathing power. I speak what I do know, and testify what I have felt. The burden of my sin laid so heavy upon me that I would sooner have died than have lived. Many a day, and many a night, I felt the flames of hell in the anguish of my heart, because I knew my guilt, but saw no way of righteous forgiveness. Yet in a moment the load went from me, and I felt overflowing love to the Saviour. I fell at his feet awe-stricken that ever he should have taken away my sin and made an end of it. That matchless deed of love won my heart to Jesus. He changed my nature and renewed my soul in that same hour. But, oh, the joy I had! Those who have sunk to the very depths of despair, and risen in a moment to the heights of peace and joy unspeakable, can tell you that they must glory in the cross and its power to save. Why, sirs, we must believe according to our own conscience. We cannot belie that inward witness. We only wish that others had been as deeply convinced of sin, and as truly led to the cross to feel their burden roll from off their shoulder as we have been, and then they, too, would glory in the cross of Christ. Since then we have gone with this remedy in our hands to souls that have been near despair, and we have never found the medicine to fail. Many and many a time have I spoken to people so depressed in spirit that they seemed not far from the madhouse, so heavy was their sense of sin; yet have I never known the matchless music of Jesus’ name, in any case, fail to charm the soul out of its despondency. “They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed.” Men who, because they thought there was no hope for them, would have desperately continued in sin, have read that word “hope” written in crimson lines upon the Saviour’s dying body, and they have sprung up into confidence, have entered into peace, and henceforth have begun to lead a new life. We glory in the cross because of the peace it brings to every troubled conscience which receives it by faith: our own case has proved to our own souls its efficacy, and what we have seen in others has confirmed our confidence.

     Yet we should not glory so much in the cross, were we not convinced that it is the greatest moral power in all the world. We glory in the cross because it gets at men’s hearts when nothing else can reach them. The story of the dying Saviour’s love has often impressed those whom all the moral lectures in the world could never have moved. Judged and condemned by the unanswerable reasonings of their own consciences, they have not had control enough over their passions to shake off the captivity in which they were held by the temptations that assailed them at every turn, till they have drawn near to the cross of Jesus, and from pardon have gathered hope, and from hope have gained strength to master sin. When they have seen their sin laid on Jesus, they have loved him, and hated the sin that made him to suffer so grievously as their substitute. Then the Holy Ghost has come upon them, and they have resolved, with divine strength, to drive out the sin for which the Saviour died; they have begun a new life, ay, and they have continued in it, sustained by that same sacred power which first constrained them, and now they look forward to be perfected by it through the power of God. Where are the triumphs of infidelity in rescuing men from sin? Where are the trophies of philosophy in conquering human pride? Will you bring us harlots that have been made chaste; thieves that have been reclaimed; angry men, of bearlike temper, who have become harmless as lambs, through scientific lectures? Let our amateur philanthropists, who suggest so much and do so little, produce some instances of the moral transformations that have been wrought by their sophistries. Nay; they curl their lips, and leave the lower orders to the City Missionary and the Bible Woman. It is the cross that humbles the haughty, lifts up the fallen, refines the polluted, and gives a fresh start to those who are forlorn and desperate. Nothing else can do it. The world sinks lower and lower into the bog of its own selfishness and sin. Only this wondrous lever of the atonement, symbolized by the cross of Christ, can lift our abject race to the place of virtue and honour which it ought to occupy.

     We glory in the cross for so many reasons that I cannot hope to enumerate them all. While it ennobles our life, it invigorates us with hope in our death. Death is now deprived of its terrors to us, for Christ has died. We, like him, can say, “Father, into thy hands we commend our spirit.” His burial has perfumed the grave; his resurrection has paved the road to immortality. He rose and left a lamp behind which shows an outlet from the gloom of the sepulchre. The paradise he immediately predicted for himself and for the penitent who hung by his side has shown us how quick the transition is from mortal pains to immortal joys. “Absent from the body, present with the Lord,” is the cheering prospect. Glory be to Christ for ever and for ever that we have this doctrine of “Christ crucified” to preach.

     II. The second cross exhibits THE WORLD CRUCIFIED. The apostle says that the world was crucified to him. What does he mean by this? He regarded the world as nailed up like a felon, and hanged upon a cross to die. Well, I suppose he means that its character was condemned. He looked out upon the world which thought so much of itself, and said, “I do not think much of thee, poor world! Thou art like a doomed malefactor.” He knew that the world had crucified its Saviour— crucified its God. It had gone to such a length of sin that it had hounded perfect innocence through the streets. Infinite benevolence it had scoffed at and maligned. Eternal truth it had rejected, and preferred a lie; and the Son of God, who was love incarnate, it had put to the death of the cross. “Now,” says Paul, “I know thy character, O world! I know thee! and I hold thee in no more esteem than the wretch abhorred for his crimes, who is condemned to hang upon the gibbet and so end his detested life.” This led Paul, since he condemned its character, utterly to despise its judgment. The world said, “This Paul is a fool. His gospel is foolishness and he himself is a mere babbler.” “Yes,” thought Paul, “a deal you know of it! In this we unite with him. What is your judgment worth? You did not know the Son of God, poor blind world! We are sure that he was perfect, and yet you hunted him to death. Your judgment is a poor thing, O world! You are crucified to us. Now, there are a great many people who could hardly endure to live if they should happen to be misjudged by the world or what is called “society.” Oh yes, we must be respectable. We must have every man’s good word, or we are ready to faint. Paul was of another mind. What cared he for aught the world might say? How could he wish to please a world so abominable that it had put his Lord to death. He would sooner have its bad opinion than its good. It were better to be frowned at than to be smiled upon by a world that crucified Christ. Certainly, its condemnation is more worth having than its approbation if it can put Christ to death: so Paul utterly despised its judgment, and it was crucified to him. Now, we are told to think a great deal about “public opinion,” “popular belief,” “the growing feeling of the age,” “the sentiment of the period,” and “the spirit of the age.” I should like Paul to read some of our religious newspapers; and yet I could not wish the good man so distasteful a task, for I dare say he would sooner pine in the Mammertine prison than do so; but, still, I should like to see how he would look after he had read some of those expressions about the necessity of keeping ourselves abreast with the sentiment of the period. “What,” he would say, “the sentiment of the world! It is crucified to me! What can it matter what its opinion is? We are of God, little children, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one; would ye heed what the world, that is lying in the wicked one, thinks of you or of the truth of your Lord? Are you going to smooth your tongue, and soften your speech, to please the world that lieth in the wicked one!” Paul would be indignant with such a proposition. He said, “the world is crucified to me.” Hence he looked upon all the world’s pleasures as so much rottenness, a carcase nailed to a cross. Can you fancy Paul being taken to the Colosseum at Rome? I try to imagine him made to sit on one of those benches to watch a combat of gladiators. There is the emperor: there are all the great peers of Rome and the senators; and there are those cruel eyes all gazing down upon men who shed each others’ blood. Can you picture how Paul would have felt if he had been forced to occupy a seat at that spectacle? It would have been martyrdom to him. He would have closed his eyes and ears against the sight of what Rome thought to be the choicest pleasure of the day. They thronged the imperial city; they poured in mighty streams into the theatre each day to see poor beasts tortured, or men murdering one another: that was the world of Paul’s day; and he rightly judged it to be a crucified felon. If he was compelled to see the popular pleasures of to-day, upon which I will say but little, would he not be well-nigh as sick of them as he would have been of the amusements of the amphitheatre at Rome?

     To Paul, too, all the honours of the age must have been crucified in like manner. Suppose that Paul settled his mind to think of the wretches who were reigning as emperors in his day! I use the word advisedly, for I would not speak evil of dignities; but really I speak too well of them when I call them wretches. They seem to have been inhuman monsters — “tyrants whose capricious folly violated every law of nature and decency," to whom every kind of lust was a daily habit, and who even sought out new inventions of sensuality, calling them new pleasures. As Paul thought of the iniquities of Napoli, and all the great towns to which the Romans went in their holidays— Pompeii and the like— oh, how he loathed them! And I doubt not that if the apostle were to come here now, if he knew how often rank and title are wont to sink all true dignity in shameful dissipation, and what flagrant profligacy is to be found in high quarters, he might as justly consider all the pomps and dignities and honours of the world that now is to be as little worth as a putrid carcase hanging on a tree and rotting in the sun. He says, “The world is crucified to me: it is hanging on the gallows to me, I think so little of its pleasures and of its pomps.”

     Alike contemptuously did Paul judge of all the treasures of the world. Paul never spent as much time as it would take to wink his eye in thinking of how much money he was worth. Having food and raiment he was therewith content. Sometimes he had scarcely that. He casually thanks the Philippians for ministering to his necessities, but he never sought to store anything, nor did he live with even half a thought of aggrandizing himself with gold and silver. “No,” he said, “this will all perish with the using,” and so he treated the world as a thing crucified to him. Now, Christian man, can you say as much as this — that the world, in its mercantile aspect, as well as in its motley vices and its manifold frivolities, is a crucified thing to you? Now, look what the world says. “Make money, young man, make money! Honestly if you can, but by all means make money. Look about you, for if you are not sharp you will not succeed. Keep your own counsel, and rather play the double than be the dupe. Your character will rise with the credit you get on ’Change.” Now, suppose that you get the money, what is the result? The net result, as I often find it, is a paragraph in one of the newspapers to say that So-and-so Esquire’s will was proved in the Probate Court under so many thousands. Then follows a grand squabble among all his relatives which shall eat him up. That is the consummation of a life of toil and care and scheming. He has lived for lucre, and he has to leave it behind. There is the end of that folly. I have sometimes thought of the contrast between the poor man’s funeral and the rich man’s funeral. When the poor man dies there are his sons and daughters weeping with real distress, for the death of the father brings sadness and sympathy into that house. The poor man is to be buried, but it can only be managed by the united self-denials of all his sons and daughters. There is Mary out at service; she, perhaps, contributes more than the others towards the funeral, for she has no family of her own. The elder son and the younger brothers all pinch themselves to pay a little; and the tears that are shed that evening when they come home from the grave are very genuine: they do suffer, and they prove their sorrow by rivalling one another in the respect they pay to their parent. Now you shall see the rich man die. Of course everybody laments the sad loss: it is the proper thing. Empty carriages swell the procession to the grave by way of empty compliment. The mourners return, and there is the reading of that blessed document the will; when that is read the time for tears is over in almost every case. Few are pleased; the one whom fortune favours is the envy of all the rest. Sad thoughts and sullen looks float on the surface, not in respect to the man’s departure, but concerning the means he has left and the mode in which he has disposed of them. Oh, it is a poor thing to live for, the making of money and the hoarding of it. But still the genius of rightly getting money can be consecrated to the glory of God. You can use the wealth of this world in the service of the Master. To gain is not wrong. It is only wrong when grasping becomes the main object of life, and grudging grows into covetousness which is idolatry. To every Christian that and every other form of worldliness ought to be crucified, so that we can say, “For me to live is not myself, but it is Christ; I live that I may honour and glorify him.”

     When the apostle said that the world was crucified to him, he meant just this. “I am not enslaved by any of its pursuits. I care nothing for its maxims. I am not governed by its spirit. I do not court its smiles. I do not fear its threatenings. It is not my master, nor am I its slave. The whole world cannot force Paul to lie, or to sin, but Paul will tell the world the truth, come what may.” You recollect the words of Palissy, the potter, when the king of France said to him that if he did not change his religion, and cease to be a Huguenot, he was afraid that he should have to deliver him up to his enemies. “Sire,” said the potter, “I am sorry to hear you say, ‘I am afraid,’ for all the men in the world could not make Palissy talk like that. I am afraid of nobody, and I must do nothing but what is right.” Oh, yes; the man that fears God and loves the cross has a moral backbone which enables him to stand, and he snaps his fingers at the world. “Dead felon!” says he, “dead felon! Crucifier of Christ! Cosmos thou callest thyself. By comely names thou wouldst fain be greeted. Paul is nothing in thine esteem; but Paul is a match for thee, for he thinks as much of thee as thou dost of him, and no more.” Hear him as he cries, “The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” To live to serve men is one thing, to live to bless them is another; and this we will do, God helping us, making sacrifices for their good. But to fear men, to ask their leave to think, to ask their instructions as to what we shall speak, and how we shall say it— that is a baseness we cannot brook. By the grace of God, we have not so degraded ourselves, and never shall. “The world is crucified to me,” says the apostle, “by the cross of Christ.”

     III. Then he finishes up with the third crucifixion, which is, I AM CRUCIFIED TO THE WORLD. We shall soon see the evidence of this crucifixion if we notice how they poured contempt upon him. Once Saul was a great rabbi, a man profoundly versed in Hebrew lore, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, and much admired. He was also a classic scholar and a philosophic thinker, a man of great mental powers, and fit to take the lead in learned circles. But when Paul began to preach Christ crucified — “Bah,” they said, “he is an utter fool! Heed him not!” Or else they said, “Down with him! He is an apostate!” They cursed him. His name brought wrath into the face of all Jews that mentioned it, and all intelligent Greeks likewise. “Paul? He is nobody!” He was everybody when he thought their way: he is nobody now that he thinks in God’s way.

     And then they put him to open shame by suspecting all his motives, and by misrepresenting all his actions. It did not matter what Paul did, they were quite certain that he was self-seeking; that he was endeavouring to make a fine tiling of it for himself. When he acted so that they were forced to own that he was right, they put it in such a light that they made it out to be wrong. There were some who denied his apostleship, and said that he was never sent of God; and others questioned his ability to preach the gospel. So they crucified poor Paul one way and another to the full.

     They went further still. They despised, they shunned him. His old friends forsook him. Some got out of the way, others pointed at him the finger of scorn in the streets. His persecutors showed their rancour against him, now stoning him with lynch-law, and anon with a semblance of legality dragging him before the magistrates. Paul was crucified to them. As for his teaching, they decried him as a babbler— a setter-forth of strange gods. I dare say they often sneered at the cross of Christ which he preached as a nine days’ wonder, an almost exploded doctrine, and said, “If you do but shut the mouths of such men as Paul, it will soon be forgotten.” I have heard them say in modern times to lesser men, “Your old-fashioned Puritanism is nearly dead, ere long it will be utterly extinct!” But we preach Christ crucified; the same old doctrine as the apostles preached, and for this by the contempt of the worldly wise we are crucified.

     Now, dear Christian friends, if you keep to the cross of Christ you must expect to have this for your portion. The world will be crucified to you, and you will be crucified to the world. You will get the cold shoulder. Old friends will become open foes. They will begin to hate you more than they loved you before. At home your foes will be the men of your own household. You will hardly be able to do anything right. When you joined in their revels you were a fine fellow; when you could drink, and sing a lascivious song, you were a jolly good fellow; but now they rate you as a fool; they scout you as a hypocrite; and slanderously blacken your character. Let their dislike be a badge of your discipleship, and say, “Now also the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world. Whatever the world says against me for Christ’s sake is the maundering of a doomed malefactor, and what do I care for that? And, on the other hand, if I be rejected and despised, I am only taking what I always expected— my crucifixion— in my poor, humble way, after the manner of Christ himself, who was despised and rejected of men.”

     The moral and the lesson of it all is this. Whatever comes of it, still glory in Christ. Go in for this, dear friends, that whether ye be in honour or in dishonour, in good report or in evil report, whether God multiply your substance and make you rich, or diminish it and make you poor, you will still glory in the cross of Christ. If you have health, and strength and vigour to work for him, or if you have to lie upon a bed of languishing and bear in patience all your heavenly Father’s will, resolve that you will still glory in the cross. Let this be the point of your glorying throughout your lives. Go down the steeps of Jordan, and go through Jordan itself, still glorying in the cross, for in the heaven of glory you will find that the blood-bought hosts celebrate the cross as the trophy of their redemption.

     Are you trusting in the cross? Are you resting in Jesus? If not, may the Lord teach you this blessed privilege. There is no joy like it. There is no strength like it. There is no life like it. There is no peace like it. At the cross we find our heaven. While upon the cross we gaze all heavenly, holy things abound within our hearts. If you have never been there, the Lord lead you there at this very hour; so shall you be pardoned, accepted, and blest for aye. The Lord grant that you all may be partakers of this grace for Christ’s sake. Amen.



The Moral of a Miracle

By / Jun 22


Refined, But Not With Silver

By / Jun 22

Refined, But Not With Silver

 

“Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”— Isaiah xlviii. 10.

 

THE Lord refines his people, but he exercises great discrimination as to the means by which he does so. A silver furnace is one of the very best for the removal of dross, and would seem to be well adapted for refining the most precious things, but it is not choice enough for the Lord’s purpose with his people. It is prepared with extreme care, and has great separating power, but the purging away of sin needs greater care and more cleansing energy than a silver refinery can supply. The greatest delicacy of skill is exhibited by the refiner, who watches over the process, and regulates the degree of heat and the length of time in which the precious metal shall lie in the crucible: this, then, might well serve as a figure of the best mode of sanctification, but evidently the figure falls short in its delicacy. The process of silver refining is, no doubt, one of the best arranged and most ably conducted of the works of man; but when the Lord sits as a refiner, he executes his work with greater wisdom and diviner art. Silver refining is but rough work compared with the Lord’s purification of his people, and therefore he says, “I have refined thee, but not with silver.” The Lord hath a furnace of his own, as it is written, “his furnace is in Jerusalem,” and in this special furnace he purifies his people by secret processes unknown to any but himself. He has a fire of his own kindling in Zion, compared with which all other flame is strange fire, and only in this peculiar fire will he in his own singular fashion consume his people’s dross and tin. His saints are more precious than silver or gold, and therefore while in one place it is written, “Thou hast tried us as silver is tried,” yet in another he declares that he has gone about it after a diviner sort, and hath refined us, “but not with silver.” No one would think of refining silver by the same rough means as they smelt iron, so neither will the Lord purify his precious ones, who are fax above silver in value, by any but the choicest methods. More subtle and yet more searching, more spiritual and yet more true, more gentle and yet more effectual are the purifying processes of heaven; there is no refiner like our refiner, and no purity like that which the Spirit works in us.

     Note, then, that distinguishing and discriminating grace finds room to exercise itself even in the trials of the elect: “I have chosen thee in the furnace, yet not in the best furnace that man could make, but in a furnace of my own, which I reserve for my peculiar treasures.” There is distinguishing grace in all the trials of God’s people. Every man in the world has a measure of trial, for “we are born to trouble as the sparks fly upward”; but there is a distinction between the sorrows of the wicked and the trials of the righteous— a very grave distinction between the punishments of the ungodly and the chastisements of them that fear God. There is a furnace for each metal, but the more precious the ore the more special the refining. There is a furnace for each metal, but the more precious the ore the more special the refining. There is a furnace for all men— for kings upon their thrones, to whom sickness and bereavement come as freely as to the poor; for the rich in the midst of their wealth, from whom their substance departeth, or their power to enjoy what they have heaped together: but there is a special fire, a reserved furnace, into which neither the great ones of the earth nor the wealthy ones thereof shall ever be placed; it is kept for more precious material than the unregenerate children of men. God’s furnace in Zion is especially meant for his own people. Of each of these right royal jewels he says, “I have refined thee, not with the precious things of earth— the kings and princes, the silver ones among mortals; but I have refined thee in a different manner, and thus I make my election to be visible, even in connection with the furnace in which I refine my treasures.”

     I will push the thought a little farther, dear friends, and remark that the Lord has special dealings with each one of his saints, and refines each one by a process peculiar to the individual, not heaping all his precious metals into one furnace of silver, but refining each metal by itself. You do not know my trials, I am glad you do not: neither do I know yours, nor could I wish to bear that which you may have to suffer. There is a common sympathy, for we all go into the furnace; but there is a distinction in the case of each one, for to each one the furnace differs. Some tender hearts would be utterly crushed if they were afflicted as others are. Does not even the husbandman teach us this? He does not beat out the tender cummin and fitches with the cart wheel which he turns upon the heavier grain. No; he has different modes of operating upon the different kinds of seeds. They must all be thrashed, but not all thrashed in the same way. Thou, brother, mayest be as a sheaf of the best corn. Be thou grateful; but remember thou shalt feel the sharp thrashing instrument having teeth. And thou, my brother, mayest be one of the tender seeds, the minor seeds of the Master s garner. Be thou grateful, for thou shalt feel a lighter flail than some others; but do not compliment thyself upon it, for thou mightest almost regret that gentler flail, because it proves that thou art of lighter stuff, although still true grain of the Master’s sowing.

     Beloved, I would venture to go so far as to say that the lines have not fallen to any two men in precisely the same places. We rejoice as we read the life of David, because he seems to set us all forth. David is to the church of God what Shakespeare is to the world:–

“A man so various, that he seems to be
Not one, but all mankind’s epitome;”

and yet David is totally distinct from any other of the saints. There are not, and could not be, two Davids. So you and I may travel in lines almost parallel, and we may therefore know each other’s griefs, and tenderly sympathize, but there is a turning in my life which you have never reached, and there is a dark corner in your life which I have never seen. The skeleton in any one person’s house is of a different sort to that which haunts any other dwelling. No one man is the exact replica of another. In all this, divine sovereignty operates in connection with divine love and divine wisdom, purifying all the sons of Levi, giving to each one his own separate purification, according as his need may be. “I have refined thee, but not with silver. I have chosen thee.” Mark— not “you,” but “thee.” A distinct personal word is used, and is addressed to each separate saint. “I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”

     Having thus sufficiently shown that distinguishing grace is to be seen even in the trials of the chosen, we will now turn to the subject of this evening, which is the sweet connection which exists between God’s election and the furnace. I have many things to say to you, and therefore I will say them as briefly as I can, asking you to jot them down upon the tablets of your memory, and enlarge upon them when you are alone.

     I. And, first, between God’s election and the furnace there is this connection — that THE FURNACE WAS THE FIRST TRYSTING PLACE BETWEEN ELECTING LOVE AND OUR SOULS.

     God did not choose his people in the furnace in any sense in which it can be said that he never chose them before they were there, for he chose them before the foundation of the world. Before one solitary star had begun to peer through the darkness the Lord had given over his people unto Christ to be his heritage, and their names were in his book; but the first manifestation of his electing love to anyone of us was— where? Well, I venture to say it was in the furnace. Abraham knew little of God’s love to him till the voice said, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee.” This was a grievous trial for him: the breaking up of family ties and associations was a furnace to him; and then it was that he knew that God had chosen him, for the same voice said, “And I will bless thee, and thou shalt be a blessing.” I do not think that Isaac knew much about God’s choice of him till he went up the mountain’s side, and said to his father, a Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” When he found out that the burnt sacrifice was to be himself, it was there that he, like his father knew Jehovah-Jireh, and learned the covenant. So was it with Jacob. Little did he understand the mystery of electing love till he lay down one night with the stones for his pillow, the hedges for his curtains the skies for his canopy, and no attendant but his God; and as he slept, even there at the furnace-mouth, an exile from his parents and his home, he began to understand that God had highly favoured him in his electing love. Certainly, Israel as a nation did not understand God’s election till the people were in Egypt; and then, when Goshen, the land of plenty, became a land of brickmaking and sorrow and grief, and the iron bondage entered into their souls, they cried unto God, and began to understand that secret word — “I have called my son out of Egypt.” They knew then that God had put a difference between Israel and Egypt. The more they were oppressed the more they multiplied; the more they were afflicted the more God blessed them; and they perceived that the hand of God was in this, and that he had met with them there in the furnace of affliction. Yes, if you want the trysting place of the electing God with the chosen soul, it is just there, at the back of the desert, where the bush burns with fire and yet is not consumed. Now mayest thou put off thy shoe from off thy foot, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground, while out of the bush there comes the voice— “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” God finds his people in the place of trial and distress, and there he reveals himself in his special character as their God. Did he not say to Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and I have heard their cry”?

