A Delusion Dispelled

By / Jun 22

A DELUSION DISPELLED.

 

“Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness.” — Ezekiel xiv. 20.

 

WE are told in the opening verse of this chapter that certain of the elders of Israel came to the prophet and sat before him. You need not ask who these elders were, or whence they came, because it is evident enough they were not a deputation from the Jews who were left in Judah and Jerusalem; but they were individuals of distinction from among the exiles of Chebar. That they came to enquire of the prophet of the Lord we gather from the answer that came to them by the word of the Lord; and we might also infer from the matter of the terrible denunciations that were uttered something at least of the manner of enquiry they proposed. The men were downright hypocrites: followers of the false prophets who are exposed in the previous chapter as seeing vanity and divination, and then saying, “Jehovah saith,” though Jehovah had not sent them. Now they come, these elders, to interview the true prophet of the Lord, and before they have time to state their errand the word of the Lord confronts them with a life-like portrait of their own character. “These men have set up their idols in their heart, and put up the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?” For persons who were idolaters at heart to ask counsel of the living God, as if they would learn his will, though they defied his law, was a most insulting mockery. The thought which seems to have nestled in their breasts and prompted their visit was this: after all the exposure that Ezekiel has made of the wickedness of the land and of its inhabitants, may it not still be consistent with the mercy of the Lord to spare the city, as he would have spared the city of Sodom at the intercession of Abraham, for the sake of the few righteous men that remained in it? The answer, as you are aware, was an emphatic “No.” A reference to the twenty-sixth chapter of Leviticus, and a rehearsal of the four sore judgments which should work the desolation, stand associated with the protest, which is repeated again and again, each time, it seems to us, with more vehement force— “Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness.”

     Now, ray main object this evening will be to assert, to illustrate, and to enforce this one distinct feature in the moral government of God. In all the procedures of divine judgment the principle of individual responsibility can never be relaxed. Hence the need of personal piety — the absolute necessity that men and women should pray for themselves — that each one should repent for himself, that each one should believe for himself, and that each one should in his own proper person be born again by the effectual operation of the Spirit of God. No proxy in these matters is possible. Sponsors in religion are a wicked superstition: their use degrades the minds of men and profanes the worship of God; they ought to be for ever done away with. I charge you, as you love God and your own souls, and the souls of others, sooner die than stand sponsor for child or man, for it is a sin, a mockery, an offence before high heaven. Every man must take heed to his own soul. “Let each man prove his own work …. for each man shall bear his own burden,” and every one of us must give an account for himself at the judgment-seat of Christ.

     Among the various shifts and schemes for taking comfort without a satisfactory title, or a plausible reason, the idea adopted by some that the righteousness of their friends maybe of some use to them is not the least pernicious. They are the children of eminently gracious people. “Surely,” say they, “we cannot be lost.” They are connected with those whose name is known, and whose memory is fragrant in Christian society. They were born and brought up in a house dedicated by family prayer; they have been cradled and nurtured in the midst of godliness. They readily believe that those who live in the back slums, and have grown up to be wanton and wilful, depraved and dishonest, will certainly perish; but can it be that those who have walked in the paths of morality and observed the ordinances of outward religion should be cast away? They scarcely think that it could be consistent with propriety to resist their claims to some discriminating consideration. Though they do not say as much in words, yet they secretly flatter themselves with the idea that the godliness of their ancestry and the scrupulous integrity of their parents will avail to shelter them from responsibility. There are others, to mark a lighter shade in self-deception, who indulge a hope that the prayers of their dear ones will be heard for them, although they never pray for themselves. They fall back in time of need upon the belief that surely their mother’s prayers will be answered on their behalf, or their wife’s petitions will bring down a blessing upon them. They do not embody the notion in words; I wish they did; for if people were to place such thoughts in black and white, they would never like to own them; their folly would be too palpable. They entertain a hazy notion that because they have been so often prayed for a blessing must come to them sooner or later. They will not arouse themselves to seek the mercy of the Lord, or quit their sins and lay hold on Christ to obtain the promise of pardon and peace, but they vainly dream that something mysterious will happen to them one of these days in answer to good people’s prayers. In fact, some of them eagerly ask the prayers of the godly, though they never pray to God for themselves. My text is a stern rebuke for any who have betaken themselves to either of these refuges of lies. I want to sound an alarm and drive them out of their hiding-places. Oh, that God may be pleased to make his own word effectual to this end! “Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness.”

     Now, it cannot be denied that there is great power in godliness, and a mighty prevalence in the intercessions of godly people to bring down rich blessings upon men. You are perfectly right in seeking the prayers of Christian friends. Why, even the apostle Paul said, in the name of all the sacred ministry, “Brethren, pray for us.” You can hardly ask for a choicer favour from the servants of God than that they should pray for you. But certain circumstances may entirely neutralize the prayers of the godly. Such circumstances were present in the case of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah in Jeremiah’s day. They went on so far in idolatry and all manner of vice that God said that he would not hear Moses and Samuel, though they stood before him to plead on their behalf. He told Jeremiah that he might as well cease to weep and pray, for he would never hear him for that people; and here by Ezekiel he declares that if so wonderful a trio as Noah, and Daniel, and Job should join in intercession yet he would not regard them. And just so it is at this hour: if men continue in their sin— if, after hearing the gospel, they refuse it, if they persist in rejecting it, if they stifle conscience, if they silence the voice within, if they pertinaciously resolve to indulge their lusts, and will not repent and turn to God— then the excellence of their friends will rather aggravate than make amends for their guilt, and the prayers of their friends will be so utterly nullified and made of none effect, that nothing in arrest of the dread sentence will avail them— they must perish. They have not personally believed in Christ and accepted him as their Mediator, therefore they must perish. They have dissipated the last vestige of hope by rejecting the only way of salvation, and they must perish. Though they come of a line of saints, and in their veins there runs the blood of the faithful, they must perish. Though they have the tradition of a sound faith, handed down from generation to generation, and though the escutcheon that has descended to them from holy ancestors be free from blot, yet if they refuse Christ they must perish; and, though they have been born and bred, cradled and cared for, where holy hymns make up their lullaby; yet if they give not their own hearts to Christ, but set up the idols in their hearts, they must perish— perish miserably with their own iniquity upon their heads. Was not Ishmael the son of Abraham? yet he came not into the covenant. Was not Esau the child of Isaac? yet he obtained not the inheritance. Birth, blood, and family avail nothing in this matter.

     Thus then there are two propositions, which, as God shall help me, I will endeavour to set plainly before your eyes. First, the righteousness of the most godly cannot avail for the ungodly; and, secondly, the prayers of the greatest intercessors cannot avail if men persist in their unbelief.

