I Was Before

By / Jun 22

I Was Before 

 

“Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.”— 1 Timothy i. 13.

 

I AM not going to dwell at this time upon the special items of the text as to what Paul was before his conversion, because none of us have been exactly as he was. We have all gone astray like lost sheep, but each one of us has taken a distinct course from all the rest. You might have to describe your trangressions in very different words from those used by the apostle, because yours has been a different form of guilt from his. Paul said of himself that he “was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.” Saul of Tarsus was a blasphemer. He does not say that he was an unbeliever and an objector, but he uses a very strong word, though not too strong, and says that he was a blasphemer. He was a down-right, thorough-going blasphemer, who also caused others to blaspheme. From blasphemy, which is a sin of the lips, Saul proceeded to persecution, which is a sin of the hands. Hating Christ, he hated his people too. He was also injurious, which I think Bengel considers to mean that he was a despiser; that eminent critic says “blasphemy was his sin towards God, persecution was his sin towards the church, and despising was his sin in his own heart.” He was injurious— that is, he did all he could to damage the cause of Christ, and thereby injured himself. He kicked against the pricks, and by doing so injured his conscience.  Having sinned thus grievously Paul makes a full record of his guilt in order that he may magnify the grace which saved even the chief of sinners.

     Note here, before we come to the special purpose we have in view, that godly men never think or speak lightly of their sins. When they know that they are forgiven, they repent of their iniquities even more heartily than before. They never infer from the freeness of grace, the lightness of sin, but quite the contrary; and you shall find it as one trait in the character of every true penitent that he is rather inclined to blacken himself than to whitewash his transgressions. He sometimes speaks of himself in terms which others think must be exaggerated, though to him, and indeed to God, they are simply true. You have probably read biographies of John Bunyan in which the biographer says that Bunyan laboured under a morbid conscientiousness, and accused himself of a degree of sin of which he was not guilty. Exactly so, in the view of the biographer, but not so in the view of John Bunyan, who, startled into sensitiveness of conscience, could not find words strong enough to express all his reprobation of himself. Job said once, “I abhor myself.” That is a very strong expression, but, when he saw his own sin in the presence of God, the man of whom the Lord said unto Satan, “There is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil,” the man against whom the devil himself could not bring an accusation, yet says that when he saw God, the brightness of the divine holiness made him so conscious of his sin that he exclaimed, “Now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Those who have seen the exceeding sinfulness of sin by the light of the Holy Spirit, and who have been made truly penitent, are the last persons to speak lightly of evil. They dwell upon their own criminality with many terms to set forth how greatly they have felt it.

     We will consider the case of Paul just a minute or two, because it is a type and pattern of the work of God’s grace in other believers. He tells us in the sixteenth verse of this chapter, “For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” He was a model convert, a typical instance of divine longsuffering, a pattern and specimen of all who believe on Christ, and all conversions are to a large extent similar to that which transformed the blaspheming, persecuting, despising Saul of Tarsus into the great apostle of the Gentiles. Now, notice when he is describing his own past life how he dwells upon it with painful minuteness. He is not speaking before God in private, as Job was in the words we have quoted, else I can conceive that he would paint his sin in still darker colours; but he is answering for himself before king Agrippa touching the things of which he had been accused by the Jews, and you will see that he puts his offence against Christ and his church in as strong a light as he very well could. His enemies have no such accusation to bring against him as that which he voluntarily makes against himself.

     First, he says in the tenth verse of the twenty-sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, which we read just now, “Many of the saints did I shut up in prison.” Those whom he shut up in prison were saints. To imprison the guilty were no fault, but to maltreat and shut up holy men was indeed blameworthy. He confessed that they were saints, saintly persons, but he committed them to prison for that very reason, because they were Christians; and therefore their saintly lives did not protect them from his malice, but made them so much the more objects of his cruel hatred. He says that he hunted the saints; and not merely a few of them, but “Many of the saints did I shut up in prison.” He lays stress upon the word “many”— not half-a-dozen here and there, but scores and hundreds suffered through him and his persecuting band. He crowded the prisons with the followers of Jesus Christ. “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye,” saith the Lord of hosts when addressing captive Zion. One touch of a saint of God injuriously given will be painful to the Lord; how much more, then, when there are many such touches, and when he whose hand has done the evil deed has to confess— “Many of the saints did I shut up in prison.” We may be quite sure that he did this because they were Christians, for the ninth verse puts it thus, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” It was Jesus of Nazareth he was aiming at, though his blows were directed against his followers. It was because the name of Jesus was named upon these people that they were put in prison. Now, this is no small sin— to persecute holy men, to imprison many of them, and to do so simply because they believed in Jesus Christ. The apostle felt that this put exceeding bitterness into the gall of his transgression: that he had lifted up unholy hands against the members of Christ’s body, and through them had wounded their ever-glorious Head. More than this, he did not merely put them in prison, but he says, “Many of the saints did I shut up in prison.” Some persons in prison have had a measure of liberty, as Joseph had, but Saul took care that these believers should be straitly shut up, that they should have no liberty. He put them into the common jails, locked them up, and made their feet fast in the stocks, causing them to suffer even as he and his companion Silas afterwards did in the prison at Philippi.

     Continuing the summary of his evil-doings against the servants of the Lord, he says, “I was not content with their imprisonment, but I was eager for their death. When they were put to death, I gave my voice against them; when the Sanhedrim wanted a vote I, young Saul, was there to give my maiden vote against Stephen or any other saint. If the chief priests wanted a knife to cut the Christians’ throats with, there was I ready to do the deed; if they needed one who would drag them away to prison and to death, there stood I, the eager messenger, only too glad if I might lay hands upon them, believing that I was thereby doing God service.” “Nay,” says he; “that is not all. I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme.” This, indeed, was a very horrible part of Saul’s sinfulness. To destroy their bodies was bad enough, but to destroy their souls too— to compel them to blaspheme, to speak evil of that name which they confessed to be their joy and their hope, surely that was the worst form that even persecution could assume. He forced them under torture to abjure the Christ whom their hearts loved. As it were he was not content to kill them, but he must damn them too. “I compelled them to blaspheme.” This was a dreadful sin, and Paul mentions it as such. He does not extenuate his crime, nor attempt to find excuses for his conduct; and then he adds, once more, that he did all this wickedness with the greatest possible enthusiasm: “And being exceedingly mad against them,” like a raging madman in his fits, like a violent maniac, who cannot be held in— seized with frenzy, tearing right and left, finding no rest unless he could be harrying and worrying the sheep like a bloody wolf, as he was to the sheep of Christ’s flock— “being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.” lie scattered them far and wide, and then sought to get authority that even when they were in exile they might not be beyond his reach. Saul seems to have grown proficient in the science of persecution, and to have become a very master in the cruel art of crushing the people of God.

     We do not learn this from James, or John, or any of the other apostles. Who tells us of all this? Who makes out this long, black catalogue of crimes of which the man who committed them might well be ashamed? Why, Paul himself. It is Paul himself that puts it so; and I would that, in like manner, the worst character you could have, my brother, might come from your own lips. “Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips but, when there is an accusation that must be made against you, be you the first to make it with tears of repentance before the living God.

     I think I have thus, from the example of Paul before Agrippa, justified the expression with which I started, that true penitents do not seek to extenuate or diminish the sin which has been forgiven them, but they own how great it is, and set it forth in all its enormity as it appears before their enlightened eyes.

     Now, I want you, dear friends, who know the Lord, to follow me in a very simple way, rather by your emotions than by anything else. I want the text of my sermon to be, “I was.” The apostle tells us what he was— what he was before conversion. Now, I want you to think what you were before the grace of God met with you, and changed you. I do not know that I shall help you much to recollect the details of your sin, for almost the last time I stood here I did that when we spoke of Peter from the words—“When he thought thereon, he wept”; but I want you to see seven very profitable inferences which will arise out of an impartial retrospect of your life before conversion.

     I. The first, I think, will be that IF WE THINK OF WHAT WE WERE IT WILL EXCITE IN US ADORING GRATITUDE. 

     Paul was full of gratitude, for he thanked Christ Jesus that he counted him faithful, putting him into the ministry. He is so glad of the favour of God that when he comes to the seventeenth verse he must put down his pen while he sings, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” If, then, you and I look back upon what we were before the Lord saved us, we too shall be full of adoring gratitude as we think of even the least of all the favours that he has bestowed upon us. “I am not worthy,” said the patriarch Jacob, when he was returning to his country at the command of God,— “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant,” and we can each one say the same. Is it not a wonderful thing that you who were— I will not say what, you know what you were, and God knows— that you should be a teacher of others; that you should be permitted to stand up and speak of pardon bought with blood; that you should be allowed to talk of holiness though your lips used to speak of any other theme but that; that you should be allowed to extol the Christ for whom you had no words of praise a little while ago, for whom, indeed, you had only words of contempt and scorn? Paul was astonished to think that he was put into the ministry; and when I look back upon my own life before I knew the Lord, I am amazed that ever I should stand here, seeing that for so long I refused my Lord’s love, and put aside his favours, and would have none of them. Ah, I did not know what would happen to me one day. Little did I then think that I should ever stand here to —

“Tell to sinners round,
What a dear Saviour I have found.”

But it does fill me with gratitude which makes me bow before God in thankful adoration to think that he should have looked on me, and to know that “unto me,” as well as unto Paul, “is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

     I ask you, dear friends, to recollect this gratitude in the reception of every blessing. When you enjoy church privileges, when you come to the communion-table, think, “Here comes one to sit with the children of God who once was like a dog outside the house.” When you stand up and praise the Lord, think, “And I too am permitted to offer the sacrifice of praise— I, who once sang the praises of Bacchus or of Venus, rather than of Christ Jesus!” When you draw near to God in prayer, and know that he hears you too— when you have power in prayer, and prevail with the Most High, and come back with your hands full of blessings that have been obtained at the throne of grace, you may well say, “What shameful things these hands once did when I rendered my members instruments of unrighteousness; and now they are loaded down with the bounties of a gracious God!” Oh, do bless his name! If you do not, the stones in the street will begin to cry out against some of you. Oh, if your heart does not leap at the very sound of the name of Jesus, surely you cannot possess a heart at all. Such a change, such a wondrous, matchless change, has passed upon you that if you do not praise the Lord to-day, and to-morrow, and as long as you have any being, what shall be said of your ungrateful silence? “I was,”— I was before,— all that I ought not to have been, but grace has changed me, and unto the God of grace be all the glory. Do not all of you who love the Lord unite with me in this utterance of adoring gratitude?

     II. A second very blessed inference (we can only speak briefly upon each one) is that A SENSE OF WHAT WE WERE SHOULD SUSTAIN IN US VERY DEEP HUMILITY.

     It did so in the case of the apostle Paul; and I would refer you to his expression of it in the first epistle to the Corinthians, the fifteenth chapter, and the ninth verse, where he says, “I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” When he was compelled to glory in what he was through the grace given unto him he said that he supposed he was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles; yet he hero, says of himself that he was not worthy to be called an apostle, because before his conversion he persecuted the saints of God. Now, dear brothers and sisters, if we have been a little while converted, and have united with the church of God, and the Lord has given us a little work to do, we may be tempted to think, “Now, I am somebody. Really, I am not now quite the humble dependent that I used to be; I am getting to be of some service to my Lord and Master, and I am of some importance in his church.” Ah, that is the way many Christians get into sad mischief. “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” You must always strive against that kind of spirit, and one way to avoid it is to remember what you were in your unregenerate state. There are some who might say, “I am a minister of the gospel, but I am not worthy to be called a minister, because of the sins that I committed before my conversion. I am a member of the church of Christ, but I am scarcely worthy to be called a member; because I was before a blasphemer, or a Sabbath-breaker, or profane, unchaste, or dishonest.” Recollect what you were, and let your spiritual advancements never lead you to unspiritual pride and self-conceit, for “every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.” I have heard of a good man in Germany who used to rescue poor, destitute boys from the streets, and he always had them photographed in their rags and filth just as he found them; and then in years afterwards, when they were clothed and washed and educated, and their characters began to develope, if they grew proud he would show them what if were, and try to teach them what they would have been likely to be if it had not been for his charity. If you are inclined to lift up your head, and boast what a great man you are now, just look at the likeness of what you were before the Lord made you a new creature in Christ Jesus. Oh, who can tell what that likeness would have been but for the interpositions of divine grace? I think you would say what the Scotchman said to Rowland Hill when he called to see the good man in his study. He sat and looked at him, and Rowland Hill’s face, you know, if you have seen his portrait, is one to be remembered; there is a peculiar comic look about it. So the Scotchman said, in answer to the question, “What are you looking at?” “I have been studying the lines of your face.” “And what do you make out of them?” said Mr. Hill. “Why, that if the grace of God had not made you a Christian, you would have been one of the worst fellows that ever lived.” “Ah!” said Mr. Hill, “and you have hit the mark this time.” I should not wonder too, if some of us, when we look in the glass, were to see somebody there that would have been a very deep-dyed sinner if it had not been for the change of heart which sovereign grace has wrought. This ought-to keep us very humble, and very lowly before God. I invite you, friends, to think this over, and when you feel yourselves beginning to swell a little, let the bladder of your foolish and wicked pride be pricked with the needle of conscience as you recollect what you used to be, and you will be all the better for letting some of the gas escape. Come back as speedily as you can to your true shape, for what are you, after all? If you are anything that is good, or right, or pleasing in the eyes of the Lord, still you must say, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

“All that I was, my sin, my guilt,
My death, was all mine own;
All that I am, I owe to thee,
My gracious God, alone.
“The evil of my former state
Was mine, and only mine;
The good in which I now rejoice
Is thine, and only thine.”

     Well, those are two of the inferences which result from looking back at what you were; the retrospect excites gratitude and sustains humility.

     III. The next is this— THE REMEMBRANCE OF OUR FORMER CONDITION SHOULD RENEW IN US GENUINE REPENTANCE. When we look back upon what we used to be before the Lord met with us, it should breed in us a perpetual repentance. There are some who seem to think that we only repent of sin when we are first converted. Do not you be deluded by any such false notion. When you leave off repenting, you have left off living. You are not living to God as you ought to do unless you daily repent. Remember, that we are not saved by a single act of faith which terminates the moment we receive the assurance of the divine forgiveness, but by a faith which continues as long as we live, and as long as ever we have any faith we must have repentance too, for these are twin graces— faith with a bright eye, like Rachel, who was beautiful and well-favoured, and repentance, tender-eyed, like Leah, but with a lovely eye for all that. “Repentance,” says one, “why, I thought that was a bitter thing, that was taken away when we believed!” No, but it is a sweet thing; I could wish to repent in heaven; though I suppose I shall not. We cannot carry the tear of penitence in our eye into heaven; it will be the only thing we might regret to leave behind. Surely we shall be sorry even there for having grieved our God. Even there, methinks, we shall repent, but certainly as long as we are here we must daily repent of sin— ay, and repent of the sin that is forgiven, repent more because it is forgiven than we did when we had any doubt about its being pardoned.

“My sins, my sins, my Saviour!
How sad on thee they fall,
Seen through thy gentle patience,
I tenfold feel them all.
“I know they are forgiven,
But still their pain to me
Is all the grief and anguish
They laid, my Lord, on thee.”

Smite on your breasts while you think that it was necessary that Christ should die that you might be delivered from sin, and its penalty and power, and as your love increases let your sorrow abound, that such a Lord should have needed to be crucified for you. Oh, sin, as Christ becomes more lovely, thou becomest more hateful, and as our soul learns more of the beauty of holiness, it perceives more of thy ugliness, and so continually loathes thee more and more. If you want to draw up the sluices of repentance, sit down and remember what you were by nature, and would have remained if grace had not intervened. So, then, it shall be good for you to say, “I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious,” or to use any other expression that shall accurately describe you, if it lead you, like Peter, to go out and weep bitterly true tears of repentance.

     IV. And now, fourthly (we have but a word on each inference, you see), THE RETROSPECT OF OUR PAST LIVES SHOULD KINDLE IN US FERVENT LOVE to the Lord who has redeemed us.

     You remember Christ went into the house of one of the Pharisees who had a measure of respect for him: this was Simon, who desired him to eat with him; but when he entered in, Simon treated him as a common guest, and offered him none of the delicate attentions which men give to choice friends, or to superiors. Christ took no note of this, nor had he need to do so, for there was another who stole into that room who did for him all that Simon ought to have done, and more than Simon could have done. “A woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping.” She stood behind the couch upon which he was reclining, and let her tears fall down upon his blessed flesh till she had washed his feet with them, and then unbraiding the luxurious tresses of her hair, she wiped those holy feet with it; her love, her humility, her adoration, and her penitence mingling as she kissed his feet, and anointed them with the. ointment which she had brought. Our Lord explained why this woman had performed this extraordinary action. He said it was because she had been forgiven much. Now, rest assured that this is a rule without an exception, that those who are conscious of having had much forgiven are those who will love Christ much. I do not say— I almost wish I could— that love, is always in proportion to the amount of sin forgiven; but I do say that it is in proportion to the consciousness of sin forgiven. A man may be a less sinner than another, but he may be more conscious of his sin, and he will be the man who will love Christ most. Oh, do not forget what you were, lest you should become unmindful of your obligation to Jesus. You are saints now, but you were not always so. You can talk to others of Christ now, but you could not once have done it. You can wrestle with the angel in prayer and prevail now, but once you were more familiar with the devil than you were with the angel. At this moment your heart bears witness to the indwelling of the Holy Ghost: it is not long ago that the prince of the power of the air wrought within you, and the Holy Spirit was not there at all. I beseech you, therefore, forget not this, lest you forget to love him who has wrought this wondrous change in you. I think there is nothing better than to retain a vivid sense of conversion in order to retain a vivid sense of love. Do not be afraid of loving Christ too much, I see the cold carping criticism of this age objects to any expressions of love to Christ which we use in our hymns because it says that they are sensuous. My only answer to such talk is— God give us more of such blessed sensuousness! I think that instead of diminishing these utterances it will be a token of growth in grace when they are more abundant, not if they become so common as to be hypocritical; then they would be sickening; but as long as they are true and honest, I for one would say to you who love the Lord, go on and sing—

“Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on his gentle breast.”

Go on and sing—

“Jesus, I love thy charming name,
’Tis music to mine ear.”

Hesitate not to say—

“Thou dear Redeemer, dying Lamb,
We love to hear of thee”;

and if it shall please you, and the Spirit shall move you, even say, like the spouse in the song, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.” The starveling religion of the present day, not content with tearing away the doctrinal flesh from the spiritual body, is now seeking to drag out the very heart of religion, and to reduce Christian experience to nothing but a chilly doubting of everything. Let this be far from you. Believe something, and love something, for to believe is to live, but to love is to be in health. Oh for more love arising out of a deep, intense sense of what we once were, and of the change which Christ has wrought in us! “But,” says one, “I do not know that any great change has been wrought in me.” No, and there are some who tell us that we do not want any. There are certain Paedobaptists preaching nowadays that the most of children of pious parents do not need conversion. We have long had the Church of England teaching us baptismal regeneration; now we have got some Nonconformists trying to persuade us that no regeneration at all is wanted. This a new kind of doctrine that I know nothing of, and that the word of God knows nothing of, and it will not do for us. It will eat out the very life of Christianity if it be believed. Pious ancestors could not save one of you— even if your fathers and mothers, and grandfathers and grandmothers, and great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers, and great- great-great-great-grandfathers and great-great-great – great-grandmothers, as far back as ever you like, had been all saints, nevertheless, their faith could not avail for you. You must be born, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” “Ye must be born again” is as true of one child as of another; as true of you as it was of me, and as true of me as of the thief confined in prison to-day. But some of us have been changed, we are washed, we are sanctified, we are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. It has been a real work of grace, the turning of us upside down, the reversing of the course of nature, a turning of night into day, a turning of the powers of our spirit from the dominion of Satan to the dominion of Christ; and we must and will therefore love him who has wrought in us such a wondrous transformation.

     V. Well now, fifthly, REMEMBERING WHAT WE WERE, ARDENT ZEAL SHOULD BE AROUSED IN US.

     Look at Paul. He says, “I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.” What then? Why, now that he has become a follower of Christ, he cannot do too much. He put many saints in prison: now he goes into many prisons himself. He hunted them even to strange cities: and now he goes into all manner of strange cities himself. He dragged them before tribunals: and now he himself goes and stands before Roman proconsuls, and before the Roman emperor himself. Paul can never do too much for Christ, because he has done so much for the devil. I remember one who lived four or five miles away from a place of worship, who used to say, “You old legs, it is no use being tired; for you have got to carry me. You used to take me to the place of amusement when I served the devil, and you shall carry me now to the house of God, that I may worship and serve him.” When sometimes he had an uneasy seat, he used to say, “It is no use grumbling, old bones, you will have to sit here, or else you will have to stand. Years ago you put up with all kinds of inconveniences when I went to the theatre, or some other evil place, when I served Satan; and you must be content to do the same now for a better Master, and a nobler service.” I think some of us might take a lesson from that old man, and say to ourselves, “Come, covetousness, you are not going to hinder me from serving the Lord. I used to be liberal to the devil, and I do not intend now to be stingy to God.” If ever I am tempted in that fashion, I will give twice as much as I had thought of doing, so as to spite the devil, for he shall not have his way with me. Some, when they serve Satan, go as if they rode a racehorse, and whip and spur to get in first. How they will destroy body and soul in the service of the evil one; but if a Christian man gets a little lively they say, “Oh, dear me, dear me, he is excited, he is fanatical, he has grown enthusiastic.” Why should he not be in earnest? The devil’s servants are enthusiastic; and why should not the servants of Christ be the same? Black prince, black prince, art thou served by heroes, and shall Christ be served by dolts? Oh, let it not be so, my brethren. Surely if anything can wake up all the powers of our nature, if anything can make a lame man leap as a hart, if anything can make a palpitating, trembling heart to be bold and brave for Christ, it should be the love which Christ has shown in looking upon such as we were, and changing us by his grace. “Ah, but you must not do too much,” says one. Did you ever know anybody who did? If anybody ever does too much for Christ, let us rail off a piece in the cemetery that we may bury him in it. That grave will never be wanted, it will be empty till Christ comes, “Ah, but you may have too many irons in the fire.” It depends upon the size of the fire. Get your fire well hot,— I mean get your heart well hot, and your nature in a blaze; then put all the irons you can ever get into it. Keep them all at a white heat if possible. Blow away, and let the flames be very vehement. Oh, to live for God a life of ecstatic zeal even if it were only for a short space of time. It were better than to have a hundred years of bare existence, in which one went crawling along like a snail, leaving slime behind, and nothing else. It were better far than drivelling out, as oftentimes we do,—

“Our souls can neither fly nor go
To reach eternal joys.”

The love of Christ to us, then, suggests great zeal in his service.

     VI. Now, sixthly, I am sure that another inference that should be drawn from it is this: — If we remember what we were, and how grace has changed us, IT OUGHT TO MAKE US VERY HOPEFUL ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE. Paul was, for he says, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” Well, friend, you are saved: then anybody can be. You never ought to despair of the salvation of any one, for you know yourself, and feel yourself to have been the most undeserving of men; and yet God’s grace has really made you to love him. Well, then, that grace can light on anybody. Already it has fallen on the most unlikely spot possible. Now, from this moment never indulge the idea that it is useless to attempt to benefit any of your fellow-men. I recollect— indeed, I have often met with the circumstance of persons saying, “Why did you not ask So-and-so to attend a place of worship?” “Ask him? Oh, I never thought of him.” “Why not?” “I did not think it was any use.” It is a very singular thing that those are the kind of people who, if you do get them to hear the word, are generally converted— the people you think it is no use to bring. Men who have been accustomed to speak very disrespectfully of religious things when once brought under the sound of the truth are often the first to receive a blessing. Those are the kind of fellows to try at, for there is some hope of reaching men who are in such need of the gospel we have to proclaim as they are. You know there is virgin soil there, so it is the very place to sow the good seed of the kingdom. There is good fishing in a pond that never was fished in before: and here is a man who at any rate is not gospel-hardened: he has not got used to the sound of the word, so as to take no notice of anything that is said. Bring him in; he is the very man we want: bring him in. “But he is a swearer.” Well, but if you were a swearer before your conversion, you ought never to say anything about that. “Oh, but he is a very hardened man.” Yes; but if you were converted, notwithstanding what you were, you ought never to make that objection against anyone. “Oh, but he is such a low-bred man.” Well, there are plenty of us who cannot boast much about our aristocratic descent. “Oh, but,” says one, “he is such a proud man, such a haughty man:” or, “he is a rich man; he is a purse-proud man.” Yes, but there are others like him who have been brought in; and while that man has sinned in one way you have sinned in another way; and if the grace of God met your six it can meet his half-dozen. Depend upon it, God meant us to be hopeful about other people when he saved us. See that man coming out of the hospital. He has had pretty nearly all the diseases you ever heard of, and yet he has been cured. He is not the man to say, “It is no use going in there, you will get no good by putting yourself under the treatment of that doctor”: on the contrary, whenever he meets with anybody who is suffering, he says, “You go and try the physician that healed me. If you can get a bed under his care, if you can come under his notice, you are almost certain to get cured, your maladies cannot be worse than mine, and he met my case exactly, and he can meet yours.” He is the man who will advertise Christ, and will proclaim his fame the whole world over— who has tasted that he is gracious, and has proved in his own case the converting power of the Holy Ghost. Oh, I pray you, dear friend, despair of nobody. You who go with your tracts, go into the worst houses; you who talk in the workhouses to those who are and, perhaps, as far gone as any— who find them dying in the infirmary, and rejecting the word as you speak it yet keep on; “Never, say die” concerning any. Since the Lord has saved you the grace of God can save anybody, however far he may have sunk in sin; it can reach even to the very vilest of the sons of men.

     VII. The last inference is, that WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR US SHOULD CONFIRM OUR CONFIDENCE FOR OURSELVES— our confidence, not in ourselves, but in God, who will perfect that which he has begun in us. There is not half as much grace necessary to bring you to heaven if you are a believer as you have had already to bring you where you are. You have got to be perfected; but remember that it was the very first step that had the difficulty in it. It always reminds me of the legend of St. Denis, who picked up his head after it was cut off, and walked, I think, forty leagues with it. But a wit said that there was no trouble about walking forty leagues: the difficulty all lay in the first step. So it did; and so all the difficulty of the walk of faith lies in the first step— that first coming of a dead heart into life, that first bringing of a reprobate soul, a carnal mind that is enmity against God, into friendship with God. Well, that has been done; that first great work has been wrought in you by God the Holy Ghost; and now you can say with the apostle, “If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” Do you think the Lord ever converts a man with a view of showing him the light that he may go back again into the thick darkness for ever? Does he drop a spark of heavenly light into our souls that it may go out never to be rekindled? Does he come and teach us to eat heavenly bread, and drink the water of life, and then leave us to starvation or die of thirst? Does he make us members of Christ’s body, and then allow us to rot and decay? Has he brought us thus far to put us to shame? Has he given me a heart that cries after him, and pines for him; has he given me a sighing after perfection, an inward hunger after everything that is holy and true; and does he mean, after all, to desert me? It cannot be:—  

“His love in time past forbids me to think
He’ll leave me at last in trouble to sink;
That gracious conversion I have in review,
Confirms his good pleasure to help me quite through.”

So let us go on our way rejoicing that it shall be even so with each one of us. Amen.



Bad Lodgers, and How to Treat Them

By / Jun 22

Bad Lodgers, and How to Treat Them 

 

“O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?” — Jeremiah iv. 14.

 

ONE notices in reading such a chapter as this fourth of Jeremiah that the change which God required in the Jewish people was a very deep and thorough one. It was not only the washing of their hands, nor the cleansing of their outward lives, but the washing of their hearts from wickedness; and the Lord did not alone require of them that they should cease from wicked actions, but even from vain thoughts. The like demand he makes of us, for he saith by the mouth of his servant James, “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” This makes our holy religion such a weighty and solemn business. If it were wholly a matter of outward ordinances, we might take the child and sprinkle it, or might bring the adult and plunge him; or we might admit all to a table where they should eat and drink such consecrated materials as should save them. This would be all easy enough, and hence men cling to a religion of ceremonies; for heart religion is troublesome, and the ungodly cannot endure it. Ritualism is the most popular religion in the world, because it is all “Hi! Presto!” Done in a minute — nothing to think of, nothing to care about, nothing to sorrow over. It is all a mere matter of form, which men leave to their priests, as they leave their deeds to be drawn up by their lawyers, and their physic to be prescribed by their doctors. The little that is wanted of them can be done without thought, and they can go on in their sins as pleasantly as ever.

     Next to that in popularity is the religion of mere morality. “Yes, we know we do amiss: we will amend. Gross vices shall be lopped off as stray branches that run over a wall. We will at once purge ourselves from everything for which our fellow-men would blame us. Is not that enough?” Many hope it is, and live as if they felt sure it was. But the religion of the Word of God is not so. It is, “Rend your hearts, and not your garments:” hence ceremonies are not enough “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength:” hence outward actions are not enough. This is too hard a demand; and as for repentance and faith, the ungodly cannot enter upon such spiritual duties for they have no mind to them. The carnal mind hates the mention of spiritual things.

     This, I take it, while it makes the Christian religion so solemn, throws us back upon one of its great first principles— that salvation must be of grace; because if it be necessary that my heart must be changed, can I change it? I am bidden to do so. I am told in such a text as this to wash my heart from wickedness. But how can I do it? Shall a fountain purge itself? It has sent forth bitter waters, bitter as Marah; can it of itself do the reverse? “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” That would be a very simple business, for skin and spots are outside things; but how shall a man change his heart— his very nature? Do you expect the crabtree to change itself into a sweet apple-bearing tree? Will you go and talk— to come back to the former metaphor— to the waters of Marah and expect them to change themselves into the sweet wells of Elim? No; this is the finger of God. If ever this is done God must interfere. It is a rule that nature can only rise as high as nature. Put water where you please, it will rise up to where it started from; but, except under pressure, it will rise no higher; and you shall not find man rising above his fallen and depraved nature. “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Out of the grave there comes not life. Out of an unclean thing there comes not a clean thing. We must be born from above if ever we are born aright. We must be new created by the Creator himself, and become new creatures in Christ Jesus, or else up to the mark which God’s law requires we can never come. “Wash thine heart.” Oh, God, how can I wash my heart? Though I take to myself snow water, and make myself seem outwardly never so clean, yet what have I done with my heart? Thou biddest me drive out my thoughts; but, O my God, my thoughts often come against my will, and sometimes with my will, and I am tossed about by them as a poor sea shell by the restless waves of the sea. They compass me about like bees; yea, they compass me about, these vain thoughts of mine, like bees which sting my good desires to death. Like flies of summer they buzz about my ears and fill my mind with corruption, and they will not be driven away. I can no more resist them than Jannes and Jambres could withstand the Egyptian plague. Oh, how can I purge out vain thoughts? Whither shall I turn for strength to perform this necessary duty?

     “By grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” And what ye cannot do, in that ye are weak through the flesh, God can do for you, and his divine Spirit will sweetly enable you to perform all duties which he requires of you. If ye be willing and obedient, and yield yourselves up to the blessed gospel of the grace of God, he will make you clean; and your thoughts, too, shall be purged as with fire, till they shall rise like a sweet incense unto him. Let this word at the outset encourage any person who may be inclined to say before I have done, “It is a hard saying: who can bear it?”

     Now to our text, “How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?” Bad lodgers. Some people have admitted bad lodgers into their chambers. I have known a good many people troubled with them; and there is no use in keeping them; they must be sent adrift. So the text says, “How long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee?” It means that we must not be slow to give them notice to quit, for they ought not to be tolerated in the human breast.

     First, let me name some of these lodgers; secondly, let me show -what bad lodgers they are; and, thirdly, let me give you some advice as to how to get rid of them. May the Holy Spirit also come and bless this word to their immediate ejectment, and may a stronger than they come and dwell for ever in you, not as a lodger, but as Lord and owner of your whole being.

     I. First, then, HERE ARE CERTAIN BAD LODGERS; and I should not wonder if some people here have found and furnished chambers in their hearts and heads for these mischievous tenants whose name is “vain thoughts.”

     Many thoughts may be called vain because they are proud, conceited thoughts. Thus, whenever a man thinks himself good by nature, we may say of his thoughts, “Vanity of vanities: all is vanity.” If you are unrenewed, and dream that you are better than others because your parents were godly, it is a vain thought. If you have never been born again by the Spirit of God, and are trusting in your infant baptism, it is a vain thought. If you have never come to believe in Jesus, but think yourself very good because you are a respectable person and regularly attend a place of worship, it is a vain thought. If you have got it into your head that when we talk about sinners we do not mean you, and that when God’s word condemns men for their sins it leaves a loophole of escape for you, it is a vain thought. If you have an idea that you do not need to come to Christ as a poor, helpless sinner; that you do not want the same kind of change as others; that, indeed, there is a private way to heaven for you, and you have found the silver key of it, you have made a mistake — it is a vain thought. You will have to be born again, or else if you are not born twice you will die twice. You will have to be washed in the blood of Jesus Christ, or you will die in your sins. You will have to come crying to him for mercy, and to find everything in him, or you will remain under condemnation and perish in your iniquity. If you think not so, it is a vain thought. Every thought of self-righteousness is a vain thought; every idea, moreover, of self-power — that you can do this and do that towards your own salvation, and that at any time when it pleases you you can turn and become a Christian, and so there is no need to be in a hurry, or to seek the help of the Holy Spirit: — that also is a vain thought. To reckon yourself to be anything more than a mass of sin and helplessness is a vain thought. You have misconceived your own true value and your condition before God.

     Now, perhaps I speak to some here who really are very nice sort of people, at least they feel they are, for they go to a place of worship where they are not often spoken to very personally; and if the minister does speak pointedly, they say, “I do not think he has any right to talk in that way; people should be charitable.” It is supposed to be charitable, you know, to allow people to go down to hell without warning them. My charity leads me to try as far as ever I can to break up all shams, and I am sure that self-righteousness is all a sham, a deadly delusion, a destructive error. It is ruining tens of thousands of people— good, quiet, harmless, inoffensive people— people, too, that are generous in their business, and kind, and all that, and who therefore conclude that they are safe for time and eternity. They say, “Well, now, I don’t know that I have done anything so very wrong; I do not see that I need repentance and faith, or that I need come as that poor thief did on the cross, and just look to Christ and say, ‘Lord, remember me.’” Dear friend, I must address you in the language of the text, “How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?” for they are all vain, every one of them. “By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” in the sight of God. The way to heaven is not by our fancied works of righteousness; but salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

     Another sort of vain thoughts maybe ranged under the head of carnal security. The poet says, “All men think all men mortal but themselves,” and often as the saying is quoted never was a proverb more generally true. We are surprised to hear that So-and-so, who was well and hearty three days ago, is dead: we are quite taken aback for the moment, but we never dream that it will happen to ourselves. We are alarmed when we hear that a person who was sitting near to us in the pew on Sunday is now in his coffin; but we indulge the hope that we shall see old age. A person the other day who was consumptive died suddenly of hemorrhage of the lungs, and yet another consumptive person says, “This sad thing does happen to invalids whose lungs are diseased, but I do not suppose it will ever befall me.” Men go out to their daily business and they say, “Many that wake this morning will never see the sun go down but they themselves talk of what they will do in the evening, as if they were sure of surviving. There is no hint of, “If the Lord will, we shall do this or that.” We know all of us that life is very uncertain, yet multitudes are hazarding their souls upon the uncertainty of that life, under an inward belief which they would not dare to express, that somehow or other they are sure not to die just yet. What is such security but a vain thought? Does it not strike you, dear friends, when a man is eighty, eighty-eight, ninety, that surely he cannot expect to get through another year? As a reasonable man he must reckon that he is soon to die. Not at all. He is often the man who thinks least about death, and if you introduce the topic he does not like the conversation and starts you on another tack. Many who are younger than they do not like you to mention anything about advanced age or growing old. You must talk of these old sheep as if they were still lambs, or they will not like it: speak plain truth about their years, and they are offended. If you want an old man to move quickly out of the road when you are driving always cry, “Move on, my lad,” and he feels complimented, and moves directly, because there is in him a joy in being thought young, and an aversion to the idea of his being old. This is ridiculous. You smile, and you may well smile, for it is a folly, but yet how common a folly. Why, when a man is of ripe age, or a woman either, why should they not know it and let it be known? Why should they not number their days and keep the reckoning before their own minds? If all things are right with you and me, the older we are the better. Some one said to a Christian man, “What is your age?” and he replied, “I am on the right side of seventy.” They found out that he was seventy-five, and they said, “You told us you were on the right side of seventy.” “So I am,” he answered; “that is the right side, for it is the side which is nearest heaven, my blessed home.” Why should not all Christians think so? They do think so when they judge rightly; for they joyfully sing—

“Here in the body pent,
Absent from him I roam,
Yet nightly pitch my moving tent
A day’s march nearer home.”

