Preface Material

By / Jun 22


The Hunger-Bite

By / Jun 22

The Hunger-Bite

 

“His strength shall be hunger-bitten.”— Job xviii. 12.

 

BILDAD w a s declaring the history of the hypocritical, presumptuous, and wicked man; and he intended, no doubt, to insinuate that Job was just such a person, that he had been a deceiver, and that therefore at last God’s providence had found him out and was visiting him for his sins. In this Bildad was guilty of great injustice to his friend. All the three miserable comforters of Job were mistaken in the special aim of their discourses, and yet concerning the speeches of each one it may be said that their general statements were, for the most part, true. They uttered truths, but they drew mistaken inferences, and they were ungenerous in the imputations which they cast upon Job. It is true that, sooner or later, either in this world or the next, all conceivable curses do fall upon the hypocrite and the ungodly man, but it is not true that when a Christian is in trouble we are to judge that he is suffering for his sin. It would be both cruel and wicked for us to think so. Nevertheless, because what Bildad said was, in the main, true, though unkindly and wrongly applied, we feel ourselves quite at liberty to take a text out of his mouth.

     It is true of many persons that their strength shall be hunger-bitten, and I shall speak concerning these words in three ways, noticing first, that this is a curse which will surely he fulfilled upon the ungodly. Secondly, this is a discipline which God often exercises upon the selfrighteous when he means to save them. And, thirdly— and it is grievous work to have to say it— this is a form of chastisement upon believer’s who are not living near to God as they ought to be— their strength becomes hunger-bitten.

     I. First we shall view our text as A CURSE WHICH WILL BE FULFILLED UPON THE UNGODLY. “His strength shall be hunger-bitten.”

     It is not said that they are hunger-bitten merely, but that their strength is so; and if their strength be hunger-bitten what must their weakness be? When a man’s strength is bitten with hunger, what a hunger must be raging throughout the whole of his nature.

     Now, a large proportion of men make their gold to be their strength, their castle and their high tower, and for awhile they do rejoice in their wealth, and find great satisfaction in gathering it, in seeing it multiplied, and in hoping by-and-by that it shall come to great store. But every ungodly man ought to know that riches are not for ever, and often they take to themselves wings and fly away. Men of colossal fortunes have dwindled down to beggars; they made great ventures and realized great failures. None are secure. As long as a man is in this world he is like a ship at sea, he is still liable to be shipwrecked. O you that are boasting in your gold, and calling your treasure your chief good, the day may come to you when your strength will be hunger-bitten, and, like the victims of famine, you will find yourselves helpless,— you whose money aforetime answered all things, and made you feel omnipotent.

     But it will be said, of course, that it is not in every case that the ungodly man’s strength of wealth is hunger-bitten; and I willingly concede it. But it comes to pass in another fashion. How many there are who keep their wealth, and yet, for all that, are very poor. It is not that the gold goes, but it stays by them and does not comfort them. I do not know which would be the worse of the two— to be hungry for want of bread, or to have abundance of bread, and yet remain hungry eat whatever you might. Thousands in this world are precisely in that condition. They have all that heart could wish, if their heart were right, but it seems nothing to them because they have envy in their spirits. Remember Haman. He is invited to the banquet of wine, he is a chief noble of the empire, he has his monarch’s favour, but all that avails him nothing because Mordecai sits in the gate. Envy has cankered his soul, and if he were able to mount to the throne of Ahasuerus himself it would make no difference to him; he would be unhappy there; and all because one poor Jew will not bow to him. There are persons going up and down Cheapside every day who are intolerably wretched about a something which they would hardly like to mention to reasonable men. A wretched trifle frets them like a moth in a garment, and all the glory of their position is eaten away: their strength is hunger-bitten.

     Where the canker does not happen to be envy it may come to be a passion akin to it, namely, revenge. Alas, that we should have to talk of revenge as still existing upon this earth after Christ has been here and taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Yet there are ungodly men who even think it right to foster resentments. A word uncourteously spoken, a deed unkindly done, will be laid up, and an opportunity sought for retaliation; or, if not, a hope will be cherished that some blight, or blow from God, may fall upon the offender: and if that offender still bears himself aloft, and lives right merrily, and makes no recompense for the wrong done, the aggrieved one has eaten out his own heart with chagrin, and the strength of his wealth has been hunger-bitten.

     Where this has not been the case, it has, perhaps, more frequently happened that persons have been afflicted by avarice. Nothing more tends to impoverish a man than being rich. It is a hard thing to find a rich man who enjoys riches. A rich man is a man who has all he wants, and many a man is rich on a few shillings a week: a poor man is a man who does not get what he wants, and people with twenty thousand a-year are in that list. In fact, where shall you find such poverty as among those poor rich men? The miser is often pictured as afraid to sleep because thieves may break in; he rises at midnight to tell over his hoarded treasure, he is afraid lest bonds, securities, mortgages, and the like may, after all, turn out to be mere waste paper; he frets and stews and mars his life because he has too great a means of living— such a man may not be very common, but it is an easy thing to find people who have very much, and yet are just as careful, just as grasping, just as fretful after more, as if they had but newly started in business, and were almost penniless— their strength is hunger-bitten. If somebody had told them, “You will one day reach to so many thousand pounds,” they would have said, “Ah, if ever I get that amount I shall be perfectly satisfied.” They have saved that sum long ago, and ten times as much, and now they say, “Ah, you don’t know what it is to want money till you have a good portion of it. Now we have so much we must have more. We are up to our necks in the golden stream, and we must needs swim where the bottom cannot be touched.” Poor fools! They have enough water to float them, but they must have enough to drown in. One stick is a capital thing for a lame man, as I know right well, but a thousand sticks would make a terrible load for a man to carry. When any one has a sufficiency let him be thankful for so convenient a staff, but if he will not use what he has until he has accumulated much more, the comfort of his substance is gone, and his strength is hunger-bitten.

     There are cases in which the hunger-bite does not take a shape which I could well describe. Instances are met with of persons who have made their gold their strength, who are altogether unrestful. Some have thought that their brain was diseased, but it is likely that the disease was lower down, and in their hearts. We have known wealthy men who believed themselves to be poor, and were haunted with the idea that they should die in the poor-house, even when they were worth a million; and others who have quarrelled about the division of a farthing, when the loss of ten thousand pounds would have been a fleabite to them. In great substance they have found no substantial rest. They have often wished they could be as cheerful as their own menial servants. As they have lolled in their carriage, and looked at the rosy cheeks of the urchins in the village, they have coveted their health and felt willing to wear their rags if they could possess their appetites. As they have looked upon poor persons with family loves and domestic joys, and felt that their own joys were few in that direction, they have greatly envied them. It is a great mercy when the worldling is made uneasy in this world; it is a ground for hope that God means to wean him from his idols. But, alas, there are some who do not rest here, and yet will not rest hereafter. They have no rest in all that God has given them under the sun, and yet they will not fly to him who is the soul’s sure repose.

     I need not dwell for another moment upon the failure of the strength which is found in riches. It is the same with all sorts of men who try to find comfort out of Christ and away from God, their “strength shall be hunger-bitten.” What a melancholy instance of this is Solomon. He had an opportunity to try everything in his quest for the chief good, and he did test everything, so that we need not repeat the experiment. He was the great alchemist who tried to turn all manner of metals into gold, but failed with them all. At one time he was building great palaces, and when the building fit was on him he seemed happy; but when once the gorgeous piles were finished he said, “Vanity of vanities: all is vanity.” Then he would take to gardening and to the planting of rare plants and trees, and to the digging of fountains, hut when he had done enough of this he looked upon his orchard and vineyards and again muttered, “Vanity of vanities: all is vanity.” Then he thought he would try laughter and madness: the comic side of human life he would test, as well as the useful; so he plunged into all manner of pleasures, and gathered to himself singing men and singing women, and all delights of the flesh, but after he had drank deep of that cup he said again, “Vanity of vanities: all is vanity.” Poor Solomon! He had great strength, but his strength was hunger-bitten. He looked here and there, up and down, on the right hand and on the left, and found no bread for his soul; he snatched at shadows and tried to feed himself with bubbles; he was devoured with hunger in the midst of plenty; and where the humble people of Israel were blessing the God who satisfied their mouth with good things and renewed their youth like the eagles, poor Solomon was complaining that there was nothing new under the sun, and that it was better for a man not to be born than to have lived at all.

     Now remark that if this hunger does not come upon the ungodly man during the former part of his life, it will come to him at the close of it. While we have much to do and our minds are occupied we may be able to put off thought, but when, at last, God sends to us that messenger with the bony hand, whose oratory is soul piercing, the dulness of whose eyeless eye darts fire into the soul, then will all human strength be hunger-bitten. When death is left alone with the man, then he perceives that his money bags contain nothing precious, because he must leave them. How now with his broad acres? How now with his large estates? How now with his palatial residence? How now with all that he called dear? How now with his doctor’s degree and his learning? How now with his fame and his honour? How now even with his domestic comforts and the joys of life? Hunger-bitten are they all. When he comes to die they cannot help him. The soul that is within him, which he would not allow to speak, now opens its hungry mouth and cries, “Thou hast denied me bread. God, and God alone, could fill me; and thou hast denied me God; and now thou feelest the hunger which has come upon me, and thou must feel it, and feel it, too, for ever.” Alas, alas, alas, for a man to have spent all his life in earning a disappointment, labouring hard to lose his soul, sweating and straining to lose the race, tugging and toiling to be damned; for that is the case of many a man, and that is whereunto the tide drifteth with all mankind who seek for lasting good apart from God and apart from the blood and righteousness of God's dear Son. Of each one of them it shall be said, “His strength shall be hunger-bitten.”

     I have said these things mournfully to my own heart; but I would say to any of you who may not be rich, but who are looking for your good in your own little home and the comforts of it— any of you young men who are seeking the great object of life in learning, or the like— if you are not living for God, your strength will be hunger-bitten. If you do not “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” whatever you gain and however satisfied you may be for a little while, an awful hunger must ultimately come upon you, and you will then lament that you spent your money for that which is not bread and your labour for that which satisfieth not.

     II. Briefly, in the second place, we shall speak of our text as indicating A KIND OF DISCIPLINE THROUGH WHICH GOD PUTS THE SELFRIGHTEOUS WHEN HE MEANS TO SAVE THEM.

     Many people are very religious, and yet are not saved. They are unsaved because they go about to establish their own righteousness, and have not submitted themselves to the righteousness which is of God in Jesus Christ. Now, these persons may for awhile be very well satisfied with their own righteousness, and if they are not the children of God they will be satisfied with it for life. Some of them talk in this way,— “I don’t know that I ever wronged anybody. I have always been honest and honourable in my transactions, and I have brought up my children respectably. I have had a hard fight of it, and for all that nobody could say that I ever disgraced my character.” It is not very long ago that I was driven by a cabman, an aged man, and when I got out of his cab I referred to his age, and he remarked upon it himself: I said, “Well, I trust when this life is over you will have a portion in a better world.” “Yes, I think so, sir,” he said: “I was never drunk, that I know of, in my life; was always reckoned a civil man; never used bad language; and I go to church sometimes.” He seemed to be perfectly satisfied, and to be quite astonished that I did not express my assurance of his safety. His confidence is the common reliance of all classes of Englishmen, and though they may not always put it in that shape, yet that is the notion— that by a sort of goodness, a very poor and mangled goodness, men may after all enter heaven. Now, when God means to save a man the hunger of the heart comes in and devours all his boasted excellence. Why, a spiritually hungry soul would take fifty years of self-righteousness and swallow them up like a morsel, and cry for more. Our goodness is nothing compared with the demands of the law and the necessities of the case. Our fine righteousnesses, how they shrivel up like autumn leaves when the Spirit of God acts as a frost to them. Our virtues are as a meadow in the spring bedecked with golden kingcups, but when the Spirit of God bloweth upon it the grass withereth, and the flower thereof fadeth, for all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of grass. It is a part of the operation of the Holy Ghost to wither all the goodliness of human nature, and to destroy all those lovely flowers of natural virtue in which we put such store, cutting them down as with a mower’s scythe. In truth, there is none good, no, not one. We are all shut up in unbelief and sin by nature. In the best of natures sin affects the whole body, “the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint,” and it is a great blessing when the Holy Spirit makes us feel this. Painful is the feeling but blessed is the result when, once for all, our strength is hunger-bitten.

     Ay, and there are some who are very satisfied because, in addition to a commendable life, they have performed certain ceremonies to which they impute great sanctity. There is a theory abroad nowadays which some persons who are not in either the lunatic or the idiot asylum believe, namely, the theory that sacramental performances convey grace. It is wonderful how a rational being can ever think so, but there are persons, who are apparently rational in other things, who believe that the sprinkling of drops of water upon an infant’s brow regenerates it, that the eating of bread and the drinking of wine really convey Christ to the soul, and so on: that aqueous applications and materialistic festivities can bring spiritual good to the heart— a monstrous doctrine, worthy of the priests of Baal, but so foolish as to make one doubt his ears when he hears it stated. Because they have gone through these operations, and have been confirmed, and I do not know what besides, many are content. Others who happen to belong to a dissenting community have passed through the ordeal of joining the church, or have attended class-meetings, and have subscribed to the various societies, think that, therefore, they are saved. Heirs of hell will rest content with such outward things, but heirs of heaven never can. Their strength, if they make external religion their strength, will by-and-by be hunger-bitten, and they will cry out, “My God, my soul panteth for thee as the hart pants for the water-brooks. I cannot be satisfied with outward forms, I want inward grace, and I cannot be content with being told that the grace went with the form. I want to know the grace of God in truth, I long to feel it, I pine to exhibit it in my own life.” To be told I was born again when I was a babe will not satisfy me; I want to feel the inner life, the new life of God within my spirit. To be told that I did eat Christ when I ate the bread will not content me; my heart longs to know that Christ is really in me the hope of glory, and that I am living upon him. If I cannot have communion with God and with his dear Son for myself in my very soul, I turn with loathing from every substitute, ritualistic, priestly, or otherwise. Beloved, I would have you flee from every sacrament to the Saviour; I would have you fly away from ceremonies to the cross of Christ. There is your only hope. Look to him by faith: for all the rest without this is but outward and carnal, and can minister no good to your spirit. May your strength be hunger-bitten if you are resting in anything which is external and unspiritual.

     Many a person has known what it is to have this hunger-bite go right through everything he rested in. I once knew what it was to get a little comfort from my prayers before I found the Saviour, but when the Spirit of God dealt with me I saw that my prayers wanted praying over again. I thought I had some sort of repentance, and I began to be contented with it; but when the Spirit of God came I found that my repentance needed to be repented of. I had felt some confidence in my Bible readings, and hoped that my regular attendance upon public worship would bring me salvation, but I found that I was after all mocking the Word, for I was reading it, but not believing it; hearing it, but not accepting it; was increasing my knowledge and my responsibility, and yet was not rendering obedience to God. Dear soul, if you are resting anywhere short of Christ, may your strength be hunger-bitten. You are at your strongest when you are utter weakness apart from him. When you rest in him completely, and alone, then is salvation accomplished in you, but not till then. May God in his infinite mercy grant that all your strength apart from Christ may be hunger-bitten, and that speedily.

     III. Lastly, and very earnestly— and perhaps this last part may have more reference to most of you than anything I have said— I believe THERE ARE MANY OF GOD’S SERVANTS WHOSE STRENGTH IS LAMENTABLY HUNGER-BITTEN. In this age we are all busy, and through being busy we are apt to neglect the soul-feeding ordinances; I mean the reading of Scripture, the hearing of the word, meditation upon it, prayer and communion with God. Some of you do not rise so soon as you might in the morning, and prayer is hurried over; and too often at eventide you are half asleep with the many cares of the day, and prayer is offered in a slovenly way. Nor is this all, for during the day when, if you were as you should be, you would be praying without ceasing, there is this to think of, and that, and the other, and such a pressure of business that ejaculations are few. How can you pray? You did at one time get a text of Scripture in the morning and chew it all day, and you used to get much sweetness out of it, and your soul grew; but now, instead of a text of Scripture, you have pressing engagements as soon as you are out of bed. You would, now and then, steal into a mid-day prayer-meeting, perhaps, or get two or three minutes alone, but you have gradually dropped that habit, and you have felt justified in doing so for “really, time is so precious, and there is so much to do in this age of competition.” Dear friend, I am no judge for you, but let me ask you whether you are not becoming hunger-bitten through not feeding upon the word of God. Souls cannot be strong without spiritual meat any more than bodies can be well when meals are neglected. There is a good rule I have heard mothers say about children and chickens— “little and often”; and I think it is true with Christians. They want little and often during the day; not a long passage of Scripture, perhaps memory would fail, but a short passage now and a short passage then, and a little prayer here and a little prayer there. It is wonderful how souls grow in that way. Alas! I fear all this is neglected, and spiritual strength is hunger-bitten. Let us begin from this time forward to give attention to the sustenance of our souls. Let us daily feed upon the word of God, that we may grow thereby; so shall our strength no more be hunger-bitten.



The Best of All Sights

By / Jun 22

The Best of All Sights 

 

“But we see Jesus.” — Hebrews ii. 9,

 

IN holy Scripture faith is placed in opposition to the sight of the eyes, and yet it is frequently described as looking and seeing. It is opposed to carnal sight because it is spiritual sight; a discernment which comes not of the body, but arises out of the strong belief of the soul, wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. Faith is sight in the sense of being a clear and vivid perception, a sure and indisputable discovery, a realising and unquestionable discernment of fact. We see Jesus, for we are sure of his presence, we have unquestionable evidence of his existence, we have an intelligent and intimate knowledge of his person. Our soul has eyes far stronger than the dim optics of the body, and with these we actually see Jesus. We have heard of him, and upon the witness of that hearing we have believed, and through believing there has come to us a new life, which rejoices in new light and in opened eyes, and “we see Jesus.” In the old sense of sight we speak of him as of one “whom having not seen we love,” but in the new sense “we see Jesus.” Beloved reader, have you such a renewed nature that you have new senses, and have you with these senses discerned the Lord? If not may the Holy Spirit yet quicken you; and meanwhile, let us whom he has made alive assure you that we have heard his voice, for he saith, “My sheep hear my voice”’; we have “tasted the good word of God”; we have touched him and have been made whole; we have also known the smell of his fragrance, for his name to us is “we see Jesus.”      Faith is all the senses in one, and infinitely more; and those who have it not are in a worse case than the blind and deaf, for spiritual life itself is absent.

     I. Come, then, brethren beloved, whose eyes have been illuminated, let us muse awhile upon our privileges, that we may exercise them with delight and praise the Lord with them. First, let us regard the glorious sight of Jesus as a COMPENSATION. The text begins with “but,” because it refers to some things which we do not yet see, which are the objects of strong desire. “We see not yet all things put under him.” We do not as yet see Jesus acknowledged as King of kings by all mankind, and this causes us great sorrow, for we would fain see him crowned with glory and honour in every corner of the earth by every man of woman born. Alas, he is to many quite unknown, by multitudes rejected and despised, and by comparatively few is he regarded with reverence and love. Sights surround us which might well make us cry with Jeremiah, “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears”; for blasphemy and rebuke, idolatry, superstition, and unbelief prevail on every side. “But,” saith the apostle, “we see Jesus,” and this sight compensates for all others, for we see him now, no longer made a little lower than the angels, and tasting the bitterness of death, but “crowned with glory and honour.” We see him no more after the flesh, in shame and anguish; far more ravishing is the sight, for we see his work accomplished, his victory complete, his empire secure. He sits as a priest upon the throne at the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting till his enemies are made his footstool.

     This is a divine compensation for the tarrying of his visible kingdom, because it is the major part of it. The main battle is won. In our Lord’s endurance of his substitutionary griefs, and in the overthrow of sin, death, and hell by his personal achievements, the essence of the conflict is over. Nothing is left to be done at all comparable with that which is already performed. The ingathering of the elect, and the subjection of all things, are comparatively easy of accomplishment now that the conflict in the heavenly places is over, and Jesus has led captivity captive. We may look upon the conquest of the kingdoms of this world as a mere routing of the beaten host, now that the power of the enemy has been effectually broken by the great Captain of our salvation.

     The compensation is all the greater because our Lord’s enthronement is the pledge of all the rest. The putting of all things under him, which as yet we see not, is guaranteed to us by what we do see. The exalted Saviour has all power given unto him in heaven and in earth, and with this “all power” he can, at his own pleasure, send forth the rod of his strength out of Sion, and reign in the midst of his enemies. With him are all the forces needful for universal dominion, his white horse waits at the door, and whensoever he chooses he can ride forth conquering and to conquer. At a word from his lips the harlot of Babylon shall perish, and the false prophet shall die, and the idols of the heathen shall be utterly abolished. The empire of wickedness is as a vision of the night, a black and hideous nightmare pressing on the soul of manhood, but when he awaketh he will despise its image, and it shall melt away.

     Turn we then, wiping our tears away, from the wretched spectacles of human superstition, scepticism, and sorrow, to the clear vision above us in the opened heaven. There we see “the Man,” long promised, the desire of all nations, the deliverer, the death of death, the conqueror of hell; and we see him not as one who girdeth on his harness for the battle, but as one whose warfare is accomplished, who is waiting the time appointed of the Father when he shall divide the spoil. This is the antidote to all depression of spirit, the stimulus to hopeful perseverance, the assurance of joy unspeakable.

     II. Nor is this sight a mere compensation for others which as yet are denied us, it is in itself the cause of present EXULTATION. This is true in so many ways that time would fail us to attempt to enumerate them. “We see Jesus,” and in him we see our former unhappy condition for ever ended. We were fallen in Adam, but we see in Jesus our ruin retrieved by the second Adam. The legal covenant frowned upon us as we beheld it broken by our first federal head; the new covenant smiles upon us with a whole heaven of bliss as we see it ordered in all things and sure in him who is head over all things to the church. Sin once doomed us to eternal despair, but not now, for he who hath put away sin by the sacrifice of himself hath justified his people by his resurrection. The debt no longer burdens us, for there in eternal glory is the Man who paid it once for all. A sight of Jesus kills each guilty fear, silences each threat of conscience, and photographs peace upon the heart. There remains nothing of all the past to cause a dread of punishment, or arouse a fear of desertion; for Christ that died ever liveth to make intercession for us, to represent us before the Father, and to prepare for us a place of everlasting rest. We might see ourselves as dead under the law were it not that he has blotted out the handwriting which was against us; we might see ourselves under the curse were it not that he who was once made a curse for us now reigns in fulness of blessing. We weep as we confess our transgressions, but we see Jesus, and sing for joy of heart, since he hath finished transgression, made an end of sin, and brought in everlasting righteousness.

     The same is sweetly true of the present, for we see our present condition to be thrice blessed by virtue of our union with him. We see not as yet our nature made perfect, and cleansed from every tendency to evil; rather do we groan, being burdened, because of the sin which dwelleth in us, the old man which lusteth and rebelleth against the blessed dominion of grace; and we might be sorely cast down and dragged into despair were it not that “we see Jesus,” and perceive that in him we are not what the flesh would argue us to be. He represents us most truthfully, and looking into that mirror we see ourselves justified in Christ Jesus, accepted in the beloved, adopted of the Father, dear to the Eternal heart, yea, in him raised up together, and made to sit together in the heavenlies. We see self, and blush and are ashamed and dismayed; “but we see Jesus,” and his joy is in us, and our joy is fall. Think of this, dear brother in Christ, the next time you are upon the dunghill of self-loathing. Lift up now your eyes, and see where he is in whom your life is hid! See Jesus, and know that as he is so are you also before the Infinite Majesty. You are not condemned, for he is enthroned. You are not despised nor abhorred, for he is beloved and exalted. You are not in jeopardy of perishing, nor in danger of being cast away, for he dwells eternally in the bosom of the Lord God Almighty. What a vision is this for you, when you see Jesus, and see yourself complete in him, perfect in Christ Jesus!

     Such a sight effectually clears our earthly future of all apprehension. It is true we may yet be sorely tempted, and the battle may go hard with us, but we see Jesus triumphant, and by this sign we grasp the victory. We shall perhaps be subjected to pain, to poverty, to slander, to persecution, and yet none of these things move us because we see Jesus exalted, and therefore know that these are under his power, and cannot touch us except as he grants them his permit so to do. Death is at times terrible in prospect, but its terror ceases when we see Jesus, who has passed safely through the shades of the sepulchre, vanquished the tyrant of the tomb, and left an open passage to immortality to all his own. We see the pains, the groans, and dying strife; see them, indeed, exaggerated by our fears, and the only cure for the consequent alarm is a sight of him who hath said, “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” When we see Jesus, past, present, and to come are summed up in him, and over all shines a glorious life which fills our souls with unspeakable delight.

     III. Thirdly, “we see Jesus” with gladdest EXPECTATION. His glorious person is to us the picture and the pledge of what we shall be: for “it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” In infinite love he condescended to become one with us here below, as saith the apostle, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same”; and this descent of love on his part to meet us in our low estate is the assurance that his love will lift us up to meet him in his high estate. He will make us partakers of his nature, inasmuch as he has become partaker of our nature. It is written, “Both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” What bliss is this, that we should be like to the incarnate God! It would seem too good to be true, were it not after the manner of our Lord to do great things for us, and unsearchable.

     Nor may we alone derive comfort as to our future from his person, we may also be made glad by a hope as to his place. Where we see Jesus to be, there shall we also be. His heaven is our heaven. His prayer secures that we shall be with him where he is, that we may behold his glory. To-day we may be in a workhouse, or in the ward of a hospital, or in a ruinous hovel, “but we see Jesus,” and we know that ere long we shall dwell in the palace of the great King.

     The glory of Jesus strikes the eye at once, and thus we are made to exult in his position, for it, too, is ours. He will give to us to sit upon his throne, even as he sits upon the Father’s throne. He hath made us kings and priests unto God, and we shall reign forever and ever. Whatever of rest, happiness, security, and honour our glorious Bridegroom has attained, he will certainly share it with his spouse; yea, and all his people shall know what it is to be heirs of God, joint heirs with Jesus Christ, if so be that we suffer with him that we may also be glorified together.

     How soon our condition shall rise into complete likeness to the ascended Lord we cannot tell, but it cannot be long, and it may be a very short time. The veil of time is in some cases very thin, another week may be the only separation. And then! Ah, then! We shall see Jesus, and what a sight will it be! Heaven lies in that vision. ’Tis all the heaven our loving hearts desire.

     The sight of Jesus which we now enjoy is a foretaste of the clearer sight which is reserved for us, and therefore it will be a happy wisdom to be much in the enjoyment of it. A thousand things tempt us away, and yet there is not one of them worth a moment’s thought in comparison. What are works of art and discoveries of science if compared with our Beloved? What are the gems which adorn the brow of beauty, or the eyes which flash from the face of loveliness, if placed in rivalry with him? Other matters, weighty and important, call for our thought; and yet even these we may place in a second rank when Jesus is near.

     We may not be doctors of divinity, much as we would desire to be deeply instructed in the truth; “but we see Jesus.” Into many mysteries we cannot pry; “but we see Jesus.” Where the divine sovereignty harmonizes with human responsibility is too deep a problem for us; “but we see Jesus.” The times and the seasons baffle us, the dispensation of the end is dark to us, “but we see Jesus.” Glory over us, ye far-seeing prophets! Deride us, ye deep-glancing philosophers! We leave you to your boastings. We are poor, short-sighted beings, and know but little, but one thing we know, whereas we were once blind, now we see, and “we see Jesus.”

     This sight has made us unable to see many things which now dazzle our fellow men. They can see priestly power in a certain set of men like themselves. This we cannot see, for “we see Jesus,” as ending the line of sacrificing priests, and bestowing a common priesthood upon all the saints. Many see great wisdom in the various schools of doubt, in which we see nothing except pretentious folly, for “we see Jesus,” and all human wisdom pales before the wisdom of God, which is perfected in him. Certain of our brethren see perfection in the flesh, “but we see Jesus”; others see the church, and their own sect, “but we see Jesus.” A few see nothing but their own separateness from everybody else, and the peculiar excellence of their exclusiveness, “but we see Jesus.”

     Come, beloved, let us get to our secret chambers of communion, and see Jesus there as from the hill of Pisgah. Let us turn the pages of Scripture, and see Jesus there amid the beds of spices. Let us frequent ordinances, especially the breaking of bread, and see Jesus there. Let us watch in our experience, as we are conformed unto his sufferings, and see him there. Let us go into the field of holy labour, and as Ave gird ourselves and put on the yoke of service, let us see our Master there. Yea, in all things let us learn to see our Lord, for nature and Providence, experience and Scripture are hung with mirrors which reflect him. Till the day break and the shadows flee away let us continue to gaze upon him, till our eyes shall actually see him for ourselves and not another. Be this the grand distinction of our lives: whatever others may see or not see,

“WE SEE JESUS.”