     I. First, THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE MOST GODLY CANNOT AVAIL FOR THE UNGODLY.

     We have to prove this, and we do so, first, by referring you to our text, and asking you to read it for yourselves. Mark ye how the anger of the Lord kindles, and how the words are launched forth like hot thunderbolts from the lips of the Most High. The statement is clear, the supposition is startling, but the oath that seals the oracle of heaven appals us. A coincidence that was not likely to occur is imagined to put the utmost strain on the delineation, and to give language a stress that cannot be surpassed. As a matter of fact, we are told that if Noah, Daniel and Job were in the midst of Jerusalem, yet their conjoined virtues would not avail to save any but themselves. I wish I could help you to realize the picture as it must have flashed before the vision of the seer. Three saints who were not cotemporary, for their lives on earth were passed in distant centuries and different climes, meet together in a season of terrible emergency. The sacred annals of those days knew no names more illustrious, no stars that shone more brightly, than Noah, Daniel, and Job. Their sympathies are all excited, their hearts are in unison, and their prayers blend together as they bow before the altar. You look, you listen, in trembling suspense, as you cast a glance at the miserable inhabitants of the doomed city, and consider the fate of those captives who are languishing in a land far away. With what measure of acceptance will those passionate appeals for mercy be heard? Anon, the verdict comes from the throne. They deliver their own souls by their righteousness; and no more. Not one of them saves so much as his own son or his own daughter by his supplications. What a wail comes up as the inexorable decree is pronounced! But the echo that lingers longest in my ears is that awful asseveration, — “As I live, saith the Lord God.”

     Next to this, I am going to ask you to inspect more narrowly the portraits of these men of God, who are presumed to have stood counsel for the defendants, and to have occasioned so much astonishment, because with all their special pleadings they signally lost their case. Noah is the very pattern of godly fear, a model of that “fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom”; just as Abraham was a model of faith, and the father of the faithful. Moved with fear, he built an ark for the saving of his house. Heedless of the ridicule of the many about him. he built a huge ship on dry land. He became a preacher of righteousness, and though few, if any, were converted by that preaching, he persevered for one hundred and twenty years, obediently doing what God commanded him, for a testimony against the ungodly. Scarcely can we find a better man than this second father of the human race from whom we have all sprung. Next to him we have mention made of Daniel. He was alive at the time when Ezekiel wrote: a young man, I suppose, of about thirty years of age. It is very singular that he should be sandwiched in, as it were, between Noah and Job— two men of the olden world. He must have been highly esteemed in his own generation. Ezekiel, moved by the Holy Ghost, groups him with those whom history had canonized. He was a man greatly beloved of God, and no doubt by his cotemporaries he was very much appreciated. Sterling virtue and an elevation of character above the common standard of a good man would be indispensable to his taking rank as one of so remarkable a triumvirate. And when you think of him— of his integrity in youth, when he would not defile himself with the king’s meat— of his steadfastness in prayer in riper years, when, with his window open toward Jerusalem, he prayed as he had done aforetime, though by a statute of the realm the penalty of making supplication to the God of the Hebrews was death. What a model of thorough manliness he is! There is a majesty about Daniel. He is the John of the Old Testament. He is the seer who saw visions of God like to the chosen one of Patmos. The combination of qualities that are embodied in such a man is worth your study. So chivalrous his sense of duty that he is honoured by kings! So holy is he in his conscience, as well as in his habits, that the King of kings reveals to him the secrets of his government! There is none like unto Daniel; “Yet,” says God, “though in addition to Noah, Daniel stood before me, his righteousness should suffice only for himself, and could not be of the least profit to anyone besides.” To complete the trio, there is Job, to whom we have infallible testimony that he was perfect and upright. Satan himself could find no fault with his character; though with fiendish malice he insinuated a sinister motive for his scrupulous integrity. “Doth Job serve God for nought? Hast thou not set a hedge about him, and all that he hath? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.” You remember that he did not curse God, but he blessed him, and his faith triumphed over his fretfulness even on the dunghill of his poverty, when he was covered with sore blains, and filled with anguish. Surely Job is a model of excellence. “Ye have heard of the patience of Job.” “My servant Job,” was the honourable designation that the Almighty gave him. Moreover, he bestowed on him high praise, and a double blessing at the end of his trial. Now, if we had any one of these three men to plead for us we should look upon him as putting a great weight in the scale. If we had for our next-door neighbour, or brother, or father, either of these— if there were any transference of righteousness from one man to another, we should hope to shade ourselves under the wings of Noah, or Daniel, or Job. But here the Lord declares that if the whole three were put together they should not save son or daughter. No, dear friends, “Ye must be born again.” Ye must be made righteous, each one for himself, or else if you had all these friends at court, which you have not, they would be unable to avert the course of justice, or obtain for you the slightest favour. The text puts it plainly— “Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness.”

     This truth may be further substantiated by observing the course of Providence as regards the things of this life. Could the merits of friends and parents secure the salvation of their relatives or children, we must expect to see “the son or the daughter” of a righteous man screened from the full punishment of his own misdeeds; but we have evidence that such is not the case. Let me give you scriptural illustrations. Moses was faithful in all his house as a servant. He had a brother Aaron, not so great a man as himself, but still an eminently holy man. Listen, ye that are the sons of gracious men. Aaron had two sons, and the father’s dignity rested upon them, and they became priests of the Most high God. But, do you know what became of them? Drinking too much wine— alas, what a snare is that! — they entered into the holy place of God with strange fire, and the fire of God consumed Nadab and Abihu, though they were the sons of Aaron. And what did Aaron say about them? We read this, “And Aaron held his peace.” He could say nothing. He had to bow his head before God. He knew that it must be — that if even a child of God’s high priest pollutes the holy place, the fire of the Lord must come forth against him. Thus you see that Aaron could not overshadow his own sons, and save them in the day of the Lord’s anger.

     Take another case equally sad. David had a favourite son, who became the cruel adversary of his own father, and in open rebellion attempted to usurp his throne. Yet even in the tumult of battle the king would have spread the aegis of protection over his own child. “Beware,” he said to his generals, “that none touch the young man Absalom.” You remember how he fled from the fray, but fled in vain: a just retribution overtook him. The locks in which he gloried were caught in the low branches of an oak, and there he hung. Then, as you hear David cry, “O Absalom, my son, my son Absalom, my son, my son, would God I had died for thee!” you see that the righteousness of David could not deliver his son Absalom even as to this life.