If a day’s march is worth singing about, is not a year’s journey nearer home a theme for still greater delight? Should we try to make out that we have so much longer to stay in exile— so much longer ere we shall see the face of the Well-Beloved— so much longer ere, like heirs that have come at age, we shall enter on our divine inheritance?

     My hearers, drive out these vain thoughts about not dying? I will lead the way for you. I am as likely to die to-night as any other man upon the face of this earth. You, too, my friend, may as likely never see another Sunday as anyone else. You tell me, you do not know that you have any special disease, and, indeed, I hope you have not; but we all carry something about us in which death can fix his arrow. Depend upon it that the seeds of mortality are in every constitution. I have met with one man — nay, with two men— who do not believe that they shall die; but as they get very much older, and one of them stoops very much, I am under the impression that they will die: and I pray anybody here who thinks that such an idea is a folly to remember that it is a minor form of the same folly to say, “I shall not die just yet.” You may as well say, “I shall not die at all,” for it leads to the same practical conclusion; death at a distance influences us very little more than no death at all. You may die at any moment; and what, my dear hearer, if at this moment while seated in that pew your naked spirit were suddenly to find itself at the bar of God? What would become of you? I charge you by the living God, and by your care about your own soul, do let that thought pass through your mind;— it is a vain thought for me to suppose that I shall have a ten minutes longer life; it is a vain thought to grant myself a lease for another week, for I am a tenant-at-will, and I may be ejected in a moment, so let me get rid of the folly and vanity of carnal security. At this moment the Holy Spirit saith to any one of you who may be presuming upon long life, — “How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?”

     I know another set of thoughts: they are better looking, but they are equally vain, for they promise much and come to nothing: they are vain because they are fruitless. These vain thoughts are like the better order of people in Jerusalem— good people after a sort— that is to say, they really thought that as God threatened them with judgments, they would turn to him. Certainly they would. They had no intention of being hard-hearted. Far from it; they owned the power of the prophet’s appeal; they felt a degree of awe in the presence of the just God as he threatened them, and of course they meant— they meant to wash their hearts, and they meant to put away all their forbidden practices; not just yet, but by-and-by. They would not wait very long: of course not. A long delay would be very dangerous, but they might safely tarry a little longer. They had an engagement which would take them into worldly company, and so they must wait till that was over; and they had formed close connections which they could not very well break, and so religion must be regretfully postponed for a more convenient season. They were engrossed in a certain business which they could not easily get out of for a term of years; but they would— oh, they would— certainly; certainly they would attend to God and their souls. Though they did not say so in words, yet their faces appealed to the preacher pleadingly, — “Do not press us too much just now. We are honest people; we acknowledge the bill. Let it run a little longer. We do not mean to break away from the demands of God by any manner of means; we quite intend to comply with them at a near date, but not to-day. Oh, no, we do not deny the Scriptures: do not think that we are infidels. We do not doubt the love of Christ to men, or the power of his gospel; we hope to feel it in a little while. “They mean to enjoy the love of God one of these days, and they hope to wind up their lives in a saintly manner. They feel rather pleased with themselves because they are so good as to resolve; if it be not virtue itself which they possess, yet the resolve to possess it flatters them into great notions of themselves. It is a great deal to be able to get so far as good resolutions, so they think. Well, now, my friend, has not that been the style of your thought for a great many years? Did not you think like that when you were a child— when you were yet fresh to the ways of religion, and had not yet learned so much of other ways as you have now? Do you not remember those early impressions— those tears at night, those childlike cries to Jesus, your mother’s Saviour? Yes, you do recollect them: and there were times not so very long ago when all came back to you, and you sat in the house of God trembling, and wishing you could get to your chamber and bow your knees in prayer. You were on the borders of Immanuel’s land, and there was only a step between you and life. You wished that the step was taken, but, still — well, there was a reason why it should not be taken just yet: and so you dared to bid the Lord wait your leisure, as if he were a beggar at your door to whom you were under no obligation. Alas for this constant delaying! Where will it land you? I see upon your head the signs of age, but you are not yet born to God. Your eyes are failing, you want spectacles; but you have not yet looked unto Jesus. Years have followed years, and the record of your sin is a long roll written on both sides, and you are resolving still, and making up your mind still, to something very good— still hoping that the right time is coming, only you must wait a little longer.

     Now, the Lord says, “How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?” for they are all vain— these delays, these false promises, these self-deceptions. How long shall it be that they shall throng the avenues of your soul and curse your spirit?

     In some, who I hope are saved, their vain thoughts lie in a similar direction: they trust that they have believed, but they are slow to obey their Lord in publicly avowing their discipleship. They know that the gospel has two precepts— “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” or, in other words, “He that with his heart believeth, and with his mouth maketh confession of him, shall be saved.” They resolve that they will one of these days make a confession of their faith; such is their fixed intention, but the time is not yet come, for at present they are filled with questionings as to their condition. They once felt sure that they had faith. Had they confessed it then, that certainty might have continued. They have so long kept in abeyance their obedience to their Lord that they begin now to question, and perhaps rightly, whether they have really believed. The Lord Jesus has said, “He that confesseth me before men, him will I confess before my Father which is in heaven. “But, then, somebody would laugh at them: they would have a cross to carry, and this hinders them, and they postpone obedience to an indefinite period. Jesus Christ says, "He that taketh not up his cross, and followeth not after me, is not worthy of me”; but they mean if they can to find a by-path, so as not to go along the king’s highway and pay toll at the gates, or be met by the king’s officers, or be seen by the king’s enemies. They will, if they can, creep under a hedge when the battle begins, and so escape the perils of the fight. Their religion gives them the courage of a rat behind the wainscot, and no more. They do not come out except it is at night, when nobody sees them. But this cowardice is not intended to last for ever: they are going to be very brave one of these days: you shall see them performing great exploits. They intend before very long openly to say, "I am on the Lord’s side”; they will come forward and display their colours; they will be the bravest of the brave; only not just yet. Another time for seeing the church-officers with reference to union with the church will pass away, and another, and another, and yet they will be no nearer the point of decision. Their resolutions are vain thoughts, and so I put the question, “How long?” Do fix some time or other. Do not for ever remain a trifler with God, and his church, and his command. “How long shall thy vain thoughts”—thy ineffectual promises of obedience to Christ— “lodge within thee?”

     Now, I shall come closely home to some here whom I love in the Lord if I say that resolutions to be very useful, prayerful, and holy are often little better than vain thoughts, because they are encumbered with procrastination. There are many who love the Lord, who have never done much for him because the time of figs is not yet. Leaves, and leaves only, have they produced. They are live branches of the vine, although they have not brought forth many grapes; but they cheer themselves with the persuasion, that one of these days— they do not know quite when— they will bring forth clusters as famous as those of Eshcol, though hitherto they have been poor specimens of Christian professors; their mind is made up to rise to a higher life ; they will grow in grace; they will give more time to Bible-reading and prayer; they will live nearer to God; they will grow quite strong Christians; and when that happens then they are going to do some great thing— I do not know quite what form their resolution is to take; but they will do something extraordinary. They will enter the Sunday-school and bring scores of little children to the Saviour’s feet. They will commence a class for young men: the class is sure to grow, and out of it many will come to build up the church of God. They will become fathers or mothers in Israel, and their children will be many: or they are going to preach at the village stations, draw large congregations, and lead hundreds to the Saviour. They are going to serve the Lord by personal exertion, or to give to the cause of God very largely of their substance. It has been on their hearts a long time to be bountiful benefactors to the poor, to the church at home, and to missionaries abroad. They have not given much yet; but before long they intend to overflow like gushing fountains which send forth rivers of water. They are resolving: when will they come to acting? Dear brothers and sisters, if we had any of us done about half what we thought we should do, we should have been tolerably fruitful branches of the vine; but we spend so much of our time in this proposing, and then proposing again, that we have little left for the actual performance of anything. We dream with our eyes open, not at night when we are asleep, and are being really refreshed, but in the day when our dreaming does no good, but merely flatters us into a good opinion of ourselves. These are vain thoughts, for the Lord deserves to be really served. Not with imaginary blood were you redeemed; nor with imaginary fruit can you reward your Saviour’s love. Not with imaginary woes, nor with a painted death upon a painted cross, did Christ ransom us from hell, and do we think to reward him with proposals, and plans, and schemes, and fancies, and hopes, and resolves? Is this thy kindness to thy friend? Some men brood so long over their future intentions that they all of them become addled eggs, and nothing whatever is hatched. Oman, “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it,” do it, do it “with thy might.” Do not leave it for somebody else to do when you are dead. Many make up their minds that a great thing shall be done — when they die. When they cannot hold their money any longer, then they will give it up— a wonderful sacrifice to God! but he that would serve God acceptably determines, “I will give him of my substance while it is mine, and not when it is my heir’s.” My dear friend, I would have you regret your idleness. It is infinitely better to get to work, and perform the little which you are able to do; to give the Lord your service while you can serve him than that you should have to lie upstairs trying to amuse yourself or quiet the upbraidings of a guilty conscience by proposing to do great things, which you could not accomplish if you were to set about them, and which, indeed, you will never even so much as attempt.

     I have thus mentioned to you several groups of bad lodgers, of whom the text says, “How long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee?” “How long,” says God to every Christian here that has loitered, lingered, hesitated— “how long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee?” Perform at once the doing of that which you have resolved, if indeed the resolve is such as you ought to have made. God help you by his sacred Spirit to lead a practical life, and not a dreamy one.

     II. Now, secondly, let me show WHAT BAD LODGERS THEY ARE. Vain thoughts get admittance into our heads and hearts, and there they make themselves at home, and do mischief without end. They run upstairs and downstairs, and all over the house, and they multiply every day; but they are dreadful pests, the worst lodgers the soul can harbour.

     For, first, they are deceitful. The man that says, “When I have a more convenient season I will send for thee,” does not send for Paul any more: he never intended to do so. A man says, “To-morrow”; but to-morrow never comes. When that comes which would have been “to-morrow” it is “to-day”; and then he cries, “To-morrow,” and so multiplies lies before God. What deceptiveness it is on the part of any man who knows to do good and does it not, that he should think to put off God with empty promises. Now, listen to that: “To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” “Sin.” That is God’s word, not mine. But you ask me, “To him that knoweth to do good, and truly intends to do it, does not the intention remove the sin?” I answer decidedly, No. “To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” So long as he refuses to do what he knows to be right he is sinning, and every minute that he delays heaps up another sin, and so the sin multiplies like money that is borrowed at compound interest; the amount of guilt runs up, and you never know what it comes to. Delay in performing duty is the most mischievous evil, doing infinite damage to the heart in which it lodges, because it defiles it with falsehood upon falsehood, and thus provokes the Most High. Oh, I would turn such a lodger as that out. David said, “He that telleth lies shall not tarry in my house.” Do not suffer these vain thoughts to lodge a day longer; for they disgrace you, and place you in jeopardy.

     Vain thoughts are bad lodgers, for they pay no rent; they bring in nothing good to those who entertain them. There is the lodger of self-righteousness, for instance: what good does self-righteousness ever do to the man who entertains it? It pretends to pay in brass farthings: it pretends to pay, but the money is counterfeit. What good does it do to any man to harbour in his mind the empty promise of future repentance? It often prevents repentance. I would rather hear a man say straight out, “Now, look here: I never mean to repent or believe, my mind is made up as to that matter.” This, at least, is truthful: that man will, perhaps, change his mind, or God will change it. But that other man — the soft, putty-like being, the india-rubber man, squeeze him; pull him out; force him together again; do what you will with him; he gets back into his old shape. There is no solid stuff in him; you cannot make anything of him. These irresolute men, “unstable as water,” cannot excel; they are neither good for use nor for ornament; and we have plenty of this class: are you one of them, my friend? If so, God help you to get rid of these bad lodgers of instability, self-sufficiency, and constantly promising, because they pay no rent, And so you Christian people who are always on the verge of being splendid, you members of churches who are always going to be generous, who are quite certain that you shall be useful, only you never are, what profit has ever come to God or yourself from this continued hesitation? Let such a lodger as that depart at once, for the longer he lingers the more will you lose by him.

     The next reason for the ejectment of these lodgers is this: that they are wasting your goods and destroying your property. For instance, every unacted resolution wastes time, and that is more precious than gold. It also wastes thought, for to think of a thing and to leave it undone is a waste of reflection. It is a waste of energy to be energetic about merely promising to be energetic; it is a great waste of strength to be for ever resolving to be strong, and yet to remain weak. You screw yourself up to the sticking -point, and you are going to be holy, and yet never are so; you mean to turn to God, and yet never do. Why, you are wasting time; you are wasting thought; you are wasting opportunity; you are wasting the gospel under which you sit. These bad lodgers are causing you such daily loss that before long you will be utterly ruined unless you can cleanse your house of them. You cannot afford to give them shelter: send them packing at once.

     Worse than their damaging your house, they are damaging you. Bad lodgers will break your windows, burn your shutters, pull down your wainscots, and do a thousand spiteful things. When they will neither pay nor go, they will do all the mischief they can: and thus do vain thoughts— foolish, ineffectual thoughts— work us grievous ill; for the man that resolves and does not carry out the resolve grows in irresolution. He that yesterday said he would, but to-day does not, may to-day say he will, but there will not be so much strength in his resolve as there was in that of yesterday; and he failed yesterday, and he is still more certain to fail now. A man that has been ten years making up his mind to think about eternity is ten degrees less likely to do so. A man who has had ten years’ sermons earnestly driven at him, and yet they have not penetrated him, is as one that has been ten years hammered on the anvil, and is just so much the harder. O God, how are men hardened, besotted, befooled, and enslaved by vain thoughts? How long will you let these lodge within you? Shall they remain till they have plundered you of heart and hope, and left your mind a wreck and ruin?

     Worst of all, these vain thoughts are bad lodgers because they bring you under condemnation. There have been times when to entertain certain persons was treason, and many individuals have been put to death for harbouring traitors. Rebels condemned to die have been discovered in a man’s house, and he has been condemned for affording them a hiding-place. Now, God declares that these vain thoughts of yours are condemned traitors. Are you going to harbour them any longer? If a lodger came to your house, and after a while a policeman called and said, “You let your front room, I think?” “Yes.” “What kind of a person is your lodger, and what is his business?” I think after one or two visits of that kind you would say to your lodger, “I shall be obliged if you will go somewhere else,” for you would not enjoy the idea of having a suspected person within your doors. Nobody does. Now, these vain thoughts, these self-righteous thoughts, these boastings in self, they are something more than suspected : they have been judged, and condemned to die ; and, oh, let not your heart become a haunt for things that God abhors: and when he sends a summons, as he does to-night in the words of the text, “ How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?” oh, that God would grant you grace to drive out the Canaanites, who will dwell in the land as long as ever they can find a den to hide in. Let Beddome’s hymn be your prayer: —

“Astonish’d and distress’d,
I turn mine eyes within:
The seat of every sin.

“What crowds of evil thoughts,
What vile affections there!
Envy and pride, deceit and guile,
Distrust and slavish fear.

“Almighty King of saints,
These tyrant lusts subdue;
Drive the old serpent from his seat,
And all my powers renew.
This done, my cheerful voice
Shall loud hosannas raise;
My soul shall glow with gratitude,
My lips proclaim thy praise.”

     III. That brings me to my closing head, which is, LET USSEE WHAT TO DO WITH THESE BAD LODGERS.

     The first thing is to give them notice to quit at once. Let there be no waiting. When a man is converted it is done at once. There may be a long process by which he comes up to it, and there may be a long succession of light-breakings before he gets clear about it; but there is a turning-point. There is a line, thin as a razor’s edge, which divides death from life, a point of decision which separates the saved from the lost. Did you ever notice in our Lord’s parable of the prodigal son the decision of the repenting one? He said, “I will arise and go unto my father”; and he arose and came to his father, and, as I heard a quaint divine say, he did not give his master a day's notice. The narrative tells us that he had joined himself to a citizen of that country, who had sent him into the fields to feed swine. He ran off there and then, just as he was. If he had gone to see his master and had said, “Sir, I am obliged to go home and see my father,” or if he had stopped to clean himself,— if he had stopped to purchase better linen, and a fairer suit of clothes before he went home, he would have died of hunger at the swine-trough. But, instead of that, he did the right thing: he ran for his life directly; and that is what you must do. “Well, I shall, I hope,” says one. You never will, my friend, if you get no farther than that. It must be done at once. And, possibly, it is “now or never,”— ere the clock tick again. Wilt thou have Christ, and go to heaven, or thy sins and go to hell? Quick! Sharp! God help thee to answer aright, for on that answer may hang eternal things. I believe that it is always so. Men decide at once, or not at all. It was so with me. I was thinking, as I stood up here to preach, that this is just the kind of weather in which I found the Saviour. Some did not come out that morning, it snowed so hard; but I had a heavy heart, and I wanted to lighten it; and I went out to the place of worship, and when I heard the gospel, and he that preached it said to me, “Look! Look, young man! Look, now!” I did there and then look to Jesus, else had I never looked. When the word came to me, immediately I received it. There is one heavy knock sometimes at a man’s door, and he must open then, or no other knock may come. I think that somebody has come in here to-night that in God’s name I may give that knock at his heart; and if the door be opened, and he says, “Come in, blessed Saviour,” then it shall be well. The first thing, then, is to give notice to quit to all self-righteousness. Away with it! Away with it! What a fool I was ever to have any! All self-confidence— away with it! I had better lean on a broken reed than lean on myself. To all delays— to all hopes that I shall live another week— away with them! Away with them! I have no ground for such hopes. Away with them. Quit, quit, vain thoughts. Oh, that they would go at the bidding!

     Suppose that these vain thoughts will not go just when you bid them begone. I will tell you what to do to get rid of them: starve them out. Lock the door, and let nothing enter upon which they can feed. I would have you unconverted people say, “We confess that we have fed our vain thoughts, but now we will not go where they can get food. We will not go to ungodly amusements, nor into evil company, nor will we talk with idlers on our way home.” Send into your heart what you know vain thoughts cannot be nourished upon, what will be poison to them. Give them God’s Word. Read it and study it, and cry to God to have mercy upon you. Do nothing which will help these vain thoughts to live.

     I will tell you a secret, and then I have done. The best way in all the world that I know of to get rid of vain thoughts out of your house— these bad lodgers that have gone in and that you cannot get out— is to sell the house over their heads. Let the house change owners. When you have done that, you know, it will be the new owner that will have the trouble of turning them out; and he will do it. I recommend every sinner here that wants to find salvation to give himself up to Christ. Come out, you vain thoughts. They will not come out. Notice to quit we give you; and they will not go. Now we will tell them something that will change the nature of the struggle. Lord Jesus, I trust thee to be my Saviour from every form of evil; and I am not my own now, for thou hast bought me with a price. Ah, now the stronger than they are has come, and he will bind the strong ones, and he will fling them out of window, and so break them to pieces with their fall that they shall never be able to crawl up the stairs again. He knows how to do it. He can expel them; you cannot.

     Oh, that you might have grace now to give your whole nature to your Creator and Redeemer! Give the house over to a new owner, and let him come, and he will drive them out, and he himself will come and live there, and his divine Spirit will come and fill every chamber with his own presence, and there shall be no fear that these bad lodgers shall ever come back again.

     God bless this simple word to many, for his name’s sake. Amen.



The Golden Lamp and its Goodly Lessons

By / Jun 22

The Golden Lamp and its Goodly Lessons 

 

“And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep, and said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: and two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.
“And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves? And he answered me and said, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then said he, These are the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”— Zechariah iv. 1— 3; 12— 14.

 

THE prophet, as he tells us in the introduction to his vision, had to be awakened by the angel as one is awakened out of his sleep. His mind was dull and heavy; perhaps he was weary and worn. Do you not often feel a similar lethargy, from which you need to be roused before your minds are equal to the study of those truths which God is revealing to your souls? May it not then be well, at the commencement of our meditation, to pray the Lord to waken us as a man is wakened out of his sleep? A divinely mysterious power can brood over us and quicken us soul out of languor. Have you never felt it? “Or ever I was aware my soul made me like the chariots of Ammi-nadab.” I had been slow before, but when the Spirit came, then was fulfilled that ancient proverb, “Draw me, and I will run after thee.” The touch of the Holy Spirit makes our faculties strong, our powers of thought are greatly enlarged, and we get the key of mysteries which we never had been able to unlock before. Come, blessed Spirit, then, to each one of thy slumbering children at this good hour, and arouse us, that we may see what thou wouldst set before' us. Like young Samuel, whom thou didst call in his sleep, we would each one heartily say, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.”

     Beloved friends, we live in a world which is naturally shrouded in darkness. The “prince of this world,” “the prince of the power of the air” is a dark spirit loving ignorance and sin. This darkness hovers over all the world as it did over Egypt: a darkness that might be felt is upon the souls of men. We sometimes fear that this gloom will thicken into an awful midnight. When we mix up with men in the ordinary avocations of life, and hear their profane language; when we see the angry passions, the earthly propensities, and the worldly policies that prevail among people who are held in repute among their fellow-creatures, if we are children of God ourselves we cannot fail to be distressed that the world should still be so benighted and so destitute of that knowledge which purifies the heart. Nearly nineteen hundred years have passed since the blessed feet of our divine Master touched this globe, and yet it still smokes beneath the hoof of the wicked one. The sun has risen on this Egypt, and yet a miserable midnight covers the guilty people. We are apt, therefore, to become somewhat desponding, lest the light of the knowledge of God should gradually wane, till at length it shall utterly die out. What, then, would become of the world? If the one golden candlestick were taken out of its place, if those who are the light of the world should all be removed, and if the sure word of prophecy, which is like unto a light that shineth in a dark place, should become extinct, what then would be the horrible darkness?

     Now, I think the vision of Zechariah may remove all fear on that score. Rest ye well assured that the pharos which God hath lighted to guide men across the boisterous sea and preserve them from the peril of eternal shipwreck shall have its lamps trimmed throughout all time. Until the “Sun of righteousness” shall rise, that lantern shall never go out, for the Lord will take care that the light shall still shine notwithstanding all that the powers of darkness may do or devise to extinguish it. This one thought I beseech you so to grasp that it may strengthen your faith and comfort your hearts: the light of God’s grace has been kindled never to be quenched. To this end I invite your attention to the interesting parable contained in the marvellous vision which Zechariah the prophet beheld and described.

     I. First, turn aside and see this great sight. Look, I beseech you, at THE WONDERFUL LAMP WHICH GOD HAS PROVIDED TO LIGHT THE SONS OF MEN. “He said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to his seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof.” Here is a candlestick that must challenge the notice of all who gaze at it, for it is of costly material and curious form, the work of wisdom, fitted for the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. It resembles the candlestick whose pattern Moses received from God, and yet in some respects it differs therefrom, as we shall see.

     The object is scarcely more remarkable than its position. Note that it stood in the open. Under the old covenant the candlestick stood within curtains where only priestly eyes might see it: from the mass of the people it was hidden. We are very apt to think that, because the Jewish ritual was full of symbols, the worship of the people must have been of so materialistic a character that there was little or nothing to raise the soul to spiritual adoration of the invisible One. But it was not so: to the average Israelite there was little more of symbol than to us. Although it is true that within the holy place there were many symbols, yet there were very few of God’s people who ever saw one of them, and most probably we ourselves know far more about the types than the Jews fever did. The worship was not visible to the camp, for it was within an enclosed space; and when the people were settled in Canaan the actual temple area could only hold a few of the vast multitudes who inhabited the land. Within the holy place of all, the “Holy of Holies,” no man ever entered except the high-priest, and he but once in the year, so that they who worshipped God in the further parts of Palestine would for the most part not even see the Tabernacle or the Temple, and when they did go up to Jerusalem they rather believed that the symbols were inside behind the veil than enquired for the furniture and sacred vessels as if they might be allowed to inspect them. Their worship had less of the visible about it than we are apt to imagine: for most of the material emblems were simply certified to them by testimony, and not otherwise verified to their senses.

     Then, as if to let us know that the light of God did not yet fully shine among men, and that the fulness of grace and truth had not been yet revealed, seeing Christ had not come, the seven-branched golden candlestick stood out of sight of the mass of the people, shut in within the curtains, enclosed within the holy place. But the lamp which Zechariah saw was in the open air; about this we are quite clear, because he saw two olive trees growing, one on each side of it. It was, therefore, in an open space. To-day, beloved, “the veil of the temple is rent in twain.” What was mystery before has become plain to us now. Now we see Jesus, and, seeing Jesus, we behold a light such as never greeted the eyes of prophets and kings. Though they longed to behold it they died without the sight. Let us take care that we keep this lamp in the open: do not let us suffer anyone to shut it up. Let the gospel be preached plainly to the masses of the people. Let the adorable name of Jesus Christ be proclaimed in your street corners. In every place where you can have access to the sons of men let it be known that there is salvation in none other, but by him, all that believe shall obtain the forgiveness of sins. Some would cover up the golden lamp with ceremonial observances, and others would hide it away under philosophical quibbles and theological jargon; but be it yours to be a “city set on a hill that cannot be hid,” and what is said to you in secret that speak ye in the light: what you learn in closets that publish ye aloud upon the housetops. Lift up the beacon that it may flame afar all over the land and across the sea: let the blaze of gospel light flare out till dwellers in the utmost parts of the earth shall ask, “What is this light? From whence doth it come?” and you shall answer, “It is the candlestick of the Lord once hidden amongst the peculiar people, but now set out before the nations in Christ Jesus; once concealed under type and emblem, but now made manifest by him who speaketh no more by parable, but telleth us plainly of the Father.”

     Note, next, that it was a lamp of pure gold. This is a fact of much significance. We are emphatically told that it was a “candlestick all of gold.” The major vessels of the tabernacle were all of gold, and this I think indicates that the lamp which God has kindled is of the most precious kind. The church, which may be said to represent this candlestick, is as God hath made it, of pure gold. Those who are united together in the fellowship of the church of God on earth should be a holy people, precious in the sight of the Lord, as gold is precious among metals. There should be no admixture of dross and tin, no careless reception of carnal men and mere formalists, but those who are elect of God, precious in his sight, and honourable. God’s chosen should be choice men. The lamp which holds the golden light should itself be of gold. The Lord will not use an unholy church to be his light-bearer, and where there is an apostasy as to doctrine, an absence of spiritual life, or a defection as to holiness of conduct, he will not use such a church, lest his holy name be polluted among men. His candlestick is all of pure gold; his people are a “peculiar people,” “sanctified unto himself,” “zealous of good works.” If any who seem to be religious delight themselves in sin, if they fail in purity, they have no power to give light; and because of their depravity they are as spots in our solemn feasts, and mists that dim the brightness of our shining. Ungodly churches are not the candles of the Lord. If men find pleasure in unrighteousness, they exert an influence baneful as the shadow of death. How can light shine from them while they serve the prince of darkness? What a mercy it is that God hath set up a church in the world, which shall bear testimony to his name, and shall scatter the light abroad, because his grace makes and keeps it “holiness unto the Lord”! Let us love the church of God. We must never think that any one congregation, or any thousand congregations, can comprise the whole of that church. It is not for us to say, “The temple of the Lord are we.” God forbid. He has a people scattered up and down throughout the whole earth; he has a remnant even amongst churches which err from the faith, who still have kept their garments unspotted from the world, “And they shall be mine, saith the Lord, in the day when I make up my jewels.” Let us pray for the church militant, the entire body of his elect, the redeemed of the Lord, the quickened of the Spirit, the called out ones, the true ecclesice, the assemblies of the Lord; for these are they that are his candlesticks, standing in the open as a “city set upon a hill that cannot be hid,” holding forth the word of life, that all who see the church in its life, and the church in its testimony, may behold the light of God.

     This wonderful candlestick, all of gold, you will observe, is lit with golden oil. Such is the expression used in our text. At the twelfth verse, we read, “Which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves.” The quality of the oil is, doubtless, here commended, for I suppose it means the very best possible oil, of a rich golden colour, and in value, in splendour, in purity, and in clearness excellent beyond all praise. This represents that precious doctrine, that golden truth, that fulness of gospel grace which keeps alive the light of the church of God. Or may it not remind us of the Divine Spirit, who, coming into his church, and imparting to her the golden oil of his graces and gifts, enables her to maintain her brilliance of testimony, and to scatter her light among the sons of men. The Holy Spirit is also the flame by which the oil is kindled and made to bum and give its light: and thus we have truth on a blaze with sacred fervour, sound doctrine united with intense zeal, and all because the Spirit of truth is present and reveals himself at the same time as the Spirit of power. We will say of this golden oil that it is the truth, the living and incorruptible word of God. This is the oil which the church must burn, and with this she must trim her lamps. No strange doctrines, no vain traditions, no scientific conjectures, no poetical reveries, no thoughts of men, no excogitations of human brains, but the revealed Word of God, the truth as Jesus Christ has given it to us, the truth as the Holy Ghost has revealed it in the sacred Book, the truth as he brings it home with divine power to our understanding and conscience. This it is that we must use, and we must take care that if we have it we empty it out of ourselves into the golden pipes, that they may never be without sacred oil to keep the flame alive. Precious beyond all conception is the truth! God will not be served with falsehood, but in truth is his delight. Take care that you bring nothing here but the best of the best, nothing but the unadulterated olive oil of revelation. What blunders and mistakes we make in the management of our own business! Should not this make us very careful in doing the work of the Lord that we do it not in a slovenly manner, and so provoke him to anger. Dear brothers and sisters, I hope we desire to be clean before God as to his truth. I pray you not to trifle with it. Never tack with the wind of public opinion, but watch if need be while the world lasts, and wait for the fulfilment of God’s word, and be sure that it shall surely come to pass. Though you may well be tolerant of error in others, since you are so liable to it yourselves, yet be jealous of your own hearts, and keep out of them every false doctrine. “Contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.” If there be any adulteration of the oil the lamps will burn but dimly, peradventure they will go out.

     This golden lamp shone with a sevenfold brightness. There were seven lamps to this golden candlestick, and there were seven pipes to the seven lamps; and as some read it, there were seven pipes to each one of these lamps, so that it gave seven times the light that the old lamp of the temple ever gave. The suggestion has been hazarded that there were seven times seven pipes, and the Hebrew might allow of such a translation. At any rate there was seven times more light given by this mystic lamp seen by Zechariah than had ever been given by the candlestick of the old dispensation. God has given ns light enough to flood the world with day in the generous gospel that is preached among all nations.

     The light of the law all but blinded the dim eyes of the Jew, but oh, the light of the gospel! How it has sometimes overpowered all our senses! Saul of Tarsus tells us that when about noon, suddenly there shone a great light round about him, he fell to the earth. So, too, many of us can testify, that when the glory of God in the salvation of a lost sinner first flashed upon our souls we were so amazed that no strength remained in us. “Dissolved by his goodness we fell to the ground, and wept to the praise of the mercy we found.” Overpowering was the effect when the brilliance of gospel light beamed upon our weak eyes at first, and even now, though the Lord hath strengthened our spiritual sight, so that we rejoice in the light, it is still at times more than we can bear. What a glory it has! Vain men ask us to delight ourselves with the sparks they have kindled! Let it suffice that our light renders all the flashes of natural joy things too dim to notice. They tell us of something new they have thought out. To their apprehension, no doubt, it seems very wonderful. They may strike their matches and light their candles, if they will: we are more than satisfied with the eternal sun. You may bring your ancient lamps from Rome; you may fetch your tapers from Oxford and the Anglican imitators of Rome, but the lamp which the Holy Ghost hath kindled by the Divine Word is better than all the glare of antichrist. This despised book has seven times more light than all the Solons of antiquity or all the savans of modern times. There is none like it. Only have eyes to see it, and you shall rejoice in this light. It is the light of God himself. Spread it then if you have it, and let it shine in your families; let it shine on the town or city where you dwell; let it shine all over the earth; for there is no such light as the light of the eternal gospel, “the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Oh that all saw it, and loved it, and lived in it.

     II. Thus have I spoken about the wonderful lamp. Now, I ask those of you who love the study of God’s word to follow me a little in considering the description that is given of THE COMPLETE MACHINERY, THE PERFECT APPARATUS, PROVIDED FOR THIS LAMP. If you notice, it was a “Candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: and two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.” We do not read anything about pipes and bowls in the old temple lamp. I suppose that each one of its seven lights had to be fed distinctly and separately by the officiating priest with a separate portion of oil; but in this case there seems to have been a bowl at the top of the seven branches into which the golden oil first entered, and from which it flowed out again, and thus each of the branch lights was fed. At any rate, you see that a complete apparatus was provided and is described. The details are given. The pipes, bowl, and so on were all arranged with exquisite precision. Correspondingly in the church of God we ought to pay much attention to detail. I do not think we look to it half as much as we should. If the lamps are to be kept trimmed, you must attend to the pipes, and you must see to the golden oil. We ought each man to think, “Now, I have something to do to keep this candlestick in proper order; I have something to do with keeping this lamp burning.” One man may be compared, as it were, to the bowl because he yields much of the light of intelligence and instruction, communicating knowledge and counsel to the church of God; another is a pipe to the Sunday-school; and yet another golden pipe runs to the young men’s class; one is a pipe to the poor and ignorant in the streets, another to the sick, another is a golden pipe to those who are at home with their families. There is some point to which each one in Christ’s church may help to conduct the golden oil to keep the blessed flame of truth ever burning in this dark world. I want you, brethren and sisters, to look one and all of you after the details of church work. Especially in a church of such magnitude as this, with such a multiplicity of agencies, attention to detail is most requisite. What can one overseer do? What could twenty pastors do? It is impossible if you leave this work entirely to us that it will ever be properly discharged. Oh no. Let each member have its own office in the body, even as each, pipe had its own oil to carry to the one light of the candlestick which it had to supply. Do not get out of your place, do not interfere with other people’s service; do your own work, and see that it is well done, and then look over all the church and pray the Lord to supervise the whole, so that the golden bowl and the golden pipes may all be in full operation.

     Of this machinery which is thus mentioned in detail there seems to have been an abundance. If there were seven pipes to each one of the lights of the lamp (and I think it was so), there could have been no lack of service. So, beloved friends, we must mind that the church in her machinery is ever kept abundantly supplied. We ought not to be slack in our labours nor scanty in our equipments. The everlasting gospel should be promulgated with great energy and varied service. Little oil will mean little light; little grace will mean little work for God and little glory to his blessed name. But let us endeavour to make every arrangement more effective. The light might not be extinguished even in one pipe: to the completeness of the divine design every light must be in good order. Be it our aim to keep the seven pipes constantly flowing and feeding so as to convey a sevenfold measure of oil, that the light may burn steadily on from hour to hour till the Lord comes.