     We will settle this matter by personal experience. When did you first know anything about God’s choice of you? Was it not when you were in trouble— in many cases in temporal trouble? You had prospered in the world for years, and you knew not God, but you were like the prodigal son, wasting your substance in riotous living. By-and-by things went against you, and you became poor, and sick, and sorry, and then it was that you began to think of the Father’s house, and resolved to fly to it. Then it was that electing love began to deal with you. I own that it was not so in all cases. With some of us it was very different; but I make no kind of exception to another rule, namely, that we first began to learn electing love when we were in spiritual distress. When that fine righteousness of ours turned out to be a spider’s cobweb, when that hope on which we had built so fondly began to rock and reel beneath our feet, when we found ourselves on the borders of death and at the gates of hell; it was then that free grace and dying love rang out most sweetly in our ear. We had often kicked against the doctrine of free grace before, but now we clutched at it as a hungry man at a piece of bread, which before he had despised. We saw that it was the only hope for us, and we turned to it; and, blessed be God, we found salvation. Would our proud wills have ever bent before the sceptre of sovereign grace if they had not first been melted in the furnace of soul-trouble? Should we have ever known that the Lord killeth and maketh alive if we had not ourselves been slain by the fire of his word? Had he not permitted us to lie like Nebuchadnezzar’s guards, slain at the furnace mouth, we should never have known the truth. “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” While we heard the thunder roll — “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion”— we bowed our heads meekly, accepted the grace which was in Christ Jesus, and at the furnace mouth, for the first time in our lives, we understood this text, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”

     II. We will now pass on to a second remark, which prows out of this. It is very clear that THE FURNACE OF AFFLICTION DOES NOT CHANGE THE ELECTION OF GOD. If he chose us in it, then his choice stands good while we are in it and when we are out of it. If the very first knowledge we had of his electing love found us at the gates of despair, we can never be worse than we were then, nor can his love see less to rest upon. If he loved us at our worst, when we were dead in sin, and quickened us, much more, then, now that we are quickened and forgiven, he will continue still to love us. Yet have I known a great many fears cross the mind of God’s anxious people when the smoke of the furnace has brought tears into their eyes. So let me declare a plain word— no amount of trouble, no degree of pain, no possibility of grief can change the mind of God towards his people.

     The furnace may alter the believer’s circumstances, but not his acceptance with God. You were a fine gentleman once, you had a large house and grounds, but now you have to be satisfied with a small room and scant fare. You were a fine well-built young fellow once, but now you are a grey old man. Everybody bade you good morrow once; nobody knows you now. Forsaken by flatterers and forgotten by friends, you might sit down and weep, were it not that the only Being worth caring for loves you now as much as ever, and selects tins as a season for declaring his love towards you. Ah, your Lord did not love you for your coat, nor for your house, nor for your health and beauty, for he “taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man.” He loved you of old for reasons known only to his own sacred heart, and he loves you now the same as ever. O dear soul, do not be at all discouraged because thou art going down the hill into deep adversities, for his love will go with thee. The Lord’s love does not rise and fall like the thermometer according to the temperature of the surrounding air. Oh no, but it abideth the same to his people, whatever their condition.

     The furnace very often alters our friends. They know us before we go into the furnace, we are so fresh and fair they are glad to know us; but we come out so wrinkled and scorched that they are ready to run away from us. Like Job, we have to mourn that our familiar acquaintances forget us. Ay, but God does not thus change He is not “a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent.” “I am God,” saith he, “I change not.” Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, and his friendship never turns to hate or to forgetfulness. Blessed be his name, he hath known my soul in adversity, and made the valley of Achor to be a door of hope to me, and therefore I must and will speak well of his name.

     Yes, and the furnace changes us very wonderfully. Do you think some of you would know yourselves of twenty years ago if you were to meet yourselves in the street? I hardly think you would. You have undergone a marked change; have you not? Aches and pains of body have altered you terribly. Your juvenile elasticity of spirit has altogether vanished, and your outward appearance is very much the worse for wear. Ah, you have altered, but your God has not. What a mercy it is that though eternal ages roll over his immutability, they cannot effect the shadow of a turning. He standeth fast like the great mountains, and we, like the clouds that melt upon the mountain’s brow, do come and go, for we are, and are not— the mists of an hour. He is the same, and of his years there is no end, and this is our consolation while we sing with Moses, “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”

     I want you to believe very firmly in the fixity of the divine choice, so that when you next enter the furnace you may have no doubt about eternal faithfulness. When you lie sick by the week or by the month together, or when you are driven away from home, or plunged in poverty, or bereaved of friends, do not say in your heart, “God has forgotten to be gracious. He hath cast me away from his heart.” It cannot be, for the bonds of divine love cannot be snapped. To prevent its being supposable that the Lord casts away his people, because they are in adverse circumstances, the text says the very contrary— “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” 

     III. So now we hasten onward to notice another truth. Thirdly, THE FURNACE IS THE VERY ENSIGN OF ELECTION.

     The escutcheon — the coat of arms— of election is the furnace. You know that it was so in the old covenant which God made with Abraham. He gave him a type when the victim was divided. When a deep sleep fell upon the patriarch there passed before him a smoking furnace and a burning lamp,— two signs that always mark the people of God. There is a lamp to light them, but there is also a smoking furnace to try them. “No cross, no crown,” was true of old as it is true now. It is the escutcheon of the covenant. If you think of our great Master’s dying will and testament, what is its prominent codicil? “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” You may be quite sure that if you belong to Jesus “in the world ye shall have tribulation.” Do you want to erase that sentence from the will? Then, you must give up the whole deed of gift; you must give up the sweet blessing as well as that which looks like a bitter warning. The child of God must feel the smarting rod. Sooner or later, in some form or other, the Lord sets his mark upon his people, and his mark is the furnace mark. Some of you youngsters have not received it yet. You will have it. Before you get to heaven you are sure to have it. As the king sets a broad arrow on all his stores, so does the King of kings set his mark on all his people. You must, I say, pass under the rod of the covenant, it is the ensign of God’s love. Do you not see that thus he show's his love to his own? You do not think of giving a flogging to a boy who is none of yours. A stranger may do as he likes, but if it is your own boy who is caught in mischief, you will not spare the rod. If you are a child of the devil, you may go and sin as you please, and may even prosper all the more in worldly things; but if you are one of God’s children, you will be scourged as sure as you transgress. Has he not himself said, “You only have I known of ail the nations of the earth, therefore I will punish you for your iniquities.”

     That the Lord refines us shows his value of us. A man does not build an elaborate furnace and then cast into it odd stones and heaps of useless slag. You would say, “What are you wasting all your fuel for?” and he could not give you a rational answer. But if you see ingenious contrivances, lavish use of fuel, and the application of refining apparatus, and the person who is using them says, “This is silver, or this is gold;” you know at once that the ore is worth the fuel, and will repay the labour and expense. So, dear friends, if we are precious in the sight of the Lord, he will bring us through the fire; rest assured of that. If he regards us as mere refuse he may let us rest in quiet, but for precious ore there are many torturing processes in store. A man does not take his knife and go through the wood and prune all the dog roses, and the blackberries, and the hawthorns; he does not care enough about them. But if he be a gardener, see how he purges the vines and cuts the fruit trees. My gardener cut my roses back so very much that I thought no flowers could ever come, but when I saw the luxuriant roses I owned that he and his knife knew more than I. Good roses must be cut back; and God’s saints must be afflicted. God’s people will pay for pruning, but wild vines will not. So it is a type and mark of the love which God has for them that he chooses them in the furnace of affliction.

     And it is a mark, in another way, that when God afflicts his children it shows that he is not going to let them have their portion in this life. It was a deed characteristic of Martin Luther when a great man called to see him, and having spent some few hours with him, gave him, I think, a hundred crowns. Martin said, “I must get rid of this; I will not have my portion in this life, I must give this to the poor at once.” He used to talk in this fashion— God gives his dogs plenty. See how rich is the Pope, and the Grand Turk: they can have any quantity of gold and silver, but I am not his dog, and I am not going to be fed so. He is not going to put me off with gold and silver. I am looking for my heritage in the world to come. Now, my brethren, the Lord does not try many of you in that manner. He keeps you on short commons, embitters your bread, and mingles wormwood with your cup. Why is this? Why, because you are not to have your portion here. You once half thought you might have two heavens, but you were deceived. The other day you began feathering your nest, but a sharp thorn has been put into it of late. You are one of the Lord’s birds, and he wants you to be much on the wing, and little in the nest, therefore does he make it uneasy for you. This is not your rest, make it as comfortable as you may. Though godliness hath the promise of the life that now is, yet this is not our rest; and woe unto us if we try to make it so. All the trees in this forest are marked with the axe, and they are all to come down: you may build up there, Sir Crow, as fine a nest as you desire, but it must come down. Build your nests, my brethren, on the everlasting rocks where God’s eagles make their eyrie, high above the reach of time and change, in the eternal purpose and everlasting love of God; for your portion is not for the present, neither can you be satisfied with the world, try as you will. Enough upon this point: it is plain that the furnace is one of the ensigns of the election of grace.

     IV. Fourthly, THE FURNACE IS THE WORKSHOP OF ELECTING LOVE.

     What are we elected to, if God has chosen us? Why, he has chosen us unto holiness. There is no man in this world chosen to go to heaven apart from being made fit to go there. We are chosen to he made the children of God, chosen to be made like Christ. Well, now, in the hand of God, the blessed Spirit, the furnace often becomes very helpful to this end, for it consumes much of our dross. Do you ask me what sort of dross does a man lose in the furnace? I answer, affliction helps to remove many a superfluity of naughtiness, but there is one which I will tell you of at once, and that is mushroom faith, and wild-fire joy. We have a great store of the fictitious and unreal, especially when we begin. Then we are mighty big Christians, and are likely to surpass all that have gone before us. I do not know whether we have not reached the higher life, but certainly we are quite near it, for we are very rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing. It is wonderful what fine saints we are until we are tried, and then our beauty consumes away like a moth. The Lord puts us into the furnace three or four days, and we wonder where one-half of us has gone. He keeps us there another week or two, and we shrivel in a most satisfactory manner. What have we lost? Any grace? No, brother, no man ever lost any grace in the furnace yet. What have we lost? Well, we have lost what we thought was grace: we have lost spiritual gas. We have parted with vast accumulations of self-conceit, self-confidence, and self-esteem, and instead of glorying in ourselves we begin to cry for mercy out of the very dust. I have known a child of God so big that he could hardly get inside the door of any ordinary meetinghouse, and by the time that the Lord had given him a twist or two he was glad enough to creep into a mousehole, so long as he might be somewhere near the people of God. Sanctified affliction is a wonderfully diminishing process, and that is the way we grow: we grow by becoming less and less in our own esteem; and the Lord uses the furnace on purpose to this end— to take away fictitious grace. Some of our young friends on a sudden descend into the pit of despair, and we are very grieved for them; but it is the best thing that can happen to them, for when they find their feet again they will have learnt how to walk in a much more careful and godly manner than they did before. So you see that electing love uses the furnace to consume our dross.

     The Lord uses the furnace also to prepare the soul for a more complete fashioning. The metal must be melted before it can be poured into the mould, and affliction is used by the Holy Ghost to melt the heart, to make it tender and pliable, and to fit it to receive the fashion and take the shape of the sacred mould into which heavenly wisdom delivers it.

     Besides, affliction has much to do in loosening a Christian from this world, and this is a great and needful part of his education, seeing that he is not to be here long, and yet is as apt to cling to earth as if he would dwell here eternally. He is soon to be up and away to his estates on the hill tops, yet he clings to this poor earth, and would hug it yet more if it were not that the Lord makes it bitter to him. One said of old, “My soul is even as a weaned child.” A great many might far more truly say, “My soul is even as a weaning child— very fretty and very wilful, but not at all ready to give up its childish delights.” A blessed thing it is when there has been enough furnace-work to make a man say, “I have done with the world. Now all my thoughts rise towards the world to come, for there my treasure is laid up.”

     My time flies so rapidly that I cannot stop long on any one branch of this very fruitful topic. There is no doubt that electing love does use the furnace as its workshop, and that there the vessels of mercy are made to receive many a line of beauty and mark of grace.

     V. But now, fifthly, THE FURNACE IS A GREAT SCHOOL WHEREIN WE LEARN ELECTION ITSELF.

     First, in the furnace we learn the graciousness of election. When a child of God in the time of trouble sees the corruption of his heart— the little hell, the perfect Sodom which reeks within his nature— he begins to say, “How can the Lord ever love me? If he has loved me, his affection must be traced to grace, free grace, sovereign grace, boundless grace, and nothing but grace.” Now, that is a great thing to learn.

     There, too, we learn the holiness of election, for while we lie suffering, a voice says, “God will not spare thee, because there is still sin in thee: he will cleanse thee from every false way.” Then we see what a holy thing God’s election is; how clean they must be who are to stand in his presence; how he would have his favourites loathe every sin; how God sees it better that his children should always smart than that they should sometimes sin. He will sooner make them bleed at every pore, than he will allow their hearts to go after their idols. What a holy thing election is, when it involves rebukes and chastisements in order to our perfecting.

     Then, too, in the furnace we see what a loving thing election is, for never is God so loving to his people consciously as when they are in the flames of trouble. How tenderly he presses them to his bosom in their hour of grief The mother always loves her child; but let that child be ill, let it pine away, let it become weaker and weaker, and you will see the mother’s heart. She loves that child better than the others, because it needs more love. And when the Lord allows his dear children to grow poor, or to become distressed in mind or in body, then he lets out his heart to them; then will he show them his love in such choice and delicate ways as perhaps they never knew before.

     It is at such times that God’s people know the power of electing love. “Ah,” cries the instructed believer, “I can see now how the decree of God preserves my soul alive. I am in the furnace, and if he had not kept me, the vehement heat would long ago have utterly consumed me.” If you want to see what the power of God can do for a believer you must stand where Nebuchadnezzar stood, and look into the red mouth of the furnace. Those who threw in the holy children themselves perished by reason of the vehemence of the flames; so that there was no fancy about the fire, it was real and killing flame. Look steadily in— your eye can bear the gaze. You see three men walking. They were cast in bound, but they are walking loose. Three, did I say? There are four. There is a mystic stranger with them— one who wears a crown, brighter than all the crowns of earth— but who is he? “The fourth is like unto the Son of God.” Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego had never seen the Son of God so near them as when they trod the glowing coals. Is it not written, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction”? When thou goest through the fire thou shalt not be burned. The Lord’s choice of thee shall be shown by his bearing thee company.

     Ay, beloved, and it is at such times that the sweetness of God’s electing love comes home to the Christian heart, for he joys and rejoices in his tribulation while he is conscious of the love of God. I would not change my estate— no, not in the furnace— with the bravest worldling that lives. When everything else is gone, if electing love remains, I am rich to all the intents of bliss; let me be sure of almighty love, and all the rest is not worth a thought.

     So, beloved, you learn election in the furnace; and, though I do not desire any believer the slightest harm, but wish him every blessing, yet as to some of my Christian brethren who never go very far into the deep things of God, and are very cloudy about the doctrines of grace, and cannot, indeed, say “grace” without somehow stuttering “free will,” I would to God that they had a little touch of the furnace for their eternal good. A scorch or two might do them good, and they might, perhaps, be better able to speak to the praise of the glory of that infinite eternal grace which chose the saints of old, and will not cast them away.

     VI. Now, lastly, by the furnace SOME OF THE HIGHER ENDS OF A YET MORE SPECIAL ELECTION ARE OFTEN REVEALED, for there is not only an election of grace, but there is an election from among the elect to the highest position and to the noblest service. Jesus Christ had many choice disciples, but it is written, “I have chosen you twelve.” Out of the twelve there were three— you know their names; and out of the three there was one, elect out of the elect— that loving, tender John, who leaned upon his Master’s bosom.

     The furnace has much to do with this, as a rule, since it usually attends and promotes the higher states of grace, and the wider ranges of usefulness. First with the preacher this truth is seen; affliction makes him eminent. I do not think that the preacher will long feed God’s saints if he does not read in that volume which Luther said was one of the three best books in his library, namely, affliction. That book is printed in the black letter, but it has some wonderful illuminations in it, and he who would teach the people must often weep over its chapters. Men never bake bread so well as when the oven is well heated, nor do we prepare sermons so well as when the fire burns around us. When we have been in heaviness ourselves we are able to talk experimentally to the tried children of God. When the Lord means to train any one of his servants for eminent usefulness in the building up of his people, he passes him through the fire: edification comes of tribulation. So is it with the Christian hero, he could never lead the host if he had not been chastened of the Lord in secret places. Men who have stood in the front of the armies of God have been trained by adversity. Martin Luther— grand, brave man— have you ever read his private biography? He was a man so tempted and so tried, and so frequently the victim of depression of spirits and dire despondency, that he was often ready to die in despair. There were times when he did not know whether he had any part or lot in the glad tidings which lie loved so well. Though he went on thundering out the gospel for other people, he sometimes could get no comfort himself. Those awful conflicts of his with the devil were the means of confirming his spirit in his public controversies. How should he be afraid of the Pope, when he had faced the devil himself? He could not fear to go to Worms because of the devils on the housetops of which he spoke, for he had faced all the infernal legions in his own house and had overcome them. Look at Calvin, again, that mightiest master in Israel, clear, upright, and profound; he suffered daily under a list of diseases, any one of which would have made a constant invalid of a less courageous man; and, although always early in the morning at the cathedral, delivering his famous expositions which have enriched the Church of God, yet he always bore about with him a body full of anguish. Nor could England find a Wycliffe, nor Scotland a Knox, nor Switzerland a Zwingle, except it be where the refiner sits at the furnace door. It must be so. No sword is fit for our Lord’s handling till it has been full oft annealed.

     Well, as it is with the preachers and heroes, so it will be with us if we would rise. I would have you greatly aspire in holy things. Labour after a perfectly consecrated life. Abjure all selfishness, and live for the salvation of souls, and the glory of God: but remember that you will not reach it except by many a trial. Do you aspire to be Christly? I trust you do. But you never will be like Jesus if you never bear a cross. If your life is one of ease, can you be like to him who had not where to lay his head? If you never know a self-denial, if you never have a reproach heaped upon you; if no man ever calls you devil, or mad, if everything goes swimmingly with you, how can you know fellowship with the despised and rejected of men? God’s true people are opposed by the current of the times, even as their Master was. Oh, yes, it will cost you many a sorrow, many a tear, if you are to follow your Master fully; but do not therefore, hesitate. Do you want to be heavenly? I know some that are already in a measure so. I could indicate some members of this church whose speech is savoured with eternity and glory: they cannot speak half-a-dozen sentences but their speech betrayeth them that they have been with Jesus. Mark well this fact — they are tried people; they are mostly sick people of whom I would dare to say that they are heavenly. We ought all to be so; but oh, my brethren, we are very little what we should be till we are put upon the anvil, and the Lord uses the hammer upon us. If he is doing that now with any of you, and you have crosses to bear, do not repine, but let the soft whisper of the text sustain you— “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” There are tokens of consumption about you, dear sister: I see that hectic flush, but do not dread the future, for the Lord saith, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” You have struggled hard, my brother, to rise out of your situation; but as often as you have striven you have fallen back again with broken wing to your somewhat hard lot. Do not be despondent, but abide in your calling with contentment, since the Lord hath said, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Young man, you have been to college, and you were near taking your degree; but your health is failing you, and you will never become a renowned scholar, as you hoped. Do not distress yourself because your part will be passive rather than active, for the Lord says, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Merchant, your firm is going to pieces, you will be poor; but have faith in God. It is the Lord’s will that you should go struggling through the rest of your life; but he says, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Mother, you have lost three or four little ones, and there is another sickening, and you say, “I cannot bear it.” Yes, you will bear it, for the Lord says, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” And art thou here, Hannah? Art thou here to-night, thou woman of a sorrowful spirit? Is thine adversary bitter of spirit toward thee? Are there those about thee that grieve thee and make thee fret? Weep no more, for the Lord loves thee when no one else does, and he says, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Some of you are like ferns; you never flourish except in the damp and in the shade. Too much sunlight would not be good for you. Some plants need a marsh and a fog to develope them, and perhaps you are such. Perhaps your Master knows that if he put you where you would like to be it would be deadly to you and therefore he writes, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”

     Now, I take my leave of you all by a morsel of personal experience. My Lord met me to-night, and said, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction,” and I endeavoured to reply to him, “My Lord, inasmuch as thou dost graciously condescend to say ‘I have chosen thee,’ I leave the rest of the sentence entirely to thy will, and ask not whether it be in the furnace or out of it. Choose me, and then choose everything for me. If thou choosest the furnace I would choose the furnace too.” Remember the good woman who, when they said to her, because she was very ill, “Would you rather live or die?” replied, “I would rather God’s will were done.” “Oh,” said they, “but if God would let it be just as you wish, which should it be?” She replied, “If the Lord were to leave it to my will, I would beg him to be so good as to let it be his will, and not mine.” O, beloved, pray “Not as I will” Grief is almost ended when self is slain. Sorrow well nigh ceases to be sorrow when you take the sting of self out of it.

     The Lord be with you, for Christ’s sake. Amen.



A Great Bargain

By / Jun 22

A Great Bargain

 

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”— Matthew xiii. 45, 46.

 

A MERCHANTMAN endeavours to trade so as to make a profit. Whether he deals in pearls or in grain, he does not hope to obtain riches by labour. He leaves that to those who eat their bread in the sweat of their face. He tries to get his by the sweat of his brain. He is dependent not so much upon labour as upon knowledge, upon skill, upon the advantage which superior acquaintance with the article which he deals in gives to him. Now, this merchantman is, at the very commencement, in some measure a picture of the seeker after Christ. Christ and his salvation are not to be earned; they are not to be procured as the result of labour. But Christ is to be had by knowledge. What saith the Scripture? “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many that is, through their knowing Christ they become justified. This is, indeed, another way of putting the system of salvation which is stated thus: “How shall I hear without a preacher?” The work begins with hearing the preacher; then it goes on to believing what they hear, and through believing they are saved. This is virtually knowledge— the knowledge communicated by God’s messenger or by God’s word— the knowledge heard, the knowledge believed. So men come to the knowledge of him whom to know is life eternal, for when a man knows Christ and understands him, so that he gives his heart to him, then is he saved. Inasmuch, then, as the merchantman seeks his advantage by superior knowledge, he becomes a type of the man who gets saved through obtaining the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

     I shall not, however, enlarge upon this analogy, but proceed at once to speak of the merchantman in this parable; for here we have a fit emblem of many who lay hold on Christ and find him to be their all in all. Let us watch this merchantman while he is doing four things; first, seeking; then, finding; then selling out; and, fourthly, buying again.

     I. First, then, we shall WATCH HIM WHILE HE IS SEEKING. “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls.” It is different from the man we read of just now who, by accident, dis covered a treasure while he was in the field. He was looking for something else, and came upon the treasure. That is the man whom God, in infinite sovereignty, saves, though he was heretofore indifferent and careless. This is a person of a nobler sort. He is of a higher grade of mind— of altogether different mental constitution. He is seeking goodly pearls— something good, not exactly seeking the one pearl of great price, for at first he does not know about it; but, still, he is seeking pearls, and he comes upon one pearl in consequence of his seeking.