Soul Saving Our One Business

By / Jun 22

Soul Saving Our One Business 

 

“I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” 1 Corinthians ix. 22.

 

IT is a grand thing to see a man thoroughly possessed with one masterpassion. Such a man is sure to be strong, and if the master-principle be excellent, he is sure to be excellent too. The man of one object is a man indeed. Lives with many aims are like water trickling through innumerable streams, none of which is wide enough or deep enough to float the merest cockleshell of a boat; but a life with one object is like a mighty river flowing between its banks, bearing to the ocean a multitude of ships, and spreading fertility on either side. Give me a man not only with a great object in his soul, but thoroughly possessed by it, his powers all concentrated, and himself on fire with vehement zeal for his supreme object, and you have put before me one of the greatest sources of power which the world can produce. Give me a man engrossed with holy love as to his heart, and filled with some masterly celestial thought as to his brain, and such a man will be known wherever his lot may be cast, and I will venture to prophecy that his name will be remembered long after the place of his sepulchre shall be forgotten.

     Such a man was Paul. I am not about to set him upon a pedestal, that you may look at him and wonder, much less that you may kneel down and worship him as a saint. I mention Paul, because what he was we ought every one of us to be; and though we cannot share in his office, not being apostles; though we cannot share in his talents or in his inspiration, yet we ought to be possessed by the same spirit which actuated him, and let me also add we ought to be possessed by it in the same degree. Do you demur to that? I ask you what there was in Paul by the grace of God which may not be in you, and what had Jesus done for Paul more than for you? He was divinely changed; and so have you been if you have passed from darkness into marvellous light. He had much forgiven; and so have you also been freely pardoned. He was redeemed by the blood of the Son of God; and so have you been — at least, so you profess to have been. He was filled with the Spirit of God; and so are you, if you are truly such as your Christian profession makes you out to be. Owing, then, your salvation to Christ, being debtors to the precious blood of Jesus, and being quickened by the Holy Spirit, I ask you why there should not be the same fruit from the same sowing? Why not the same effect from the same cause? Do not tell me that the apostle was an exception, and cannot be set up as a rule or model for commoner folk, for I shall have to tell you that we must be such as Paul was if we hope to be where Paul is. Paul did not think that he had attained, neither was already perfect. Shall we think him to be so— so think him to be so as to regard him to be inimitable, and so be content to fall short of what he was? Nay, verily, but let it be our incessant prayer as believers in Christ that we may be followers of him so far as he followed Christ, and wherein he failed to set his feet in his Lord’s footprints may we even outstrip him, and be more zealous, more devoted to Christ than even the apostle of the Gentiles. O that the Holy Spirit would bring us to be like our Lord Jesus himself.

     At this time I shall have to speak to you upon Petal’s great object in life; he tells us it was to “save some”; we will then look into Paul’s heart and show' you a few of the great reasons which made him think it so important that some at least should be saved; then, thirdly, we will indicate certain of the means which the apostle used to that end; and all with this view, that you, my dear hearers, may seek to “save some”; that you may seek this because of potent reasons which you cannot withstand, and that you may seek it with wise methods such as shall in the end succeed.

     I. First, then, brethren, WHAT WAS PAUL’S GREAT OBJECT IN HIS DAILY LIFE AND MINISTRY? He says it was to save some.

     There are ministers of Christ present at this hour, together with City missionaries, Bible-women, Sunday-school teachers, and other workers in ray Master’s vineyard, and I make bold to enquire of each one of them — Is this your object in all your Christian service? Do you above all things aim at saving souls? I am afraid that some have forgotten this grand object; but, dear friends, anything short of this is unworthy to be the great end of a Christian’s life. I fear there are some who preach with the view of amusing men, and as long as people can be gathered in crowds, and their ears can be tickled, and they can retire pleased with what they have heard, the orator is content, and folds his hands, and goes back self-satisfied. But Paul did not lay himself out to please the public and collect the crowd. If he did not save them he felt that it was of no avail to interest them. Unless the truth had pierced their hearts, affected their lives, and made new men of them, Paul would have gone home crying, “Who hath believed our report, and to 'whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?”

     It seems to be the opinion of a large party in the present day that the object of Christian effort should be to educate men. I grant you that education is in itself an exceedingly valuable thing, so valuable that I am sure the whole Christian church rejoices greatly that at last we have a national system of education, which only needs to be carefully carried out and every child in this land will have the keys of knowledge in his hand. Whatever price others may set upon ignorance we are promoters of knowledge, and the more it can be spread the better shall we be pleased. But if the church of God thinks that it is sent into the world merely to train the mental faculties, it has made a very serious mistake, for the object of Christianity is not to educate men for their secular callings, or even to train them in the politer arts, or the more elegant professions, or to enable them to enjoy the beauties of nature or the charms of poetry. Jesus Christ came not into the world for any of these things, but he came to seek and to save that which was lost, and on the same errand has he sent his church, and she is a traitor to the Master who sent her if she is beguiled by the beauties of taste and art to forget that to preach Christ and him crucified is the only object for which she exists among the sons of men. The business of the church is salvation. The minister is to use all means to save some; he is no minister of Christ if this be not the one desire of his heart. Missionaries sink far below their level when they are content to civilize: their first object is to save. The same is true of the Sunday-school teacher, and of all other workers among children; if they have merely taught the child to read, to repeat hymns, and so forth, they have not yet touched their true vocation. We must have the children saved. At this nail we must drive, and the hammer must come down upon this head always— If by all means I may save some, for we have done nothing unless some are saved.

     Paul does not even say that he tried to moralize men. The best promoter of morality is the gospel. When a man is saved he becomes moral — he becomes more, he becomes holy. But, to aim first at morality is altogether to miss the mark, and if we did attain it— as we shall not— yet we should not have attained that for which we were sent into the world. Dr. Chalmers’ experience is a very valuable one to those who think that the Christian ministry ought to preach up mere morality, for he says that in his first parish he preached morality, and saw no good whatever arising out of his exhortations. But, as soon as he began to preach Christ crucified, then there was a buzz and a stir, and much opposition, but grace prevailed. He who wishes for perfumes must grow the flowers; he who desires to promote morality must have men saved. He who wants motion in a corpse should first seek life for it, and he who desires to see a rightly ordered life should first desire an inward renewal by the Holy Spirit. We are not to be satisfied when we have taught men their duties towards their neighbours, or even their duties towards God: this would suffice for Moses, but not for Christ. The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. We teach men what they ought to be, but we do far more; by the power of the gospel applied by the Holy Ghost we make them what they ought to be by the power of God’s Spirit. We put not before the blind the things that they ought to see, but we open their eyes in the name of Jesus. We tell not the captive how free he ought to be, but we open the door and take away his fetters. We are not content to tell men what they must be, but we show them how this character can be attained, and how Jesus Christ freely presents all that is essential to eternal life to all those who come and put their trust in him.

     Now observe, brethren, if I, or you, or any of us, or all of us, shall have spent our lives merely in amusing men, or educating men, or moralizing men, when we shall come to give in our account at the last great day we shall be in a very sorry condition, and we shall have but a very sorry record to render; for of what avail will it be to a man to be educated when he comes to be damned? Of what service will it be to him to have been amused when the trumpet sounds, and heaven and earth are shaking, and the pit opens wide her jaws of fire and swallows up the soul unsaved? Of what avail even to have moralized a man if still he is on the left hand of the judge, and if still, “Depart, ye cursed,” shall be his portion? Blood-red with the murder of men’s souls will be the skirts of professing Christians, unless the drift, and end, and aim of all their work has been to “save some.” Oh! I beseech you, especially you, dear friends, who are working in Sunday and Ragged Schools, and elsewhere, do not think that you have done anything unless the children’s souls are saved. Settle it that this is the top and bottom of the business, and throw your whole strength, in the name of Christ, and by the power of the Eternal Spirit, into this one object— if by any means you may save some, and bring some to Jesus that they may be delivered from the wrath to come.

     What did Paul mean by saying that he desired to save some? What is it to be saved? Paul meant by that nothing less than that some should be born again; for no man is saved until he is made a new creature in Christ Jesus. The old nature cannot be saved; it is dead and corrupt; the best thing that can be done with it is to let it be crucified and buried in the sepulchre of Christ. There must be a new nature implanted in us by the power of the Holy Ghost, or we cannot be saved. We must be as much new creations as if we had never been: we must come a second time as fresh from the hand of the Eternal God as if we had been to-day moulded by divine wisdom as Adam was in Paradise. The Great Teacher’s words are, “The wind blowreth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but thou canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” “Except a man be born again from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This, then, Paul meant, that men must be new creatures in Christ Jesus, and we must never rest till we see such a change wrought upon them. This must be the object of our teaching, and of our praying, indeed, the object of our lives, that “some” may be regenerated.

     He meant, beside that, that some might be cleansed from their past iniquity through the merit of the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God. No man can be saved from his sin except by the atonement. Under the Jewish law it was written, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” That curse has never been reversed, and the only way to escape from it is this: Jesus Christ was made a curse for us, as it is written, “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” Now, he who believes in Jesus, who puts his hand upon the head of Jesus of Nazareth, the scapegoat of his people, has lost his sins. His faith is sure evidence that his iniquities were of old laid upon the head of the great Substitute. The Lord Jesus Christ was punished in our room, and we are no longer obnoxious to the wrath of God. Behold, the sin-atoning sacrifice is slain and offered on the altar, and the Lord has accepted it, and is so well pleased that he has declared that whosoever believeth in Jesus is fully and eternally forgiven. Now, we long to see men thus forgiven. We pine to bring the prodigal’s head into the Father’s bosom, the wandering sheep to the good Shepherd’s shoulder, the lost piece of money into the owner’s hands, and until this is done nothing is done. I mean, brethren, nothing spiritually, nothing eternally, nothing that is worthy of the agony of a Christian’s life, nothing that can be looked upon as deserving of an immortal spirit’s spending all its fires upon it. O Lord, our soul yearns to see Jesus rewarded by the salvation of the blood-bought. Aid us to lead souls to him.

     Once more; when the apostle wished that he might save some he meant that, being regenerated, and being pardoned, they might also be purified and made holy; for a man is not saved while he lives in sin. Let a man say what he will, he cannot be saved from sin whilst he is the slave of it. How is a drunkard saved from drunkenness whilst he still riots as before? How can you say that the swearer is saved from blasphemy while he is still profane? Words must be used in their true meaning. Now, the great object of the Christian’s work should be that some might be saved from their sins, purified, and made white, and made examples of integrity, chastity, honesty, and righteousness as the fruit of the Spirit of God, and where this is not the case we have laboured in vain and spent our strength for naught.

     Now, I do protest before you all that I have in this house of prayer never sought anything but the conversion of souls, and I call heaven and earth to witness, and your consciences, too, that I have never laboured for anything except this, the bringing of you to Christ, that I might present you at last unto God accepted in the Beloved. I have not sought to gratify depraved appetites either by novelty of doctrine or ceremonial, but I have kept to the simplicity of the gospel. I have kept back no part of the price of God’s word from you, but I have endeavoured to give you the whole counsel of God. I have sought out no fineries of speech, but have spoken plainly, and right straight at your hearts and consciences, and if you be not saved, I mourn and lament before God that up to this day, though I have preached hundreds of times to you, yet I have preached in vain. If you have not closed in with Christ, if you have not been washed in the fountain filled with blood, you are waste pieces of soil from which no harvest has yet come. You tell me, perhaps, that you have been kept from a great many sins, that you have learned a great many truths by coming here. So far so good; but could I afford to live for this, merely to teach you certain truths or keep you back from open sins? How could this content me if I knew all the while that you were still unsaved, and must, therefore, after death, be cast into the flames of hell? Nay, beloved, before the Lord I count nothing to be worthy of your pastor’s life, and soul, and energy but the winning of you to Christ. Nothing but your salvation can ever make me feel that my heart’s desire is granted. I ask every worker here to see to this, that he never turns aside from shooting at this target, and at the centre of this target, too, namely, that he may win souls for Christ, and see them born to God, and washed in the fountain filled with blood. Let the workers’ hearts ache, and yearn, and their voices cry till their throats are hoarse, but let them judge that they have accomplished nothing whatever until, at least, in some cases, men are really saved. As the fisherman longs to take the fish in his net, as the hunter pants to bear home his spoil, as the mother pines to clasp her lost child to her bosom, so do we faint for the salvation of souls, and we must have them, or we are ready to die. Save them, O Lord, save them for Christ’s sake.

     But now we must leave that point for another.

     II. THE APOSTLE HAD GREAT REASONS FOR ELECTING SUCH AN OBJECT IN LIFE.

     Were he here I think he would tell you that his reasons were something of this kind. To save souls! If they be not saved how is God dishonoured! Did you ever think over the amount of dishonour that is done to the Lord our God in London in any one hour of the day. Take, if you will, this prayer hour, when we are gathered here ostensibly to pray. If the thoughts of this great assembly could all be read, how many of them would be dishonouring to the Most High! But outside of every house of prayer, outside of every place of worship of every kind, think of the thousands and tens of thousands, the hundreds of thousands, who have all this day neglected the very semblance of the worship of the God who has made them, and who keeps them in being! Think of how many times the door of the gin-palace has swung on its hinges during this holy hour: how many times God’s name has been blasphemed at the drinking-bar! There are worse things than these, if worse can be, but I shall not lift the veil. Transfer your thoughts to an hour or so later, when the veil of darkness has descended. Shame will not permit us even to think of how God’s name is dishonoured in the persons of those whose first father was made after the image of God, but who pollute themselves to be the slaves of Satan and the prey of bestial lusts! Alas! alas! for this city, it is full of abominations, of which the apostle said, “It is a shame even to speak of those things which were done of them in secret.” Christian men and women, nothing can sweep away the social evil but the gospel. Vices are like vipers, and only the voice of Jesus can drive them out of the land. The gospel is the great besom with which to cleanse the filthiness of this city, and nothing else will avail. Will you not, for God’s sake, whose name is every day profaned, seek to save some? If you will enlarge your thoughts and take in all the great cities of the Continent; ay, further still, take all the idolators of China and Hindostan, the worshippers of the false prophet and the antichrist, what a mass of provocation have we here! What a smoke in Jehovah’s nose must this false worship be! How he must often put his hand to the hilt of his sword as though he would say, “Ah! I will ease me of my adversaries.” But he bears it patiently. Let us not become indifferent to his longsuffering, but day and night let us cry unto him, and daily let us labour for him if by any means we may save some for his glory’s sake.

     Think, dear friends, also, of the extreme misery of this our human race. It would be a very dreadful thing to-night if you could get any idea of the aggregate of the misery of London at the present moment in the hospital and the workhouse. Now, I would not say half a word against poverty, wherever it comes it is a bitter ill; but you will mark as you notice carefully that, while a few are poor because of unavoidable circumstances, a very large mass of the poverty of London is the sheer and clear result of profuseness, want of forethought, idleness, and, worst of all, of drunkenness. Ah, that drunkenness! That is the master evil. If drink could but be got rid of we might be sure of conquering the very devil himself. The drunkenness created by the infernal liquor-dens which plague-spot the whole of this huge city is appalling. No, I did not speak in haste, or let slip a hasty word; many of the drink-houses are nothing less than infernal: in some respects they are worse, for hell has its uses as the divine protest against sin, but as for the gin-palace there is nothing to be said in its favour. The vices of the age cause threefourths of all the poverty. If you could look at the homes to-night, the wretched homes where women will tremble at the sound of their husband’s foot as he comes home, where little children will crouch down with fear upon their little heap of straw because the human brute who calls himself “a man” will come reeling home from the place where he has been indulging his appetites— if you could look at such a sight, and remember that it will be seen ten thousand times over to-night, I think you would say, “God help us by all means to save some.” Since the great axe to lay at the root of the deadly upas tree is the gospel of Christ, may God help us to hold that axe there, and to work constantly with it till the huge trunk of the poison tree begins to rock to and fro, and we get it down, and London is saved, and the world is saved from the wretchedness and the misery which now drips from every bough.

     Again, dear friends, the Christian has other reasons for seeking to save some; and chiefly because of the terrible future of impenitent souls. That veil which hangs before me is not penetrated by every glance, but he who has his eye touched with heavenly eye-salve sees through it, and what does he see? Myriads upon myriads of spirits in dread procession passing from their bodies, and passing— whither? Unsaved, unregenerate, unwashed in precious blood, we see them go up to the solemn bar whence in silence the sentence comes forth, and they are banished from the presence of God, banished to horrors which are not to be described nor even to be imagined. This alone were enough to cause us distress day and night. This decision of destiny has about it a terrible solemnity. But the resurrection trumpet sounds. Those spirits come forth from their prison-house. I see them returning to earth, rising from the pit to the bodies in which they lived: and now I see them stand — multitudes, multitudes, multitudes, multitudes— in the Valley of Decision. And HE comes, with the crown upon his head and the books before him, sitting on a great white throne. And there they stand as prisoners at the bar. My vision now perceives them— how they tremble! How they quiver like aspen leaves in the gale! Whither can they flee? Rocks cannot hide them, mountains will not open their bowels to conceal them! What shall become of them? The dread angel takes the sickle, reaps them as the reaper cuts up the tares for the oven, and as he gathers he casts them down where despair shall be their everlasting torment! Woe is me, my heart sinks as I see their doom, and hear the terrible cries of their too late awaking. Save some, O Christians! By all means save some. By yonder flames, and outer darkness, and the weeping, and the wailing, and the gnashing of teeth, seek to save some. Let this, as in the case of the apostle, be your great, your ruling object in life, that by all means you may save some.

     For, oh! if they be saved, observe the contrast. Their spirits mount to heaven, and after the resurrection their bodies ascend also, and there they praise redeeming love. No fingers more nimble on the harp-strings than theirs! No notes more sweet than theirs, as they sing, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his blood, be glory for ever and ever.” What bliss to see the once rebellious brought home to God, and heirs of wrath made possessors of heaven. All this is involved in salvation. O that myriads may come to this blessed state. “Save some”— oh! some at least. Seek that some may be there in glory. Behold your Master. He is your pattern. He left heaven to save some. He went to the cross, to the grave, to “save some”: this was the great object of his life, to lay down his life for his sheep. He loved his church and gave himself for it, that he might redeem her unto himself. Imitate your Master. Learn his self-denial and his blessed consecration if by any means you may save some.

     My soul yearneth that I personally may “save some,” but broader is my desire than that. I would have every one of you, my beloved friends, associated here in church-fellowship to become spiritual parents of children for God. Oh, that every one of you might “save some.” Yes, my venerable brethren, you are not too old for service. Yes, my young friends, ye young men and maidens, ye are not too young to be recruits in the King’s service. If the kingdom is ever to come to our Lord, and come it will, it never will come through a few ministers, missionaries, or evangelists preaching the gospel. It must come through everyone of you preaching it— in the shop and by the fireside, when walking abroad and when sitting in the chamber. You must all of you be always endeavouring to “save some.” I would enlist you all afresh to-night, and bind anew the King’s colours upon you. I would that you would fall in love with my Master over anew, and enter a second time upon the love of your espousals. There is a hymn of Cowper’s which we sometimes sing—

“O for a closer walk with God!”

May we get to have a closer walk with him, and if we do so we shall also feel a more vehement desire to magnify Christ in the salvation of sinners. I would like to press the inquiry upon my hearers to-night, you who are saved — How many others have you brought to Christ? You cannot do it by yourself, I know; but I mean how many has the Spirit of God brought by you? How many, did I say? Is it quite certain that you have led any to Jesus? Can you not recollect one? I pity you, then! “Write,” said Jeremiah, “Write that man childless.” That was considered to be a fearful curse. Shall I write you childless, my beloved friends? Your children are not saved, your 'wife is not saved, and you are spiritually childless. Can you bear this thought? I pray you wake from your slumbering and ask the Master to make you useful. “I wish the saints cared for us sinners,” said a young man. “They do care for you,” answered one, “care very much for you.” “Why don’t they show it, then?” said he, “I have often wished to have a talk about good things, but my friend, who is a member of the church, never broaches the subject, and seems to study how to keep clear of it when I am with him.” Do not let them say so. Do tell them about Christ and things divine, and make this your resolve, every one of you, that if men perish they shall not perish for want of your prayers, nor for want of your earnest and loving instructions. God give you grace, each one of you, to resolve by all means to save some, and then to carry out your intention.

     III. But my time is almost gone, and therefore I have to mention, in the last place, THE GREAT METHODS WHICH THE APOSTLE USED.

     How did he who so longed to “save some” set about it? Why, first of all, by simply preaching the gospel of Christ. He did not attempt to create a sensation by startling statements, neither did he preach erroneous doctrine in order to obtain the assent of the multitude. I fear that some evangelists preach what in their own minds they must know to be untrue. They keep back certain doctrines, not because they are untrue but because they do not give scope enough for their ravings, and they make loose statements because they hope to reach more minds. However earnest a man may be for the salvation of sinners I do not believe that he has any right to make any statement which his sober judgment will not justify. I think I have heard at revival meetings of things said and done which were not according to sound doctrine, but which were always excused by “the excitement of the occasion.” I hold that I have no right to state false doctrine, even if I knew it would save a soul. The supposition is, of course, absurd; but it makes you see what I mean. My business is to bring to bear upon men, not falsehood, but truth; and I shall not be excused if under any pretence I palm a lie upon the people. Rest assured that to keep back any part of the gospel is not the right, nor the true method for saving men. Tell the sinner all the doctrines. If you hold Calvinistic doctrine, as I hope you do, do not stutter about it, nor stammer over it, but speak it out. Depend upon it, many revivals have been evanescent because a full-orbed gospel was not proclaimed. Give the people every truth, every truth baptized in holy fire, and each truth will have its own useful effect upon the mind. But the great truth is the cross, the truth that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Brethren, keep to that. That is the bell for you to ring. Ring it, man! Ring it! Keep on ringing it. Sound forth that note upon your silver trumpet, or if you are only a ram’s horn, sound it forth, and the walls of Jericho will come down. Alas for the fineries of our “cultured” modern divines. I hear them crying out, and denouncing my old-fashioned advice. This talking about Christ crucified is said to be archaic, conventional, and antique, and not at all suitable to the refinement of this wonderful age. It is astonishing how learned we have all grown lately. We are getting so very wise, I am afraid we shall ripen into fools before long, even if we have not arrived at it already, People want “thinking” nowadays, so it is said, and the working men will go where science is deified and profound “thought” is enshrined. I have noticed that as a general rule wherever the new “thinking” drives out the old gospel there are more spiders than people, but where there is the simple preaching of Jesus Christ, the place is crowded to the doors. Nothing else will crowd a meetinghouse, after all, for any length of time, but the preaching of Christ crucified. But as to this matter, whether it be popular or unpopular, our mind is made up and our foot is put down. Question we have none as to our own course. If it be foolish to preach up atonement by blood, we will be fools; and if it be madness to stick to the old truth, just as Paul delivered it, in all its simplicity, without any refinement, or improvement, we mean to stick to it, even if we be pilloried as being incapable of progressing with the age, for we are persuaded that this “foolishness of preaching” is a divine ordinance, and that the cross of Christ which stumbles so many, and is ridiculed by so many more, is still the power of God and the wisdom of God. Yes, just the oldfashioned truth— if thou believest thou shalt be saved— that will we stick to, and may God send his blessing upon it according to his own eternal purpose. We do not expect this preaching to be popular, but we know that God will justify it ere long. Meanwhile, we are not staggered because

“The truths we love a sightless world blasphemes
As childish dotage, and delirious dreams;
The danger they discern not they deny;
Laugh at their only remedy, and die.”

     Next to this, Paul used much prayer. The gospel alone will not be blessed; we must pray over our preaching. A great painter was asked what he mixed his colours with, and he replied he mixed them with brains. ’Twas well for a painter, but if anyone should ask a preacher what he mixes truth with, he ought to be able to answer— with prayer, much prayer. When a poor man was breaking granite by the roadside, he was down on his knees while he gave his blows, and a minister passing by said, “Ah, my friend, here you are at your hard work; your work is just like mine; you have to break stones, and so do I.” “Yes,” said the man, “and if you manage to break stony hearts, you will have to do it as I do, go down on your knees.” The man was right, no one can use the gospel hammer well except he is much on his knees, but the gospel hammer soon splits flinty hearts when a man knows how to pray. Prevail with God, and you will prevail with men. Fresh from the closet to the pulpit let us come, with the anointing oil of God’s Spirit fresh upon us. What we receive in secrecy we are cheerfully to dispense in public. Let us never venture to speak for God to men, until we have spoken for men to God. Yes, dear hearers, if you want a blessing on your Sundayschool teaching, or any other form of Christian labour, mix it up with fervent intercession.

     And then observe one other thing. Paul went to his work always with an intense sympathy for those he dealt with— a sympathy which made him adapt himself to each case. If he talked to a Jew, he did not begin at once blurting out that he was the apostle of the Gentiles, but he said he was a Jew, as Jew he was. He raised no questions about nationalities or ceremonies. He wanted to tell the Jew of him of whom Isaiah said, “He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” in order that he might believe in Jesus and so be saved. If he met a Gentile, the apostle of the Gentiles never showed any of the squeamishness which might have been expected to cling to him on account of his Jewish education. He ate as the Gentile ate, and drank as he did, sat with him, and talked with him; was, as it were, a Gentile with him; never raising any question about circumcision or uncircumcision, but solely wishing to tell him of Christ, who came into the world to save both Jew and Gentile, and to make them one. If Paul met with a Scythian, he spoke to him in the Barbarian tongue, and not in classic Greek. If he met a Greek, he spoke to him as he did at the Areopagus, with language that was fitted for the polished Athenian. He was all things to all men, that he might by all means save some. So with you, Christian people: your one business in life is to lead men to believe in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, and every other thing should be made subservient to this one object; if you can but get them saved, everything else will come right in due time. Mr. Hudson Taylor, a dear man of God, who has laboured much in Inland China, finds it helpful to dress as a Chinaman, and wear a pigtail. He always mingles with the people, and as far as possible lives as they do. This seems to me to be a truly wise policy. I can understand that we shall win upon a congregation of Chinese by becoming as Chinese as possible, and if this be the case we are bound to be Chinese to the Chinese to save the Chinese. It would not be amiss to become a Zulu to save the Zulus, though we must mind that we do it in another sense than Colenso did. If we can put ourselves on a level with those whose good we seek, we shall be more likely to effect our purpose than if we remain aliens and foreigners, and then talk of love and unity. To sink myself to save others is the idea of the apostle. To throw overboard all peculiarities, and yield a thousand indifferent points, in order to bring men to Jesus, is our wisdom if we would extend our Master’s kingdom. Never may any whim or conventionality of ours keep a soul from considering the gospel,— that were horrible indeed. Better far to be personally inconvenienced by compliance with things indifferent, than to retard a sinner’s coming by quarrelling about trifles. If Jesus Christ were here to-day, I am sure he would not put on any of those gaudy rags in which the Puseyite delights himself. I cannot imagine our Lord Jesus Christ dressed out in that style. Why, the apostle tells our women that they are to dress themselves modestly, and I do not think Christ would have his ministers set an example of tomfoolery: but yet even in dress something may be done on the principle of our text. When Jesus Christ was here, what dress did he wear? To put it in plain English, he wore a smock frock. He wore the common dress of his countrymen— a garment woven from the top throughout, without seam; and I think he would have his ministers wear that costume which is most like the dress which their hearers wear in common, and so even in dress associate with their hearers, and be one among them. He would have you teachers, if you want to save your children, talk to them like children, and make yourselves children if you can. You who want to get at young peoples’ hearts must try to be young. You who wish to visit the sick must sympathise with them in their sickness. Get to speak as you would like to be spoken to if you were sick. Come down to those who cannot come up to you. You cannot pull people out of the water without stooping down and getting hold of them. If you have to deal with bad characters you must come down to them, not in their sin, but in their roughness and in their style of language, so as to get a hold of them. I pray God that we may learn the sacred art of soul-winning by adaptation. They called Mr. Whitefield’s chapel at Moorfields “The Soul Trap.” Whitefield was delighted, and said he hoped it always would be a soul trap. Oh that all our places of worship were soul traps, and every Christian a fisher of men, each one doing his best, as the fisherman does, by every art and artifice to catch those they fish for. Well may we use all means to win so great a prize as a spirit destined for eternal weal or woe. The diver plunges deep to find pearls, and we may accept any labour or hazard to win a soul. Rouse yourselves, my brethren, for this God-like work, and may the Lord bless you in it.

     I commend these wandering thoughts to your earnest attention. I pray the ungodly to bethink themselves of what their ruin will be except they come to Jesus and trust in him; and I ask believers to be doubly earnest from this time forth in labouring to save the souls of men, and may God send us such a blessing that we shall not have room to receive it.



Choice Comfort for a Young Believer

By / Jun 22

Choice Comfort for a Young Believer 

 

“The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.”— Psalm cxxxviii. 8.