     This apparatus still further suggests to us the idea of unity. As I have already said, there were seven distinct lights to the old lamp of the Jewish sanctuary, and these could be individually filled; but here they are all one. One bowl is filled with oil, and from it the oil runs down the pipes to each of the lights. So is there unity in the church. We all suffer if one suffers; we are all the better if one is in a prosperous condition. No man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. Though I speak of myself now as a fool, yet, it is true, if I decline in grace I injure all of you more or less, and you also in some measure exert a like influence upon me, though not to the same extent, because you do not occupy the same public station. Every member of the church who grows poor in grace impoverishes all the rest in some degree. We act and react upon each other. I am sure the preacher can do injury to the hearer, and the hearer can in measure injure the preacher. Let your grace decline, and your prayerfulness be restrained, and the pastor must feel the loss, and his ministry will bear melancholy evidence that the Spirit of God is not witnessing mightily amongst us. So instead of one enriching the other we may by sinful neglect mutually endanger our prosperity; nay, we may beggar each other, and become partners in destitution and distress. May it never be so with us, but may we ever prove ourselves to be a warm-hearted, loving, prayerful people, who are so glowing ourselves that we warm up those that are cold, and kindle fresh life in those that are expiring. Then if the whole congregation be consecrated to God, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ gladdens them all, and they are filled with the fruits of righteousness, the minister can never be dull and drowsy; his heart will be aglow with sacred fervour, and his preaching will be resplendent with divine light and fire. The pews will respond to the pulpit. Fire will kindle to a flame, and the flame will kindle fresh fire. Vitality will promote revival; our tone will be spirited and inspiriting. A breath from the four winds will make a stir among the dry bones, and an army shall presently arise. The force of sympathy shall be felt; and by free commerce in all holy gifts our commonwealth will flourish. Oh, may it be so. I know it is desirable, and I feel that it will be attained. Nor is it merely for one church we are thus anxious: all the churches need the same consecration. If one church is dull it injures other churches. All the churches of Jesus Christ are really one, and, as even my little finger cannot be ailing without my head suffering in consequence, so even the smallest church in the most remote village cannot decline without the entire body of the faithful, whether it be known to themselves or not, being losers thereby. Look ye well then to every portion of the apparatus of this golden lamp: watch its details; keep it well trimmed and abundantly supplied; remember its unity, for with all its many pipes it is but one candlestick.

     III. But the most remarkable disclosure in this vision was THE MYSTERIOUS SUPPLY BY WHICH THESE LAMPS ARE KEPT BURNING.

     There were no priests to trim these lamps, nor is mention made of anyone being appointed to keep them in order. No golden snuffers nor golden snuff-dishes were used; nor was any oil brought by any living man to replenish them. That is remarkable. Moreover there is no mention of oil being given by the people. The lamp in the temple was fed by the offerings of the people; they brought the best oil to keep the lamp perpetually burning before the altar. There is nothing of the kind here; that is not the way by which this oil gets to the lamp in the vision before us. Neither by priest nor people is it supplied. But how, then? Why simply by a natural process, without any machinery; for there are two olive branches: “Two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof ”; and these trees in this vision empty the golden oil out of themselves through the two golden pipes, and so the marvellous lamp is kept supplied. It is a very singular picture which is now before you, oil flowing directly from the living tree and at once creating light. Ordinarily, when the olive tree yields its berries, they must be taken to the mill and ground before oil can be produced. I have gone into the olive mill myself and seen the great stones crushing the berries, and I have seen the other processes by which the olive oil is prepared for the lamp; but there is no mention here of any mill, or press, or strainer, or jar, or bottle of oil. The food of this light does not come in that way at all; but the tree grows, and, in a mysterious way imparts its fatness to the bowl of the pipe, and in this way the flame is fed. Thus we are shown that the light of God is not dependent upon human will or human skill. It is an apt illustration of the text we were reading just now which lights up the whole chapter. “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Not by your grinding out your oil by laboriously turning the mill of study, nor by your contributions of wealth, nor by your eloquence and logic, but by divine agency shall living men be raised up, and through these living men shall come the wondrous golden oil of grace, by which the lamp of testimony shall be kept bright, and the darkness of the world shall be overcome.

     At first sight the provision may appear to be inadequate to the purpose. For God to make two olive trees grow by the side of the candlestick seems at first to be a deficient arrangement, because the trees stand out so separate from the lamp that we cannot perceive any connection between them. Had I beheld that vision as the prophet saw it I feel I should have been as perplexed as he was. I should have said, “What be these?” I could not have made it out. Two olive trees growing by the side of a candelabrum! What connection can there be between them and it? But that is the very pith of the vision. You are to be shown the unique manner in which the Lord keeps his church burning and shining without mechanism. He simply raises up chosen men, perhaps only two, sometimes more, who live and grow, and in their life and growth they bring forth, by God’s grace, as from their very souls, the sacred truth, the holy oil with which the lamp of God is kept burning. I suppose that the two olive trees represent in this case Joshua, the high priest, of whom we read that his filthy garments were taken away, and he was clothed with change of raiment; and Zerubbabel, of whom we read in this chapter that his hands had laid the foundation, and his hands; should finish the house. These were the two men whom God strengthened and enabled to set up a standard because of the truth. The Lord qualified them to build the temple that he might be glorified therein. Those two men by divine grace carried out the Lord’s design, moving the people to the sacred service. Joshua was made the ruler and teacher of the people, and Zerubbabel was promised that his hands should lay the top stone, as his hands had laid the foundation of the temple; and this, too, when Judah’s lamp burned dim and her light was well-nigh gone out. These two, though they were nothing in themselves but godly men, who like living trees brought forth fruit unto God, should be the means, according to the appointment of God, of keeping up the sacred testimony so long as they lived. Such means certainly appear insignificant in comparison with the magnificent result to be achieved. But that is God’s way of working. He generally works by ones or twos, and when he uses two he couples them well. In the missions of the Lord’s ordaining we observe Moses and Aaron, Caleb and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Peter and John, Paul and Barnabas, Calvin and Luther, Whitefield and Wesley. Foolish persons rail at a one-man ministry, but what can they say against a two-men ministry? To the end of time there will be two witnesses; representative men will rise in pairs and do the work of the Lord, so as to arouse the whole church. Little as the world may think of them at the time, men do arise whose influence wonderfully displays the power of God, for they are made to stand like olive trees, and by some mysterious means it is through them that the lamp of God is kept burning continuously.

     Of these two men I want you to notice two things. You wonder how it is that God should speak of them as keeping the lamp burning. He does so speak of them, for he says, “These are the two anointed ones, which stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” First remember that they are able to do this because they stand before the Lord of the whole earth. Those whom God chooses to do his work stand as his servants in his sight: they could do nothing of themselves or by themselves, but their testimony comes from God, and their unction is of the Holy One, and they are clothed with divine energy, otherwise they would be weak as the rest of their brethren. Then be sure of this, that they have been anointed: they are said to be “anointed ones.” We have no power to pour forth oil till we have been ourselves anointed: it is not possible that we should feed the holy light until God has wrought in us the will of his own good Spirit. These men are said to have been filled with the Spirit of God, according to the sixth verse: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord.” There is Joshua; you can see him; he is clad in filthy garments! Is this the Lord’s high priest? Is this he that is to instruct the people, the man who wears garments that are old, and soiled, and foul? Yes, that is the man. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts,” and my Spirit shall rest upon this poor Joshua, this brand plucked out of the burning, and he shall teach my people. There is the other man over yonder— Zerubbabel. He is a poor, timid creature. It is the day of small things with him; he has but little confidence. God has to chide him and say, “Who hath despised the day of small things?” But he is the man before whom the mountain shall become a plain; he is the man that shall build the temple of the Lord, because the Spirit of God shall be upon him,— “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” You will always find that when God chooses men to do his work he makes it palpable to everybody that they are nothing but men. Sometimes they have imperfections over which we mourn very much, and over which they mourn far more than we do; but these manifest tokens of their infirmity show more distinctly the infinite skill of him who uses such poor instruments. The frailty of the earthen vessels is made evident, that the excellency of the power which is of God and not of them may be the more conspicuous. So it is with God’s work, for he will have it known that it is not by charm of eloquence, nor by force of reasoning, but by his Spirit, that he operates with resistless power; so he taketh men, poor humble men, that seem no more able to trim the golden lamp than two olive trees would be, and he works by them to the praise of the glory of his grace. Yet these men must be full of faith. “Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain.” I doubt not that Zerubbabel grasped that promise, relied upon it, and rejoiced in it, and proved himself to be a man of faith. God will use us, whatever our faults are, if we have faith. I do not know what use he could make of any man who has no faith. Read the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews, and notice on what strange men God set the seal of his approbation, because they had faith. Samson may be quoted as an extreme case: speaking after the manner of men, we might have thought that God would have set him aside altogether, because there were such serious flaws in his character. Yet he was a great child-man, who, with all his faults, did believe in God, and perhaps believed more in God than many who were far better than he in other respects. With a thousand foemen before him, only think of that one man daring, through his confidence in God, to fling himself upon them all, with no weapon except a poor ass’s jawbone. See, he leaps upon the crowd. “Heaps upon heaps. With the jawbone of an ass have I slain a thousand men.” He never counted the odds. He just went at it, believing that God would help him, however tremendous the struggle might be. So when they put him, blind as he was, into that huge temple of the Philistine gods, where everything was so strong and massive that it could bear up all the Philistine lords up there in the gallery, he begins feeling for the pillars: this poor blind man, whose hair had been shorn, and who had been made a prisoner by his bitter adversaries, feels for the huge columns, believing that God would enable him to snap them like reeds, or rock them to or fro as bulrushes. Oh what a desperate and glorious tug was that! What a transcendent act of faith when he bowed himself with all his might, and pulled the structure down upon the heads of his oppressors! A glorious faith animated him. He was a poor specimen of propriety in many respects: queer stuff he was made of; but there was grandeur in his faith, and that saved him. O my dear brother, if thou canst believe God, God can use thee, but if thou hast no faith, or if thou hast but a weak, trembling faith, thine unbelief will hinder the Lord, and it will be said of thee, “God could not do many mighty works by him, because of his unbelief.” Oh, if we could believe more implicitly, and venture to act more unreservedly on the certainty of the covenanted promises, what exploits we might achieve. The limit of our usefulness is narrowly set by our want of confidence in God. If we had more faith, the harvests we reap, which yield tenfold, might yield fiftyfold, or a hundredfold. With more faith the weakest of us might be as David, and David would be as the angel of the Lord. God grant us his grace that we may so believe, and rely upon his sure word that we may become men fit for his use and profitable for his service.

    One thing more is prominent and unmistakable about these men— these olive-tree men— that fed the lamp and kept it burning,— they ascribed all their success to grace, for it is said that when the top stone of the temple should be brought out there should be shoutings of “Grace, grace, unto it.” If souls are saved, it is always by a ministry of grace. Whatever else is left out in a soul-saving testimony there must be a clear ring as to grace. Election by the grace of the Father, regeneration by the grace of the Holy Ghost, remission of sins by the grace of God through the atoning blood of Jesus: grace beginning, continuing, and perfecting. I like the word “grace” even when it is coupled with an adjective and spoken of as “sovereign grace,” “free grace,” “effectual grace”; and all those whom God will bless must be men that love his grace, and feel his grace, and preach his grace; for this is the very essence of the golden oil by which the lamp is trimmed.

     These men, or rather these trees, emptied out the golden oil “out of themselves.” They did not make the golden oil; it came into them by the miraculous power of God: the process was beyond nature. Men cannot create grace any more than trees could prepare oil of themselves. Olive trees cannot distil oil without a press, nor can men be the means of grace to others unless God shall cause them so to be and then they empty out themselves to a good and gracious purpose.

     Well, dear brethren, if you want to know how to be useful, one of the things that is absolutely necessary is that you empty yourselves out. Do you expect to give anything to another without losing it yourself? You will be mistaken. Take it as a general rule that nothing can come out of you that is not in you, and as a next general rule that it takes something out of you to give something to other people. Paul said he did not merely wish to impart the gospel to the people, but himself also. Though he did not preach himself, yet he was willing to spend and be spent so long as he could bring souls to Christ. I believe the difference between the result of the labour of one man and another is often this, that one gives more out from himself than another. I am acquainted with some very learned brethren of mine who do not feed many people. They are huge barrels of learning, like the Heidelberg tun, and they are full to the brim with the best liquor in the world, but never much comes out. On the other hand, I have never myself been anything but a very small kilderkin, but I let everything run out that is put into me. If you have not ten talents to boast of, turn the one talent you have over and over and over and over again; and you will make far more of it than if you let many talents lie still and rust. Take care that you are actively earnest in the cause of the Master, and a blessing will surely come out of it.

     Oh how it shows the wisdom of God, and the power of God, when he makes simple means produce surprising results; and by feeble instruments compasses his infinite forethoughts. God might have been glorified by doing the work himself, as when of old he stretched forth the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, speaking and it was done. But he is far more glorified by using poor, unworthy creatures for the accomplishment of his divine purposes. When Quintin Matsys made the celebrated well-cover, at Antwerp, it would have been highly creditable to him even if he had used the best of implements to make it with. When we are told, however, that his fellow workmen robbed him of his tools, and that he did it with one common hammer or some such instrument, our estimation of the artist’s skill is greatly enhanced. It is no wonder that the Spirit of God can himself convert souls, the wonder is that he converts men by us. That we who are so imperfect, and so feeble, should become channels of blessing is a great marvel. Those two olive trees might, it was feared, grow in the way of the light, but God made them to be its maintainers. The branches of our infirmity might hide the light from the people’s eyes if grace did not intervene and make every one of them yield its olives, and pour out its measure of oil for the supply of the golden candelabrum.

     Therefore, brothers and sisters, if you have light, shed it; if you have grace, endeavour to impart it. The Lord has blessed you, ask him to bless you more by his Holy Spirit. Let those olive trees, yielding abundance of oil, be your model, that your lively vigour may prove of lasting value to the church. So be the Lord with you henceforth and for ever. Amen and amen.



Maschil of Ethan

By / Jun 22

MASCHIL OF ETHAN:
A MAJESTIC SONG.

 

“I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make
known thy faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, Mercy shall be built up
for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.”— Psalm
lxxxix. 1, 2.

 

THIS psalm is one of the very choicest songs in the night. Midst a stream of troubled thoughts there stands a fair island of rescue and redemption, which supplies standing-room for wonder and worship; while the music of the words, like the murmuring of a river, sounds sweetly in our ears. Read the psalm carefully and it will rouse your sympathy, for he who wrote it was bearing bitter reproach, and was almost broken-hearted by the grievous calamities of his nation. Yet his faith was strong in the faithfulness of God, and so he sang of the stability of the divine covenant when the outlook of circumstances was dark and cheerless. Nor did he ever sing more sweetly than he sang in that night of his sorrow. Greatly doth it glorify God for us to sing his high praises in storms of adversity and on beds of affliction. It magnifies his mercy if we can bless and adore him when he takes as well as when he gives. It is good that out of the very mouth of the burning fiery furnace there should come a yet more burning note of grateful praise. I am told that there is a great deal of relief to sorrow in complaining; that the utterance of our murmurs may sometimes tend to relieve our pain or sorrow. I suppose it is so. Certainly it is a good thing to weep, for I have heard it from the mouth of many witnesses. Most of us have felt that there are griefs too deep for tears, and that a flood of tears proves that the sorrow has begun to abate. But, methinks, the best relief for sorrow is to sing: this man tried it, at any rate. When mercy seems to have departed, it is well to sing of departed mercy. When no present blessing appears it is a present blessing to remember the blessing of the years gone by, and to rehearse the praises of God for all his former mercies towards us. Two sorts of songs we ought to keep up, even if the present appears to yield us no theme for sonnets: the song of the past for what God has done, and the song of the future for the grace we have not tasted yet— the covenant blessings held in the pierced hand, safe and sure against the time to come.

     Brothers and sisters, I want you at this time to feel the spirit of gratitude within your hearts. What though your mind should be heavy, your countenance sad, and your circumstances gloomy; still let the generous impulse kindle and glow. Oh, come, let us sing unto the Lord. It does not seem to me to be much for us to sing God’s praises in fair weather. The shouts of “Harvest home” over the loaded wain are proper, but they are only natural. Who would not sing then? What bird in all the country is silent when the sun is rising, and the dews of spring are sparkling? But the choicest choir charms the stars of night, and no note is sweeter even to the human ear than that which comes from the bare bough amidst the abundant snows of dark winter. O sons of sorrow, your hearts are tuned to notes which the joyful cannot reach: yours is the full compass and swell. You are harps upon which the chief player on stringed instruments can display his matchless skill to a larger degree than upon the less afflicted. I pray he may do so now, by leading you to be first in the song. We must all of us follow, and some of us will not readily yield to be outstripped in this holy exercise. Like Elijah, we will try to run before the king’s chariot in this matter of praise. Accounting ourselves the greatest debtors of all to the grace and mercy of God, we must and will sing loudest of the crowd, and make even

“Heaven’s resounding arches ring
With shouts of sovereign grace.”

     I invite your attention to two things. First, we shall look at the work of the eternal builder— “Mercy shall be built up for ever”; then, secondly, we shall listen to the resolve of an everlasting singer— “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever.”

     I take the second verse first: it is needful for the handling of our subject. You know, in the hook of common prayer the rubric prescribes concerning a certain form of words that it is u to be said or sung.” We will do both. The first part we will have is the verse which begins “I have said”; and then the second part shall be the verse which begins “I will sing” It shall be said and sung too. God grant we may say it in the depth of our heart, and afterwards that our mouth may sing it, and make it known unto all generations. May the Spirit of all grace fill us with his own power.

     I. First, then, let us contemplate THE ETERNAL BUILDER, AND HIS WONDERFUL WORK. “I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever; thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.”

     I can see a vast mass of ruins. Heaps upon heaps they lie around me. A stately edifice has tottered to the ground. Some terrible disaster has occurred. There it lies— cornice, pillar, pinnacle, everything of ornament and of utility, broken, scattered, dislocated. The world is strewn with the debris. Journey where you will the desolation is before your eyes. Who has done this? Who has cast down this temple? What hand has ruined this magnificent structure? Manhood, manhood it is which has been destroyed, and Sin was the agent that effected the Fall. It is man broken by his sin. Iniquity has done it. O thou devastator, what destructions hast thou wrought in the earth! What desolation thou hast made unto the ends of the world! Everywhere is ruin; everywhere is ruin. Futile attempts are made to rebuild this temple upon its own heap, and the Babel towers arise out of the rubbish and abide for a season, but they are soon broken down, and the mountain of decay and corruption becomes even more hopeless of restoration. All that man has done with his greatest effort is but to make a huger display of his total failure to recover his position, to realise his ostentatious plans, or to restore his own fleeting memories of better things. They may build, and they may pile up stone upon stone, and cement them together with untempered mortar, but their rude structure shall all crumble to the dust again, for the first ruin will be perpetuated even to the last. So must it be, for sin destroys all. I am vexed in my spirit and sore troubled as I look at these ruins, fit habitations for the bittern and the dragon, the mole and the bat. Alas for manhood that it should be thus fallen and destroyed!

     But what else do I see? I behold the great original Builder coming forth from the ivory palaces to undo this mischief; and he cometh not with implements of destruction, that he may cast down and destroy every vestige, but I see him advancing with plummet and line, that he may rear, set up, and establish on a sure foundation a noble pile that shall not crumble with time, but endure throughout all ages. He cometh forth with mercy. So “I said” as I saw the vision, “Mercy shall be built up for ever.” There was no material but mercy with which a temple could be constructed among men. What can meet the guilt of human crimes but mercy? What can redress the misery occasioned by wanton transgression but mercy? Mere kindness could not do it. Power alone — even Omnipotence— could not accomplish it. Wisdom could not even commence until Mercy stood at her right hand. But when I saw Mercy interpose I understood the meaning. Something was to be done that would change the dreary picture that made my heart to groan, for at the advent of Mercy the walls would soon rise, until the roof ascended high and the palace received within its renovated glory the sublime architect who reared it. I knew that now there would be songs instead of sighs, since God had come, and come in mercy. Beloved brethren and sisters, blessed was that day when Mercy, the Benjamin of God, his last-born attribute, appeared. Surely it was the son of our sorrow, but it was the son of his right hand. There had been no need of mercy if it had not been for our sin; thus from direst evil the Lord took occasion to display the greatest good.

     When Mercy came— God’s darling, for he saith he delighteth in mercy — then was there hope that the ruins of the Fall would no longer be the perpetual misery of men. I said, “Mercy shall be built up.” Now, if you closely scan the passage you will clearly perceive that the psalmist has the idea of God’s mercy being manifest in building, because a great breach has to be repaired, and the ruins of mankind are to be restored. As for building, it is a very substantial operation. A building is something which is palpable and tangible to our senses. We may have plans and schemes which are only visionary, but when it comes to building, as those know who have to build, there is something real being done, something more than surveying the ground and drawing the model. And oh, what real work God has done for men! What real work in the gift of his dear Son! The product of his infinite purpose now becomes evident. He is working out his great designs after the counsel of his own will. What real work there is in the regeneration of his people. That is no fiction. Mercy is built, and the blessings that you and I have received have not mocked us; they have not been the dream of fanatics, nor the fancy of enthusiasts. God has done real work for you and for me, as we can bear testimony, and as we do bear testimony at this hour. “For I have said, Mercy shall be built.” That is no sham, no dream; it is the act and deed of God. Mercy has been built. A thing that is built is a fixed thing. It exists— exists really, and exists according to a substantial plan. It is presumed to be permanent. True, all earthly structures will moulder and decay, and man's buildings will dissolve in the last great fire, but still a building is more durable than a tent, or a run-up lodge in a garden of cucumbers, and “I have said, Mercy shall be built.” It is not a movable berth, but a fixed habitation — I have found it so. And have not you? God’s mercy began with some of you— no, I must not talk about when it began, but I mean you began to perceive it many years ago now, when these heads that are now bald or grey had locks bushy and black as a raven— when you were curly-headed boys and girls, that clambered on your father’s knee. You remember, even then, the mercy of your God, and it has continued with you— a fixed, substantial, real thing. Not the old house at home has been more fixed than the mercy of God. There has been a warm place for you by the fireside from your childhood until now, and a mothers love has not failed; but more substantial than a house has been the mercy of God to you. You can endorse the declaration of David: “I have said, Mercy shall be built.”

     A building is an orderly thing as well as a fixed thing. There is a scheme and design about it. Mercy shall be built. God has gone about blessing us with designs that only his own infinite perfections could have completed. We have not seen the design yet in the full proportion. We shall be lost in wonder, love, and praise when we see it all carried out; but we perceive already some lines, some distinct traces of a grand design, and I said, as I caught first one thought of God, and then another, of his mercy toward me, “Mercy shall be built.” I see that it shall. This is no load of bricks shot out. It is polished stones builded one upon another. God’s grace and goodness toward me have not come to me by chance, or as the blind distribution of a God who cared for all alike, and for none with any special purpose. No, but there has been as much a specialty of purpose to me as if I were the only one he loved, though, praised be his name, he has blessed and is blessing multitudes of others beside me. As I discovered that in all his dealings of mercy there was a plan, I said, “Mercy shall be built,” and so it has been. Yea, more, if I had the time, I should like to picture to you the digging out of that foundation of mercy in the olden time, the marking out of the lines of mercy in the predestinating purpose and the ancient covenant of God. Then I would appeal to your experience, and entreat you to observe how progressively, line upon line, the divers promises have been verified to you up till now. With what transport you would say, “Yes, the figure may run, if it likes, on all fours, yea, and may go on as many legs as a centipede, and yet there shall be no spoiling of it, the metaphor is so good. Mercy has been in course of construction, and is now being reared.” So the song begins, “Mercy shall be built.”

     But now he says, “Mercy shall be built up.” Will you try to think for a minute upon these words— “built up”? It is not merely a long, low wall of mercy that is formed, to make an inclosure or to define a boundary, but it is a magnificent pile of mercy, whose lofty heights shall draw admiring gaze, that is being built up. God puts mercy on the top of mercy, and he gives us one favour that we may be ready to receive another. There are some covenant blessings that you and I are not ready to receive yet; they would not be suitable to our present circumstances. “I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” Weak eyes that are gradually recovering their use must not have too much light. A man half starved must not be fed at once upon substantial meat: he must have the nutriment gently administered to him. An excess of rain might inundate the land and wash up the plants, while gentle showers would refresh the thirsty soil and invigorate the herbs and the trees. Even so mercy is bestowed upon us in measure. God does not give us every spiritual blessing at once. There are the blessings of our childhood in grace, which we perhaps shall not so much enjoy when we come to be strong men; but then the blessings of the strong man and of the father would crush the child, and God aboundeth toward us in all wisdom and prudence in the distribution of his gifts: and, as I thought of that, I said, “Yes, mercy shall be built up. There shall be one mercy on another.”

     Would that I had a vivid imagination, and a tongue gifted with eloquence; then I would try to portray the twelve courses of the new Jerusalem, and show how the stones of fair colours came one next to the other, so that the colours set each other off, and blended into a wondrous harmony; but I can clearly see that the mercy of the azure shall not come first, but there shall be the mercy of the emerald to underlie it, and there shall be an advance made in the preciousness of the stones with which God shall build us up, and we cannot tell what the next is to be; certainly not what the next after that is to be, nor the next after that, and the one to follow after that. But as I saw half-a-dozen of the courses of God’s mercy, I said, “His mercy shall be built up.” I can see it rising tier on tier, and course on course, and it gathers wonders. The longer I gaze the more I am lost in contemplation. Silent with astonishment, spell-bound with the fascinating vision, I think, I believe, I know that— Mercy shall be built up.” Moreover, my expectations are awakened. I am waiting eagerly for the next scene. The designs of mercy are not exhausted; the deeds of mercy are not all told; the display of mercy must reach higher than has ever yet dawned upon my imagination. Its foundations were laid low. In great mercy he gave me a broken heart. That was pure mercy, for God accepts broken hearts; they are very precious in his sight; but it was a higher mercy when he gave me a new heart, which was bound up and united in his fear and filled with his joy. Oh, brethren, let us remember how he showed us the evil of sin, and caused us to feel a sense of shame. That was a choice mercy, but it was a clearer mercy when he gave us a sense of pardon. Oh, it was a blessed day when he gave us the little faith that tremblingly touched his garment’s hem. It was better when he gave us faith as a grain of mustard seed that grew. It has been better still when by faith we have been able to do many mighty works for him. We do not know what we shall do yet when he gives us more faith. Far less can we imagine how our powers shall develop in heaven, where faith will come to its full perfection. It will not die, as some idly pretend. There we shall implicitly believe in God. With the place of his throne as the point of our survey, we shall see nothing but his sovereign will to shape events; so with joyful assurance of hope we shall look onward to the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ and the glory that is to follow. We shall sit in heaven, and sing that the Lord reigneth; we shall gaze upon the earth, and behold how it trembles at the coming of the King of kings; and with radiant faces we shall smile at Satan’s rage. We do not know what any one of our graces may be built up into, but if you are conscious of any growth in any grace, you have learnt enough to appreciate the oracle that speaketh in this wise— “I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever.”

     Once again would I read this verse with very great emphasis, and ask you to notice how it rebukes the proud and the haughty, and how it encourages the meek and lowly in spirit. “I have said mercy shall be built up for ever.” In the edification of the saints there is nothing else but mercy. Some people seem to fancy that when we get to a certain point in grace we do not need to sue for mercy. My dear friends, if any of you get into that humour that you say, “I need not make any confession of sin, I need not ask pardon of sin,” you are trifling with the very truths of which you seem to be tenacious. I do not care what doctrine it is that brings you there; you are in a dangerous state if you stop there. Get away back directly. Your right position is at the throne of grace, and a throne of grace is meant for people that want grace, and you need grace now; never more than now. Without mercies new every morning, as the manna that fed the Israelites of old, your days will be full of misery. Your Lord and Master taught you to say not only “Our Father which art in heaven,” and “Thy kingdom come,” but he bade you constantly to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.” “I have no trespasses,” says one. Tut, brother, go home and look at your own heart. I will have no argument with you. Take the bandage off your eyes. You are about as full of sin as an egg is full of meat. Among the rest of your many sins there is this rotten egg of an accursed pride as to your own state of heart. I said, whatever you say, “Mercy shall be built up for ever.” I expect God to deal with me on the footing of mercy, as long as I live. I do not expect that he shall build me up in any way but according to his grace, and pity, and forgiving love. If there be any creatures in this world that can boast of having got beyond the need of asking for mercy, I have not learnt their secret of self-deception. I do know of some professors who climb so high up the ladder that they come down the other side. I fancy that is very much like the wonderful growing in perfection of which they prate. It means full often going up so high that they are pure saints in their own esteem, but anon they have gone down so low that they are poor lost sheep in the estimation of the churches of Christ. God grant you may not fall by any such process.

     “I have said, mercy shall be built up for ever.” Brethren, if you and I ever get to the gate of heaven, and stand upon the alabaster doorstep with our finger on the glittering latch, unless the mercy of God carry us over the threshold, we shall be dragged down to hell even from the gates of paradise. Mercy, mercy, mercy! His mercy endureth for ever, because we always want it. As long as we are in this world we shall have to make our appeal to mercy, and cry, “Father, I have sinned. Blot out my transgressions.” Well, that is, as I have said, what the text declares, “I have said mercy shall be built up,” nothing else but mercy. There will not come a point when the angelic masons shall stop and say, “Now then, the next course is to be merit. So far mercy: now the next course is to be perfection in the flesh; the next course is to be no need of mercy.” No, no, mercy, mercy, mercy, till the very topstone shall be brought forth with shoutings of “grace, grace unto it.” “Mercy shall be built up.”

     Yet onward glance your eye. “I said, mercy shall be built up for ever.” For ever? Well, I have been peering back into the past, and I discover that nothing else but mercy can account for my being or my well-being. By the grace of God I am what I am. The psalm of my life, though filled with varied stanzas, has but one chorus, — his mercy endureth for ever. Will you look back, beloved, on all the building of your life and character? Any of it that has been real building— gold and silver and precious stones— has all been mercy, and so the building will go on. The operation is proceeding slowly but surely. What though at this present hour you may be in grievous trouble? Mercy is being built up for you. “Oh, no,” say you, “I am tottering, and my days are declining, and I feel I shall be utterly cast down.” Yes, you may be very conscious of your own weakness and infirmity; but the mercy of the Lord is steadfast, its foundation abides firm, not a single stone can be moved from its setting. The work is going on, storm or tempest notwithstanding. There is nothing precarious about the fact that mercy shall be built up for ever. Let not the murky atmosphere that surrounds you blind your eyes— the eyes of your understanding —to this glorious word — “for ever.” Rather say, if I am well set in this fabric of mercy my castings down are often the way in which God builds up his mercy. I shall be built up for ever. And oh, if it goes on being built up for ever— I am ravished with the thought, though I cannot give expression to it— what will it grow to? What will it grow to? If it is going to be built up in the case of any one of you, say seventy years, oh it will be a grand pinnacle, an everlasting monument to the Eternal Builder’s praise: but you see it will go on; it will be built up for ever. What! never cease? No, never. But shall it never come to a pause? No, mercy shall be built up for ever; it shall go on towering upward. Do you imagine that it will go at a slower rate by-and-by? That is not likely. It is not God’s way: he generally hastens his speed as he ripens his purposes. So I suspect that he will go on building up his mercy tier on tier, height on height, for ever. Says one, “Will its colossal altitude pierce the clouds, and rise above the clear azure of the sky?” It will. Read the text: “Thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens” — not in the heavens only, but in the “very heavens” the heaven of heavens. He will build up to that height: he will go on building you up, dear brother, dear sister, till he gets you to heaven: he will build you up till he makes a heavenly man of you, till where Christ is, you shall be— and what Christ is, as far as he is man, you shall be; and with God himself you shall be allied— a child of God an heir of heaven, a joint heir with Jesus Christ.

     I wish I had an imagination, I say again, bold and clear, uncramped by all ideas of the masonry of men, free to expand, and still to cry, “Excelsior.” Palaces, methinks, are paltry, and castles and cathedrals are only grand in comparison with the little cots that nestle on the plain. Even mountains, high as the Himalaya range or broad as the Andes, though their peaks be so lofty to our reckoning, are mere specks on the surface of the great globe itself, and our earth is small among the celestial orbs, a little sister of the larger planets. Figures fail me quite: my description must take another turn. I try, and try again, to realize the gradual rising of this temple of mercy which shall be built up for ever. Within the bounds of my feeble vision, I can discern that it has risen above death, above sin, above fear, above all danger; it has risen above the terrors of the judgment day; it has outsoared the “wreck of matter and the crash of worlds”; it towers above all our thoughts. Our bliss ascends above an angel’s enjoyments, and he has pleasures that were never checked by a pang; but he does not know the ineffable delight of free grace and dying love It has ascended above all that I dare to speak of, for even the little I. know has about it somewhat that it were not lawful for a man to utter. It is built up into the very arms of Christ, where his saints shall lie emparadised for ever, equal with himself upon his throne, “I said, Mercy shall be built up for ever.” The building-up will go on throughout eternity.

      Yes, and what is once built up will never fall down, neither in whole nor in part. There is the mercy of it. God is such a Builder that he finishes what he begins, and what he accomplishes is for ever. “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” He does not do and undo; or build for his people after a covenant fashion, and then cast down again because the counsel of his heart has changed. So let us sing and praise and bless the name of the Lord. I do hope that, from what little our experience has taught us already, we are prepared to cry, like the psalmist, “I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.”

     II. Well, now, we come back to the first verse. There are first that shall be last, and last that shall be first, so is it with our text. We have looked at the Eternal Builder, let us now listen to AN EVERLASTING SINGER. “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.”

     Here is a good and godly resolution: “I will sing.” The singing of the heart is intended, and the singing of the voice is expressed, for he mentions his mouth; and equally true is it that the singing of his pen is implied, since the psalms that he wrote were for others to sing in generations that should follow. He says, “I will sing.” I do not know what else he could do. There is God building in mercy. We cannot assist him in that. We have no mercy to contribute, and what is built is to be all of mercy. We cannot impart anything to the great temple which he is building; yet we can sit down and sing. It seems delightful that there should be no sound of hammer or noise of axe; that there should be no other sound than the voice of song, as when they fabled of the ancient player upon the instruments that he builded temples by the force of song. So shall God build up his church, and so shall he build us as living stones into the sacred structure, and so shall we sit and muse on his mercy till the music breaks from our tongue, and we rise to our feet and stand and sing about it. I will sing of the mercy while the mercy is being built up. “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord.”

     But will he not soon sink these sweet notes and relapse into silence? No; he says, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever” Will he not grow weary and wish for some other occupation? No; for true praise is a thirsty thing, and when it drinks from a golden chalice it soon empties it, and yearns for deeper draughts with strong desire. It could drink up Jordan at a draught. This singing praise to God is a spiritual passion. The saved soul delights itself in the Lord, and sings on, and on, and on unwearily. “I will sing for ever,” saith he. Not, “I will get others to perform, and then I will retire from the service;” but rather, “I will myself sing; my own tongue shall take the solo, whoever may refuse to join in the chorus. I will sing, and with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness.” Oh, that is blessed — that singing personally and individually. It is a blessed thing to be one of a choir in the praise of God, and we like to have others with us in this happy employment; still for all that, the hundred and third Psalm is a most beautiful solo. It begins, “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” and it finishes up with “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” There must be personal, singular praise, for we have received personal and singular mercies. I will sing, I will sing, I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever.

      Now note his subject. “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord” What, not of anything else? Are the mercies of the Lord his exclusive theme? “Arma virumque cano” — “Arms and the man, I sing,” says the Latin poet. “Mercies and my God, I sing,” says the Hebrew seer. “I will sing of mercies,” says the devout Christian. This is the fount of mercy, whereof if a man doth drink he shall sing far better than he that drinketh of the Castalian fount, and on Parnassus begins to tune his harp.

“Praise the mount, oh, fix me on it,
Mount of God’s unchanging love.”