     If you needed other proofs, I would give the instance of Judas, which is greatly to the point, not in the matter of relationship, but in the matter of association. Judas consorted with eleven of the princes of the church of God, for such I call them now that they have gone up to their thrones. Nay more, he consorted with the Master himself and dipped in the same dish with our Redemer. Yet, you see, the righteousness of eleven apostles could not cover Judas, and because he did not believe in Jesus, neither did the righteousness of his Master cover him. And so this man perished in his own iniquity.

     These examples I have given you from the Bible. Were I to try and turn over the pages of my recollection, I could give you many miserable proofs that the father’s righteousness does not cover the son. I am afraid I shall touch a very tender string with friends here present who in their own sons have sad proof that it is so. I have seen the preacher of the gospel whose son was committed to prison. I have known the father to be a minister of Christ, and his son a ringleader in infidelity, or a chief actor in things too filthy and profane to be mentioned here. Full many a child of godly parents has in this life brought himself to beggary, to disgrace, to disease, to death. It is a sad fact, but so it is. There may have been, perhaps, grave fault at home. That I cannot tell — God knows— but so it has been that men who, to the best of our judgment, were not only godly, but eminently so, have, nevertheless, had this wretched lot — to see their sons and daughters given up to work iniquity with both hands greedily. God save you from such a sorrow; but the recurrence of these facts goes to show that the godliest man’s righteousness cannot avail even for son or daughter.

     What need, however, that I multiply proofs? The scales of justice must be poised with an equal hand. Partiality is out of the question. God is no respecter of persons. Were it otherwise, personal obedience to the will of God could be dispensed with. There would be in this world a number of chartered libertines who would plead a mother's godliness or a father’s Christian character as a set-off for their own indifference or profanity; as if they had a special license to live as they list because their sires were godly. Would you have it so if you could? I would not. I should think it a most dangerous institution. Thank God, his divine justice has never given immunity to any vice. If a man eats sour grapes his teeth shall be set on edge. A spendthrift shall rue the course he has run, and shall beg bread, even though his father were a saint of the innermost sanctuary. If a man indulges foul passions, he shall suffer for it in his own body, let his father be as gracious as he may. If a man puts his finger into the fire, it will burn him; if he tempts the flood in time of danger, it will drown him. You may groan to think he was the child of so good a man; but the laws of nature are not to be trifled with. If you act contrary to them they will be contrary to you.

     Relationship, which is but an accidental circumstance, is not to be confounded with religion. That the righteousness of one man could compensate for the recklessness of another man is a monstrous conceit. What if I be, as I thank God I am, the son of his handmaid, I dare not to presume on that. What if my father be a minister of the gospel? What if my grandfather preached the gospel? I thank God that such grace was given to them; but there is nothing in that upon which I dare presume. I think the meanest pride in all the world is the pride of ancestry; for how on earth can a man have any credit due to him for a contingency which never could be at his own disposal? It must be a matter of God’s own dispensation, and if he have received it, why does he glory as though he had not received it. To suppose that grace comes with ancestry would be a supposition exactly opposite to the declaration of the Spirit of God by John, wherein he saith of the godly, “which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” There must be a birth by the Spirit of God, or the first birth will be nothing whatsoever to our advantage. However well- born at first, ye must be born again.

     If the righteousness of one man could excuse the unrighteousness of another man, then the great principle of responsibility would be reversed. You and I, who were born in the midst of Christian associations, are responsible for the light which we receive. If we sin, we cannot sin so cheaply as others. If a man transgresses against the holy example of parents, he scores seven for every sin to what another would have done who had been trained up under vicious surroundings. Assuredly he is not a less sinner, but a greater sinner who, being born in the midst of godliness, ventures to depart from the good way, transgress the sacred precepts, and refuse the Saviour. That is the principle of Scripture, — to whom much is given of him much shall be required; and we have to say daily to you children of the godly that, if you fall, your exaltation by your privileges will cause you a more awful fall than the fall of others. We say to such as you, “Woe unto thee, Bethsaida; woe unto thee, Chorazin; woe unto thee, Capernaum. You have seen, the mighty works of Christ, which, if others had seen, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes, and if you repent not, woe unto you!” Such is the teaching of the word of God. But the opposite hypothesis that the goodness of one individual can compensate for the badness of another is utterly hollow, not to say grossly vicious.

     Painful though it be, dear friends, I must carry the assertion a stage further. The righteousness of good men has not availed to save their relatives from the terrors of the world to come. Instances of this come uncalled for to our recollection. Begin at the beginning. There is Cain. Who is his brother? Abel. Abel is a man whose faith is acceptable with God. Does that save Cain? No, he was “of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brothers righteous.” Cain, where are you to-night? Are you sitting here; and do you dream that your brother Abel now with God can by any means bless you? That must not be. Dispel the delusion. The opening chapter of history refutes it. The two first sons that were born to Adam depart from earth in different directions. Look again at Ishmael. His father, Abraham, the father of the faithful, said, “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” yet Ishmael becomes the very type of the children of nature who do not inherit the blessing that belongs to the children of promise. Look at Esau, born at the same birth with Jacob, children of a godly father, yet we read of Esau that he was a profane person. The godliness of holy Isaac does not save Esau. Look at Hophni and Phinehas, priests of God by office, but sons of Belial by character. Their father Eli, with all his faults, was a man who feared God, yet as for these sons of his, they died in their sins, from which no sacrifice nor offering could purge them. Look at Jehoram; his father Jehosaphat was a truly gracious man, though, alas! he turned aside, joined affinity with Ahab, and married his son to the daughter of that woman Jezebel. And, ah me, how many a young man is ruined by some such perilous, alliance! For money, for business, or for social position they are wedded to the ungodly. Some of you sell your daughters to the devil that they may make a respectable match, when you know that this unequal yoking is forbidden by gospel precept. I am ashamed of Christian people who lend their countenance to this breach of the Lord’s commandment. In this world there is a blight on such unions, and in the world to come— well, over that you would wish to draw the veil. The life of Jehoram was evil; his death was painful and premature; his end was without hope: yet he was a son of Jehosaphat, who did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.

     How tenaciously men will cling to the idea that godly ancestors can help them appears from that parable of our Lord in which he tells us of the rich man who lifted up his eyes in hell and cried, “Father Abraham.” As a descendant of Abraham, he looked for pity and relief even in the place of torment. Ah, but he failed to obtain a drop of water to cool his tongue by that plea. Take the warning to yourselves, sirs, I beseech you. It does not matter of whom you may be descendants, they cannot assuage for you the pains of hell. Unless you yourselves have personal faith, and a personal renewal of heart, though you had Noah, Daniel, and Job to take your part, — “As I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness.”