 

CONTINUALLY I am clearing the ground and laying the foundation of eternal salvation in the grace of God which was manifested in Christ Jesus when he came into the world to save sinners. This I did this morning, and the Lord has set his seal thereon right speedily, which is to me a sure proof that the frequent preaching of the foundation truths is according to the mind of God. That necessary work cannot be done too often, for men need to hear the true gospel as often as they hear the striking of the hour, and even then they forget it. Yet do not all forget; there are a few, like those who were saved with Noah, who seek the ark of salvation and live. To those who have newly come to put their trust in Jesus I wish to speak this evening, and I do so with much delight, for as the sight of the new-born babe makes glad the mother, so does the news of a new-born soul fill me with exceeding joy. Good tidings have come to my ears. We do not often sow and reap quite so quickly as I have done on this occasion, for since this morning’s service I have hopeful evidence that God has blessed the word to many souls, and my beloved fellow-helpers, who watch around this congregation like scouts around an army, report that the slain of the Lord have been many.

     Now, between half-past twelve o’clock this morning and this time in the evening such souls have gone a day’s journey towards heaven, and already they have begun, I dare say, to question themselves, and possibly to be exercised with some few fears. Thus early they may have met with lions in the way, or have found worse than real lions in their own fears. They have only lately known the Lord, but already they are growing anxious, and looking into the future with a somewhat troubled gaze. Therefore come we forth lovingly as a Shepherd hastens to cherish the new-born lambs. We come to the little ones with words of good cheer, for they need them, and we have special orders from our Master to see that they are tenderly comforted. We trust also to speak to those who have known the Lord for many years some words of help with regard to matters which may now be causing them alarm. The consolations of the Lord are very reviving, and in number they abound, therefore let small and great partake of them. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.”

     When a man becomes a Christian, and the grace of God commences its work in his soul, he begins to be serious and thoughtful. That is one of the first noticeable changes in him: he renounces his former carelessness and indifference, and becomes a sober, considerate man, in whose mind there is a deep concern as to his own character in the sight of God. He is concerned about the temptations he meets with in his walk among the sons of men, lest these temptations should be too much for him, and he should be betrayed into sin. He longs to lead a holy life: in fact, holiness is his great concern. He prays that he may leave such a life behind him for others to remember as shall be worth their following as an example. He asks himself, “Will the hope I have just obtained really endure to the last days of my life? Will it sustain me amidst the pangs and weaknesses of death? Is it truly such that when I go before the burning throne of God himself I need not tremble?” Such matters were sport to him once, they are serious questions now. He has thrown down the cap and bells of the jester and taken up the staff of a pilgrim and the sword of a warrior, confessing in an unmistakeable manner that “life is real, life is earnest.” He is a man of concern now, concerned about his soul’s affairs, his sins, his life, his death, his eternal salvation; a solemn air is about him, he hears the wheels of eternity sounding in his ears, he girds his loins for his life-work, and he puts away childish things.

     This is well; but as every state has its dangers, so the peril of religious concern is despondency. Thoughtfulness soon degenerates into distrust, and holy anxiety easily rusts into unbelief. The more a man looks within him the less he can trust himself, and the more a man looks around him the more he feels that he is in danger, and so he is apt very early in his Christian course to be downcast and much afraid, and to say within himself, “I shall surely one day fall by the hand of the enemy. My confidence will prove to be a delusion, and my conversion a fiction.” He is fearful as to the result of future temptations, like a fresh recruit in the battle who feels certain that every boom of the cannon proclaims his death. Now I want, if God will help me, to meet such fears to-night. May the divine Spirit enable us now to have a strong and mighty faith in God, not only with regard to past transgression, which is clean gone through the atoning blood, but with regard to all the difficulties and dangers of the present and future; and may we drink into the spirit of die text which is now before us— “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me; thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.”

     Here first we see that God fills us with assurance— “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.” Secondly, he gives us rest m his mercy— “Thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever”; and thirdly, he puts prayer into our hearts and supplies us with a plea— “Forsake not the works of thine own hands.” May God, the Holy Ghost, most graciously help us in this meditation.

     I. At the beginning of our text, to meet our fears about the future, THE LORD FILLS US WITH ASSURANCE. “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.” You see the assurance is, first, that God is really at work on our behalf. Get a grip at this, thou troubled one, and by a personal faith say, “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me” Thou hast come to Jesus and trusted thy soul in his hands,— we take it for granted that thou hast done so, then it is certain that the Lord has brought thee to this state of mind, for never did a man in this world simply come and trust in Christ unless the Spirit of God had led him to it. What says the Saviour? “No man cometh unto me except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” You would never have come to a simple reliance upon the mediatorial work and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus if there had not been a work of grace in your soul. Every effect has a cause, and all spiritual faith is created in the heart by the Holy Ghost. Since, then, the Lord has begun to save you, your confidence with regard to the future must be that he who began this good work will continue to operate in your soul. If the work of God upon your heart were discontinued, your life, your hope, your faith, your love would be discontinued too, for you only live because the Holy Spirit lives and works in you. The same power which first made the world and builded yonder arch of azure must sustain it still, or the world would feel its final crash, and the cerulean dome would utterly dissolve. Continued outgoings of power from the Creator are essential to the continued existence of creation; there is neither power, nor life, nor being apart from God. This is true in the kingdom of grace as much as in that of nature — we are gracious because God gives us grace, and we keep his way because the Lord keeps us by his power unto salvation. The new life within us has been created by the Lord, and by him it must be sustained. Let no one of my hearers forget this. You are to put your reliance upon the working of the eternal power and godhead within your soul, for there is the fountain of grace, and thence the streams must flow. Now mind, if you base your reliance upon your own perseverance, your own prayerfulness, your own spirituality, your own strength of resolution, or your own settledness of purpose, you will learn that “cursed is he that trusteth in man and maketh flesh his arm”; for of all the men in the world who are unfit to be trusted the most unfit one is yourself. It were almost better to trust your fellow man than to trust in yourself. “Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.”

     I think you will see that the first clause of the text just means this— “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me,” not “I will perfect it myself,” but “The Lord will do it.” There is a consciousness that God is at work, and the full assurance that he will be at work still in order to complete that which he has commenced. Have you obtained a religion which is not the work of God? Then I would exhort you to get rid of it. If your religion shines and glitters, and seems to you to be inexpressibly lovely, yet if it has budded out of your own nature, or is the result of your own free will, and is not traceable to the operation of divine grace, and to that alone, do as the man did with the bad banknote,— throw it down on the highway, or into a ditch, and run away from it. Let no one know that the home-made counterfeit belongs to you: for it is worthless now, and it will prove deceptive at the last. But and if the religion you have received is the work of God, then be certain that he who began the work will perfect it. Be well assured that he who worketh in you to will and to do of his own good pleasure will always find a pleasure in thus working, and will never forsake the work of his own hands.

     The psalmist, however, did not merely believe that God was at work, and would be at work, but he affirms that he will complete the work. “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.” Has he began it? Then, my soul, rest thou sure of this, that he will finish it. Hast thou ever seen an unfinished work of God? If thou hadst been present on the second or the third day of the week of creation thou mightest have seen a work unfinished. Before the morning stars sang together over a perfect creation many things were made, but the complete chain of being was not as yet visible. But did the Almighty pause in the middle of the week and leave his design unfinished? How would the record of creation run? That God had made the light but had not made the sun? That he had made the waters, but had not divided them from the land, or said to the sea, “Hitherto shalt thou go, but no farther”? No, the first day of creation was a guarantee of the five which followed it, and of the grand rest-day which crowned the week. You might have been certain from that very first day when he said, “Let there be light,” that he meant to make eyes to see the light; and when there were living creatures for each domain of nature, beasts of the field, fowl of the air, and fish of the sea, you might be morally certain that he meant to crown the kingdom of nature by bringing forth into it a being to whom he should say, “I have made thee to have dominion over the fowl of the air and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea.” God’s beginnings ensure his endings. He makes no mistake in the plan, and feels no weariness in the execution, and hence when he puts forth his hand he never draws it back till his work is done. It is always so. Devils of hell and men under their influence no doubt think to stop the path of God in divine providence, but he who can lift the telescope of prophecy, and can see the end of the present age, may also hear the ultimate millennial song of “Hallelujah, hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” going up from every hill and dale of this emancipated earth. No machinations of hell or craft of the prince of darkness can ever prevent the Lord from bringing about the consummation of his promise, for which his church is daily praying.

     Here then, youthful believer, is your confidence: you have begun to be a Christian. God’s grace has just changed your heart. You are anxiously asking, “How shall I persevere to the end? How shall I arrive at perfection?” You shall be kept and perfected by the Lord in whom you trust. The same power which commenced a good work in you can complete it, and will. Do you doubt it? Think of what is done at the beginning of spiritual life, and let this confirm you as to its end. The Holy Spirit raises men from the dead— can he not keep them alive after he has made them alive? He brings his people out of Egypt in the day that they believe: do you think that he who brings them out cannot preserve them in the wilderness till he lands them in Canaan? He has already given us Christ to be the bread of heaven, will he not furnish us still with that bread till we shall enter into the purchased possession? Let us rest in confidence. Our Alpha will be our Omega, and he will secure every letter which lies between, for it is not his way to lay a foundation without building thereon even to the topstone.

     Now, I want you to have this blessed confidence that God is at work and will finish what he has begun, and I would have you carry this confidence into everything. You may take it into providence: the Lord will perfect that which concerns you there. Dear friend, you have a plan on hand. You say, “I wish I could be sure that I shall carry it through. Can you tell me?” No, I cannot: I can tell you this, however, that if it really ought to be your purpose, if it is God’s plan for you for life, you will carry it through. I have known men, actuated by their own folly, obstinately choose a pursuit for which they were not fit; and in such cases one of the best things that the Lord can do for them is to make them suffer shipwreck and lose their all. It would have been a bad case for our friend Jonah if he had really gone down to Tarshish, for I do not know what he would have done there: he could not have turned sailor, for no crew would have endured so sour a comrade. It was a great mercy for him when he was thrown into the sea, and was forced to travel towards Nineveh in the fish’s belly: and so sometimes we enter upon a giant scheme of our own inventing, but it is not the Lord’s scheme, and so it comes to nought. Like Jehosophat, we make ships of Tarshish go to Ophir for gold, but they go not, for they are broken at Ezion-geber as Jehosophat’s navy was: and we complain, perhaps, but it is better to submit, for it cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working. He often perfects that which truly concerns us by taking us away from that which never ought to concern us. It may be, dear hearer, that the Lord is dealing thus with you. You have been setting up in business in the direction of your own choice, and not of his choice; so he ends that matter, by a heavy loss and you may be very thankful that he does so. But that course of life which you have submitted to his wisdom, which you have taken up in obedience to the plain indications of his providence, which you follow out with integrity, walking before the Lord with all singleness of purpose, and committing your way unto him— that course of life, I say, shall have his blessing, and none shall be able to put you on one side. He will perfect, in your case, that which concerns you. The Lord told David that he should be a king. It did not look very likely when he was a lowly shepherd, but since such was the purpose of the Eternal there was no keeping the son of Jesse out of the throne. He is called to court, and there Saul’s javelin almost makes an end of him; he goes to battle and takes a giant’s head, and that brings the king’s envy upon him; he is hunted like a partridge on the mountains by those who thirsted for his life, but he must be king; no Saul or Doeg could hinder the divine decree: David must be king. Though he will not lift a hand to smite Saul, yet must his persecutor vacate the royal seat for him. Judah shall own him; but half a crown shall not be enough, speedily shall Israel submit to him. The Lord must perfect that which concerneth him, and make him king over the whole nation and establish the throne to his seed after him. Now, my brother, if the Lord has called you to the work of the ministry, the devil cannot shut the mouth that God opens. If he has called you to any post of honour or difficulty in his church, or for his cause, you will arrive at it, and your hands shall be sufficient for you. Whatever may stand in the way, the Lord will carry you through, and perfect that which concerneth you. Rest you sure of that. “If I thought so,” says one, “I should be much more quiet than I am.” Think so, my brother, and be quiet. “Oh, but I should feel more confidence.” Have confidence, brother. Perhaps that very confidence will be the means to the end, and help you to succeed. “Such- assurance would make me more patient, and I should not put out my hand so hastily if I knew that what I am hoping for would come in due time.” Do not put out your hand hastily, brother. Keep back just as David did when there was Saul lying before him sound asleep, and his spear was ready for fatal use. Then his friend said to him, “Let me smite him but this once.” It could have been done on the instant, and the crown would have been gained by a single stroke. But David did not take the business into his own hands; he could leave matters with God. Though a sin may seem to be the straight line which leads to an end, yet be sure of this, that it is always the longest way. The nearest way to be a gainer for ever is to be a loser for the present for conscience sake, while the road to failure and to shame is found in the tempting path of hasting to be rich. Be sure that it is no business of yours to perfect that which concerns you in providence; God has promised to do it, and only presumption will dare to interfere. “Stand still and see the salvation of God” is often the wisest policy as well as the truest heroism. Take care that you put not forth an unbelieving hand to snatch the unripe fruit from the tree. Wait, and in patience possess your soul.

     But this, dear friends, is more especially true in the work of grace in the heart. In that case the Lord will perfect that which concerns you. You have only a little faith; it looks like a spark, and scarcely can be called a flame, but it will increase, until it burns aloft like a beacon fire. The Lord will give you an Abrahamic faith if you will wait upon him for it, and exercise what faith you already possess. Trust him, trust him with your faith; trust him with your trust You have a little love, and you sigh to be altogether taken up with affection for your Lord; such affection shall be wrought in you before long, even that “perfect love which casteth out fear.” Trust God with your love and the God of love will reveal himself in you till your whole soul is saturated with gratitude. You have some little of the likeness of Christ already. Walk before the Lord in all confidence, and he will sketch the image of Christ upon your character to perfection, and you shall become so manifestly Christly that men shall know you to be Christ’s disciple by your very speech. You are a long way off being perfect yet, you say. Ah, but you shall be perfect; the Lord will perfect that which concerneth you. Will you know yourself, brother, when you are made perfect? I do not expect to see you coming up these aisles when you have reached that point, for another and better assembly will claim you and gain you. If at some future period of your sojourn here I should hear you say “I am perfect,” I shall know better at once, for you will prove your pride by your silly brag. Yet you will one day be completely holy and spotlessly pure. You and I, and all those who trust in Christ shall be perfect— every sin cast out, every virtue brought to harmonious completeness. We shall be holy as our Father in heaven. “Oh,” says one, “it is the best news I ever heard. Shall I be perfect?” Yes, as surely as you are in the perfect Christ so surely shall you be perfect with him. We shall be holy, unblameable, and unreprovable in his sight in the day of his appearing. Even while we are here we are struggling after perfectness: this is the goal to which we run, this is the target at which we aim. That we may perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord and be sanctified spirit, soul, and body is the high ambition of our lives. Let us never despair of it, for there stands the promise: “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.”

     Now, if this be true in providence, and true of the work of grace in us, it is also true of the work of grace all around us. How often do I go before the Lord with the weight of this church and all its institutions upon me; and I cry from my heart, “What will come of them all?” Then it is my confidence and delight that the Lord will perfect that which concerneth me. Hitherto he has helped me in a marvellous manner, and why should I fancy that he will forsake me, seeing that with all my heart I desire to honour him? Only have trust in God, thou who livest for the glory of Christ, and as thy day thy strength shall be. Thou shalt go forth conquering and to conquer, if thy sword be drawn alone in Christ’s quarrel. If thy charge be but a few children in the Sunday-school, or if it be the raising of a cause for Christ in a hamlet or a village, only give thy whole soul to it, and rest thou in God, and thou shalt find him perfecting that which concerneth thee. Why, we have not half the confidence in God about our religious efforts that we ought to have. We go to work with a faint heart, and tremblingly hope that perhaps we shall succeed. Look how amazed we are when we find a soul converted here and there, and what a noise we make over a solitary convert, like a hen that has laid a single egg and must tell all the parish about it. If we had more confidence in God we should expect converts by the hundred, and we should have them; we should go to work with the great weapon of the gospel which God has put into our hands, and with the power which God has promised, and we should see the kingdom given unto Messiah, and the pleasure of the Lord would prosper in his hands. May we have faith enough to be certain that our unchanging God will perfect that which concerneth us.

     So I leave that first part, trusting that our hearts may be filled with quiet assurance by the Holy Ghost.

     II. And now, secondly and very briefly, THE LORD GIVES US REST IN HIS MERCY, for what says the text, “Thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever.”

     See, my brethren, how this works in us rest from fear. “Alas!” sighs one troubled heart, “I fear I shall fall into many sins between here and heaven.” Well may you have that dread, my brother. But you may readily overcome the fear by singing in your heart, “Thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever.” The blood of atonement will never fail, and therefore mercy will always endure. “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

“Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransom’d church of God
Be saved to sin no more.”

Your sins between here and heaven shall be forgiven you, so let the dread of condemnation be banished.

     Then comes up another fear— “But I do not see how I am to be perfected. My nature is so vile. I find such resistance to the divine operations. The flesh struggles against the Spirit, and I cannot get my rebellious flesh to be subject to the law of God.” The answer to this distressing lament is the same as in the former case,— “His mercy endureth for ever;” he will bear with you and forbear beyond all bounds. None but a God could have patience with you; but the Lord is God and not man. Some of God’s children are the crookedest people that ever were in this world, and it must be sovereignty which chose them, for they are by no means naturally desirable or attractive. It was hard work even for a Moses to have patience with them of old. Though he was the meekest of men, yet his anger waxed hot against them, and he said, “Hear now, ye rebels;” but their God had no such angry word for them, he was still patient, and bore with them for forty years. Brother, sister, he will have patience with you because his mercy endureth for ever. He has been teaching you faith, but how slowly you have learned! There is a man who has been learning faith these five-and-twenty years, and he is an unbeliever still at times. Doubts frequently mar the face of his assurance, but the Lord still bears with his unbelief, and goes on to teach him little by little, line upon line, precept upon precept. There is one here who has been taught love. Ay, for the forty years past that brother has been learning love to the Lord and love to the brethren, spelling out the lessons of love letter by letter. He is in the infant class even now, but the Lord is having a deal of patience with him, and he will yet make him tender, considerate, and affectionate. Let us hope it will be soon, for his own sake, and still more for the sake of his brethren to whom he acts so roughly. Many of God’s people are very slow learners; they have been at school these twenty years, and cannot yet read their own titles to eternal mansions, though penned in capitals by their Redeemer’s own hand. As for myself, I am more brutish than any man, and other teachers would long ago have lost patience with me, but “the Lord will perfect that which concerneth me, for his mercy endureth for ever.”

     Between now and heaven, dear brethren, some of you will perhaps have to pass through a great deal of affliction, and some of us who are called daily to see others suffer feel much tenderness towards those who are the children of affliction, and therefore we speak with great sympathy when we say, “Do not shudder with regard to those pains and tremors which may come over your poor trembling frame, for his mercy endureth for ever. He will make your bed in your sickness, and underneath you shall be the everlasting arms.”

     Between here and heaven perhaps yon will experience a great many wants. It may be you have been afraid of poverty. You have not a very large sum of money in the bank, and you have not a very large sum in your pocket either, and sometimes you are out of work, and you hardly know what you shall eat or what you shall drink; be this your comfort, “his mercy endureth for ever.” “Having food and raiment let us be therewith content, for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” All the streams may dry, but the brook Cherith will flow on; and even if that chosen rivulet should fail, behold God has a widow woman at Zarephath who will feed you: though she has nothing herself but a handful of meal and a little oil in the cruse, yet you shall both live upon it till the famine is over. The heir of heaven shall not lack for the bread of earth while God liveth, for it is written, “Trust in the Lord and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” “He giveth food unto all flesh, for his mercy endureth for ever.” “Your bread shall be given you.”

     At last, unless the Lord should suddenly appear, there will come the hour of death, which by many is exceedingly dreaded. You will gather up your feet in the bed, and bid adieu to all temporal things, and then the enduring mercy of God shall be your abounding consolation. A large part of our fears about death are idle. One man of God always feared death, but he might have spared himself his wretchedness, for he fell asleep one night in apparently excellent health, and died in his sleep. He never could have known anything about dying, for on his face were no tokens of pain or struggle, nor was there any reason to believe that he ever awoke till he lifted up his eyes amid the cherubim. Beloved, if we die awake, and even if we die in pain, we shall yet hope to die triumphantly. If we do not die shouting victory, we hope that we shall peacefully fall asleep, the Lord himself kissing away our soul into the eternity of joy, “for his mercy endureth for ever.” “He will perfect that which concerneth me.”

     Now, I want you young friends especially, who are just beginning life, each one to feel “Now, I am going to put myself and all my temporal circumstances, all my fears, all my engagements, my living, my dying, everything into the hand of God, and there I am going to leave it. I will trust him with my all. In the beginning I will trust him, and I will do so even to the end, and go my way with this calm confidence, ‘He will perfect that which concerneth me, for his mercy endureth for ever.’” I remember hearing one of our evangelists once say that some Christian people, when they first profess to be Christians, are like a man who is going a long distance by rail, but only takes a ticket for a short distance, and then he has to get out and make a rush for new tickets as he goes along. “Now,” said he, “there are other believers who know better and take a ticket all the way through at the first, which is by far the wiser way.” Some trust the Lord to keep them for a quarter of a year, and others for a month, but when I believed in Christ Jesus, I thank his name, I trusted him to save me to the end. I sought for and obtained a finished salvation, which is my joy and hope at this moment. I took a ticket all the way through and I have not had to get a fresh ticket yet. I have sometimes thought I should but when I have run to the office they have handed me back my old ticket, the one I lost, the same one as before, and I knew it to be the same, for it bore this stamp upon it,— “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” The believer is saved at first by believing, and he shall be so to the last. Do not trust a rickety salvation which may break down with you— a temporary, trumpery salvation which may only last you for a time and then fail you. Embrace with all your heart that divine promise, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” Cry out after the living water which shall be in you as a well of water springing up unto everlasting life, and suck the marrow out of this text, “He that believeth in me hath”— hath there and then, down on the nail— “hath”— now, to-day, “hath ever lasting life”— not life for a time, but life everlasting as surely as he believes in Christ.

     III. This brings me to conclude with the third clause of our text, which is a prayer. The Lord having given his people grace to rest in his mercy, he PUTS IT INTO THEIR HEARTS TO PRAY, AND SUPPLIES THEM WITH A PLEA— “Forsake not the works of thine own hands.”

     To my mind, it is a very touching prayer. “Lord, thou hast begun the work upon me; go on to finish it, for if thou do not, it never will be finished. If thou leave it, it is left undone, and I am undone indeed. But do not forsake the work of thine own hands.” It is such a prayer as the clay might put up when it is revolving on the potter’s wheel. The potter is using his best skill, and producing an article of great beauty, bringing out its shape and form as it spins round before him. Already you can see something of what it will be: the design does not yet perfectly appear, but you can guess it. But suppose the potter were to stop the wheel, take up the clay and fling it back again into the lump, that vessel never would be finished, for it cannot finish itself. It has no power to shape itself in any degree; and so if it were rational clay and could speak, it would say, “Forsake not the work of thine own hands. Persevere in what thou hast begun.” This is a prayer which you and I may well bring before God, whose workmanship we are. “O God, if I have only a little faith, yet thou didst give it me. Oh, give me more. If thou hast given me only a desire after thee, yet that desire is a divine creation: have respect unto it, I pray thee, and fulfil it.” This is a powerful argument with our gracious God, for, brethren, he does not give you a little grace to tantalize you. Now he has given you a hunger and thirst after him, suppose he does not satisfy you, that hunger and that thirst will be cruel gifts. He has taken away from you the power to be happy in the world, has he not? Well, if he does not intend to give you his own divine happiness, why has he made you weary of the world and the pleasures of sin? A dog likes bones, and I am sure I would not teach him to leave his bones or turn him into a man, if afterwards I had to say, “Now you have become a man, there is nothing for you. If you want a meal you must try the bones again.” No, no. He who makes us hate the world means to give us something better. He who makes us loathe sin means to cleanse us from it. He who begins to build in our souls is not a foolish builder, of whom it shall be said, “This man began to build, but was not able to finish.” Do you think, brother, that the Lord has found out something in you which is so bad that it baffles him and compels him to give up his work. If it were so, why did he ever begin it? He knew what would be in you. The prescient eye of God foresaw every sin, and every tendency to sin in the heart of every man that lives; and so when he began his work he knew all that it would require to perfect it. He has not gone forth to fight the devil in you to discover that he is not strong enough to meet him. Oh, no, he knows the force of your evil nature, the force of your hasty temper, the force of that obstinate self-love, the force of that imperious pride, the force of that dogged will: he knows all this, nor can anything take him by surprise, and therefore, since he has begun to save you, rest assured that he will accomplish his design. His hand is not shortened, nor his heart dismayed; you may cry to him out of the utmost depths, and be quite assured that he can and will even there carry on his purposes of love, for he will not forsake the work of his own hands.

     Go to him, then, in prayer: plead with him mightily. Prayer is the channel appointed to convey to you the blessing; open the valves, and let the stream flow into your heart. Whenever you feel as if you must be broken in pieces like a poor earthen pot, then cry to him— “Lord, forsake not the work of thine own hands. Oh, do not leave me, for I bear the print of thy hand: be patient with this ill-wrought clay, and work upon me till thou shalt have made me a vessel unto honour fit for thine own special use.”

     In fine, the closing word is just this. I have often preached to you salvation to sinners, as sinners, just as you are, and I have bidden you in my Master’s name come and receive that free mercy which he presents to the guilty, even to the guiltiest of all, when they will but take it and trust in his dear name. Now, I supplement that by advising you to carry the rule of faith into every part of your life. Trust the Lord Jesus for everything. Do not come to-night to trust in Christ half way, but for all things commit yourself into his eternal keeping, for he is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before his presence with exceeding great joy. If you believers have been trusting the divine Lord to keep you if you keep yourselves, get beyond that and trust in him to keep you that you may keep yourselves. If you have said, “I believe that he will be faithful to me if I am faithful to him,” go much farther, for it will never do to stop there. Trust in him to make you faithful to him. Do not suffer the pivot to rest in you, put the whole stress and burden upon the Lord Jesus. If you retain any “if” or “but” about your eternal salvation, it will be a thorn in your pillow, and a serpent at your heel. If you are the corner-stone and mainstay of your own salvation you are a lost man. You must hang upon the sure nail, Christ Jesus, all the burden and all the glory of his Father’s house. As for depending on your own watchfulness, or constancy, or anything else of your own, I want you to get right away from it; and now, once for all, by an act which you shall rejoice in as long as you live, commit your whole future— time and eternity— into the pierced hand of him who says that he gives to his sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of his hand. In this one thing I would have you be as I am, for I have no shade of hope apart from the Lord Jesus, either as to my pardon or my perseverance, my new birth or my ultimate perfection. I need to know what is to become of me in death, and what is to become of me when I live again in eternity; and if I could not have a far-reaching faith which flung itself across the awful gulf that separates this world from the next, my religion would yield me but small comfort. But now to-night— and may even body here be enabled so to do — I do put my whole self, my soul, my body, my engagements, my prospective sufferings, my future troubles, my labours— everything which has to do with me or about me into that same hand which bought me when it was nailed to the tree. He shall keep me, or I never shall be kept. Once for all I make a deposit of my eternal interests, and leave them with him whose honour it is to keep safely that which is committed to him. He is able to preserve me, and I have done with it. I hand over my all to him. Come, my brethren, do the same, and when you have done so be of good cheer. A man takes his money into his bank and leaves it. He does not go back in a quarter of an hour and say, “Mr. Cashier, have you my money safely?” “Yes, sir.” “Well I want to see it.” They would not want such a man to deal with the bank long, for he has no confidence, and will be more trouble than profit. Put in your all with Jesus and leave it there. Make a permanent investment. Draw the interest of it and spend it in present enjoyment, but leave your all as a permanent investment, and sing with me—

“I know that safe with him remains,
Protected by his power,
What I’ve committed to his hands
Till the decisive hour.
“Then will he own my worthless name
Before his Fathers face,
And in the New Jerusalem
Appoint my soul a place.”



The Dromedaries

By / Jun 22

The Dromedaries 

 

WE will read a few verses first, and at the close of them you will find the text.

“Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry. And Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the river unto the land of the Philistines, and unto the border of Egypt: they brought presents, and served Solomon all the days of his life. And Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty measures of fine flour, and threescore measures of meal, Ten fat oxen, and twenty oxen out of the pastures, and an hundred sheep, beside harts, and roebucks, and fallowdeer, and fatted fowl. For he had dominion over all the region on this side the river, from Tiphsah even to Azzah, over all the kings on this side the river: and he had peace on all sides round about him. And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all the days of Solomon. And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen. And those officers provided victual for King Solomon, and for all that came unto King Solomon’s table, every man in his month: they lacked nothing. Barley also and straw for the horses and dromedaries brought they unto the place where the officers were, every man according to his charge.”— 1 Kings iv. 20— 28.