Here we are taught a melodious sonnet, “sung by flaming tongues above.” “I will sing of mercies, I will sing of mercies for ever,” he says, and I suppose the reason is because Gods mercies would be built up for ever. The morning stars sang together when God’s work of creation was completed. Suppose God created a world every day, surely the morning stars would sing every day. Ah, but God gives us a world of mercies every day: therefore, let us sing of his mercies for ever. Any one day that you live, my brother, there is enough mercy packed away into it to make you sing not only through that day but through the rest of your life. I have thought sometimes when I have received great mercies of God that I almost wanted to pull up, and to “rest and be thankful,” and say to him, “My blessed Lord, do not send me anything more for a little while. I really must take stock of these. Come, my good secretaries, take down notes, and keep a register of all his mercies.” Let us gratefully respond for the manifold gifts we have received, and send back our heartiest praise to God who is the giver of every good thing. But, dear me! before I could put the basketfuls away on the shelf there came waggons loaded with more mercy. What was one to do then, but to sit on the top of the pile and sing for joy of heart? Then let us lift each parcel and look at each label, and lay them up in the house and say, “Is it not full of mercy? As for me, I will go and sit, like David, before the Lord, and say, “Who am I, O Lord God? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?” “And is this the manner of man, O Lord God?” I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever, because I shall never have got through with them. It is true, as Addison puts it—

“Eternity’s too short
To utter all thy praise.”

You will never accomplish the simple task of acknowledgments, because there will be constantly more mercies coming; you will always be in arrears. In heaven itself you will never have praised God sufficiently. You will want to begin heaven over again, and have another eternity, if such a thing could be, to praise him for the fresh benefits that he bestows. “For I have said, mercy shall be built up for ever: therefore will I sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever.” What a spectacle it will be as you sit in heaven, and watch God building up his mercies for ever, or, if it may be, to wander over all the worlds that God has made; for I suppose we may do that, and yet still have heaven for our home. Heaven is everywhere to the heart that lives in God. What a wonderful sight it will be to see God going on building up his mercy. Ah, we have not acquired an idea of the grandeur of the plan of mercy. The grandeur of his justice no thought can conceive, no words can paint. Ah, my dear brethren, although there have been expressions and metaphors used about the wrath to come which cannot be found in Scripture, and are not to be justified, yet I am persuaded that there is no exaggeration possible of the inviolability of God’s law, of the truthfulness of his threatenings, of the terror of his indignation, or of the holiness of Jehovah, a holiness that shall constrain universal homage; but you must always take care that you balance all your thoughts. In the retributions of his wrath there shall be a revelation of his righteousness: for no sentence of his majesty will ever cast a shadow over his mercy, and every enemy will be speechless before the equity of his award. They that hate him shall hide their faces from him; in burning shame they shall depart to perpetual banishment from his presence. Their condemnation will not dim the purity of his atributes. The glory of the redeemed will also reveal the righteousness of Jehovah, and his saints will be perfectly satisfied when they are conformed to his likeness. On the summit of the eternal hill you shall sit down and survey that mercy-city now in course of construction builded up; it lieth four square, its height is the same as its breadth, ever towering, ever widening, ever coming to that divine completion which, nevertheless, it has, in another sense, already attained. We know that God in his mercy shall be all in all. “I will sing of the mercy of the Lord for ever,” for I shall see his mercy built up for ever.

     This singing of Ethan was intended to be instructive. How large a class did he want to teach? He intended to make known God’s mercy to all generations. Dear, dear, if a man teaches one generation, is not that enough? Modern thought does not adventure beyond the tithe of a century, and it gets tame and tasteless before half that tiny span of sensationalism has given it time to evaporate. But the echoes of truth are not so transient; they endure, and by means of the printing press we can teach generation after generation, leaving books behind us as this good man has bequeathed this psalm, which is teaching us to-night, perhaps more largely than it taught any generation nearer to him. Will you transmit blessed testimonies to your children’s children? It should be your desire to do something in the present life that will live after you are gone. It is one proof to us of our immortality that we instinctively long for a sort of immortality here. Let us strive to get it, not by carving our names on some stone, or writing our epitaphs upon a pillar, as Absalom did when he had nothing else by which to commemorate himself; but get to work to do something which shall be a testimony to the mercy of God, that others shall see when you are gone. Ethan said, “God’s mercy shall be built up for ever,” and he is teaching us still that blessed fact. Suppose you cannot write, and your influence is very narrow, yet still you shall go on singing of God’s praise for ever, and you shall go on teaching generations yet to come. You Sunday-school teachers, you shall be Sunday-school teachers for ever. “Oh,” say you, “no, I cannot credit that.” Well, but you shall. You know it will always be Sunday when you get to heaven. There will never be any other day there, but one everlasting Sabbath; and through you and by you shall be made known to angels, and principalities, and powers, the manifold wisdom of God. I teach some of you now, and I often think you could better teach me, some of you old experienced saints. You will teach me by-and-by. When we are in glory we shall all of us be able to tell one another something of God’s mercy. Your view of it, you know, differs from mine, and mine from my brother’s. You, my dear friend, see mercy from one point; and your wife, even though she be one with you, sees it from another point, and detects another sparkle of it which your eye has never caught. So shall we barter and exchange our knowledge in heaven, and trade together and grow richer in our knowledge of God there. “I have said, mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.” Then I said, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.” We will go on exulting in Gods mercy so long as we have any being; and that shall be for ever and ever. When we have been in heaven millions of years, we shall not want any other subject to speak of but the mercy of our blessed God, and we shall find auditors with charmed ears to sit and listen to the matchless tale, and some that will ask us to tell it yet again. They will come to heaven, you know, as long as the world lasts, some out of every generation. We shall see them streaming in at the gates more numerously, I hope, as the years roll by, till the Lord comes; and we will continue to tell to fresh comers what the Lord has done for us. We never can stop it; we never can cease; but as the heavens are telling the glory of God, and every star declares in wondrous diversity his praise, so where the stars differ from one another in the glory of God above, the saints shall be for ever telling the story which yet shall remain untold— the love we knew, but which surpassed our knowledge; the grace of which we drank, but yet was deeper than our draughts; the bounty in which we swam until we seemed to lose ourselves in love; the favour which still was greater than our utmost conceptions, and rose above our most eager desires.

     God bless you, brethren and sisters, and send you away singing—

“All that remains for me
Is but to love and sing,
And wait until the angels come,
To bear me to my King.”



Desires towards God: a Sermon for the Weak

By / Jun 22

Desires towards God: a Sermon for the Weak 

 

“Lord, all my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee.”— Psalm xxxviii. 9

 

IT is our earnest, desire that all who are in Christ may be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. I could earnestly wish to see such spiritual life among us that every man had reached the very height of holy manhood, and was in possession of the utmost possible degree of spiritual vigour. It is a great calamity when there is a very large proportion of sick folk in any Christian community, for these must draw off the care and strength of the church from aggressive movements. How favoured should we be if it could be said of us as of Israel when they came out of Egypt, “There was not one feeble person in all their tribes.” Oh that the day would come when the word shall be fulfilled which saith: “He that is feeble among them shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the Lord before them.”

     Let no man suppose that there is a necessity that he should always be weak in faith, always walk under a cloud, or that he should for ever be a Mr. Feeble-mind or Mr. Ready-to-Halt. Miracles of grace are for saints as well as sinners; feeble minds can be strengthened and crutches thrown away. We ought to grow out of the feebleness of our spiritual childhood. We should cry to God for grace that we may get up “into the hill country” of holy confidence, and there, like Mary, sing, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” Oh that we might all attain to assurance, yea, to the full assurance of understanding, so that we should know why and wherefore we are thus assured, and so become rooted, grounded, and settled in the faith, for then nothing would by any means remove us from the truth, or even move us in the truth. May the peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds by Christ Jesus. I would to God that you might each realise that promise of the twentyfifth Psalm, “What man is he that feareth the Lord? him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose. His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth.”

     At the same time, we are most painfully conscious that all God’s people are not in a vigorous condition, and we know that there is a large mixture in every church of those who are sickly, desponding, and faint. These we are bound to care for; common humanity demands it, our sacred office binds us to it, and the example of the good Shepherd constrains us. We must feed the lambs. We must “lift up the hands that hang down, and confirm the feeble knees.” The voice of God is heard in our heart saying, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,” which voice we dare not disregard; indeed, the sympathies aroused within us by a similar experience prompt us to be forward in compassionating the weak and the tried. Therefore, at this time I would seek out the weary and wounded and feeble; not with a view of trying to multiply their number, but with the hope of diminishing their number by cheering them till they grow out of their low condition.

     We would not pamper weakness till we seem to offer a premium to unbelief; but yet we would feed the feeble in the king’s meadows till they become strong in the Lord. I shall now look after those who cannot get beyond desires and groans, and let none blame me for this service. If the shepherd spends much of his time among the weakly sheep, if he gathers the lambs with his arm and carries them in his bosom, if lie seems even to neglect the stronger sheep because they do not so urgently call for his care, no one will hence infer that he delights in feebleness. Far from it; he is trying to remove it by his tenderness. You do not blame the humane for caring for the sick. If great efforts are put forth to build or endow a hospital, you do not say, “Sickness is a desirable thing, for all this money is spent upon comforting and helping those who feel it.” Your feelings are quite the contrary: though these sick folk become the object of care, it is not as a reward to them, but as an act of compassion towards them. Let none, therefore, say that the preacher encourages a low state of grace: he encourages it no more than the physician encourages disease when he tries by his care and skill to heal the sick. Whatever your judgments maybe, I mean always to look after the downcast and the struggling, nor shall the babes be forgotten of my soul while I am able to be a nursing father to them. In a large family where there are little children there must always be arrangements for their feeding; spoon victuals and milk must always be in the house, for if the cupboard contained nothing but joints and biscuits the tender ones would starve. If it should ever come to pass that a ministry consisted entirely of the higher doctrines and the deeper experiences it would leave many unsupplied, and it certainly would not be like the ministry of Christ, which had in it as much of simplicity as of mystery. A true steward cares for all the household, and provides milk for babes as well as meat for men. If he forgets anything, he had better forget the meat than the milk; for though babes could not live on strong meat, men can live upon pure milk. Truth to tell, I have known the strong men come into such a condition at times that the milk for babes was all that they could take. Burly Samsons who can carry Gaza’s gates may yet be so reduced that they can digest nothing but milk diet. Those whose confidence is at its very height to-day may be brought so low that they will prize beyond gold the smallest marks and evidences of grace, and will be delighted to take hold upon those elementary truths which belong to new-born believers. Even fathers in Christ are glad at times to seize upon those simple promises which aforetime they left to the most trembling of the saints, or perhaps to desponding sinners. If therefore at this present I speak to the very lowest form of Christian life, if I try to meet the weakest case, I shall not admit that I am neglecting the strong. My giant brother over yonder can have a drink of milk if he likes; it will not hurt him. Come and try it, my worthy friend. Receive again the simple doctrine by which little children live, and you will find wholesome fare. Delight yourself by all means in such grand old doctrine as we were singing just now in Toplady’s noble hymn, but do not disdain the plain truths which must ever remain the staple food of the household of faith.

     Come we, then, to the text, “All my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee.” May the Holy Spirit be our instructor, and we shall learn aright.

     I. Our first point is DESIRES TOWARDS GOD SHOULD BE MADE KNOWN TO HIM. You, it may be, my dear friend, cannot see any grace in yourself at all; all that you do perceive is a desire to have grace. You know that you desire to repent of sin, desire to be delivered from it, desire to be made a new creature in Christ Jesus, desire to be perfectly reconciled to God, but you fear that you have come no further. Now, it is true that many desires are of no avail whatever. “The sluggard desireth, and hath nothing.” Mere wishes are sorry things. But the desires of our text are earnest desires, the movements of the heart, for they are accompanied by “groaning.” The psalm evidently speaks of desires after God, not after temporal things; desires which are mainly expressed in the first verse of the psalm: “O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath: neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.” It is of intense, earnest, agonising desires toward God for spiritual things that I am about to speak. Such desires ought to be made known unto God.

     It may be said that God knows our desires, and that this is what the text itself asserts. I do not doubt the omniscience of God; but he bids us confess everything to him quite as carefully as if he did not know it until we informed him. We are to tell out our cases for ourselves just as David did, for it was not until after he had told out his sad story in the eight previous verses that he said, “All my desire is before thee.” We may expect the Lord to treat us as if he did not know our desires if we are negligent in declaring them. Does not the apostle say, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God”? Mark the language: “Let them be made known.” The Lord waits to be gracious, but he tarries till his people have pleaded for the blessing: he knows, but frequently he does not act upon the knowdedge till we have laid bare our case before him.

     Make known, then, your requests; and do so, first, because our whole life ought to be transparent before God. What is the use of endeavouring to hide anything? “All things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” The life of every man should be unveiled before the eye of heaven; but as to those who are believers in Christ, even in the humblest degree, they desire no concealment; rather do they cry, “Search me, O God.” We do not wish to hide anything; our hope lies in our heavenly Father’s knowing all. There should be no wish to smuggle up even a stray desire, or to conceal the most doleful groan: all should be open and above-board between a sinner and his Saviour. What secrets can there be between a soul convinced of sin and a pardoning God? It would have an ill look if we still sewed fig leaves together, or hid among the trees of the garden. No, let us stand forth, and let our covering be such only as the Lord himself provides. Take care, then, in prayer to set forth the secrets of your soul before God. Tell him your sin, and spread it out in all its sorrowful detail. Tell him your fears for the past, your anxieties for the present, and your dreads for the future; tell him your suspicions of yourself, and your trembling lest you should be deceived. Tell him what salvation you wish for, and what work of grace it is that your soul desireth: make all your heart known unto God, and keep back nothing, for much benefit will come to you from being honest with your best Friend.

     Do this next, because it is commanded of God that toe should make our desires known to him. Prayer, which is a constant duty and privilege, is practically “desire.” It is desire with its garments on; desire booted and saddled for travelling the heavenly road. Prayer without desire is dead; its soul has fled, it is but the carcase of prayer. When desire is burning in the soul it sends up the flame of prayer, or the sparks of sighs and groans. Prayer is the fiery chariot, and desires are its horses of fire. Since, then, we are commanded to “pray without ceasing,” we are really commanded to make known our desires continually. Give utterance to your desire in the best form you can, however difficult may be the task. I pray you do this, for God would have you confess all to him. He says that “men ought always to pray and not to faint”: and again, “in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God.” Jesus said, “Watch and pray,” and his apostle said, “I will that men pray everywhere.” And what is this but to make your desires known to God?

     It is a great benefit to a man to be able to express his desires, and this is an argument for making them known to God. You know your own desires better by trying to express them; they are indistinct till prayer sketches their likeness and fixes their image. Even should you fail to express your desires, their inexpressible character will better make known to you their greatness and their intensity. Sometimes a desire that is in the heart would at once be extinguished if you were to attempt to express it, for you would not dare to allow it to exist after you once saw its true nature. A glance at some desires would seal their doom, for we should feel them to be unworthy to be presented before the Lord. But when it is a holy and pure desire, tell it, for it will relieve your heart, it will heighten your estimate of the blessing sought, it will bring you to think over the promises made to such desires, it will thereby strengthen your hope that your desire will be fulfilled, and enable you by faith to obtain it. The prayerful expression of one desire will often quicken further desires, and make a thousand of them where there was but one. If you will make known your desire before your God it will gather strength, and soon obtain fulfilment. Desire should not be like a bird, shut in within the ark; it should be sent out as Noah sent forth his dove. There! let it fly towards heaven; it will come home, bearing the olive-leaf in its mouth. The return of prayer brings peace. Therefore send it on its profitable errand, and never attempt to hold it in the cage of silence. Though it hath lien among the pots and is begrimed with groans, let it mount towards heaven, and soon its wings will be covered with silver and its feathers with yellow gold. By prayer shoot out the arrows of desire from the quiver of your heart, for every one of them shall smite your enemies.  

     Perhaps you feel that you cannot pray because you are under so dense a gloom, but then is the time to double your desires and your pleadings. I am told that the flower, of which the ancients used to say so much, because it always turns toward the sun, is said to follow the great lord of day just as much in cloudy weather as when his bright beams gladden all things. What though the sun is not visible, yet he is still in his sphere, and the nature of the flower seems to tell it in what direction to turn. Be it ever so with our soul in gloomy hours. When we cannot see the Lord’s face may we still look towards him with strong desire. O soul, pray even when God does not appear to hear. When thine eye is blinded with tears, turn thy mournful face towards the mercy-seat, and look towards his holy hill. Remember where he was wont to manifest himself to thee. If he meet thee not to-day at Zion’s gates, yet remember him from the Hermonites and the hill Mizar, where aforetime he revealed himself to thee; and let thy desires follow hard after him until thou find him yet again. Let nothing stop thee from desiring and pouring out thy complaint, for herein is the way of health to thy soul.

     A gracious expression of desire before God will often be to you a proof that those desires are right A desire that you dare tell to God is sure to be of a godly sort. If I can say, “O Lord, all my desire is before thee, and I wish it to be before thee: I court thine inspection because I hope thou wilt fulfil the desire,” then my wish is such as conscience approves, and is right and good. Is there not comfort in this for those of you who think you have nothing more than desires. If you have desires which you wish the Lord to know of they must be right; you would not dare to bring them before God if they were not good desires? When you are in God’s house and with God’s people, or reading God’s word, or when you are drawing near to God in contemplation, then these desires are strongest; now, if they were bad desires they would not flourish in the best of atmospheres, they would not be watered and nourished by the best of influences, for such influences would tend to kill ill weeds of strange desire. So, then, there is some good thing in thee towards the Lord God of Israel after all: thou wouldst not have these heavings of soul, these strivings of heart, these pantings, these hungerings and thirstings, if it were not that there is somewhat in thee of the Spirit’s working. God has dealt graciously with thee in giving thee these good desires. Sparks of everlasting life are alive within thy spirit so long as thou hast spiritual hunger and thirst. Thy desire must be a good thing, or thou wouldst not dare to make it known to God; and seeing that it is a good thing, take care thou nurture it well, and cause it to grow by expressing it with thy whole heart before God.

     II. This leads up to my second head, which is this: DESIRES TOWARDS GOD ARE GRACIOUS THINGS. Intense groaning desires towards God are in themselves works of grace.

     For certainly, first, they are associated with other graces. When a man can say, “All my desire is toward God, and my heart groans alter him, and yet I find little in myself but these desires,” I think we can point him to some other good things which are in his heart. Surely humility is apparent enough. Thou takest a right view of thyself, O man of desires! A lowly esteem hast thou of thyself, and this is well. I would to God that some who are full of brags and boasts about their holiness could only be as safe as thou art with thy desires and groans, for there is in thee that broken and contrite heart which the Lord will not despise. God hath given thee this jewel among the rest— a meek and lowly spirit. Ay, and there is faith in thee, for no man heartily desires to believe unless he doth in some measure already believe. There is a measure of believing in every true desire after believing. If thou sayest, “I would trust Christ,” why, soul, thou trustest him already in some degree, since thou dost believe that he is the kind of person whom it would be right to trust. Thy desire to cast thyself wholly upon Christ hath in it the beginnings of saving faith. Thou hast the grain of mustard seed within thee which will grow into a great tree. I can tell the mustard by its taste: the strength of thy desire, its pungency and heat, betray the genuine seed. And thou hast love, too; I am sure of it. Did ever a man desire to love that which he did not love already? Thou hast already some affection toward the Lord Jesus, some drawings of thy heart Christwards, or else thou wouldst not sigh and cry to be more filled with it. He who loves most is the very man who most passionately desires to love more. Love and desire keep pace in Christians, so that the more love the more desire to love; and so I gather that this desire of thine to love Jesus is a sure evidence that thou dost love him already. Thy desire is the smoke which proves that there is fire in thy soul. A living flame lingers yet among the embers, and with a little fanning it will reveal itself. Thy desire to serve God is obedience, thy desire to pray is prayer, thy desire to praise is praise. I am sure, also, that thou hast some hope; for a man does not continue to groan out before his God, and to make his desire known, unless he has some hope that his desire will be satisfied, and that his grief will be assuaged. David lets out the secret of his own hope, for he says in the fifteenth verse, “In thee, O Lord, do I hope.” You, my downcast brother, do not hope anywhere else, do you? You know that every other door is shut, every other road is blocked up except that which leads from your soul to God. I know you have some hope, and therefore if you have no hope anywhere else I am persuaded that you have a hope in God. That thought of God which makes you cry, “Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him,” has the seeds of hope, and the beginning of comfort, within it. I might go over many of the graces, but these will suffice: as a man is known by his company, so may our desires, be known by their attendants; and as holy desires after God keep company with humility, and faith, and love, and hope, I am persuaded they are of like character, and are gracious themselves.

     Another proof that they are gracious is that they come from God. Desires after God must come from some source or other. If you desire to be holy, where did that desire come from? From your own corrupt nature? Impossible. Certain believers in free will may think so, but we are not agreed with them. We believe that none can bring a clean thing out of an unclean, neither can thorns bring forth figs. If there is a desiring and a groaning of the heart after God in your bosom depend upon it human nature never originated it. Can sin desire holiness, or death pant for life? Holy desires are plants which are by no means native to the soil of human nature: their seed comes from a far country. Did the devil work these holy desires, think you? Hearken, brother, does the devil make you thirst after God? Does he make you sigh and cry after the light of your Father’s countenance? Does he make you pray to be delivered from temptation? Does he make you sigh to be conformed to the image of Christ? Then the devil has very greatly altered since I met him last, and since he was described in holy writ, or seen in the conflicts of good men. Who, then, has kindled these heavenly flames of desire? I earnestly avow my belief that every pure desire is as much the work of God as the grace which it desires. He who sincerely longs to be right with God has already somewhat of a work of divine grace within his soul creating those aspirations. Now, as God can say of all that he creates, “It is very good,” I come to the conclusion that these groaning desires after God are very good. They are not great, nor strong, but they are gracious. There is water in a drop as well as in the sea, there is life in a gnat as well as in an elephant, there is light in a beam as well as in the sun, and so is there grace in a desire as truly as in complete sanctification.

     Thirdly, holy desires are a great test of character: a test of eminent value. You enquire, “Can you judge a man’s character by his desires?” I answer, yes. I will give you the other side of the question that you may see our own side all the more clearly. You may certainly judge a bad man by his desires. Here is a man who desires to be a thief. Well, he is a thief in heart and spirit. Who would trust him in his house now that he knows that he groans to rob and steal? Here is a man who desires to be an adulterer— is he not in God’s sight already such? Did not Jesus tell us so? Here is a man who desires to be Sabbath-breaker, but he is compelled by his situation to attend the house of God: he is really in God’s sight a Sabbath-breaker, because he would follow his own works on God’s holy day if he had the opportunity. The desire to commit a fraud, and especially the earnest desire to do it, would prove a man to be a villain at heart. If a man were to say, “I want cut my enemy’s throat, I am full of revenge, I am groaning to murder him,” is he not a murderer already before God?  Let us, then, measure out justice in our own case by the rule which we have allow towards others. Let me help you to apply the principle. If you have a desire, an earnest, agonising desire towards that which is right, even though through the infirmity of the flesh and the corruption of your nature you do not reach to the height of your desire, yet that desire is a test of your character. The main set of the current determines its direction: the main bent of the desire is the test of the life. It is well with you even though you have to cry with Paul, “To will is present with me, but how to perform that which I would I find not.” If you earnestly desire to love God you do love him. If you desire to be purified, if with a strong, continual, agonising desire you pine for it, already the work of purification has begun, for your desire has been purified, your wish, your will, your heart have been purified already. Is there not proof enough that there is a measure of graciousness about true desires after God?

     Note, farther, that our desires are a test very much superior to several other favourite modes of self-judging. For instance, many people judge their religion by the regularity of their attention to its outward duties. “I was never absent on a Sunday morning, nor even from an evening service. I attend the communion at least once a month, I go to the prayer-meetings, I read a chapter or half a chapter every day, I bow my knees at my bedside every morning and evening: I have never omitted any part of my duty for years past.” I am very glad to hear it, respected friend; but if you have no desires towards God, all your regularity of attendance does but liken you to the church clock, which is quite as punctual, or to the pulpit Bible, which never leaves its place. You may be a capital Pharisee, but you are not a true Christian unless your soul is full of living desires. If you cry out, “I am thirsting for God, the living God. My spirit groans after holiness. When I have bowed my knee, I groan before God because I cannot live as I would, or even pray as I desire to pray. I have come to the house of God longing to be fed with spiritual meat I have always been a hungry soul towards divine things”: then I quote my Master’s words, “Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Living desires are better than dead duties, as a living dog is better than a dead lion. The most regular outward performance of pious duties may be the revolution of heartless machinery; but desires mean life, and life is needful if we would please the living God.

     Desires are a better test than the self-congratulation I have sometimes met with about the possession of gracious things: I say not, better than the possession of graces, but better than the supposed possession of them. Did you say, “I have faith, I can move mountains”? I had sooner hear you say, “Lord, increase our faith.” Did you boast, “I have love, so that I shall never backslide or deny Christ”? I had rather thou shouldst say “Hold thou me up and I shall be safe.” Do you say, “I have experience, and shall never be misled. I can hear heresy and be none the worse”! Ah, yes, I have heard that kind of talk, but I feel safer about a man who says, “Preserve me, O Lord, for in thee do I put my trust.” Remember that the chief of the apostles said: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” We feel surer as to the grace in a man’s heart who groans after more grace, than we do of him who boasts,— “I am rich and increased in goods and have need of nothing.” A man may be full and dead; but he who hungers is alive. Brother, if your soul is desiring, and crying, and groaning after God, do not condemn yourself because you cannot speak quite so positively as others as to your safety or your sanctity: desire on, and groan on; but at the same time get nearer to the cross, trust more completely, look out of self, and rest more fully in the covenant promises of God. Your state is not one to cause trouble; it is painful but it is not perilous.

     I am sure that there is a graciousness about holy desires, because they have been very prominent in the very best of men. Look at David! See how his soul longs, yea even faints! Hear how he pants, like a hart for the water-brook, that he may draw near to God! His Psalms are very largely made up of desires: they abound with such passages as “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after”; “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul”; “My soul thirsteth for God.” All his desires went heavenward, for he said, “Whom have I in heaven but thee?” and in his last hours he exclaimed concerning the covenant of grace, “This is all my salvation and all my desire.” Nor must we forget Daniel. In the passage in which Daniel is spoken of as a “man greatly beloved,” which is a very sweet translation, the words may be read, “a man of desires.” I suppose that he obtained that name of the Lord because he much abounded in holy longings, and was accustomed to rise from one desire to another. There is a remarkable expression in the second of Daniel at the eighteenth verse: when the king had dreamed and none could interpret the dream: “Then Daniel went to his house and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions : that they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret.” In other books we should have found it stated that he asked his friends to pray, but Daniel went to the very soul of things, and begged them to desire. His prayers thrice a day were not formal; they were deeply and intensely sincere, and hence they were full of desire, which is the motive force, the life-blood of prayer. Daniel, then, was a man of great desires, and hence a desirable man with God: a man greatly beloved. As for Nehemiah, that faithful servant of God, he began his work by praying fora blessing on those who “desired” to fear God’s name. If you turn to the New Testament what a man of desires Paul was; he was always desiring this and desiring that for other people, until he desired for himself that he might depart and be with Christ. A part of the inheritance of Israel of old lay on this side Jordan, but the major portion was on the further shore; and so the major part of a believer’s portion for the present lieth in desires for things not yet attained. A man of devotion is always a man of desires. Among your acquaintances you will find the best people are fullest of longings to be better. They know that God has blessed them, they rejoice in every particle of grace they have ever received from him, but they are always wanting more. They are in spiritual things as hard to satisfy as the king whom Du Chaillu met with in the centre of Africa. He gave him a huge present of goods, and his gracious majesty was overjoyed and held a great feast over the treasure; but before the week was over his black kingship said to Du Chaillu, “Truly, goods and money are like hunger; you are filled to-day, but to-morrow you are hungry again.” In one sense he who has obtained grace never hungers, that is to say, he needs nothing beyond his God; but in another sense he always hungers more and more the more he obtains. Covetousness of goods is a crime, but covetousness of good is a virtue. “Covet earnestly the best gifts.” He who has little grace can be content with little, he that hath more grace longs for more, and he who hath most is insatiable to a still larger degree. He hath the greatest esteem for the heavenly treasure who hath had the most acquaintance with it, and, therefore, he longeth to possess all that can be possessed. Time warns me to leave this point, only repeating the fact that desires towards God are gracious things.

     III. Thirdly, DESIRES TOWARD GOD ARE CAREFULLY OBSERVED BY HIM. Was not that the first head? No, it was not; the first head was that we ought to make our desires known to God; the third head is that they are known. It is wonderful condescension that the Lord should observe so poor a creature as a sinful, mournful mortal. You heard me read the whole psalm just now; is it not a terrible description of a horrible sickness? I wonder how many of you would like to go and visit a man who was in the condition which David pictures, and watch over him, and nurse him? Here was a man who had no soundness in his flesh, and no rest in his bones, but was eaten up with a loathsome disease, and covered with wounds which corrupted till they stank. The Lord cannot look upon iniquity, he hates and loathes it infinitely, and yet he looks upon his poor servant when sin has wrought in him all this mischief. Oh, poor, broken down believer, thy God still looks upon thee! Oh thou whose wounds gangrene, thou who seemest already to be rotting into the sepulchre of apostasy, still if there be any life and desire in thee, thy God is watching thee; with tender, loving eye he sees thee in thy misery and filthiness.

     The best thought of all is that he sees the good points in us: for, while David does not say, “Lord, all my wounds are before thee; Lord, all this stench and corruption are before thee,” he does say, “Lord, all my desire is before thee.” God has a quick eye to spy out anything that is good in his people; if there is but one speck of soundness, if there is a single mark of grace, if there is any remaining token of spiritual life, though it be only a taint desire, though it be only a dolorous groan, the Father sees it, and records it, casting the evil behind his back, and refusing to behold it.

     Oh, is it not a blessed matter of fact that my desire is before God? Even when I cannot speak it out it is all before him. I cannot explain it, but it is known to him. It puzzles me to put my case, but it will not puzzle him to solve it, and to deal with it, and to deliver me out of the evil of it. “All my desire is before thee,” as if he had just said, “There it is, Lord,” I have not kept back anything. As far as I know I have put it all in thy view; but, inasmuch as I do not know it all, I cannot express it all, but this is still my comfort, that thine eye misses no point, thy heart leaves nothing unperceived; thou knowest all about me, and thou wilt deal wisely with me.

     IV. The last head is that EARNEST DESIRES TOWARDS GOD WILL BE FULFILLED. How do we know this? If men are sighing and crying to God they will be heard,— how know we that?

     Why, first, because these desires are of God’s creation, and you cannot imagine, at least I hope you cannot imagine, that God would create desires in us which he will not satisfy. Why, look even in nature, if he gives the beast hunger and thirst he provides for it the grass upon the mountains and the streams that flow among the valleys. There is not a fish in the sea nor an insect in the air but what God has made provision for gratifying its instincts and its desires. If, then, he himself has put in you a desire after himself he will give you himself If he has made you long after pardon, he will give you pardon. If he has made you sigh after purity, after eternal salvation, he means to give you these. Do you think that God would act towards us wantonly, and torment us with the torments of Tantalus needlessly? Has he made his mercy flow all around you, and has he given you thirst, and will he never let you drink? If he did not mean that you should drink, why has he created the longing within you? You do not thirst after God by nature, and if he had let you alone you never would have so thirsted. You did not pine after his love until he made you pine for it; why, then, this creation of a wish if it be not gratified? Has he made you long after faith, and yet, think you, will he deny it to you? Has he given you a groaning after his dear Son Jesus Christ, and will not Jesus yet be yours? Soul, he is yours. I have seen some treat children very unkindly when to make sport for themselves they have exhibited fruit or toys to the children which have excited great desire, and they have acted as if they were going to give them to the children, and then they have gone away and given them nothing, and laughed at them. They thought there was wit in such conduct, but it seemed to me meanness itself. God hath no such cruel ways with men; if he has taught them to desire his grace he will fulfil their desire, because he is ever a merciful and gracious God.

     Remember, O desiring man, that already you have a blessing. When our divine Master was on the mountain side the benedictions which he pronounced were no word blessings, but they were full of weight and meaning, and among the rest of them is this— “Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Blessed while they hunger, blessed while they thirst. Yes, they are already blessed, and there is this at the back of it, “for they shall be filled.” Thank God that you hunger. Oh, my friends, if we could make this city of London to be full of souls that hungered after Christ we might pray day and night for so blessed a consummation. If we could cause the multitudes of men who go up and down these streets, careless of God and of eternity, to thirst, and sigh, and cry after God, what a blessing that would be! Time was, perhaps, when you, too, were stony-hearted, and had no such desires; the change is a thing to be grateful for. Bless God for your grief, your agony, your anguish, for anything that is like spiritual feeling: it is better than to be left altogether alone. Here is something comforting for your distressed heart, a blessing is already pronounced upon you.

     And we may be sure, dear friends, that God will hear the desires which he has himself created, because he loves to gratify right desires. It is said of him in nature, “Thou openeth thine hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.” Doth God care for sparrows in the bush, for minnows in the brook, for midges in the air, for tiny things in a drop of stagnant water, and will he fail to satisfy the longings of his own children: nothing gives us more pleasure, perhaps, as parents than to gratify the proper desires of a dear child. We like to see the pleasure that beams upon the little face when the desire is fulfilled. Do you not know that God loves to give us pleasure? It is his joy to do it. It is one of the joys of the great Father’s heart to make his children glad. Be assured, my dear friend, it is no joy to God to see you with that dreary countenance. God delights in the delight of his people: he has made a promise to the happy which well fits in with my text: “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” He would have us rejoice in him, for he rejoices over us; if you need proof, note well the names he gives us: “Thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.” If God delights to fulfil our desires let us not be slack in desiring.

     If you want a sure proof that he will grant gracious desires let me remind you of his promises. Sometimes one promise may stick in the memory, and be better than quoting fifty. Here is the nineteenth verse of the one hundred and forty-fifth Psalm; take it home with you: “He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them.” If there is a holy awe of God in your soul, so that you fear him, he will yet fulfil your desire, and your cry shall bring you salvation. The Lord will keep his promise; be you sure of that. Hath he said, and shall he not do it?

     What a joy it will be when you get your desire satisfied, and how you will praise the Lord! It may not be very long before your soul’s longing is before you. This prophecy I venture to make concerning you, that when the Lord has given you the desire of your heart, you will hardly know how to extol him sufficiently. How you will bless and magnify his dear name! and what is more, others will begin to praise him too. In the twenty-first Psalm, when the king had obtained a blessing from God, his subjects began to bless God for him. Read the second verse: “Thou hast given him his heart’s desire, and hast not withholden the request of his lips.” How, I should not wonder but what before long others will say the like of you;— “The Lord hath done great things for him.” His wife, who lamented his deep dejection, will bless God, and say, “Lord, I thank thee that thou hast given him the desire of his heart, and that thou hast not withholden the request of his lips.” Godly friends will hear of his deliverance and rejoice, saying, “He who has long been cast down has found the light of God’s countenance again,” and they will also say, “Thou hast given him the desire of his heart.” As you spread your new joy, and perfume the atmosphere with gladness, the saints will bless God that He has given you the desire of your heart. I am persuaded that you will obtain your desire, since it will glorify God for you to have it. “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth God,” and you will praise him and thus glorify him. Go your way, and seek the Lord with confidence through Jesus Christ, and he will bless you evermore. Amen.  



The Duty of the Present Hour

By / Jun 22

The Duty of the Present Hour 

 

“Break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.”— Hosea x. 12.

 

“BREAK up your fallow ground.” Our nature at its largest is but a small farm, and we had need to get a harvest out of every acre of it, for our needs are great. Have we left any part of our small allotment uncultivated? If so, it is time to look into the matter and see if we cannot improve this wasteful state of things. What part of our small allotment have we left fallow? We should think very poorly of a farmer who for many years allowed the best and the richest part of his farm to lie altogether neglected and untilled. An occasional fallow has its benefits in the world of nature; but if the proprietor of rich and fruitful land allowed the soil to continue fallow year after year we should judge him to be out of his wits. The wasted acres ought to be taken from him and given to another husbandman who would worthily cherish the generous fields and encourage them to yield their harvests.