     Now, notice about him, as a seeker, that he has his mind aroused and engaged. He is thinking about something— thinking about pearls. His heart is occupied with his business. His energies are thrown into it. All his thoughts are in the direction of precious stones. Oh that we could wake men up to exercise the faculty of thinking, and then to direct, to regulate, and to control their thoughts! But thinking is an occupation that a great many persons altogether dislike. They are frivolous. We cannot get them to think about anything. Why is it that people are so passionately fond of reading novels, and so seldom read the true histories which are quite as interesting, and far more capable of affording pleasure and pastime? It is because the minds of men are frivolous. An idle tale— a silly story of a love-sick maid— will engross them by the hour together; but anything that is solid and worth the knowing seems to have small charm for their shallow brains. Many minds never get on the wing at all. Not a few men work so hard with their hands, and suffer such fatigue from bodily labour, that they are scarcely able to think much; while there are others who dissipate their [time and consume their lives in idleness, till they are utterly disqualified for any vigorous thought. They are lazy and sluggish. They have the dry rot in their very souls. Their brains do not work. They seem to live in one everlasting lethargy and day-dream. Oh that men were wise, that they were thoughtful! Happy were the preacher who knew that he was addressing himself to a thoroughly intelligent, thoughtful congregation. We should expect, then, that the handfuls of good seed would drop into the furrows readily, and bring forth an abundant harvest. This merchantman’s mind was aroused. He had something before him.

     Equally evident is it that he had a fixed definite object. He had given himself to pearl-hunting, and pearl-hunting was to be the one object of his life. If you had met him, and said, “What are you seeking?” he would have answered in a moment, “I am seeking good pearls: have you any to sell me?” He would have been sure to have the answer ready to hand. But ask many a man whom you meet with, “Sir, what are you living for?” he would, perhaps, tell you what his trade or what his profession might be; but if you pressed him with the question, “What is the main object of life?” he would not like to say that he was living only to enjoy himself— seeking his own pleasure. He would hardly like to say that he was living to grasp and grab and get a fortune. He would hardly know how to answer you. Many young men are in this condition: they have not a definite object. Now, you will not make a good captain if you do not know the port you are sailing for. You will make a poor life of it, young man, if you go out as an apprentice, and then afterwards out as a master, with no definite aim and end. Say to yourself, “I can only live for two things. I can live for God, or I can live for the devil; which now am I going to do?” Get your mind well fixed and firmly resolved as to which it shall be. I will put it to you as boldly and baldly as even Elijah did when he said, “If Baal be God, serve him; and if Jehovah be God, serve him.” If the world, if the flesh, if the devil be worth serving, go follow out the career of a sensualist and say so. Let yourself know what you are at: but if God be worth serving, and your soul worth the saving, go in for that; but do not sneak through this world really seeking yourself, and yet not having the courage to say to yourself, “Self, you are living for yourself.” Do have a definite and distinct object or else your vital energies will be wasted and your most industrious days will be recklessly squandered.

     This merchantman, in the next place, had an object which was not at all common-place. Other people might go in for bricks and stones, or for grain, or for timber. He went in for pearls. He was a merchantman seeking pearls, and those the best he could pick up. He did not go in for common sea pearls, or pearls such as you may get in a Scotch river, but he went in for goodly pearls. He took a high aim, as far as that line of action was concerned. He went into a fine business. I would to God that many who have not found Christ nevertheless had sufficient of common-sense, sprinkled over with grace, to say, “I will go in for something good. My life shall not be a mean one”—

“Lives of great men all remind us
We may make our lives sublime.”

It augers well for a young man when he has such an aspiration as this within him, “My life, too, shall be sublime. I will not seek mean or menial objects, I will not cultivate any depraved or grovelling tastes. I will seek something that I can commend to my own conscience— something that will bear reflection when I come to die— something that will carry the sterling mark when I have to value it in another world.” O young merchantman, if thou art about to start in business, I recommend thee this business of seeking goodly pearls. Seek truth, seek honour, seek temperance, seek peace, seek love, seek that which will make thee good and true and right. I will tell thee anon where thou mayest find these, but for the present it may suffice me to inculcate a laudable ambition for everything that is honest and of good repute, and an eager desire with thy heart for that which thy conscience commends.

     He went thus, to seek pearls, and he sought them with diligence. The merchantman was seeking goodly pearls. He did not open a shop, and say, “Pearls bought here if anybody likes to bring them but he went forth in quest of them. How far he travelled I do not know; but the oriental trader frequently goes immense distances. You may meet a Nijni-Novgorod, in the south of Russia, with traders who have been all round the globe seeking what they want— men who do not always travel by railway, but who will walk any distance to obtain the very article on which they have set their minds, and in which they deal. Distance seems with them to be no object. Ah, and when a man has got a noble object before him, and says, “Before I die, I will accomplish something that shall be right and true and beneficial to my follow men,” he will face hardships that would baffle his fellows. I pray God that he may have the perseverance to carry that out, and that he may say, “Is there anything right to be learned: I will learn it, let it cost, me what it may of care and toil, of headaches and heartaches, of buying experience and burning the midnight oil. If there is anything to be done that is good and true, I will do it at any hazard, for I am seeking goodly pearls.”

     And as the man was seeking, so he was using discrimination at the same time. When we are very diligent and full of desire we are in imminent danger of being easily deceived; but this man seeking goodly pearls was not like a lady unacquainted with the nature of pearls, but he was a merchantman who knew a pearl when he saw it. He knew the character of pearls and the value of pearls; he could tell which were cloudy, and which had a soft radiance, and which were of the first water. Indeed, he could tell a genuine pearl from an imitation one. He was a merchantman seeking goodly pearls. Yes, dear friend, and I pray God that if he put into the heart of any brother here to live for the right and for the true, he would give you great discrimination, for there are many shams in the world, and you may readily grasp that which appears to be substantial goodness, and it may turn out to be a shadow. Seek not pearls alone, but seek goodly pearls. Go in for the good; yea, cast your soul about to find the best.

     Evidently this merchant went into the business with comparatively moderate expectations. He was seeking pearls. They must be of a tolerable size, and pure. He evidently expected to buy a good many of them. It was what he was seeking, seeking goodly “pearls (in the plural). He had not reckoned that he should be fortunate enough to light upon one huge pearl that should be worth an emperors ransom. That he had not looked for, though he did feel a desire that way. If anybody had said, “Would you like to find a big pearl?” he would have said, “That I would, infinitely better than to find a number of little ones.” He hardly hoped for it, and therefore he did not seek it; but, still, he was ready enough to have it if it came in his way. And so, my dear friends, I am speaking of a class of persons— and I hope there may be representatives of them here — who want everything they can get that is good and true. You want to be temperate in all things; you want to have an unsullied character. I recollect that was my own desire, when first I thought of the life that lay beyond me. Before I knew the Lord I used to think, “O that I might be kept from dishonesty, that I might be preserved from falsehood, that I might be kept from a malicious spirit, that I might be right-hearted and true.” Those were the pearls that I wanted. I did not know just then that I could find something that would include all these minor pearls and a good deal more. Still, it is well when such a desire as that is in the heart especially of any young man. I wish it were in the heart of the old, if up till now they have never found the pearl of great price.

     Thus have I shown you the man while he is seeking. I wonder whether he has come in here to-night, and is sitting amongst this assembly. Perhaps it is not a man at all, but a woman, a merchant woman. They can do trading well. Lydia, that seller of purple, was, no doubt, an admirable tradeswoman, and in the divine trade of which we are now speaking there is no difference. Well, you do not know the Lord yet, dear friends, but you do want to seek everything that is excellent. So far so good.

     II. Let us go a stage farther, then, and look at this man’s FINDING. He was buying pearls everywhere. Where he went he asked people if they had any pearls. He went down back streets, into the slums of big cities, and found out the Jews in those old days, living in the dirtiest corners of the city. He wanted to know whether they had any pearls. It was pearls of a morning, pearls at mid-day, pearls at night. If under his window at night anybody had cried, “Pearls!” he would have been downstairs in a trice to get them. He was hard after pearls; and so it came to pass that he lit upon a pearl that he never hoped to see. It was more than he expected. Ah, I pray God that some here, whose hearts are honestly seeking after that which is right, may find Christ, who has in him more of the spirit of temperance, uprightness, truth, philanthropy than will be found anywhere else. Oh, that they might find him who is the truth, and whose doctrine is perfect holiness and everlasting life. It will be more than they ever expected to find; but when they do find it, how glad they will be. Certainly this man was in the way of finding a fine pearl if anybody was. He was seeking goodly pearls, not the one pearl; but he was in the pearl line, and so he was likely to discover the best pearl if anybody discovered it. “Being in the way, the Lord met with him,” says one of old. Oh, if thou hast desires after that which is right and true and good, I trust that the Lord Jesus will manifest himself to you, and that you will say, “This is the very thing I sought for; I have longed and pined after it, and here it is.”

     This find was to this merchantman a remarkable one. He did not find goodly pearls: he found what was much better, one pearl; and to him that one pearl contained all the little pearls that he had aforetime been seeking after. Tell it, and let all men know it, that all that is good beneath the moon— all that is true, all that is right, all that is loving, all that is philanthropic, all that is of good report, commendable before God and praiseworthy among men, is to be found in the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, and will be given to us, and wrought in us when we submit ourselves to him, and make him our all in all. He who is a Christian, if he be perfectly a Christian, has all good things in one. If there be aught that is to be praised and extolled by philosopher or sage, you shall find it in the example of the Master, and he will give us grace to exhibit it in ourselves.

     So this man found all in one. What the value of that pearl was I do not know. The estimate of its value is not given. We only know that he thought it worth all that he had; and he went away and sold all that he had that he might buy it. And he evidently thought it worth all the other pearls he had ever been seeking for, because if he spent his all upon that one pearl it would be clear that he must have abandoned henceforth the searching after smaller pearls, since he had no capital left. But he thought the one pearl of more account than all other pearls, and worth more than all that he had. Yes; I warrant you that he thought it worth a great deal more than all that he possessed. He would not have sold all that he had in stock to buy it if he had not the notion that it was worth ten times the price then, and that when he had paid it all he should have made his fortune, and should be rich beyond a miser’s dream, for that is how traders in such things are sure to fetch their bargains. Well, when a man finds Christ I cannot tell you how much he values him, but this I know, that all the world besides seems nothing to a Christian when he has once found his Lord and Master. “Oh what a Christ have I!” saith he. But he cannot tell how dear— how inconceivably precious— the Christ of God is to his soul.

     Concerning this find we must mark next that the man having found it, was resolved that he would have it. Having found the pearl of great price, he did not question whether he should buy it or not. If he had not gone out honestly to seek pearls he would have demurred at the price, but being intent upon pearl finding, he no sooner found this than he said, “I must have that. I can let the little pearls go if you like, but I must have that.” And it is a grand thing when the Lord brings the human mind to this. “I see that in Christ there is everything I want— pardon for my sin, cleansing for my nature, grace to maintain my character and to make me perfectly fit for heaven. There is all in Christ that I want, and I must have him. I must have him. It comes to this— at any price— whatever it may cost me, I must and I will have him.”

     Now, although the parable docs not say it in so many words, it is perfectly clear that the person with whom he was dealing was willing to sell. When he had found one pearl of great price he bought it, which he could not have done if the other had not been ready to sell it. Albeit the Lord in his mercy does not sell his grace, but gives it freely, the manner in which he disposes of it is here described under the figure of selling. If you want Christ, you may have him, if you are willing to come to the terms which God lays down. Of this I shall have to speak presently. If you desire this pearl of great price, there is no reason in the world why that pearl should not be yours to-night. If now you have found him, who is “the chiefest among ten thousand” and “altogether lovely,” and you value him so that you cannot be happy without him, lie will become at once your portion. If, having heard of Christ, your desire is toward him as all your soul can need, and you are ready to say, “I will not leave this house of prayer till Christ is mine,” there is no obstacle to your possessing this priceless boon. Yea, God, even the Father, is willing that you should have his only begotten Son to be your pearl henceforth and for evermore.

     III. Having thus described the seeker, and described the finder, we must go on to describe him SELLING OUT. He sold out all that he had. It had taken him a long time to get it together, and I have no doubt he had much pleasure in the accumulation, but now he has great pleasure in selling. “Buy my farm,” he says to one man. “Come buy it.” “I don’t know that I want to buy farms,” says the other. “It is nought: it is nought.” “Nevertheless, let us come to terms. I want money, and I must have money.” And away went the furniture down in the house, one article after another. They must all go, clear them all out. There was a rapid sale. He must have money. They must go; everything must go for that pearl. Though he did not tell anybody his motive, that pearl was on his brain and on his heart, and all must go. He is more glad to get rid of his possessions than ever he was to obtain them. Away they shall go at the best price they will fetch, but go they must, for he must have the pearl. Well now, Jesus Christ is to be had, but there is a great deal that a man must give up if he is ever to call Christ his own.

     “What, then,” says one, “what am I to give up?” Well, there must be a selling off to-night of a whole mass of old prejudices. Sometimes when the truth as it is in Jesus comes to a man’s mind he repels it, because it is so different from what he has learnt ever since he was a child; and the notion is that you had better follow the religion of your parents. If you had been a Hottentot, you would have worshipped a fetish. If you had been born in Hindustan, you must have worshipped Juggernaut, according to that theory. But it is a great mercy when a man says, “Now, I understand that Jesus the Son of God has died in the room and place and stead of sinners that believe in him, and I am simply to believe in him and I shall be saved. On my believing I shall receive a new nature and be born again by the Holy Spirit, and henceforth I shall become the disciple and the servant of Christ. Now,” says the man, “I will do it. It is contrary to what I have always been told. I have been led to think that it was my good works which would save me. I have heard that the grace was in the sacraments, but at length I perceive that God teaches in his word that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ, and I will have it. I will sell my prejudices off. Away they shall go.”

     Next to that you must sell off your righteousness. It will not fetch much, but I daresay you think it is a fine thing. Hitherto you have been very good, and your own esteem of yourself is that as touching the commandments — “all these have I kept from my youth up.” And what with a good deal of church going, or attendance at the meeting house, and a few extra prayers on a Christmas-day and on Good Friday, and just a little dose of sacraments, you feel yourself in tolerably good case. Now, friend, that old moth-eaten righteousness of yours that you are so proud of you must sell off and get rid of it, for no man can be saved by the righteousness of Christ while he puts any trust in his own. Sell it all off, every rag of it. And suppose nobody will buy it, at any rate you must part with it. Assuredly it is not worth putting amongst the filthiest of rags, for it is worse than they are.

     And everything else that you have heretofore thought fit to boast of — come, you must get rid of it. You know so much. Well, you had better sell off what you know, for except a man become as a little child he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. You are somebody, you fancy you are not cast in a common mould, for you have a great strength of will, and can force your own way to heaven. You will have to get rid of that little conceit, for that strength of yours will be your weakness. It is only when we are weak in ourselves that we can ever be strong in Christ. Are you contented so to do? Will you sell off all the old prejudices and all the old righteousnesses? Going, gone! Will you let them go, or have you got a reserve price? Let them go, for they are dross and dung, and the sooner they are gone the better, for then you can buy the pearl, but not till then.

     Ay, and there are some men that will have to give up a good deal of what they call pleasure, sinful pleasure. No pleasure which is honest, which is really beneficial to us, need ever be denied to us.

“Religion never was designed
To make our pleasures less.”

It makes them vastly more. But any pleasure that savours of sin is to be done away with. Come, can you sell all that off? That mixing in loose company, anything approaching to lewdness, anything that has to do with the gratification of the vile passions of the flesh— come, for Christ’s sake, can you give it up? Well, if you cannot, of course you cannot have the pearl. If you must have the world you cannot have Christ; if you can find pleasure in the haunts of sin, you are of your father the devil, and his works you do. But come out from it; give it all up; cast it behind you. These things must be sold off if we are to have the pearl.

     And, then, sometimes, in some cases, men have to give up a good deal of the honours and the satisfaction of life that arise from the esteem of their fellow-creatures. Has it come to this, “If I become a Christian they will ridicule me.” Well now, can you not put up with a little obloquy for Christ? “But if I am an earnest Christian then I shall have to encounter all sorts of slander.” Be it so, and can you not give up the applause of men for the sake of Christ? Come and let the dogs tear your character to shreds so long as you are right before him, and your motive is pure. “Ay, but I know what it is. I shall get the cold shoulder in society if I become a thoroughly earnest Christian. There is Lady So-and-so, for whom I have very great respect, whose good opinion I would not forfeit on any account, and she will not recognise me any more.” Very well, can you put the whole lot of it into the scale and say, “I sell it all off; let it all go, that I may have the pearl.” That man is not worthy of Christ who would be ashamed to stand in the pillory with him, or go with him to prison and to death. We must so love him that we count reproach for his sake to be honour, even as Moses counted the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt.

     “Well, you have taken enough surely.” Yes, but this pearl hunter sold all that he had, and you have got a little left. You have got some prospects. If you become a Christian your old uncle will cut you out of his will. You know very well that if you shall go to hear the gospel at such and such a place you are very likely to be turned out of your situation. “But we must live,” says somebody. This is not at all clear to my mind. I do know that we must die, but as to “must living I do not feel quite so certain about it. Infinitely better to die than ever to do a dishonourable thing. If Jesus Christ be our Master, we must be content to let the fairest prospect go, and all things that seem to tell for our success in this life must be secondary in our account. We must seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Ay, and sometimes love that has been longed for must go for Christ’s sake. Company that has been delightful must be forsaken for Christ’s sake, and if all this be done, yet still it is not enough. He that has Christ must give to Christ himself and all that he has. I should doubt whether I were a follower of Christ if I had not in my very soul given up to him all that I am and all that I have, to be for ever his. He has bought us with a price, and it is not surely meet for us to give him one arm, and one eye, and one foot, and half a heart. He that is a true Christian is a Christian through and through. Whatever he possesses of talent, whatever of substance he owns, he looks upon nothing as being his own, but as all belonging to his Master, and he is prepared to use all for his Master’s glory, and to part with all if so it were needful for the maintenance of his Master’s kingdom. The merchantman sold all that be had.

     I think I see you draw back. “This— this is too hard a line.” Very well, if you do not want to buy the pearl, you see— that is to say, if you do not want to make your fortune— for that buying of the pearl was the making of the man’s fortune— if you do not think the pearl is worth it, pray do not have it. It is not possible to estimate the intrinsic value, the real worth oi Christ. We do not cast pearls before swine. If you do not want him there are plenty who do. He need not come begging of you that you will be his customer. God forbid you should refuse, but if you do not want him, then say so. Only do say it, and definitely and distinctly say it, “I will have nothing to do with him.”

     But this man went and sold all that he had. I tell you he was glad to sell it. He counted that the man who bought his farm was doing him a favour. Take it,” he said, “there, I will let you have it under price if you will only let me have the money. I so much want to get money.” No, but he did not dare tell him so much for fear he should go and raise the price, but in his heart, “I do so much want to get that pearl that I really would be obliged to anybody who will take of me that stock off hand.” So if you really want Christ, instead of needing him to urge you to dispose of these poor effects which I have described, you will be eager to be rid of them that Christ may be yours. May the Spirit of God work in you such a high resolve.

     IV. Now, the last thing is THE BUYING. He had sold all that he had, and then he pays the shekels over— pays them over that he may have the pearl, and he gets the pearl. It was a considerate purchase — a deliberate bargain. He did not see the pearl and then in a hurry go and sell his goods and guess at the value of it. No, but he had looked at it, for he was a seeker of pearls. He knew a pearl when he saw it, though I dare say he did not tell the seller all that he had seen in it. He said to himself, “That is a wonderful pearl. If I can get the money— my little stock wont fetch above five hundred pounds— but if I can get it for that, I am a made man.” And so he thought it over. It did not want much thinking over. Oh, if a soul did but know Christ, he would not think twice before he would have him. If men were not such fools— if they had but light from heaven to see the value of my Lord and Master, instead of our standing here and having to beg and persuade and find out new words of commendation, methinks they would only say, “Tell us about him. We will have him. What does he ask of us? What can we do for him? What can we submit to so long as we may but make sure of him who forgives all sin, who gives immediate and perfect salvation to all who trust him? So long as we may have the Christ of whom it is written, He that believeth in him hath everlasting life,’ we shall be content.” It was a well considered purchase.

     And it was an immediate purchase. He did not go home and say, “I shall think about this.” No, but he knew that pearl and he said, “If I let that slip through my fingers I shall never see the like of it again. If anybody else gets that bargain, then I shall have lost the one opportunity of my life.” And so he does but take time enough to go and sell his farm off, and the little land he had, and the little property he had. He was back quickly with his money, only afraid somebody might have slipped in between and offered another thousand or two more than he was able to raise, and that thus he might lose the pearl. So, clear friends, he that cometh to Christ aright may well deliberate about it, but the end of his deliberation ought to be very speedy. “If he is to be had, let me have him. Oh, if I can know my sins forgiven, let me know it. Oh, if by any means I can have peace with God— if I can become a child of God and an heir of heaven— if my eternal happiness can be secured, oh, let it be secured! How is it done? Come, tell me at once. I wish not to leave my seat till I have found that which you speak of.” It was a deliberate bargain— an immediate bargain.

     And then it was a joyful one. I am sure his eyes twinkled as he paid over his money. I should like to have a picture of his face, when at last he had got his pearl. Now, that which he had been all over the world for he had got, only something a great deal better. He had got his pearl, and I dare say he was ready to jump for joy to think that lie had got ready with his money. Ah, when a soul gets Christ it is—

“Happy day, happy day,
For he has washed my sins away.”

It is the beginning of delight to a soul when he can say, “Jesus is mine; I know he is. Grace has enabled me to lay hold upon him.”

     And, oh, what an enriching purchase it was which the man had made. When he had once got the pearl instead of his property he thought to himself, “Why, I have got a hundred times more property now than I had. Though I have given up that bit of land I can buy half a province now, if I like, with this pearl which I have obtained. So, brothers and sisters, if you have ever given up anything for Christ I am sure that the Lord Jesus Christ has made you very ample amends. Some years ago a person rather eccentrically advertised for persons who had been losers by obedience to the divine command— that if any one who had lost anything through love to Christ would apply to him he would make it up. The odd advertisement appeared for some months in one of our religious periodicals. But the oddest thing is that nobody ever answered it. I should have thought that somebody would have tried and made out a case; but nobody did. They cannot make out such a case: they are no losers by Christ. “But,” say some, “the martyrs were, were they not?” Well, they are up there, ask them. They will tell you as you look at them with their ruby crowns, all brilliant in the light of God, as they stand—

“Fairest of the sons light,
Midst the bright ones, doubly bright,”

that they counted it their honour that they should be permitted to lay down their lives for Jesus’ sake. Oh, there is no losing when you deal with him. You will make five hundred per cent, over this exchange; be sure of that. No, it shall be a thousand per cent., for “No man,” says he, “shall lose house and lands for my sake that shall not receive in this world a hundredfold, and in the world to come, life everlasting.”

     This was a final purchase. The merchantman, according to the parable, never went buying pearls anymore. “No,” said he, “no: I have bought a pearl of great price, and now I will go out of the business.” And when a man once finds Christ — ah, then he seeks nothing more. If Jesus Christ be mine, more than all in him I find. He does not want a secondary object. His desires all stay at home, and satisfy themselves with the fulness that is in Christ Jesus. He went out of the pearl hunting line, for he had found all the pearls he should ever want. And it was a purchase he never regretted. The parable does not say that he came back to the seller and said, “There, take your pearl, and let me have my house and lands again.” No, it was done. The great transaction was done. He never wished to have it undone. With his pearl of immense worth he was a rich man, worthy to be the rival of princes, and he felt that it was enough. Oh, blessed are they who can say “It is enough,” and can rejoice and bless and magnify the Lord.