 

The last words are the text for this occasion.

     From the whole passage you will see that the kingdom of Israel under the sway of Solomon was a fair type of the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps it most exactly describes his future dominion, in the long-expected glory of the latter days. The present state of the church may be compared to the reign of David, splendid with victories, but disturbed with battles; but there are better days to come, days in which the kingdom shall be extended and become more manifest; and then the Lord Jesus Christ shall be even more conspicuously seen as the Solomon of the kingdom, “who shall have dominion from sea to sea.” Yet even now, as “we that have believed do enter into rest,” so do we also enter into the richest provision which is made in the covenant of grace, even at this present; and I may say of all who have come under the sway of Christ, that we dwell in a region of peace, seated every man under his vine and figtree, and none making us afraid. “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,” and, “therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “The peace of God which passeth all understanding” doth keep our heart and mind by Jesus Christ. Israel under Solomon had abundance as well as peace. What says the historian? They were “as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry.” It is said that there was such plenty in the land in Solomon’s time that gold was of no more value than silver, and silver became of little more value than iron; and as for the other metals, they were little accounted of. So common had precious metals become that they were scarcely precious any longer, they were so plentiful. The whole land flowed with milk and honey, and the people rejoiced and were glad. Certainly the Lord Jesus Christ has brought his people into a state of the greatest plenty, for “all things are yours; whether things present, or things to come; or life, or death; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” What plenty must that man have to whom the Lord has said, “No good thing will I withhold from them that walk uprightly”! “Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” He has given us carte blanche in prayer. He has put into our hands the keys of his treasury, and has bidden us take what we will. He has said, “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart”; and he has added, “Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it.” If we have not, it is “because we ask not, or because we ask amiss.”

     So, too, we dwell in a kingdom which is ruled with wisdom. It is said of Solomon in this chapter that he had wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand on the sea shore; and Solomon’s -wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of the Egyptians. Is not this also our honour and privilege? Behold, this day the Lord Jesus Christ is “made unto us wisdom.” “We have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things” while we dwell in him; for “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant.” “If any man will do his will he shall know of the doctrine.” “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children.” Hence we dwell under a rule of wisdom, which wisdom imparts itself to each one of us according to his capacity to receive it, yea, even to those whose experience is but shallow: “to teach the young men wisdom, and the babes knowledge and discretion.” “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not.”

     Israel had a king who was full of power. Solomon had squadrons of horse and chariots of war, and he was so strong that the kings of the earth dared not come into conflict with him, but paid him tribute. As for our King, he has better forces than horses and chariots of war, for he has but to speak to his Father, and he will presently send him twenty legions of angels. All power is delivered unto him in heaven and in earth. The fulness of the Godhead dwells in him for the defence and help of his people, and if you will but open your eyes you shall see horses of fire and chariots of fire round about your Lord. Hosts of angels are ascending and descending upon the Son of man, and all heaven is in motion for the purposes of God in Christ Jesus. Not an angel stands still beneath the sway of Christ, but each one either ascends or descends to do his Master’s bidding. Talk of mighty princes— he is the Prince of the kings of the earth, the “blessed and only Potentate,” to whom belongeth rule over all principalities and powers. I might go on with the parallel, but that is not the object of my discourse.

     The great kingdom of Solomon was managed by a well-appointed body of officers, and certain persons were set over each province, who, amongst other duties, had to provide for king Solomon’s table and stable. The table was very sumptuously furnished, as you saw in the reading; and in the stable stood horses of war, and also swift dromedaries, which were used in the same manner as our modern post-horses, to carry messages rapidly from one station to another. These swift horses and dromedaries were made to run from town to town with the royal mandates, and thus the whole country was kept in speedy communication with the capital. Appointed officers were bound to provide for these horses and dromedaries, and all else that concerned the king’s business; and my subject at this time will illustrate the likeness between this arrangement and the methods of our Lord’s kingdom.

     I. First we shall note that EACH OF SOLOMON’S OFFICERS HAD A CHARGE. The text says, “Every man according to his charge.” We have officers about modern courts who may be highly ornamental, but when you have said that, there is very little else to add. On high days and holidays they wear many decorations, and glitter in their stars and garters, and sumptuous garments, but what particular charge they fulfil it is beyond my power to say. In Solomon’s court all his officers had a service to carry out, “every man according to his charge.” It is exactly so in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we are truly his, he has called us to some work and office, and he wills us to discharge that office diligently. We are not to be gentlemen-at-ease, but men-at-arms; not loiterers, but labourers; not glittering spangles, but burning and shining lights.

     It is an exceeding glory to be the lowest servant of King Jesus. It is more honour to be a scullion in Christ’s kitchen than to be a peer of the realm. The meanest position that can be occupied in the kingdom of Jesus Christ, if any can be mean in such a service, has a touch of divine glory about it; and if we rightfully discharge it, though it be only to wash the saints’ feet, we partake in the honour of our Master, who himself did not disdain to do the like. But no man is put in any office in the church that he may be merely ornamental. We are set in our places with an end and design, every man according to his charge— every woman according to her charge. My dear brother, you do not occupy the post of a minister or a pastor that you may be respected, but that you may “adorn the doctrine of God your Saviour in all things.” You are not, my dear brother, ordained to be an elder or a deacon in a church that our Lord may put honour upon you, though he does put honour upon you in it, but that you may bring glory to God— that the people may see the grace of for God in you, and may magnify God in you. Churches were not made for ministers, but ministers for chuches. We who are officers in the church are not ordained for our own sakes, but for the people’s sake, and we should always recollect that fact, and live with it in our eye. Dear friend, if you are called to teach in the school, if you are called to visit from house to house, or to act as a City Missionary, or a Bible woman, you have work to do, and you must do it well, or render a sorrowful account at the last. Office is not given to you that you may get credit by it, and have the honour of filling it, but that you may do real service to your Lord and Master Jesus Christ. No servant of Christ can be faithful if he regards that title as one of barren honour involving no responsibility. If we would be servants and officers under our great King we must bow our necks to the yoke, and not imagine that it will suffice to bind burdens upon other men’s shoulders, and act as lookers-on ourselves. It is said of Job’s cattle, that “the oxen were ploughing, and the asses were feeding beside them”; but in our Lord’s field we must all be oxen, and steadily keep to the furrow.

     Those who served Solomon were officers under a strict king, for such was his wisdom that he would not tolerate unfaithfulness in any office. He chose the best men, and so long as he retained them he meant business and expected prompt attention. If they did not do their duty, he did his, and sent them packing. It is very much so in the church of Jesus Christ. I am not speaking as if the children of God could perish; but I do say this, that in the service of Christ if you are not a faithful servant you will soon have to make room for another. You may be laid aside by sickness, and then you will have suffering instead of serving, or you may be made to drop into the rear rank and go behind and weep in sorrow because you did not faithfully do your duty in the front. Recollect that text, “The Lord thy God is a jealous God,” and rest assured that our Lord Jesus Christ is like his Father, he will have the diligent obedience of his servants, and their faithful zeal, or else he will cashier them, and take away their commissions. “Be ye clean,” saith he, “that bear the vessels of the Lord,” for he will be had in reverence of them that are about him, and unholy servants and unfaithful servants shall soon find that their Master can do without them. Many a minister has had to come away from a place of vantage because he has not zealously used it to win souls and lead on the people to the holy war. I do not doubt that many rising officers have been sent back to the ranks because the Commander-in-Chief could not have patience with them any longer in their positions. They were removed because they discouraged their fellow-soldiers and checked the progress of the campaign. Do not suppose that our Lord Jesus Christ is any less strict in his discipline than Moses, for love is always severe towards those it highly favours. I greatly question the love of that man who can tolerate unchastity in his wife; certainly the husband of the church will not do so. The love of our Lord Jesus is of so fervent a character that he cannot bear a divided heart, or a negligent walk in any one of us. There is a text which some Christian people do not like, and so they cut the heart out of it: “Our God is a consuming fire.” They say, “God, out of Christ, is a consuming fire.” The text does not say so; it speaks of “Our God,” and that means our covenant God, our God in Christ, and it is God in Christ Jesus who is a consuming fire. Beware how you deal with him; for while his love is strong as death, his jealousy is cruel as the grave; and if our hearts and motives and aims in his service once become divided, it will be as great a crime as if one of Solomon’s servants should have been playing into the hands of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Solomon would have taken care that a man who had two lords should not have him for one of them. None of us can serve two masters: certainly, if Christ be one of them he will be the only one. A divided heart is an abhorrence to the loving Saviour, and we must not insult him with it.

     The officers of Solomon were also obliged to recollect that the orderly working of the whole system depended upon each one of them. That is to say, Solomon had so arranged it that there was a certain troop of horses in a certain town, and the appointed officer must see to their fodder: barley and straw were to be on the spot in full quantity for the horses at that particular depot. It would not have done to send it anywhere else; and if an officer had failed to supply his department, the horses must have starved and the system been thrown out of gear. Now, in any well arranged Christian church a Christian who is not faithful to his charge little knows what mischief he does; but, as far as he can, he puts the whole machine out of gear, and, apart from the interposing mercy and supreme wisdom of Christ, he would throw the whole economy of the Lord’s house into disorder. Brethren and sisters, we think when we neglect a part of our service that it ends there, but it does not. A father neglects his duty to his children: there is mischief to the child, but it goes further; that child in after life spreads the evil by his example, and transmits it to his descendants; ay, to his children’s children after him. A Christian man in a church keeps in the background when he should be in the front, or he conies to the front when he should be in the rear, and this is just the upsetting of the whole business, so that affairs cannot move smoothly. The little church cannot prosper because an influential member is where he ought not to be. In a great house the servants must keep their places, and if the cook will persist in doing the chambermaid’s duties, and does not prepare the meals, everything is in a muddle; and if, on the other hand, the maid who has to clean the rooms neglects that duty, but must needs be in the kitchen, there will be no comfort either by day or by night. You can all see the bearing of this upon a Christian church.

     To change the figure, a church is like a house, and if the windows are put where the doors should be; or if what should make the roof is laid on the floor, the house is out of order. To be “fitly framed together” is the true condition of the Lord’s house. The church is also compared to the body. If the eye should transfer itself to the foot, or if the ear should move to the hand, or if the hand should take the place of the foot, or the foot should attempt to do the work of the mouth, our comely frames would become monstrosities. So it must be in the system of the church of Jesus Christ if his arrangements are broken through. Under God everything depends upon each child of God having his “charge,” and looking well to it. If he does not look well to his own department the Christian man does damage to others as well as to himself.

     In Solomon’s kingdom it came to pass that the spirit of the king infused itself into all his officers, and therefore the country was well governed. Beloved, I pray that it may be so with this church, and with all the churches of Jesus Christ, that the Spirit of our great King may infuse itself into us all. Nothing makes men fight like having a hero for a leader. When Cromwell came to the front nobody was afraid. Away went the cavaliers like chaff before the wind, when once he was present. And, surely, when our glorious Master, the Captain of our salvation, the standard bearer among ten thousand, is seen to be in the midst of a church, then everything goes well, and we all fight with confidence and daring. One man sometimes seems to have the power of pervading thousands of other men; his spirit appears to govern, to move, to stir the hearts of his fellow men till the man lives in them all; and so is it supremely with the Lord Christ. We live in him, and he lives in us. If we are all moved by the spirit which dwells in Jesus— the spirit of love, of self-denial, of consuming zeal, and of ardour, then all will be done gloriously. If we copy his consecration, his prayerfulness, his boldness and his gentleness, what a troop shall we make, and how well will our Solomon’s kingdom be administered!

     Only one more thought here. When Solomon’s kingdom came to mischief it teas through one of his officers. You recollect that, when Solomon died, Jeroboam split the kingdom in twain, and he was a runaway servant. Whenever a church comes to ruin, we grieve to confess that it is generally through its own officers. I fear it is oftener the ministers than any other persons. The great heresies which have infested the church have not sprung from the mass of the people, but from certain famous leaders; and at this day the heart of our churches, I believe, is infinitely more sound than the ministry. I wish it were not so, but I cannot conceal my fears. When our Lord was betrayed it was not by private followers, such as Mary Magdalene, Zaccheus, or Joseph of Arimathæa, but by Judas, the treasurer of the College of Apostles. It was an apostle who sold his Master for thirty pieces of silver. Still the fault is equally grievous if it be committed by the lowest officer. As I have already said, we are all servants: we are all clothed with responsibilities, and we can, if the Holy Spirit shall leave us to it, do grievous damage— more damage than the outside world can ever accomplish. Let the raging crowd surround Zion’s wall, let them cast up their banks and seek to shoot their arrows there; but lo, the virgin daughter of Zion hath shaken her head at her foes and laughed them to scorn. But when the traitor comes within— when it is written that “Judas also which betrayed him knew the place”— then is the Master betrayed in the garden where he resorted for prayer. When from the bowels of the church there springs a serpent, even her head must be stung thereby. Let the question go round, “Lord, is it I?” and may God of his grace grant that none of us may ever betray our charge, and so bring damage to the glorious cause and kingdom of our blessed King.

     II. Our second head is somewhat like the first. We now note that EACH MAN WAS BOUND TO ACT ACCORDING TO HIS CHARGE— “Every man according to his charge.” The officers were bound to obey their orders; first, as to matter. Certain of them had to provide fat oxen for Solomon’s table, and others had to see that the roebucks were hunted and that the fowls were fatted for the same purpose; while others were commissioned to provide the barley and the straw for the horses and the dromedaries. As I have already said, if they had gone out of place if the man who had to provide the barley for the horses had fed the chickens with it, and if the officer who was bound to hunt the roebucks had occupied himself with carting the straw, there would have been great confusion. And so, dear brother, when you will not do what you were evidently meant to do, and are quite able to do, but must needs attempt something quite out of your range, all goes amiss. Observe your own body: if your ear were to have a feeling that it ought to eat instead of hearing, the mouth would be interfered with, and the feeding of the frame would be very badly done. The eye is a very serviceable member, but if it persisted in refusing to see, and must needs take to hearing, we should be run over in the streets. Each member has its own office in the body, and must attend to its own work, and not to the office of another. Dear friend, have you found out what you can do— what the Lord has fitted you to do, and what he has blessed you in doing? Then keep to it, and do it better and better, and by no means complain of your vocation. Do not find fault with others whose work differs from your own. The eye would be very foolish if it should say, “Do not tell me about that frivolous member the ear; it is of no use, for it only knows what it is told, and it is so blind that it could not see a house if it were within a yard of it, nor even a mountain a mile high.” Equally idle would it be if the ear should say, “Do not tell me about the mouth; it is a selfish organ, always wanting to be fed. It is good for nothing, for it cannot hear, and if a cannon were fired off close to it, it would not perceive it.” Neither may the mouth say, “That roving foot is always running about. Why does it not work like the hand?” Nor may the hand find fault with the tongue because it boasts great things, and does nothing. There would be sad confusion in the body if such a spirit prevailed: but the hand keeps to its work, and even there there is a subdivision of service. The little finger plays a part which the thumb cannot fulfil, and there is something for the thumb which the forefinger cannot do. So should it be in the church of God: you should each find out what you can do, and then seek, God the Holy Spirit helping you, to do that, to the very best of your ability, out of love to Jesus.

     Observe that with Solomon it was “every man according to his charge” as to measure; for if a man had charge of a barrack where there were two thousand horses, he had to send in more barley and straw than the officer who superintended a smaller barrack of only five hundred horse. The purveyor who was ordered to supply Solomon’s table with fat bullocks had to send more than he who fed the tables of the inferior officers. Note this well, for certain of us are bound to do much more than others. Some of us bear heavy responsibilities, and if we were to say, “I shall do no more than anybody else, I need not overburden myself,” we should be unfit to occupy the position to which God has called us. Dear friends, I am not afraid that any of you will do too much for Jesus Christ, but I would like you to try. Just see now whether you can be too ardent, too self-sacrificing, too zealous, or too consecrated. It were a pity that such a thing should not be attempted. I have never known anybody who could accuse himself of so rare a crime. Oh, no; we all feel that all we can do, and more, is well deserved by our blessed Master who has given us our charge. Do not forget that you who arc fathers ought to be better men than those single men who have no children to look up to them, and to copy their example. You who are large employers ought to be better men, because your workmen will watch how you live. You who have talents and abilities ought to be more active than those who have none, for five talents call for more interest than one. Do remember the rule of proportion. If you have five talents, and your brother has only one, you may do twice as much as he does and yet fall short. He is faithful with his small capital, but your proportion is five times as much, and therefore twice as much falls short of what is expected from you. Many a servant girl gives her fourpenny-piece to the offering, and if the same proportion were carried out among those who are wealthy, gold would not be so rare a metal in the Lord’s treasury. A tithe may be too much for some, but a half might not be enough for another. Let it be, “Every man according to his charge,” as to measure as well as to matter.

     “Every man according to his charge,” applied to place; for if the servant who had to send in barley for the dromedaries to Jerusalem had sent it off to Joppa, or if the Joppa man had sent all his fodder to Jericho, there would have been considerable trouble and outcry in the stables, and if the fatted beef and the venison for Solomon’s table when he stopped in the house of the forest of Lebanon had been sent over to his other house on Mount Zion, the king would have had his table ill supplied. Some men are not satisfied to serve God m their proper place; they must run fifty miles off, or a hundred, before they can work. Is this right? I remember a little text in the Proverbs,— As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.” There is a sphere for every star which decks the sky, and a blade of grass for every drop of dew which spangles the mead. Oh that every one would keep his place. Very much depends on position. Statues upon a building may look magnificent, and seem to be in fine proportion, but if those statues were one night to say, “We do not like standing up here in this exposed place; we will walk down and stand in the public square,” you would see at once that the artist never meant them to be there, for they would be out of proportion in their new position. So a man is a man when he keeps his niche, but he may be a nobody if he leaves it. Many a man have I known who has done nothing till he has found his place, and then he has astonished his friends. I find it so with young men entering the ministry: a brother has not succeeded, in fact, he has been an utter failure in his first position, and yet, when God has opened the proper door for him, he has done marvels. Why did he not succeed before? Because he was out of his place. The best thing applied to the purpose for which it is not suited is a mere waste, and the best man in an unsuitable position may unwittingly be a hindrance to the cause he loves. Solomon’s officer would have been very foolish ix he had sent his barley down to Dan when it was his duty to supply Beersheba. Find your place, good brother, and do not be in a hurry to move. He who keeps a shop in a dozen towns in a dozen years will at the end look in vain for a shop which will keep him. The spirit of roving tends to poverty. Those who are eager to move because they imagine that they will leave their troubles behind them are much deceived, for these are found everywhere. You may soon get into some such predicament as Jonah, who thought that all would be well if he could avoid Nineveh trials, but he had forgotten the troubles of being aboard ship in a storm. I do not suppose he ever ran away to Tarshish again. That one experiment satisfied him, and I hope you will profit by his experience. Do not try running away on your own account, for if you do endeavour to escape your Lord’s hard work, I would have you remember that the sea is quite as tempestuous now as ever, and whales are fewer now than in Jonah’s day, and not at all so likely to carry a live man to shore. Keep your place: “every man according to his charge.”

     Once more, every man was to act according to his charge as to time, because the passage speaks of each one “in his month.” If the January man had taken care to provide for Solomon’s table in February, what would have happened? There was a man for February, and there would have been two supplies for one month, but none for the first weeks of the year. If the August officer had kept back till September the corn which was wanted by the horses and the dromedaries in August, what would the poor creatures have done during that month? While the barley was coming the steeds would have been starving. In serving Christ there is a great deal in being up to time, punctual in everything. Not to-morrow, brother: not to-morrow, that is somebody else’s day: to-day is the day for you. Up and do the day’s work. Some soul is to be won for Christ, some truth to be vindicated, some deed of kindly charity to be wrought, some holy prevalent prayer to be offered, and it is to be done at once. Or ever to-morrow’s sun has risen, see that thou hast carried out thy charge, for time in reference to these solemn matters is life. Promptness we always admire in responsible persons. If they have any public duty to do, we cannot endure to see men leaving matters in arrears, to be done by-and-by, or never done at all. If Jesus Christ “straightway” did this and that, as Mark always takes care to tell us he did, let us imitate his promptitude, and serve Cod without the sluggard’s delays.

     III. I close with the third point, that EACH MAN WOULD RECEIVE SUPPLIES ACCORDING TO HIS CHARGE. I do not quite understand the precise and definite bearing of my text. Surely it means, not only that one set of officers was to send in the barley, but that another set of officers was to receive the barley and the straw in proportion to the number of horses and dromedaries. “Barley also and straw for the horses and dromedaries brought they unto the place where the officers were, everyone according to his charge that is to say, according to the number of horses to be provided for, such was the amount of corn and of straw that was sent in for their food.

     So I gather, first, that concerning the servants of our Lord Jesus Christ a great charge from him is a guarantee of great supplies. There is something very comfortable about this as to temporals. Some declare that God sends mouths and does not send bread; or at least they say he sends the mouths to one house and the bread to another. If it be so, those who get too much bread should send it round to their neighbours. Yet I note that somehow where there are mouths bread does come. It often amazes me, I must confess, and it brings tears to my eyes when I see it, and indeed it is perfectly wonderful, that poor widows with a swarm of little children do feed them in some fashion. The poor woman comes to the Orphanage about a little boy, and she does not like to part with him, but want compels; and when we have said, “My good woman, how many children had you when your husband died?” she has replied, “Seven, sir, and none of them able to earn a penny.” “You have been fighting your way alone these three or four years, how have you done it?” “Ah, sir,” she answers, “God only knows. I cannot tell you.” No, no; and there are many of God’s dear children who could not tell you how they lived, but they have lived, and their children too. The Lord leaves them a great charge, and in his own way he sends a supply. Most of us have found that if our King sends us the dromedaries he sends us the barley. It has been so in my case in the matter of our two hundred and fifty orphan children at Stockwell; our gracious God has always sent us enough, and the boys have known no lack; and when we receive another two hundred and fifty children, and have girls as well as boys, I feel sure our heavenly Father will provide for them all. I hope you will all recollect that the provision must come instrumentally through the Lord’s own people, and much of it through the readers and hearers of the sermons, but come it will. If my Lord puts more dromedaries into my stable I shall look for the corresponding increase in the barley and the straw, for I am quite sure he will send it. When I think of my dear friend, Mr. George Muller, with 2050 orphan children, and nothing to depend upon, as they say, but just prayer and faith, I rejoice greatly. He never has a fear or a want, and is as restful as if he were an incarnate Sabbath. If we had twenty thousand orphans to feed, our Master is quite able to supply them all. He feeds the universe, and we may well trust him. If we have a simple, childlike faith, we shall find that a great charge is a guarantee of a great supply: “Every man according to his charge.”

     As it is in temporals, so is it in grace. When God gives a man a few people to look after, he gives him grace enough; and when he gives him ten times that number, he gives him more of his Holy Spirit; and when he gives him a hundred times that number, he increases the divine anointing. If the Lord sends you a little trial, dear brother, you shall have grace enough, and if he sends you a huge trial you shall still have grace enough. If he gives you some little work to do in the back settlements, your strength shall be as your day, and if he allots you a great charge in the front of the enemy’s fire you shall not come short. “Every man according to his charge.” You will not have a farthing’s worth of grace over. You shall never have so much that you can boast about it, and talk of having lived for months without sinning, and the like kind of nonsense. You shall be forced to feel that, when you have done all, you are an unprofitable servant. Never in my life have I had in the morning, left from yesterday’s manna, as much as would cover a threepenny-piece. I have always been so hungry that I have had to devour all I could get there and then. I have lived from hand to mouth; the hand has been that of my Lord, which is ever full, and the mouth has been mine, and it has been always gaping for more. When in my ministry I have had a double quantity of food, I have had a double number to feed upon it. The Lord’s grace has been sufficient for my necessities, but it has never left me room for glorying in self. Still, take it as a sure fact that a great charge is a guarantee of a great supply.

     Now we will turn the truth over, and say that a great supply indicates a great charge. O that some would think of this! A man has grown richer than he used to be. Brother, with more barley and more straw you ought to keep more dromedaries; I mean, that God did not send that corn for the mice to destroy, but he means it to be eaten. When God gives men money or means of any sort, they ought to feel that they are his stewards, and must use all they have for their Master. If you do not use it, but hoard it, it will happen to you as once befell a little brook. It had always been running, rippling along, rolling its gladsome stream down to the river, and thus ever emptying itself, but remaining ever full. This little brook became greedy, and said, “I have been too extravagant. I have made no provision for the hot summer weather. I always give all I get; it keeps running through me in one perpetual stream, and none of it stays. This must be altered. I will make a great store, and become full.” So there came a bank across it: it was dammed up, and the waters kept on swelling and rising. After a little time the water turned green and foul. It became encumbered with all sorts of weeds, was the haunt of all manner of creeping things, and gave forth an offensive smell. It became a very great nuisance to the villagers, and they called in the sanitary commissioners to get rid of it, for it was breeding fever. How now, thou once sparkling brook! What an end has come to thy bright and cheerful life. Do you see the drift of the parable? Recollect that in Palestine there is one sea which always receives and never gives out. What is its name? The Dead Sea. It must always be the Dead Sea while this is its character. If they were to cut a channel into the great ocean, to let its waters run away, it might grow sweet, but otherwise it never can do so. The man who much receives but nothing gives is dead while he lives. He who has great receipts should reckon that he has a great charge, and act accordingly. When a brother has great talents, great possessions, great influence— when he is great at anything— by God’s grace let him say, “God required great things of me; for to whom much is given, of him shall much be required.” It is a law of the kingdom of Christ— a law which he will take care is always carried out.

     So I finish up with this: somebody will say, “I could almost wish that I could escape from the responsibility of being a servant of Christ.” Dear brother, take note of these two or three facts.

     You cannot better your circumstances as a servant of Christ by diminishing your charge. If you say, “I shall not attempt quite so much,” you will not improve your circumstances by that course; for if you diminish work, the Lord will diminish the strength. Our great Solomon will stop some of the supplies if you have fewer dromedaries to feed, and so you will be no better off. If you have to keep six he will give you provision for six; if you take to keeping three he will only give you supplies for three, and you will be poorer rather than richer.

     Neither can you improve your circumstances by entirely and only increasing the supply; for, if you receive more straw and barley, certainly our Solomon will send you more dromedaries. When you have more strength you will have more trials. When God’s children do not discharge their service with the means which he entrusts to them, he frequently lets them take shares in a “limited liability company,” which is the same thing as throwing your money into the river; or he leaves them to become shareholders in a breaking bank, with unlimited catastrophe as its capital, and this is more terrible still. It often happens to a man who has scraped and saved, and stinted the cause of Christ, that in his later years he is in straits, and he cries to himself, “It is all gone, and I wish I had used it better before it went. It would have been far better to give it to the Lord than to see the lawyers devour it.” Ah, your sin has found you out. Your Master could not trust you, and so he has taken away his goods from you, and now you wish that you had behaved yourself. Let us take warning from such bad managers; and let us see that, as our charge is so we cry for supplies, and that as the supplies come we use them wisely.

     Everything for Jesus, the glorious Solomon of our hearts, the Beloved of our souls! Life for Jesus! Death for Jesus! Time for Jesus! Eternity for Jesus! Hand and heart for Jesus! Brain and tongue for Jesus! Night and day for Jesus! Sickness or health for Jesus! Honour or dishonour for Jesus! Shame or glory for Jesus! Everything for Jesus, “every man according to his charge.” So may it be! Amen.

TO MY CHURCH, CONGREGATION, AND SERMON READERS.

DEAR FRIENDS,— During my absence you expect to hear from me by means of a little note at the end of the weekly sermon. The kindly interest which suggests this expectation is very precious to me, and therefore I will not disappoint it. I would run the risk of being egotistical rather than treat Christian affection with coolness. There is none too much of it in the world, and where it survives it deserves to be cultivated. More than most men I am favoured with brotherly love, and I am most grateful for it.

     I have commenced a short period of rest in this delightful region. Taking the advice of physicians, I left before rheumatic affections had prostrated me, and I am in hope that I shall in this genial climate escape my usual attack, and gather strength, and then return in the middle of January fortified to endure the rest of the winter. On former occasions the major part of my vacation has been spent in slowly recovering from weakness of body and depression of spirit, but this time I trust it will be used in gathering thoughts and storing force for future use. Pray for me that it may be so, for I would fain carry on the work of the Lord without the serious hindrances caused by the sicknesses of former years.

     Dear friends at home, I entreat you suffer nothing to decline. Cheer by your presence those who preach for me. Keep up the prayer-meetings and the week-night services, and sustain the offering for the College, which is at present somewhat behind. It will need more than £40 each week to make up the £1,879.