     Bad is the man who neglects to cultivate his farm, but what shall be said of the sluggard who fails to cultivate himself? If it be wrong to leave untended a part of our estate, how much worse must it be to disregard a portion of ourselves! Now, there is a part of our nature which many allow to lie fallow. It is not often that they neglect the clay soil of their outward frame. They dress that field which is called the body with sufficient care; and truly I would not that they should be careless about it, for it is worthy to be kept in due order and culture. Albeit that it is a very secondary part of our nature, yet it is so interwoven with the higher that it is most important that the body should not be neglected. See ye well to that field, and by temperance, cleanliness, and obedience to the rules of health let it be as a garden. Though it be after all but dust and ashes, akin to the common earth around us, yet the body is honourable, and when grace has sanctified the soul the body becomes the temple of the Holy Ghost. Few need to be exhorted to pay attention to their bodies. “What shall we eat? What shall we drink, and wherewithal shall we be clothed?” is a trinity of questions which the majority of mankind spend all their lives in answering. The fault is not that they care for the body, but that it takes an undue share of consideration, and usurps a higher place than it can claim.

     There is a second field in man’s self-farm, and this is called the mind, or the soul, and there are many who neglect this. These do ill, for “that the soul be without knowledge, it is not good.” There should be for the mental powers instruction and discipline. We should seek to know, and learn to understand, for we are not as the brutes which perish, which know nothing beyond their daily wants; we have thought and judgment, and memory, and imagination, these all need to be trained and used. Let the mind be cultivated by all means; and yet I need not say much upon this, for “culture” has become a kind of watchword with certain professors of religion, and with supposed knowledge they are puffed up. They have enough thought for the mind, and they glory in the harvests which it yields of human knowledge and earthly learning. The soul in such cases seems to be well tilled, but the spirit, the highest nature of all— that with which we speak to God— is suffered to lie entirely fallow! The soil where true religion should flourish in the furrows is left by many to produce the deadly nightshade of superstition, the hemlock of error, or the thistle of doubt. Is it not so with some of you who listen to me at this hour? Your hearts, your innermost natures, have been neglected, and from the finest part of your being the Lord has derived neither rent nor revenue. Your best acres lie fallow— fallow when you have good need to cultivate every inch of the ground.

     Do you know what happens to a fallow field? how it becomes caked and baked hard as though it were a brick? All the friable qualities seem to depart, and it hardens as it lies caked and unbroken; I mean, of course, if year succeed year, and the fallow remains untouched. And then the weeds! If a man will not sow wheat, lie shall have a crop for all that, for the weeds will spring up, and they will, seed themselves, and in due time the multiplication table will be worked out to a very wonderful extent; for these seeds, multiplying a hundred-fold, as evil usually does, will increase, and increase, and increase again till the fallow field shall become a wilderness of thorns and briars, and a thicket of dock, nettle, and thistle. If you do not cultivate your heart, Satan will cultivate it for you. If you bring no crop to God, the devil will be sure to reap a harvest.

     I fear that I am speaking to some who have never thought about this. It has not occurred to them to consider themselves, and the reasons for which they have a being. There is one text which I should like to drop into your ear in the hope that it may drop down through your ear right into your heart, “The wicked shall be turned into hell.” “Oh,” you say, “that is not me.” No, I did not mean that for you; I have not finished the verse yet. This is the part for you— “and all the nations that forget God.” There are nations of them, so numerous are careless souls. What did they do? They did not do anything; they merely fell into a little matter of neglect: that is all. They forgot something; they forgot God. If I had to tell you how we are to be saved I might take some time about it; but if you ask me how you are to be lost I will tell you in a minute. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” Neglect destroys men. Only sit still and allow matters to take their course and your damnation is sure. If you wish to be ruined in your spiritual husbandry you need not sow thorns, you have only to leave your soul fallow and you will starve when the great harvest comes. Fallow ground in human nature naturally and of itself will work famine and bankruptcy for every man who lets it have its own way. So my text begins right well by saying, “Break up your fallow ground.” Begin to look to what you have neglected. Take a survey of what has come already of your neglect. Contemplate what result will surely come of continued carelessness. God helping you, go into that field which is up to your knees with weeds, and look around it, and say, “This must be cleared out. This must be got ready for ploughing. We cannot have this sad waste any longer. We have not gone through this gate before; we have scarcely looked over the hedge; we have left the field entirely to itself, and everything cries out against our neglect. Now, by God’s grace, we will enter into it, and will clear all the rubbish away, and pray the eternal God to bring the great steam plough of his almighty grace and tear up the soil to the very bottom, and then to burn these weeds and make this ground fit to be sown, that it may bring forth a harvest to his praise.”

     Leaving that first part of the text, I am going to dwell upon the second; “It is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.”

     I. First, here is A TIME MENTIONED. When is it time to seek the Lord? I am not going to try to say anything fine, but something that will come home to each unconverted person. May the Holy Spirit help me in this attempt, and bless it to your souls. When is it time to seek the Lord?

     Well, it is time as soon as ever you know right from wrong. Oh! it will be a thousand blessings to you, dear boy and girl, wherever you may be at this moment, and to you young people that are listening to me, if you are led to seek the Lord while yet you are little. While you are yet children may you become children of God. Before you are permitted to go into open sin may your hearts be opened to divine grace. Some of us who were converted while we were children will have to praise God for ever, not only for our conversion, but for our early conversion. I have often prayed, with much sweetness to my own soul, that prayer of David, “O Lord, thou hast taught me from my youth, and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works.” I look forward hopefully to the time when I shall add, “Now also when I am old and grey-headed, 0 God, forsake me not.” If you have had a man in your employ ever since he was a boy, you do not like to turn him off when he grows old; and our Lord never turns off his old servants. It is a surely prevalent plea with him, “Thou art my hope, O Lord God: thou art my trust from my youth.” It is time to seek the Lord as soon as we can seek anything, for to such seekers there is the special promise, “They that seek me early shall find me.” I found the Lord and joined his church when I was fifteen years old, and I feel it no small joy to say with Obadiah, “I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth.” Early piety saves from much sin and sorrow, and is often followed by a blessed and useful life. My heart rejoices that he, who was himself “the holy child Jesus,” suffers the little children to come unto him. Blessed be the name of the Lord for young people brought to Christ. May it please the Lord to touch each young heart here at this time with this thought, “It is time for me to seek the Lord.” Come, ye lads and lasses, ye boys and girls, and learn of Jesus while yet your life is in its dewiest hours.

     But it is time especially to seek the Lord when it is late in the day of life, and the shades of the eternal night are gathering. If it is time when first the morning breaks, how much more solemnly it is time when the shadows lengthen! You cannot live long, dear friend, for age, I see, is telling upon your once stalwart form. In the order of nature you must soon be gone. You know that you have passed your threescore and ten, perhaps your fourscore years, and you are living now upon the special charity of Cod. You have run out your lease, and are now a daily tenant. Surely it is time for you to seek the Lord. You may be gone to the judgment and the irreversible sentence before another Sabbath comes round.

“It may be no to-morrow
Shall dawn for you or me;
Why will you run the awful risk
Of all eternity?”

Take heed to yourselves that you do not trifle on the verge of eternity. With one foot in the grave, oh, seek to have both feet on the Rock of Ages! Then you need not fear old age and its infirmities, or its closing hours. Jesus will cheer and comfort you, and your eventide shall only be the prelude of a blessed morning, a morning without clouds. Dear friend, it must be time to seek the Lord when already death seeks you, and infirmity tells upon you. When they that look out of the windows begin to be darkened, it is time to look up to heaven. When the keepers of the house do tremble, it is time to find a home in Jesus. When our grave is ready for us, it is time to be ready for judgment. When there are evident signs of an approaching end, it is time that you should end your ramblings, and seek the Lord.

     What a mercy it is that the very wording of the text gives us encouragement! “It is time to seek the Lord,”— then there still is time in which to seek the Lord. Then it is not over with me, even if I have long delayed. I may still come to him. Yes, when you are nothing but a bag of bones, with a crown of grey hair, Christ will have you. When you can only totter on your staff, you may come to Jesus, and if you have grown so infirm that even your memory begins to fail you, and all your senses seem to be departing, yet he can give you a child’s eye,— the eye of faith, and a child’s heart,— the heart of love, and make you a new man in Christ Jesus. I see a good many here who are aged, and I know many of them are my fathers in Christ: I speak not to them. But I see some who may, perhaps, be still, even though in advanced age, “in the gall of bitterness, and in the bonds of iniquity.” Oh! dear old friends, it is surely time that you should seek the Lord. You cannot dispute my plea. Do yield to it at once, and seek the Lord ere yet another grey hair falls to the ground.

     There are special occasions in which a divine call is made to men. If you remember, we read just now the word of the Lord in which he says, “It is in my desire that I should chastise them,” and this is said in connection with the words of our text, “It is time to seek the Lord.” Now, have any of you been under the chastising hand of God of late? Have you been sick? Do you come up to this house after a time of illness? Well, it is a choice mercy to be afflicted. Take care that you do not despise it. The Lord has not given you up it seems, for still he thinks it worth his while to put bit and bridle upon you. Waste not the opportunity which recovered health brings you, but hearken to the divine call. He smites you that you may run to him to have the wound bound up. Or is it, dear friends, that you have lost lately some of those who were dear to you? Are they in heaven? Are you not going there yourself? Then, God calls you by that baby that has been removed, by that godly mother or that Christian friend who has gone home. He calls you, and he says, “It is time to seek the Lord.” Or have you been losing property? Is trade very bad? Have you been out of work, and are you brought to poverty? Will not these whips touch you, and drive you to seek the Lord? I sometimes think that I have good reason for trusting God, because I have nothing else to trust in. And beyond a question you might use the same reason. Go to God, for everything else is going away from you. You will soon have nothing left. O man, make sure of your God! When a Christian is in abundance, he finds God in everything, and when a Christian is in poverty, then he finds everything in God. But you cannot do that; you cannot do that, for God is nothing to you. And where will you be when all is gone, and you have no God? when everything departs from you as “a dream when one awaketh,” and you wake up to find that you are “without God and without hope in the world”? Think upon this, I beseech you, and let it be a call from heaven to you. “Hear the rod, and him that hath appointed it”; and, as the strokes fall upon you, and you smart beneath them, think that you hear each stripe say to you, “It is time to seek the Lord.”

     It will be wise for us to add, and for you to remember, that it is time to seek the Lord before the chastisement comes. Is it not a wise thing to escape, if we can, from these judgments, for though kindly meant, it were better if we did not render them necessary? Soul, dost thou want to be whipped to Christ? If God means to save thee he will bring thee by fire, and he will bring thee through water, yea, he will break all thy bones in the bringing, but bring thee he will. Why necessitate the rougher means? “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle.” Why need to be goaded like an ox, or driven with blows like the stubborn mule? Yield thee at once! Yield to softer pressure! Overcome gently, sweetly, by his love, yield thyself to seek the Lord, and begin to do under milder influences what I trust thou wilt be made to do by some means or other. Do you not know how the Lord says concerning his people, “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love”? The deed can be done without much ado. As yet you have not lost your children, your trade is not bad, you are not in ill-health, you have every mercy surrounding you; then let these cords of love draw you. Yield while God is beckoning in mercy, and speaking as a lover who woos the object of his choice. Come along with you, just as a little child does when a nurse holds out an apple, or when a mother puts out her hands, and With a smiling face says, “Come to me, my child.” Hear thou the still small voice telling thee that, in the midst of thy prosperity and domestic happiness, it is time to seek the Lord. Oh, if thou shalt have this silver blessing of earthly felicity, and the golden blessing of eternal love on the top of it, how rich thou wilt be! All that thou hast indeed, to this time, may be compared to so many ciphers set in a row. You have seen a child make them on a slate. They all come to nothing. But if thy God come and put his glorious unity in front of them, oh, what riches thou wilt have! Get thy God, the sacred integer, to add real weight and value to all thou hast. It is but nought until he comes there. “It is time to seek the Lord.”

     Let me argue with any that have been living a life of sin, and have never come to Christ. Have you not had enough of it? May not the time past suffice you? When will you have eaten enough unsavoury meat? What profit have you in it? What comfort has it brought you? What peace has it wrought? Can you live on the profit of it? Could you die with sin about you, and hope that it would make your pillow soft? You know that “the wages of sin is death,” and, for my part, I judge the work of sin to be little better than the wages of sin. Do you not think so? And do you not think that you have long enough run risks with your soul, and more than sufficiently played an awful game of hazard with immortality and heaven and hell? O sirs, have you not had enough of the unprofitable works of darkness, and have you not grieved the Spirit long enough? Have you not vexed the heart of Christ long enough? He has been knocking, knocking, knocking, knocking, till his head is wet with dew, and his locks with the drops of the night. Must he tarry longer still? Oh, if he means to save you according to his everlasting purpose, he will come into your heart’s bedchamber if he wait till cock-crowing; but do not, I pray you, treat contemptuously your loving, tender, patient Lord. Can you make him wait even for another moment? Surely, by the memories of his long-enduring love, it is time that you should seek his face. Here are some sweet words which I would fain put into your mouths:—

“He has called, I cannot tarry,
I have heard his voice before;
I will leave these deadly slumbers,
And set open wide the door.
“In the north blast he rebuked me,
And I knew the message well;
In the south wind now he whispers,
And no longer I’ll rebel.
“Even now again I hear him,
Come, my Lord, and enter in,
How can I resist thy knocking?
Come, and cover all my sin.”

     There are certain occasions in our lives upon which there seems to be a special mark set— a sort of nota bene— to make us note well that just now is a happy occasion. Tides to be taken at the flood do happen in men’s lives, and it is well if they are turned to profitable use. I think, dear friends, that it is time to seek the Lord very hopefully when you are in a place where others have sought him and found him. Your being in this house of prayer is a token for good. I can bear personal witness that there is hardly a seat in this Tabernacle on which, at some time or other, there has not sat a seeking sinner who has found the Saviour. If we marked these seats with golden stars where souls were saved, you would see here many footprints of grace, holy places which angels look on with delight. You are found in a place where God is wont to do works of grace: it is a place whose name might be called, “Jehovah Shammah, the Lord is there.” In this place the Lord has brought thousands, many thousands, to the feet of Jesus. And why not you? Why not you? The same gospel is being preached to yon, and by the same voice, too, which God has made effectual to others, and with the same desire that it should be made effectual to you. The preacher can say truly that it is a desire which grows on him and absorbs the whole strength of his soul— the desire that you should be saved. “If by any means I might save some.” The place is hopeful; it is a very Bethesda, a house of mercy, a hospital of healing. Why should you not now seek and find the Saviour?

     Perhaps you are feeling in your heart at this moment a measure of thoughtfulness and softening; some drawings are upon you. This shows that it is time for you to seek the Lord.

“E’en at this hour he calls you!
It is not yet too late;
He has not closed the day of grace,
He has not shut the gate.
He calls you! Hush! He calls you!
He would not have you go
Another step without him,
Because he loves you so.”

     Do not trifle with your heart when it begins to open. Oh, I have Known some that have come to me and said, “We were once tender and hopeful, but now we are like the man in the iron cage; we cannot feel. We are almost past concern and conviction, and nothing arouses us.” Beloved hearer, if it is not so with you, you ought to be thankful, but not to rest in your tenderness, nor think that you are any better than others, but bless the mercy which still waits for you, and pleads with you. When sailors go to sea they make use of every breeze. I know they would like a brisk trade-wind to carry them along from day to day; but if no such wind arises they are glad of any favouring breeze. If there is only a puff, or a capful, they catch at it, and tack about to use every breath of it. Now, though you may not at this moment be feeling the secret power of the Holy Spirit to a high degree, yet, if conscience be only a little awakened, do not send it to sleep. If the will be only a little swayed, do not try to stiffen it. If there be only a little desire to seek the Lord, take care of that desire, and let it become a hungering and a thirsting. You know how your servant does when the fire is almost out, how she kneels down and blows the coal, how she puts her hands together and gently breathes the dying flame to life again. If you have a spark, the Lord help you to blow it up; ay, and may his own living breath blow upon that little grace till it becomes the master influence of your nature, and like a consuming fire burns within your soul. These are favourable moments, moments to be used before they fly, when showers of grace are dropping upon you, and the ground is soft and ready for the holy seed. Take care that you use your opportunity well, for “it is time to seek the Lord.”

     And so it is, I think, when the truth comes to you personally, when you begin to feel, “There is something about the gospel which is meant for me. I believe that God brought me to this Tabernacle to-night, and he has guided the minister in his text, and is helping him to bring the word home to my conscience. I thought he looked at me just now; I feel sure that he means me.” Yes, you are quite right; he does mean you; and so does God mean you, and thus he calls you to himself. Arise, he calleth thee! Lame, blind, dead though thou be, he calleth thee! Oh! yield to the sacred summons while now it comes out of the excellent majesty where sits his enthroned Son; for Jesus as well as the Father speaks to thee. Come! Come at once! Come, thou lingering, fainting one! Come, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, for he will give you rest. “It is time to seek the Lord.”

     We have spoken enough about the time, if the Holy Spirit will but apply the warnings which we have uttered.

     II. Let us now, in the second place, enlarge upon the peculiar work to which we are called at this time. Here is A SEARCH COMMENDED. “It is time to seek the Lord”

      “Seek the Lord”? Why, he is here! “Seek the Lord”? He is everywhere present! “Seek the Lord”? He needs no seeking, for in him we live and move. Yes, but do you not see that it does not refer so much to where God is, as to where you are? You have turned your back on him, dear friend. If you are the person that I mean to-night, you have been forgetting him; and so, because he has not been in your thoughts, you have, in a moral and spiritual sense, lost the Lord. He is everywhere except in your thoughts, and he is not to be sought for as though he were some hidden thing, to be discovered by search or ingenuity; but he is to be sought after because, as far as you are concerned, you have so forgotten him as to have lost sight of him. “Seek ye the Lord.” I hear the earnest enquirer say, “It must mean that I am now to endeavour to realize that there is a God?” “And that he is very near me?” Yes. “And that I am speaking to him?” Yes. “And that he calls to me, and says, come to me; be reconciled’?” Yes. All this, and more, is to be your finding of God as really existent to you. Begin now to live, not as an atheist who is without God, but as a Christian, who has God with him and has God within him. “Seek the Lord” means, then, that thought, and love, and desire should all come towards God, and realize him, and so seek him.

    “Seek the Lord?” says one; “but I am sinful. If I come into his presence he will slay me, for he cannot look upon iniquity.” Then thou must come and seek the Lord in the way in which it will be good for thee to come near to him, namely, through his dear Son. Because as a sinner thou couldst not come to him, or he to thee, he has been pleased that his dear Son should take upon himself the form of a servant, and be made in the likeness of sinful flesh, and “bear our sins in his own body on the tree.” Now, if thou wilt come to Christ, God is in Christ, and thou wilt thus come to God. We may not come to God without preparation, but we may come to Christ without any preparation. We may come just as we are, at once, in all our dishabille, in all our nakedness, in all our filthiness. We shall never find God till we seek him by the way of Jesus Christ. My sinning brother, since the Lord has not hidden himself in Christ, but has revealed himself in Christ, and bids thee see him in his Son, I do entreat thee, attend to this word of the text, “It is time to seek the Lord.” Come and seek him now by asking him to wash thee from thy sin that thou mayest find him, to change thy whole nature that thou mayst find him, to make thee like himself that thou mayest dwell with him, to help thee to serve him that thou mayest live in the light of his countenance, to help thee to cast off every false way, and to abound in his grace, that the rain of his righteousness may come upon thee, and saturate thy soul, so that thou canst never lose his presence again. “It is time to seek the Lord.”

     My dear hearers, if any of you are not accustomed to hear the gospel, but have been brought up in various forms of will-worship, let me beseech you not to think that it is of any use to seek a priest, or to seek a sacrament, or to seek anything but the Lord. To God himself in Jesus Christ you must personally come; and the text says not, “It is time to be confirmed,” or “It is time to be baptized,” or “It is time to come to holy communion;” but it says, “It is time to seek the Lord.” That is the pith and core and marrow of your necessity, that your soul must seek after God, and your heart must come into the arms of God, as the prodigal son came into the arms of his father. He said, “I will arise, and go unto my— priest”? No, prodigal as he was, he was not so much a dupe. He said, “I will arise, and go unto my father” There was wisdom in going at once to head quarters, and seeking pardon from one who had the power to give it. The prodigal had fed swine, but he had not become one of the swine himself, or he might have gone to a father-confessor or a priest: being still a man, and having come to himself, he sought his father. O soul, I beseech thee, seek to no minister; seek to no outward form or ceremony, for in the Lord alone is thy salvation. Every remedy short of divine aid will mock thy misery. Time enough hast thou sought to earthly physicians, and thou art nothing better; go then to Jehovah Rophi, the Lord that healeth thee, and thou shalt be made whole.

     Thou wilt never be cured of thine inward malady by sacraments, though thou shouldst devour a mountain of sacred bread and drink an Atlantic of consecrated wine. Thou wilt still be as lost as ever, though all saints and angels should come to thy rescue, unless thou dost seek to God— to God in Christ Jesus. “It is time to seek the Lord.”

     III. I close with a third point, upon which I will be very brief: there is A PERIOD SET. How long are we to seek the Lord? “It is time to seek the Lord, till he rain righteousness upon you”

     I believe that very much seeking of the Lord is based on ignorance, that there are some who really set about seeking the Lord as if they could not find him, and as if he were a long way off. This is corrected by the apostle in those memorable words, “Say not in thy heart, Who shall ascend into heaven, or who shall descend into the depths? The word is nigh thee.” How nigh thee? “In thy mouth” That is how nigh it is. “In thy mouth.” What hinders a man’s receiving that which is in his mouth? Swallow it, man. Swallow! That is all thou hast to do. It is in thy mouth: nothing can be nearer, surely, than to have it in thy mouth. Oh! if I were dying, and I had a live-long lozenge in my mouth, and I knew that it would save my life, do you think I would not suck it down? Ah! would I rest until it was down? I should not care if a critic stood by and said, “You must not eat that lozenge. You are not worthy of it.” I have got it in my mouth, and your remonstrance comes too late, it is gliding down my throat. “Oh! but you must not swallow that lozenge: you are not fit to receive it.” I have got it, and I defy anyone to rob me of it, for down it goes. “But you must not, really, partake of it; it may not be meant for you. Perhaps you are not in the election of grace.” In vain your supposition. I have got it in my mouth, and if possession is nine points of the law it is all the points of the gospel. I take it into my inward parts, and I will never part with it. That is just the gospel, and a sweet way of putting it,— “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart.” “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” You have it again in our Lord’s words in his commission to his disciples, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.”

     But, about this seeking. You see that there are some that forget that it is so very near them, and they go seeking; but, if thou seek the Lord, soul, whatever of ignorance mingles with the search, I exhort thee to persevere in seeking the Lord till he rain righteousness upon thee. Seek you the Lord, my dear hearer, till you find him; never be satisfied with means; rest not till you get the end, find the Lord, or else go on seeking. Oh! stay not at heaven’s gate; ask for an abundant entrance. Be not content with knocking, but knock louder and yet louder, till the gate be opened. It is well to be, near the kingdom, but it is an awful thing to be so near it and yet not to be in it. It is well to be persuaded to be a Christian, but a dreadful thing to be almost persuaded and then to stop in an undecided condition.     

     “Well,” sayest thou, “but I may, perhaps, wait long; I have waited long already, and I am weary.” Suppose it to be so, is it not worth waiting for? But I tell thee, thy waiting is very much through thine own ignorance. As I have already said, the word is nigh thee, and thou mayest have it to-night; even now thou mayest have it, for it is in thy mouth. If those poor blind eyes are delivered from the scales that hide a present Saviour, e’en now, at this moment, thou mayest give that look of which we sing:—

“There is life for a look at the Crucified One;
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner— look unto him, and be saved—
Unto him who was nail’d to the tree.”

     Yet, if thou dost not understand it, cease not to seek that light may come. Pardon will pay thee abundantly when it comes. Thou sayest, “I have been pleading for months.” Then, do not waste all that thou hast done, I pray thee. Come and close with Christ, and get now the answer to all those prayers. Think of Columbus, within three days of America, that wondrous land in which he believed. He saw few signs of it— here and there a bit of seaweed — some little tokens that there might be land ahead; and the mariners declared that they would sail no farther upon that mysterious sea. Suppose that, within three days of the shore, Columbus had turned back; then had he lost all his pains for lack of a few hours perseverance. And thou, to-night, perhaps, within half-an-hour of joy unspeakable— thou, within the next ten minutes able to rejoice in Christ and find present salvation— wilt thou now start back? No, by the Eternal Godhead, push thou on! O Spirit of the living God, push the sinner on, and lead him now to say, “If I perish, I will perish pleading for mercy, and hoping in the grace of God by Jesus Christ.” Thou canst not and thou shalt not perish so.

     “It is time to seek the Lord, till he rain righteousness upon you.” That is how long you have to seek him. I will give you a picture, and with that conclude. You know the story of Elijah when the heavens had long been deaf, a brazen concave that mocked the desires of men. He went up to the top of Carmel, and he began to pray. With groans and cries and tears, with his head between his knees, he used language which God only heard, but it was mighty pleading. Then he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea;” and Gehazi went up, and looked toward the sea: he gazed down there along the sea-line, and up there above the Lebanon; and then he cast a wistful look around, and came back, and said, “There is nothing.” ‘The prophet, while his servant had gone, had been crying more importunately. He had been pouring out his soul to its very depths before God, saying, “I will not let thee go except thou bless this thirsty land.” A second time he said to Gehazi, “Go again!” I think I see Gehazi going and looking: but he perceives nothing. “Master,” he said, “there is nothing.” But the prophet had been praying still, and so he said, ‘“Go,” a third time; and away went Gehazi, thinking it was a fool’s errand. He went and looked, and in a moment said, “There is nothing. I told you there was nothing.” But the prophet had still been praying while the servant went, and he said to Gehazi, “Go again” for the fourth time. “He felt as the Lord liveth he must hear my prayer,” and he gave himself again to wrestling with his Lord. Before the living God he knelt, and he felt that he could not rise until the promise and the covenant had been fulfilled. Here comes Gehazi back. He does not like his task at all. “Master,” he says, “I have been five times and there is nothing. Will you send me again?” “Go again, Gehazi; go again,” said Elijah. “Go again.” And Gehazi goes the sixth time. “Alas!” he says to himself, “I never went on such an idle set of errands before.” All along the Mediterranean Sea he looks, and looks, and looks again; and back he comes with the old tale, “There is nothing; there is nothing; there is nothing.” But what says Elijah to him? “This last time whilst thou hast been gone, I have prevailed. I have believed that I have the petition which I asked, and I know I have it. Go, Gehazi, go and look. I said to thee, go again seven times; so go and look again.” The weary servant is in no hurry to go. The longer he is about it, the more likelihood there will be of its coming to something. When he reaches Carmel’s top, and casts his eye over the sky, there is a little fleece of cloud, but it is such a tiny flake that it is not bigger than a man’s hand. What is that to the sky? What rain can come out of a morsel of cloud to be measured by a span? He comes back and lie declares, “Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand.” Up rises the prophet, and wraps his mantle about him. The rain is coming, and he sends Gehazi in haste down to Ahab, to warn him against the nearing deluge, saying, “Prepare thy chariot and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.” Nobody could hear it, but Elijah had marvellous ears as he had a marvellous voice with God. He runs before Ahab’s chariot in sacred exhilaration of delight. The heavens are already beginning to turn to blackness, and the first big drops are falling. Elijah has prevailed. Now, get you to your chambers to-night— you that have not found the Lord; and come not forth till you have found him, and he has given you grace as a mighty shower. If, by the morning light, there be but a little hope, and though you can only say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner,” keep the watches and continue the prayer. O soul, though thou canst only cry, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief,” yet watch on, and seek on, for the Lord will rain righteousness upon you. A deluge of mercy shall descend, and your heart shall rejoice, for this is his own promise, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” So be it unto you. Amen.



The Plain Man’s Pathway to Peace

By / Jun 22

The Plain Man's Pathway to Peace 

 

“And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou son of David, have mercy on us. And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord. Then touched he their eyes, saving, According to your faith be it unto you. And their eyes were opened; and Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it.”— Matthew ix. 27— 30.

 

I AM not about to expound this incident, nor to draw illustrations from it, but only to direct your attention to one single point in it, and that is, its extreme simplicity. There are other cases of blind men, and we have various incidents connected with them, such as in one instance the making of clay, and the sending of the patient to wash at the pool of Siloam, and so forth. But here the cure is extremely simple: the men are blind, they cry to Jesus, they come near, they confess their faith, and they receive their sight straightway. In many other cases of miracles that were wrought by Christ there were circumstances of difficulty; in one case a man is let down through the tiling, being borne of four; in a second case a woman comes behind him in the press, and touches the hem of his garment with great effort; we read of another who had been dead four days already, and there seemed to be a clear impossibility in the way of his ever coming forth from the tomb; but everything is plain sailing here. Here are blind men, conscious of their blindness, confident that Christ can give them sight, they cry to him, they come to him, they believe that he is able to open their eyes, and they receive their sight at once.

     You see there was, in their case, these simple elements,— a sense of blindness, a desire for sight; then prayer, then coming to Christ then an open avowal of faith, and then the cure. The whole matter lies in a nutshell. There are no details, no points of care and nicety which might suggest anxiety: the whole business is simplicity itself, and upon that one point I want to dwell at this time.

     There are oases of conversion which are just as simple as this case of the opening of the eyes of the blind; and we are not to doubt the reality of the work of grace in them because of the remarkable absence of singular incidents and striking details. We are not to suppose that a conversion is a less genuine work of the Holy Ghost because it is extremely simple. May the Holy Spirit bless our meditation.

     I. To make our discourse useful to many I will begin by remarking, in the first place, that it is an undoubted fact that MANY PERSONS ARE MUCH TROUBLED IN COMING TO CHRIST.

     It is a fact which must be admitted, that all do not come quite so readily as these blind men came. There are instances on record in biographies— there are many known to us, and perhaps our own cases are among them— in which coming to Christ was a matter of struggle, of effort, of disappointment, of long waiting, and at last of a kind of desperation by which we were forced to come. You must have read Mr. John Bunyan’s description of how the pilgrims came to the wicket gate. They were pointed, you remember, by Evangelist to a light and to a gate, and they went that way according to his bidding. I have told you sometimes the story of a young man in Edinburgh who was very anxious to speak to others about their souls; so he addressed himself one morning to an old Musselburgh fishwife, and he began by saying to her, “Here you are with your burden.” “Ay,” said she. He asked her, “Did you ever feel a spiritual burden?” “Yes,” she said, resting a bit, “I felt the spiritual burden years ago, before you were born, and I got rid of it, too; but I did not go the same way to work that Bunyan’s pilgrim did.” Our young friend was greatly surprised to hear her say that, and thought she must be under grievous error, and therefore begged her to explain. “No,” said she, “when I was under concern of soul, I heard a true gospel minister, who bade me look to the cross of Christ, and there I lost my load of sin. I did not hear one of those milk-and-water preachers like Bunyan’s Evangelist.” “How,” said our young friend, “do you make that out?” “Why, that Evangelist, when he met the man with the burden on his back, said to him, ‘Do you see that wicket gate?’ ‘No,’ said he, ‘I don’t’ ‘Do you see that light?’ ‘I think I do.’ Why, man,” said she, “he should not have spoken about wicket gates or lights, but he should have said, ‘Do you see Jesus Christ hanging on the cross? Look to him, and your burden will fall off your shoulder.’ He sent that man round the wrong way when he sent him to the wicket gate, and much good he got by it, for he was likely to have been choked in the slough of despond before long. I tell you, I looked at once to the cross, and away went my burden.” “What,” said this young man, “did you never go through the slough of despond?” “Ah,” said she, “many a time, more than I care to tell. But at the first I heard the preacher say, ‘Look to Christ,’ and I looked to him. I have been through the slough of despond since that; but let me tell you, sir, it is much easier to go through that slough with your burden off than it is with your burden on.” And so it is. Blessed are they whose eyes are only and altogether on the Crucified. The older I grow the more sure I am of this, that we must have done with self in all forms and see Jesus only if we would be at peace. Was John Bunyan wrong? Certainly not; he was describing things as they generally are. Was the old woman wrong? No, she was perfectly right: she was describing things as they ought to be, and as I wish they always were. Still, experience is not always as it ought to be, and much of the experience of Christians is not Christian experience. It is a fact which I lament, but, nevertheless, must admit, that a large number of persons, ere they come to the cross and lose their burden, go round about no end of a way, trying this plan and that plan, with but very slender success after all, instead of coming straightway to Christ just as they are, looking to him and finding light and life at once. How is it, then, that some are so long in getting to Christ?

     I answer, first, in some cases it is ignorance. Perhaps there is no subject upon which men are so ignorant as the gospel. Is it not preached in hundreds of places? Yes, thank God, it is, and illustrated in no end of books; but still men come not at it so; neither hearing nor reading can of themselves discover the gospel It needs the teaching of the Holy Spirit, or else men still remain in ignorance as to this simplicity— this simplicity of salvation by faith. Men are in the dark, and do not know the way; and so they run hither and thither, and oftentimes go round about to find a Saviour who is ready there and then to bless them. They cry, “Oh that I knew where I might find him!” when, if they did but understand the truth, his salvation is nigh them, “in their mouth and in their heart.” If with their heart they will believe on the Lord Jesus, and with their mouth make confession of him, they shall be saved there and then.

     In many cases, too, men are hindered by prejudice. People are brought up to the belief that salvation must be through ceremonies; and if they get driven out of that they still conclude that it must certainly be in some measure by their works. Numbers of people have learned a sort of half-and-half gospel, part law and part grace, and they are in a thick fog about salvation. They know that redemption has something to do with Christ, but it is much of a mixture with them; they do not quite see that it is all Christ or no Christ. They have a notion that we are saved by grace, but they do not yet see that salvation must be of grace from top to bottom; they fail to see that in order that salvation may be of grace it must be received by faith and not through the works of the law, nor by priestcraft, nor by any rites and ceremonies whatsoever. Being brought up to believe that surely there is something for them to do, it is long before they can get into the clear, blessed sunlight of the word, where the child of God sees Christ and finds liberty. “Believe and live” is a foreign language to a soul which is persuaded that its own works are in a measure to win eternal life.

     With many, indeed, the hindrance lies in downright bad teaching. The teaching that is too common nowadays is very dangerous. The service makes no distinction between saint and sinner. Certain prayers are used every day which are meant for saints and sinners too— readymade clothes, made to fit everybody, and fitting nobody at all. These prayers suit neither saint nor sinner, thoroughly beautiful as they are and grand as they are; but they bring up people under the notion and delusion that they are somewhere in a condition between being saved and being lost,— not actually lost, certainly, but yet not quite saints— they are betweenites, mongrels— a sort of Samaritans that fear the Lord and serve other gods, and who hope to be saved by an amalgam of grace and works. It is hard to bring men to grace alone and faith alone: they will stand with one foot on the sea, and the other foot on the land. Much of teaching goes to buoy them up in the notion that there is something in man and something to be done by him, and hence they do not learn in their own souls that they must be saved by Christ, and not by themselves.