“Now rest, my long-divided heart;
Fix’d on this blissful centre, rest:
With ashes who would grudge to part,
When call’d on angels’ bread to feast?”

     Let me, however, just put in one word of caveat. Take care, dear merchant brothers, that when you buy a pearl you buy a good one— that it is the pearl of great price, because I have known noble spirits whom I have admired and felt ready to weep over; men that have been heroic in the pursuit of that which seemed to them perfectly true, and have made a sacrifice of all that they have for it, and yet they have been deceived. They have grasped antichrist instead of Christ, and welcomed the lie of hell which came to them in the garb of the angel of light. Mind, mind that you get Christ and his truth as you find it revealed in Scripture, and revealed a second time in your own heart by the Holy Ghost, for whatever is short of Christ will prove a cheat and deceive you. Some years ago one of the largest pearls that was ever found passed into the hands of a Russian. It was a very large pearl indeed— as large as an egg, and of a pear shape. He purchased it, the party who had it being ignorant of its value. He was a man of substance, and he kept it, and prepared a house which, though mean on the exterior, was sumptuously furnished within; and he would take his guests into an inner chamber which when it was unlocked contained a table of marble in the centre of which was a box which had to be unlocked with divers keys and the reading of an alphabet, and so forth, and at last he produced this pearl, and he was very chary of ever permitting it to depart from his hand, for it was of immense value. The Emperor of Russia bid an enormous price for it, and promised him honour and rank besides, but he would not part with it. It happened, however, that the possessor of this pearl was implicated— whether truthfully or not I cannot tell— in a conspiracy, and had to leave his home at St. Petersburg. He took with him nothing but his pearl, and came to Paris sufficiently rich in the possession of that pearl. On a certain day the Duke of Brunswick, who was his only rival in such matters, came with some others to see the pearl. The owner unlocked it with great care and much deliberation, and when he had opened it he was observed to turn suddenly pale. It seemed as if he had been stricken with death. Unhappy man! His pearl had suddenly become clouded, as pearls sometimes do. It had been taken with some disease which happens to pearls, if I may so express it. In a short time it would turn to powder; it had ceased to be of any value whatever, and he had come down from a millionaire to a pauper. Yet he had bought a good pearl notwithstanding. There is only one pearl that never can be clouded, and will last right on throughout eternity, and that is the Son of God, “who only hath immortality.” If you get him, you have a hope divine which never can fail you; but if you get a hope in priests or a hope connected with sacramentarianism, or any other hope but that of which Christ is top and bottom, beginning and end, you may make what sacrifice you will, but your brightest prospects will end in bitterest disappointment. The Lord grant that none of us may ever be thus balked of our life-confidence; that no such blank bewilderment may ever fall on our spirits.

     “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord.” The voice of Jesus is heard in this parable of the kingdom describing and directing the seekers. Such persons comprise no small fraction of an assembly like the present. It would indeed be strange if seekers were not always largely represented here, and that in every stage of anxious enquiry. I am sure some of you have seen the pearl you want sparkling before your eyes. I wonder how many of you have resolved to sell all you have to buy it. But who among you all have actually made the pearl your own, and rejoice in its possession? That such of you will go on your way rejoicing there is no doubt; but will you not return and give glory to God? Shall we not have the happiness of greeting you here in the fellowship of the kingdom of his grace? The Lord grant it may be so for Jesus’ sake. Amen.



A Sacred Solo

By / Jun 22

A Sacred Solo

 

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.”— Psalm xxviii. 7.

 

THIS passage has, to my mind, a peculiar charm. I do not know whether it breaks on your ear with like pathos and power. To me it seems charged with softness and sweetness, like some gentle strain of tender music. Let us read it again. “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.” Methinks I see a battle racing furiously, yet he whom it most concerns, after having displayed his prowess and fought valiantly, steps aside, and, sitting down in a quiet place, bomb-proof and almost out of sound of the cannons’ roar, thus talks with his heart. He forgets the raging strife: he is expecting a joyful victory. He knows his weakness, but he has caught a glimpse of the divine strength which is guaranteed to him. He is trembling, perhaps, from the toil of the fight, and yet he rests as one insensibly subdued to settled calm and mild composure: he rests in God. In like manner, I want you, dear friends, to get out of the crowd a while this evening, and take shelter in a quiet place. Forget just now the various troubles of business, the domestic cares which often harass you, and the inward conflicts which vex your souls. Whatever there may be to disturb, distress, or distract you, let it alone. Now, for a while, revel in that sweet peace which God alone can give, the peace of God which passeth all understanding, and say unto your soul, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.”

     The sentence, you will notice, divides itself into three parts. The first tells us of an assured possession— “The Lord is my strength and my shield”; and the second speaks of a definite experience— “My heart trusted in him, and I am helped.” There are no “ifs,” no “buts,” no suspense of the soul midway between hope and fear: he speaks without a trace of hesitancy, for he tells out his own actual experience. The third part of our text very properly closes with an expressed emotion; a very deep emotion it is— “My heart greatly rejoiceth.” And then, you see, the inward emotion is interpreted in a most proper fashion by an audible utterance— “With my song will I praise him.”

     I beg to call your studious attention to the remarkable form of this verse. There is a pair in the case of each of my divisions, and the pair in each case consists of inward and outward. Notice, “The Lord is my strength,” that is inward: “My shield,” that is outward. “My heart trusted in him,” that is inward: “and I am helped,” that is outward. “Therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth,” that is inward: “and with my song will I praise him,” that is outward. It is by no means trifling to note these arrangements in the structure of sacred poetry, for there is a lesson to be learned therefrom: it teaches us that truth and beauty are to be linked together, and that to be holy we need not be uncouth. Full often we may observe a beautiful form and an admirable fashion in the language which embodied the thoughts of the inspired psalmist. If we look at them long enough and meditate upon them fondly enough, we shall discern a symmetry in all his hallowed compositions which charms the taste, rivets the attention, and helps the memory. The sacred poet served the Lord with his best powers, reckoning nothing to be good enough for the Lord whom he loved so well. Slovenly preaching, doggerel verses, and discordant singing ought to be avoided, if possible, and our devotion should have the sweetest possible expression.

     I. Let us begin with the first division of our text, and may the Spirit of God give us full faith to accept it in all its depth of meaning. We have here A SURE POSSESSION,— “The Lord is my strength and my shield.”

     With a double grip he takes hold of the divine covenant. “The Lord is my strength and my shield.” He gets a two-handed grasp of the God of salvation. A touch of the hem of the Saviour’s garment will heal; what divine virtue, then, must stream into a man who can hold with both hands— not merely the garment’s hem, nor even the garment itself, but the Lord himself. “The Lord is my strength and my shield.” Perhaps some of you cannot give the double grip; then give the finger’s touch, and it will save you. But do not be always content with that touch; ask to lay hold upon Jesus, and say, “I held him, and I would not let him go.” Ask to grasp him, like Jacob at the brook Jabbok with the brave resolve — “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.” Nay, get beyond that, and pray to have Paul’s hold of Christ, which was so strong and firm that he said, “Who shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord?” Both hands take hold, for the psalmist sees a double blessing; he knows also that he has a double want; and so he takes a double grip. “The Lord is my strength and my shield.” Were you to leave out the “my,” repeated again and again in this verse, how the sense would be spoiled. Let us try it— “The Lord is a strength and a shield.” Well, that is very true, but of what avail is that to me? My comfort must come from the fact that “the Lord is my strength and my shield.” Faith matured by experience, faith strengthened by the promise, faith invigorated by the Holy Ghost, who is the nourisher as well as the author of it — such faith is fired with sacred energy when it dares to lay hold on God, and say, “The Lord is my strength and my shield.” This is blessed work. God grant to each of us to know how to perform it, and to “this end let us seek the help of the Holy Ghost, without whom we can do nothing.

     Notice what it is that David lays hold upon with his two hands. “The Lord is my strength and my shield”: it is not the Lord’s promised grace, nor is it the bounties of providence, which he has bestowed on me, which I regard as my strength and my shield. It is not even the Lord’s work in my soul, neither is it the assurance of my faith, nor yet the ardour of my love, that has become my strength and my shield. It is not the Lord’s book even, though its inspired oracles can enlighten the eyes, fortify the heart, and refresh the spirit. It is not the Lord’s attributes of power and faithfulness and watchfulness; but it is JAH JEHOVAH himself who is strength and shield to me. Now, he that layeth hold on God hath done a daring deed, at which even “the man greatly beloved” might stand aghast, were it not written, “Let him take hold of my strength.” Oh to say, “My God!” There is more eloquence in those two words than in all the orations of Demosthenes or Cicero. All the genius, learning, and penetration of the heathen world could never teach us how to claim the Deity, and take possession of the God of the whole earth. What can we discover in the philosophy of Pythagoras, Aristotle, or Socrates that will compare with this? The man who can truly say, “The Lord is mine,” hath an inheritance which death cannot wither, which space cannot compass, which time cannot limit, which eternity cannot explore. He maybe poor in pocket-money, as I suppose the owners of large estates occasionally are; but he is infinitely rich, for he hath real property, and an absolutely indefeasible title to it. He may feel distressingly weak, but he is infinitely strong. He may account himself to be empty, but he hath all things and abounds, he, I mean, who can say, “The Lord is mine.” Come, my brother, be bold enough to look into your privilege. Think of it? What if you could say, “The world is mine”? It will be consumed by fire. What if you could say, “Heaven is mine”? Yet if the God of heaven were not there, it would be a wilderness. Oh, beloved! if you can say, “God is mine — Father, Son, and Spirit are mine,” what do you want more to gratify your eager quest for joy unspeakable? Come, can you conceive satisfaction more substantial than to know of a surety that God is your Father, your Redeemer, your Sustainer, your All,— your All in all ? Do you wish for a better song than this—

“So I my best Beloved’s am,
So he is mine”?

Can you imagine any sweeter music than the minstrelsy of a love so tuneful, touching as it doth the strings of that mysterious instrument, the soul? Is not this the climax of all wishes, all passions, all desires, all delights? We hail thee, son of Jesse, as the harmonious music of thy sublime psalms breaks on our ears: but oh, thou Son of David! we adore thee that thou hast taught us to take up the strains as our own. We ourselves have felt in fact what the sweet psalmist sometimes spoke in figure. We, as thy willing followers and thine acknowledged disciples, do now, by right and rescript which thou hast given us, appropriate to ourselves the poems, parables, and prophecies which once vibrated in dark sayings from David’s harp, as precious utterances concerning heavenly favours to which thy sovereign grace has made us to be fairly and fully entitled.

     Unhappy you who cannot call this God your God, whatever else you may have to glory in; but happy you who know that God is yours, however little of this world’s store may fall to your portion. Thus have we considered the double grip, and what it lays hold upon. Let us not pass on till we have imitated the grasp of faith and appropriated the infinite treasure. May the Holy Ghost enable us.

     Notice under what aspects God is thus laid hold of. Inwardly, first, as we have said, as our strength:— “The Lord is my strength.” Brother, do you know how strong you are? If you have said, “The Lord is my strength,” I challenge you to say how strong you are. “Ah, sir,” say you, “I know how weak I am.” That I will also take liberty to question; for albeit that you know yourself to be as weak as water, you are weaker yet— weaker than even your despondency has dreamed. “I know I am nothing,” say you. Yes, but you would not even have had grace enough to know you were nothing if God had not given it to you. To be nothing is ours by nature; but to know that we are nothing and to confess that we are nothing is a gift of his grace. Brethren, we are emptier than emptiness, and more vain than vanity. We may tax language and use extravagant hyperboles, but we shall never be able fitly to estimate our own utter insignificance. We are weakness itself, hampered with the conceit of power; and yet if we can say in truth, “The Lord is my strength,” we cannot estimate how strong we are, for there is no measuring omnipotence. Come, let us consider the matter, and let each believer speak personally. He who made the heavens and the earth is my strength. He who fixes the mountains firm so that they start not from their places in the day of tempest, when the cedars are breaking, is my strength. Although he will one day rock heaven and earth, and before his presence all creation shall flee away, yet he is my strength. These are but the hidings of power, but, truly, all the force reserved and lying latent in the Almighty bosom is engaged for his saints, and is ray portion. Whatever omnipotence can do— (and that is a wrong expression to use, for omnipotence knows no frontier or confines to its sphere of possible action) is ours. All that God has done is but little in comparison with what he can effect when his arm shall be bared to complete his mighty purposes; yet all the possibilities that pertain to God belong to his people. “The Lord is my strength.”

     With Jehovah for our strength we obtain a matchless capacity for endurance? It is marvellous how much a believer can bear when the Lord sustains him. “Out of weakness we are made strong.” See you that bruised reed over yonder? It is fit emblem and fair picture of a man alone. You cannot trust the weight of an ounce to it, it bends under its own slender weight, even though there be no pressure to force it down. That is you, dear brother: that is you, dear sister. But see you that strong and potent column which bears upon it a huge roof or an iron way across which will thunder thousands of tons? That is yourself when God is with you; yea, you are stronger than that, for nothing shall be able to break the man to whom God is his strength. “I could not bear that,” say you; “I know I should be crushed.” What are you thinking about— the loss of that favourite child? Thinking about the death of your dear husband? God grant that you may not have to suffer it. The death of a wife?— the loss of all your goods, the cruel wounds of slander, or the desertion of friends? Are all those trials likely to befall you, and do you say, “Alas, I could not live if such afflictions should overtake me”? My dear friend, if you can say, “The Lord is my strength,” you can bear anything and everything. You could bear a martyr’s death if the Lord should be your strength. He could make a stalk of wheat to bear up the whole world if he strengthened it; and the faintest and most trembling child of his that ever whispered a prayer, he can make to bear the greatest griefs and the heaviest trials without the slightest repining, for his Spirit can infuse unconquerable patience into the believing heart. Of course, the power to endure depends upon the strength imparted, and not upon the inherent fortitude of the individual. It does not make much difference what the struggle or what the sorrow if we have strength sufficient. A little child with a small basket may be overloaded; while his father with ten times the load to carry will walk briskly, and whistle as he carries his burden along the street, thinking lightly of his lading. The increase of the burden is not the thing to groan about if there be a proportionate increase of strength. Emigrants have told us that they could labour with less fatigue in Australia than they could loiter in England. Whether that be so or not, assuredly it is easier to toil with divine aid than to rest without it. “As thy days thy strength shall be.” Mark that. If the Lord shall heap the load upon your poor shoulders, he will impart courage to your mind, and vigour to your spirit, so that you shall suffer all his righteous will and find your soul thrice blessed in the endurance. “The Lord is my strength;” then we can, like Samson, slay the lion and find honey in it, or smite the Philistines and divide their spoil.

“Let me but hear my Saviour say,
‘Strength shall be equal to thy clay!’
Then I rejoice in deep distress,
Leaning on all-sufficient grace.”

     If the Lord be our strength, our inward strength, we can do anything. At times we faintly reckon that we cannot get through our task; for the tale of bricks appears to be doubled, and straw is hard to find. Look up; for the Great Taskmaster always bestows upon us special ability when lie demands of us peculiar service. Peradventure we are called to a high and solemn engagement of more than common responsibility. We shrink with timidity and put our mouths in the dust at the thought of it, and say, “Who am I, and what are my qualifications, that I should be summoned to speak for God, to act as his ambassador, or to fill a post of such vast importance? I am but a child: how shall I undertake an enterprise at which venerable sires might well be daunted?” But the Lord’s answer is, “I will be with thy mouth. I will be thy strength.” Well, then, we may cry with David, “I will speak of thy statutes before kings, and will not be ashamed.” If the Lord make us strong, there is no office upon which we may not venture, there is no duty we cannot perform, there is no sacrifice which we cannot cheerfully offer, there is no battle in which we cannot prevail.

     Very likely I may be addressing someone who does not know or appreciate the faith which thus fortifies the feeble followers of Christ. Art thou a very strong man, and dost thou boast of thy strength? Friend, the strength of Samson served him a sorry turn when he was without his God; let his blindness warn thee. Another friend, conscious that he is a man of education and culture, doubts not that he can make his way in the world. Oh, sir, Solomon’s wisdom was of poor account when he forgot the statutes of the Lord, pursued the fashions of his times, and suffered altars to be built to the strange gods of his wives whose sensual fascinations took away his heart. There is no strength of muscle or of mind but in God. “God hath spoken once: twice have I heard this, that power belongeth unto God.” Blessed are they who look for strength to the strong, for wisdom to the wise, for safety to the Saviour. They shall say, in the words of our text, “The Lord is my strength.” David, in giving two grips, laid hold upon God as to the outward manifestation: “He is my strength and my shield.” Looking back upon the past, I trust that many of you can say that God has been your shield. It is he who protects us from known adversaries; from the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; from all the arrows that fly by day, and from all the terrors that haunt us by night. From adversaries of whom we know, and against whom we would be ever on our guard if we could, God is our shield. “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” He who hath made the Lord his refuge, and the Most High his habitation, shall be safe; no real evil shall happen unto the just. “The Lord is my shield.” Nor is he alone our shelter from open enemies; he is our guardian against those dangers which we wot not of. How many perils may have menaced your personal safety, your domestic happiness, or your fair reputation, of which you never knew! Thank God for unknown mercies, as well as for hair-breadth escapes. Often in travelling you may be within an inch of death and never be aware of it. Our gratitude to God may be stirred when we perceive a danger and escape it; but are we not even more beholden to him when we do not even perceive the peril, and reach our journey’s end, or awake in the morning, or live through a year, without sickness, without calamity, without alarm? Without violently imagining mischiefs or nervously inventing perils, we may soberly judge that dangers have frequently hovered around us even in the calmest hours, and from all these we have been preserved, because the Lord is our shield.

     It is the greatest comfort to feel God’s Spirit within you making you strong; but it is no small joy to know that God is round about you, making you safe. “He is my shield.” Knowing as we do that our adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour, and that he may be perhaps trying to seize upon one of us at this very moment, our security from his hostile attacks is this— The Lord is our shield. Satan will only waste his arrows against the eternal buckler. There may be a plot formed against you by a cruel adversary whose hatred is unknown to you; but fret not yourself with fear of hidden dangers; let them lie where God permits them to conceal themselves; do not unearth the foxes nor stir up the young lions, for you are safe in your simplicity. Is it not written that “the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den”? “Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel.” Though earth and hell should blend their malice, they are safe whom God protects. The close designs and crooked counsels of those who conspire against the saints shall all be foiled, for there is One who frustrateth every evil device and taketh the wise in their own craftiness. “Where would you hide yourself,” said one to Luther, “if the elector of Saxony should withdraw his protection?” He smiled, and said, “I put no trust in the prince of Saxony. Beneath the broad shield of heaven I stand secure against Pope and Turk and devil.” So he did: and so do we. If we have but faith in God, we can sing, in the language of the text, “The Lord is my strength and my shield. He strengthens me within and he protects me without. What more do I want?”

     Before I leave those first two sentences, I want you to notice that this is a matter of fact, a fact which many here present can attest: “The Lord is my strength and my shield.” It is not a pretty speech that we have selected as an appropriate motto for a retrospect, nor is it a piece of sentimental religious poetry in which fancy counterfeits Christian experience; but it is a positive fact, to which full many of us who have been tried and tutored in the pilgrimage of life can bear our personal testimony. “The Lord has been my strength”: at this moment I set my hand and seal to that statement before you all. I should have proved myself to be weakness itself in many an emergency had not Eternal power upheld me: I should have been far from calm resolution, and drifted near to madness; not firm and steady, but frail and faltering, had he not interposed on my behalf, and kept this heart in the hour of trouble. Is not the same confession due from each of you? You have waded through your trouble, dear sister: you have escaped from that dilemma, my brother; and do you not ascribe your deliverance to the Lord who strengthened you? Come, now, where else did you get your strength from? You cannot trace it to any other than a divine source. Has not the Lord been your shield? Have not some of you been in positions in which no one else could have guarded you? Perhaps your own fault has placed you in predicaments out of which you could never have extricated yourself had he not stretched out his hand and plucked your feet out of the net. Then you said to your soul, “This is no fiction. This is the finger of God.” It is right-hearted sincerity, and not wrongheaded enthusiasm, which prompts us personally to avow— “The Lord is our strength and our shield.” We can say it as deliberately as the miser might say, “The bank is my confidence, my money is my trust”; or as the merchant might say, “My wealth is on the sea, my ships bring me in my yearly income,” or as the mother might say, “My children are my joy.” We can boldly publish it, and challenge all gainsayers, for it is really so, “The Lord is our strength and our shield.” Beyond doubt or question this is an assured possession.

     II. Now, have patience with me while I endeavour, in the second place, to expound to you A DEFINITE EXPERIENCE. It is related in these words: “My heart trusted in him, and I am helped.” Here, too we have both inward and outward, as I told you before— “My heart trusted in him,” that is work done indoors, within the soul; “I am helped,” that is mercy received outdoors, openly and actually.

     Notice the scrupulous loyalty of the believer whose entire confidence is centred in God. “‘My heart trusted.' I did not say ‘I trusted,’ as one who makes a profession with his lips, but rather with strong conviction and profound emotion, ‘my heart trusted.’” It is truly shocking to see people stand up, and recite a creed, to the truth of which they attach no importance. They say or sing, “I believe this, and I believe that,” and as they repeat the words prescribed for them, they superstitiously turn in a certain direction. But happy is that man who, turning east, west, north, or south, does in his heart trust— does in his secret soul believe. There is no believing worthy of the name except heart believing. If your head believes a thing it is of small consequence; but in soul-saving faith the heart is so believing as to trust, and the mind is so assured as to be at peace. “My heart trusted in him. My poor heart fluttered in the time of trouble, it was agitated, it was distressed, for all its visible refuge had fled away; but at last I said, ‘I must hang upon my God, and to him I must cling.’ In very despair of all things else I cast myself at the foot of his throne. My heart trusted in him.” Has it been so with you of late? Has your heart been trusting in God? That is a very strong expression of the prophet when he speaks of the heart going a whoring from God. The language is vehement even to coarseness; but it is none too forcible, for it involves the commission of a spiritual uncleanness when the heart trusts any other helper than God. “My heart trusted in him.” Oh, it is so easy for the heart to get trusting in itself! And he that trusteth his own heart is a fool. It is frightfully easy for the heart to rely upon man, as we know right well! Did you ever notice the middle verse of the whole Bible? It is the eighth verse of the hundred and eighteenth Psalm: “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” The comparison will not bear a thought, the preference is infinite: for confidence in man will betray your hopes, but faith in God will enrich you beyond your expectations. May our heart always keep to that— trusting in God alone. “My heart trusted in him.”   

     In the next clause of the sentence, which is the outward manifestation of the inward experience, we have the result: “I am helped.” If I had been writing this psalm of my own head I think I should have written it thus: “My heart trusted in him, and I was helped”; for it is a rule in composition that if you bracket two sentences together you should write them in the same tense. But, as old Master Trapp says, faith has no tenses, because faith deals with a God who has no tenses except the present, for his name is “I AM.” Our faith does not say, “I trusted in him, and I was helped.” No: she has all former mercy present before her eyes, and she sings, “I am helped.” Nor does faith say, “My heart trusted in him, and I shall be helped.” Perhaps the needed help has not yet arrived, but she is so sure that it will come that she cries, “I am helped. Am I as poor as I was before I prayed? No, I am not, for I have obtained the blessing I asked for. I appear to be as weak as I was before I trusted him, but I am not, for the Lord is my strength; and, haying trusted in him, I am helped.” I wish we lived more in that blessed present tense in which God dwells.

“He fills his own eternal ‘now,’
And sees our ages pass.”