     II. Now I come to our second proposition. THE PRAYERS OF THE GREATEST INTERCESSORS CANNOT AVAIL IF MEN PERSIST IN THEIR UNBELIEF. God forbid that I should discourage any of you from praying for your parents, your children, and your friends. Let us never leave off praying for them. But if any man in this place is sitting comfortably in his seat, saying, “My wife prays for me; my mother prays for me; my children pray for me; it will be all right with me somehow, their prayers will suffice for me, without any penitence or faith on my part,” I should like to touch him on the shoulder, and whisper in his ear these words, “Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were the intercessors, they could deliver none but their own souls.” Noah was a man of prayer undoubtedly; still there was not a single person saved by Noah’s prayer except those that went into the ark; and if God would give to us his people everything that we ask for, yet we would not ask him to save you if you will not believe in Christ. If you set up your idols in your heart and keep the stumblingblock of your lust before your eyes, we cannot, we dare not pray for you that you may be saved contrary to the gospel. Daniel was mighty in prayer; but all that his prayer ever did could not save Israel from the fatal results of the follies to which they clung. Jerusalem was destroyed, notwithstanding the prayers of Daniel, and the Jews are scattered among all lands, notwithstanding that the holy prophet pleaded for the prosperity of Zion. We can only pray according to the will of God; and our prayer must be that you may be saved in the Lord’s own appointed way: we cannot ask him to change his way for you. Job prayed for his friends, and his friends were forgiven; but, note it well, not without a sacrifice. They had to bring seven bullocks and seven rams and offer up for themselves a burnt offering, before the prayer of Job on their behalf was heard. If you will bring a sacrifice for yourselves— if you will present Christ as your sacrifice, then will our prayers go with yours, and you shall be blessed. Had they offered no sacrifice, Job’s prayers could not have availed for them. You must believe in Jesus with a faith distinctly your own. Were the whole church on earth to lift up one continuous prayer, and persevere in it from generation to generation, it could not save one unbelieving man. While he remains in unbelief the wrath of God abideth on him. If you buoy yourself up with a deceitful hope that it is different, you will presently sink down in blank despair. What a man of prayer Moses was when he held back God’s hand, till the Lord cried, “Let me alone, that I may destroy them.” But Moses besought the Lord his God with urgent prayer, and he prevailed. Yet even Moses did not avert the sentence pronounced on the generation which he had brought out of Egypt. Their carcases all fell in the wilderness, save Joshua and Caleb. Nor could these two righteous men preserve one single person beyond themselves. All the intercession of Moses could not save an unbelieving generation; because they believed not they all died. As for Samuel, you will remember how he mourned for Saul whom God had put away; till God said to him, “How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him?” He had to give it up and go and anoint David. The prayers of the devout prophet cannot save the disobedient king. Oh, how this should take any of you off from a vain confidence in the prayers of others, and lead you to pray for yourselves, and look to Christ for yourselves. A parent’s prayers are a sad pretext for a child’s presumption. Striving together in prayer, saint with saint, there is a mighty power. But what a strife is that when the soul we seek is struggling to be free from all restraint only to plunge deeper into sin. Remember, beloved friends, that all the prayers of godly men put together cannot alter the rule of the kingdom. And what is the rule of the kingdom? Here is one of the rules, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Suppose Noah and Daniel and Job, and Moses and Samuel and Jeremiah— those six— should pray God to let a man go to heaven without being born from above and renewed by the Spirit of God, would that be of any use? Do you think the constitution of the kingdom of heaven would be altered for their asking? Oh no. The will of God is not affected by the whims of men. Well, here is another rule of the kingdom, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.” Now if Noah, Job, and Daniel were all to pray that this statute might be repealed, and a resolution more consonant with the caprice of mortal men should be substituted in its place, do you think the appeal would be allowed? Surely our cries to God must not be complaints of his decrees. Our petitions must be submissive to his word, not subversive of his wisdom. He will not change the ordinances of his kingdom because men are stubborn: like the laws of the Medes and Persians, his decrees can never be altered. They stand fast for ever, and for ever they exclude from heaven those who abide in unbelief.

     Nay, sirs, if you are not reconciled to God you cannot have fellowship with him; if you are not made meet to be partakers of the inheritance you cannot enter into the enjoyment of it; in the atmosphere of heaven you could not breathe, for without holiness no man can see God. If you believe not in Jesus Christ, you must die in your sins.

     Remember that all the prayers of godly men cannot alter the nature of sin, and if they cannot alter the nature of sin, then they that continue in it must perish. If we were to hold a prayer-meeting to prevent a person from being burnt who would put his hand into the fire, would that be of any use? If a man who cannot swim will persist in leaping into the river, what is the use of my asking you all to pray God to preserve his life? If a man puts a bottle of prussic acid to his lips and drinks it, what is the use of our coming together to pray that his life may be spared, when the deadly poison is destroying it? If he drives a dagger into his heart he must die, unless God is pleased to reverse that order, which, according to the poet, “is heaven’s first law.” There is a way of salvation— “Believe in Jesus Christ and live”; if you will not have that, where are you, my friend? Are you such a fool as to sit there and say, “I shall be saved by my wife’s prayers”? Your wife s prayers will rather seal your doom. They will rise up in judgment against you. That you were so much prayed for implies that you were admonished and entreated at a most loving rate. You will not be able to say, “No man careth for my soul.” A mother's prayers will ring in your ears, and excite remorse when repentance is no more possible. Not the cries of the lost will be more terrible than the recollection of her tears and agony for you. Oh, do remember this. Sin is fire, and it must burn. Sin is hell, and it must torment the man who continues in it. There is no help for it. Pray as much as ever we like, if you do not get out of sin, you cannot get out of destruction. If you do not find pardon through our Lord Jesus you must be punished.

      Moreover, the prayers of good men cannot alter the conditions of the eternal future, so long as the present abides the same. This must be palpable to any sane judgment. The palace of luxury and the prison of penal servitude are but faint pictures of heaven and hell. What is heaven? The abode of perfect spirits washed in the blood of the Lamb. The right of admission, how can it be obtained? There are qualifications that cannot be dispensed with. And there are disqualifications that cannot be denied. As British subjects we have a right of petition to our Queen, but of what avail would it be that, with any number of signatures, we should ask her Majesty to confer the Victoria Cross on a burglar? Or how can you suppose that God will receive a rebel amongst his loyal courtiers? It cannot be. And what is the meaning or purpose of hell but this— that he that will have sin must have sorrow? He that will hate God must be miserable. There is no law more immutable than that “to be good is to be happy,” and to be bad is sooner or later to be wretched. It must be so. Trust not, therefore, to the prayers of others, but come to Christ for yourselves, that you may be cleansed from sin and made meet for heaven.