     The weekly sermon is always carefully prepared by me, and it will not be less interesting because it does not happen to have been preached last Sunday. The discourse will be as new to most of my readers as if it were delivered yesterday, since they have never seen or heard it before. I hope to write a few sermonettes under the olive trees, and I will do my very best to make them interesting. I pray my readers, therefore, not to imagine that my absence from London will make any difference to the weekly publication of these sermons. I hope that a little thoughtful repose will enable me to preach better when I return, but otherwise my temporary absence from England will not affect the regular weekly issue of the Tabernacle Pulpit.

     A month or so ago the sermon entitled “Among the Lions” excited unusual interest. I hope that the present sermon, entitled “THE DROMEDARIES, will be found equally useful, though it is not a solace for the slandered, but a stimulus for the active.

                                                                                                                    With fervent Christian affection,

Mentone, Hotel de la Paix,                                                                                        Yours most heartily,
November 14, 1879.                                                                                                   C. H. SPURGEON.              



How to Read the Bible

By / Jun 22

How to Read the Bible

 

"Have ye not read?…Have ye not read?…If ye had known what this meaneth."—Matthew 12:3-7.

 

The scribes and Pharisees were great readers of the law. They studied the sacred books continually, poring over each word and letter. They made notes of very little importance, but still very curious notes—as to which was the middle verse of the entire old Testament, which verse was halfway to the middle, and how many times such a word occurred, and even how many times a letter occurred, and the size of the letter, and its peculiar position. They have left us a mass of wonderful notes upon the mere words of Holy Scripture. They might have done the same thing upon another book for that matter, and the information would have been about as important as the facts which they have so industriously collected concerning the letter of the Old Testament. They were, however, intense readers of the law. They picked a quarrel with the Saviour upon a matter touching this law, for they carried it at their fingers' ends, and were ready to use it as a bird of prey does its talons to tear and rend. Our Lord's disciples had plucked some ears of corn, and rubbed them between their hands. According to Pharisaic interpretation, to rub an ear of corn is a kind of threshing, and, as it is very wrong to thresh on the Sabbath day, therefore it must be very wrong to rub out an ear or two of wheat when you are hungry on the Sabbath morning. That was their argument, and they came to the Saviour with it, and with their version of the Sabbath law. The Saviour generally carried the war into the enemy's camp, and he did so on this occasion. He met them on their own ground, and he said to them, "Have ye not read?"—a cutting question to the scribes and Pharisees, though there is nothing apparently sharp about it. It was very a fair and proper question to put to them; but only think of putting it to them. "Have ye not read?" "Read!" they could have said, "Why, we have read the book through very many times. We are always reading it. No passage escapes our critical eyes." Yet our Lord proceeds to put the question a second time—"Have ye not read?" as if they had not read after all, though they were the greatest readers of the law then living. He insinuates that they have not read at all; and then he gives them, incidentally, the reason why he had asked them whether they had read. He says, "If ye had known what this meaneth," as much as to say, "Ye have not read, because ye have not understood." Your eyes have gone over the words, and you have counted the letters, and you have marked the position of each verse and word, and you have said learned things about all the books, and yet you are not even readers of the sacred volume, for you have not acquired the true art of reading; you do not understand, and therefore you do not truly read it. You are mere skimmers and glancers at the Word: you have not read it, for you do not understand it.

     I. That is the subject of our present discourse, or, at least the first point of it, that IN ORDER TO THE TRUE READING OF THE SCRIPTURES THERE MUST BE AN UNDERSTANDING OF THEM.

     I scarcely need to preface these remarks by saying that we must read the Scriptures. You know how necessary it is that we should be fed upon the truth of Holy Scripture. Need I suggest the question as to whether you do read your Bibles or not? I am afraid that this is a magazine reading age a newspaper reading age a periodical reading age, but not so much a Bible reading age as it ought to be. In the old Puritanic times men used to have a scant supply of other literature, but they found a library enough in the one Book, the Bible. And how they did read the Bible! How little of Scripture there is in modern sermons compared with the sermons of those masters of theology, the Puritanic divines! Almost every sentence of theirs seems to cast side lights upon a text of Scripture; not only the one they are preaching about, but many others as well are set in a new light as the discourse proceeds. They introduce blended lights from other passages which are parallel or semi-parallel thereunto, and thus they educate their readers to compare spiritual things with spiritual. I would to God that we ministers kept more closely to the grand old Book. We should be instructive preachers if we did so, even if we were ignorant of "modern thought," and were not "abreast of the times." I warrant you we should be leagues ahead of our times if we kept closely to the Word of God. As for you, my brothers and sisters, who have not to preach, the best food for you is the Word of God itself. Sermons and books are well enough, but streams that run for a long distance above ground gradually gather for themselves somewhat of the soil through which they flow, and they lose the cool freshness with which they started from the spring head. Truth is sweetest where it breaks from the smitten Rock, for at its first gush it has lost none of its heavenliness and vitality. It is always best to drink at the well and not from the tank. You shall find that reading the Word of God for yourselves, reading it rather than notes upon it, is the surest way of growing m grace. Drink of the unadulterated milk of the Word of God, and not of the skim milk, or the milk and water of man's word.

     But, now, beloved, our point is that much apparent Bible reading is not Bible reading at all. The verses pass under the eye, and the sentences glide over the mind, but there is no true reading. An old preacher used to say, the Word has mighty free course among many nowadays, for it goes in at one of their ears and out at the other; so it seems to be with some readers—they can read a very great deal, because they do not read anything. The eye glances but the mind never rests. The soul does not light upon the truth and stay there. It flits over the landscape as a bird might do, but it builds no nest there, and finds no rest for the sole of its foot. Such reading is not reading. Understanding the metering is the essence of true reading. Reading has a kernel to it, and the mere shed is little worth. In prayer there is such a thing as praying in prayer—a praying that is in the bowels of the prayer. So in praise there is a praising in song, an inward fire of intense devotion which is the life of the hallelujah. It is so in fasting: there is a fasting which is not fasting, and there is an inward fasting, a fasting of the soul, which is the soul of fasting. It is even so with the reading of the Scriptures. There is an interior reading, a kernel reading—a true and living reading of the Word. This is the soul of reading; and, if it be not there, the reading is a mechanical exercise, and profits nothing. Now, beloved, unless we understand what we read we have not read it; the heart of the reading is absent. We commonly condemn the Romanists for keeping the daily service in the Latin tongue; yet it might as well be in the Latin language as in any other tongue if it be not understood by the people. Some comfort themselves with the idea that they have done a good action when they have read a chapter, into the meaning of which they have not entered at all; but does not nature herself reject this as a mere superstition? If you had turned the book upside down, and spent the same times in looking at the characters in that direction, you would have gained as much good from it as you will in reading it in the regular way without understanding it. If you had a New Testament in Greek it would be very Greek to some of you, but it would do you as much good to look at that as it does to look at the English New Testament unless you read with understanding heart. It is not the letter which saves the soul; the letter killeth m many senses, and never can it give life. If you harp on the letter alone you may be tempted to use it as a weapon against the truth, as the Pharisees did of old, and your knowledge of the letter may breed pride in you to your destruction. It is the spirit, the real inner meaning, that is sucked into the soul, by which we are blessed and sanctified. We become saturated with the Word of God, like Gideon's fleece, which was wet with the dew of heaven; and this can only come to pass by our receiving it into our minds and hearts, accepting it as God's truth, and so far understanding it as to delight in it. We must understand it, then, or else we have not read it aright.

     Certainly, the benefit of reading must come to the soul by the way of the understanding. When the high priest went into the holy place he always lit the golden candlestick before he kindled the incense upon the brazen altar, as if to show that the mind must have illumination before the affections can properly rise towards their divine object. There must be knowledge of God before there can be love to God: there must be a knowledge of divine things, as they are revealed, before there can be an enjoyment of them. We must try to make out, as far as our finite mind can grasp it, what God means by this and what he means by that; otherwise we may kiss the book and have no love to its contents, we may reverence the letter and yet really have no devotion towards the Lord who speaks to us in these words. Beloved, you will never get comfort to your soul out of what you do not understand, nor find guidance for your life out of what you do not comprehend; nor can any practical bearing upon your character come out of that which is not understood by you.

     Now, if we are thus to understand what we read or otherwise we read in vain, this shows us that when we come to the study of Holy Scripture we should try to have our mind well awake to it. We are not always fit, it seems to me, to read the Bible. At times it were well for us to stop before we open the volume. "Put off thy shoe from thy foot, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." You have just come in from careful thought and anxiety about your worldly business, and you cannot immediately take that book and enter into its heavenly mysteries. As you ask a blessing over your meat before you fall to, so it would be a good rule for you to ask a blessing on the word before you partake of its heavenly food. Pray the Lord to strengthen your eyes before you dare to look into the eternal light of Scripture. As the priests washed their feet at the laver before they went to their holy work, so it were well to wash the soul's eyes with which you look upon God's word, to wash even the fingers, if I may so speak—the mental fingers with which you will turn from page to page—that with a holy book you may deal after a holy fashion. Say to your soul—"Come, soul, wake up: thou art not now about to read the newspaper; thou art not now perusing the pages of a human poet to be dazzled by his flashing poetry; thou art coming very near to God, who sits in the Word like a crowned monarch in his halls. Wake up, my glory; wake up, all that is within me. Though just now I may not be praising and glorifying God, I am about to consider that which should lead me so to do, and therefore it is an act of devotion. So be on the stir, my soul: be on the stir, and bow not sleepily before the awful throne of the Eternal." Scripture reading is our spiritual meal time. Sound the gong and call in every faculty to the Lord's own table to feast upon the precious meat which is now to be partaken of; or, rather, ring the church-bell as for worship, for the studying of the Holy Scripture ought to be as solemn a deed as when we lift the psalm upon the Sabbath day in the courts of the Lord's house.

     If these things be so, you will see at once, dear friends, that, if you are to understand what you read, you will need to meditate upon it. Some passages of Scripture lie clear before us—blessed shallows in which the lambs may wade; but there are deeps in which our mind might rather drown herself than swim with pleasure, if she came there without caution. There are texts of Scripture which are made and constructed on purpose to make us think. By this means, among others, our heavenly Father won d educate us for heaven—by making us think our way into divine mysteries. Hence he puts the word in a somewhat involved form to compel us to meditate upon it before we reach the sweetness of it. He might, you know, have explained it to us so that we might catch the thought in a minute, but he does not please to do so m every case. Many of the veils which are cast over Scripture are not meant to hide the meaning from the diligent but to compel the mind to be active, for oftentimes the diligence of the heart in seeking to know the divine mind does the heart more good than the knowledge itself. Meditation and careful thought exercise us and strengthen the son for the reception of the yet more lofty truths. I have heard that the mothers in the Balearic Isles, in the old times, who wanted to bring their boys up to be good slingers, would put their dinners up above them where they could not get at them until they threw a stone and fetched them down: our Lord wishes us to be good slingers, and he puts up some precious truth in a lofty place where we cannot get it down except by slinging at it; and, at last, we hit the mark and find food for our souls. Then have we the double benefit of learning the art of meditation and partaking of the sweet truth which it has brought within our reach. We must meditate, brothers. These grapes will yield no wine till we tread upon them. These olives must be put under the wheel, and pressed again and again, that the oil may flow therefrom. In a dish of nuts, you may know which nut has been eaten, because there is a little hole which the insect has punctured through the shell—just a little hole, and then inside there is the living thing eating up the kernel. Well, it is a grand thing to bore through the shell of the letter, and then to live inside feeding upon the kernel. I would wish to be such a little worm as that, living within and upon the word of God, having bored my way through the shell, and having reached the innermost mystery of the blessed gospel. The word of God is always most precious to the man who most lives upon it. As I sat last year under a wide-spreading beech, I was pleased to mark with prying curiosity the singular habits of that most wonderful of trees, which seems to have an intelligence about it which other trees have not. I wondered and admired the beech, but I thought to myself, I do not think half as much of this beech tree as yonder squirrel does. I see him leap from bough to bough, and I feel sure that he dearly values the old beech tree, because he has his home somewhere inside it in a hollow place, these branches are his shelter, and those beech-nuts are his food. He lives upon the tree. It is his world, his playground, his granary, his home; indeed, it is everything to him, and it is not so to me, for I find my rest and food elsewhere. With God's word it is well for us to be like squirrels, living in it and living on it. Let us exercise our minds by leaping from bough to bough of it, find our rest and food in it, and make it our all in all. We shall be the people that get the profit out of it if we make it to be our food, our medicine, our treasury, our armourv, our rest, our delight. May the Holy Ghost lead us to do this and make the Word thus precious to our souls.

     Beloved, I would next remind you that for this end we shall be compelled to pray. It is a grand thing to be driven to think, it is a grander thing to be driven to pray through having been made to think. Am I not addressing some of you who do not read the word of God, and am I not speaking to many more who do read it, but do not read it with the strong resolve that they will understand it? I know it must be so. Do you wish to begin to be true readers? Will you henceforth labour to understand? Then you must get to your knees. You must cry to God for direction. Who understands a book best? The author of it. If I want to ascertain the real meaning of a rather twisted sentence, and the author lives near me, and I can call upon him, I shall ring at his door and say, "Would you kindly tell me what you mean by that sentence? I have no doubt whatever that it is very dear, but I am such a simpleton, that I cannot make it out. I have not the knowledge and grasp of the subject which you possess, and therefore your allusions and descriptions are beyond my range of knowledge. It is quite within your range, and commonplace to you, but it is very difficult to me. Would you kindly explain your meaning to me?" A good man would be glad to be thus treated, and would think it no trouble to unravel his meaning to a candid enquirer. Thus I should be sure to get the correct meaning, for I should be going to the fountain head when I consulted the author himself. So, beloved, the Holy Spirit is with us, and when we take his book and begin to read, and want to know what it means, we must ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the meaning. He will not work a miracle, but he will elevate our minds, and he will suggest to us thoughts which will lead us on by their natural relation, the one to the other, till at last we come to the pith and marrow of his divine instruction. Seek then very earnestly the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for if the very soul of reading be the understanding of what we read, then we must in prayer call upon the Holy Ghost to unlock the secret mysteries of the inspired word.

     If we thus ask the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit, it will follow, dear friends, that we shall be ready to use all means arid helps towards the understanding of the Scriptures. When Philip asked the Ethiopian eunuch whether he understood the prophecy of Isaiah he replied, "How can 1, unless some man should guide me?" Then Philip went up and opened to him the word of the Lord. Some, under the pretense of being taught of the Spirit of God refuse to be instructed by books or by living men. This is no honouring of the Spirit of God; it is a disrespect to him, for if he gives to some of his servants more light than to others—and it is clear he does—then they are bound to give that light to others, and to use it for the good of the church. But if the other part of the church refuse to receive that light, to what end did the Spirit of God give it? This would imply that there is a mistake somewhere in the economy of gifts and graces, which is managed by the Holy Spirit. It cannot be so. The Lord Jesus Christ pleases to give more knowledge of his word and more insight into it to some of his servants than to others, and it is ours joyfully to accept the knowledge which he gives in such ways as he chooses to give it. It would be most wicked of us to say, "We will not have the heavenly treasure which exists in earthen vessels. If God will give us the heavenly treasure out of his own hand, but not through the earthen vessel, we will have it; but we think we are too wise, too heavenly minded, too spiritual altogether to care for jewels when they are placed in earthen pots. We will not hear anybody, and we will not read anything except the book itself, neither will we accept any light, except that which comes in through a crack in our own roof. We will not see by another man's candle, we would sooner remain in the dark." Brethren, do not let us fall into such folly. Let the light come from God, and though a child shall bring it, we will joyfully accept it. If any one of his servants, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, shall have received light from him, behold, "all are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's," and therefore accept of the light which God has kindled, and ask for grace that you may turn that light upon the word so that when you read it you may understand it.

     I do not wish to say much more about this, but I should like to push it home upon some of you. You have Bibles at home, I know; you would not like to be without Bibles, you would think you were heathens if you had no Bibles. You have them very neatly bound, and they are very fine looking volumes: not much thumbed, not much worn, and not likely to be so, for they only come out on Sundays for an airing, and they lie in lavender with the clean pocket handkerchiefs all the rest of the week. You do not read the word, you do not search it, and how can you expect to get the divine blessing? If the heavenly gold is not worth digging for you are not likely to discover it. Often and often have I told you that the searching of the Scriptures is not the way of salvation. The Lord bath said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." But, still, the reading of the word often leads, like the hearing of it, to faith, and faith bringeth salvation; for faith cometh by hearing, and reading is a sort of hearing. While you are seeking to know what the gospel is, it may please God to bless your souls. But what poor reading some of you give to your Bibles. I do not want to say anything which is too severe because it is not strictly true—let your own consciences speak, but still, I make bold to enquire,—Do not many of you read the Bible m a very hurried way—just a little bit, and off you go? Do you not soon forget what you have read, and lose what little effect it seemed to have? How few of you are resolved to get at its soul, its juice, its life, its essence, and to drink in its meaning. Well, if you do not do that, I tell you again your reading is miserable reading, dead reading, unprofitable reading; it is not reading at all, the name would be misapplied. May the blessed Spirit give you repentance touching this thing.

     II. But now, secondly, and very briefly, let us notice that IN READING WE OUGHT To SEEK OUT THE SPIRITUAL TEACHING OF THE WORD. I think that is in my text, because our Lord says, "Have ye not read?" Then, again, "Have ye not read?" and then he says, "If ye had known what this meaneth"—and the meaning is something very spiritual. The text he quoted was, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice"—a text out of the prophet Hosea. Now, the scribes and Pharisees were all for the letter—the sacrifice, the killing of the bullock, and so on. They overlooked the spiritual meaning of the passage, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice"—namely, that God prefers that we should care for our fellow-creatures rather than that we should observe any ceremonial of his law, so as to cause hunger or thirst and thereby death, to any of the creatures that his hands have made. They ought to have passed beyond the outward into the spiritual, and all our readings ought to do the same.

     Notice, that this should be the case when we read the historical passages. "Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shew-bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?" This was a piece of history, and they ought so to have read it as to have found spiritual instruction in it. I have heard very stupid people say, "Well, I do not care to read the historical parts of Scripture." Beloved friends, you do not know what you are talking about when you say so. I say to you now by experience that I have sometimes found even a greater depth of spirituality in the histories than I have in the Psalms. You will say, "How is that?" I assert that when you reach the inner and spiritual meaning of a history you are often surprised at the wondrous clearness—the realistic force—with which the teaching comes home to your soul. Some of the most marvelous mysteries of revelation are better understood by being set before our eyes in the histories than they are by the verbal declaration of them. When we have the statement to explain the illustration, the illustration expands and vivifies the statement. For instance, when our Lord himself would explain to us what faith was, he sent us to the history of the brazen serpent; and who that has ever read the story of the brazen serpent has not felt that he has had a better idea of faith through the picture of the dying snake-bitten persons looking to the serpent of brass and living, than from any description which even Paul has given us, wondrously as he defines and describes. Never, I pray you, depreciate the historical portions of God's word, but when you cannot get good out of them, say, "That is my foolish head and my slow heart. O Lord, be pleased to clear my brain and cleanse my soul." When he answers that prayer you will feel that every portion of God's word is given by inspiration, and is and must be profitable to you. Cry, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law."

     Just the same thing is true with regard to all the ceremonial precepts, because the Saviour goes on to say, "Have ye not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?" There is not a single precept in the old law but has an inner sense and meaning; therefore do not turn away from Leviticus, or say, "I cannot read these chapters in the books of Exodus and Numbers. They are all about the tribes and their standards, the stations in the wilderness and the halts of the march, the tabernacle and furniture, or about golden knobs and bowls, and boards, and sockets, and precious stones, and blue and scarlet and fine linen." No, but look for the inner meaning. Make thorough search; for as in a king's treasure that which is the most closely locked up and the hardest to come at is the choicest jewel of the treasure, so is it with the Holy Scriptures. Did you ever go to the British Museum Library? There are many books of reference there which the reader is allowed to take down when he pleases. There are other books for which he must write a ticket, and he cannot get them without the ticket; but they have certain choice books which you will not see without a special order, and then there is an unlocking of doors, and an opening of cases, and there is a watcher with you while you make your inspection. You are scarcely allowed to put your eye on the manuscript, for fear you should blot a letter out by glancing at it; it is such a precious treasure; there is not another copy of it in all the world, and so you cannot get at it easily. Just so, there are choice and precious doctrines of God's word which are locked up in such cases as Leviticus or Solomon's Song, and you cannot get at them without a deal of unlocking of doors and the Holy Spirit himself must be with you, or else you will never come at the priceless treasure. The higher truths are as choicely hidden away as the precious regalia of princes; therefore search as well as read. Do not be satisfied with a ceremonial precept till you reach its spiritual meaning, for that is true reading. You have not read till you understand the spirit of the matter.

     It is just the same with the doctrinal statements of God's word. I have sorrowfully observed some persons who are very orthodox, and who can repeat their creed very glibly, and yet the principal use that they make of their orthodoxy is to sit and watch the preacher with the view o framing a charge against him. He has uttered a single sentence which is judged to be half a hair's breadth below the standard! "That man is not sound. He said some good things, but he is rotten at the core, I am certain. He used an expression which was not eighteen ounces to the pound." Sixteen ounces to the pound are not enough for these dear brethren of whom I speak, they must have something more and over and above the shekel of the sanctuary. Their knowledge is used as a microscope to magnify trifling differences. I hesitate not to say that I have come across persons who

 

"Could a hair divide

Betwixt the west and north-west side,"

 

in matters of divinity, but who know nothing about the things of God in their real meaning. They have never drunk them into their souls, but only sucked them up into their mouths to spit them out on others. The doctrine of election is one thing, but to know that God has predestinated you, and to have the fruit of it m the good works to which you are ordained, is quite another thing. To talk about the love of Christ, to talk about the heaven that is provided for his people, and such things—all this is very well; but this may be done without any personal acquaintance with them. Therefore, beloved, never be satisfied with a sound creed, but desire to have it graven on the tablets of your heart. The doctrines of grace are good, but the grace of the doctrines is better still. See that you have it, and be not content with the idea that you are instructed until you so understand the doctrine that you have felt its spiritual power.

     This makes us feel that, in order to come to this, we shall need to feel Jesus present with us whenever we read the word. Mark that fifth verse, which I would now bring before you as part of my text which I have hitherto left out. "Have ye not read in the law, how on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple." Ay, they thought much about the letter of the Word, but they did not know that he was there who is the Sabbath's Master—man's Lord and the Sabbath's Lord, and Lord of everything. Oh, when you have got hold of a creed, or of an ordinance, or anything that is outward in the letter, pray the Lord to make you feel that there is something greater than the printed book, and something better than the mere shell of the creed. There is one person greater than they all, and to him we should cry that he may be ever with us. O living Christ, make this a living word to me. Thy word is life, but not without the Holy Spirit. I may know this book of thine from beginning to end, and repeat it all from Genesis to Revelation, and yet it may be a dead book, and I may be a dead soul. But, Lord, be present here; then will I look up from the book to the Lord; from the precept to him who fulfilled it; from the law to him who honoured it; from the threatening to him who has borne it for me, and from the promise to him in whom it is "Yea and amen." Ah, then we shall read the book so differently. He is here with me in this chamber of mine: I must not trifle. He leans over me, he puts his finger along the lines, I can see his pierced hand: I will read it as in his presence. I will read it, knowing that he is the substance of it,—that he is the proof of this book as well as the writer of it; the sum of this Scripture as well as the author of it. That is the way for true students to become wise! You will get at the soul of Scripture when you can keep Jesus with you while you are reading. Did you never hear a sermon as to which you felt that if Jesus had come into that pulpit while the man was making his oration, he would have said, "Go down, go down; what business have you here? I sent you to preach about me, and you preach about a dozen other things. Go home and learn of me, and then come and talk." That sermon which does not lead to Christ, or of which Jesus Christ is not the top and the bottom, is a sort of sermon that will make the devils in hell to laugh, but might make the angel of God to weep, if they were capable of such emotion. You remember the story I told you of the Welshman who heard a young man preach a very fine sermon—a grand sermon, a highfaluting, spread-eagle sermon; and when he had done, he asked the Welshman what he thought of it. The man replied that he did not think anything of it. "And why not?" "Because there was no Jesus Christ in it." "Well," said he, "but my text did not seem to run that way." "Never mind," said the Welshman, "your sermon ought to run that way." "I do not see that, however," said the young man. "No," said the other, "you do not see how to preach yet. This is the way to preach. From every little village in England—it does not matter where it is—there is sure to be a road to London. Though there may not be a road to certain other places, there is certain to be a road to London. Now, from every text in the Bible there is a road to Jesus Christ, and the way to preach is just to say, 'How can I get from this text to Jesus Christ?' and then go preaching all the way along it." "Well, but," said the young man, "suppose I find a text that has not got a road to Jesus Christ." "I have preached for forty years," said the old man, "and I have never found such a Scripture, but if I ever do find one I will go over hedge and ditch but what I will get to him, for I will never finish without bringing in my Master." Perhaps you will think that I have gone a little over hedge and ditch to-night, but I am persuaded that I have not for the sixth verse comes in here, and brings our Lord in most sweetly, setting him in the very forefront of you Bible readers, so that you must not think of reading without feeling that he is there who is Lord and Master of everything that you are reading, and who shall make these things precious to you if you realize him in them. If you do not find Jesus in the Scriptures they will be of small service to you, for what did our Lord himself say? "Ye search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, but ye will not come unto me that ye might have life"; and therefore your searching comes to nothing; you find no life, and remain dead in your sins. May it not be so with us?

     III. Lastly, SUCH A READING OF SCRIPTURE, as implies the understanding of and the entrance into its spiritual meaning, and the discovery of the divine Person who is the spiritual meaning, IS PROFITABLE, for here our Lord says, "If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless." It will save us from making a great many mistakes if we get to understand the word of God, and among other good things we shall not condemn the guiltless.

     I have no time to enlarge upon these benefits, but I will just say, putting all together, that the diligent reading of the word of God with the strong resolve to get at its meaning often begets spiritual life. We are begotten by the word of God: it is the instrumental means of regeneration. Therefore love your Bibles. Keep close to your Bibles. You seeking sinners, you who are seeking the Lord, your first business is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; but while you are yet in darkness and in gloom, oh love your Bibles and search them! Take them to bed with you, and when you wake up in the morning, if it is too early to go downstairs and disturb the house, get half-an-hour of reading upstairs. Say, "Lord, guide me to that text which shall bless me. Help me to understand how I, a poor sinner, can be reconciled to thee." I recollect how, when I was seeking the Lord, I went to my Bible and to Baxter's "Call to the Unconverted," and to Allen's "Alarm," and Doddridge's "Rise and Progress," for I said in myself, "I am afraid that I shall be lost but I will know the reason why. I am afraid I never shall find Christ but it shall not be for want of looking for him." That fear used to haunt me, but I said, "I will find him if he is to be found. I will read. I will think." There was never a soul that did sincerely seek for Jesus in the word but by-and-by he stumbled on the precious truth that Christ was near at hand and did not want any looking for; that he was really there, only they, poor blind creatures, were in such a maze that they could not just then see him. Oh, cling you to Scripture. Scripture is not Christ, but it is the silken clue which will lead you to him. Follow its leadings faithfully.

     When you have received regeneration and a new life, keep on reading, because it will comfort you. You will see more of what the Lord has done for you. You will learn that you are redeemed, adopted, saved, sanctified. Half the errors in the world spring from people not reading their Bibles. Would anybody think that the Lord would leave any one of his dear children to perish, if he read such a text as this,—"I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand"? When I read that, I am sure of the final perseverance of the saints. Read, then, the word and it will be much for your comfort.

     It will be for your nourishment, too. It is your food as well as your life. Search it and you will grow strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.

     It will be for your guidance also. I am sure those go rightest who keep closest to the book. Oftentimes when you do not know what to do, you will see a text leaping up out of the book, and saying, "Follow me." I have seen a promise sometimes blaze out before my eyes, just as when an illuminated device flames forth upon a public building. One touch of flame and a sentence or a design flashes out in gas. I have seen a text of Scripture flame forth in that way to my soul; I have known that it was God's word to me, and I have gone on my way rejoicing.

     And, oh, you will get a thousand helps out of that wondrous book if you do but read it; for, understanding the words more, you will prize it more, and, as you get older, the book will grow with your growth, and turn out to be a greybeard's manual of devotion just as it was aforetime a child's sweet story book. Yes, it will always be a new book—just as new a Bible as it was printed yesterday, and nobody had ever seen a word of it till now; and yet it will be a deal more precious for all the memories which cluster round it. As we turn over its pages how sweetly do we recollect passages in our history which will never be forgotten to all eternity, but will stand for ever intertwined with gracious promises. Beloved, the Lord teach us to read his book of life which he has opened before us here below, so that we may read our titles clear in that other book of love which we have not seen as yet, but which will be opened at the last great day. The Lord be with you, and bless you.