     Now, brethren, let all the past of God’s mercy come up to your memory, and let that be a part of the“now”; and then just take, as it were, a spring, and bound forward into the future— ay, leap right across life, as though it were a narrow rivulet, into heaven, and put the eternal future into the present “now” and sing as our sweet poet does—

“Lo! a ‘new song’ is in ray mouth,
To long-loved music set:
Glory to thee for all the grace
I have not tasted yet.”

“I am helped.” I have now the good I crave. By faith I realize it as a present possession. I am helped: I am helped. The past lives in my gratitude, the future lives in my confidence, and both alike meet in the present, and my soul is glad. “My heart trusted in him, and I am helped.”

     You must notice, reverting again to the words of the text, that this confidence was, from first to last, confidence in God, and therefore was it honoured with a gracious result. “My heart trusted in him, and I am helped.” Many and many a time we have been obliged to say, “My heart trusted in So-and-so, and I am deceived”; but here it is, “and I am helped.” Sometimes it happens; “My heart trusted in such an one, and I am disappointed, though not deceived. He would have helped me, but he could not.” But here it is, “My heart trusted in him, and I am helped,” All has happened according to promise; there has been no failure of faithfulness, no breach of covenant, no forgetfulness, no delay. I am helped sufficiently, punctually, continually, and so I ever shall be helped till toiling and travelling days are over. Glory be to God for this.

     Dear friends, have all of you who are Christians attained to a Christian experience? Doctrine, you know, is very important; it is well that you should learn it, understand it, and adhere to it; but doctrine is only the truth in which you are instructed, and avails you little for growth in grace until you experience the power of it in your own souls. Do you know why so many people run away from the truth as it is in Jesus, and take up with strange conceits and new-fangled notions? It is because they have no inward experience of the old truths. Let a man once have a deep experience of the evil of sin, and I will warrant you he will feel his need of a Saviour and the necessity of an atonement made by blood. Let him have an experience of the power of the blood upon his conscience, the peace that comes out of substitution, and he will cling to the cross, he will be ready to die for the cross. He has such joy rising out of it as he never found elsewhere. I am obliged to cling to the gospel, for if it be not true I am a lost man: I must hold fast to it, for there all my hope is fixed, and if it be taken away, my sun is quenched, the well of my joy is dried up, and life becomes a lingering death. But, beloved, an experience of those blessed truths which God hath revealed to us by his Spirit writes them where they cannot be erased; not upon the tablet of the brain, from which they may be effaced, for men forget, but upon the tablet of the heart, from which they cannot be obliterated, for men do not disclaim that which has become a part of their inward consciousness, and which God has made dear to them as their lives. May you all have such a definite experience as the text sets before us. The Holy Ghost will work it in all the saints.

     III. Lastly, here we have A DECLARED EMOTION: Therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.” Here, again, is the inward phase, you see— “My heart greatly rejoiceth”; and then there is the outward embodiment of the internal feeling— “and with my song will I praise him.”

     Behold a heart rejoicing with a sacred and intense delight! Some people’s rejoicing is but skin deep. They laugh; their face is surfaced over with smiles, and their mouth bubbles up with silly glee. To my mind there is hardly anything more sad than the frequent laughter which exposes a vacant mind. The moment company has gone this volatile mirthfulness subsides, and the jolly companions resolve into solitary individuals, dull each one and dreary, far enough from being happy any of them. You may, perhaps, have heard of Carlini, one of the most celebrated clowns of the beginning of this century, a man whose wit and humour kept all Paris in a roar of laughter; but he himself had little share of the cheerfulness he simulated so well and stimulated so much. His comedies brought him no comfort. Though a professor of mirth, he was a victim of melancholy. He consulted a physician; and asked him for a prescription to relieve his lowness of spirits and habitual despondency. His physician gave him some medicine, but advised him by way of recreation to go to the theatre and hear Carlini, whose fun and frolic were of such repute. “If he does not letch the blues out of you, nobody will.” “Alas! sir,” said he, “I am Carlini.” And so, doubtless, it hath often happened that men make glee for others when they are full of gloom themselves. The face smiles like summer, but the heart is freezing with the cold of winter. Not so the man who has laid hold on God. “My heart rejoiceth,” he says, “my heart rejoiceth.” Nay, he puts in the word “greatly.” “My heart greatly rejoiceth,” as if it were as full of joy as ever it could be; as though it throbbed and danced joyously with a fulness of delight. “My heart greatly rejoiceth”; and Christian men can say this whenever they lay hold on God, even though they are surrounded with a world of trouble. We know sometimes what it is to wear a sad face with a glad heart, just as some others are wearing a glad face with a sad heart. Blessed is the man whom God hath taught greatly to rejoice: let him indulge the holy humour to the top of his bent.

     What, now, is the outcome of this sacred, soul-satisfying joy? He says, “With my song will I praise him.” Whenever you feel exceedingly glad in the Lord, be sure to tell it out. This is one of the emotions which ought never to be concealed. When I have been preaching among the Primitive Methodists, at the very mention of joy in the Lord, I have heard them call out “Hallelujah.” In Wales I have heard the “Gogoniant” — glory be to God. We do not commit such improprieties here. Do we? We are too quiet and proper to transgress the roles of enforced decorum: and yet, sometimes, it might be the most natural thing in the world for a Christian to feel that he could not hold his strong emotions in stiff restraint, but must shout aloud, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” Do you think, dear friends, we sing enough? I do not think we do. The world is very pleased with singing of a certain sort. Tuneful airs are tacked on to trashy words. What foolishness we hear in the popular songs of the day. I have been quite unable to understand the sense when the sound has jingled in my ears. When I have asked, “What does it mean?” nobody has been able to interpret, or at least to make me comprehend it. To them it may have appeared like a clever ballad; to me it seemed mere empty doggerel. Well, if they are not ashamed to sing their bacchanalian songs, and sometimes to make night hideous with their choruses, surely we need not be ashamed to sing the songs of Zion, and to sing them with spirit too. Good woman, why don’t you sing? You would handle that box-iron just as well if you sang a psalm. You could mend those children’s clothes quite as cleverly if you would sing a hymn. Good friend carter, you could crack your whip as you walked along by the side of your pair of horses in the dray and yet hum the while a favourite tune. To get alone and sing some sacred melody by yourselves is very refreshing. My father had, years ago, a servant who was always singing, and when he asked her why, she said that it helped to keep bad thoughts away. I knew a boy who was so fond of singing the praises of the Lord that his employers would let him go out on the Common sometimes to give vent to his vocal powers, for he sang rather too much and too loudly for a quiet house. I love to see young Christians full of joy. It is good, sometimes, to get away and have a stave to yourself, as much as if you said, “I am not singing for any one of you, but I am singing to God.” I listened one night and heard the nightingale with its delicious “joog, joog, joog,” pouring forth such sweet music that it seemed to make the moon stand still, charmed with the strain. I know that the nightingale did not sing to me. He did not know that I was listening, nor would he have cared if he had known. Perhaps if he had noticed that I had been so close he might have flown away; he was singing without regard to human ears. It is a sweet thing just to sing unto the Lord. Classical music is all very well, but heart music is the essence of sweetness. “My heart trusted in him, and I am helped, therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth, and with my song will I praise him.” When you walk through a wood in spring-time you come upon a stretch of blue hyacinth. You fancy that a piece has been rent away from the azure mantle of the sky and thrown down among the trees. Why are those hyacinths clothed in such cerulean splendour? For what purpose is their sweet perfume poured forth in such lavish profusion? Dost thou say, “They waste their sweetness on the desert air”? Nay, O man! know rather that God is abroad: those flowers are his, and this is his garden: he delights to gaze on their living sapphires. Did you ever light upon a clump of lovely flowers right away in a lone spot of forest, moor, or common, where the foot of man has seldom profaned the soil? Have you not paused to admire? There they stand with their golden cups, like chamberlains of a king! Why are they here in such gorgeous livery? Who is all this beautiful variety of form and colour intended to greet? “Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” What king has come to dine here and sip from those jewelled chalices? It is the eternal God who made them, and who takes delight in the work of his hands: it is he who walks among these solitary beauties in the cool of the day. Did you not see the flowerets bow their heads in worship as they felt his breath among their foliage?

     Down deep at the bottom of the sea the coral grows in luxuriant abundance, and many-tinted shells that seem like unfinished rainbows are lying there unseen, never to be seized by human hands, and bartered in the market for gain. The Lord visits those cool grots, and takes pleasure in his own delicate handiwork. All things are not for greedy man; the Lord hath his reserved gardens, his springs shut up, his fountains sealed. So let it be with us. Do not let us wait to praise the Lord till we can get an audience of our fellow-creatures, though we may sometimes wish that our songs would charm their ears and win their love for Jesus; but let us, oftentimes, retire into holy solitude, and then all alone break the silence of our loneliness, saying, “My heart greatly rejoiceth, and with my song will I praise the Lord. As long as I live and when I die, and when I rise again, and through eternity, with my song will I praise him.”

“In blessing thee with grateful songs,
My happy life shall glide away;
The praise that to thy name belongs,
Hourly with lifted hands I’d pay.
Abundant sweetness! While I sing
Thy love, my ravished heart o’erflows;
Secure in thee, my God and King,
Of glory that no period knows.”

     How I wish that some would begin at this moment a life of praise— begin by taking God to be their strength— begin by trusting in Christ to be their shield— begin by an experience of the power of prayer to bring them help. If you do so, you shall rise from height to height in your flights of praise: you shall first join with us below to sing as best you can, and afterwards you shall mount into the upper orchestra where all the chosen singers meet, and sit and chant with them the endless anthem which ascends unto Jehovah, our strength and our song.

     God bless you, beloved, give you to know and prove the sweetness of this blessed text, and make you to sing David’s divine song to the stringed instruments of your renewed hearts all the days of your lives. Amen.



The Hiding of Moses by Faith

By / Jun 22

The Hiding of Moses by Faith

 

“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.” — Hebrews xi. 23.

 

As I observed to you in the exposition, the stress in these passages of sacred biography should be laid upon the words “by faith.” The mighty deeds of heroes and the obedient acts of pilgrim fathers are only told to us because they spring out of faith. It is to commend the root that the fruits are mentioned. The children are named one by one that the mother may have the praise, for faith is the mother of all virtues. According to this book God estimates men by their faith, and “without faith it is impossible to please God.” Faith is well pleasing to the Most High, but it is in proportion to its strength, for there are cases in which weakness of faith has evidently been followed by chastisement, and other cases in which strength of faith has been abundantly honoured. The more thou believest the more doth God bless thee. If thou believest with faith as small as a grain of mustard seed thou shalt be saved, for where there is faith there is salvation; but if thy faith be weak thou shalt miss many comforts, and only as thy faith shall grow and become strong through divine grace shalt thou be a receiver of the greater, deeper, and higher things of the covenant of grace. More faith is what we want, and the Lord is willing to give it, grace upon grace; he delights, especially, to strengthen the faith which we already possess by trying it, by sustaining it under the trial, and thus rooting and grounding it, and causing it to become firm and vigorous. Oh that we might so live evermore that the Lord might see in all our actions that they spring from faith. Then shall our actions as well as ourselves be always accepted of him by Christ Jesus; for the Lord hath plainly declared, “the just shall live by faith; but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him”— that is, draw back from faith and run in the way of sense and feeling. Having begun by faith we are to live by faith. We are not to find life in the gospel and then nourish it by the law. made perfect by the flesh, or by confidence in man, but we must continue still to walk by the simple faith which rests only upon God, for this is the true spirit of a Christian. Faith is the freewoman’s child, and it cannot live with merit, or self-righteousness, for this is the bondwoman’s child, and the Scripture saith, “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.”

     Now faith is in God’s sight the very soul of all holy actions. That which is done without faith, even though, in itself considered, had there been faith at the back of it, it might have been accepted, yet it is not accepted without faith. As no sacrifice, even though it were an unblemished one, should be offered except with salt and with fire, and that fire a holy and heavenly fire, so nothing will be accepted of God except it be mixed with faith. Hearing is no hearing to profit if it be not mixed with faith in them that hear it, and doing may even stand in our way unless first of all we have attended to that work— that God-like work— that work of God — that we believe in him whom he hath sent. There must be faith; without it, it is impossible to please God, and he measures our actions according to the faith from which they proceed. I do again, therefore, very strongly say, I take the meaning of these texts to be not a laudation of the acts themselves so much as an honour put upon faith itself by the Holy Spirit. If you read of those who subdued kingdoms, that is not the point: others have subdued kingdoms, but it is “who through faith subdued kingdoms.” If you read of those who escaped the edge of the sword; many have done that, but none are recorded here but those “who by faith escaped the edge of the sword.” “Turned to flight the armies of the aliens many have done that by valour and strength; but to do it by faith, that is the thing. Many have endured scourgings and bonds and imprisonments, and have wandered about destitute, afflicted, tormented, but such sufferings are nothing unless they are borne by faith. I might almost quote the words of Paul, only altering them a little, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not faith, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not faith, it profiteth me nothing.” Faith first, midst, last, must be the walk, life and triumph of the Christian. God gives to faith, God accepts from faith, God saves through faith, God keeps through faith, God sanctifies through faith, God perfects through faith. In all good things the power, life, and acceptance are “not of works, lest any man should boast,” but by faith that all things may be of grace alone.

     I come now to take up the instance of faith mentioned in the text, and as I do so I trust many here will be asking themselves the question, “Have I that faith which sees the invisible? Have I a faith which exercises an operative power over my entire life? Am I a believer in God, in his dear Son, in his most sacred word? Is that faith, real, practical, effective? If not, let me be sure that I am without God and without hope in the world. If he by his grace has given me the faith of his elect whereby I discern him, recognize him, act towards him as the God that is and is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him, then am I accepted in Christ Jesus.” Let us read our text again and then we will fall to, and gather instruction from it. “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment,”— their faith made them brave, and led them to preserve their little one.

     I. My first observation about this brief narrative is this, IT IS A GREAT BLESSING WHEN IN A FAMILY BOTH THE PARENTS HAVE FAITH.

     Paul in one text says, “By faith he was hid three months of his parents.” Now you will please to notice that Moses himself, in the account which he gives in the second chapter of Exodus, ascribes this to his mother — “When she saw that he was a goodly child she hid him three months.” Stephen in his speech before the Sanhedrim says, “In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father's house three months thus mentioning rather his father than his mother. Paul in the Hebrews writes, “He was hid three months of his parents,” thus mentioning both of them. No doubt the apostle combined the two other inspired utterances. Do you wonder that Moses chiefly mentions his mother, Jochebed? I do not. What man is there among us but always delights to mention his godly mother, and though we would have no partialities about our parents, yet without controversy great is the mystery of a mother’s love, and there are some points about it in which it makes a deeper impression upon the memory than a father’s care. Prize fathers as you may, and will, and should, yet there is a tender touch that comes home to every man’s heart when he thinks of his mother. It seems natural that Moses should when he wrote the account mention most of all his mother; and indeed, and of a truth, a mother has more to do with a babe than a father can have: in its tender infancy she is naturally its chief guardian. Perhaps, too, though we cannot be sure, Jochebed may have been the strongs believer of the two, and may have been the main instigator of the child’s preservation. There are other instances in Scripture of the same sort, if it were so. Manoah would have been sadly put about if it had not been for his wife when she said, “If the Lord had meant to destroy us, he would not have showed us such things as these.” The mother of Zebedee’s children is often mentioned, while very little is said about Zebedee; and I know there are many instances now extant where if we had to write the religious history of families, albeit that the father is a good man, yet the mother, I was about to say, is a better, and would be the prominent actor in any family deed of faith. Well, let us imagine it to have been so. Jochebed, the wife, has the stronger faith. She is not a business person. She stops at home and looks after little Moses as she did after little Aaron and little Miriam in their time: the father must go out brick-making and earn the family bread, but mother at home, though not conspicuous but rather obscure, walks near to God and believes in him, and so becomes the very centre and pivot upon which the household rests and turns. It is often so, and blessed is that man who can say as much of his own wife. He will never be envious of her, but rather rejoice that, if he be Amram, God hath given him a Jochebed whom his son Moses will mention in years to come even if he forgets his father. The husband will be well content to have it so, for the joy and peace which he receives from a godly woman of decided and vigorous piety will be an abundant compensation for being a little overshadowed in the memory of an honoured son.

     But what a blessing it was, dear friends, that although Moses does not say his father hid him, yet he had his share in it, for Stephen says he was nourished three months in his father’s house. The father was cognizant of it, and helpful in it, and hopeful about it: he was fully consenting, and agreeing, and assisting in all that the mother did. Would God it were so in all families. When husband and wife fit together in the things of God like tenon and mortice, then is the house well built; but when the mistress pulls one way and the master draws the other, when one is for Christ, and the other is for Belial, the house is divided against itself, and how can it stand? It is no marvel when both parents serve the Lord that their children are brought up in his fear, and become their happiness and their honour; and it is equally natural that if an ungodly father undoes all that can be done by a godly mother, the evil example of the stronger should be followed rather than the godly example of the weaker. If I address any husband here, who is as yet an unbeliever, I can but pray the Lord and join my prayers with those of his wife that he may be brought to know the Lord and rest in him. Both the parents of Moses believed, so my text says, and both acted by faith in disobeying the cruel order of the king. If they had not. agreed about it, I do not see how Moses could have been concealed; but they both went together in the hiding of the child: and, dear friends, how well it will be if we all go together in the endeavour to bring our children to Christ. If our prayers are united, if our example is one, if our teaching is never contradictory, if both parents arc with like earnestness seeking the salvation of their little ones, we may rest assured the promise will be kept, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

     II. Our second remark shall be that TRUE AND EVEN REMARKABLE FAITH MAY ACT IN A VERY COMMONPLACE WAY.

     What do we read? By faith they “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword,” and so on, and so on. Why these are great things, and worthy of mention among memorable deeds. Yes, but this also is great in its way,— “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents.” It has no trumpet ring about it like stopping lions’ mouths and quenching fires, and subduing kingdoms, but in God’s consideration, from his point of view, the hiding of a little baby three months, may be as great instance of admirable and acceptable faith as any of them: even turning to flight the armies of the alien may not be greater than defeating the malice of a king by saving a little child. But you say to me, “It was a very natural thing for a mother to do. When Pharaoh had given orders that all the male children should be destroyed, was it not natural enough that a mother should try to preserve her child’s life? Can a woman forget her sucking child that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?” Yes, yes, I know all that, and admit it; but still the Lord is not praising the natural affection, but the supernatural faith. A very strong current is seen when nature and faith both set the same way; yet it is not nature but faith which bears the sway. Sometimes faith has to go against nature, as in the case of Abraham when he was bidden to offer up his son, and then faith wins the victory; and here, though faith and nature ran together and so made the current stronger, still the text does not say, “By the force of nature, by the natural love of parents for their child, Moses was hid three months.” No, but they did it, “by faith”; so the Spirit saith, and he knows how they came to do it better than we do. We should say, “Nature led them to conceal the babe,” but God says, “Faith led them to do it,” and, in their degree, both arc true. Nature prompted, but faith compelled, constrained, and enabled them to do what else their timidity would not have ventured upon.

     But was it not a very simple thing to be doing by faith— the mere hiding of a child? Yes, but not so easy as it looks. Sometimes, I suppose, the mother said, “Hush! hush! hush! Dear child, you must not cry, whatever your pain, as Egyptian children may, for if some stranger should hear a child’s cry it will be reported to Pharaoh’s murdering officers, and you will die.” Many, many times the instinctive cry must have been hushed by a mother’s sedulous care: and when neighbours came to the door little can we tell the difficulty to put them off the scent, to keep them from knowing that there was such a little living treasure anywhere about the house. How often would callers in the daytime put the family into a fever, and in the middle of the night how readily would both parents start if someone knocked at the door, or loitered under the window. A rustling outside their poor little house would make them full of alarm. They were so distressed because they were breaking the king’s law, and though they were not afraid of it they were afraid of the king’s officers, who might come and seize their child. Yes, it was a very simple thing to do, just to hide away a baby,— keep it quiet, and not let anybody know about it; but it was done by faith, and that makes the act divine. It was natural, it was simple, I admit all that, but when the Holy Ghost says, “By faith his parents hid him,” it makes the simple and the natural action to glow with an unusual glory, like the bush in Horeb, which was only a bush, but yet the Lord appeared in it. And here is the point of it, dear friends, mothers, daughters, sisters, and all of you engaged in common life, do you not see how you can make faith tell about ordinary things? You think J preach by faith in this pulpit, and so I do, blessed be God; but then you can darn stockings by faith, mend and piece and save, and make a little go a long way by faith. When you are ill you can lie and cough by faith without being impatient. You can keep your temper sweet with a provoking husband, or a disobedient child, by faith. You can do all sorts of things by faith. It rides the whirlwind, but it threads a needle; it climbs up to the throne of God, and yet it stands, by a baby’s cradle; it can obtain the promises, but it can sit down and twist bulrushes, and boil bitumen, and stir a tar pot to pitch a little ark within and without with pitch, if it be necessary. There is nothing that faith cannot make noble when it touches it. You need not say, “I want to get away from my daily business, or from my domestic concerns, in order to show my faith.” No, no; stop where you are and show it. If a soldier wants to be brave, and asks his captain what he can do, he will tell him, “You keep rank in the day of battle; you fire your gun when the word is given.” In order to be a brave man you need not leave the ranks, nor run up to the cannon’s mouth out of mere bravado. Soldier of Christ, just keep your place. Do the work appointed by the great Lord, trusting in him, and believing in his power to help you. So shall you make your life sublime, however commonplace it may appear to carnal eyes.

     By faith these parents hid their child three months— a short time, perhaps, you will think. If you had to go through their anxieties you would reckon that it was the longest three months you ever lived. Three months the officers are after your darling child, and every time you look it in the face you are afraid it will be snatched away from your arms to be flung into the river. In vain, O mother, dost thou give thy child its daily food; in vain dost thou delight in its dimpled cheek and laughing eyes; for it must die. The crocodiles of the Nile must feast upon that beloved flesh. Such would her fears be day and night. Three months both parents must have been in great distress, and they could hardly have held on under such an agony of mind if it had not been by faith; but faith enabled them to watch during the weary days, which must have been crowded with tortures. Though the time seems short to you who never lost a child, and to all of us who never knew what it was to live under the heart-rending peril of having our infant murdered, yet it filled all the little world of a mother’s and a father’s heart, and what could be more? They bore the perpetual anxiety, and hid the child by faith; believing and hoping that God would have pity upon them.

     III. A third principle which we will lay down is this, that FAITH WILL ACT WITH A VERY SLENDER ENCOURAGEMENT.

     “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child.” As I read these words I thought to myself, “I wonder what parents do not see their children to be very proper children?” It seems to be the general rule that we have all of us — at least, all mothers— the most beautiful children that ever have been born. A slender reason it seems to be for hiding a child three months. Stephen says in his speech that the child was “exceeding fair”; and if you look at Stephen’s speech you will see that the translators have put in the margin, “fair to God.” So it may run, “when they saw that the child was fair to God.” Now, I gather from that expression that the child was exceedingly beautiful, beyond the common run of children; that there was a charm about its features, a remarkable glory about its face, and something superhuman, probably, since it was fair to God. A spiritual air floated about the child’s face, as if it bore some glimmerings of the glory of Sinai, of the wondrous shepherd-lawgiver who led the people forty years through the wilderness. In the babe’s face there were prophecies of the man of God. Surely among them that have been born of women there has not been born a greater than Moses; and about him as a child there was a something so striking, so marvellously beautiful, that his parents were fascinated by him. Now, you can get a great deal of sunshine through a little hole, and you can see a very large prospect through a small glass, and it is as it wore a little space that the faith of Amram and Jochebed looked through, but they saw great things. Here was born to them a lovely child, an extraordinary child, a child fair to God! Well, what did they say? “This remarkable child, surely was not brought into the world without some purpose on the part of God with regard to it. We will cave it alive. This is not a child that can die or shall die; we will save it alive. Pharaoh or no Pharaoh, such a child as this must and shall live.”