     Perhaps you say, “Sir, I did not think prayer would suffice to effect a change in my circumstances without a corresponding change in myself; but I thought that somehow by prayer I should be compelled, to believe and to repent.” Compelled to believe and to repent? Well, man, what sort of repentance and faith must that be which comes of compulsion? Surely that man’s heart is not sincere who says, “I hope to go to heaven, though it is against my own inclination.” You would fain be made to hate sin against your will? That is strange: are you to be made to love righteousness against your own liking? I have heard of fathers saying that their daughters should marry So-and-so, but I defy them to make them love those with whom they have no sympathy. No, these matters are far too delicate to be managed by coercion. It cannot be. Neither does the Holy Ghost himself employ force to compel those who are unwilling. He has a power that is quite congruous with the freedom of the will by which he sweetly turns the mind and will by blessed argument and illumination. By enlightening the understanding he controls the will. But, believe me, you will never be lugged into heaven by your ears. You will never be strapped down and carried to heaven as we see drunken women carried to the stationhouse on a stretcher. Have you ever fancied that such would be the case? Has such an absurd idea ever entered into your head, that somehow or other, without your ever seeking it, you will be taken up by some celestial surgery and chloroformed into glory? It will not be so. Turn to this Book and see. How did the prodigal get to his father’s house? Did his father asphyxiate him and make him insensible, and strap him down and carry him there? Not at all. But first he was hungry, and he tried to fill his belly with the husks, and he could not, and he became more hungry still, and then he said, “I will arise, and go unto my father,” and he went to his father. Yes, it was all of grace, but still he arose and came unto his father. It was all of eternal love, but he did leave the swine and seek his home. It was of infinite pity; but he did think, and he did will to go; and, what is more, he did go to his father’s house. He did all that, and then when he was a great way off his father met him. Now, do believe me, though I always preach free, rich, sovereign grace with all my heart, I never understood, and never shall understand, that God treats us like logs of wood and blocks of marble, and cleaves or chips us about as if we had no life, or will, or intelligence. It is not so, and only fools think in such a fashion. You are men, not dumb driven cattle. You will not be saved like asses, but like men. You will not be saved like horses and mules, and cats, but like men and women who can think. You will have to think, and you will have to hate your sin, and you will have to cry for mercy, and you will have to believe in Christ, and if you do not, you will perish. All the prayers that have ever been poured out can be of no avail to save you except through your being brought to trust your Saviour, and hate your sin, and become obedient to his will.

     Do you believe this, dear friends? It may be that out of this large congregation there are only a few to whom these remonstrances are particularly appropriate; but I thought that I would leave the ninety and nine sheep in the wilderness— there is plenty of sweet grass for you in the quiet places of the word— and I would go after some that have gone astray in this direction, for I long to find you. Oh that the blessed Spirit would convince you of your sin, and lead you to say, I have played the fool exceedingly. I have been trusting to a privilege which I ought to have used for another purpose. Now, I will seek God, and I will yield to the blessed gospel and put my trust in Jesus. Remember, there is a righteousness which you can have— the righteousness of Jesus Christ which can cover you. Though Noah and Daniel and Job cannot deliver you, Jesus can. There is an intercession that can be heard for you— the intercession of one that liveth and was dead, and now maketh intercession for men, and is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him. Come unto God by him, and his intercession is yours, and shall be your health, and his righteousness is yours, and shall be your covering. God grant it for the dear Redeemer’s sake. Amen and amen.



The Word of a King

By / Jun 22

The Word of a King

 

“Where the word of a king is, there is power.” — Ecclesiastes viii. 4.

 

KINGS in Solomon’s day had a vast amount of power, for their word was absolute. They did according to their own will, and none could check them; for, as Solomon said, “the king’s wrath is as the roaring of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul.” When such a monarch happened to be wise and good, it was a great blessing to the people; for “a king that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes.” But if he was of a hard, tyrannical nature, his subjects were mere slaves, and groaned beneath a yoke of iron. We do not sufficiently give thanks for the blessings of a constitutional government, but if we were for a season put beneath the power of a grinding despotism we should set more store by those liberties for which we have to thank our Puritan ancestors. Mercies are seldom appreciated till they are taken away. May we not prove ungrateful under free institutions, for if so, we shall be more brutish than any men.

     There is, however, blessed be the Lord, one King whose power we do not wish in any degree to limit or circumscribe. God doeth as he wills amongst the armies of heaven, and amongst the inhabitants of this lower world; none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? In this we greatly rejoice. The personal rule of one individual would be the best form of government if that individual were perfectly good, infinitely wise, and abundant in power; and the reason why an autocrat turns into a despot is, that there is no man who is perfectly good, unselfish, or wise. God hath no fault or failing; and therefore it is a joy that he doeth according to his will. He never wills anything that is not strictly just: in the exercise of absolute sovereignty he is neither unjust nor unmerciful; it is not possible to him to err, and therefore it is a great subject for joy that “the Lord reigneth, he is clothed with majesty. The Lord sitteth upon the floods; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever and ever; let Israel rejoice, and let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.” “Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.”

     Now, because God is the absolute Monarch, his word hath power about it, and of that word of power I am going to speak at this time. May the Holy Spirit help us to think of the power of God’s word for four purposes— first, to excite our awe; secondly, to ensure our obedience; thirdly, to inspire our confidence; and fourthly, to direct our efforts.

     I. First, we would see the power of the word of the Lord in order TO EXCITE OUR AWE OF HIM. What are we poor creatures of a day? What is there in us as we appear in God’s sight? Do we not pass away as the flower of the field? As for our word, what is it? We sometimes talk exceedingly proudly, and we say “shall” and “will” as if we could do anything; when, after all, our word is but breath, a vapour, a mere sound in the air. Man proposes, but God disposes; man resolves, but God dissolves; that which man expecteth God rejecteth; for the word of the Lord standeth for ever, but man passes away and is not. Think of the day before all days when there was no day but the Ancient of days, and when God dwelt all alone; then he willed in his mind that there should be a world created. “He spake, and it was done: he commanded, and it stood fast.” “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” What a word is that which created all things! And remember that this same word can destroy all things: for “the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” If he were but to speak, all things that are would melt away as a moment’s foam dissolves into the wave that bears it, and is lost for ever. “Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men”; and at that irresistible word man’s spirit returns to God who gave it, and his body moulders into dust.