A Question for Hard-Hearted Hearers

By / Jun 22

A Question for Hard-Hearted Hearers 

 

“Shall horses ran upon the rock? will one plough there with oxen?” — Amos vi. 12.

 

THESE expressions are proverbs, probably, taken from the familiar adages of the country, but, anyhow, right worthy to be used as proverbs. The wiser men become the more sententious are their utterances, the more terse and full of meaning are their sayings; and, hence, the wisdom of the wise condenses into proverbs, and the language of prophets is sure to abound in them. But a proverb is generally a sword with two edges, or, if such a metaphor might be tolerated, it has many edges, or is all edge, and hence it may be turned this way and that way, and its back stroke will be as sharp as its direct cut; for every part of it will have force and point. A proverb has often many bearings, and you cannot always tell what was the precise meaning of him who uttered it, except by the connection. Now, I believe that the connection would abundantly tolerate two senses in this place. An ancient commentator asserts that there are seven meanings of it, and that any one of them would be consistent with the context. I cannot deny the assertion, for if it be correct it is only one among many instances of the manifold wisdom of the Word of God. Like those curious carved Chinese balls in which there is one ball within another, so in many a holy text there is sense within sense, teaching within teaching, and each one worthy of the Spirit of God.

     The first sense of the text I would say just a word or two upon is this: the prophet is expostulating with ungodly men upon their pursuit of happiness where it never can be found. They were endeavouring to grow rich and great and strong by oppression. The prophet says, “ye have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock.” They had transformed the judgment seat into a place where justice was bought and sold, and the book of the law was made to be the instrument of chicanery, and high-handed fraud. “Yet,” says the prophet, “there is no gain to be gotten this way— no real profit, no true happiness. As well may horses run upon a rock, and oxen plough the arid sand: it is a foolish attempt; it is labour in vain.” And truly, dear hearers, if there are any of you, and probably there are, who try to content yourselves with this world, and hope to find a heaven in the midst of your business and your family without looking upward for it, you labour in vain. If any of you endeavour to find pleasure in sin, and think that it will go well with you if you despise the law of God, and seek your own pleasure by breaking the natural laws which concern your body, you will find that you have made a great mistake. You might as well seek for roses in the grottoes of the sea, or look for pearls on the bare pavements of the city. You will find what your soul requires nowhere but in God. To seek after happiness in evil deeds is to plough a rock of granite. To labour after true prosperity by dishonest means is as useless as to till the sandy shore. “Wherefore do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not?” Young man, you are killing yourself with ambition, and if your object were worthy we might not be so grieved, but your ambition is selfish, you seek only your own honour and emolument, and this is a poor, poor object for an immortal soul. And you too, sir, are wearing out your life with care; your mind and body both fail you in endeavouring to amass riches, as if a man’s life consisted in the abundance of the things which he possesses. You are ploughing a rock; your avarice will not bring you joy of heart or content of spirit, but will end in failure. And you, too, who labour to weave a righteousness by your works apart from Christ, and fancy that with the diligent use of outward ceremonies you may be able to do the work of the Holy Spirit upon your own heart, you too are ploughing thankless sand. No harvest will ever repay your self-elected toils. Merit can no more spring from human hands than fruit from an iron rod. The strength of fallen nature exerted at its utmost can never rescue a soul from the storm of wrath which awaits the guilty. You may row hard to bring that galley of yours to shore, but it shall be broken by the fierce tempest. Why, then, attempt the impossible when faith would in a moment calm the sea and bring the ship to shore. Woe unto those who kindle a fire and compass themselves with sparks, and delight themselves in the blaze of their own kindling, for they shall have this of the Lord, that they shall lie down in sorrow.

     So far, I believe, I have not misread the text, but have mentioned a very probable meaning of the words as they stand in the context; but, still, another strikes me, which I think equally suitable, and upon it I shall dwell by God’s help.

     It is just this. God will not always send his prophets to warn people, or employ his ministers to call them to repentance. When it turns out that men’s hearts remain obdurate, and they do not and will not repent, then God will not always deal with them in mercy. “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” There is a time of ploughing, but when it comes to be quite evident that the heart is wilfully hardened, then wisdom itself suggests to mercy that she should give over her efforts. “Shall horses run upon the rock? will one plough there with oxen?” No, there is a limit to the efforts of kindness, and in fulness of time the labour ceases, and the rock remains a sterile rock, unploughed henceforth and for ever.

     I. Taking that sense we shall speak upon it and remark, first, that MINISTERS LABOUR TO BREAK UP MEN’S HEARTS: this is the first effort of the wise preacher. The servant of Christ who teaches the gospel, whatever he may be called, is a sower of seed; and though it may appear useless to sow seed upon rocks, we are bound while acting as evangelists to sow our seed everywhere. Broadcast is our Master’s rule: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Hence m our Lord’s parable a handful fell upon the highway where the birds devoured it; and another handful fell upon the rocky soil, where it sprung up, but to-morrow perished because it had not depth of earth. It was no business of the sower to select the soil. He was to sow as he went along, for so his Master bade him. But methinks he would not be blamed, but commended if he threw double handfuls over there where the soil was evidently rich and well prepared. As a sower he was to sow broadcast, and leave the seed to fall where it might, under the guardian care of him who sent him to sow; but when he became a husbandman, he would have farther duties, and among the rest that of breaking up the fallow ground that he might no longer sow among thorns. We have so often sown on the rock, and have been so frequently disappointed because of the hardness of the unrenewed heart, that much time must be spent by the pastor as a lover of men’s souls in trying by the power of the Holy Ghost to break up the hard earthpan, to make it so that it will be receptive of the seed, and ready to nurture the living grain after it has fallen there.

     There are many truths which are used in this ploughing, and driven in like sharp ploughshares to break up the heart. Men must be made to feel that they have sinned, and they must be led to repent of sin. They must receive Christ, not with the head only but with the heart; for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness. There must be emotion; we must cut into the heart with the ploughshare of the law. A farmer who is too tender-hearted to tear up and harrow the land will never see a harvest. Here is the failing of certain divines, they are afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings, and so they keep clear of all the truths which are likely to excite fear or grief. They have not a sharp ploughshare on their premises, and are never likely to have a stack in their rickyard. They angle without hooks for fear of hurting the fish, and fire without bullets out of respect to the feelings of the birds. This kind of love is real cruelty to men’s souls. It is much the same as if a surgeon should permit a patient to die because he would not pain him with the lancet, or by the necessary removal of a limb. It is a terrible tenderness which leaves men to sink into hell rather than distress their minds. It is a diabolical love which denies the eternal danger which assuredly exists and argues the soul into presumption, because it thinks it a pity to excite terror, and so much more pleasant to prophesy smooth things. Is this the spirit of Christ? Did he conceal the sinner’s peril? Did he cast doubts upon the unquenchable fire and the undying worm? Did he lull souls into slumber by dulcet notes of flattery? Nay, but with honest love and anxious concern he warned men of the wrath to come, and bade them repent or perish. Let the servant of the Lord Jesus in this thing follow his Master, and plough deep with a sharp ploughshare, which will not be balked by the hardest clods. This we must school ourselves to do. It may be contrary to our impulses, and painful to our feelings; but it must not be left undone to gratify our love of ease, and our desire to please our hearers. If we really love the souls of men, let us prove it by honest speech which costs us pain, by earnest warning which it is more grievous to us to utter than to others to hear; for this part of our work is essential to man’s welfare, and can by no means be omitted. The hard heart must be broken, or it will still refuse the Saviour whose glory lies very much in his being sent to bind up the broken-hearted. There are some things which men may or may not have, and yet may be saved; but those things which go with the ploughing of the heart are indispensable, and therefore men must have them or perish hopelessly. The heart must be broken up: there must be a holy fear and a humble trembling before God. There must be an acknowledgment of offences committed, and a penitent petition for mercy. There must, in a word, be a thorough ploughing of the soul before we can expect that the seed should bring forth fruit.

     II. But the text indicates to us that AT TIMES MINISTERS LABOUR IN VAIN. “Shall horses run upon the rock? Will one plough there with oxen?” There are some hearts, there are some in this house tonight, there are some who are always here, who are very hard soil. When the ploughman ploughs he soon discovers what he is at work upon. I do not suppose that anybody but a minister with considerable experience will understand what I say when I declare that there is a sympathy between the preacher of the gospel and his hearers of a very intimate kind, even as there is a mutual action between the soil and the ploughman. Though our hearers are silent they probably speak more to the preacher than he does to them. In a short time a ploughman feels whether the plough will go or not, and so does the minister. He may use the very same words in one place which he has used in another, or they may seem to him to be so, but he feels in the one place great joy and hopefulness in preaching, while with another audience he has heavy work, and little hope mingles with it. The plough in the last case seems to jump out of the furrow; and a bit of the share is broken off every now and then. He says to himself, “I do not know how it is, but I do not get on at this,” and he becomes conscious that his Master has sent him to work upon a particularly heavy soil. The people were so far attentive that nobody was asleep; they seemed to drink in every word, and yet they were as unmoved as so many statues. They did not feel, and did not appear as if they could feel anything. The preacher was ready to stop and burst into tears to see how utterly unfeeling his audience had become; but that did not alter them. He hoped it was no vain regard for his own reputation which distressed him, but that a sincere desire for their good and for the honour of the truth moved him to holy jealousy; but he felt a kind of heart-breaking coming over him because he could make no headway. He was doing his best. The very same that he had done in other places with abounding success and with a sense of joyous ease, he was now doing in heaviness of spirit, conscious that he was wasting effort, and that his pleadings were lost upon the people. All labourers for Christ know that this is occasionally the case. You must have found it so in a Sunday-school class. You must have known it to be so in a cottage meeting or in any other gathering where you have tried to teach and preach Jesus. You have said to yourself every now and then, “Now I am ploughing a rock. Before, I turned up rich mould which a yoke of oxen might plough with ease, and a horse might even run at the work; but now the horse may tug, and the oxen may wearily toil till they gall their shoulders, but they cannot cut a furrow; the rock is stubborn to the last degree.”

     There are such hearers in all congregations. They are as iron, and yet they are side by side with a fine plot of ground. Their sister, their brother, their son, their daughter, all these have readily felt the power of the gospel, but they do not feel it. They hear it, respectfully hear it; and they so far allow it free course that they permit it to go in at one ear and out at the other, but they will have nothing more to do with it. They would not like to be Sabbath breakers and stop away from worship; they, therefore, do the gospel the questionable compliment of coming where it is preached and then refusing to regard it. They are hard, hard, hard bits of rock, the plough does not furrow them.

     Many, on the other hand, are equally hard; but it is in another way. The plough seems to touch them when they hear the word of God preached, but it is in seeming only; the impression is not deep or permanent. They receive it with joy, but retain it not. They listen, apparently, with deep attention, and they are ready enough to go to a place of worship as often as ever you like, but then it never comes to practice with them. They will hear about repentance, but they never repent. They hear about faith, but they never believe. If we were to preach anything other than the truth they would be indignant, for they are very good judges of what the gospel is; but they have never accepted the gospel. They will not eat, but still they insist that good bread shall be put on the table. They will not wash, but they will have the bath continually open before them. They are great sticklers for the very things which they personally reject. They are moved to feeling; they shed tears occasionally. A sentimental tale would make them weep fast enough, and sometimes the pathos of the preacher stirs them in the same manner for a time; but still their hearts are not really broken up by the word. They go their way, and forget what manner of men they are. Their transient feeling is rather an illustration of their hardness than an instance of true emotion. They are hard, hard, hard, rocky-hearted through and through. They are stony-souled enough to mock the word by feeling, and yet not feeling; by the imitation of a sensibility which never amounts to spiritual sensation. We have such in this congregation; the Lord have mercy upon them. While I am speaking, I hope the description will come home to them, and that each one of them may listen for himself and feel the ploughshare tearing its rough but useful way.

     Now, all this is the worse, because certain of these people, these rockyhearted people have been ploughed for years, and they become harder instead of softer. Once or twice ploughing, and a broken share or two, and a disappointed ploughman or two, we might not mind, if they would yield at last; but these have since their childhood known the gospel and never given way before its power. It is a good while since their childhood now with some of them. Their hair is turning grey, and they themselves are getting feeble with years. I am addressing those who have heard the word preached in sincerity and earnestness now scores and hundreds of times. You have heard waggon-loads of sermons. You have been entreated and persuaded times beyond number. You have had invitations and expostulations multiplied ad infinitum. Yes, and you have been prayed over and wept over, but your hearts are rocky still; labour has been lost upon you. In fact, you used to feel the word, in a certain fashion, far more years ago than you do now. The sun which softens wax, hardens clay, and the same gospel which has brought others to tenderness and repentance has exercised a contrary effect upon you, and made you more thoughtless, more hardened, more worldly, and more contemptuous of divine things than you were in your youth. We knew it would be so, we told you so years ago; for though we are always unto God a sweet savour, we are among men a savour of death unto death as well as of life unto life: and I fear that this sad result is being illustrated in your case.

     Why are certain men so extremely rocky? Some are so from a peculiar stolidity of nature. There are many people in the world whom you cannot very well move. Yon would have to put a piece of dynamite under them before you could alarm them much, they are so very quiet and cool about everything. They are the same in business: there is nothing sanguine about them, no excitability, no possibility of stir or emotion. They have a great deal of granite in their constitution, and are more nearly related to Mr. Obstinate than to Mr. Pliable. Now, I do not think very badly of these people, because one knows what it is to preach to an excitable people and to get them all stirred, and to know that at the end they are none the better, but relapse into inaction; whereas some of the more stolid and immovable people when they are moved are moved indeed; when they do feel they feel intensely, and they retain any impression that is made. A little chip made in granite by very hard blows will abide there, while the lashing of water, which is easy enough, will leave no trace even for a moment. It is a grand thing to get hold of a fine piece of rock and to exercise faith about it. The Lord’s own hammer has mighty power to break, and in the breaking great glory comes to the Most High.

     Worse still, certain men are hard because of their infidelity— not heart-infidelity all of it, but an infidelity which springs out of a desire not to believe, which has assisted itself by manufacturing doubts and discovering difficulties; which difficulties exist, and were meant to exist, for there were no room for faith if everything were as plain as the nose on one’s face. These people have gradually come to doubt, or to think that they doubt essential truths, and this renders them impervious to the gospel of Christ— another sad means of hardening the heart till it rivals adamant.

     A much more numerous body are very orthodox people, but very hardhearted people for all that. Worldliness hardens a man in every way. It often dries up all his charity to the poor, because he must make money, and he thinks that the poor-rates are quite sufficient excuse for neglecting the offices of charity. How comfortable poor people are when they are attended to by relieving officers! He pretends to believe that our union houses are perfectly palatial establishments, and that it would be wicked to give away a penny, because he might be helping an imposter and encouraging idleness. At any rate, it is better for him to take care of his worthy self, and give the penny to number one! Worldliness hardens him in that way, and so it does with regard to other things. He has no time to think of the next world; he must spend alt his thoughts upon the present one. Money is tight, and therefore he must hold it tight; and when money brings in little interest he finds therein a reason for being the more niggardly. He has no opportunity for prayer, he must get down to the counting-house. He has no time for reading his Bible, his ledger wants him. It is of no avail to speak to him about things eternal, for he is thoroughly engrossed with the affairs of time. You may knock at his door, but his heart is not at home; it never is at home, it is always in the counting-house; therein he lives and moves and has his being. His god is his gold, his bliss is his business, his all in all is himself. What is the use of preaching to him? As well may horses run upon a rock, or oxen drag the plough across a field sheeted with iron a mile thick.

     With some, too, there is a hardness, produced by what I might almost call the opposite of stern worldliness, namely, a general levity. Some are naturally butterflies— they never think, or want to think. Half a thought exhausts them, and they must needs be diverted or their feeble minds will utterly weary. They live in a round of pleasure and amusement. Their chief delight is giggling; it does not amount to laughter, for it is downright earnest men that laugh, but these are too silly, too frivolous for anything but mere childish giggling. They go through the world as if it were a stage, and all the men and women only players. It is very little use preaching to them; there is no depth of earth in their superficial nature; beneath a sprinkling of shifting, worthless sand lies an impenetrable rock of utter stupidity and senselessness. I might thus multiply reasons why some are harder than others, but it is a well-assured fact that they are so, and there I leave it to notice a third point.

     III. I shall now ask everybody to judge whether this running of horses upon a rock, and this ploughing there with oxen, shall always be continued? I assert that IT IS UNREASONABLE TO EXPECT THAT GOD’S SERVANTS SHOULD ALWAYS CONTINUE TO LABOUR IN VAIN. These people have been preached to, taught, instructed, admonished, expostulated with, and advised; shall this unrecompensed work be always performed? We have given them a fair trial; what do reason and prudence say? Shall we be bound to continue till we are worn out by this unsuccessful work? We will ask it of men of business; we will ask it of men who plough their own farms; do they recommend perseverence when failure is certain? Shall horses run upon the rock? Shall one plough there with oxen? Surely not for ever.

     I think we shall all agree that labour in vain cannot be continued for ever if we, first of all, think of the ploughman. He is not much, and he does not want to be much considered, but still his Master will think of him. See how weary he grows when the work discourages him. He goes to his Master with, “Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? Why hast thou sent me,” says he, “to a people that have ears but hear not? They sit as thy people sit, and they hear as thy people hear, and then they go their way and they forget every word that is spoken, and they obey not the voice of the Lord by his servant.” See how disappointed the preacher becomes. It is always hard work when you appear to get no forwarder, although you do your utmost. Nobody likes doing work which will not pay, and from which nothing comes. I once looked over a military prison, and I saw the soldiers carrying shot from one end of a yard to the other, and it was remarked to me by the warder that some time ago they made the men pile the shot at one end in a pyramid, and then take it back to the other end of the yard and pile it there; but as that gave them some kind of amusement the work was not thought sufficiently irksome, and so they made the culprits carry a shot to one end of the yard and bring it back, and thus no pile was formed at either end. The growing of the little pyramid, though they knew they would have to move it again, afforded a measure of interest to the prisoners; and as the work was to be a matter of punishment, and not of interest, even that was denied them. How frequently we have felt like those poor soldiers in prison, for we have carried the gospel and brought it back again, seeing no result to our endeavours. With many of you our work has been all wasted, all useless. Now, will God keep his servants to such work? If they were his prisoners in a military prison, it would be natural he should; but they are not: they are his sons, and he loves them. Will he keep them to such weary work as this? Must they always do that which discourages and disappoints them? No man, whoever he may be, likes to be set upon work which appears to be altogether a waste of time and effort. To his own mind it seems to have a touch of the ridiculous about it, and he fears that he will be despised of his fellows for aiming at the impossible. Shall it, then, always be our lot to treat with hard-hearted men and women? Will the great Husbandman bid his ploughmen spill their lives for nought? Must his preachers continue to cast pearls before swine? Shall they continue to speak to deaf ears? Must they always expostulate with stones and prophesy to those who are less sensible than the beasts of the field? If the consecrated workers are so bidden of their Lord they will persevere in their painful task; but their Master is considerate of them, and I ask you also to consider whether it is reasonable to expect a zealous heart to be for ever occupied with the salvation of those who never respond to its anxiety? Shall the horses always plough upon the rock? Shall the oxen always labour there?

     Then think again, there is the Master to be considered. The Lord— is he always to be resisted and provoked and yet to continue to have patience? Many of you have had eternal life set before you as to be received by simply believing in Jesus Christ; and you have refused to believe. Now, my Lord might have said to me, “Go home, you have done your duty with them; never set Christ before them again, I am not going to have my Son insulted.” If you offer a beggar in the street a shilling and he demurs, and will not have it, you cheerfully put it into your purse and go your way; you do not stand there begging him to have his wants relieved: but, behold, our God in mercy has been begging sinners to come to him, imploring them to accept his Son. In his condescension he has even come down to this— to be like a salesman in the market, crying, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come buy wine and milk, without money and without price.” In another place he says of himself, “All day long have I stretched out my hands to a disobedient and gainsaying generation.” Well, if the Lord of mercy has been refused, and the Lord of love has been despised so long in the sight of you who reverence him, does not some indignation mingle with your pity, and while you love sinners and would have them saved, do you not feel in your heart that there must be an end to such insulting behaviour, and such matchless patience? You cannot always be pleading with those who will not be persuaded, for he that refuseth you refuseth him that sent you. I ask those whose hearts are hard to think of the matter in this light, and if they do not respect the ploughman, yet let them have regard to his Master.

     And then, again, there are so many other people who are needing the gospel, and who would receive it if they had it, that it does seem as if it would be wise to leave off wearying oneself about these people who will not have it. What did our Lord say? He said that if the mighty things which had been done in Bethsaida and Chorazin had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented. What is more wonderful still, he says that if he had wrought the same miracles in Sodom and Gomorrah which he wrought in Capernaum, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes. Well, then, does it not occur to us at once to give the word to those who will have it, and leave the despisers to perish in their own wilfulness? Does not reason say, “Let us send off this medicine for the sick where there are sick people who will value it, for these people refuse it”? There are thousands of people willing to hear the gospel. See how they crowd wherever the preacher goes— how they tread upon one another in their anxiety to listen to him; and if these people who hear him every day will not receive the message of God, “in God’s name,” saith he, “let me go somewhere else where there is a probability of finding soil that can be ploughed.” “Shall horses run upon the rock? Will one plough there with oxen?” Must I work always where nothing comes of it? Does not reason say, let the word go to China, to Hindostan, or to the utmost parts of the earth, where they will receive it, for those who have it preached in the corners of their streets despise it, and think it a common thing, if not an utter nuisance.

     I shall not lengthen out this argument, but shall just put the question again. Would any one of you continue to pursue an object when it proved to be hopeless? Have you ever attempted to make a child who has been in a pet and fretful happy and good tempered? You have said many kind and gentle things, and you have used a few sharp words too, but as my little lord would not come round you have said to yourself, “Then even let him sulk until he has had it out.” And if the Lord has sent his servants to speak kind, gracious, tender things, and men will not hear, do you wonder if he should say, “Let them alone. They are joined unto their idols. Let them alone.” There is a limit to the patience of men, and we soon arrive at it; and assuredly there is a limit, though it is long before we outrun it, to the patience of God. “At length,” he says, “it is enough. My Spirit shall no longer strive with them. Now will I henceforth let them alone.” If the Lord does this, can any of us blame him? Is not this the way of wisdom? Does not prudence itself dictate it? If we put it to any man of thoughtful mind here, he will say, “Ay, ay, it cannot always be that the rock should be ploughed by the oxen.”

     IV. Fourthly, THERE MUST BE AN ALTERATION, then, and that speedily. Can this be altered? Can the oxen be taken off from the rock? Yes, it can be easily done, and very likely it will happen ere long to some hard hearts now before me. It can be done three ways.

     First, the person can be taken away so that the unprofitable hearer shall no more hear the gospel from the lips of his best approved minister. There is a preacher who evidently touches the man a little, and has some sort of power over him, but as he rejects his testimony, and remains impenitent, he shall be removed to another town, he shall hear monotonous discourses which will not touch his conscience, nor disturb his lethargy. He shall go into a lone village, or a foreign land, where he shall be no longer persuaded and entreated; and there he will sleep himself into hell. That may be readily enough done, perhaps some of you are making arrangements even now for your own removal from the house of hope.

     Another way is to take away the ploughman. He has done his work as best he could, now call him off from his hopeless task. Let him go home. He is weary: let him go home. The soil would not break up; but he could not help that, let him have his wage. He has broken his plough at the work; let him go home and hear his Lord say, “Well done.” He was willing to keep on at the disheartening labour as long as his Master bade him, but it is evidently useless, therefore let him go home, for his work is done. He has been sore sick, let him die, and enter into his rest. This is by no means improbable.

     Or, there may happen something else. The Lord may say, “Now, that piece of rock shall never trouble the ploughman any more. I will take it away.” And he may take it away in this fashion: the man who has heard the gospel but rejected it will die. I pray my Master that he will not suffer this to happen in the case of any one of you— that you should die in your sins— die impenitent; for then we cannot reach you any more, or indulge the faintest hope for you. No prayers of ours can follow you into eternity. The most ardent lover of your souls cannot hope that there shall be an escape for you after death. There is one name by which you may be saved, and that name is sounded in your ears— the name of Jesus; but if you reject him now, even that name will not save you, for he shall be your terror. From his face you shall flee away and your great cry shall be, “Rocks, hide me! Mountains, fall upon me! Hide me from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne and from the face of the Lamb.” You will dread him, and well you may dread him, though at this hour he waits to be gracious to you. I pray you do not destroy your own souls by continuing to be obstinate against almighty love. Oh that the Lord might do for you what we cannot. May he make you willing in the day of his power; for otherwise, as surely as you live, and God lives, if it comes to close quarters with you and your offended God, with no Christ between to be the mediator, it will go hard with you. “Beware,” says he, “ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there he none to deliver you.” Do not mind anything that I say of my own, but loot at the word of God for yourselves, and you shall find that the inspired Scripture has in it terrible threatenings against impenitent sinners; and there is no imagery (though borrowed from the mediaeval times, against which our adversaries make so much noise), there is no imagery that at all exaggerates the terror which must actually fall upon every soul that commits suicide by rejecting the Saviour, and spits into the face of God’s own Christ by saying, “I would sooner be lost than have him to save me,” for that is, virtually, what every unbelieving soul is saying.

     God grant that some better thing may happen. I close by saying, is there any alternative to all this? Can nothing else be done? This soil is rock; can we not somehow sow it without breaking it? No, it must be broken. “Ye must be born again.” “Except a man receive the kingdom of heaven as a little child he can in no wise enter therein.” There must be repentance, for without repentance there is no remission of sin. But is there not a way of saving men somehow without the gospel, and without the grace of God? The Lord Jesus did not say so; he told us to preach as follows, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.” He does not hint at a middle course or hold out a “larger hope,” but he says, “he that believeth not shall be damned,” and so he must be. God grant that no soul here may dream that there may, perhaps, be some back door to heaven, for the Lord has provided none. What then? Shall the preacher be permitted to continue his fruitless toil of ploughing? Yes, he is willing. He is willing if there is only half a hope left him, willing to go on and say, “Hear ye deaf, and see ye blind, and look ye dead.” He will even so speak this day, for his Master bids him preach the gospel to every creature; but it will be hard work to repeat the word of exhortation for years to those who will not hear it.

     Happily, there is one other turn which affairs may take. There is a God in heaven. Let us pray to him to put forth his power. Jesus is at his side, let us invoke his interposition. The Holy Ghost is almighty, let us call for his aid. Brothers who plough, and my brethren and sisters who help us as we plough and long for our success, cry to the Master for help. The horse and the ox evidently fail, but there remains One above who made both ox and horse, and who is able to work great marvels. Did he not once speak to the rock, and turn the flint into a stream of water? Let us pray to him to do the same now.

     And, oh, if there is one who feels and mourns that his heart is like a piece of rock, I am so glad he has come so far as feeling it, because he who feels that his heart is a rock gives some evidence that the flint is beginning to be transformed. O rock, instead of smiting thee to-night, as Moses smote the rock in the wilderness and erred therein, I would speak to thee. O rock, wouldest thou become like wax? O rock, wouldest thou dissolve into rivers of repentance? O rock, fall down with that wish; echo to the voice of exhortation! O rock, break with that good desire! O rock, dissolve with that longing for God begins; he is working upon thee now. Who knows but at this very moment thou shalt begin to crumble down. Dost thou feel the power of the Word? Did the sharp ploughshare touch thee just now, and didst thou begin to break up? Break and break again, till by contrition thou art broken in pieces all asunder, for then will the good seed of the gospel come to thee and thou shalt receive it into thy bosom, and we shall all behold the fruit thereof.

     And so I will fling one more handful of good corn, and have done. If thou desirest eternal life, trust Jesus Christ, and thou art saved at once. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth,” says Christ, “for I am God, and beside me there is none else.” He that believeth in him hath everlasting life. “Like as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

     O Lord, break up the rock, and let the seed drop in among its broken substance, and get thou a harvest from the dissolved granite, at this time, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.



Prayer Perfumed with Praise

By / Jun 22

Prayer Perfumed with Praise

 

"In every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God."—Philippians 4:6.