     Perhaps they recollected that it was close upon the time when God had promised to deliver his people Israel. I should not think that believing Israelites had quite forgotten that God had told Abraham that they should be in bondage four hundred years, and they must have known that the time had expired within another eighty years; and it is probable that the mother said, “There is to come a deliverer. There is something about this child’s face which makes me hope that he will be the deliverer.” Jochebed’s faith that God would deliver his people was strong, and so she thought, “Perhaps this is to be the champion who shall bring Israel out of Egypt. I will save him. I will save him. He shall be hid. Pharaoh shall not have him. All his edicts shall not drive me to expose him to death.” She looked for a deliverer and expected him to come: this was faith. O dear friends, if we had but such faith as this woman had, what wonders we should do, because we have not to look through a little glass, but have a wide window open before us. She had no Bible; the man who was to write the first book in the Bible was her own little child. She had only oral traditions handed down from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and her fathers; and she had only the fact that their child was exceedingly comely to cheer her in this special hope; but she believed in God, and that enabled her to endure danger for her child’s sake. She believed God. Now “God who in old times spake to his servants by the prophets hath in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things.” He has let the full glory of heaven blaze forth in the face of Jesus; what manner of believers ought we to be, surrounded by such a light and nursed in the midst of such mercy. May God grant that our faith having so much encouragement may act strongly to the glory of God. But if sometimes you should seem to have very little to catch hold upon, dear brother, do not throw away that little. If you should only see some little token for good, some one little cloud the size of a man’s hand, still expect a shower of mercies. Even if all things should seem to be against you, and only one thing should appear to be for you, still draw sweet inferences from slender premises, or from what may appear to be slender premises, for truly the Lord is good and his mercy endureth for ever, and you may stay yourselves upon him.

     IV. A fourth principle is clear in the text, namely, that FAITH HAS GREAT POWER IN OVERCOMING FEAR.

     The text says they were not afraid of the king’s commandment. The king’s commandment made all Egypt tremble. It does now. The Egyptians are still the meanest of all peoples. The description given of them in the prophet holds good to this day. Everywhere all over Egypt you will hear the stick going. No other race of men would ever bear the bastinado as the Egyptians do; the whole mass of them working, practically, for one man, that he may spend a superabundance upon himself. As they are now so they have been from the beginning— a generation of yielding slaves, trodden down perpetually by greedy oppressors. The Israelites in Egypt had no doubt caught very much the spirit of the Egyptians was and the spirit of the Egyptians the exact opposite of the spirit of a true-born Englishman. You and I rejoice that we are free. We are in the habit of discussing laws and criticizing statutes, and if there were an unjust edict passed we should not scruple for a single moment to break it. We should even feel a pleasure in putting our foot through an unrighteous act of parliament, for we have been trained for centuries in the habits and ways of liberty, and think and speak for ourselves; but it has never been so in Egypt, and specially was it not so in those days. Then they might well swear by the life of Pharaoh for they all lived by the permission of Pharaoh. They belonged to him— their lands and everything. Hence it must have taken a good deal for these two, son and daughter of Levi, to feel that they could go against the king’s commandment. They had a right to do so. What right had Pharaoh to order them to destroy their children? It was their duty to break the king’s commandment, and they did it because they had faith. I am bound to own, though I have commended the spirit of Englishmen, that there are a great many people even in this country who are very much ruled by what is called law. The church by law established will always enjoy a vast prestige because it has royalty for its head and the state at its back. To me its connection with the state is worthy to be called “the king’s evil,” but to others it seems a beauty spot. To the unthinking crowd that which is established by law must be right. Do the ritualistic priests come to us with legal authority? Well, then, who among us may dare to question their doings? Have certain rubrics been ordained by the Lords and Commons in parliament assembled? Has her Majesty given consent to them? Well, then, they must be proper and correct. A great many people have never got out of that style of thinking, and perhaps never will; whereas to me it seems to be a first principle of the Christian church that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, and that to all these great ones of the earth the only thing is to say, “Keep your hands off the ark lest you meet with the doom of Uzziah. Come humbly like disciples to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn of him, but do not set up to be legislators for his dominion, nor dare to intermeddle or make rules or regulations for the spiritual kingdom. We care nothing for your ordinances and regulations. You have no power here. Let Caesar have his own, but he must not touch the things which belong to Christ.” Now this woman by faith had got beyond the fear of Caesar, the Caesar of the age, the Pharaoh of the period. Whatever he might establish by law was just nothing at all to her. She broke away from it.

     There was, no doubt, appended to Pharaoh’s statute a punishment for anybody who should not obey the law. Perhaps four were in lives danger for the sake of that one little life— her husband, herself, Aaron, and Miriam, her daughter. If the officers enter the house and they find that little Moses has been saved it may be they will destroy the family, root and branch. That fear must have been upon her, but yet through faith she will run all risks, and so will all her family risk themselves that this promising child whom they believe God has sent to them for a noble purpose may still live.

     Now, dear friends, I want you if you have faith in Christ to manifest it by overcoming all fear of the consequences of doing right. It is right to obey God rather than man. God has the first claim upon us. Indeed God has the only claim upon us. We are to obey men for God’s sake. But when man’s authority overleaps itself and interferes with the authority of God then it becomes treason to the great King to obey even the greatest of kings. Parents and all in authority over us are to be obeyed in all things up to that point. It stops there. I pray that you may have grace to do the right thing, everyone among you, even if it costs you everything. If to be honest would make you lose your situation, if to speak the truth would bring you into trouble about your daily bread, do it and dare it. “We must live,” says somebody. I do not know that. It might be better to die than to live under some circumstances— certainly better to die a martyr than to live a traitor— better to die for the right than to live in sin. You say, “We must live.” I will tell you another “must.” We must die, and it becomes us to live with that always before us, for we shall be called to “give an account for the things done in the body, whether they be good or whether they be evil.” Beloved, may we have the faith that masters fear, so that we can go through the world fearless of popular opinion, fearless of ungodly censure, fearless of the little circle around us to whom some are altogether slaves. May we fear God and therefore be no more afraid of man’s commandment. Be just and fear no consequences. If the heavens themselves should shake we would do no wrong, nor tell a single lie to prop up the skies. Let the sun, moon, and stars come down sooner than we should ourselves fall from our integrity. May faith give us such a fearless walk as this.

     V. But now, fifthly, and very briefly, I want you to notice that FAITH IS OFTEN DRIVEN TO GREAT SHIFTS. The mother of Moses had to hide her child. I have no doubt if she were here, and if her husband were here, they would have a long story to tell of the things that happened ; how often their hearts were in their mouths, how frequently poor Amram was in a cold sweat because one of his companions with whom he worked talked of going home with him ; how that prying neighbour of theirs, who always wanted to put her finger into everybody’s dish, tried to find out what there was that made Mrs. Jochebed keep at home so much; how they were afraid even of their own little children lest they might in their play talk of their little brother. What fear was upon the whole family, lest discovery should lead to destruction, we may guess from their hiding the babe. The mother was put to great shifts to hide her child, and she used all her wits and common-sense. She did not put her child in the front room, or carry it into the street or sit at the open door and nurse it, but she was prudent, and acted as if all depended upon her concealing the babe. Some people suppose that if you have faith you may act like a fool. But faith makes a person wise. It is one of the notable points about faith that it is sanctified common-sense. That is not at all a bad definition of faith. It is not fanaticism, it is not absurdity; it is making God the grandest asset in our account, and then reckoning according to the soundest logic. It is not putting my hands into boiling water with the impression that it will not scald me; it is not doing foolish and absurd things. Faith is believing in God and acting towards

God as we ought to do. It is treating him, not as a cipher, but as a grand over-topping numeral in all our additions and subtractions. It is realising God: that is what it is. And in that sense faith is the truest reason, spiritualised and lifted up out of the ordinary sphere in which godless men choose to indulge in it: it is sanctified reason, enlightened from on high.

     The mother wants the Lord to preserve her child, but she knows that God would have her to be the instrument of it, so she hides him; and when she can no longer hide him then comes that little business of making an ark. Faith is inventive, but at the same time faith always likes a precedent. I imagine that the mother of Moses thought of making that ark, and pitching it within and without, because she had heard about Noah’s ark. Her faith made her love the memorial of the Lord’s working salvation in days of old. She had not a book to read, but she had been told that story about Noah’s ark. “Well,” said she, “I will have a little ark for my little Noah, and as I cannot otherwise save him, I will act as Noah did when, being moved with fear, he prepared an ark for the saving of his house.” Brethren, it is always safe for faith to think out her plans, but if she can discover one of God’s plans and adopt it, then faith is more confident. There are always precedents if you look for them. You can find a Noah’s ark somewhere, and make a little one after that model. Of course your ark cannot be as big as Noah’s, but then if it were it would be too big for little Moses; he would be lost in it. A little ark will do for a little Moses. Go upon your own scale, and work after the model which some servant of God was taught to set you, and as you have the same God to deal with, and he has the same love to you as he had for the saints of old, you will find the old plans work exceedingly well. Some of you young folks always want something new of your own. Well, after a good deal of trying all sorts of new things, I always find out that if my new plans succeed they turn out to have been old ones. There is nothing new under the sun that is worth trying. As sure as ever you strike out a new path you will find, if it is the right path at all, that somebody went that way years before. One has wittily complained of the ancients that they have taken all our original thoughts, and all our original plans, and carried them out before we had an opportunity to claim them. But still the faith of Moses’ mother was inventive. She invents the ark, yet does she borrow from the precedent of former days. She considers the days of old, and her spirit makes diligent search, and she acts after the way in which men of God had acted before.

     A critical commentator complains that the faith of these parents was somewhat weak. It made them go part of the way towards putting their child out of existence by putting him out in the ark and leaving him among the bulrushes. Well, I do not know anything about that. I am always satisfied with not knowing what I do not know; that is to say, if I see that God says nothing about their weak faith, I think we had better not say anything about it either. By faith they did what they did, and they did the best thing possible; and if there was weakness, as probably there was, still, as a painter when he was sketching a favourite prince took care to put his finger upon an uncomely spot in his face, so does the Holy Spirit when he speaks of these godly parents omit all mention of defects in their faith. He praises their faith, and it would be presumption on our part to modify his verdict. May we have as much faith as they had when we are tried and we shall have no need to fear.

     VI. Lastly, FAITH’S SIMPLE ACTS OFTEN LEAD ON TO THE GRANDEST RESULTS. “Take care of that child, Miriam. Do not let him cry, for fear anyone should hear.” Now that everyday act of Miriam in nursing the babe, the mother giving the child the breast to stay its cries, the father watching the door, and all those little things were small matters, yet how wonderfully they conduced to the great future by which Pharaoh’s power was broken. The whole history of Israel rested upon hiding that little child. The whole history of Israel did I say? Think of the names that hung upon the child’s life: Aaron, Joshua, Samson, Barak, David, Solomon, and even the divine babe of Bethlehem and the whole history of Israel were connected with Moses. Wrapt up in that child was the history of the world, for in the Jewish people all nations were blest, and blessing comes only to us Gentiles through the Jew. Greater blessings are yet to come by the selfsame channel. Oh yes, she takes care of Moses and hides him, and her reward is that Moses lives, and in due time there he is ready for his work, waving his rod over the fields of Zoan, working plagues and wonders; and there he is by the dark sea drowning all Pharaoh’s host and then leading the people to the mount of God, even to Horeb, and bringing them to the margin of the promised land. There he is, and he could not have been there if by faith his mother had not hid him three months. You do not know all you are doing when you do little things in faith. Brothers and sisters, do not despise domestic duties, but bring up all your children, your little children, in God’s fear: correcting their little habits, bearing with their little ways, teaching them their little hymns, all lead up to great results. Do not, I beseech you, despise and sin against the child. You know not what is in him, or her, or what in God’s great book of history those tiny hands are yet to write. If you have no children but have some other sort of work to do for God, do not think little of it. Grand events hinge on little incidents. Great wheels turn on little axles. There is a tiny part to each machine of unutterable importance. You never know the infinity of the influence of a word. To the wise man nothing is little; to the fool nothing is truly great. Make all things great by doing them by faith.

     So there I finish. Have you faith in God? Are you really believing in him? Are you trusting in Jesus? Have you accepted his way of salvation? My dear friend, if you have not you are going the wrong way to work in everything. If I were to go into a country where there was a king, and I took note of everything except that king and the king’s laws, I should soon get into trouble. If he were a king whose power was everywhere present, and yet I never recognized him, I should certainly make a failure of my life in his dominions. You come into this world where God is, and he is omnipotent to bless or curse you— will you disregard him? You come under certain laws of his, and if you take no note of them or him, but live only seeing what these eyes can see, and only knowing what comes under the cognizance of your senses, you will lead a bankrupt life, and fail at the last. Why, sirs, I dare to say it concerning myself that the grandest object to my thought always is my God in Christ. I have most excellent and admirable friends here who love and esteem me, but I dare not lean on one of them: I must lean upon God alone. He gives me many mercies and favours, but I know what it is to have been without them, and to have been just as happy as I am with them; and now I know what it is to live above them, and just live upon God. I could bear to let all go if you leave me my God, but if there be no God then am I of all men most miserable. I have learnt to live on him, to trust him, and to run to him with all my troubles, and I find that he always sustains me. I go to him with all my joys and he keeps me steady under them. He is all in all to me, and I can and do only say this much about myself that I may recommend my Lord to you all. I beseech every young man and every middle-aged man, and even every old man here, to taste and see that the Lord is good. I cannot make some of you poor people out: how can you live without God when you have so little comfort of a temporal sort? I cannot make you rich people out: how can you live without God when he is so good and kind to you? How can you forget him who daily loadeth you with benefits? You seem to me to get the husks and not to look for the kernels. You are living on the outside skins and never suck the juice of joy. The soul of life is to Live to God. The peace, the deep, the heavenly rest, which the soul gets must always come by a living faith in Jesus Christ. I say this because there is not one among you who, if you have this faith, may not exercise it whatever your calling may be. You may drive horses, you may measure calico, and weigh up sugar, and do all by faith to God’s glory; you may be on the Exchange, or you may be a book-folder, or a porter, or a nursery governess, or a plain cook, but everywhere faith has something to do, and you can show the power of faith in common life. God grant you may have faith wrought in you by the Holy Spirit. God is true, why do you not trust him? God is true, why do you not believe him? The Christ of God is gracious, why do you not accept him? He loves to save sinners, he receives all them that come to him. Why do you not come to him? God grant you may, for Jesu’s sake. Amen.



A Distinction with a Difference

By / Jun 22

A Distinction with a Difference

 

“And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this?”— Luke i. 18. “Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be?”— Luke i. 34.

 

ZACHARIAS and the Virgin Mary were both very dear to God, and therefore highly honoured and greatly favoured. The points of likeness between them are many. They were both persons of eminent character, for Zacharias walked in all the ordinances and commandments of the Lord blameless, and Mary was equally gracious and devout. They were both visited by an angel, and were both favoured with the prediction of a marvellous birth. Their answers to the angel are our two texts, and at first sight they seem to be alike. One does not see much less of faith or of unbelief in the one than in the other at first reading them, and yet Zacharias was blamed and chastened by being made dumb for a season, while the Virgin was indulged with an explanation, and was afterwards praised by the Holy Spirit, who spake through her cousin Elizabeth, and said, “Blessed is she that believed : for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.” It appears very clear then that God can see differences where we see none; and though two persons may act very much alike, and from their lips may fall similar expressions, yet their temper and spirit may be widely different Where you and I would put them together and say, “They are alike,” God sees a difference; for while we judge sights and sounds the Lord weigheth the spirits. You must have noticed this in other parts of God’s word. I will give you two instances in the life of Abraham. Lot was commanded not to look towards Sodom, and his wife after looking to Sodom was turned into a pillar of salt; and yet that morning Abraham gat up early to the place where he was wont to meet with the Lord and it is specially recorded that he looked toward Sodom. The very thing which Lot must not do Abraham may do. It is the same action; but then, if you think a moment, you can clearly see that the looking back of Lot would mean a lingering desire to return, but the look of Abraham had nothing of that kind in it, and could have no evil significance. He was simply looking to the burning cities and admiring with solemn awe the justice of the Most High as he saw the heavens ruddy with flame and afterwards dark with dense clouds, while the smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace. The action was the same externally, but widely different in reality; and the Lord God does not so much regard our outward acts as the motives which direct them and the spirit in which they are performed.

     Perhaps a more remarkable instance is that of Abraham and his wife Sarah. When they each received a distinct promise of the birth of Isaac it is said that Abraham fell upon his face and laughed, and then we read a little farther on, “Sarah laughed within herself.” We never find that Abraham was censured for laughing. He laughed rightly. It was the natural expression of a wondering and amazed delight. It was holy laughter, and he was not censured nor called to account for it; but the Lord said unto him, “Wherefore did Sarah laugh?” Sarah was censured for doing the very thing which in Abraham was quite right, and did not need to be corrected. They both laughed: the one was right, but the other was wrong. Wherefore? Because there was a vital difference between them. Sarah’s was the laugh of unbelief: she thought it could not be that at her age she should bear a child, her lord being old also. She laughed at the very idea; it seemed altogether too absurd; the mere notion struck her as being perfectly ridiculous, and though a devout woman she somewhat forgot the reverence due to him who gave the promise, and she laughed, though in a subdued and quiet way, “within herself.” Abraham believed that the divine promise would be performed, and his was the laugh of joy to think that he should see a son born to his beloved Sarah, who should be his heir and the inheritor of the covenant. His soul danced within him with delight, because he believed what the Lord had spoken. Yet the two actions outwardly are so exactly similar that if you condemn one you think you must condemn the other, but God does not, since he sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.

     We may apply this great truth to ourselves. We all sang the same hymn just now to the same tune, and yet from one it may have been to God’s ear music and from another mockery. We closed our eyes just now and bowed our heads in prayer, and anyone looking upon us might have supposed us to be all equally accepted, but the Lord knows in whose case the heart was wandering upon the mountains of vanity and in whose case the soul with all its powers was crying out unto the living God. Judge yourselves, beloved, but never judge yourselves according to the sight of the eyes, and never be satisfied with yourselves because externally everything is correct— because you have passed through the routine of religion and attended to the machinery of the outward form. Do not be contented with postures, sounds, and looks— the soul is the soul of the matter. Look at the heart and cry to God also that he would search you, and make you clean in the secret parts, and in the hidden parts make you to know wisdom; else may you stand as God’s people do, and go in and out of the house of prayer even as the brightest of the saints do, and never be separated from them until the trumpet rings out the great tremendous day and you are sent to the left with the goats to be withered by a curse, while his people on his right hand shall receive the blessing for ever. Let us all remember that there may be an external similarity in apparent right or wrong, and yet there may be an inward and a real dissimilarity; for it is the inward that is the real, and not the outward, and the great Judge will search and try and separate between the precious and the vile, though the vile may seem to be more beautiful than the precious genuine diamond.

     But now, leaving the general principle, I invite you, dear friends, to come back to my texts, and accompany me in looking at these two persons to see whether there is not a difference perceptible by ourselves; and I think we shall find a great deal more diversity than we had expected. I cannot work out the whole matter in one sermon, but some prominent points will I hope interest and profit you.

     I. First let us take the case of ZACHARIAS, who said, “WHEREBY SHALL I KNOW THIS?”

     And notice, to begin with, that supposing the two expressions of Zacharias and Mary had been identical, and supposing that they had conveyed the same thoughts, yet if they had both been wrong, Zacharias would have been the more faulty of the two, for he was a priest— a man set apart by office to study the word of God and to draw peculiarly near to God on his own account and for the people ; while Mary was simply a humble village maid. Mary, it is true, was of royal descent, but her family had fallen into obscurity. She was a person of superior mind, but she held no office that could distinguish her from others. Zacharias being a priest was bound to act with a higher degree of faith than Mary, the lowly maiden. The priest’s lips should keep knowledge and teach many. Were not the priests set apart to be instructors of the people, helpers of those that are weak, and guides of those who are ignorant and out of the way? They should therefore in all things set an example. If Mary had been unbelieving and Zacharias unbelieving, and both unbelieving to the same extent, yet in Zacharias it would have been much worse, because his very office called upon him to display greater grace than the humble maiden. Brethren and sisters, may I not apply this to myself and to you? Brother ministers, if we are unbelieving, we in our unbelief do not sin so cheaply as our people: we have more time to study the word, and therefore we have, or ought to have, more acquaintance with it. We are more familiar with divine things, and ought to be more richly filled with their faith-creating spirit. If the Lord has been pleased to make us under-shepherds over his people, we are bound to be ensamples to the flock. Our high position demands of us the exhibition of a greater degree of grace than we can expect from common believers, who are God’s dear people, but are not set apart to be leaders. The same line of argument will apply in due proportion to each servant of our Lord Jesus: according to their measure of grace more is expected of some than of others. You, dear sisters, who teach young people should remember that they watch you, and they expect to see in you a bright example; and, what is more, God, who has placed you in the position of teachers, or of mothers, intends that there should be in you, by his grace, something that others may look up to, that the young beginners may learn from you. Take heed that they never learn unbelief from your doubtings. Let them never see in you that worry, that anxiety, that fretfulness, which denotes the absence of a calm reliance upon God, but let them, whatever they gather from you, learn that which is worth knowing. And what can be a better lesson than that of faith in God? You who are in the church, dear friends, preachers, elders, deacons, and instructors of others, do see to it, that your lives and words do not breed unbelief. Especially do I speak to myself upon this point, for, being much exercised in spirit, I tremble lest I should suggest to any of you doubts and fears, or encourage you in them. Let those of us who are guides of others see to it that we do not dishonour God by mistrust and questioning, for unbelief in us is a glaring fault, and God will surely visit it upon us, even if he winks at it in the weak ones of the flock.

     Again, in Zacharias’ case it was not merely his office that distinguished him, but he was a man of years. We read that both himself and his wife were “well stricken in years.” Now, a man who has had a long experience of the things of God— a man of prayer who has had many answers— a man of trouble who has had many deliverances— a man who has seen the hand of God with him in a long journey through the wilderness of life— is expected by God to exhibit a far stronger faith than the young people who have but lately learned his name. I speak to many here who are by far my seniors, of whom I may say that they were in Christ before me, and they must pardon my saying that they should have more faith than I by reason of their years of constant experience of the Lord’s faithfulness and truth; and I, too, who have known the Lord for now a considerable number of years, must never put myself down with those who were converted during the last few months and say that I am to have no more faith than they. Shame upon every one of us if every day does not bring us fresh motives for believing in our Lord. Every hour, indeed, should be fraught with arguments for a more complete childlike trust in him. What, dear sister, did the Lord help you in such and such a strait? And do you not remember that you said, “I shall never doubt him any more”? And yet you have done so. Ah, how grievous must those doubts be to your gracious Lord! I know you thought you would never be delivered at one time, but you were mercifully lifted up from the depths; out of six troubles you have been rescued, and in seven no evil has touched you; and now that a fresh trial is come will you not believe your God? Well, if you do not, you will certainly incur very grievous sin and vex the Holy Spirit of God much more than your poor little sister Mary would do if, having only lately known the Saviour, she should distrust him in her first conflicts. Babes in grace should not doubt, but if they do their unbelief is not so wilful as that of fathers in Israel. If standard-bearers faint it is a sad calamity, and the faintness of poor wounded common soldiers is far less to be deplored. When aged Zacharias errs in this matter he is more to be blamed than youthful Mary.