     When the Lord created he used no hand of cherubim or seraphim: all that we read in the sublimely simple record of Genesis is, “God said, let there be,” and there was. His word accomplished all, and when he wills to destroy either one man or a million his word is able to work his will. What a mighty word was that which in one night cut off the host of Sennacherib, and slew the firstborn of Egypt! The word of the Lord commanded the water-floods, and they drowned a guilty world, and that same word rained fire from heaven upon Sodom and Gomorrah; even so in the last day, when the word shall go forth from him, he shall shake not only the earth, but also heaven, and at his word of power both heaven and earth shall flee away. Great God, we do adore thee, for thou art both Creator and Destroyer by thy word!

     Think how God’s word both makes alive and kills. He promised Abraham that he should have a seed in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed. It seemed impossible that there should come from him a son that should be the founder of a race— his body was dead, and Sarah was old—yet God in due time made them to laugh, for Isaac was born into the house. “The Lord setteth the solitary in families.” “He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children.” It is the Lord who makes alive, and equally is it the Lord who kills. It only needs God to will it and the pestilence lays men low in heaps, like the grass of the meadow when the mower’s scythe has passed over it. The Lord has but to call for pestilence or war, and myriads of men are laid low. If he wills to chasten by famine, he calls for devouring insects, and they invade the land; and this Joel attributes to the word of Jehovah, when he says, “And the Lord shall utter his voice before his army; for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?” Oh, how we ought to worship thee, thou dread Supreme, upon whose word life and death are made to hang!

     I might in another division of this part of my subject remind you of the power which attends both his promises, and his threatenings. God has never promised without performing in due time to the last jot and tittle. Hath he said, and shall he not do it? Hath he commanded, and shall it not come to pass? The gifts and calling of God are without repentance; he turns not from his covenant engagements, and swerves not from the performance of his word. Those that have resisted him have found his threatenings to be true also: let Pharaoh confess how the plagues followed fast upon the word of the Lord till even his stout heart was melted within him. Men have gone on for awhile resisting God, and in their pride they have laughed him to scorn, but by-and-by he has spoken to them in his wrath, and vexed them in his hot displeasure. Who can stand against this terrible God, whose word overthroweth the mighty, and casteth the proud beneath his feet?

     There is power in God’s word to foretell, so that, when he tells what is to be in the future, we know that it shall come to pass. “Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate.” Thus saith the Lord, “I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.” In the word of the Lord also there is power to predestinate as well as to foretell, so that what he decrees is fixed and certain. “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.” The Lord hath said it, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” Let this be your joy to-day, that whatever is promised of the latter day, and of the glory that is to be revealed, is sure to come to pass, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. It seems impossible that the heathen should ever be the Lord’s, or that the uttermost parts of the earth should be Christ’s possession; but it will be, for the King hath said it, and “Where the word of a king is, there is power.” We fear that the time will never arrive when peace shall reign through all the world, and when men shall hang the helmet in the hall, and study war no more; but the vision of faith shall yet become a fact, for “Where the word of a king is, there is power.” He spoke of old of Edom and Moab, Philistia and Ammon, Nineveh and Babylon, Greece and Borne, and whatsoever he hath spoken hath been fulfilled. Not one word of the prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel has failed of its accomplishment, and we may be sure that not one glorious vision of the seer of Patmos will remain a dream. Let us worship the great Ordainer, Benefactor, and Ruler, whose every word is the word of a king, in which there is power.

“His very word of grace is strong
As that which built the skies;
The voice that rolls the stars along
Speaks all the promises.”

     II. Secondly, we would think of the power of God’s word in order TO ENSURE OUR OBEDIENCE TO IT. Whenever God gives a word of command it comes to us clothed with authority, and its power over our minds should be immediate and unquestioned. I hope that in laying the foundation of the spiritual building that is to be erected in connection with this place you will take care to do it according to the directions of the divine statute-book. One is our Master, even Christ, and we have to do our Master’s will, not our own. Some Christian people do not view the authority of God’s word as paramount; but consult human leaders or their predilections. This is to begin with the word of man, a weak and sandy foundation; I beseech you do not so. To Christians the word of God is the only rule of faith and practice. Our doctrine is of authority because it is God’s word, and for no other reason. Our ordinances are valid because instituted by God’s word; they are idle ceremonies if they be not so commanded. All the rites, rules, and regulations of man are of no value. The book of human decrees is not to be regarded in the church of Christ. You may put in the front of it, “printed by authority,” but to the church of Christ it has no authority. You may adopt a creed as the standard of any particular church, but that gives it no authority to bind the conscience; it may be authorized by princes, bishops, and holy men, but wherein it differs from the word of the Lord, or adds thereto, it is to the children of God as a puff of wind. The sole authority in the church is Christ himself; he is the Head of his church, and his word is the only authority by which we are ruled; for “where the word of a king is, there is power,” but all are usurpers who act as lords in the church, where Jesus alone is Master and Lord. Christians should more diligently search the word to find out what the will of the Lord is on all matters affecting their everyday life. A loyal subject of the great King wants to know what the King would have him do; when he knows it, it is not for him to question or to cavil, but to obey. Brethren, let us obey in all things the King’s word, and give to his holy word the honour that it justly claims, for “where the word of a king is, there is power.” Every precept that he gives he intends us to keep; he does not ordain it that we may question it; he commands that we may obey.

     Let me refer you to what Solomon says in the second verse of this chapter, “I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment.” This is admirable counsel for every Christian; if the commandment were of men, even the wisest of men, we might break it, and perhaps do right in breaking it; but if it be the King who gives the command, even the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the King in Zion, then the advice of the Preacher is wise and weighty,— “I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment.” Perhaps some of you would ask me this afternoon, “What is the best course for me to pursue in certain difficult cases?” “I counsel thee to keep the King’s commandment.” “But I am a young man just beginning life, and may get into trouble if I am rigidly scrupulous in doing that which is right.” “I counsel thee to keep the King’s commandment.” “But at this present time I may lose my situation if I keep all his statutes. Could I not wink rather hard, and forget one of the commandments for a little while?” “I counsel thee to keep the King’s commandment.” If he be a King, then it is a solemn hazard to your soul if you come short of the least of his commandments. Remember that one treason makes a traitor; one leak sinks a ship; one fly spoils the whole box of ointment. He that bought us with his blood deserves to be obeyed in all things with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. Such a King as we have ought never to hear us ask the reason why he commands, but we should be like the brave men of Balaclava, of whom the poet said,—

“Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs but to dare and die.”