 

According to the text, we are both by prayer and supplication to make known our requests unto God. If any distinction be intended here, I suppose that by prayer is meant the general act of devotion and the mention of our usual needs; and by supplication I think would be intended our distinct entreaties and special petitions. We are to offer the general prayer common to all the saints, and we are to add thereto the special and definite petitions which are peculiar to ourselves. We are to worship in prayer, for God is to be adored by all his saints, and then we are to beseech his favours for ourselves, according to the words of the text, letting our requests be made known unto God. Do not forget this second form of worship. There is a good deal of generalizing in prayer, and God forbid that we should say a word against it, so far as it is sincere worship, but we want to have more of specific, definite pleading with God, asking him for such-and-such things, with a clear knowledge of what we ask. You will hear prayers at prayer-meetings, in which everything is asked in general but nothing in particular, and yet the reality and heartiness of prayer will often be best manifested by the putting up of requests for distinct blessings. See how Abraham, when he went to worship the Lord, did not merely adore him, and in general pray for his glory, but on a special occasion he pleaded concerning the promised heir, at another time he cried, "O that Ishmael might live before thee," and on one special occasion he interceded for Sodom. Elijah, when on the top of Carmel, did not pray for all the blessings of providence in general, but for rain, for rain there and then. He knew what he was driving at, kept to his point, and prevailed. So, my beloved friends, we have many wants which are so pressing as to be very distinct and definite, and we ought to have just so many clearly defined petitions which we offer unto God by way of supplication, and for the divine answers to these we are bound to watch with eager expectancy, so that when we receive them we may magnify the Lord.

     The point to which I would draw your attention is this: that whether it be the general prayer or the specific supplication we are to offer either or both "with thanksgiving." We are to pray about everything, and with every prayer we must blend our thanksgivings. Hence it follows that we ought always to be in a thankful condition of heart: since we are to pray without ceasing, and are not to pray without thanksgiving, it is clear that we ought to be always ready to give thanks unto the Lord. We must say with the Psalmist, "Thus will I bless thee while I live; I will lift up my hands in thy name." The constant tenor and spirit of our lives should be adoring gratitude, love, reverence, and thanksgiving to the Most High.

     This blending of thanks with devotion is always to be maintained. Always must we offer prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. No matter though the prayer should struggle upward out of the depths, yet must its wings be silvered o'er with thanksgiving. Though the prayer were offered upon the verge of death, yet in the last few words which the trembling lips can utter there should be notes of gratitude as well as words of petition. The law saith: "With all thy sacrifices thou shalt offer salt;" and the gospel says with all thy prayers thou shalt offer praise. "One thing at a time" is said to be a wise proverb, but for once I must venture to contradict it, and say two things at a time are better, when the two are prayer and thanksgiving. These two holy streams flow from one common source, the Spirit of life which dwells within us; and they are utterances of the same holy fellowship with God; and therefore it is right that they should mingle as they flow, and find expression in the same holy exercise. Supplication and thanksgiving so naturally run into each other that it would be difficult to keep them separate: like kindred colours, they shade off into each other. Our very language seems to indicate this, for there is small difference between the words "to pray," and "to praise." A psalm may be either a prayer or praise, or both; and there is yet another form of utterance which is certainly prayer, but is used as praise, and is really both. I refer to that joyous Hebrew word which has been imported into all Christian languages, "Hosanna." Is it a prayer? Yes. "Save, Lord." Is it not praise? Yes; for it is tantamount to "God save the king," and is used to extol the Son of David. While we are here on earth we should never attempt to make such a distinction between prayer and praise that we should either praise without prayer or pray without praise; but with every prayer and supplication we should mingle thanksgiving, and thus make known our requests unto God.

     This commingling of precious things is admirable. It reminds me of that verse in the Canticles where the king is described as coming up from the wilderness in his chariot, "like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant." There is the myrrh of prayer, and the frankincense of praise. So, too, the holy incense of the sanctuary yielded the smoke of prayer which filled the holy place, but with it there was the sweet perfume of choice spices, which may be compared to praise. Prayer and praise are like the two cherubim on the ark, they must never be separated. In the model of prayer which our Saviour has given us, saying, "After this manner pray ye," the opening part of it is rather praise than prayer—"Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name," and the closing part of it is praise, where we say, "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen." David, who is the great tutor and exemplar of the church as to her worship, being at once her poet and her preacher, takes care in almost every psalm, though the petition may be agonizing, to mingle exquisite praise. Take for instance, that psalm of his after his great sin with Bathsheba. There one would think, with sighs and groans and tears so multiplied, he might have almost forgotten or have feared to offer thanksgiving while he was trembling under a sense of wrath; and yet ere the psalm that begins "Have mercy upon me, O God," can come to a conclusion the psalmist has said: "O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise," and he cannot pen the last word without beseeching the Lord to build the walls of Jerusalem, adding the promise, "then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shalt they offer bullocks upon thine altar." I need not stop to quote other instances, but it is almost always the case that David by the fire of prayer warms himself into praise. He begins low, with many a broken note of complaining, but he mounts and glows, and, like the lark, sings as he ascends. When at first his harp is muffled he warbles a few mournful notes and becomes excited, till he cannot restrain his hand from that well-known and accustomed string which he had reserved for the music of praise alone. There is a passage in the eighteenth Psalm, at the third verse, in which indeed he seems to have caught the very idea which I want to fix upon your minds this morning. "I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies." He was in such a condition that he says, "The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me." Driven by distress, he declares that he will call upon the Lord, that is, with utterances of prayer; but he does not alone regard his God as the object of prayer, but as one who is to be praised. "I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;" and then, as if inspired to inform us of the fact that the blending of thanksgiving with prayer renders it infallibly effectual, as I shall have to show you it does, he adds, "So shall I be saved from mine enemies."

     Now, if this habit of combining thanksgiving with prayer is found in the Old Testament saints, we have a right to expect it yet more in New Testament believers, who in clearer light perceive fresh reasons for thanksgiving; but I shall give you no instance except that of the writer of my text. Does he not tell us in the present chapter that those things which we have seen in him we are to do, for his life was agreeable with his teachings? Now, observe, how frequently he commences his epistles with a blending of supplication and thanksgiving. Turn to Romans 1:8-9, and note this fusion of these precious metals—"First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers." There is "I thank my God," and "I make mention of you always in my prayers." This was not written with a special eye to the percept of our text; it was natural to Paul so to thank God when he prayed. Look at Colossians 1:3—"We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you." To the same effect we read in First Thessalonians 1:2—"We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers." Look also at Second Timothy 1:3—"I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day." And if it be so in other epistles, we are not at all surprised to find it so in Philippians 1:3-4—"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy." Nor need I confine you to the language of Paul's epistle, since it is most noteworthy that in Philippi itself (and those to whom he wrote must have remembered the incident) Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God at midnight, so that the prisoners heard them. It is clear that Paul habitually practised what he here enjoins. His own prayers had not been offered without thanksgiving; what God hath joined together he had never put asunder.

     With this as a preface, I invite you to consider, carefully and prayerfully, first, the grounds of thanksgiving in prayer; secondly, the evil of its absence; and thirdly, the result of its presence.

     I. First, then, there are REASONS FOR MINGLING THANKSGIVING WITH PRAYER. In the nature of things it ought to be so. We have abundant cause, my brethen, for thanksgiving at all times. We do not come to God in Prayer as if he had left us absolutely penniless, and we cried to him like starving prisoners begging through prison bars. We do not ask as if we had never received a single farthing of God before, and hardly thought we should obtain anything now; but on the contrary, having been already the recipients of immense favours, we come to a God who abounds in lovingkindness, who is willing to bestow good gifts upon us, and waits to be gracious to us. We do not come to the Lord as slaves to an unfeeling tyrant craving for a boon, but as children who draw nigh to a loving father, expecting to receive abundantly from his liberal hands. Thanksgiving is the right spirit in which to come before the God who daily loadeth us with benefits. Bethink you for awhile what cause you have for thanksgiving in prayer.

     And first you have this, that such a thing as prayer is possible, that a finite creature can speak with the infinite Creator, that a sinful being can have audience with the thrice-holy Jehovah. It is worthy of thanksgiving that God should have commanded prayer and encouraged us to draw near unto him; and that moreover he should have supplied all things necessary to the sacred exercise. He has set up a mercy seat, blood besprinkled; and he has prepared a High Priest, ever living to make intercession; and to these he has added the Holy Ghost to help our infirmities and to teach us what we should pray for as we ought. Everything is ready, and God waits for us to enquire at his hands. He has not only set before us an open door and invited us to enter, but he has given us the right spirit with which to approach. The grace of supplication is poured out upon us and wrought in us by the Holy Ghost. What a blessing it is that we do not attempt prayer with a peradventure, as if we were making a doubtful experiment, nor do we come before God as a forlorn hope, desperately afraid that he will not listen to our cry; but he has ordained prayer to be the ordinary commerce of heaven and earth, and sanctioned it in the most solemn manner. Prayer may climb to heaven, for God has himself prepared the ladder and set it down just by the head of his lonely Jacob, so that though that head be pillowed on a stone it may rest in peace. Lo, at the top of that ladder is the Lord himself in his covenant capacity, receiving our petitions and sending his attendant angels with answers to our requests. Shall we not bless God for this?

     Let us praise his name, dear friends, also especially that you and I are still spared to pray and permitted to pray. What if we are greatly afflicted, yet it is of the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed. If we had received our desserts we should not now have been on praying ground and pleading terms with him. But let it be for our comfort and to God's praise that still we may stand with bowed head and cry each one—"God be merciful to me a sinner." Still may we cry like sinking Peter, "Lord save, or I perish." Like David, we may be unable to go up to the temple, but we can still go to our God in prayer. The prodigal has lost his substance, but he has not lost his power to supplicate. He has been feeding swine, but as yet he is still a man, and has not lost the faculty of desire and entreaty. He may have forgotten his father, but his father has not forgotten him; he may arise and he may go to him, and he may pour out his soul in his father's bosom. Therefore, let us give thanks unto God that he has nowhere said unto us—"Seek ye my face in vain." If we find a desire to pray trembling within our soul, and if though almost extinct we feel some hope in the promise of our gracious God, if our heart still groans after holiness and after God, though she hath lost her power to pray with joyful confidence as once she did, yet let us be thankful that we can pray even if it be but a little. In the will and power to pray there lies the capacity for infinite blessedness: he who hath the key of prayer can open heaven, yea, he hath access to the heart of God; therefore, bless God for prayer.

     And then, beloved, beyond the fact of prayer and our power to exercise it, there is a further ground of thanksgiving that we have already received great mercy at God's hands. We are not coming to God to ask favours and receive them for the first time in our lives. Why, blessed be his name, if he never granted me another favour, I have enough for which to thank him as long as I have any being. And this, moreover, is to be recollected, that whatever great things we are about to ask, we cannot possibly be seeking for blessings one-half so great as those which we have already received if we are indeed his children. If thou art a Christian, thou hast life in Christ. Art thou about to ask for meat and raiment? The life is more than these. Thou hast already obtained Christ Jesus to be thine, and he that spared him not will deny thee nothing. Is there, I was about to say, anything to compare with the infinite riches which are already ours in Christ Jesus? Let us perpetually thank our Benefactor for what we have while we make request for something more. Should it not be so? Shall not the abundant utterances of the memory of his great goodness run over into our requests, till our petitions are baptized in gratitude. While we come before God, in one aspect, empty handed to receive of his goodness, on the other hand we should never appear before him empty, but come with the fat of our sacrifices, offering praise and glorifying God.

     Furthermore, there is this to be remembered, that when we come before God in the hour of trouble, remembering his great goodness to us in the past, and therefore thanking him, we ought to have faith enough to believe that the present trouble, about which we are praying, is sent in love. You will win with God in prayer if you can look at your trials in this light:—"Lord, I have this thorn in the flesh. I beseech thee, deliver me from it, but meanwhile I bless thee for it; for though I do not understand the why or the wherefore of it, I am persuaded there is love within it; therefore, while I ask thee to remove it, so far as it seemeth evil to me, yet wherein it may to thy better knowledge work my good, I bless thee for it, and I am content to endure it so long as thou seest fit." Is not that a sweet way of praying? "Lord, I am in want, be pleased to supply me; but, meanwhile, if thou do not, I believe it is better for me to be in need, and so I praise thee for my necessity while I ask thee to supply it. I glory in mine infirmity, even while I ask thee to overcome it. I triumph before thee in my affliction, and bless thee for it even while I ask thee to help me in it and to rescue me out of it." This is a royal way of praying: such an amalgam of prayer and thanksgiving is more precious than the gold of Ophir.

     Furthermore, beloved, whenever we are on our knees in prayer, it becomes us to bless God that prayer has been answered so many times before. Here thy poor petitioner bends before thee to ask again, but ere he asks he thanks thee for having heard him so many times before. I know that thou hearest me always, therefore do I continue still to cry to thee. My thanksgivings urge me to make fresh petitions, encouraging me in the full confidence that thou wilt not send me away empty. Why, many of the mercies which you possess today, and rejoice in, are answers to prayer. They are dear to you because, like Samuel, whom his mother so named because he was "asked of God," they came to you as answers to your supplications. When mercies come in answer to prayer they have a double delight about them, not only because they are good in themselves, but because they are certificates of our favour with the Lord. Well, then, as God has heard us so often and we have the proofs of his hearing, should we ever pray with murmurings and complainings? Should we not rather feel an intense delight when we approach the throne of grace, a rapture awakened by sunny memories of the past?

     Again, we ought to pray with thanksgiving in its highest of all senses, by thanking God that we have the mercy which we seek. I wish we could learn this high virtue of faith. When I was conversing lately with our dear friend George Muller, he frequently astonished me with the way in which he mentioned that he had for so many months and years asked for such and such a mercy, and praised the Lord for it. He praised the Lord for it as though he had actually obtained it. Even in praying for the conversion of a person, as soon as he had begun to intercede he began also to praise God for the conversion of that person. Though I think he told us he had in one instance already prayed for thirty years and the work was not yet done, yet all the while he had gone on thanking God, because he knew the prayer would be answered. He believed that he had his petition, and commenced to magnify the Giver of it. Is this unreasonable? How often do we antedate our gratitude among the sons of men! If you were to promise some poor person that you would pay his rent when it came due, he would thank you directly, though not a farthing had left your pocket. We have enough faith in our fellow-men to thank them beforehand, and surely we may do the same with our Lord. Shall we not be willing to trust God for a few months ahead, ay, and for years beforehand, if his wisdom bids us wait. This is the way to win with him. When ye pray, believe that ye receive the boons ye ask, and ye shall have them. "Believe that ye have it," says the Scripture, "and ye shall have it." As a man's note of hand stands for the money, so let God's promise be accounted as the performance. Shall not heaven's bank-notes pass as cash? Yea, verily, they shall have unquestioned currency among believers. We will bless the Lord for giving us what we have sought, since our having it is a matter of absolute certainty. We shall never thank God by faith and then find that we were befooled. He has said, "All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." And therefore we may rest assured that the thanksgiving of faith shall never bring shame into the face of the man who offers it.

     Once again, and then I will say no more upon these grounds of thanksgiving; surely, brethren, if the Lord do not answer the prayer which we are offering, yet still he is so good, so supremely good, that we will bless him whether or no. We ought even to praise him when he does not answer us, ay, and bless him for refusing our desires. How devoutly might some of us thank him that he did not answer our prayers when we sought for evil things in the ignorance of our childish minds. We asked for flesh, and He might have sent us quails in His anger, and while the flesh was yet in our mouths his wrath might have come upon us; but in love he would not hear us. Blessed be his name for closing his ear in pity! Let us adore him when he keeps us waiting at his doors; thank him for rebuffs, and bless him for refusals, believing always that Ralph Erskine spoke the truth when he said:

 

"I'm heard when answered soon or late,

Yea, heard when I no answer get:

Yea, kindly answered when refused,

And treated well when harshly used."

 

Faith glorifies the love of God, for she knows that the Lord's roughest usage is only love in disguise. We are not so sordid as to make our songs depend upon the weather, or on the fulness of the olive-press and the wine-fat. Blessed be his name, he must be right even when he seems at cross purposes with his people; we are not going to quarrel with him, like silly babes with their nurses, because he does not happen to grant us every desire of our foolish hearts. Though he slay us we will trust in him, much more if he decline our requests. We ask him for our daily bread, and if he withhold it we will praise him. Our praises are not suspended upon his answers to our prayers. If the labour of the olive should fail, and the field should yield no fruit; if the flock should be cut off from the fold, and the herd from the stall, yet still would we rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of our salvation. Blessed Spirit, raise us to this state of grace and keep us there.

     Of that which we have spoken this is the sum: under every condition, and in every necessity, draw nigh to God in prayer, but always bring thanksgiving with you. As Joseph said to his brethren, "Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you;" so may the Lord say to you, "You shall not receive my smile unless you bring thankfulness with you." Let your prayers be like those ancient missals which one sometimes sees, in which the initial letters of the prayers are gilded and adorned with a profusion of colours, the work of cunning writers. Let even the general confession of sin and the litany of mournful petitions have at least one illuminated letter. Illuminate your prayers; light them up with rays of thanksgiving all the way through; and when you come together to pray forget not to make melody unto the Lord with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.

     II. Secondly, I shall drive at the same point, while I try to show THE EVIL OF THE ABSENCE OF THANKSGIVING in our prayers.

     First and foremost, we should be chargeable with ingratitude. Are we to be always receiving and never to return thanks? Aristotle rightly observes: "A return is required to preserve friendship between two persons," and as we have nothing else to give to God except gratitude, let us abound therein. If we have no fruit of the field, let us at least render to him the fruit of our lips. Have you no thanks to bring? How, then, can you expect further favours? Does not liberality itself close its hand when ingratitude stands in the way? What, never a word of gratitude to him from whom all blessings flow! Then may even the ungodly despise you.

     Next, it would argue great selfishness if we did not combine praise with prayer. Can it be right to think only of ourselves, to pray for benefits and never honour our Benefactor? Are we going to import the detestable vice of avarice into spiritual things, and only care for our own souls' good? What, no thought for God's glory! No idea of magnifying his great and blessed name! God forbid that we should fall into a spirit so mean and narrow. Healthy praise and thanksgiving must be cultivated, because they prevent prayer from becoming overgrown with the mildew of selfishness.

     Thanksgiving also prevents prayer from becoming an exhibition of the want of faith; for indeed some prayer is rather a manifestation of the absence of faith than the exercise of confidence in God. If when I am in trouble I still bless the Lord for all I suffer, therein my faith is seen. If before I obtain the mercy, I thank God for the grace which I have not yet tasted, therein my faith is manifest. What, is our faith such that it only sings in the sunshine? Have we no nightingale music for our God? Is our trust like the swallow, which must leave us in winter? Is our faith a flower which needs the conservatory to keep it alive? Can it not blossom like the gentian at the foot of the frozen glacier, where the damp and chill of adversity surround it? I trust it can, it ought to do so, and we ought to feel that we can praise and bless God when outward circumstances appear rather to demand sighs than songs.

     Not to thank God in our prayers would argue willfulness, and want of submission to his will. Must everything be ordered according to our mind? To refuse to praise unless we have our own way is great presumption, and shows that like a naughty child we will sulk if we cannot be master. I might illustrate the willfulness of many a supplication by that of a little boy who was very diligent in saying his prayers, but was at the same time disobedient, ill-tempered, and the pest of the house. His mother told him that she thought it was mere hypocrisy for him to pretend to pray. He replied, "No, mother, indeed it is not, for I pray God to lead you and father to like my ways better than you do." Numbers of people want the Lord to like their ways better, but they do not intend to follow the ways of the Lord. Their minds are contrary to God and will not submit to his will, and therefore there is no thanksgiving in them. Praise in a prayer is indicative of a humble, submissive, obedient spirit, and when it is absent we may suspect willfulness and self-seeking. Very much of the prayer of rebellious hearts is the mere growling of an angry obstinacy, the whine of an ungratified self-conceit. God must do this and he must do that, or else we will not love him. What baby talk! What spoiled children such are! A little whipping will do them good. "I have never believed in the goodness of God," said one, "ever since he took my dear mother away." I knew a good man whose child was on the verge of the grave; when I went to see her he charged me not to mention death to her, for he said, "I do not believe God could do such an unkind action as take my only child away." When I assured him that she would surely die in a few days, and that he must not quarrel with the will of the Lord, he stood firm in his rebellion. He prayed, but he could not bless God, and it was no marvel that his heart sank within him, and he refused to be comforted, when at last his child died, as we all felt sure she would. He became afterwards resigned, but his want of acquiescence cost him many a smart. This will not do; this quarreling with God is poor work! Resignation comes to the heart like an angel unawares, and when we entertain it our soul is comforted. We may ask for the child's life, but we must also thank the Lord that the dear life has been prolonged so long as it has been, and we must put the child and everything else into our Father's hands and say, "If thou shouldest take all away, yet still will I bless thy name, O thou Most High." This is acceptable prayer, because it is not soured by the leaven of self-will, but salted with thankfulness.

     We must mingle our thanksgivings with our prayers, or else we may fear that our mind is not in harmony with the divine will. Recollect, dear friends, that prayer does not alter the mind of God: it never was the intent of prayer that it should attempt anything of the kind. Prayer is the shadow of the decrees of the Eternal. God has willed such a thing, and he makes his saints to will it, and express their will in prayer. Prayer is the rustling of the wings of the angels who are bringing the blessing to us. It is written, "Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart." It is not said that he will give the desire of his heart to every Jack and Tom; but you must first delight in the Lord, and when your mind finds all her joy in God then it is clear that God and you, as far as it can be, are standing on the same plane and moving in the same direction, and now you shall have the desire of your heart because the desire of your heart is the desire of God's heart. Character, as much as faith, lies at the basis of prevalence in prayer. I do not mean in the case of the prayer of the sinner when he is seeking mercy, but I mean in the habitual prayers of the godly. There are some men who cannot pray so as to prevail, for sin has made them weak, and God walks contrary to them because they walk contrary to him. He who has lost the light of God's countenance has also lost much of the prevalence of his prayers. You do not suppose that every Israelite could have gone to the top of Carmel and opened the windows of heaven as Elijah did. No, he must first be Elijah, for it is the effectual, fervent prayer, not of every man, but of a righteous man, that availeth much; and when the Lord has put your heart and my heart into an agreement with him then we shall pray and prevail. What did our Lord say—"If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." Doubtless many lose power in prayer because their lives are greivous in the sight of the Lord, and he cannot smile upon them. Will any father listen to the requests of a child who has set himself up in opposition to parental authority? The obedient, tender, loving child, who would not wish for anything which you did not think right to give, is he whose requests you are pleased to consider and fulfil; yea, more, you even anticipate the wishes of such a child, and before he calls you answer him. May we be such children of the great God.

     III. And now, in the third place, let us consider THE RESULT OF THE PRESENCE OF THIS THANKSGIVING IN CONNECTION WITH PRAYER. According to the context, the presence of thanksgiving in the heart together with prayer is productive of peace. "In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Now that peace, that conscious calm, that divine serenity, which is described as the peace of God, is not produced by prayer alone, but by prayer with thanksgiving. Some men pray, and therein they do well; but for lack of mixing thanksgiving with it their prayer agitates them, and they come away from the closet even more anxious than when they entered it. If they mingled in their petitions that sweet powder of the merchants, which is called praise, and mixed it after the art of the apothecary, in due proportions, the blessing of God would come with it, causing repose of heart. If we bless our gracious Lord for the very trouble we pray against; if we bless him for the very mercy which we need, as though it had already come; if we resolve to praise him whether we receive the boon or not, learning in whatsoever state we are therewith to be content, then "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, will keep our hearts and minds by Christ Jesus." Brethren, as you value this divine rest of spirit, as you prize constant serenity of soul, I beseech you, mingle praises with your prayers.

     The next effect of it will be this: the thanksgiving will often warm the soul, and enable it to pray. I believe it is the experience of many who love secret devotion that at times they cannot pray, for their heart seems hard, cold, dumb, and almost dead. Do not pump up unwilling and formal prayer, my brethren; but take down the hymn-book and sing. While you praise the Lord for what you have, you will find your rocky heart begin to dissolve and flow in rivers. You will be encouraged to plead with the Lord because you will remember what you have aforetime received at his hand. If you had an empty wagon to raise to the mouth of a coal-pit, it might be a very difficult task for you; but the work is managed easily by the common-sense of the miners. They make the full wagons, as they run down, pull the empty wagons up the incline. Now, when your heart is loaded with praise for mercy received, let it run down the incline, and draw up the empty wagon of your desires, and you will thus find it easy to pray. Cold and chill prayers are always to be deplored, and if by so simple a method as entreating the Lord to accept our thanksgiving our hearts can be warmed and renewed, let us by all means take care to use it.

     Lastly, I believe that when a man begins to pray with thanksgiving he is upon the eve of receiving the blessing. God's time to bless you has come when you begin to praise him as well as pray to him. God has his set time to favour us, and he will not grant us our desire until the due season has arrived. But the time has come when you begin to bless the Lord. Now, take an instance of this in the second Book of Chronicles, twentieth chapter and twentieth verse. Jehoshaphat went out fight with an exceeding great army, and mark how he achieved the victory. "They rose early in the morning and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa: and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper. And when he had consulted with the people he appointed"—what? warriors, captains? No, that was all done, but he "appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever. And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten." Victory came when they began to sing and praise. You shall get your answers to prayer when you multiply your thanksgivings in all your prayers and supplications: rest you sure of that.

     Our thanksgiving will show that the reason for our waiting is now exhausted; that the waiting has answered its purpose, and may now come to a joyful end. Sometimes we are not in a fit state to receive a blessing, but when we reach the condition of thankfulness, then is the time when it is safe for God to indulge us. A professing Christian came to his minister once and said, "Sir, you say we should always pray." "Yes, my friend, undoubtedly." "But then, Sir, I have been praying for twelve months that I might enjoy the comforts of religion, and I am no happier than before. I have made that my one perpetual prayer, that I might enjoy the comforts of religion, and I do not feel joy nor even peace of mind; in fact, I have more doubts and fears than ever I had." "Yes," said his minister, "and that is the natural result of such a selfish prayer. Why, dear friend," he said, "come and kneel down with me, and let us pray in another manner, 'Father, glorify thy name! Thy kingdom come.' Now," said he, "go and offer those petitions and get to work to try to make it true, and see if you do not soon enjoy the comforts of religion." There is a great deal in that fact: if you will but desire God to be glorified, and aim at glorifying him yourself, then shall the joys of true godliness come to you in answer to prayer.

     The time for the blessing is when you begin to praise God for it. For, brethren, you may be sure that when you put up a thanksgiving on the ground that God has answered your prayer, you really have prevailed with God. Suppose you had promised to some poor woman that you would give her a meal tomorrow. You might forget it, you know; but suppose when the morning came she sent her little girl with a basket for it, she would be likely to get it I think. But, suppose that she sent in addition a little note in which the poor soul thanked you for your great kindness, could you have the heart to say, "My dear girl, I cannot attend to you today. Come another time"? Oh dear no, if the cupboard was bare you would send out to get something, because the good soul so believed in you that she had sent you thanks for it before she received your gift. Well, now, trust the Lord in the same manner. He cannot run back from his Word, my brethren. Believing prayer holds him, but believing thanksgiving binds him. If it is not in your own heart, though you be evil, to refuse to give what you have promised when that promise is so believed that the person rejoices as though he had it; then depend upon it the good God will not find it in his heart to refuse. The time for reception is fully come because thanksgiving for that reception fills your heart. I leave the matter with you. If you are enabled to pray in that fashion, great good will come to yourselves, and to the church of God, and to the world at large by such prayers.

     Now, I think I hear in this audience somebody saying, "But I cannot pray so. I do not know how to pray. Oh, that I knew how to pray! I am a poor, guilty sinner. I cannot mix any thanksgiving with my supplications." Ah, my dear soul, do not think about that just now. I am not so much preaching to you as I am preaching to the people of God. For you it is quite enough to say—"God be merciful to me a sinner." And yet I will venture to say that there is praise in such a petition. You are implicitly praising the justice of God, and you are praising his mercy by appealing to him. When the prodigal returned, and he began his prayer by saying, "I am not worthy to be called thy son," there was in that confession a real praise of the father's goodness, of which he was unworthy to partake. But you need not to think about this matter at present, for first you have to find Jesus, and eternal life in him. Go and plead the merit of Jesus, and cast yourself upon the love and mercy of God in him and he will not cast you away: and then another day, when you thus have found and known him, take care that the thanksgiving for your salvation never ceases. Even when you are most hungry, and poor, and needy in the future continue to bless your saving Lord, and say, "This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him: and because the LORD inclined his ear unto me I will praise his name as long as I live."

     God bless you, for Jesus' sake. Amen.



The Philosophy and Propriety of Abundant Praise

By / Jun 22

The Philosophy and Propriety of Abundant Praise 

 

“They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness, and shall sing of thy righteousness.”— Psalm cxlv. 7.