     Those two points are pretty clear, are they not?

     Furthermore, let us observe that Zacharias had made the birth of a child a subject of prayer, which, I suppose, had not so much as been thought of by Mary. Beyond the fact that it was the usual desire of all Hebrew women that they might be the mother of the Messias, the Virgin had probably never cast a single thought in the direction in which the angel’s salutation conducted her; assuredly she had never made it a subject of prayer, but Zacharias had rightly done so. Read the thirteenth verse, “The angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son.” And yet, though the promise came as a distinct and manifest answer to his prayers, Zacharias asked, “Whereby shall I know this?” Now, this was wrong: it was very wrong. He had been praying for it, and when it came he did not believe in it. Ah, Zacharias, you are verily guilty here. If it had come as a surprise altogether, as it did to Mary, there would be some excuse for your doubt; but when it is a reply to your own entreaties, a gracious yielding to intense requests, your unbelieving question is a grievous fault. If, when taken by surprise, Mary had doubted, it would have appeared natural, but for you, Zacharias, — for you to whom the angel said, “Thy prayer is heard” — how dost thou doubt about it now? Astonishment at answered prayers is amazement at divine truthfulness, and what is that but a low idea of the Lord unintentionally discovering itself. Yet I have sometimes thought that, if the Lord wished to surprise his own servants, all he would have to do would be to answer their prayers. He does so answer them continually, and in consequence you hear one and another say, “Is it not surprising? You see, we met and had a prayer meeting for a certain blessing, and the Lord has answered our supplications. How marvellous!” And yet if you sit down in a friend’s house, do his children try to astonish you by mentioning cases in which their father kept his word? Do they dwell with amazement upon his having spoken the truth? Yet I could wish that the Lord’s children would even get as far as that. Alas, they even overlook the majority of the facts which prove his veracity, and treat his faithfulness slightly. When his people are in a better frame than usual they admit his faithfulness, and mention as a great wonder that he heard prayer and fulfilled his word. Should this be so? Has it come to pass that it is a wonder for God to hear prayer? Have we fallen into such a low state of heart that we think his truthfulness to be a surprising thing? It were far better if we were of the same mind as a good old lady who, when some one said, “Is it not wonderful?” replied, “Well, it is one way, but it is not another, for it is just like him— just like him.” We may well be surprised at the tenderness of his great mercy, but not as though it were a novelty for God to do good and to keep his promise by regarding his people’s cries. Dear brothers and sisters, we ought to be surprised if the Lord did not hear us, seeing that he is the true and faithful, prayer-hearing God. When you and I have had a matter heavily laid upon our hearts, and have been before God with it again and again, as doubtless Zacharias had, we should be looking out for our Lord’s gracious reply. Do we not expect answers to letters which we write to our friends? Why do we not in like fashion expect replies to prayer? If God answers us are we to be so doubtful in mind as even to question the truthfulness of the blessing? If so we shall be manifestly guilty. If the Lord sends us a mercy in reply to our requests, and we do not believe it, but say, “Whereby shall I know this?” then our unbelief has a peculiar degree of provocation in it, and we may expect to be chastened for it. This was the case with Zacharias.

     The next point about Zacharias is that he doubted the fact which was announced by the angel in the name of the Lord. He said, “Whereby shall I know this?” Mary did not doubt the fact: she wished to know how it could be, but she believed it would be. She believed, for it was said of her, “Blessed is she that believed.” But this good man did not believe, for the angel said to him, “Thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.” Now. beloved, when it comes to this, that we dare to doubt the promise of God, is it not a very grievous crime? If your child— your own child— whom you have loved so long and treated so tenderly should fall into a state of mind in which he did not believe you, his own father, would you not feel it to be peculiarly grievous? If you were conscious of nothing but love to him, if you were sure that throughout his life you had never broken a promise to him, but had always been as good as your word, if you had repeated your promise again and again, and he still said, “Father, I wish I could believe you,” would you not be cut to the heart by such a declaration? The more earnestly he expressed regret at his inability to believe you, the more intense would be your pain. What an awful speech for a son to address to a father— “I wish I could believe you”! You would grieve in spirit and say inwardly, “What does my boy think of me? What has come over my child that he cannot believe me? It was not an enemy, then I could have borne it; but it is my child whom I love who says, not only that he does not believe me, but that he would do so if he could, and finds himself unable to think me true. He speaks in deep earnest, and thus I see how thoroughly the cruel feeling possesses him, and how desperate is the evil which leads him to mistrust my love.” Ah, beloved, I leave your own thoughts, as I must just now leave mine, to peer into the depths of sin which must lie in what we sometimes talk of so flippantly, namely, doubts and fears. They are not the trifles which some men dream them to be: they are hideous profanities of sacred truth, revolting libels upon immaculate goodness, horrid blasphemies of infinite love! Shall the good God be thus assailed? Shall his own children thus ill-use him? Your child might doubt you, and it might be a trifle to him, but it would be death to you, his father or mother. You would feel it keenly; and so you may think that doubts and fears are trifles, but your heavenly Father does not think so; unbelief wounds him and grieves his Spirit. Hear what the Lord says: “How long will it be ere they believe me?” Forget not the apostle’s warning in the third chapter of the Hebrews. “With whom was he grieved forty years? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?” Zacharias did not believe, and he had to smart for it, as you and I shall if we, when we see a promise written clearly in God’s word, and evidently quite adapted to our case, nevertheless say, “Whereby shall I know this?”

     Yet further. The good man Zacharias— for, remember, I am not doubting his grace, but on the contrary I began by saying that he was a very gracious and eminently godly man, probably much better than any of us, and possibly in some respects even more gracious than Mary herself, having a deeper experience, a fuller knowledge, greater courage, and many other superior gifts and graces, although in this point he failed: he doubted his Lord; and showed his unbelief by asking for a sign, “Whereby shall I know this?” He wanted a sign or a token that what the angel spake was true. This was not the case with Mary, who sought an explanation but not a token. Is it wrong, then, to ask for a token? Assuredly not in all cases, for it may even be sinful not to ask for one, as in the case of Ahaz, of whom we read, “Moreover the Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord. And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?” In the case of Ahaz it was sinful to refuse, and in that of Zacharias sinful to request. Here again I must come back to the remark I started with, and remind you that the same thing may be right in one man and wrong in another, according to the motive. It is very curious that Abraham used almost identical words with Zacharias, when he said, “Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit this land?” He distinctly asked the Lord for a sign, nor was the request at all grievous to the Lord, for he knew that his servant Abraham asked that sign in all humility and childlike faith. Let me show you at once the difference between Abraham and Zacharias. Zacharias will not believe without a sign: Abraham has already believed, and waited long for the fulfilment of the promise, and feels that a sign would be comforting to him. It could in no sense have been said to the great father of the faithful, “Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe,” but some such rebuke might have been directed towards Zacharias. There was conspicuous faith in Abraham, and the desire for a token was natural rather than sinful. So was it with Gideon, who asked for many signs. You see at the very first that Gideon believes, and he acts upon his faith; but he trembles because his faith is weak, and he asks for signs to strengthen his confidence; indeed, he did not distrust the Lord at all, but only questioned whether it was the Lord who spoke. Gideon said, “If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.” The question, you see, was not the truthfulness of God, but whether indeed the Lord had spoken. Zacharias, however, asks an altogether unbelieving question, “Whereby shall I know this?” He wants a sign as the condition of his believing.

     You may very rightly pray, “Lord, show me a token for good;” but you must believe before you get the token, and you must not let your believing depend upon that token. There is a difference, and a wide difference, between believing first and then asking for some cheering evidence, and that unbelieving obstinacy which demands signs and wonders, and declares, “I will not believe unless I see a token.” Thomas is an instance of this error when he says, “Except I see in his hand the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, I will not believe.” His Master bent to his weakness, but he said, and very significant are the words, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.” The chief blessing belongs to you who, whether you have evidences or not, are content to believe your God, taking this word of God as quite sufficient ground for your confidence without any delights of heart or ecstasies or spiritual visitations. Our God is true even if no wonder be wrought and no sign be given: let us settle this in our hearts, and never allow a doubt to intervene. O Holy Spirit, help us in this thing.

     All this together shows that the error of Zacharias was unbelief, and his chastisement which he received for it is worthy of our earnest attention. He was chastened for his unbelief because the Lord loved him; his affliction was sent not so much in anger as in love.

     He had asked for a sign, and by a sign was he chastened. God often makes us gather the twigs from which he makes the rod with which he scourges us. Our own sins are the thorns which cause us to smart. Zacharias asked for a sign, and he has this sign: “Thou shalt be dumb, and notable to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.” For months he shall not be able to speak a single word; but while his mouth is closed to others it shall be open to himself: that dumb mouth of his shall be preaching to him and saying, “You did not believe what was spoken to you of the Lord, and now you are unable to repeat it to others, for the Lord will not employ an unbelieving messenger. If you will not believe when God’s angel speaks, you shall not speak yourself.” Many a dumb Christian, I am afraid, has had his mouth sealed through unbelief. The Lord saves him and gives him much enjoyment, but he denies him utterance because he has such slender faith. I have no doubt Zacharias was very happy in the prospect of the birth of his child, and looked earnestly onward to the day when John, the prophet of the highest, should be born, and he himself should recover speech; but still it must have been very painful to remain for so long a time in utter silence. How he must have longed to speak or sing. But I have no doubt that many a man is put aside from bearing his testimony through unbelief, which he calls diffidence and delicacy. The Lord says, “I shall never use you as a preacher. I shall not make use of you in addressing your fellow men. I shall not help you to bring men to Christ in private conversation, because you have so little faith. You have doubted me, and now you must be dumb for a season.” I hope that, if this be the case with any, your silence will soon end. Lord, open thou their lips, and their mouths shall show forth thy praise. Dear friend, I hope the Lord will unloose your tongue by-and-by, for if you are in a right state of heart it will be a very painful thing to you not to be able to declare what the Lord has done for your soul; but it is so with some, they are dumb because they believe not.

     Moreover, Zacharias had the further affliction of being deaf at the same time. How do I know that he was deaf? That is pretty clear, because when his child was born it is recorded in the sixty-second verse that “they made signs to his father how he would have him called;” and, of course, if he had been able to hear there would have been no need to use signs: but he could not hear any more than he could speak, he suffered the double affliction of being deaf and dumb,— no small cross to one who had such gifts of utterance as he showed in his song of praise. It is remarkable that he could not hear anything, but it is also instructive; for I have known Christians who, when they would not believe the promise, have become very deaf spiritually. You say, “What do you mean? How are they deaf?” Listen, and you will hear them say, “I cannot hear Mr. So-and-So.” It is the same minister whom they used to hear with pleasure— the same man— and God blesses him to others as much as before. How is this? Others are drinking in the word, but these poor deaf people say, “We do not know how it is, but we cannot hear our pastor.” No, you did not believe, and therefore you cannot hear. You did not receive his message; you did not rejoice in it, and now you cannot hear it. That is a dreadful sort of deafness. If you suffer from a physical deafness you can buy a horn, or you can go to some skilful aurist who, perhaps, may help you. Moreover, you can read if you cannot hear; but if you get a spiritual deafness, I do not know a worse chastisement that can come upon you, nor one that will make you more mischievous to others. O Beloved, do believe the good word of the Lord. With meekness receive the engrafted word, and do not question it and provoke the Lord, lest, haply, because you did not accept the word as the word of God, the time shall come when you will not be able to hear it, and your profiting will utterly depart, and the very voice that once was music to you will have no charms at all, and the blessed truth which once made your heart leap for joy will cease to have the slightest influence upon you. Mary was not sentenced either to be silent or to be deaf, for she believed the word of the Lord which was spoken to her by the angel. O that we also by a full obedience of faith may escape the penalties which surely attach themselves to unbelief. We must needs sorrow, but there can be no reason for increasing it by our own fault; and we may readily do so, while on the other hand faith brings rest and peace. So much concerning Zacharias.

     II. Now let us turn our eyes to MARY. Mary used much the same language, and yet she spake not after the same fashion. She asked of the angel, “HOW SHALL THIS BE?”

     In looking at her, first, it is to be noticed that she believed what the angel said. It was not “Whereby shall I know this?” but in effect her language was, “I believe it. How shall it be?” There is no unbelief in the question. Of that we are sure, because not long after she is praised by her intelligent cousin, Elizabeth, who declares that “blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.” She was notably a believer.

     She asked no sign. She sought no token whatever. The angel’s voice sufficed her. The still small voice of divine love within her soul was enough. She believed, and only asked to be instructed in the matter, sign and seal she needed none.

     She was willing also to accept all hazards. I would speak with great delicacy, but to the virgin, remember, it was a very serious thing to be the mother of our Lord. To this very day the base tongues of infidels have dared to insinuate gross criminality against her who was blessed among women; and she must have well known that it was not likely that all would believe what she should aver, and many a hard speech would be uttered concerning her. Indeed, she might have had fear concerning her espoused husband himself, who would have put her away had not the Lord shielded her. Joseph behaved nobly, like a believer of the first order, and he deserves to be ranked amongst the truest of the saints; as does the virgin herself, who well deserves to be exceedingly commended by all who can appreciate pure, delicate, and yet heroic faith. Whatever there might be of hazard, so great was the honour that was put upon the virgin that she does not appear to have felt the slightest hesitation, but said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word.”

     I think her question may be attributed, in part, to surprise— to inevitable amazement; and what we say to the Lord when we are naturally surprised under the greatness of his mercy will not be weighed by him letter by letter, nor shall we be judged for it, though if very closely examined it might appear like unbelief. The Lord knows his children’s frame and remembers that we are dust. I hope that many a word which drops from the child of God when he is in pain, when he is distressed as Job was on the dunghill, is allowed to blow away with the breath which utters it. How very little did the Lord say to Job about the naughty words which in his petulance he had allowed to escape, for after all he was grandly patient; and so even if there had been something of unbelief in these words of Mary, which there was not, yet they would have been viewed by the Lord as the fruit of surprise at the marvellous and unexpected mercy for which she had not even prayed. There was no unbelief in her language, but there was great wonder, surprise, and admiration, at so great a boon. How should this come to her? How should she be so highly favoured? Her soul seemed to say, “Whence is this to me? that I, so humble and obscure, a maiden whose rank and race have been altogether forgotten, should be the mother of the Saviour after the flesh, the mother of his humanity by whom humanity is to be redeemed.”

     She was full of wonder, and then she began to enquire. There is the point. She wanted to know how it would be; there was no wrong in that desire; there was no unbelief worthy of rebuke; she believed the surpassing promise, and only wished to know how it could be performed. There might readily enough be unbelief in such an enquiry, but not necessarily so. You and I may say, as the Israelites did in the wilderness when God had promised to give them flesh to eat, “Shall the flocks and herds be slain?” That was unbelievingly asking how it should be; but yet you may ask how a promise shall be fulfilled without any mistrust at all; nay, your very faith may raise the enquiry. I know my soul asks again and again many questions of my Lord which he answers to my soul. He would not have answered had they been sinful questions. We ought to enquire about a great many things: we should be sacredly inquisitive. We should say, How is it he has chosen us? For our Lord replies, “Even so Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” But, still, why me? Why me? You may ask that question, for holy gratitude dictates it. And how is it that he could redeem us with the blood of his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord? And how is it that he renews us? And how will it be that he will perfect us? And how can it be that we shall have a mansion in heaven, and shall become like our Lord? And how is it that we shall be raised up? With what body shall we come? Many a question we may ask, which if not asked in unbelief, will have an answer, or will serve to increase our reverent gratitude.

     But now notice concerning Mary that, while Zacharias was the doubter and was treated as such, Mary was the enquirer, and was so dealt with of the Lord. See the difference of the treatment of the two.

     For, first, Mary did not ask a sign, but she had one; and it was one of the most pleasant that could possibly come to her, for it was her cousin Elizabeth. She was to be her sign. Behold, she that had been barren shall come to meet her and comfort her. Brethren, the Lord knows how to give you signs if you do not wish for them; and I do believe that those have the most tokens for good who do not ask for them, but are content to take their Father’s word without any confirmatory sign.

     And, then, there was another thing with regard to her. She was graciously instructed. Zacharias asked a sign, and he had it; she asked for instruction, and she had it. The angel paused awhile and said to her, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore, also, that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.’’ If you will meekly, and believingly, ask of your Lord to be taught concerning divine things, he will give you of his Spirit, who shall lead you into all truth, and instruct you, and make you wise unto salvation.

     Now, the conclusion is this: first of all, let us not do as Zacharias did. Dear friend, art thou at this moment questioning any promise? Art thou saying, “Whereby shall I know this?” Cease from doubting the infallible word and rest in the Lord, his Holy Spirit enabling thee to believe.

     On the other hand, are you a seeking sinner, and does Christ declare that whosoever looks to him shall be saved, and that whosoever believeth in him is not condemned? Do not ask any token, but believe him. He himself is token enough. He is God, and yet man; the bleeding Lamb, the sacrifice for sin. Believe him; believe him; believe him; and you shall have the blessing.

     And you, dear child of God, if you have a text of Scripture, a promise which evidently suits your case, which meets your trouble, do not say, “Whereby shall I know this?” When the Spirit says it, it is enough that it is in the word. Whatever the Scripture states, be sure of it; for if all the wise men in the world were to prove it, it would not be proven one bit more; and if they were all to disprove it, it would be none the less sure. If I were to see a thing to be true which God had declared in his word, I would not believe my eyes so well as I would believe his word: at least, I ought not to do so. This is where we ought to stand: all the world may deceive, but God cannot; let God be true, and every man a liar. If you will come and trust him in this way you shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, your leaf shall not wither, and you shall not know when drought cometh. If your walk through life is the walk of faith, as Abraham’s and Enoch’s were, you shall have a grand life— grandly full, and eternal, and Christly; but if you doubt him you shall not be established. The unbeliever shall be as the rolling thing before the whirlwind, as the sear leaf that falleth from the tree, and as the heath of the desert that knoweth not when good cometh. May the Holy Ghost save us, brothers and sisters, from unbelief, and give us rest in the promise of God.

     And now, secondly, let us with all our hearts imitate Mary in being enquirers— often asking, desiring to know, and looking deep and searching; for into the promise of God we cannot look too closely, since “these things the angels desire to look into.” You ought so to realize the promise as to be sure that it means what it says, and then you will naturally begin to ask how it will come to pass. Only strive to keep out all unbelief from your enquiry and say, “I know in my heart how it can be, for nothing is impossible with God.” There is our answer to all questionings— “With God all things are possible.” If I enquire, “How can he deliver me?” Nothing is impossible with God. “How can he keep me to the end?” Nothing is impossible with God. “How can he preserve me amid persecution? How can he keep me from temptation, and preserve me from the world, the flesh and the devil?” Nothing is impossible with God. Fling yourself upon omnipotence, and you shall be strong. May the Holy Spirit help you to do this for Christ’s sake. Amen.



Jacob Worshipping on His Staff

By / Jun 22

JACOB WORSHIPPING ON HIS STAFF.

 

“By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and
worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.”— Hebrews xi. 21.

 

“WHEN he was a dying.” Death is a thorough test of faith. Beneath the touch of the skeleton finger shams dissolve into thin air, and only truth remains; unless indeed a strong delusion has been given, and then the spectacle of a presumptuous sinner passing away in his iniquities is one which might make angels weep. It is hard, very hard, to maintain a lie in the presence of the last solemnities; the end of life is usually the close of self-deception. There is a mimic faith, a false assurance, which lasts under all ordinary heats of trial, but this evaporates when the fires of death surround it. Certain men are at peace and quiet in their conscience, they stifle convictions, they refuse to allow such a thing as self-examination, they count an honest self-suspicion to be a temptation of the devil, and boast of their unbroken tranquillity of mind, and go on from day to day with perfect confidence; but we would not be of their order. Their eyes are closed, their ears are dull of hearing, and their heart has waxen gross. A siren song for ever enchants them with delight, but also entices them to destruction. Terrible will be their awakening when they lie a dying: as a dream their false peace will vanish, and real tenors will come upon them. That expression, “When he was a dying,” reminds me of many deathbeds; but I shall not speak of them now, for I desire each one of you to rehearse the scene of his own departure, for soon of every one a tale will be told commencing— “When he was a dying.” I want each one to project his mind a little forward to the time when he must gather up his feet in the bed, pronounce his last farewell, and yield up the ghost. Before your actual departure, probably, there may be allotted to you, unless you are carried away with a sudden stroke, a little time in which it shall be said, “He was a dying.” Perhaps it is a desirable thing to occupy some weeks in departure, till the mind seems to have passed through the gate and to be already in the glory, while yet the body lingers here; but as we have had no experience we are scarcely able to form a judgment. Very much might be said in favour of that sudden death which is sudden glory; but yet one might prefer to have enough time and sufficient clearness of mind to gaze into eternity, and so to become familiar with the thought of departing out of the body. It would seem desirable to lose the dread and first surprise of the chill torrent, and to become fully at ease on the banks of Jordan, sitting with your feet up to the ankles in its stream, and by degrees descending into the greater depths, singing, singing, singing, singing, and beginning e’en on earth the everlasting song which is heard for ever on the other side the mysterious river. Such dying is a fit ending to a life of genuine piety, and both displays and proves its truthfulness. Jacob was a dying, and in his dying we see the man.

     The text tells us that the patriarch’s faith was firm while he was a dying, so that he poured forth no murmurs, but plentiful benedictions, as he blessed both the sons of Joseph. May your faith and mine also be such that whenever we shall be a dying our faith will perform some illustrious exploit that the grace of God may be admired in us. Paul does not say anything about Jacob’s life, but selects the death scene. There were many instances of faith in Jacob’s life-story, but you recollect that in the epistle to the Hebrews Paul is walking through the histories and plucking a flower here and a flower there, and he complains that time fails him even in doing that, so fertile is the garden of faith. I do not doubt, however, that he gathered the best out of each biography; and, perhaps, the finest thing in Jacob’s life was the close of it. He was more royal between the curtains of his bed than at the door of his tent: greater in the hour of his weakness than in the day of his power. Some days are damp and foggy from morning till late in the afternoon, but just before the sun goes down there is a calm, bright hour, and the sun sets in such a glory that you forget the gloom of the day. Albeit that all the former part of the day was commonplace enough, yet the closing hour is at times so gorgeous in splendour that you recollect the day for its sunset, and mark it down in your diary as a memorable date. Jacob’s death has certainly so much of glorious faith in it that the apostle did well to select it for special record.

     The old man of one hundred and forty-seven might have been willing to depart through infirmities of age, but yet he had much to keep him below, and make him wish to live as long as possible. After a very troublous life he had enjoyed seventeen years of remarkable comfort, so much so that, had it been ourselves, we should probably have begun to strike our roots into the soil of Goshen, and dread the bare thought of removal; yet there sits the venerable patriarch, with his hand on his staff, ready to go, seeking no delay, but rather waiting for the salvation of God. After all his tossings to and fro, when he had been so long a pilgrim, it must have been a pleasant thing for him to have settled down in a fat land with his sons, and his grandsons, and great-grandsons all around him, all comfortably provided for, with Joseph at the head of the whole country— prime minister of Egypt— reflecting honour upon his old father, and taking care that none of the family wanted anything. The last course of Jacob’s feast of life was by far the sweetest, and the old man might have been loth to retire from so dainty a table. The children of Israel were a sort of foreign aristocracy in the land, and against them would not a dog dare to move its tongue, lest the renowned Joseph should put forth his hand. That seventeen years must have been bright, and full pf rest to the old man. But sense has not killed his faith, luxury has not destroyed his spirituality; his heart is still in the tents where he had dwelt as a sojourner with God. You can see that he has not even with one single rootlet of his soul taken hold upon Egypt. His first anxiety is to take care that not even his bones shall lie in Goshen, but that his body shall be taken out of the country as a protest to his family that they are not Egyptians, and cannot be made into subjects of Pharaoh, and that Canaan is their possession to which they must come. By his dying charge to bury him in Machpelah he practically teaches his descendants that they must set loose by all the good land which they possessed in Goshen, for their inheritance did not lie on the banks of the Nile, but on the other side the desert in Canaan, and they must be on tiptoe to journey thither. The blessing which he gave to the sons of Joseph was but an utterance of his firm faith in the covenant which gave the land to him and to his seed. It was suggested by that faith of his which let go the present and grasped the future, renounced the temporal and seized the eternal, refusing the treasures of Egypt and clinging to the covenant of God.