     Solomon goes on to say, “Be not hasty to go out of his sight.” There is such power in God’s word that I would have you also obey this precept, and seek to remain in his presence. Some of his people seek to get away from their Lord instead of keeping close to him. So little do they delight in communion with their God that they seem to say, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” Did it never happen to you as it did to Jonah, when he must needs go to Tarshish, though the Lord told him to go to Nineveh? He did not want such a large field of labour, such an anxious and unremunerative post of duty: he would rather go to a village-station, or to a sea-side place. For a time he believed that providence helped him, for he found a ship going to Tarshish. There are many devil’s providences which make sin easy and obedience difficult. The precept, not the providence, is the rule of duty. The providence which gave Judas the opportunity to sell his Master did not excuse that son of perdition. “So he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” Alas, poor Jonah! to be thus eager to run counter to the word of a King! I remember how I felt when first in London: I could not endure the horrible wilderness of bricks by which I was surrounded. I sighed for the green fields and the fresh air, and longed to get back to my country charge. But this kind of self-indulgence will not do: “Where the word of a king is, there is power,” and wherever the King sends you, you must go, and go without questioning. If he should send you to preach at the gates of hell, go and preach there. “Be not hasty to go out of his sight,” for if you get out of the sight of the King, if you no longer wait in his blessed presence, depend upon it, like Jonah, you will fall into trial, tempest, sinking, and terror. There may be no whale to swallow you, and cast you up again; they are not so plentiful now as they were then; and you may not be delivered so easily as Jonah.” Keep in the Lord’s presence and favour, no matter where you may have to go in order to do so. Walk in communion with Christ in whatever path he may point out to you. Never mind how rough it is: do not imagine it is the wrong road because it is so rough; rather reckon it to be right because it is rough, for seldom do smoothness and rightness go together. Oh, to abide in Christ the Word, and to have his word abiding in us!

     Solomon then says, “Stand not in an evil thing.” There is such power in the Word of God that he can readily destroy you, or heavily chastise you, therefore be quick to amend, and “stand not in an evil thing.” Repent, obey, submit, confess, seek pardon at once. He who is a courtier in a king’s court, if he offends against his sovereign, or does anything disgraceful, apologises, and trusts that he will not so offend any more; and oh, thou child of God, if at any time thou shalt offend against thy gracious Sovereign, and he frown on thee, humble thyself, for his stroke is heavy. “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle.” Have a tender mouth: let God guide you with his eye, let a word be enough for you, do not need a bit or bridle. I wish we all had great tenderness of conscience. We should tremble at God’s word, and humble ourselves in the dust before him, praying to be cleansed by his grace. If a person wished to practise deeds of infamy he would not do it in the Queen’s audience-room, especially if her eye was fixed upon him; and so sin should be impossible to a believer who lives in the presence of the King, in whose word there is power. Wilt thou offend him to his face, and slight him in his own courts? No; yield thyself to his mercy, and let thy holy life prove that his word has power over thy heart and conscience.

     III. And now, thirdly, TO INSPIRE OUR CONFIDENCE, let us think that “where the word of a king is, there is power.” If there is a heart here that is seeking mercy, if you can go before God with such a promise as this in your mouth, “ Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon,”— that word of his is not a mere sound, there is the power of truth in it. If you do what he there bids you do you shall find that he can and will abundantly pardon. Whatever sins you have committed, though they are too many to count, and too awful to mention, if you will come and trust yourself with Jesus Christ, God’s word is; that you shall be saved; and saved you shall be. “He that believeth on him is not condemned.” “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” Come and plead these words now, you who feel your sinfulness, and you shall prove in your joyful experience that they are the power of God unto salvation. Even the very worst may come and plead the promises, and they shall obtain immediate pardon and full forgiveness, and their soul shall know it because of the sweet peace that comes from forgiven sin.

     Do you tell me that you cannot conquer your evil passions and corrupt desires? Here is a promise from the word of the Lord, “From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” Now come and plead these precious promises, there is power in them, they are the words of a King, and if you plead them at the mercy-seat you shall become a new creature in Christ Jesus: old things shall pass away; all things shall become new. When you get a promise from God treat it as undoubted truth, and rely upon it as you do upon the promise of your father or your friend. There are men around yon whose promises you never can believe; when they promise to pay you,, you dare not regard it as an asset in business, for you are too sadly aware that you have a little bundle of their I O U’s already, and you have had a view of their dishonoured bills, and cheques endorsed with “no effects.” But God’s word is not like that of false and fickle mortals. No charge of falsehood or failure can be brought against the God of truth. He has never broken his word yet, and he never will. Then, dear souls, if you want forgiveness of sin and renewal of heart, get the promise to that effect, and believe it with all your soul; and as sure as it is the word of a King you shall be washed in the blood and in the water which flowed from the wounded side of the crucified Christ.

     And you Christian people, are there any of you who are struggling at this time with a remaining corruption which you cannot conquer? Now come and lay hold of the promise that you shall overcome, and plead it before the mercy-seat. If you do but get any promise of God suited to your case, make quick use of it, for there is power in it; it is the word of a King! Mr. Durham, the writer of ancient and precious comments upon Solomon’s Song and the Revelation, when dying, was somewhat distressed in mind, and said to a friend who was standing by his bedside, “Out of all the Scriptures there is not one text that yields me comfort, save only one; and that is one that I have often held out to perishing sinners, little thinking I should have to cling to it myself— ‘Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.’ Brother So-and-So, do you think that this is strong enough to bear my weight now?” “Yes,” his friend replied, “and to bear the weight of ten thousand times ten thousand if they rest upon it.” What was said of that text is true of every other word of God. The promise of the Lord will bear the weight of sin and justice, life and death, judgment and hell. Lean your whole weight on the word, and you shall find it to be like Mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever. For my own part, I have no shadow of a hope but in the word of the Lord: his Spirit has delivered me from all reliance upon duties, or feelings, or experiences. The Word of the Lord is the life of my soul. In the words of King Jesus there is power to save you, to renew you, to pardon you, to preserve you, to sanctify you, and to perfect you. If you have hold on the promises, they will hold you for time and eternity too.

     Then, also, are there any of you in great trouble? I cannot know all your cases, but if any one of you has a trial which you could not tell, or a trouble, which if you did tell it, nobody could help you out of, go and spread it before the Lord. Remember his word, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” Go and tell him that he has thus spoken, and that he has therein pledged himself to deliver you out of all afflictions: and be sure of this, he will be as good as his word.

     Do you expect soon to die? Are you somewhat distressed because sickness is undermining your constitution? Be not afraid, for his Spirit teaches you to sing, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Go and tell the Lord of his own word, and you will look forward to death without fear, singing—  

“Knowing as I am known word,
And oft repeat before the throne,
‘For ever with the Lord!’
“That resurrection word,
That shout of victory,
Once more, ‘For ever with the Lord!”