     Besides that, there is the natural pride of the human heart. We do not like to be saved by charity, we must have a finger in it. We get pushed into a corner; farther and farther are we driven away from selfconfidence, but we hang on by our teeth, if we cannot find a hold by any other means. With awful desperation we trust in ourselves. We will cling by our eyelashes to the semblance of self-confidence: we will not give up carnal confidence if it be possible to hold it. Then comes in, with our pride, opposition to God; for the human heart does not love God, and it frequently shows its opposition by opposing him about the plan of salvation. The enmity of the unrenewed heart is not displayed by actual open sin in all cases, for many by their very bringings-up have been made to be moral, but they hate God’s plan of grace, and grace alone, and here their gall and bitterness begin to work. How they will writhe in their seats if the minister preaches divine sovereignty; they hate the text “He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and he will have compassion on whom he will have compassion.” They talk of the rights of fallen men, and of all being treated alike; and when it comes to sovereignty, and God’s manifesting his grace according to his own absolute will, they cannot endure it. If they tolerate God at all it shall not be on the throne; if they acknowledge his existence, yet not as King of kings and Lord of lords who does as he wills, and has a right to pardon whom he reserves, and to leave the guilty, if so it pleases him, to perish in their guiltiness, rejecting the Saviour. Ah, the heart loves not God as God, as revealed in Scripture, but makes a god unto itself, and cries, “These be thy gods, O Israel.”

     In some instances the struggle of the heart in getting to Christ, I have no doubt, arises from a singularity of mental conformation, and such cases ought to be looked upon as exceptions, and by no means regarded as rules. Now take, for instance, the case of John Bunyan, to which we have referred. If you read “Grace Abounding,” you will find that, for five years or more, he was the subject of the most fearful despair,— tempted by Satan, tempted by his own self, always raising difficulties against himself; and it was long, long, long before he could come to the cross and find peace. But then, dear friend, it is to the last degree improbable that either you or I will ever turn out John Bunyans. We may become tinkers, but we shall never write a Pilgrim’s Progress. We might imitate him in his poverty, but we are not likely to emulate him in his genius: a man with such an imagination, full of wondrous dreams, is not born every day, and when he does come, his inheritance of brain is not all a gain in the direction of a restful life. When Bunyan’s imagination had been purified and sanctified, its masterly productions were seen in his marvellous allegories; but while, as yet, he had not been renewed and reconciled to God, with such a mind, so strangely formed, so devoid of all education, and brought up as he had been in the roughest society, he was dowered with a fearful heritage. That marvellous fancy would have wrought him wondrous woe if it had not been controlled by the divine Spirit. Do you wonder that, in coming to the day, those eyes which had been veiled in such dense darkness could scarcely bear the light, and that the man should think the darkness all the darker when the light began to shine upon him? Bunyan was one by himself; not the rule, but the exception. Now, you, dear friend, may be an odd person. Very likely you are; and I can sympathize with you, for I am odd enough myself; but do not lay down a law that everybody else must be odd too. If you and I did happen to go round by the back ways, do not let us think that everybody ought to follow our bad example. Let us be very thankful that some people’s minds are less twisted and gnarled than ours, and do not let us set up our experience as a standard for other people. No doubt difficulties may arise from an extraordinary quality of mind with which God may have gifted some, or a depression of spirit natural to others, and these may make them peculiar as long as they live.

     Besides, there are some who are kept from coming to Christ through remarkable assaults of Satan. You remember the story of the child whom his father would bring to Jesus, but “as he was a coming the devil threw him down and tare him.” The evil spirit know that his time was short, and he must soon be expelled from his victim, and therefore he cast him on the ground, and made him wallow in epilepsy, and left him half dead. So does Satan with many men. He sets upon them with all the brutality of his fiendish nature, and expends his malice upon them, because he fears that they are about to escape from his service, and he will no longer be able to tyrannise over them. As Watts says—

“He worries whom he can’t devour,
With a malicious joy.”

Now, if some come to Christ, and the devil is not permitted to assail them, if some come to Christ, and there is nothing strange about their experience, if some come to Christ, and pride and opposition have been conquered in their nature, if some come to Christ, and they are not ignorant, but well instructed, and readily see the light, let us rejoice that it is so. It is of such that I am now about to speak somewhat more at length.

     II. It is admitted as an undoubted fact that many are much troubled in coming to Christ; but now, secondly, THIS IS NOT AT ALL ESSENTIAL TO A REAL, SAVING COMING TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. I mention this because I have known Christian men distressed in heart because they fear that they came to Christ too easily. They have half imagined, as they looked back, that they could not have been converted at all, because their conversion was not attended with such agony and torment of mind as others speak of.

     I would first remark, that it is very hard to see how despairing feelings can be essential to salvation. Look for a minute. Can it be possible that unbelief can help a soul to faith? Is it not certain that the anguish which many experience before they come to Christ arises from the fact of their unbelief? the They do not trust,— they say they cannot trust; and so they are like the troubled sea which cannot rest. Their mind is tossed to and fro, and vexed sorely through unbelief; is this a foundation for holy trust? It would seem to me the oddest thing in all the world that unbelief should be a preparation for faith. How can it be that to sow the ground with thistle-seed should make it more ready for the good corn? Are fire and sword helpers to national prosperity? Is deadly poison an assistance to health? I do not understand it. It seems to me to be far better for the soul to believe the word of God at once, and far more likely to be a genuine work when the soul convinced of sin accepts the Saviour. Here is God’s way of salvation, and he demands that I do trust his dear Son, who died for sinners. I perceive that Christ is worthy to be trusted, for he is the Son of God, so that his sacrifice must be able to put away my sin; I perceive also that he laid down his life in the room, place, and stead of his people, and therefore I heartily trust him. God bids me trust him, and I do trust him without any further question. If Jesus Christ satisfies God, he certainly satisfies me; and, asking no further question, I come and trust myself with him. Does not this kind of action appear to have about it all that can be needful? Can it possibly be that a raging, raving despair can ever be helpful towards saving faith? I do not see it. I cannot think it. Some have been beaten about with most awful thoughts. They have supposed that God could not possibly forgive them; they have imagined that, even if he could pardon them he would not, since they were not his elect, nor his redeemed. Though they have seen the gospel invitation written in letters of love: “Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” they dare to question whether they should find rest if they did come, and they invent suspicions and surmises, some of them amounting even to blasphemy against the character of God and the person of his Christ. That such people have been forgiven according to the riches of divine grace I do verily believe, but that their sinful thoughts ever helped them to obtain pardon I cannot imagine. That my own dark thoughts of God, which left many a scar upon my spirit, were washed away with all my other sins, I know: that there was ever any good in those things, or that I can look back upon them without shame and regret, is a thing I do not know. I cannot see of what particular service they could have been to anybody. Shall one bath of ink take out the stain of another? Can our sin be removed by our sinning more? It is impossible that sin could aid grace, and that the greatest of all sins, the sin of unbelief, should help towards faith.

     Yet, once again, dear friends, much of all this struggling and tumult within, which some have experienced, is the work of the devil, as I have already said. Can it be essential to salvation for a man to be under the influence of Satan? Is it needful that the devil should come in to help Christ? Is it absolutely essential for the black fingers of the devil to be seen at work with the lily hands of the Redeemer? Impossible. That is not my judgment of the work of Satan; nor will it, I think, be yours if you will look at it. If you never were driven either to blasphemy or despair by Satan, thank God you never were. You would have gained nothing by it; you would have been a serious loser. Let no man imagine that if he had been the prey of tormenting suggestions his conversion would have more marks of truth about it: no mistake can be more groundless. It cannot be that the devil can be of any service to anyone among you. He must do you damage, and nothing but damage. Every blow he strikes hurts but does not heal. Mr. Bunyan himself says, when he speaks of Christian fighting with Apollyon, that, though he won the victory, he was no gainer by it. A man had better go many miles round about, over hedge and ditch, sooner than once come into conflict with Apollyon. All that is essential to conversion is found in the simpler way of coming at once to Jesus, and as to all else we must face it if it comes, but certainly not look for it. It is easy to see how Satanic temptation hampers, and how it keeps men in bondage when otherwise they might be at liberty, but what good it can do in itself it would be hard to tell.

     Once again, many instances prove that all this law work, and doubting and fearing, and despairing, and being tormented of Satan, are not essential, because there are scores and hundreds of Christians who came at once to Christ, as these two blind men did, and to this very day know very little about those things. I could, if it were proper, call upon brethren who are around me at this moment who would tell you that, when I have been preaching the experience of those who come to Christ with difficulty, they have been glad that it should be preached, but they have felt, “We know nothing of all this in our own experience.” Taught from their very youth the way of God, trained by godly parents, they came under the influences of the Holy Spirit very early in life, they heard that Jesus Christ could save them, they knew that they wanted saving, and they just went to him, I was about to say, almost as naturally as they went to their mother or their father when they were in need: they trusted the Saviour, and they found peace at once. Several of the honoured leaders of this church came to the Lord in this simple manner. Only yesterday I was greatly pleased with several that I saw who confessed faith in Jesus in a way which charmed me, and yet about their Christian experience there was little trace of terrible burns and scars. They heard the gospel, they saw the suitability of it to their case, and they accepted it there and then, and entered immediately into peace and joy. Now, we do not tell you that there are a few such plain cases, but we assert boldly that we know hosts of like instances, and that there are thousands of God’s most honoured servants who are walking before him in holiness, and are eminently useful, whose experience is as simple as A B C. Their whole story might be summed up in the verse,—

“I came to Jesus, as I was,
Weary and worn and sad;
I found in him a resting-place,
And he has made me glad.”

     I will go yet further and assure you that many of those who give the best evidence that they are renewed by grace cannot tell you the day in which they were saved, and cannot attribute their conversion to any one sermon or to any one text of Scripture, or to any one event in life. We dare not doubt their conversion for their lives prove its truth. You may have many trees in your garden of which you must admit that you don’t know when they were planted; but, if you get plenty of fruit from them, you are not very particular about the date of their striking root, I am acquainted with several persons who do not know their own age. I was talking to one the other day who thought herself ten years older than I found her out to be. I did not tell her that she was not alive, because she did not know her birthday. If I had told her so, she would have laughed at me; and yet there are some who fancy that they cannot be converted because they do not know the date of their conversion. Oh, if you are trusting the Saviour,— if he is all your salvation and all your desire, and if your life is affected by your faith, so that you bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, you need not worry about times and seasons.

     Thousands in the fold of Jesus can declare that they are in it, but the day that they passed through the gate is totally unknown to them. Thousands there are who came to Christ, not in the darkness of the night, but in the brightness of the day, and these cannot talk of weary waitings and watchings, though they can sing of free grace and dying love. They came joyously home to their Father’s house: the sadness of repentance was sweetened with the delight of faith, which came simultaneously with repentance to their hearts. I know it is so. We tell you but the simple truth. Many young people are brought to the Saviour to the sound of sweet music. Many also of another class, namely, the simple-minded, come in like manner. We might all wish to belong to that class. Some professors would be ashamed to be thought simple-minded, but I would glory in it. Too many of the doubting, critical order are great puzzle-makers, and great fools for their pains. The childlike ones drink the milk while these folks are analyzing it. They seem every night to take themselves to pieces before they go to bed, and it is very hard for them in the morning to put themselves together again. To some minds the hardest thing in the world is to believe a self-evident truth. They must always, if they can, make a dust and a mist, and puzzle themselves, or else they are not happy. In fact, they are never sure till they are uncertain, and never at ease till they are disturbed. Blessed are those who believe that God cannot lie, and are quite sure it must be so if God has said it; these cast themselves upon Christ whether they sink or swim, because if Christ’s salvation is God’s way of saving man, it must be the right way, and they accept it. Many, I say, have thus come to Christ.

     Now, proceeding a step farther, there are all the essentials of salvation in the simple, pleasant, happy way of coming to Jesus just as you are; for what are the essentials? The first is repentance, and these dear souls, though they feel no remorse, yet hate the sin they once loved. Though they know no dread of hell, yet they feel a dread of sin, which is a great deal better. Though they have never stood shivering under the gallows, yet the crime is more dreadful to them than the doom. They have been taught by God’s Spirit to love righteousness and seek after holiness, and this is the very essence of repentance. Those who thus come to Christ have certainly obtained true faith. They have no experience which they could trust in, but they are all the more fully driven to rest in what Christ has felt and done. They rest not in their own tears, but in Christ’s blood; not in their own emotions, but in Christ’s pangs; not in their consciousness of ruin, but in the certainty that Christ has come to save all those that trust him. They have faith of the purest kind.

     And see, too, how certainly they have love. “Faith works by love,” and they show it. They often seem to have more love at the first than those who come so dreadfully burdened and tempest-tossed; for, in the calm quiet of their minds, they get a fairer view of the beauties of the Saviour, and they burn with love to him, and they commence to serve him, while others, as yet, are having their wounds healed, and are trying to make their broken bones rejoice. I am not wishing to depreciate a painful experience, but I am only wanting to show,, as to this second class, that their simple coming to Christ, as the blind men came, their simply believing that he could give them sight, is not one whit inferior to the other, and has in it all the essentials of salvation.

     For, next, notice that the gospel command implies in itself nothing of the kind which some have experienced. What are we bidden to preach to men— “Be dragged about by the devil, and you shall be saved”? No, but “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” What is my commission at this time? To say to you, “Despair, and ye shall be saved”? No, verily; but “Believe, and you shall be saved.” Are we to come here and say, “Torture yourself; mangle your heart, scourge your spirit, grind your very soul to powder in desperation”? No, but “Believe in the infinite goodness and mercy of God in the person of his dear Son, and come and trust him.” That is the gospel command. It is put in various forms. This is one— “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” Now, if I were to come and say, “Tear your eyes out,” that would not be the gospel, would it? No, but “Look.” The gospel does not say, “Cry your eyes out,” but “Look.” And it does not say, “Blind your eyes with a hot iron.” No, but “Look, look, look.” It is just the very opposite of anything like remorse, despair, and blasphemous thought. It is just “Look.” Then it is put in another shape. We are told to take of the water of life freely; we are bidden to drink of the eternal spring of love and life. What are we told to do? To make this water of life scalding hot? No. We are to drink it as it freely flows out of the fountain. Are we to make it drip after the manner of the Inquisition, a drop at a time, and to lie under it, and feel the perpetual drip of a scanty trickling? Nothing of the sort. We are just to step down to the fountain, and drink, and be contented therewith, for it will quench our thirst. What is the gospel again? Is it not to eat the bread of heaven? “Eat ye that which is good.” There is the gospel banquet, and we are to compel men to come in; and what are they to do when they come in? Silently to look on while others eat? Stand and wait till they feel more hungry? Try forty days’ fasting, like Dr. Tanner? Nothing of the sort. You might think this to be the gospel by the way some people preach and act, but it is not so. You are to feast on Christ at once; you need not fast till you turn yourself into a living skeleton, and then come to Christ. I am sent with no such message as that, but this is my word of good cheer: “Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; let him come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price.” Freely take what God freely gives, and simply trust the Saviour. Is not that the gospel? Well, then, why should any of you say, “I cannot trust Christ, because I don’t feel this, and don’t feel that”? Do I not assure you solemnly that I have known of many who have come to Christ just as they were— who have never undergone those horrible feelings which are so much spoken of, and yet have been most truly saved? Come as you are. Do not try to make a righteousness out of your unrighteousness, or a confidence out of your unbelief, or a Christ out of your blasphemies, as some seem to do; nor dote so foolishly as to imagine that despair may be a ground of hope. It cannot be. You are to get out of self, and into Christ, and there you will be safe. As the blind man said, when Christ asked him, “Believest thou that I am able to do this?” so are you to say unto him, “Yea, Lord.” Trust yourself with your Saviour, and he is your Saviour.

     III. I conclude with one more observation, that THOSE PERSONS WHO ARE PRIVILEGED TO COME TO JESUS CHRIST SOFTLY, PLEASANTLY, AND HAPPILY, ARE NOT LOSERS. They do lose something, certainly; but there is not much in it. They lose somewhat of the picturesque, and they have the less to tell. When a man has had a long series of trials to drive him out of himself, and at last he comes to Christ, like a wrecked vessel tugged into port, he has a deal to talk of and write about, and perhaps he thinks it interesting to be able to tell it; and, if he can tell it to God’s glory, it is quite proper that he should. Many of these stories are found in biographies, because they are the incidents which excite interest and make a life worth writing; but you must not conclude that all godly lives are of the same sort. Happy are those whose lives could not be written because they were so happy as to be uneventful. Some of the most favoured lives do not get written because there is nothing very picturesque about them. But I ask you this, when those blind men came to Christ just as they were, and said that they believed that he could open their eyes, and he did open their eyes, is there not as much of Christ in their story as there well could be? The men themselves are nowhere, but the healing Master is in the foreground. More detail might almost take away the peculiar prominence that he has in it all. There he stands, the blessed, glorious opener of the eyes of the two blind men; there he stands alone, and his name is glorious! There was a woman who had spent all her substance upon physicians, and was nothing better, but rather grew worse. She had a long tale to tell of the various doctors she had been to; but I do not know that the narrative of her many disappointments would glorify the Lord Jesus one bit more than when these two blind men could say, “We heard of him, and we went to him, and he opened our eyes. We never spent a halfpenny upon doctors. We went straight away to Jesus, just as we were, and all he said to us was, ‘Do you think that I can do it?’ and we said, ‘Yes, we believe you can,’ and he opened our eyes directly; and it was all done.” Oh, if my experience should ever stand in my Master’s light, perish my best experience! Let Christ be first, last, midst; do you not say so, my brethren? If you, poor sinner, come to Christ at once, with nothing about you whatever that you ever can talk of,— if you are just a nobody coming to the ever-blessed Everybody— if you are a mere nothing coming to him who is the All-in-all; if you are a lump of sin and misery, a great vacuum, nothing but an emptiness that never need be thought of any more, if you will come and lose yourselves in his infinitely glorious grace— this will be all that is wanted. It seems to me that you will lose nothing by the fact that there is not so much of the picturesque and the sensational in your experience. There will be, at least, this grand sensation— lost in self but saved in Jesus, glory be to his name.

     Perhaps you may suppose that persons who come thus gently lose something by way of evidence afterwards. “Ah,” said one to me, “I could almost wish sometimes that I had been an open offender, that I might see the change in my character; but, having been always moral from my youth up, I am not always able to see any distinct mark of a change.” Ah, let me tell you, friends, that this form of evidence is of small use in times of darkness, for if the devil cannot say to a man, “You have not changed your life”— for there are some that he would not have the impudence to say that to, since the change is too manifest for him to deny it— he says, “You changed your actions, but your heart is still the same. You turned from a bold, honest sinner to be a hypocritical, canting professor. That is all you have done; you have given up open sin because your strong passions declined, or you thought you would like another way of sinning; and now you are only making a false profession, and living far from what you should do.” Very little consolation is to be got even out of the change that conversion works when once the arch-enemy becomes our accuser. In fact, it comes to this: however you come to Christ you can never place any confidence in how you came. Your confidence must always rest in him you came to— that is, in Christ— whether you come to him flying, or running, or walking. If you get to Jesus you are all right, anyhow: but it is not how you come, it is whether you come to him. Have you come to Jesus? Do you come to Jesus? If you have come, and you doubt whether you have come, come over again. Never quarrel with Satan about whether you are a Christian. If he says you are a sinner reply to him, “So I am, but Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and I will begin again.” He is an old lawyer, you know, and very cunning, and he knows how to baffle us, for we do not understand things so well as he does. He has been these thousands of years at the trade of trying to make Christians doubt their interest in Christ, and he understands it well. Never answer him. Refer him to your solicitor; tell him you have an Advocate on high who will answer him. Tell him you will fly away to Christ again; if you never went to Jesus before you will go now, and if you have been before you will go again. That is the way to end the quarrel. As to evidences, they are fine things in fine weather, but when the tempest is out wise men let evidences go. The best evidence a man can have that he is saved is that he is still clinging to Christ.

     Lastly, some may suppose that those who come gently to Christ may lose a good deal of adaptation for after usefulness, because they will not be able to sympathize with those who are in deep perplexity, and in awful straits when they are coming to Christ. Ah, well, there are enough of us who can sympathize with such; and I do not know that everybody is bound to sympathize with everybody in every respect. I remember mentioning one day to a man who had considerable property that his poor minister had a large family and could scarcely keep a coat on his back. I said I wondered how some Christian men who profited under the ministry of such a man did not supply his wants; he answered that he thought it was a good thing for ministers to be poor, because they could sympathize with the poor. I said “Yes, yes, but then, don’t you see, there ought to be one or two that are not poor to sympathize with those who are rich.” I would give them turn about, certainly, and let the poor pastor now and then have the power to sympathize with both classes. He did not seem to see my argument, but I think there is a good deal in it. It is a great mercy to have some brethren around us who, by their painful experience, can sympathize with those who have been through that pain; but do you not think it is a great mercy to have others who, through not having undergone that experience, can sympathize with others who have not undergone it? Is it not useful to have some who can say, “Well, dear heart, don’t be troubled because the great dog of hell did not howl at you. If you have entered the gate calmly and quietly, and Christ has received you, do not be troubled because you are not barked at by the devil, for I, too, came to Jesus just as gently and safely and sweetly as you have done”? Such a testimony will comfort the poor soul; and so, if you lose the power to sympathize one way, you will gain the power to sympathize in another; and there will be no great loss after all.

     To sum up all in one, I would that every man and woman and child here would come and trust the Lord Jesus Christ. It seems to me to be such a matchless plan of salvation, for Christ to take human sin and to suffer in the sinner’s stead, and for us to have nothing to do but just to accept what Christ has done, and to trust ourselves wholly with him. He that would not be saved by such a plan as this deserves to perish; and so he must. Was there ever so sweet, so sure, and so plain a gospel? It is a joy to preach it. Will you have it? Dear souls, will you not yield to be nothing and have Jesus to be all in all?

     God grant that none of us may reject this way of grace, this open way, this safe way. Come, linger no longer. The Spirit and the bride say “Come.” Lord, draw them by the love of Jesus. Amen.



Tokens for Good

By / Jun 22

Tokens for Good 

 

“Shew me a token for good; that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed: because thou, Lord, hast holpen me, and comforted me.”— Psalm Ixxxvi. 17.

 

I WOULD have you note, beloved friends, at the outset, how this man of God, in the hour of conflict, looks to his divine protector. He does not run about to consult with friends, nor does he set himself down to digest his bitter sorrow in solitude, but he gets away to the Lord his God, who has covenanted to help him. That same God who in his brightest days was his exceeding joy, is in his darkest night his surest consolation. Hence he cries, “Lord, show me a token for good. Do thou show it. Let it come from thee. All other signs and tokens I can forego, but do thou show me a token for good, and my spirit will be revived at once.” You see, he looks away from the secondary to the primary, from the temporal to the eternal, from that which he could see with his eyes, to him whom having not seen he trusted and rejoiced in. O mourner, learn wisdom from the father of the wisest of men! We need not hesitate to copy the pattern set by the man after God’s own heart. O you who are surrounded by persecutors, will you not imitate David? You cannot do better in every adversity than to look unto the Lord, the ever-merciful. I know you have been casting about to the right and to the left to find anchor-hold, and still the vessel drifts. Now, throw the great bower anchor into the depths. Let it go right down deep out of sight, and let it get a grip upon eternal faithfulness, and your barque shall outride both wind and tide. Trust the quicksands of human confidence no longer. Look to the Lord alone. It is a severance from man, a complete deliverance from the arm of flesh, that God designs by our trouble, and the sooner we come to it the better for us: certainly we shall the more quickly obtain the benefit designed by our trouble, and probably we shall the sooner come to the end of it.

“Trust with a faith untiring
In thine omniscient King,
And thou shalt see admiring
What he to light will bring:
“Of all thy griefs the reason
Shall at the last appear;
Though hidden for a season
’Twill shine in letters clear.”

     Observe that, in the case of David, all his troubles drove him to his God. I have noticed in the case of too many professors that they seem to have a fair-weather religion, a summer-season faith, which shrinks and loses its colour in a little rain or a sharp frost, or when the wind blows from the cold corner of affliction. I hear of some who, when they are very poor, do not come up to the house of God. They say they have not proper clothes to come in, as if the Lord had respect unto our garments, which are nothing better than the covering of our shame. This is an idle excuse, and yet I know that poverty does drive some professors away from the God whom they profess to worship: they murmur and become discouraged, and give all up in a pet, as if they only loved God for the sake of bread, as a hungry dog will follow a stranger who feeds him. There are others who say, “I cannot hold up my head among my brethren as I used to do, and so I stay away from the congregation:” as if God wanted you to hold your heads up— as if he did not look most to those who hold down both their heads and their hearts. What, will you turn away from the stream because you are thirsty? Will you leave the bread because you are hungry? Is not godliness meant to be a comfort to you in your time of trouble? Do not poor men need the gospel? Do you not require it all the more now that your comforts are so greatly diminished? Above all things, seek ye the Lord’s face when trials surround you, or else, assuredly, you cannot be his own; for God’s people, though they cry to him daily, are yet driven to him more and more in proportion as they are brought low, and thrown into distress. “They cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.” This is one of the sure marks of the children of God— They kiss the rod, and the more the Lord chastens them, the more they cling to him. When the Lord smites, the ungodly kick against him; they are like the bullock that will not plough by reason of stubbornness, and when it feels a goad it kicks, and will not go on, but is bent on having its own way. But when the Lord has trained his people, and accustomed them to the yoke, they are obedient to the goad as soon as they feel it, and yield to his will as soon as it is made known. Nay, more than that, I think the more God chastens his people, the more they love him. I am persuaded that the most whipped of the Lord’s family are the best of his children. I do not say that any of you may wish for affliction; you will have enough of it without wishing for it; but I do avow my belief that the favourites of heaven are those who feel most of tribulation. The choicest plants in God’s garden are those that are watered with affliction, and made wet with the night dews of grief. His rarest vines are those which feel most of the knife, and are cut back almost down to the root. There is no fragrance so sweet as that which distils from a flower which the great husbandman has bruised; and when he seems even to have trodden upon it as though he despised it, he has been secretly blessing it, for the broken and the contrite heart he prizes above all things. Therefore, dear friends, let all your griefs send you in prayer to God, and you will then grow in blessing by every tribulation. When big waves of trouble come, pray that they may wash you on the Rock of Ages, and they will do you no harm. When you lose anything, try to make a gain of it by going to your God, that he may sanctify the loss. Whenever you are afflicted, instead of running away from him who smites you, run inwards to his bosom. If a man is very weak, and he is contending with a strong adversary, he will do well to get close to him. The farther off the heavier is the blow when a strong man deals it; but when the weak man closes in with him, how can the strong man smite him? What says God? “Let him lay hold on my strength, and I will make peace with him.” Fly in spirit to your God. Fly to him even when he seems angry; run on the point of his sword, for he will not harm the soul that confides in him. It cannot be that humble trust should meet with a repulse. Jesus declares, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out”; and if you will but trust him, and, when he seems angry, will still fly to him, you shall find rest unto your souls. Ye children of God, mind this.

     Once more, notice that the psalmist while he thus looks to God, and is driven to him by his troubles, manifestly looks to God alone. There is not in this psalm a word about friends, allies, or helpers. He has but one request, and this is, “Bow down thine ear, O Lord, hear me.” His heart is evidently saying—

“My spirit looks to God alone;
My rock and refuge is his throne;
In all my fears, in all my straits,
My soul on his salvation waits.”

God alone— Oh! that is a word to be learned, to be learned by experience, and most assuredly none will ever know it unless they are taught by the Holy Ghost. I do not think we often learn it till we hear it in the thunder of divine power, when the deep-throated tempest within the soul mutters— “God alone! God alone!” In fair weather we are for mixing our trust, but when the whirlwind is abroad none but God will serve our turn. O my brother man, if thou wilt set one foot upon the rock of divine faithfulness, and the other foot upon the sand of human confidence, thou wilt go down with a great fall. Both feet on the rock! Mind that. Your whole confidence must be fixed upon your Lord. Hang only upon that sure nail upon which hangs the whole universe, and hang nowhere else. What says David? “My soul, wait thou only upon God, for my expectation is from him.” Beware of setting up a rival in the temple of thy trust. Who is it that thou wouldst yoke with God? What helper is there that thou wouldst put side by side with him? If thou couldst depend upon an angel— does it not make thee smile at thy folly to think of saying, “I trust in God and an angel”? Why there is no pairing such disparities. The infinite Creator of all is not to be yoked even with the most glorious of his creatures, and yet thou wouldst put thy fellow-man into the yoke with God, and trust in these two. Go, yoke an angel with an emmet if thou wilt, but never think of joining God with man, and making the two thy confidence, when God is all in all. Oh to be cut clear of all visible supports, and props, and holdfasts! You have seen a balloon well filled, struggling to rise: what kept it down? It longed to mount above the clouds into the calm serene, and yet it lingered. What hindered it? The ropes which bound it to earth. Cut clear the ropes, and then sec how it mounts! With a spring it leaps upward while we are gazing into the open sky. O for such a clearance and such a mounting for our spirits! Alas, we are hindered and hampered! What are the bonds which detain us? Are they not our visible supports and reliances? O my soul, thy human confidences have been to thee like the iron chain which binds the captive eagle to the rock; but if that confidence of thine were gone— if that chain on which thou dost doat so much were broken, even though it were with a rough blacksmith’s hammer— then thou couldst stretch thy wings, and be a child of the sun, and dwell aloft amid the eternal light. Oftentimes the thing which we most dread proves to be our grand necessity: by being deprived of earthly comforts we are cut clear of everything except our God. The Lord bring us into this state of high spiritual emancipation.

     With this as a preface, I now come to notice the particular prayer which David in this state of mind puts up. It was necessary to give you this preface as a kind of guard against the very common tendency which exists among God’s people to depend upon signs and tokens. Especially as we are going to preach a little upon this prayer for a “token” it was essential to begin aright, lest we should add to the too common craving for signs and wonders. We will dwell first upon the request for a token, and then, if we have time, we will touch upon the result which David says would come of having such a token— that those which hated him would see it and be ashamed, because God had helped him and comforted him.

     I. David puts up A REQUEST FOR A TOKEN. It was a token from God, mark you, and it was a token entirely according to God’s will. Never forget that it was a token asked in faith, and not in unbelief; for there is a great distinction here.

     Dear brethren, we have no right to say, “My God, I will believe in thee if thou wilt give me a token, and, if not, I will remain in hesitating unbelief for the English of that is, “I will reckon thee to be false unless thou show me a sign according to my will.” If God be true, thou art bound to believe him, whether he give thee a token or not; and thou art not permitted to suspend thy faith upon conditions of thine own inventing. Whether he will or will not give thee a token must be according to his own mind. He may give or withhold as he pleases; but thou art bound to believe him, since every man is bound to believe the truth. God has never been false to thee; thou hast therefore no cause to doubt him. If he give thee the light, be thankful; but as his child thou art bound to trust him in the dark. If he speaks to thee a favourable word, thou art to be glad; but thou art bound to trust him even if he speaks nothing but rough words to thee, for he is just as true. His truth and thy belief in that truth must not be thought to depend upon signs and tokens: his word is very sure, and may not be questioned.

     Moreover, we have known some who professed to be the children of God, who have picked out certain tokens according to their own whims and fancies and follies, and they have spoken as if God must do this or that at their dictation. I fear that in some this is a wicked presumption not to be tolerated for a moment. At best it is a childish folly, which men in Christ Jesus ought long ago to have outgrown. I do not doubt that the Lord has indulged some of his little children with marks and signs while they were very, very feeble, which he will never give them again, and which they ought never to seek for again— which, indeed, now that they have grown up to riper years and to more strength of grace, they ought themselves to put away as childish things. Not a few of these signs they may even suspect, saying, “Peradventure after all there was not so much in those marks and tokens as I thought there was. They helped me just then, but I could not rely upon them now; I prefer that which is better and surer.” The Apostle Peter, after he has described Christ upon the mount as manifesting himself to his servants in the transfiguration, declares, “we have a more sure word of prophecy.” What, more sure than the transfiguration? Yes, more sure even than the evidence of their eyes when they saw their Lord glorified upon the holy mount. If thou hast ever been upon the mount with Christ, and if thou hast seen all his brightness, yet still thou art not to compare even the sight of thy eyes, when they see the best and brightest that they can see, with the word of testimony which must be sure— a light that shineth in a dark place. All the rapt experiences which we have ever had are not to be trusted in comparison with the word of God. I say it advisedly, even the sweetest communion we have ever had with Christ may after all be suspected, and indeed it is upon such ripe fruit that Satan soon sets his hand that he may rob us of its savour if possible, for he is not slow to cast doubts upon the holiest joys of God’s elect. There may come a time when we shall fear that we were carried away by excitement, or deluded by fanaticism; but he who speaks the word of Scripture cannot lie, and when his Spirit speaks that same truth into the soul we have therein a testimony which never can be doubted, but must be accepted over the head of everything. “Let God be true, and every man a liar”— ourselves and all; all liars as compared with the eternal verities of the revelation of God the Holy Ghost. The basis of faith is not our experience, but the testimony of God, and we must mind we do not make the feet of our image partly of God’s gold and partly of our clay. Our experience may be in error, but the infallible word of God cannot be, and it is upon that alone which we must stand.

     Yet we may ask for tokens in a subordinate sense. Trusting in the Lord, token or no token; believing his word, evidence or no evidence; we may then humbly ask confirmatory seals to our souls. Taking his promise as it stands, and believing it, though the heavens themselves should seem to rock and reel — we may then say, “Yet Lord, inasmuch as I am but dust and ashes, and therefore weak and trembling, show me a token for good.”

     We may feel quite safe in seeking tokens of the kind which are mentioned in this psalm. And first, we may beg for answers to prayer, because the psalm begins with, “Bow down thine ear, O Lord, hear me”; and farther on we read in the sixth verse, “Give ear, O Lord, unto my prayer, and attend to the voice of my supplications.” There is no fanaticism in expecting God to answer prayer, and there is no misuse of logic in drawing the inference that, if he does hear my prayer in the time of trouble, this is a token for good to my soul. Has my prayer been accepted before him? Have I received the gracious answer of peace? Then let me be comforted thereby. Especially was I in deep distress where no man could help me, and did I then cry to him, and did he come to my rescue? Assuredly, this is a seal that is set to my soul that I am no hypocrite. This is a token that I am no stranger to God, and that I am not cast away from his presence. Answered prayers are hopeful arguments of acceptance. David fitly said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me,” and then he joyfully added, “But verily God hath heard me.” Thus he proved the soundness of his heart before God. I ask you to look back and see whether you have indeed prevailed with God in secret prayer. Have you had your Jabboks and your Carmels? Do I not speak to many who are familiar with the great Hearer of prayer? Has he not often heard you? I am not too bold when I assert that the Lord has granted me according to the desire of my heart times without number. The devil himself can never dispute me out of facts— facts which shall for ever stand on my memory, “engraved as in eternal brass,” for out of the depths I have cried unto God, and he has as distinctly answered my prayers as though he had rent the heavens and come down to succour his servant. With overwhelming delight he fills me, for he hath had respect unto my cry. His tenderness to me in this respect has made my life singularly happy, though I have had a large share of pain and depression. When I think over the seasons in which the Lord has specially answered me, I bid defiance to all the sceptics and scientists who haunt our footsteps. Brethren in Christ, you have, each of you, in your own way, according to your own need, had sure instances of the faithfulness of God to you, and these have been reviving tokens of love. At this present be of good cheer. Even if for a while the heavens should seem as brass, and prayer should not be heard, recollect that he did hear you in times gone by, and he is the same God, and changes not, and therefore is hearing still, and will answer by-and-by. Therefore cry mightily to him. It may be that your prayer is like a ship, which, when it goes on a very long voyage, does not come home laden so soon; but, when it does come home, it has a richer freight. Mere coasters will bring you coals, or such like ordinary things; but they that go afar to Tarshish return with gold and ivory. Coasting prayers such as we pray every day bring us many necessaries, but there are great prayers which like the old Spanish galleons cross the main ocean and are longer out of sight, but come home deep laden with a golden freight. When prayer has tarried, the Lord our God has made up for the delays, and showed us why he did delay— to give us a richer and a rarer blessing through our waiting, and also to prepare us to receive it. Go on in prayer if you have no immediate answer, and let the answers you have had in years gone by be tokens for good to your soul at this time.

“God liveth still!
Trust my soul, and fear no ill:
God is good; from his compassion
Earthly help and comfort flow;
Strong is his right hand to fashion
All things well for men below;
Trial, oft the most distressing,
In the end has proved a blessing:
Wherefore then my soul despair?
God still lives, and heareth prayer.”