     Three things are brought before us by the text. The first is the blessing; the second is the worshipping; and the third is the attitude; for he “worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff,” which must be significant, or else it would not have been recorded.

     I. First, then, HIS BLESSING. He blessed the two sons of Joseph. Will you have patience with me while I try to show that his blessing the sons of Joseph was an act of faith, because, first, only by faith could the old man really give a blessing to any one? Look at him. He is too feeble to leave his bed. When he sits up supported by pillows, at what is called the bed-head, he calls for his trusty staff that he may lean upon it while he raises himself up a little, to be in a position to stretch out his hands and to use his voice. He has no strength, and his eyes are dim, so that he cannot see which is Ephraim and which is Manasseh. He is failing in most of his faculties: every way you can see that he is a worn-out old man, who can do nothing for the children whom he loves. If he is able to bestow a blessing, it cannot be by the power of nature; and yet he can and does bless them, and therefore we feel sure that there must be an inner man within that feeble old Jacob; there must be a spiritual Israel hidden away in him, an Israel who by prevailing with God as a prince has obtained a blessing, and is able to dispense it to others. And so there is; and at half a glance we see it. He rises to the dignity of a king, a prophet, and a priest when he begins to pronounce a blessing upon his two grandchildren. He believed God. He believed that God spoke by him; and he believed that God would justify every word that he was uttering. He believed in the God that heareth prayer; his benediction was a prayer; and as he pronounced blessings upon his grandsons he felt that every word he was speaking was a petition which the Lord was answering. They were blest, and they should be blest, and he discerned it by faith. Thus, we see, he was manifesting his faith in offering believing prayer, and in uttering a confident benediction. Dear friends, whether we live, or whether we die, let us have faith in God: whenever we preach or teach the gospel, let us have faith; for without faith we shall labour in vain. Whenever you distribute religious books or visit the sick, do so in faith, for faith is the life-blood of all our service. If only by faith can a dying Jacob bless his descendants, so only by faith can we bless the sons of men. Have faith in God, and the instruction which you give shall really edify, the prayers you offer shall bring down showers of mercy, and your endeavours for your sons and daughters shall be prospered. God will bless what is done in faith; but if we believe not our work will not be established. Faith is the backbone and marrow of the Christian’s power to do good: we are weak as water till we enter into union with God by faith, and then we are omnipotent. We can do nothing for our fellow-men by way of promoting their spiritual and eternal interests if we walk according to the sight of our eyes; but when we get into the power of God, and grasp his promise by a daring confidence, then it is that we obtain the power to bless.

     You will notice, also, that not only the power to bless came to him by faith, but the blessings which he allotted to his grandsons were his upon the same tenure. His legacies were all blessings which he possessed by faith only. He gave to Ephraim and Manasseh a portion each: but where and what? Did he fetch out a bag from the iron safe and say, “Here, young men, I give you the same portion of ready money as I give my sons”? No, there does not seem to have been a solitary shekel in the case. Did he call for the map of the family estates and say, “I give over to you, my boys, my freehold lands in such a parish, and my copyhold farms under such a manor”? No, no, he gave them no portion in Goshen, but each had a lot in Canaan.

     Did that belong to him? Yes, in one sense, but not in another. God had promised it to him, but he had not yet a foot of land in it. The Canaanites were swarming in the land; they were dwelling in cities walled up to heaven, and held the country by the right of possession, which is nine points of the law. But the good old man talks about Canaan as if it was all his own, and he foresees the tribes growing into nations as much as if they were already in actual possession of the country. He had, as a matter of fact, neither house nor ground in Palestine, and yet he counts it all his own, since a faithful God had promised it to his fathers. God had said to Abraham, “Lift up now thine eyes and behold to the east and to the west, to the north and to the south. All this will I give thee.” And Jacob realizes that gift of God as being a charter and title-deed of possession, and he acts upon it while he says, “This is for Ephraim: this is for Manasseh,” though the sneering infidel standing by would have said, “Hear how the old man dotes and maunders, giving away what he has not got!” Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and she deals seriously and in a business manner with that which she makes real to herself: blind reason may ridicule, but faith is justified of all her children.

     Beloved, in this manner believers bless the sons of men, namely, by faith. We pray for them, and we tell them of good things yet to come, not to be seen of the eye, or to be perceived by the senses, but inconceivably good— things laid up by God for them that love him, which shall be the portion of our children and our friends if they believe in the living God. By faith we believe in things not seen as yet. We confess that, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we are strangers here, and we are journeying towards a place of which God has spoken to us: “A city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” We have learned to talk about the crown which the Lord has laid up for us, and not for us only but for all them that love his appearing; and we delight to tell others how to win this crown. We point them to the narrow gate and to the narrow way, neither of which they can see, and to the end of that narrow road, even to the hill-tops crowned with the celestial city where the pilgrims of the Lord shall dwell for ever, and enjoy an eternal reward. Faith is wanted to enable us to point men to the invisible and eternal, and if we cannot do this how can we bless them. We must believe for those we love, and have hope for them; thus shall we have power with God for them, and shall bless them. Oh, you worldly fathers, you may give your sons what heritage you can, and divide among your daughters what wealth you please, but as for us, our longing is to see our children and our children’s children dowried with the riches which come from above. If they win a share in the land on the other side of Jordan, as yet unseen, and have a portion now in Christ Jesus, we shall be glad— infinitely more glad than if they were the richest among mankind. Our legacies to our sons are the blessings of grace, and our dowries to our daughters are the promises of the Lord.

     It is well worthy of our notice that the venerable patriarch Jacob in his benediction particularly mentioned the covenant. His faith, like the faith of most of God’s people, made the covenant its pavilion of delightful abode, its tower of defence, and its armoury for war. No sweeter word was on his tongue than the covenant, and no richer consolation sustained his heart. He said to Joseph, “God almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, and said unto me, Behold I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee.” His confidence rested in the promise of the Lord, and in the divine fidelity: that was the fountain truth from which he drew the inspiration which led him to bless his grandchildren. And, also, you notice, how he dwells upon the name of his father Abraham, and of his father Isaac, with whom the covenant had aforetime been established: the memories of covenant love are precious, and every confirmatory token is treasured up and dwelt upon. Dying men do not talk nonsense. They get to something solid, and the everlasting covenant made with their fathers, and confirmed in their own persons, has been one of the grand things about which dying saints have been wont to deliver their souls. Recollect how David said, “Although my house be not so with God, yet hath he made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.” While we are sitting here we can talk about the matter coolly, but when the death dew lies cold upon the brow, and the pulse is failing, and the throat is gradually choking up, it will be blessed to fix the eye upon the faithful promiser and to feel a calm within the soul which even death-pangs cannot disturb, because we can then exclaim, “I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him until that day.” My dear hearers, if you have no faith you cannot plead the covenant, and certainly if you cannot plead it for yourselves you cannot urge it with God for a blessing upon your sons and your grandsons. It was by faith in the covenant that the venerable Jacob blest the two sons of Joseph, and without it we can bless no one, for we are not blessed ourselves. Faith is the priest which proclaims the blessing without fear.

“We pronounce our benediction
O'er our son's beloved head,
For the promise is no fiction,
God will do what he has said.
“Covenant love and covenant blessing,
Cause our happy lips to bless;
For by faith each boon possessing,
Our glad hearts can do no less.”

     I want to call your attention to one point which I think extraordinarily illustrates the faith of Jacob. In distributing to these two grandchildren his blessings as to the future, he takes them right away from Joseph, and says, “As Simeon and Reuben shall they be mine.” Do you know who those two young gentlemen were? Think awhile, and you will see that they were very different in rank, station, parentage, and prospects from any of the sons of Jacob. Jacob’s sons had been brought up as labouring men, without knowledge of polite society or learned arts. They were countrymen, mere Bedouins, wandering shepherds, and nothing else; but these two young gentlemen were descended from a princess, and had, no doubt, been liberally educated. Pharaoh had given to Joseph a daughter of Poti-pherah, priest of On, and the priests of Egypt were the highest class of all— the nobility of the land. Joseph himself was prime minister, and these were partakers of his lofty rank. The sons of Reuben and Simeon were nobodies in the polite circles of Egypt— very good, decent people, farmers and graziers, but not at all of the high class of the Right Honourable Lord Manasseh and the Honourable Ephraim. Indeed, every shepherd was an abomination to the Egyptians, and therefore inadmissible to Egypt’s nobility; but Manasseh and Ephraim were of a superior caste, and gentlemen of position and fortune. But Jacob showed his faith by ignoring worldly advantages for his grandsons. He says to Joseph, “They are not to be yours. I do not know them as Egyptians, I forget all about their mother’s rank and family. The boys have attractive prospects before them; they can be made priests of the idol temple, and rise to high dignities among the Egyptians; but all that glitter we reject for them, and in token thereof I adopt them as my own sons; they are mine; as Simeon and Reuben they shall be mine. For all the gold of Egypt you would not have one of them serve an idol, for I know that you are true to your father’s God and your father’s faith.” And so he takes the boys right away, you see, from all their brilliant opportunities, and bestows upon them that which, to the carnal mind, appears to be an estate in dreamland, a chateau in Spain, something intangible and unmarketable. This was a deed of faith, and blessed are they who can imitate it, choosing rather the reproach of Christ for their sons than all the treasures of Egypt. The joy of it is that these lads accepted the exchange, and let the golden possessions of Egypt go like Moses after them. May our heirs and successors be of like mind, and may the Lord say of them, “Out of Egypt have I called my son”; and again, “When Ephraim was a child then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” This is how faith leads believers to bless their children. We are of the same mind as Jacob in this matter. We would sooner bury our little ones than that they should live to become amongst the richest and most famous of men, and yet not know or serve their father’s God; better that we laid them quietly in such ground as our Christian brethren permit us to use as a sepulchre for our unbaptized babes; better that they were safely housed at God’s right hand, than that they should grow up to plunge into dissipation or to follow false doctrine and perish out of Christ. Yes, yes, the good old man was content that his family should be as poor as he was in Canaan, so long as they might have a possession in the land of promise.

     Do you not see, then, how by faith Jacob blest the two sons of Joseph, putting aside their temporal prospects and bestowing upon them the blessing which belongs to the children of the promise?

     We have not done yet, for we notice that Jacob showed his faith by blessing Joseph' s sons in God' s order. He placed Ephraim before Manasseh. It was not according to the rule of nature, but he felt the impulse upon him, and his faith would not resist the divine guidance: blind as he was he would not yield to the dictation of his son, but crossed his hands to obey the divine monition. Faith resolves to do the right thing in the right way. Some persons’ faith leads them to do the right thing the wrong way upwards, but matured faith follows the order which God prescribes. If God will have Ephraim first, faith does not quarrel with his decree. We may wish to see a favourite child blessed more than another, but nature must forego her choice, for the Lord must do what seemeth him good. Faith prefers grace to talent, and piety to cleverness; she lays her right hand where God lays it, and not where beauty of person or quickness of intellect would suggest. Our best child is that which God calls best; faith corrects reason and accepts the divine verdict.

     Notice that he manifested his faith by his distinct reference to redemption. He alone who has faith will pray for the redemption of his children, especially when they exhibit no signs of being in bondage, but are hopeful and amiable. The good old man prayed, “The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads.” Let your faith bring down upon your children a share in redemption’s blessings, for they need to be redeemed even as others. If they are washed in the blood of Jesus, if they are reconciled to God by the blood of his Son, if they have access to God by the blood of atonement, you may die well satisfied; for what is to harm them when once the angel that redeemed you has also redeemed them? From sin, from Satan, from death, from hell, from self — “from all evil” does our Redeemer set us free; and this is the greatest of all benedictions which we can pronounce upon our dearest children. Beloved hearers, thus would I pray for you, — may the redeeming angel deliver you from all evil.

     Jacob showed his faith by his assurance that God would be present with his seed. How cheering is the old man’s dying expression, made not only to his boys, but concerning all his family. He said, “Now I die, but God will be with you.” It is very different from the complaints of certain good old ministers when they are dying. They seem to say, “When I die, the light of Israel will be quenched. I shall die, and the people will desert the truth. When I am gone the standard-bearer will have fallen, and the watchman on the walls will be dead.” Many in dying are afraid for the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof; and, sometimes, we who are in good health talk very much in the same fashion as though we were wonderfully essential to the progress of God’s cause. I have known some of our church members speak in that manner, and enquire: “What should we do if Mr. So-and-so were dead! If our pastor were gone, what would the church do?” I will tell you what you will do without us: I will put the case as though I were myself about to die, — “Now I die, but God will be with you.” Whoever passes away, the Lord will abide with his people, and the church will be secure. The grand old cause does not depend on one or two of us. God forbid! The truth was mighty in the land before the best man living was born, and when he is carried with funeral procession, sad and slow, to his resting-place, the truth will not be buried with him, but in its own immortal youth will still be powerful; yes, and fresh advocates will arise more full of life and vigour than we are, and greater victories will be won. If you cut down yonder noble oak which now covers so wide an area with its shade, there may spring up a dozen trees which else had been overshadowed by the giant and checked in their growth: the removal of one man is often the opportunity for the springing up of scores of others to do equal service. It is grand to say with Jacob, “Now I die, but God will be with you.” Such language honours God and bespeaks a mind greatly trustful, and completely delivered from the self-conceit which dreams itself important, if not necessary, to the cause of God. So may we die trusting in the Lord, and meanwhile so may we live, reliant upon the divine power.

     Thus much about Jacob’s benediction. By faith he blest the two sons of Joseph.

      II. We are told, next, that the old man “worshipped"— WORSHIPPED BY FAITH. This act no man can rightly perform without faith, for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him. The point here is that he worshipped in his dying hour, and worshipped in blessing his two grandsons. Very briefly let me tell you what worship I think he rendered.

     First, while he was dying he offered the worship of gratitude. How pleasing is the incident recorded in the tenth and eleventh verses, “Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he could not see. And Joseph brought his two sons near unto him; and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face: and, lo, God hath showed me also thy seed.” Ah, yes, we shall often have to say, “O Lord, I had not thought that thou wouldst do as much as this, but thou hast gone far beyond what I asked or even thought.” I hope that this will be amongst our dying speeches and confessions, that the half was never told us, that our good Lord kept the best wine till the last, and that the end of the feast on earth, being but the beginning of the feast eternal in heaven, was the crown of all. Let us declare concerning our Lord that we found him better and better and better and better, even till we entered into his rest. He has been at first better than our fears, then better than our hopes, and finally better than our desires. So good, so blessed a God do we serve, that he always by his deeds of grace outruns our largest expectations. What cause we have for the worship of grateful praise; let us not be slow to render it. Jacob worshipped by expressions of gratitude.

     Did he not also offer the worship of testimony, when he acknowledged God’s goodness to him all his life? He says, “The God that fed me all my life long,” thus owning that he had been always dependent but always supplied. He had been a shepherd, and he uses a word here which means “The God that shepherdized me— who was a shepherd to me all my life long.” It was a testimony to the care and tenderness of Jehovah. Jacob does not murmur now, and declare that all things are against him. Now he no longer quarrels and frets, and makes rash declarations; now he does not even make a bargain with God, but he cries, “The God that fed me all my life long.” Yes, and I hope we also shall finish life by magnifying the goodness of the Lord. Be this our witness, “He fed me all my life long. I was in straits sometimes, and I wondered where the next bit of bread would come from; but if he did not send a raven, or if he did not find a widow woman to provide for me, yet somehow or other he did feed me all my life long. He worked in his own wise way, so that I never lacked, for the Lord was my shepherd all my life long.” Thus you see that Jacob worshipped by the testimony of faith when he came to die, and this is exceedingly acceptable with the Lord.

      Notice, too, how reverently he worships the covenant messenger with the adoration of reverent love. He speaks of “the angel who redeemed me from all evil.” He thinks of the angel that wrestled with him, and the angel that appeared to him when he fell asleep at Bethel. This is the angel, not an ordinary angel, but the true archangel— Jesus Christ — the messenger of the covenant whom we delight in. It is he that has delivered us from all evil by his redeeming blood, for no other being could have accomplished a redemption so complete. Do you remember when he came to you personally, and wrestled with you and tore away your self-righteousness, and made you limp upon your thigh? This it may be was your first introduction to him. You saw him by night, and thought him at the first to be rather your enemy than your friend. Do you recollect when he took your strength away from you, and then at last saved you, because in utter weakness, as you were about to fall to the ground, you laid hold of him and said, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me,” and so you won a blessing from him? You had thought aforetime that you had strength in yourself, but now you learned that you were weakness itself, and that only as you became consciously weak would you become actually strong. You learned to look out of self to him, and do you not bless him for having taught you such a lesson? Will you not when you come to die bless him for what he did for you then, and all your life long? O my brethren, we owe all things to the redeeming Angel of the covenant. The evils which he has warded off from us are terrible beyond conception, and the blessings he has brought us are rich beyond imagination. We must adore him, and, though we see him not, we must in life and in death by faith worship him with lowly love.

     If you read on through the dying scene of Jacob you will notice once more how he worshipped with the adoration of earnest longing, for just after he had pronounced a blessing on the tribe of Dan the old man seemed thoroughly exhausted and gasped as if about to faint, but instead of fainting, instead of uttering a cry of pain and weakness, he solemnly exclaims, “I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.” It is a holy utterance interjected into the very middle of a prophecy— “I have waited for thy salvation, O God”: as much as to say, “I long to be gone. My heart is all with thee. Make no tarrying, O my God. Strengthen me to get through this one more task of telling the future to my sons, and enable me to offer my last prayer for their welfare, and then, Lord, bring thy salvation.

‘Come death and some celestial band
To bear my soul away.’”

     Thus you have had a picture of the old man blessing by faith, and worshipping by faith: faith was the mainspring of the two actions, their essence, their spirit, and their crown.

     III. The last matter for us to speak upon is HIS ATTITUDE. He “worshipped leaning upon the top of his staff.” The Romanists have made fine mischief out of this text, for they have read it, “He worshipped the top of his staff,” and their notion has been, I suppose, that there was a pretty little god carved on the top—an image of a saint or a cross, or some other symbol, and that he held up that emblem, and so worshipped the top of his staff. We know that he did no such thing, for there is no trace in Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob of anything like the worship of images: though teraph worship lingered in their families, it was not with their consent. They were not perfect men, but they were perfectly clear from idolatry, and never worshipped an image. Nay, nay, nay; they worshipped God alone. He worshipped on the top of his staff— leaning on it, supporting himself upon it. In Genesis you read that he “bowed himself upon the bed’s head.” It is a very curious thing that the word for bed and the word for staff in the Hebrew are so exceedingly like each other that unless the little points had been used, which I suppose were not used at all in the olden time, it would be difficult to tell whether the word is “bed” or “staff.” I do not, however, think either Moses or Paul can be wrong. Jacob strengthened himself and sat upon the bed, and he leaned upon his staff, too. It is very easy to realize a position in which both descriptions would be equally true. He could sit upon the bed, and lean on the top of his staff at the same time.

     But why did he lean on his staff? What was that for? I think besides the natural need which he had of it, because of his being old, he did it emblematically. Do you not remember his saying, “With my staff I crossed this Jordan”? I believe he kept that staff throughout life as a memorial. It was a favourite staff of his wrhich he took with him on his first journey, and he leaned upon it as he took his last remove. “With my staff I crossed this Jordan,” he had said before, and now with that staff in hand he crosses the spiritual Jordan. That staff was his life companion, the witness with himself of the goodness of the Lord, even as some of us may have an old Bible, or a knife, or a chair which are connected with memorable events of our lives.

     But what did that staff indicate? Let us hear what Jacob said at another time. When he stood before Pharaoh he exclaimed, “Few and evil have been the days of my pilgrimage.” What made him use that word “pilgrimage”? Why, because upon his mind there was always the idea of his being a pilgrim. He had been literally so during the early part of his life, wandering hither and thither; and now, though he has been seventeen years in Goshen, he keeps the old staff, and he leans on it to show that he had always been a pilgrim and a sojourner like his fathers, and that he was so still. While he leans on that staff he talks to Joseph, and he says, “Do not let my bones lie here. I have come hither in the providence of God, but I do not belong here. This staff indicates that I am only a sojourner here, and want to be gone. I am in Egypt, but I am not of it. Take my bones away. Do not let them lie here, for if they do, my sons and daughters will mingle with the Egyptians, and that must not be, for we are a distinct nation. God has chosen us for himself, and we must keep separate. To make my children see this, lo, here I die with my pilgrim staff in my hand.” “Give me my staff,” the old man seems to say, “I will die with it in my hand. I protest that I am not a resident here, but only a lingerer for a little while. I will stay myself upon it, and for the last time worship God in the attitude of one who longs to be up and away.” Now, Christian brother, I want you to live in the same spirit, feeling that this is not your rest nor your native country. There is nothing here that is worthy of you. Your home is yonder, on the other side the desert, where God has mapped out your portion. Christ has gone to prepare your place, and it would ill become you to have no desires for it. The longer you live the more let this thought grow upon you: “Give me my staff. I must begone. Poor world, thou art no rest for me; I am not of thy children, I am an alien and a stranger. My citizenship is in heaven. I take my share in Egypt’s politics and Egypt’s labour, ay, and in Egypt’s griefs, but I am no Egyptian, I am a stranger bound for another land.” Worship on the top of your staff, and sing—

“A scrip on my back, and a staff in my hand,
I march on in haste through an enemy’s land;
There is nothing on earth which can tempt me to stay,
My staff is the emblem of ‘up and away.’”

     Singular enough is it that each descendant of Jacob came to worship on the top of his staff at last, for on the paschal supper night, when the blood was sprinkled on the lintel and the side posts, they each one ate the lamb with their loins girt and with a staff in his hand. The supper was a festival of worship, and they ate it each one leaning on his staff, as those that were in haste to leave home for a pilgrimage through the wilderness.

      Brethren and sisters, let us imitate Jacob in his dying faith. May the Holy Ghost in the power of our Lord Jesus enable you to live by faith. Live to bless others, especially your own descendants; live to worship God at all times; and live with your hand on your staff, saying always, “This is not our rest, for it is polluted.”

     My dear hearers, this advice does not apply to all of you, for you are not all Jacobs, nor do you belong to the believing seed. I cannot bid you take your staff, for if you were to take your staff and start off, where would you go? You have no portion in the next world, no promised land, no Canaan flowing with milk and honey. Whither will you go? You must be banished from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. Alas for you! You cannot worship, for you know not God; you cannot bless others, for you have not been blest yourselves. May the Lord bring you to his dear Son Jesus Christ, and lead you to put your trust in him, and then I shall hope that being saved you will by faith imitate Jacob, and both bless men, worship God, and wait with your staff in your hand, ready to journey to the eternal rest. The Lord be with you, for Christ’s sake. Amen.