 

THIS is called “David’s Psalm of praise,” and you will see that all through it he is inflamed by a strong desire that God may be greatly magnified. Hence he uses a variety of expressions, and repeats himself in his holy vehemence. Run your eye down the psalm and notice such words as these: “I will extol thee”; “I will bless thy name”; “Every day will I bless thee”; “I will praise thy name for ever and ever”; “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised”; “One generation shall praise thy works to another”; “I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty”; “Men shall speak of the might of thy terrible acts,” and other words of like import, down to the last verse: “My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord: and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.” David is not content with declaring that Jehovah is worthy of praise, or with pleading that his praise ought to be felt in the heart, but he will have it publicly spoken of, openly declared, plainly uttered, and joyfully proclaimed in song. The inspired Psalmist, moved by the Holy Ghost, calls upon all flesh, yea, and upon all the works of God to sound forth the praises of the Most High. Will we not heartily respond to the call?

     In following out his design of praise, David had spoken in verse five of the majesty of God, the glorious King. His eye seems to be dazzled by the glorious splendour of the august throne, and he cries, “I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty.” Then he bethinks himself of the power of that throne of majesty and of the force with which its just decrees are carried out, and so in verse six he exclaims, “Men shall speak of the might of thy terrible acts, and I will declare thy greatness.” Here he speaks in brief both as to the majesty and the might of the dread Supreme, but when he turns his thoughts to the divine goodness, he enlarges and uses words which indicate the stress which he lays upon his subject, and his desire to linger over it. “They shall abundantly utter,” saith our text, “the memory of thy great goodness.” Now, our desire this morning is that we also may praise and magnify the name of the infinite Jehovah without bound or stint, and may especially have our hearts enlarged and our mouths opened wide to speak abundantly of his great goodness. O that in the whole of this congregation the text may become true —“They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness”; and having uttered it in plain speech may we all rise a stage higher, and with gladsome music sing of his righteousness.

     You see our object, an object in which I trust you all sympathise. Come, one and all, and praise the Lord. Is the invitation too wide? Observe the ninth verse: “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works. All thy works shall praise thee,” I will not limit the invitation of the Lord; since you all drink of the river of his bounty, render to him all of you such praises as you can.

     But there is a special invitation to his saints. Come ye and bless his name with spiritual, inward, enlightened praise. “Bless the Lord, O house of Israel. Ye that fear the Lord, bless the Lord.” In your heart of hearts extol, adore, and make him great, for it is written— “Thy saints shall bless thee.” Verily this shall not be written in vain, for our souls shall bless the Lord this day as the Holy Ghost shall move within us.

     We shall speak upon two things that we may promote the object we have in view. The first is, the method of securing the abundant utterance of God' s praise as to his goodness; and, secondly, the motives for desiring to secure this abundant utterance.

     I. THE METHOD OF SECURING THE ABUNDANT UTTERANCE OF THE DIVINE PRAISE CONCERNING HIS GOODNESS. Our text gives us the mental philosophy of abounding praise, and shows us the plan by which such praise may be secured. The steps are such as the best mental philosophy approves. First, we shall be helped to abundant praise by careful observation. Notice the text— “They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness.” Now, in order to memory there must first of all be observation. A man does not remember what he never knew; this is clear to all, and therefore the point is virtually implied in the text. In proportion as a fact or a truth makes an impression upon the mind, in that proportion is it likely to abide in the memory. If you hear a sermon, that which you remember afterwards is the point which most forcibly strikes you while you are listening to the discourse. At the time you say, “I will jot that down, for I should not like to forget it, for it comes so closely home to me;” and whether you use your pencil or not, memory obeys your wish and makes a record upon her tablets. It is so with the dealings of God towards us. If we want to remember his goodness we must let it strike us; we must notice it, consider it, meditate upon it, estimate it, and allow it to exert its due influence upon our hearts; and then we shall not need to say that “we must try and remember,” for we shall remember as a matter of course. The impression being clearly and deeply made will not easily fade away, but we shall see it after many days. The first thing, therefore, towards the plentiful praising of God is a careful observation of his goodness.

     Now, see what it is that we are to observe— it is God’s goodness. Too many are blind to that blessed object. They receive the bounties of providence but they do not see the hand of God in them. They are fed by his liberality and guided by his care, but they attribute all that they receive to themselves, or to secondary agents. God is not in all their thoughts, and consequently his goodness is not considered. They have no memory of his goodness because they have no observation of it. Some, indeed, instead of observing the goodness of God, complain of his unkindness to them, and imagine that he is needlessly severe. Like the unprofitable servant in the parable, they say, “I knew thee, that thou art an austere man.” Others sit in judgment upon his ways, as we find them recorded in Holy Scripture, and dare to condemn the Judge of all the earth. Denying the goodness of Jehovah, they attempt to set up another God than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who for this enlightened nineteenth century is a God much too sternly just. In this house, however, we worship Jah, Jehovah the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and none other than he. In many a place of worship at this day they adore new gods, newly come up, which our fathers knew not; not like unto the God of the Old Testament, who in the opinion of modem philosophers is as much out of date as Jupiter himself. This day we say with David, “This God is our God for ever and ever.” “O come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before Jehovah our Maker. For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” As we find the Lord revealed both in the Old and the New Testament, making no division in the revelation, but regarding it as one grand whole, we behold abundant goodness in him. Mingled with, that awful justice which we would not wish to deny, we see surpassing grace, and we delight that God is love. He is gracious and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. We have no complaints to make against him, we wish to make no alteration in his dealings or in his character; he is our exceeding joy; our whole heart rejoices in the contemplation of him. “Who is like unto thee, O God? Among the gods who is like unto thee?” We are then to consider, what many will not so much as believe, that there is great goodness in Jehovah, the God of creation, providence, and redemption; the God of Paradise, of Sinai, and of Calvary. We are thoroughly to acquaint ourselves with him as he has made himself known, and we are continually to consider his great goodness, that we may retain the memory of it.

     If we are willing to see we shall not lack for opportunities of beholding his goodness every day, for it is to be seen in so many acts that I will not commence the catalogue, since I should never complete it. His goodness is seen in creation; it shines in every sunbeam, glitters in every dewdrop, smiles in every flower, and whispers in every breeze. Earth and sea and air, teeming with innumerable forms of life, are all full of the goodness of the Lord. Sun, moon, and stars affirm that the Lord is good, and all terrestrial things echo the proclamation. His goodness is also to be seen in the providence which ruleth over all. Let rebellious spirits murmur as they may, goodness is enthroned in Jehovah’s kingdom, and evil and suffering are intruders there. God is good towards all his creatures, and especially towards the objects of his eternal love, for whom all things work together for good. It is, however, in the domain of grace that the noblest form of divine goodness is seen. Begin with the goodness which shines in our election, and follow the silver thread through redemption, the mission of the Holy Spirit, the calling, the adoption, the preservation, the perfecting of the chosen, and you will see riches of goodness which wall astound you. Dwell where you may within the kingdom of redemption, and you will see rivers, yea, oceans of goodness. I leave your own minds to remember these things, and your own lips abundantly to utter the memory of the Lord’s great goodness in the wonders of his salvation; for it is not my design to speak for you, but to stir you up to speak for yourselves.

     The point which struck the Psalmist, and should strike us all, is the greatness of the goodness. The greatness of the goodness will be seen by the contemplative mind upon a consideration of the person upon whom the goodness lights. “Whence is this to me?” will often be the utterance of a grateful spirit. That God should be good to any of his people shows his mercy, but that he should make me to be one of his, and deal so well with me, herein his goodness doth exceed itself! Whence is this to me? Is this the manner of man, O Lord? What am I, and what is my father’s house? It is great goodness since it visits persons so insignificant, yea more, so guilty and so deserving of wrath. Blessed be God that he is good to persons so ungrateful, to persons who cannot even at the best make any adequate return, who, alas, do not even make such return as they could. Ah, Lord, when I consider what a brutish creature I am it is easy to confess the greatness of thy goodness.

     The greatness of the goodness becomes apparent when we think of the greatness of God the benefactor. “What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that thou visitest him?” That God himself should bless his people, that he should come in the form of human flesh to save his people, that he should dwell in us, and walk in us, and be to us a God, a very present help in trouble, is a miracle of love. Is not this great goodness? I can very well understand that the infinity of his benevolence should commit us to the charge of angels, but it is amazing that it should be written, “I the Lord do keep it: I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.” Oh, the greatness of such personal condescension, such personal care. O heir of heaven, from the fountain of all goodness shalt thou drink, and not from its streams alone. God himself is thy portion, and the lot of thine inheritance; thou art not put off with creatures, the Creator himself is thine. Wilt thou not remember this, and so keep alive the memory of his goodness?

     The greatness of the goodness is on some occasions made manifest by the evil from which it rescues us. Nobody knows so well the blessing of health as he who has but lately been tortured in every limb; then for his restoration he blesses Jehovah Rophi, the healing Lord. None know what salvation from sin means like those who have been crushed beneath the burden of guilt, and have been racked by remorse. Did you ever feel yourself condemned of God, and cast out from his presence? Did the pangs of hell commence within your startled conscience? Did your soul long for death rather than life, while thick clouds and darkness enshrouded your guilty spirit? If so, when the Lord has put away your sin, and said, “Thou shalt not die;” when he has brought you forth from the prison-house, and broken your bonds asunder, and set your feet upon a rock, then has the new song been in your mouth, even praise for evermore. Then have you known it to be great goodness which thus delivered you. We may imagine what the bottom of the sea is like, and conceive what it must be to be borne adown the lower deeps where the weeds are wrapped about the dead men’s brows; yet I warrant you that our imagination but poorly realizes what Jonah experienced when the floods compassed him about, and he went down to the bottom of the mountains. When the Lord brought up his life from corruption then had he a strong and vivid memory of the great goodness of God, seeing he had been delivered from so great a death. It is in the storm-life that we learn to praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men. If I might have it so, I could wish my whole life to be calm as a fair summer’s evening, when scarce a zephyr stirs the happy flowers; I could desire that nothing might again disturb the serenity of my restful spirit: but were it to be so I suspect I should know but little of the great goodness of the Lord. The sweet singer in the one hundred and seventh psalm ascribes the song of gratitude not to dwellers at home, but to wanderers in the wilderness; not to those who are always at liberty, but to emancipated captives; not to the strong and vigorous, but to those who barely escape from the gates of death; not to those who stand upon a sea of glass, but to those who are tossed in tempest upon a raging ocean. Doubtless so it is: we should not perceive the greatness of goodness if we did not see the depth of the horrible pit, from which it snatches us. You were almost ruined in business, friend, but you escaped as with the skin of your teeth, then you praised God for his great goodness. Your dear child was given up of the physicians, your wife apparently sickened for death, but both these have been spared to you, and herein you see the heights and depths of mercy. Now, therefore, lay up this great goodness in your memory to be the material for future psalms of praise.

     Nor is this the only way of estimating God’s great goodness: you may estimate it by the actual greatness of the benefits bestowed. He giveth like a king; nay, he giveth like a God. Behold, your God has not given you a few minted coins of gold, but he has endowed you with the mines themselves: he has not, as it were, handed to you a cup of cold water, but he has brought you to the flowing fountain, and made the well itself your own. God himself is ours. “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul.” If you must have a little list of what he has given you, ponder the following items:— He has given you a name and a place among his people; he has given you the rights and the nature of his sons; he has given you the complete forgiveness of all your sins, and you have it now; he has given you a robe of righteousness, and you are wearing it now; he has given you a superlative loveliness in Christ Jesus, and you have it now; he has given you access to him, and prevalence at the mercy-seat; he has given you this world and worlds to come; he has given you all that he has; he has given you his own Son, and how shall he now refuse you anything? Oh, he has given like a God. The greatness of his goodness this tongue can never hope to tell, and so I ask you to think it over in a quiet hour at home. As for myself I will speak of my Lord as I find him, for the old proverb bids us do so. Whatever you shall say, men and brethren, I have nought to speak but what is good of my God, my King, from my childhood until now. He amazes me with his mercy; he utterly astounds me with his lovingkindness; he causes my spirit almost to swoon away with delight beneath the sweetness of his love. Yet hath he not spared me the rod, nor will he, and blessed be his name for that also. “Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not also receive evil?” said the patriarch; but we will go beyond that, and assert that evil is no evil when it comes from his hand— everything is good which he ordains. We may not see it to be so at the time, but so it is. Our heavenly Father seems to rise from good to better, and from better to yet better still in infinite progression: he causes the roadway of our life to rise higher and higher, and carries it over lofty mountains of lovingkindness. Our life-path winds ever upward to yet higher summits of abounding mercy: therefore let his praise increase, and the name of the Lord be greater and greater still.

     I want to urge you, dear friends, to observe the goodness of God carefully for your souls’ good. There is a great difference between eyes and no eyes; yet many have eyes and yet see not. God’s goodness flows before them, and they say, “Where is it?” They breathe it and they say, “Where is it?” They sit at the table, and they are fed upon it; they wear it upon their limbs; it is in the very beating of their heart, and yet they say, “Where is it?” Be not thus blind. “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib,” let us not be more sottish than beasts of the field, but let us know the Lord and consider well the greatness of his goodness.

     I have said that the text contains the philosophy of great praise, and we see this in the second stage of the process, namely, diligent memory. That which has made an impression upon the mind by observation is fastened upon the memory. Memory seems to lie in two things— first in retaining an impression, and then in recollecting it at a future time. I suppose that, more or less, everything that happens to us is retained in the mind, but it is not easy to reproduce the fainter impressions when you wish to do so. I know in my own mind a great many things that I am sure I remember, but yet I cannot always recollect them immediately. Give me a quarter of an hour to run through a certain arrangement of ideas, and I shall say, “Oh yes, I have it. It was in my mind, but I could not recall it at the time.” Memory collects facts and afterwards recollects them. The matters before us are recorded by memory, but the tablet may be mislaid: the perfection of memory is to preserve the tablet in a well-known place, from which you can fetch it forth at the moment. I have dwelt rather longer upon observation with the view that you may begin aright from the beginning, and, by getting vivid impressions, may be the better able to retain and to recall them. We cannot utter what we have forgotten; hence the use of close observation to make a strong memory touching the Lord’s great goodness.

     How are we to strengthen our memory as to God’s goodness? First, we should be well acquainted with the documents in which his goodness is recorded. A man may be said to keep in memory a fact which did not happen in his own time, but hundreds of years before he was born: he remembers it because he has seen the document in which the fact is recorded. In a certain sense this is within the range of memory; it is within the memory of man, the united memory of the race. Beloved, be familiar with the Word of God. Store your memory with the ancient records of his great goodness: drink in the whole narrative of the evangelists, and despise not Moses and the prophets; lie a-soak in the Psalms and the Song of Solomon, and such like books, till you come to know the well recorded goodness of the Lord. Have his words and deeds of goodness arranged and ready to hand; let them be as it were at your fingers’ ends because they are in your heart’s core, and then you will be sure abundantly to utter the memory of his goodness, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”

     Next, if you would strengthen your memory, right diligently observe the memorials. There are two in the Christian Church. There is the memorial of your Saviour’s death, burial, and resurrection which is set forth in believers’ baptism, wherein we are buried and risen with the Lord Christ. Forget not that memorial of his deep anguish, when he was immersed in grief and plunged in agony; for he bids you observe it. And as for the Holy Supper, never neglect it, but be often at the table, where again you set forth his death till he come. He has bidden you do this in remembrance of him; cherish devoutly the precious memorial. Great events in nations have been preserved upon the memory of future generations by some ordained ceremonial, and the Lord’s Supper is of that kind; therefore observe ye well the table of the Lord, that ye forget not his great goodness. See how the Jews kept their Exodus in mind by means of the Paschal Lamb; how they ate it after the sprinkling of the blood; how they talked to their children and told them of the deliverance from Egypt, abundantly uttering the memory of God’s goodness, and then after supper they sang a hymn, even as our text bids us sing of the righteousness of God. Strengthen your memories, then, by reverent attention to the historical documents and the memorial ordinances.

     Still, the most important is the memory of what has happened to yourself, your own personal experience. I will not give a penny for your religion unless it has taken effect upon yourself. The power of prayer! What of that? Did you ever receive an answer to prayer? Did you ever wrestle with the angel and come off victorious? What do you know about prayer if you never did? You are very orthodox. Yes, but unless the doctrines of grace have brought to your soul the grace of the doctrines, and you have tasted and handled them, what do you know about them? Nothing certainly to remember. O, dear heart, wert thou ever born again? Then thou wilt remember his great goodness. Wert thou ever cleansed from thy sin and justified in Christ? Thou wilt remember his great goodness. Hast thou been renewed in heart so as to hate sin and live in holiness? If so, thou wilt remember, because thou knowest something Which flesh and blood have not revealed unto thee. Let every personal mercy be written upon your personal memory.

     I have heard that the science of mnemonics, or the strengthening of the memory, for which I have not a very high esteem, lies in the following of certain methods. According to some, you link one idea with another; you recollect a date by associating it with something that you can see. Practise this method in the present case. Remember God’s goodness by the objects around you which are associated with it. For instance, let your bed remind you of God’s mercy in the night watches, and your table of his goodness in supplying your daily needs. My garments when I put them on this morning reminded me of times when my hand was unequal even to that simple task. All around us there are memoranda of God’s love if we choose to read them. The memory of some deed of divine goodness may be connected with every piece of furniture in your room. There is the old arm-chair where you wrestled with God in great trouble, and received a gracious answer; you cannot forget it; you do not pray so well anywhere else as you do there; you have become attached to that particular chair. That thumbed Bible,— that particular one I mean: it is getting rather worn now, and is marked a good deal; but, nevertheless, out of that very copy the promises have gleamed forth like the stars in heaven, and therefore it helps your memory to use it. I remember a poor man giving me what I thought great praise. I visited him in the hospital, and he said, “Ah, you seem to have hung this room round with your texts, for everything reminds me of what I have heard you say, and as I lie here I recollect your stories and your sayings.” In much the same way we should recollect what God has done for us, by looking at all the various places, circumstances, times, and persons which were the surroundings of his mercy. O for a clear remembrance of the goodness of God.

     Memory is sometimes helped by classification. You send a servant to a shop for a variety of articles: she will forget some of them unless you so arrange the order that one suggests another. Take care, then, to set God’s mercies in order before you, and reckon them up in number, if you can, and so fix them in your memory.

     At other times, when persons have very bad memories, they like to figure down on a bit of paper that which it is important to remember. I have often done so, and have placed the paper where I have never found it again. A thread around the finger, or a knot in a handkerchief, and many other devices have been tried. I do not mind what it is, so long as you try and recollect God’s mercy to you by some means or other. Do make some record of his goodness. You know the day in which you lost that money, do you not? “Yes, very well.” You recollect the day of the month of Black Friday, or Black Monday, up in the City; you have evil days indelibly noted in the black pocket-book of memory: do you remember as well the days of God’s special lovingkindness to you? You should do so. Take pains to make notes of notable benefits, and to mark remarkable blessings, so shall you in future days utter the memory of God’s great goodness.

     The first two processes for securing abundant praise are observation and remembrance. The next is utterance; “They shall abundantly utter.” The word contains the idea of boiling or bubbling up like a fountain. It signifies a holy fluency about the mercy of God. We have quite enough fluent people about, but they are many of them idlers for whom Satan finds abundant work to do. The Lord deliver us from the noise of fluent women: but it matters not how fluent men and women are if they will be fluent on the topic now before us. Open your mouths; let the praise pour forth; let it come, rivers of it. Stream away! Gush away, all that you possibly can. “They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness.” Do not stop the joyful speakers, let them go on for ever. They do not exaggerate, they cannot. You say they are enthusiastic, but they are not half up to the pitch yet; bid them become more excited and speak yet more fervently. Go on, brother, go on; pile it up: say something greater, grander, and more fiery still! You cannot exceed the truth. You have come to a theme where your most fluent powers will fail in utterance. The text calls for a sacred fluency, and I would exhort you liberally to exercise it when you are speaking of the goodness of God.

     “They shall abundantly utter it”— that is, they shall constantly be; doing it: they shall talk about God’s goodness all day long. When you step into their cottages they will begin to tell you of God’s goodness to them; when you bid adieu to them at night you shall hear more last words upon the favourite theme. Very likely they will repeat themselves, but that does not matter; you cannot have too much of this truly good thing. Just as the singers in the temple repeated again and again the chorus, “His mercy endureth for ever,” so may we repeat our praises. Some of God’s mercies are so great and sweet, that if we never had another throughout eternity the recollection of the single favour might for ever remain. The splendour of divine love is so great, that a single manifestation of it is often all that we can bear: to have two such revelations at once would be as overpowering as though God should make two suns when one already fills the world with light. Oh, praise ye the Lord, my brethren and sisters, with boundless exultation: rouse all your faculties to this divine service, and abundantly utter the memory of his goodness.

     You cannot praise abundantly unless your memory supplies materials, and on the other hand your memory will lose strength unless you utter what you know. When you went to school and had a lesson to learn you found out that by reading your lesson aloud you learned it more quickly, for your ear assisted your eye. Uttering the divine goodness is a great help to the memory of it. By teaching we learn; by giving the truth expression we deepen its impression upon our minds.

     Now I come to the last part of this admirable process. When we have abundantly uttered, then we are to sing. In the old Greek mythology Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, is the mother of the Muses, and surely where there is a good memory of God’s lovingkindness the heart will soon produce a song. But what is surprising in the text is that when the joy is described as mounting from plain utterance to song it takes another theme — “Sing of thy righteousness.” When the heart is most adoring, and selects the grandest theme for reverent song, it chooses the meeting of goodness and righteousness as its topic. How sweet is that canticle — “Mercy and truth are met together, and righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” The atonement is the gem of the heart’s poetry. Do not your hearts bum within you at the very mention of the glorious deed of Jesus our great Substitute? Parnassus is outdone by Calvary; the Castalian spring is dried and Jesus’ wounded side has opened another fount of song. The goodness of the Lord to us in all the blessings of his providence we gladly chant, but when we tell of the grace which led our Lord Jesus to bleed and die, “the just for the unjust to bring us to God,” our music leaps to nobler heights. Incomparable wisdom ordained a way in which God should be righteous to the sternness of severity, and yet should be good, inimitably good, to those that put their trust in him; lift up then your music till the golden harps shall find themselves outdone.

     Thus, then, we have explained the method of securing an abundant utterance, may the Holy Spirit help us to carry it out.

     II. In the second place, we shall very briefly note THE MOTIVES FOR THIS ABUNDANT UTTERANCE. These lie very near to hand. The first is, because we cannot help it. The goodness of God demands that we should speak of it. If the Lord Jesus himself should charge his people to be silent as to his goodness they would scarcely be able to obey the command. They would, like the man that was healed, blaze abroad the mighty work that he had done. But, bless his name, he has not told us to be quiet; he allows us to utter abundantly the memory of his great goodness. The stones of the street would cry out as we went along if we did not speak of his love. Some of you good people seldom speak of the goodness of God; how is this? I wonder you can be so coldly quiet. “Oh,” said one in his first love, “I must speak or I shall burst”; and we have sometimes felt the same, when the restrained testimony was as fire within our bones. Is it not a sacred instinct to tell out what we feel within? The news is too good to keep. Indulge to the full the holy propensity of your renewed nature. Your soul says, “Speak,” and if etiquette says, “Hush, they will think you a fanatic,” regard it not, but speak aloud, and let them think you a fanatic if they please. Sir, play the organ very softly when the subject is your own praise; but when you come to the praises of God, pull out all the stops; thunders of music are all too little for his infinite deservings.

     Another motive for abundantly uttering the praises of God is that other voices are clamorous to drown it. What a noisy world this is, with its conflicting and discordant cries. “Lo here,” cries one; “Lo there,” shouts another. This uproar would drown the notes of God’s praise unless his people uttered it again and yet again. The more there is said against our God the more should we speak for him. Whenever you hear a man curse, it would be wise to say aloud, “Bless the Lord.” Say it seven times for every time he curses, and make him hear it. Perhaps he will want to know what you are at, and you will then have an opportunity of asking what he is at, and he will have more difficulty in explaining himself than you will in explaining yourself. Do try if you can to make up for the injuries done to the dear and sacred name of God by multiplying your praises in proportion as you hear him spoken ill of. I say, unless you give forth abundant utterance, God’s praise will be buried under heaps of error, blasphemy, ribaldry, nonsense, and idle talk. Abundantly utter it so that some of it, at least, may be heard.

     Praise the Lord abundantly because it will benefit you to do so. How bright the past looks when we begin to praise God for it. We say, “I am the man that hath seen affliction,” and we are to fill the cup of memory with gall and wormwood, but when we see the goodness of God in it all, we turn the kerchief with which we wiped our tears into a flag of victory, and with holy praise, in the name of our God, we wave the banneret.

     As for the present, if you think of God’s mercies, how different it seems. A man comes to his dinner table, and does not enjoy what is there, because he misses an expected dainty; but if he were as poor as some people he would not turn his nose up, but would bless the goodness which has given him so much more than he deserves. Some I know even among Christians are growlers in general always finding fault. The best things in the world are not good enough for them. Ah, my brother, abundantly utter the memory of God’s goodness and you will find nothing to grumble at, nothing to complain about, but everything to rejoice in.

     As for the future, if we remember God’s goodness how joyfully we shall march into it. There is the same goodness for to-morrow as for yesterday, and the same goodness for old age as for youth; the same God to bless me when I grow grey as when I was a babe upon my mother’s breast. Therefore, forward to the future without hesitation or suspicion, abundantly uttering the lovingkindness of the Lord.

     Again, I think we ought to do this because of the good it does to other people. If you abundantly talk of God’s goodness you are sure to benefit; your neighbours. Many are comforted when they hear of God’s goodness to their friends. Draw a long face, and lament the trials of the way; sit down with sombre brethren, and enjoy a little comfortable misery, and see whether crowds will ask to share your vinegar-cruet.

“While here our various wants we mourn,
United groans ascend on high,”

says Dr. Watts, and I am afraid he speaks the truth, but very few will! be led in this way to resolve— “We will go with these people, for we perceive that God is with them.” Is it good reasoning if men say, “These people are so miserable that they must be on the way to heaven”? We may hope they are, for they evidently want some better place to live in; but then it may be questioned if such folks would not be wretched even; in heaven. You smile, dear friends, as if you said you would not be much t attracted by sanctimonious misery, nor do I think you would. Therefore do not try it yourselves, but on the contrary talk much of the goodness; of the Lord, and wear a smiling face, and let your eyes sparkle, and go through the world as if after all you are not slaves under the lash, or prisoners in bonds, but the Lord’s free men. We have glorious reasons for being happy; let us be so, and soon we shall hear persons asking, “What is this? Is this religion? I always thought religious people felt bound to be down in the dumps, and to go mourning and sighing all their days.” When they see your joy they will be tempted to come to Christ. There is a blessed seductiveness in a holy, happy life. Praise then his name, praise his name evermore; abundantly utter the memory of his great goodness, and you will bring many to Christ.

     Such happy utterance will help also to comfort your own Christian f friends and fellow-sufferers. There is a deal of misery in the world— just now more than usual. Many are sorrowing from various causes; therefore, my dear friends, be happier than ever you were. That venerable man of God, now in heaven, our dear old father Dransfield, when it was a very foggy morning in November, used always to come into the vestry before the sermon and say, “It is a dreary morning, dear pastor; we must rejoice in the Lord more than usual. Things around us are dark, but within and above all is bright. I hope we shall have a very happy service to-day.” He would shake hands with me and smile, till he seemed to carry us all into the middle of summer. What if it is bad weather? Bless the Lord that it is not worse than it is. We are not altogether in Egyptian darkness: the sun does shine now and then, and we are sure it is not blown out. So, when we are sick and ill, let us thank God that we shall not be ill for ever, for there is a place where the inhabitants are no more sick. And now to-day, if your harps have been hanging on the willows, take them down: if you have not praised the Lord as you should, begin to do so. Wash your mouths and get rid of the sour flavour of murmuring about bad trade and bad weather. Sweeten your lips with the pleasant confection of praise. I will tell you this, brethren, if any of you shall confess to me that you have sinned by going too far in blessing God, I will for once become a priest, and give you absolution. I never tried my hand at that business before, but I think I can manage so much. Praise God extravagantly if you can. Try it. I wish you would say within yourself, “I will go beyond all bounds in this matter”; for there are no bounds to the deservings of an ever blessed God.

     Lastly, let us praise and bless God because it is the way in which he is glorified. We cannot add to his glory, for it is infinite in itself; but we can make it to be more widely known by simply stating the truth about him. Do you not want to give honour to God? Would you not lay down your life that the whole earth might be filled with his glory? Well, if you cannot cover the earth with his praise as the waters cover the sea, you can at least contribute your portion to the flood. Oh, keep not back your praises, but bless and magnify his name from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same. It will lift earth upward and heavenward if we can all unite in praise: we shall see it rising as it were beneath our feet, and ourselves rising with it, until we shall stand as upon the top of some loftiest Alp that has pierced the vault of heaven, and we shall be among the angels, feeling as they feel, doing as they do, and losing ourselves as they lose themselves in the eternal hallelujah of “Glory, and honour, and majesty, and power, and dominion, and might, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”