     You meet with another class of tokens in the psalm, and these concern the preservation of character. Kindly read the second verse: “Preserve my soul, for I am holy.” I know I am speaking in these dark and troubled times to many of God’s children who are tried in business, and sorely exercised by the general depression: your great fear arises out of a dread of failure to discharge your debts. You have been praying to the Lord about your business; and perhaps Satan has tempted you to a measure of unbelief against which you are daily fighting. Now, has the Lord helped you to do that which is honest and upright before men? Has he preserved your soul because you are consecrated to him? You have been a loser, but in that loss can you say, “No fault attaches to me: it is the act of God. Things have not prospered with me, but I have been diligent, and I have used my best discretion, and I have curtailed every expense to save as much as possible. I have sought to eat my own bread, and not the bread of another man, and I would sooner come to labour with my hands in the most menial service than that any should say of me that I have forgotten the way of uprightness and integrity”? If such be the case, you will feel acutely the difficulties of your pathway, but you must not give way to despondency. Look up and play the man, and by no means give up. Fly to the Lord in this hour of need, and see what he will do. It is written, “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me,” and if such has been your case it is a token for good. You have not lost much if your character remains untarnished. After all, “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth”; and “a good name is better than precious ointment.” When God gives a man grace to rejoice in his abundance, it is a great thing; but it is an equal favour when he gives to others of his people grace to rejoice that they are brought low. There is often more contentment in a narrower sphere than in a wider one, and a great deal less care and anxiety, and more fellowship with God in a cottage than in a broad mansion. If God keeps your character spotless, reckon that the smell of fire has not passed upon you. If the Lord enables you to do the right, let him do what he pleases with you. If we can pay twenty shillings in the pound, and walk out of the house free from any charge of unjust dealing, we may feel that the worst grief of all is over, for to an honest heart it is a crushing trial to be unable to pay every man his own. May the Holy Spirit lead you in the path of uprightness, and you need not envy any among the sons of men.

     A third form of token for good is found in deliverance from trouble. We have that in the second verse also: “O thou, my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee,” and all through the psalm David is crying for deliverance from trouble. I am addressing many who have felt the strokes of tribulation. You have been brought very low; in your horror it seemed to you like the lowest hell; but you have been brought up from it, and you can at this hour sing of delivering grace. We are not all hanging our harps on the willows, some of us are praising God upon the high sounding cymbals because of his delivering mercy, for he has brought our soul out of prison, has delivered our soul from death, our eyes from tears, and our feet from falling. When these things come, they are to be regarded as tokens for good, if they come as the result of prayer and faith. Our personal testimony should be like that of David in the thirty-fourth psalm: “I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” When our distresses are ended our songs should begin, even as the psalmist says of men rescued from peril: they pray, and then they praise. “Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” There ought to be praises where there have been deliverances. When we have gone to God in prayer with open mouth, and he has filled it, then should we go back again with the open mouth, to have it filled with his praises all the day long. Come, friends, look back upon the rescues and recoveries of the past, and rejoice in the Lord. One good old saint, when she heard one sing,

“Each sweet Ebenezer I have in review,
Confirms his good pleasure to help me quite through,”

said, “Why, my road, when I look back upon it, is paved with Ebenezers. I cannot take a step but what I step upon a stone of help; and on both sides I see so many records of the Lord’s goodness that the road seems walled up by them on both sides.” Many of us can say the same. Well surely

“His love in time past forbids us to think,
He’ll leave us at last in trouble to sink.”

If he has delivered us from the jaw of the lion and the paw of the bear, shall we be afraid of that uncircumcised Philistine? No, but the giant boaster shall fall before us. In the name of the Lord will we destroy all future foes, because in his name aforetime we have destroyed the like. That is fine language which Paul uses in the epistle to the Corinthians: “Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.”

     These three forms of tokens for good are very sure, and very sober, not at all like those which fanaticism seeks after, and yet they are most valuable. Answered prayers, preservations from sin, and deliverances from trouble are rich jewels from the Bridegroom’s hand, marks of love most costly. Those who have them should not forget them. “Shall a maid forget her ornaments?” Shall gifts of the Bridegroom be put away as though they were of no value? God forbid.

     There is another form of token which must never be overlooked, and that is, a sense of pardoned sin. This comes in in the third and fifth verses. “Be merciful unto me, O Lord: for I cry unto thee daily. For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” Even though we have been sustained in our integrity, we must, nevertheless, be conscious of many faults. You cannot go through either the joys of this world or the sorrows of it without incurring a measure of defilement. He who picks his steps the most successfully will yet gather soil upon his feet, and they will need washing by those dear hands which alone can take away the stain of sin. When that washing is given, it is a very choice love-token. If you feel that your conscience is purged from dead works— if you are walking in the light as God is in the light, and are enjoying fellowship with the Father, while the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth you from all sin, then rejoice in the token for good which is given you. If you know the power of that word, “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”— if you are indeed “accepted in the Beloved,” then know of a surety that one of the best tokens for good is in your possession. It may be that your purse is scant, but your sin is forgiven! It may be that disease is creeping over your flesh, but your sin is forgiven! What a bliss is yours, whatever your trial may be! Suppose yourself to be in danger of shipwreck: the ship is going down, the passengers are shrieking with terror, for there is nothing before them but the murderous waves. The boiling floods will soon conceal the last vestige of the ship: grim death opens his wide jaws! The last moment has come! But what do I see? What was that which rose upon the crest of the wave? It was the life-boat! Yes! Here comes the life-boat, and you are put on board it! What is your thought at the time? What must be your thought? What! Did you whine cut, “I have lost, my best portmanteau, which I left in my cabin”? What a fool you would be if you talked like that! The boatmen would be ready to throw you into the sea. No, your gratitude forgets all minor things, and rejoices in the grand deliverance. You cry, “My life is saved! My life is saved! Blessed be the Lord for saving me! My money, my very clothes— for I started up in my sleep, and leaped into the life-boat— I have lost them all, but I am alive, and that is enough. Thank God, I shall see my native land again!” Shall a man who is delivered from hell, and whose sins are forgiven, go whining all the day long because he has lost his money, or some other trifle, for trifle it is as compared with his soul. “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life”; and if our life be saved in Christ Jesus, through the forgiveness of our sin by his most precious blood, how can we fret? Why, man, God has given you a mercy that may swallow up your troubles as Aaron’s rod swallowed up all the serpents. “Strike me, my God,” said one of old, “Strike me as thou wilt, now that thou hast forgiven me.” The pardon of sin is such a token for good that all ills disappear before it.

     There is another token for good mentioned in the psalm which you may well pray for. You will find it in the fourth verse: “Rejoice the soul of thy servant: for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.” This is support under trial.

     It is a very blessed token for good when you are able to keep calm, quiet, and happy in the midst of losses, crosses, bereavements, and afflictions. All the water in the sea will never hurt the ship so long as it is outside, it is only that which enters the vessel that can sink it. Hence the Saviour says, “Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God; believe also in me.” In the world ye shall have tribulation, but let not your heart be troubled. Now, are you, dear friend, conscious at this time while everything is going against you that you never were happier than you are now? Can you give all up? Can you be resigned to your heavenly Father’s will? Does a sweet patience steal over you? Do you sometimes say to yourself and to your friends, “I would not have believed that I could have passed through this as I am doing”? Well, that is a token for good, and you may take comfort from it. What does it matter to a man after all whether God increases the load and increases the strength, or whether he decreases the load and decreases the strength? If a man has to carry a pound weight, and he is so weak that he can only manage to carry eight ounces, well, he is an overloaded man; but if a man had to carry a ton, and God gave him strength enough to carry two, why, he would be a lightly-loaded man, would he not? It is not the weight of the burden, it is the proportion of the burden to the strength. Now, the proportion of the burden to the strength was settled long ago— thousands of years ago. It is written, “As thy days, so shall thy strength be”; and there was one who proved it eighteen hundred years ago, and exclaimed, “As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” You see the scale; if there is an ounce of suffering, there is an ounce of consolation. Almighty wisdom keeps the measure exact: Let the tribulation abound. Put it into the left-hand scale. Heap it up. Put in more and more trial. What a weight it is! Yes, but there you see in the right-hand scale the balancing consolation; and I think if we were wise we should be willing to accept— nay, we should even rejoice in— the abounding tribulations because of the abounding consolations. We shall always be little, I am afraid, while our trials are little; but it is when we get into the deeper waters that the Lord helps us to swim, and he makes men of us then, and we begin to glory in tribulation also, because the power of God doth rest upon us. Oh may the Lord give us faith to come up to this point, and this shall be for ever a blessed token for good when we can say,

“I stand upon the mount of God,
With sunlight in my soul;
I hear the storms in vales beneath;
I hear the thunders roll:
“But I am calm with thee, my God,
Beneath these glorious skies;
And to the heights on which I stand,
Nor storms nor clouds can rise.”
 

May God endow us with that token for good; for serenity in suffering, patience in tribulation, joy in the very prospect of death, these are all as white stones, which are the secret signs of divine favour.

     Cheering visits from Christ, and fresh anointings of the Holy Spirit, are also most sure tokens for good, and if not mentioned expressly in the psalm, must not be omitted in our sermon. They are, however, here in such phrases as these:— “Rejoice the soul of thy servant,” in verse 4; “unite my heart to fear thy name,” in verse 11; “O turn unto me and have mercy upon me,” in verse 16; and in the latter clause of our text, “thou, Lord, hast holpen me and comforted me.” The Lord graciously visits his people, the clouds break, the night declines, and the day begins to dawn. Precious promises are applied to the heart with reviving power, hope is strengthened, and joy is renewed. Sweet communion is enjoyed under affliction, and Christ is seen sitting as a refiner at the mouth of the furnace. Sin is no longer allowed to burden the heart; yea, the very memory of it, so far as it would cause pain to the mind, is utterly removed, and the glad spirit rejoices in the consciousness of full acceptance with God. Ordinances and the word become sweeter than honey or the honeycomb, and the man feasts in the house of the Lord as one who is an honoured guest at a royal banquet, where the banner of Jesus’ love waves over his head, and he himself leans his head on his Lord’s bosom. This is a token for good, the memory of which shall cheer him for many a long day, and being treasured up like some sweet smelling herb, shall serve to render fragrant his sick chamber or his prison-house. O the joy of saints when the Bridegroom is with them; they cannot fast or be of a sad countenance, for their assurance of his divine love drives every care and fear away.

“Tis like the singing of the birds
When winter’s frost is fled;
And like the warmth the sun affords
To creatures almost dead.
“’Tis like the comfort of a calm
Which stills a stormy sea;
And like the tender, healing balm
To such as wounded be.”

Of such tokens for good may we enjoy rich store, until the day break, and the shadows flee away.

     II. I had many things to say unto you, but I remember Paul’s mistake that he made when he preached until midnight, and Eutychus fell from the third loft, for he had gone to sleep; and as I could not possibly raise a sleeper from the dead, as Paul did, I will not try the experiment of preaching as long as Paul did. I cannot say anything as to THE RESULT OF SUCH TOKENS. The influence of these tokens upon our foes must be undescribed save that many a time the favour of God to his people has been so conspicuous that their most malicious adversaries have stood in awe of them. Their answered prayers have been like armour to them, their patience has lit up their faces with an aweinspiring splendour, and their integrity has been a wall of fire round about them. Even the devil has stood abashed in the presence of the favoured ones when God has dressed them in their marriage robes. He has known that they were of that chosen race against which he never can prevail. As for other enemies— “when a man’s ways please the Lord he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Like Pilate’s, wife, even worldly people have pleaded that good men should be let alone; the Lord has made them dream of the glory of their virtue, and they have been afraid. There is a dignity which doth hedge about those who are kings unto God. They that dwell in the uttermost parts of the earth are afraid because of the tokens for good which God sets on his saints.

     Here we leave these words, only adding this, what an unhappy state must those be in who have troubles, but have no God to go to; enemies, but no heavenly defender; darkness, and no star of hope!

     How poor must you be who cannot escape affliction, and yet have no helper in affliction! You run to your friends, do you? Ah well, they are a poor refuge to fly to, for mostly they are our friends when we can help them, but when we need anything from them, they do not know us. You trust yourself do you? Ah well, I thought little of your friends, but I think less of you, for you are dust and ashes, and nothing else, and if your trust be in yourself it is a dream. And so you are a self-made man! your own creator? You need not be so very proud of your work. As you made yourself, and keep yourself going, you will come to a frightful end one of these days, when the inward force decays into weakness, and all the springs of nature fail. Whatever you make your god is like yourself, and both you and it must pass away ere long. Your hope shall be as a spider’s web, and your expectation shall melt like the hoar frost when the sun arises. The Lord is coming, the Lord is coming, and woe unto hypocrites in that day! It will go ill with self-confident men in that day. But as for such as trust the Lord, do you know what they say? and they speak as inspiration bids them speak— “I shall be satisfied.” I am not yet; but I shall be satisfied. And when shall I be satisfied? “When I awake with thy likeness.” When the archangel’s trumpet sounds, and wakes me into immortal perfection, then shall I be satisfied. Oh seek the Saviour’s face. Dear hearts, that never have sought him yet, seek him now; for there is no satisfaction to be had apart from him. Get away to him; get away to him to-night. Cry unto him, for he will hear you. Come unto him, for he will receive you. May his divine Spirit lead you to cast yourselves on him, for he will in no wise cast you out. The Lord bless you, for Jesus’s sake. Amen.



Rare Fruit

By / Jun 22

RARE FRUIT.

 

“I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace.”— Isaiah lvii. 19.

 

“THE fruit of the lips”! The lips are neither trees of the orchard nor herbs of the garden. What fruit can they bear? The scattering of Babel came of human speech when languages were multiplied, and the uuited race split up into fragments. Wars and fightings, and hatred and bloodshed have sprung of talk and bluster: these are deadly fruits, the very mention of which brings pain to the heart, — surely it is in vain to look for much that is worth gathering to mouths and tongues. Great talkers are proverbially little doers, and the more talk the less work. We may come for years looking for fruit on this fig-tree and find none. “Nothing but leaves” will be gathered by those who look to the lips for a harvest to fill the barn. This is most true. It you let the lips alone they produce mischief and trouble, and not much •else. An unrenewed tongue is worse almost than an unregenerate heart, because bad as the heart may be there is heart in it; the tongue is often heartless, a mere sounding sham with no reality to support its brazen noise. Too many speak with the lips, and their Heart is not in what they say. If the lips become the instruments of hypocrisy, and if the fruit of the lips be only the fruit of the lips, it is comparable to the apples of Sodom. The lips, moreover, cause pain and evil all around, which the heart alone cannot do. The heart is as an oven closed up; the tongue is a fire raging abroad, setting on flame the course of nature when it is itself set on fire of hell. The lips of the wicked are like the upas tree, which drips poison.

     We could readily dispense with the fruit of the lips as it comes from uncircumcised and unclean lips. Go out and gather a basketful of the fruit of the lips, — gossiping, bickering, fault-finding, murmuring, nonsense, vanity, falsehood, boasting, infidelity. I will not tell you all that I might put into that basket. Certainly, if it were to be shred and poured out into the broth of daily life, we should soon have to say as they did who threw the wild cucumber into the pottage, “O thou man of God, there is death in the pot.” The fruit of the lips tendeth to vanity, to poverty, to sorrow, to shame, to death. The fruit of the lips is just what the root of an unrenewed, unregenerate heart causes it to be. You know Æsop, and how wisely he kept his master’s command when he bade him provide for dinner the best things he could, and when they came together he set out tongues— nothing else but tongues. His master was pleased with his wit, though I am afraid the guests did not relish it, and he ordered him the next time to provide for dinner the worst things he possibly could. Tongues again— nothing else but tongues! Truly Æsop was wise there, for the fruit of the lips is sometimes the best thing in the world, and sometimes the worst thing in the world: it is a blessing and a curse, according to the man whose tongue speaketh. The fruit of the lips may be compared to Jeremiah’s figs— the good, very good, but the bad, exceeding bad, exceeding naughty figs, that cannot be eaten. Fruit of the lips, what shall I say about thee? It might seem that the less we said the better, lest in our case also the fruit of the lips should add to the useless heap.

     Our text tells us that God creates the fruit of the lips; but this must be understood, of course, with a reservation. He does not create the fruit of the lips as we commonly see it, but the good fruit, the true fruit, the fruit worth gathering, that which should be the fruit of the lips— of this God is the Creator. Because the natural fruit is so evil it needs the Creator again to step in, and make us new creatures, and our fruit new also, or else it will remain so bad that the verdict upon it must be “Vanity of vanities, all is vanities.” And what is that fruit which the Creator produces from a source which is naturally so barren? First of all, it is the sacrifice of thanksgiving— “the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” (Heb. xiii. 15.) The fruit of the lips which God creates should be, above all things, praise. We ought to delight to praise God: it should be our element, our occupation, our recreation, our very life. We are as much and as evidently intended to praise God as angels are. When I look at a bird, if I study it awhile, I am convinced that it was made to sing. When we look at an angel, and study his formation and character, we are certain that he was ordained to praise God; and he that studies man, if he can see beyond the defects which the fall has brought upon every organ, will be forced to see that he is a creature adapted for the praise of God. Our tongue is the glory of our frame, and it is given us that we may give glory to him who framed it. Articulate speech, which is denied to birds and beasts, is given to us for this major reason— that we may articulately and distinctly praise and magnify the name of the Most High. O man, however eloquent in oratory or charming in song thy lips may be, they are fruitless if thou dost not therewith extol thy Maker! Thy lips are as dry Sahara sand, or a& the salt deserts, where not a blade of grass can live, if from them there never springs the sweet flower of gratitude to God, fragrantly expressing itself in words of love. Thy lips should drop as the honeycomb; a gentle dew of thankfulness should distil from them. They should be like the rose, sending forth perpetual perfume; each word should be a fragrant leaf, scattering a sweet smell of adoration. The lips should be the gates of thankfulness, and from between them there should continually pour forth a wealthy traffic of song, bearing abroad the products of a grateful heart, wrought in the forges of glowing thankfulness to God.

     Another fruit of the lips should never be forgotten, and that is prayer. This should be the fruit of renewed manhood at every age; the lips of little children can compass prayer, and the mouth of the aged may not fail to utter it. This is a God-created fruit; he that abounds in it is as a vine which God has blessed. Woe unto the mouth which is silent at the mercy-seat, for it will one day be dumb at the judgment-seat! Those lips are cursed that never pray. Those lips shall blister with unutterable pain that never pray. “Behold, he prayeth,” is an absolutely necessary sign of the possession of grace in the heart. True praise never flowered from those lips upon which prayer has never blossomed. Be ye sure of this, that prayer and praise are grapes of the same cluster, and the lips which are barren of the one are bare of the other. These two fruits of the lips God creates wherever his grace enters.

     Furthermore, when there is prayer and praise in us, another fruit of the lip is testimony. Do you produce this, dear friends? Has God created it from your lips? It is the bearing witness to others of what God can do, because you have received it in your own experience. God blesses us on purpose that we may tell other poor souls how he can bless the sons of men; and yet there are Christians— at least, I hope they are Christians — who appear to have received great mercy from God, but they keep the matter hidden. Oh! be not such, I pray you. If you have good tidings in your heart, bring forth the fruit of the lip and tell it. “I should stammer,” says one. There is a great beauty in the stammering of earnestness. “I could never be eloquent,” says one. Yet there is much true eloquence where there is no appearance of it: when a man cannot speak his heart, it matters not if you can read in his face that he would speak with the tongues of angels if he could, for he feels that bis theme transcends his utmost ability. Fine words are not forceful; it is the heart which prevaileth. Tell thy neighbour that Jesus died; tell thy neighbour that Jesus came into the world to save sinners; tell thy neighbour he is welcome to Christ; tell thy neighbour Christ hath saved thee. Do not hesitate to tell him of thine own tasting and handling of the good word of life, for this is a most profitable fruit of the lips. What is so likely to prevail with a man as brotherly testimony? How can we so surely attract men to Canaan as by showing its Eshcol clusters, setting them forth with earnest speech, as the Holy Ghost enables us? These discourses of mine are the fruit of my lips. I cannot tell you how much I wish they were more worthy of my Master’s honour; but, such as they are, you all have the benefit of them, and they lay you under an obligation to yield your fruit unto others. I am not called to bear witness alone, and when I have borne my fruit, and you are refreshed, it is your bounden duty to go and bring forth the like fruit for the refreshment of others. Thus much about the threefold fruit of the lips.

     Now, there is one renowned topic upon which the lips ought always to be able to speak, and that blessed subject is summed up in the two words of my text, “Peace, peace.” “I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace.” The lips ought to be occupied with the subject of peace; this should be their breath: as Saul breathed out threatenings, so should we breathe out peace, and yet again peace, a double peace from our two lips. From the mouth of truth should come kisses of peace, words of peace, the breath of peace. This is the best lip-salve— “Peace, peace.” Nothing can so sweeten the breath as “Peace, peace.” Nothing can so flavour the palate and delight the heart as this “Peace, peace,” felt within, and breathed without. No teeth of ivory, nor lips of coral, are complete in loveliness till over all there glistens the brightness of peace. Fierce speech becomes not loveliness, and threatening and clamour destroy beauty, but the charm of the lips is peace. So I am going to take those two words and recommend them to you as a fruit of the lips which God creates; and may the Lord help us all to go out of this place with this on our lips— “Peace, peace.”

     I. We shall employ these words in four ways, and we shall commence by using them as THE CRY OF THE AWAKENED.

     When men are awakened by the grace of God into a consciousness of their true condition they find themselves at war with God and at war with their own consciences, and consequently they begin to cry, “Peace, peace”: longing eagerly to end the dreadful conflict in which they find themselves engaged. While a man is dead in trespasses and sins, where nature left him, and where the devil keeps him, he has a deadly calm of mind. He is not troubled; he has no bonds in his death, should he die, and none in his life while he is drunken with sin. He is like a brute beast, looking no further than to the pasture in which he feeds: he lives for the present, and, as long as his bodily wants are satisfied, he is content. When the Spirit of God arouses in him thoughts about higher things, the whole matter is changed; he thinks of God, and laments that he has forgotten his Maker. He thinks of that Maker’s law, and perceives that he has constantly broken it; indeed, he has never regarded it, but treated it as a thing of nought. He thinks of death, and he says, “I must die, but I am unprepared.” He thinks of eternity, of that other world, that lasting world beyond time, that world where we must dwell for ever, and he cries, “Where shall I dwell? and where will my portion be?” He feels it cannot be amongst the sanctified, for he is not one of them. He cannot hope to see the face of God with joy, for he has never sought that face, nor cared for the knowledge of God’s ways. As he begins thinking of these high themes, conscience sets before his mind the day of judgment: he sees the heavens on a blaze, and the great Judge calling all men to account: and he is sore troubled. He sees heaven open and all its glory, but he fears that he will be excluded, for he has been a rebel against the Lord; he looks down to hell with all its terror, and it seems to gape for him, as for one most suitable to be its everlasting prey. Do you wonder, then, if the man is tormented with intestine strife, and with horror of a war without? He has no rest, and he cries “Peace, peace”: the cry only echoes in his ear, for what peace can there be to him? Very likely a worldling comes along and says, “You are melancholy. Do not give way to such low spirits. I count it one of the wisest things to drive dull care away. Come with me where they make merry.” He goes; but, somehow or other, he sees that all the gold is gilt, and all the finery is flimsy, and that there is nothing in the mirth. The sport is tame and dull to him, and he himself is duller than ever. He does not enjoy what once was the delight of his eyes; he comes away, and when they ask him to visit their haunts again he says, “No, no. My heart seems heavier there than when I am alone.” “As vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to a sad heart.” There is no suitability in worldly merry-making to ease a tortured spirit. The awakened sinner cries, “Peace, peace. Oh that I had peace.”

     Then there visits him one who knowingly whispers, “You need not disturb yourself. These things are not so. Do you not know that these are all bugbears of a past generation? We men of modem thought have made great discoveries, and changed all the fears of our benighted ancestors into a brave unbelief. You can live at ease. Do not fret yourself about sin, or heaven, or hell, or eternity.” Vain are these stale scepticisms, the man is too much in earnest to be drugged with such soporifics. Boastful unbelief has small power over an agonized soul. God himself has convinced this man of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, and though he tries to disbelieve he cannot. Conviction haunts him, follows him into his chamber, robs him of his rest, and he cries, “I fain would be an unbeliever if I could, but I cannot. Oh that I had peace! Oh that I had peace!”

     Mr. Worldly Wiseman calls upon him, with his friend Dr. Legality, and his assistant-surgeon Mr. Civility, and these try their Balm of Conceit, and Plaister of Natural Goodness. Dr. Legality finds his patient disturbed with the threatenings of the gospel and the doctrines of Holy Writ, and he says, “These things are quite true, but you need not worry, because you have not been so bad as a great many, and if it goes hard with you it will go very hard with the most of people. You are all right, for you have been honest, obliging, generous, and religious.” Ay, but if God has been dealing with this man, he will say, “But I am not all right. I feel that I deserve the wrath of God, and that goodness is not in me. You may think it is so, but I know myself, and 1 have looked into my heart, and I find all manner of evil there. Oh that I had peace! Oh that I had peace!” Self-righteousness is too short a bed for an awakened sinner to stretch himself thereon, neither can flatterers cajole him into a peace based upon forgetfulness of the divine law.

     Then comes the priest, and he exclaims, “Come with us, and undergo ceremonies, and take sacraments, and we will ease you of your burden.” Perhaps the poor man tries this, but though he tries it he finds no rest whatever. No, the leprosy lies deep within, and no outward form can cleanse away the deep-seated pollution. The burden presses on his heart, and therefore no manipulation of outward rites can remove the heavy load from him. His cry is, “Peace, peace, peace, peace! Oh that I could get it! Oh that I could get it! I would search through earth, and sea, and air, and hell itself, if I might find it, and bless the grave if it would give it me.” Dear heart, I sympathize with you. I remember when I would have gone to the utmost verge of this green earth if I could have found peace. I tell you, racks and tortures I would have boldly endured; prison-houses and dungeons I would have bravely entered, and battle and death I would have gladly encountered, if I could have found peace from my accusing conscience; but I found none. I was like that serpent which is said to sting itself to death. “My thoughts,” as George Herbert says, “were all a case of knives.” Every motion of my mind seemed to drive a dagger into my heart. A volcano had burst up within my soul, and the burning lava of despair flowed over all. I was no fool, nor was I under a delusion. I think I was never saner than at that dread period of my life; certainly I was never more seriously in earnest. I was not a simpleton scared at his own shadow, but I had cause to be disquieted, for actual guilt was upon me; not that I was worse than others in outward sin, but that I had such a sight and sense of my guiltiness that I could only cry out, “Woe is me! Oh, wretched man that I am!” Then my daily prayer was, “Peace, peace!” but I could not find it. This is a good cry, however, for every awakened spirit. I would put it into the mouth of every penitent: rather may the Lord himself create it there as the fruit of the lips. “Peace, peace.”

     II. Secondly, our theme is much more cheerful when we see that this is THE ANSWER OF THE SAVIOUR.

     It is the fruit of the Saviour’s lips, whose lips are as lilies dropping sweet smelling myrrh. It is he that comes to a soul and says, “Peace, peace.” Oh, did you ever see him as dying of sin? If you have never seen him with the eye of faith you do not know what peace means. After this fashion he shows himself. He looks upon the sinner, troubled and tossed to and fro, and he says, “What aileth thee?” “My sin,” says the sinner, “has utterly condemned me.” “Dost thou not know that I bore it eighteen hundred years ago and more, in my own body on the tree?” “Yes, Lord, I have heard that thou didst something of the kind, but didst thou bear it so that I need not bear it?” Then the Redeemer shows that he bore the burden of guilt effectually and carried it away into the land of forgetfulness: and, moreover, he makes clear the truth that if he took our sin, it can never be laid on us, for it is not consistent with the Father’s justice first to punish the Substitute for sin and then to punish the offender also. That were to make a mockery of Christ Jesus by making him a Substitute and then punishing those for whom he stood as a Surety. Dost thou see that, poor soul? Is it not clear enough that if the Surety is sued for the debt, and is made to discharge it, the original debtor is free? Rest in the fact that this is the believer’s case.

     “But,” says the heart, “my Lord, I know that thou didst die. I see thy wounds, I mark thy open side, but tell me, didst thou die for me in particular?” “Wilt thou trust me, soul? Wilt thou trust me wholly?” “Ah! that I will, my Lord.” “Then I bore thy sin. I was punished in thy stead. Thy iniquity has ceased to be. Thy sins I have cast into the depths of the sea. Thy transgression shall never be mentioned against thee any more for ever. Go, and sin no more. Peace, peace!” What can break a peace like this? Why need I fret about sin which is hurled into oblivion? Why should I despair because of my guilt, and reckon myself condemned? I am not condemned, for Jesus was condemned for me— even he in whom my spirit fixes all her trust. He paid my debts, and discharged my liability to justice, and therefore my soul is clear. Peace, peace! Was there ever peace like this? Glory be to my Redeemer for such rest. Truly a God has given us this repose.

 

“O thou who didst thy glory leave
Apostate sinners to retrieve
From nature’s deadly fall,
Me thou hast purchased with a price,
Nor shall my crimes in judgment rise,
For thou hast borne them all.”

 

     But did you ever see Christ as he is risen from the dead? Here is another vision of consolation, another fount of peace. The poor heart lies prostrate at the Saviour’s feet and cries, “I see thee, my Lord; I see how thou hast put away my sin, and I am at peace; but alas! I am a poor fool, and shall sin again, and I have a wayward, wandering heart that will soon be away over the mountains leaping into sin again. How can I hope to enter heaven?” To this the Lord Jesus replies most sweetly, “Dost thou not know that 1 am risen from the dead? I am he that liveth, though once I died for sin. I am that great Shepherd who lives to take care of his own flock. Because I live thou shalt live also. I am able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by me, seeing I ever live to make intercession for them.” Do you know the peace which the resurrection of the Lord Jesus brings into the spirit? If so, you find rich fruit hanging upon Jesus’ lips. He who knows the virtue of the living Lord at once concludes that the future is as safe as the past. The slain Saviour has slain our past sin, and the living Saviour lives to take care of our eternal life, and to bring us to God’s right hand at the last. See how Jesus says, “Peace, peace, peace! All is well.”

     Did you ever see Jesus as he sits there triumphant at the Lord God's right hand? I hope you have; because a poor, tried spirit is greatly comforted by that sight. The downcast one exclaims, “My Lord, I know thou wilt take care of me here, for I perceive that thou livest to provide for me; but I shall have to die, and what shall I then do? My Lord, I am afraid to die. It is grim work — dying. It is a path I never trod before. What shall I do in the swellings of Jordan?” Jesus answers such fears in his own sweet fashion by saying, “Dost thou not know that I am risen from the dead, and that I have gone into the glory to prepare a place for thee? I will come to thee at the last, and I will take thy spirit away to dwell with me for ever. Thou needest not fear to die, for he that liveth and believeth in me shall never die. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. I will help thee. Death shall be no death to thee. I will catch thy soul away and thou shalt never know it till thou seest me face to face. As for thy poor dust, it shall lie in the grave a little while, but I will take care of every atom of it, and when I shall descend in the latter day upon the earth, my archangel shall sound his trumpet, and thy poor body shall rise again, only more fair and beautiful than when thou hadst it in its best estate below, and so thou shalt be for ever with the Lord, both as to body and soul.” Does not this breathe, “Peace, peace, peace”?

 

“Sure the last end
Of the good man is peace
How calm his exit!
Night dews fall not more calmly on the ground,
Nor weary worn out winds expire so soft.”

 

     If I were to go on picturing our glorious Lord Jesus Christ in any, and all of his relationships to us, we should in each case hear him say, “Peace, peace.” His voice is the sovereign balm which heals every wound, the cordial which removes every fear. No distress or amazement can seize upon you, for which in Christ there is not a peace that passeth all understanding, to keep your heart and soul against all dread and downcasting. This is the fruit of the lips of the Well beloved — peace, peace, peace. If you do not come to him, you will receive no peace; if you do not keep near him, you will retain no peace; and if you do not come growingly nearer and nearer to him, you will miss much of peace that you might have. Abide in Christ Jesus, and let him abide in you, and you shall have abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.

     A soldier in the Crimean war, as he lay dying, was visited by a worthy missionary. The young man asked his visitor to read a chapter to him, and the chapter chosen was John xiv. When he came to this verse— “Peace I leave with you,” the soldier was almost in the article of death, but he said to the reader, “Sir, that is the peace which I enjoy. I have had it for years.” “Peace I leave with you.” “Now,” he said, “if I have known this peace— and I have had it for years— I shall not lose it now, but shall die triumphantly.” And so he did. Can you, my hearer, say to-night that you have that peace? If you have it now you shall have it in your dying hour. Could you say what Dr. Watts said to his host, Sir Thomas Abney? He said, “Sir Thomas I thank God that for many a month I have been able to say, ‘It is a, matter of perfect indifference to me, when I fall asleep at night, whether I wake up in this world or in another.’” I well remember reading the old story of a Methodist, who was pressed into the army some fifty or sixty years ago, who had his leg carried away in battle, and lay bleeding on the ground. “When they carried him off the field he said, “I am as happy as a man can be while out of heaven.” They said he was mad. O for more of such glorious madness. To be able to say when your limb is shot away, and you are bleeding away your life, “I am as happy as a man can be out of heaven,” why there is something in that surely! This must be the finger of God. Where else can such triumph over pain and weakness be found? What voice but that of Jesus can in such a storm command a heavenly calm? Jesus, Master, whose message to thy people is always “Peace, peace,” speak thou that divine word to me, and to all thy troubled ones. Stand in our midst and say, “Peace be unto you,” and peace shall be ours.

     III. Thirdly, I am going to use these words as THE SONG OF THE TRUE BELIEVER.

     He who has really seen Christ, and placed his trust in him, can now sing, “Peace, peace, peace.” What a thrice accursed thing is war! I believe with Benjamin Franklin that there never was a good war, and there never was a bad peace. War is unmitigated mischief from end to end, and peace is a thing to rejoice at, take it in whatever light you will. Killing and slaying, devastating and burning, are sport for fiends, and for fiends alone. True men, if once called to battle, are the last persons who would lightly enter upon it again. It is an awful and terrible thing. I recollect reading that when the last great war was over — I mean the war of all, in which we were so long engaged with the Buonapartes — news of the peace came to a certain town. It was only gently whispered that there was peace, but it was all over the town in a few minutes. Everybody ran through the streets. Bread had been sent up to an awful price by the war, and everybody was weary with the taxes, the slaughter of soldiers, and the perpetual fear of invasion. A man ran down the street shouting, “Peace, peace, peace, peace,” and everybody was glad. All manner of good things were wrapped up in the one word “peace”: families would no more be divided, trade would no longer be crippled, famine would no more devour the land. Now the loaf would be within the reach of the poor and the hungry; and the widow might keep her sons at home, safe from the cannon’s mouth. "Peace, peace,” they cried; and within an hour there were bells ringing from every steeple, and as the sun went down there were candles in every window. Everybody must have an illumination because peace had come. Now, if peace be so precious as to temporal things, it is equally precious as to eternal things; and if a man has once seen Jesus Christ, it is the joy of his life to sing, “Peace, peace.” Here stands the reconciled man, and he looks up to heaven through the pure blue air, past yon stars, endless leagues beyond imagination’s utmost stretch: he looks up, and his mind conceives of God, and his heart feels, “I am at peace with him. Though he be a consuming fire, I am at peace with him. With the great Father I am at peace. Though it is very tempestuous round about him, yet I am at peace with him. I am at peace with the eternal Son: though he shall break his enemies with a rod of iron, he will never break me; I am at peace with him. I am at peace with the Holy Ghost, for though to blaspheme him is death without hope of mercy, yet I am at peace with him: he will never destroy me.” What a peace is this! — peace with God, the peace of God, perfect peace. Having this peace, every angel is my friend, every cherub is my guardian; and all the hosts in glittering ranks above, of spirits angelic and unfallen, and of spirits human, saved and washed in the blood, are all my friends, for I have peace with the armies of heaven if I have peace with the Lord of hosts. How delightful to look all around you, and to feel confident that providence is on your side! The wheels are stupendous, and the results that come of their revolution are mysterious and terrible; but let the wheels revolve, they cannot hurt a child of God. All things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to his purpose. There is peace in all events when there is peace with heaven. The beasts of the field are in league with us, and the stones of the field are at peace with us, when we are at peace with God. It is most sweet to feel that wherever you are everything is at peace with you; and then to look inside into this little world where there once raged such fierce battles, and there also to feel the sprinkled blood — this, this is joy! Conscience is quiet, fear has subsided, the deadly dread is gone, all is quiet, and all is well.

     To feel that you have forgiven every enemy if you have any, that you do not bear a recollection of an injury, this also is a brave easement of the heart. As the tablets of the Romans when they had written upon the wax were afterwards rolled over with a hot iron to produce a complete erasure, so by grace we are enabled to smooth out of the soul every angry line, and to begin life anew as to our fellowmen. Revenge and malice are unknown among true Christians. I have no more memory of ill towards any man that liveth than a babe unborn. This is a clear atmosphere to live in! How different from the thunder-charged air of envy, malice, and hate! “Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Blessed are the men who live in this peace, — peace of God ’s giving; peace of the Holy Ghost’s working; peace above and peace below, peace within and peace around: peace, peace, the blessed fruit of the lips.

     IV. I close by using my text in a fourth way, practically, by saying that this should be THE MOTTO OF EVERY BELIEVER.

     It has been his song for himself, — now let it be his motto in dealing with other people. This should be his spirit and desire in the church— “Peace, peace.” I thank God that we have enjoyed peace as a church these many years, but I have known certain churches where peace would be a novelty, a novelty which I recommend them to try. Some little churches seem to think that they must have an angry discussion every month, or else they are living beneath their gospel privileges. This leads to heart-burnings, and promotes splits and divisions, and these are as frequent among them as fights at an Irish wake. They want n, new minister every now and then, for they consider their want of prosperity to be the minister’s fault: and then they want a fresh set of deacons, for the evil is thought to be the deacons’ fault. By-and-by they discover that some leading man, or, what is worse, some leading woman, is at the bottom of the evil, and they must get rid of him or her, and then all will go right; and they practise the process of dismemberment, cutting off one part of the body, and then another, till they think the smaller they become the better they will be. What a mistake! Do they think to find peace by breaking into pieces? The more Christians are divided the more they can subdivide, and the smaller the sect the more prepared is it for another schism. Brethren, whenever you fall aquarrelling I shall know that the Spirit of God has gone from you. Hitherto we have put up with one another very well, by God’s grace, and I hope we shall continue to do so. I do not suppose you ever thought that I was perfect: if you did, you did not know much about me. I knew very well that you were not perfect. I never flattered you from the very beginning, and therefore I am not disappointed in you. We have gone on wonderfully well with each other, considering how imperfect we are; and I trust that the grace of God, which has kept so large a multitude together in love and peace, will continue to do it, to his own glory.

     How, especially when I am away, if any enemy brings strange fire to set the church alight with it, I pray you who are older and wiser than others to keep your buckets full of water, and stand ready to quench the first spark of ill feeling. You, good brothers and sisters, who are rather fond of talking, if you see a little blaze beginning, leave off your talking, for fear you should be adding fuel to the flame. Do not repeat what you have heard against a brother, but ring the curfew, and cover the fire. Pull the logs all apart, and throw the holy water of love over the hot ashes. Do not let the fire of anger burn. Why should we? We have to live together in heaven for ever, we may as well enjoy happy fellowship here. May the Lord grant us to feel the force of those heavenly principles, which will enable us to live in peace and quiet for many and many a year to come! I would like every member of the church to go about saying within himself, “Peace, peace. I am a peace-maker in the church, and if I ever must be a peace-breaker it shall not be in the house of God, among the family of the Lord Jesus.”

      We should labour to carry out the same quiet spirit in the family. When you get home do not change “Peace, peace,” into scolding and nagging. “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” The apostle says, “If it be possible,” because he knew that it would be a very difficult thing always to be peaceable with everybody, for some people are so unreasonable that they are never at peace till they are at war, and never quiet till they are making a disturbance. Be it ours under great provocation still to cry, “Peace, peace.” Put up with a great deal: bear, and bear, and bear, and bear, and bear— I have not time to repeat the word— till seventy times seven. They will most surely conquer who can most completely submit, for in this world he that would be greatest must be least, and he that can stoop the lowest shall rise the highest. I do not think there is much in a heritage worth fighting for compared with brotherly unity. Family peace and love are worth more than a disputed will can ever yield. The game of quarrelling is not worth the candle. When I have had to compose family differences I have usually found that the misunderstanding began about nothing, and went on about nothing; and yet the mischief done is frequently terrible. When I have to make peace, I like to have some real injury, injustice, or wrong to deal with: something that I can handle, judge, and condemn; but an invisible, misty, indefinable suspicion is hard to overcome. When there is nothing in the squabble, peace-making is difficult work. There is a great tingle-tangle over nothing. You cannot get at it. It is a sort of stinging jelly-fish, which you feel but cannot grasp. Loving bonds are broken, and there is ill-blood between Christian men and Christian women who ought to love one another, and all about— about— nothing! Now, you Christian people, go about with this as your pass-word— “Peace, peace, peace, peace.” This will quiet the worst termagant of a wife that ever wearied a man— peace, peace. This will sober the most outrageous husband that ever tried a woman— peace, peace. Cultivate peace in the home garden whatever you do elsewhere.

     When peace reigns in your own family, go into the world with the same watchword— “Peace, peace.” Do not set dogs by the ears, but tame lions and tigers. Compose differences, and make people friends. If certain persons were dropped into the garden of Eden, they would be the serpent in it; but there are others who, if you were to set them down in a village distracted with strife and contention, they would be lumps of love to sweeten every bitterness. Try and be just such. Members of the Tabernacle, especially, let your motto always be, “Peace, peace,” amongst your neighbours, for the glory of God.

     What a difference there will be when this is taken up among all Christian sects— when there shall be no more envying and strife between this denomination and that, but each one shall be saying in Christ’s name, “We are brethren— peace, peace.” How silly it is for one clique of good people to be setting up Mr. So-and-so as “the greatest preacher that ever lived.” How idle for others to reply, “Ho, he is not. So-and-so preaches better.” Let all this be silenced while we cry, “Peace, peace.” None of us who are ministers preach as well as we ought to do, and none of you who are hearers live as you ought to live. When you hear anything like crying up of such poor mortals as we are, cry, “Peace, peace,” to such nonsense! We are all servants of one Master; and may the Lord make us all better servants! Let peace ring the death-knell of petty jealousies, and may all the saints be visibly one in Christ Jesus!

     May the day come when, all the world over, there shall be peace; peace to Afghan and to Zulu, as it is to-day to Prussian and to Frenchman and to Englishman. Let us wish “Peace, peace” to all of woman born. May this blessed word be rung out as a clarion note beneath these heavens till men shall recognise that they make one family, and God is the one great Father. Ye nations, learn war no more! “Peace, peace, peace.” Catch the words, ye winds, and waft them— “Peace, peace, peace.” Hear the words, ye stars, and shine them out to-night — “Peace, peace.” Rise up, O sun, in the morning, and over all rejoicing lands pour forth, with thy light and warmth, peace and quietness! May peace be with you, my brethren, henceforth and for ever. Amen and amen.



The Waterpots at Cana

By / Jun 22

The Waterpots at Cana

 

“Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.”— John ii. 7.

 

You know the narrative. Jesus was at a wedding feast, and when the wine ran short, he provided for it right bountifully. I do not think that I should do any good if I were to enter upon the discussion as to what sort of wine our Lord Jesus made on this occasion. It was wine, and I am quite sure it was very good wine, for he would produce nothing but the best. Was it wine such as men understand by that word now? It was wine; but there are very few people in this country who ever see, much less drink, any of that beverage. That which goes under the name of wine is not true wine, but a fiery, brandied concoction of which I feel sure that Jesus would not have tasted a drop. The fire-waters and blazing spirits of modern wine manufacturers are very different articles from the juice of the grape, mildly exhilarating, which was the usual wine of more sober centuries. As to the wine such as is commonly used in the East, a person must drink inordinately before he would become intoxicated with it. It would be possible, for there were cases in which men were intoxicated with wine; but, as a rule, intoxication was a rare vice in the Saviour’s times and in the preceding ages. Had our great Exemplar lived under our present circumstances, surrounded by a sea of deadly drink, which is ruining tens of thousands, I know how he would have acted. I am sure he would not have contributed by word or deed to the rivers of poisonous beverages in which bodies and souls are now being destroyed wholesale. The kind of wine which he made was such that, if there had been no stronger drink in the world, nobody might have thought it necessary to enter any protest against drinking it. It would have done nobody any hurt, be sure of that, or else Jesus our loving Saviour would not have made it.

     Some have raised a question about the great quantity of wine, for I suppose there must have been no less than one hundred and twenty gallons, and probably more. “They did not want all that,” says one, “and even of the weakest kind of wine it would be a deal too much.” But you are thinking of an ordinary wedding here, are you not, when there are ten or a dozen, or a score or two, met together in a parlour? An oriental wedding is quite another affair. Even if it be only a village, like Cana of Galilee, everybody comes to eat and drink, and the feast lasts on for a week or a fortnight. Hundreds of people must be fed, for often open house is kept. Nobody is refused, and consequently a great quantity of provision is required. Besides, they may not have consumed all the wine at once. When the Lord multiplied loaves and fishes, they must eat the loaves and fishes directly, or else the bread would grow mouldy, and the fish would be putrid; but wine could be stored and used months afterwards. I have no doubt that such wine as Jesus Christ made was as good for keeping as it was for using. And why not set the family up with a store in hand? They were not very rich people. They might sell it if they liked. At any rate, that is not my subject, and I do not intend getting into hot water over the question of cold water. I abstain myself from alcoholic drink in every form, and I think others would be wise to do the same; but of this each one must be a guide unto himself.

     Jesus Christ commenced the gospel dispensation, not with a miracle of vengeance, like that of Moses, who turned water into blood, but with a miracle of liberality, turning water into wine. He does not only supply necessaries, but gives luxuries, and this is highly significant of the kingdom of his grace. Here he not only gives sinners enough to save them, but he gives abundantly, grace upon grace. The gifts of the covenant are not stinted or stunted, they are neither small in quantity nor in quality. He gives to men not only the water of life that they may drink and be refreshed, but “wines on the lees well refined” that they may rejoice exceedingly. And he gives like a king, who gives lavishly, without counting the cups and bottles. As to one hundred and twenty gallons, how little is that in comparison with the rivers of love and mercy which he is pleased to bestow freely out of his bountiful heart upon the most needy souls. You may forget all about the wine question, and all about wine, bad, good, or indifferent. The less we have to do with it the better, I am quite sure. And now let us think about our Lord’s mercy, and let the wine stand as a type of his grace, and the abundance of it as the type of the abundance of his grace which he doth so liberally bestow.

     Now, concerning this miracle, it may well be remarked how simple and unostentatious it was. One might have expected that when the great Lord of all came here in human form he would commence his miraculous career by summoning the scribes and Pharisees at least, if not the kings and princes of the earth, to see the marks of his calling and the guarantees and warrants of his commission; gathering them all together to work some miracle before them, as Moses and Aaron did before Pharaoh, that they might be convinced of his Messiahship. He does nothing of the kind. He goes to a simple wedding among poor people, and there in the simplest and most natural way he displays his glory. When the water is to be turned into wine, when he selects that as the first miracle, he does not call for the master of the feast even, or for the bridegroom himself, or for any of the guests, and begin to say, “You clearly perceive that your wine is all gone. Now, I am about to show you a great marvel, to turn water into wine.” No, he does it quietly with the servants: he tells them to fill the waterpots: he uses the baths: he does not ask for any new vessels, but uses what were there, making no fuss or parade. He uses water, too, of which they had abundance, and works the miracle, if I may so speak, in the most commonplace and natural style; and that is just the style of Jesus Christ. Now, if it had been a Romish miracle it would have been done in a very mysterious, theatrical, sensational way, with no end of paraphernalia; but, being a genuine miracle, it is done just as nearly after the course of nature as the supernatural can go. Jesus does not have the waterpots emptied and then fill them with wine, but he goes as far with nature as nature will go, and uses water to make the wine from; therein following the processes of his providence which are at work every day. When the water drops from heaven, and flows into the earth to the roots of the vine, and so swells out the clusters with ruddy juice, it is through water that wine is produced. There is only a difference as to time whether the wine is created in the cluster, or in the waterpots. Our Lord does not call for any strangers to do it, but the ordinary servants shall bring ordinary water; and while they are drawing out the water, or what appears to them to be water, the servants shall perceive that the water has been turned into wine.

     Now, whenever you try to serve Jesus Christ do not make a fuss about it, because he never made any fuss in what he did, even when he was working amazing miracles. If you want to do a good thing, go and do it as naturally as ever you can. Be simple hearted and simple minded. Be yourself. Do not be affected in your piety, as if you were going to walk to heaven on stilts: walk on your own feet, and bring religion to your own door and to your own fireside. If you have a grand work to do, do it with that genuine simplicity which is next akin to sublimity; for affectation, and everything that is gaudy and ostentatious, is, after all, mean and beggarly. Nothing but simple naturalness has about it a genuine beauty; and such a beauty there is about this miracle of the Saviour.

     Let all these remarks stand as a kind of preface; for now I want to draw out the principles which are hidden in my text; and then, secondly, when I have displayed those principles, I want to show how they should he carried out.

     I. “Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water.” WHAT ARE THE PRINCIPLES INVOLVED IN OUR LORD’S MODE OF PROCEDURE?

     First, that, as a rule, when Christ is about to bestow a blessing he gives a command. This is a fact which your memories will help you to establish in a moment. It is not always so; but, as a general rule, a word of command goes before a word of power, or else with it. He is about to give wine, and the process does not consist in saying, “Let wine be,” but it begins by a command addressed to men, — “Fill the waterpots with water.” Here is a blind man: Christ is about to give him sight. He puts clay on his eyes, and then says, “Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.” There is a man with his arm swinging at his side, useless to him: Christ is going to restore it, and he says, “Stretch forth thine hand.” Ay, and the principle goes so far that it holds good in cases where it would seem to be quite inapplicable, for if it be a child that is dead he says, “Maid, arise;” or if it be Lazarus, who by this time stinks, being four days buried, yet he cries, “Lazarus, come forth.” And thus he bestows a benefit by a command. Gospel benefits come with a gospel precept.

     Do you wonder that this principle which is seen in the miracles is seen in the wonders of his divine grace? Here is a sinner to be saved. What does Christ say to that sinner? “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Can he believe of himself? Is he not dead in sin? Brethren, raise no such questions, but learn that Jesus Christ has bidden men believe, and has commissioned his disciples to cry, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” “The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” And he bids us go and preach this word— “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” But why command them? It is his will to do so, and that should be enough for you who call yourself his disciple. It was so even in the olden times, when the Lord set forth in vision his way of dealing with a dead nation. There lay the dry bones of the valley, exceeding many, and exceeding dry, and Ezekiel was sent to prophesy to them. What said the prophet? “O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” Is that his way of making them alive? Yes, by a command to hear; a thing which dry bones cannot do. He issues his command to the dead, the dry, the helpless, and by its power life comes. I pray you, be not disobedient to the gospel, for faith is a duty, or we should not read of “the obedience of faith.” Jesus Christ, when he is about to bless, challenges men’s obedience by issuing his royal orders.

     The same thing is true when we come away from the unconverted to believers. When God means to bless his people and make them blessings it is by issuing a command to them. We have been praying to the Lord that he would arise and make bare his arm. His answer is, “Awake, awake, O Zion.” We ask that the world may be brought to his feet, and his reply is, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them.” The command is to us the vehicle of the blessing. If we are to have the blessing of converts multiplied, and churches built up, Christ must give us the boon: it is altogether his gift, as much as it was his to turn the water into wine; yet first of all he says to us, “Go ye and proclaim my salvation unto the ends of the earth,” for thus are we to fill the waterpots with water. If we be obedient to his command we shall see how he will work — how mightily he will be with us, and how our prayers shall be heard.

     That is the first principle that I see here: Christ issues commands to those whom he will bless.

     Secondly, Christ’s commands are not to be questioned, but to be obeyed. The people want wine, and Christ says, “Fill the waterpots with water.” Well, now, if these servants had been of the mind of the captious critics of modern times, they would have looked at our Lord a long while, and objected boldly: “We do not want any water; it is not the feast of purifications; it is a wedding feast. We do not require water at a wedding. We shall want water when we are going up to the synagogue, or to the temple, that we may purify our hands according to our custom: but we do not want water just now: the hour, the occasion, and the fitness of things, call for wine.” But Mary’s advice to them was sound — “Whatsoever he saith to you, do it.” Thus, too, let us neither question nor cavil, but do his bidding straight away.

     It may sometimes seem that Christ’s command is not pertinent to the point in hand. The sinner, for instance, says, “Lord, save me: conquer in me my sin.” Our Lord cries, “Believe,” and the sinner cannot see how believing in Jesus will enable him to get the mastery over a besetting sin. There does not at first sight appear to be any connection between the simple trusting of the Saviour and the conquest of a bad temper, or the getting rid of a bad habit, such as intemperance, passion, covetousness, or' falsehood. There is such a connection, but recollect, whether you can see the connection or not, it is yours “not to reason why,” but yours to do what Jesus bids you do; for it is in the way of the command that the miracle of mercy will be wrought. “Fill the waterpots with water,” though what you want is wine. Christ sees a connection between the water and the wine, though you do not. He has a reason for the pots being filled with water, which reason, as yet, you do not know: it is not yours to ask an explanation, but to yield obedience. You are, in the first instance, just to do what Jesus bids you, as he bids you, now that he bids you, and because he bids you, and you shall find that his commandments are not grievous, and in keeping of them there is a great reward.

     Sometimes these commands may even seem to be trivial. They may look as if he trifled with us. The family were in need of wine; Jesus says, “Fill the waterpots with water.” The servants might have said, “This is clearly a mere putting of us off and playing with us. Why, we should be better employed in going round to these poor people’s friends, and asking them to contribute another skin of wine. We should be much better employed in finding out some shop where we could purchase more: but to send us to the well to fill those great waterpots that hold so much water does seem altogether a piece of child’s play.” I know, brethren, that sometimes the path of duty seems as if it could not lead to the desired result. We want to be doing something more; that something more might be wrong, but it looks as if we could thereby compass our design more easily and directly, and so we hanker after this uncommanded and perhaps forbidden course. And I know that many a troubled conscience thinks that simply to believe in Jesus is too little a thing. The deceitful heart suggests a course which looks to be more effectual. “Do some penance: feel some bitterness; weep a certain amount of tears. Goad your mind, or break your heart”: so cries carnal self. Jesus simply commands, “Believe.” It does appear to be too little a thing to be done, as if it could not be that eternal life should be given upon putting your trust in Jesus Christ: but this is the principle we want to teach you—that when Jesus Christ is about to give a blessing he issues a command which is not to be questioned, but to be at once obeyed. If ye will not believe, neither shall ye be established; but if ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land. “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

     The third principle is this—that whenever we get a command from Christ it is always wisdom to carry it out zealously. He said, “Fill the waterpots with water,” and they filled them up to the brim. You know there is a way of filling a waterpot, and there is another way of filling it. It is full, and you cannot heap it up; but still you can fill it up till it begins almost to run over: the liquid trembles as if it must surely fall in a crystal cascade. It is a filling fulness. In fulfilling Christ’s commands, my dear brethren and sisters, let us go to their widest extent: let us fill them up to the brim. If it is “Believe,” oh, believe him with all your might; trust him with your whole heart. If it is “Preach the gospel,” preach it in season and out of season; and preach the gospel— the whole of it. Fill it up to the brim. Do not give the people a half gospel. Give them a brimming-over gospel. Fill the vessels up to the very brim. If you are to repent, ask to have a hearty and a deep repentance— full to the brim. If you are to believe, ask to have an intense, absolute, childlike dependence, that your faith may be full to the brim. If you are bidden pray, pray mightily: fill the vessel of prayer up to the brim. If you are to search the Scriptures for blessing, search them from end to end: fill the Bible-reading vessel up to the brim. Christ’s commands are never meant to be done in a half-hearted manner. Let us throw our whole soul into whatever he commands us, even though, as yet, we cannot see the reason why he has set us the task. Christ’s commands should be fulfilled with enthusiasm, and carried out to the extreme, if extreme be possible.

     The fourth principle is that our earnest action in obedience to Christ is not contrary to our dependence upon him, but it is necessary to our dependence upon him. I will show you that in a moment. There are some brethren I know who say, “Hem! you hold what you call revival services, and you try to arouse men by earnest appeals and exciting addresses. Do you not see that God will do his own work? These efforts are just your trying to take the work out of God’s hands. The proper way is to trust in him, and do nothing.” All right, brother. We have your word for it— that you trust in him and do nothing. I take the liberty not to be so very certain that you do trust him, for if I remember who you are, and I think I have been to your house, you are about the most miserable, desponding, unbelieving person that I know. You do not even know whether you are saved yourself nine times out of ten. Well now, I think you should hardly come and cry yourself up for your faith. If you had such a wonderfully great faith, there is no doubt whatever that according to your faith it would be unto you. How many have been added to your church through your doing nothing this year— that blessed church of yours, where you exercise this blessed faith without works? How many have been brought in? “Well, we do not have very many additions.” No, and I think you are not likely to have. If you go about the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom by inaction, I do not think that you go the way to work which Jesus Christ approves of. But we venture to say to you that we who go in for working for Christ with all our heart and soul, using any means within our reach to bring men in to hear the gospel, feel as much as ever you do that we cannot do anything at all in the matter apart from the Holy Spirit, and we trust in God, I think, almost as much as you do, because our faith has produced rather more results than yours has done. I should not wonder if it turns out that your faith without works is dead, being alone, and that our faith having works with it has been living faith after all. I will put the case thus: Jesus Christ says, “Fill the waterpots with water.” The orthodox servant says, “My Lord, I fully believe that thou canst make wine for these people without any water, and by thy leave I will bring no water. I am not going to interfere with the work of God. I am quite certain that thou dost not want our help, gracious Lord. Thou canst make these waterpots to be full of wine without our bringing a single bucket of water, and so we will not rob thee of the glory of it. We will just stand back, and wait for thee. When the wine is made we will drink some of it and bless thy name; but meanwhile we pray thee have us excused, for pails are heavy carrying, and a good many must needs be brought to fill all those waterpots. It would be interfering with the divine work, and so we would rather take our ease.” Do you not think that servants who talked so would prove that they had no faith in Jesus at all? We will not say that it would prove their unbelief, but we will say that it looks very like it. But look at the servant there who, as soon as ever Jesus commands “Fill the waterpots with water,” says, “I do not know what he is at. I do not see the connection between fetching this water and providing the feast with wine, but I am off to the well: here, hand me a couple of pails. Come along, brother; come along and help fill the baths.” There they go, and soon come joyfully back with the water, pouring it into the troughs till they are full up to the brim. Those seem to me to be the believing servants who obey the command, not understanding it, but expecting that, somehow or other, Jesus Christ knows the way to work his own miracle. By our earnest exertions we are not interfering with him, dear friends; far from it. We are proving our faith in him if we work for him as he bids us work, and trust in him alone with undivided faith.

     The next principle I must lay equal stress upon is this—our action alone is not sufficient.  again. There are these waterpots, these troughs, these baths: they are full, and could not be fuller. What a spilling of water there is! You see that in their trying to fill them the water runs over here and there. Well, all these six great baths are full of water. Is there any more wine for all that? Not a drop. It is water that they brought,, nothing but water, and it remains water still. Suppose that they should take that water into the feast; I am half afraid that the guests would not have thought cold water quite the proper liquid to drink at a wedding. They ought to have done so; but I am afraid they were not educated in the school of total abstinence. They would have said to the master of the feast, “Thou hast given us good wine, and water is a poor finish for the feast.” I am sure it would not have done. And yet water it was, depend upon it, and nothing else but water, when the servants poured it into the pots. Even so, after all that sinners can do, and all that saints can do, there is nothing in any human effort which can avail, for the saving of a soul till Christ speaks the word of power. When Paul has planted and Apollos watered, there is no increase till God gives it. Preach the gospel, labour with souls, persuade, entreat, exhort; but there is no power in anything that you do until Jesus Christ displays his divine might. His presence is our power. Blessed be his name, he will come; and if we fill the waterpots with water, he will turn it into wine. He alone can do it, and those servants who show the most alacrity in filling up the waterpots are among the first to confess that it is he alone who can perform the deed.

     And now the last principle here is that although human action in itself falls short of the desired end, yet it has its place, and God has made it necessary by his appointment. Why did our Lord have these waterpots filled with water? I do not say that it was necessary that it should have been done. It was not absolutely necessary in itself; but in order that the miracle might be all open and above board, it was necessary; for suppose he had said, “Go to those waterpots and draw out wine,” those who watched him might have said that there was wine there before, and that no miracle was wrought. When our Lord had them filled up with water, there remained no room for any wine to be hidden away. It was just the same as with Elijah, when, in order to prove that there was no concealed fire upon the altar at Carmel, he bade them go down to the sea, and bring water, and pour it upon the altar, and upon the victim, till the trenches were filled. He said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time; and he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time, and no possibility of imposture remained. And so, when the Lord Jesus bade the servants fill the waterpots with water, he put it beyond all possibility that he should be charged with imposture; and thus we see why it was necessary that they should be filled with water.

     Moreover, it was necessary, because it was so instructive to the servants. Did you notice when I was reading it that the master of the feast, when he tasted the good wine, did not know where it came from. He could not make it out, and he uttered an expression which showed his surprise, mingled with his ignorance. But it is written, “The servants which drew the water knew.” Now, when souls are converted in a church, it happens much in the same way with certain of the members, who are good people, but they do not know much about the conversion of sinners. They do not feet much joy in revivals; in fact, like the elder brother, they are rather suspicious of these wild characters being brought in: they consider themselves to be very respectable, and they would rather not have the lowest of people sitting in the pew with them: they feel awkward in coming so near them. They know little about what is going on. “But the servants which drew the water knew”: that is to say, the earnest believers who do the work,, and try to fill the waterpots, know all about it. Jesus bade them fill the vessels with water on purpose that the men who drew the water might know that it was a miracle. I warrant you, if you bring souls to Christ you will know his power. It will make you leap for joy to hear the cry of the penitent, and mark the bright flash of delight that passes over the new-born believer's face when his sins are washed away, and he feels himself renewed. If you want to know Jesus Christ’s miraculous power you must go and— not work miracles, but just draw the water and fill the waterpots. Do the ordinary duties of Christian men and women— things in which there is no power of themselves, but which Jesus Christ makes to be connected with his divine working, and it shall be for your instruction, and your comfort, that you had such work to do. “The servants which drew the water knew.”

     I think that I have said enough upon the principles which lie concealed within my text.

     II. You must have patience with me while I try to apply these principles to practical purposes. LET US SEE HOW TO CARRY OUT THIS DIVINE COMMAND, “Fill the waterpots with water.”

     First, use in the service of Christ such abilities as you have. There stood the waterpots, six of them, and Jesus used what he found ready to his hand. There was water in the well; our Lord used that also. Our Lord is accustomed to employ his own people, and such abilities as they have, rather than angels or a novel class of beings created fresh for the purpose. Now, dear brothers and sisters, if you have no golden chalices, fill your earthen vessels. If you cannot consider yourselves to be goblets of rarest workmanship in silver, or if you could not liken yourselves to the best Sevres ware, it does not matter; fill the vessels which you have. If you cannot, with Elias, bring fire from heaven, and if you cannot work miracles with the apostles, do what you can. If silver and gold you have none, yet such as you have dedicate to Christ. Bring water at his bidding, and it will be better than wine. The commonest gifts can be made to serve Christ’s purpose. Just as he took a few loaves and fishes, and fed the crowd with them, so will he take your six waterpots and the water, and do his wine-making therewith.

     Thus, you see, they improved what they had; for the waterpots were empty, but they filled them. There are a good many brethren here from the College to-night, and they are trying to improve their gifts and their abilities. I think you do right, my brethren. But I have heard some people say, “The Lord Jesus does not want your learning.” No, it is very likely that he does not, any more than he needed the water: but then he certainly does not want your stupidity and your ignorance, and he does not want your rough, uncultivated ways of speaking. He did not seek for empty pitchers on this occasion; he would have them full, and the servants aid well to fill them. Our Lord to-day does not want empty heads in his ministers, nor empty hearts; so, my brethren, fill your waterpots with water. Work away, and study away, and learn all you can, and fill the waterpots with water. “Oh,” somebody will say, “but how are such studies to lead to the conversion of men? Conversion is like wine, and all that these young fellows will learn will be like water.” You are right; but still I bid these students fill the waterpots with water, and expect the Lord Jesus to turn the water into wine. He can sanctify human knowledge so that it shall be useful to the setting forth of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. I hope that the day has gone by when it is so much as dreamed that ignorance and coarseness are helpful to the kingdom of Christ. The great Teacher would have his people know all that they can know, and especially know himself, and the Scriptures, that they may set him forth, and proclaim his gospel “Fill the waterpots with water.”

     Next, to apply this principle, let us all use such means of blessing as God appoints. What are they? First, there is the reading of the Scriptures. “Search the Scriptures.” Search them all you can. Try to understand them. “But if I know the Bible, shall I be therefore saved.” No, you must know Christ himself by the Spirit. Still, “fill the waterpots with water.” 'While you are studying the Scriptures you may expect the Saviour will bless his own word, and turn the water into wine.

     Then there is attendance upon the means of grace, and hearing a gospel ministry. Mind you fill that waterpot with water. “But I may hear thousands of sermons and not be saved.” I know it is so, but your business is to fill this waterpot with water, and while you are listening to the gospel God will bless it, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Take care to use the means which God appoints. Since our Lord has appointed to save men by the preaching of the word, I pray that he will raise up those who will preach without ceasing, in season and out of season, indoors and in the streets. “But they won’t be saved by our preaching.” I know that. Preaching is the water: and while we are preaching, God will bless it, and turn the water into wine. Let us distribute religious books and tracts. “Oh, but people won’t be saved by reading them.” Very likely not, but while they are reading them God may bring his truth to remembrance and impress their hearts. “Fill the waterpots with water.” Give away abundance of tracts. Scatter religious literature everywhere. “Fill the waterpots with water,” and the Lord will turn the water into wine.

     Remember the prayer-meeting. What a blessed means of grace it is, for it brings down power for all the works of the church: fill that waterpot with water. I have not to complain of your attendance at prayer-meetings; but oh, keep it up, dear brethren! You can pray. Blessed be his name, you have the spirit of prayer. Pray on! “Fill the waterpots with water,” and in answer to prayer Jesus will turn it into wine. Sunday-school teachers, do not neglect your blessed means of usefulness. “Fill the waterpots with water.” Work the Sunday-school system with all your might. “But it will not save the children merely to get them together, and teach them of Jesus. We cannot give them new hearts.” Who said that you could? “Fill the waterpots with water.” Jesus Christ knows how to turn it into wine, and he does not fail to do it when we are obedient to his commands.

     Use all the means, but take care that you use those means right heartily. I come back to that part of the text— “And they filled them up to the brim.” When you teach the young ones in the Sunday-school, teach them well. Fill them to the brim. When you preach, dear sir, do not preach as if you were only half awake; stir yourself up; fill your ministry to the brim. When you are trying to evangelize the community, do not attempt it in a half-hearted way, as if you did not care whether their souls were saved or not; fill them to the brim; preach the gospel with all your might, and beg for power from on high. Fill every vessel to the brim. Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. Nobody ever yet served Christ too well. I have heard that in Some services there may be too much zeal, but in the service of Christ you may have as much zeal as ever you will and yet not exceed, if prudence be joined therewith. “Fill the waterpots with water,” and fill them to the brim. Go in for doing good with all your heart and soul and strength.

     Further, in order to apply this principle, be sure to remember when you have done all that you can do, that there is a great deficiency in all that you have done. It is well to come away from tract-distributing and Sunday-school teaching and preaching, and go home and get to your knees, and cry, “Lord, I have done all that thou hast commanded me, find yet there is nothing done unless thou givest the finishing touch. Lord, I have filled the waterpots, and though I could only fill them with water, yet I have filled them to the brim. Lord, to the best of my ability, I have sought to win men for thyself. There cannot be a soul saved, a child converted, or any glory brought to thy name by what I have done, in and of itself; but, my Master, speak the miracle-working word, and let the water which fills the vessels blush into wine. Thou canst do it, though I cannot. I cast the burden upon thee.”

     And this leads me to the last application of the principle, which is— trust in your Lord to do the work. You see, there are two ways of filling waterpots. Suppose these people had never been commanded to fill the waterpots, and their doing it had had no reference to Christ whatever; suppose that it had been a freak of their own imagination, and they had said, “These people have no wine, but they shall have a bath if they like, and so we will fill the six waterpots with water.” Nothing would have come of such a proceeding. There would have stood the water. The Eton school-boy said, “The conscious water saw its God and blushed,” a truly poetic expression; but the conscious water would have seen the servants, and would not have blushed. It would have reflected their faces upon its shining surface, but nothing more would have happened. Jesus Christ himself must come, and in present power must work the miracle. It was because he had commanded the servants to fill the waterpots with water that therefore he was bound, if I may use such an expression of our free King, bound to turn it into wine, for otherwise he would have been making fools of them, and they also might have turned round and said, “Why didst thou give us such a command as this?” If, after we have filled the waterpots with water, Jesus does not work by us, we shall have done what he bade us; but if we believe in him, I make bold to say that he is bound to come; for though we should be losers, and dreadful losers too, if he did not display his power, for we should have to lament, “ I have laboured in vain, and spent my strength for nought,” yet we should not be such losers as he would be, for straightway the world would affirm that Christ’s commands are empty, fruitless, idle. It would be declared that obedience to his word brings no result. The world would say, “You have filled the waterpots with water because he told you to do it. You expected him to turn the water into wine, but he did not do it. Your faith is vain; your whole obedience is vain; and he is not a fit Master to be served.” We should be losers, but he would be a greater loser still, for he would lose his glory. For my part, I do not believe that a good word for Christ is ever spoken in vain. I am sure that no sermon with Christ in it is ever preached without result. Something will come of it, if not to-night, nor to-morrow; something will come of it. When I have printed a sermon, and seen it fairly in the volume, I have before long been delighted to hear of souls saved by its means. And when I have not printed, but only preached, a discourse, I have still thought, something will come of it. I preached Christ. I put his saving truth into that sermon, and that seed cannot die. If it shall lie in the volume for years, like the grains of wheat in the mummy’s hand, it will live, and grow, and bear fruit. Consequently, I have heard but lately of a soul brought to Christ by a sermon that I preached twenty-five years ago. I hear almost every week of souls having been brought to Christ by sermons preached at Park-street, and Exeter-hall, and the Surrey-gardens, and therefore I feel that God will not let a single faithful testimony fall to the ground. Go on, brethren. Go on filling the waterpots with water. Do not believe that you are doing much when you have done your utmost. Do not begin to congratulate yourselves on your past success. All must come from Christ; and it will come from Christ. Do not go to the prayer-meeting and say, “Paul may plant and Apollos may water, but”— and so on. That is not how the passage runs. It says just the contrary, and runs thus, — “Paul planteth, Apollos watereth, but God giveth the increase.” The increase is surely given by God where the planting and sowing are rightly done. The servants fill the waterpots: the Master turns the water into wine.

     The Lord grant us grace to be obedient to his command, especially to that command, “Believe and live!” and may we meet him in the marriage-feast above to drink of the new wine with him for ever and ever. Amen and amen.