Amen— so let it be!

Brethren, one more point is gained concerning the fear of death when we remember that it is the voice of a King which will recall our bodies from the grave, and “where the word of a king is, there is power.” Do we ask mournfully as we survey the grave-yard, “Can these dry bones live?” We are not slow to answer with assurance of faith. He that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, will also bring forth from their sepulchres all his sheep. “If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” We do not doubt this when we remember that with the trump of the archangel shall also be heard the voice of God, which voice shall speak the word omnipotent.

“Break from his throne, illustrious morn!
Attend, O earth, his sovereign word!
Restore the saint, a glorious form:
He must ascend to meet his Lord.”

     IV. Fourthly, I am coming to my last point, on which I shall crave a little time: and here I intend to address myself to all people of God who are associated in church-fellowship, and striving to do the Lord’s service; and to you who will be so associated here. My text is to be used TO DIRECT YOUR EFFORTS. You need power; not the power of money, or mind, or influence, or numbers; but “power from on high.” All other power may be desirable, but this power is indispensable. Spiritual work can only be done by spiritual power. I counsel you in order to get spiritual power in all that you do to keep the King’s commandment, for “where the word of a king is, there is power.” Lay not a stone of your spiritual church without his overseeing; do all things according as he has ordained; regard him as the wise Master-builder, and be all of you under the command of his word. The day cometh when much that has been built shall be destroyed, for the fire will try every man’s work of what sort it is. It is very easy to heap up a church with wood, hay, and stubble, which the fire will soon destroy; and it is very hard work to build one up with gold, silver, and precious stones; for these are rare materials, and must be diligently sought for, laboriously prepared, and carefully guarded. The materials that will stand the fire of temptation, trial, death, and the like, are not to be brought together by any word but the word of the Lord; but these alone are worth having. I had sooner have half-a-dozen Christian people, truly spiritual and obedient to the word of the Lord in all things, than I would have half-a-dozen thousands of nominal Christians who neither care about the word nor the King. If you want power, keep the King’s commandment, keep close to it in all things, and make it the law of your house and the motto of your flag. Wherein you go beyond the word you go beyond the power, and wherein you stop short of the word you also stop short of the power. In the King’s word there is power, and you will have power as long as you keep to it: but real power is nowhere else to be found. Let us take care that we do not look elsewhere for power, for that will be leaving the fountains of living waters to hew out to ourselves broken cisterns which hold no water. I fear that some Christian people have been looking in many other directions for the power which can only be found in the word of the King. At one time we were told that power lay in an educated ministry; people said, “We must have a minister who knows Greek and Latin: you cannot save souls unless you are familiar with the heathen classics.” This superstition has suffered many a blow from the manifest successes of those whose only language is the grand old Saxon. Then the cry was, “Well, really, we do not want these men of education; we need fluent speakers, men who can tell a great many anecdotes and stories. These are men of power.” I hope we shall outgrow this delusion also. The Lord works by either of these classes of men, or by others who have not the qualifications of either of them, or by another sort of men, or fifty sorts of men, so long as they keep to the word of the King, in which there is power. There is power in the gospel if it be preached by a man utterly without education: unlearned men have done great things by the power of the word. The polished doctor of divinity has been equally useful when he has kept to his Master’s word. But if either of these has forgotten to make Christ’s word first and last, the preaching has been alike powerless, whether uttered by the illiterate or the profound.

     Others have thought it necessary, in order to have power among the masses (that is the cant phrase), that there should be fine music. An organ is nowadays thought to be the power of God; and a choir is a fine substitute for the Holy Ghost. They have tried that kind of thing in America, where solos and quartets enable singing men and singing women to divide their services between the church and the theatre. Some churches have paid more attention to the choir than to the preaching. I do not believe in it. If God had meant people to be converted in that way, he would have sent them a command to attend the music-halls and operas, for there they will get far better music than we can hope to give them. If there be charms in music to change the souls of men from sin to holiness, and if the preaching of the gospel will not do it, let us have done with Peter and Paul, with Chalmers and with Chrysostom, and let us exalt Mozart and Handel into their places, and let the great singers of the day take the places of the pleaders for the Lord. Even this would not content the maniacs of this age, for with the music-room they crave the frippery of the theatre. Combine with philosophy the sweet flowers of oratory and those of Covent Garden, adding thereto the man-millinery and gewgaws of Rome, and then you can exclaim, with the idolaters of old, “These be thy gods, O Israel.” Men are now looking for omnipotence in toys. But we do not believe it. We come back to this, “Where the word of a king is, there is power,” and while we are prepared to admit that all and everything that has to do with us can be the vehicle of spiritual power if God so wills, we are more than ever convinced that God has spiritual power to give by his word alone. We must keep to the King’s word if we desire to have this spiritual power for the Lord’s work.

     Whatsoever you find in Scripture to be the command of the King, follow it, though it leads you into a course that is hard for the flesh to bear: I mean a path of singular spirituality, and nonconformity to the world. Remember that, after all, the truth may be with the half-dozen, and not with the million. Christ’s power may be with the handful as it was at Pentecost, when the power came down upon the despised disciples, and not upon the chief priests and scribes, though they had the sway in religious matters.

     If we want to win souls for Christ we must use the word of God to do it. Other forms of good work languish unless the gospel is joined with them. Set about reforming, civilizing, and elevating the people, and you will lose your time unless you evangelize them. The total abstinence movement is good, and I would that all would aid it, but it effects little unless the gospel furnishes the motive and the force. It will win its way in proportion as it is carried on in subordination to the gospel, and is viewed as a means to reach a still higher end. The rod works no wonder till Moses grasps it; and moral teaching has small force till Jesus operates by it. Those who doubt the power of the gospel, and leave it for other forms of hopeful good, leave strength for weakness, omnipotence for insufficiency. More and more I am persuaded that it is where the word of a King is that there is power, and all the rest is feebleness until that word has infused might into it. Everyone must buy his own experience, but mine goes to prove to me that the direct and downright preaching of the gospel is the most profitable work which I ever engage in: it brings more glory to God and good to men than all lecturing and addressing upon moral subjects. I should always, if I were a farmer, like to sow that seed which would bring me in the best return for my labour. Preaching the gospel is the most paying thing in the world; it is remunerative in the very highest sense. May your minister stick to the gospel, the old-fashioned gospel, and preach nothing else but Jesus Christ and him crucified. If people will not hear that, do not let them hear anything at all: it is better to be silent than to preach anything else. Paul said, and I will say the same, “I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

     Then again, if you want power, you must use this word in pleading. If your work here is to be a success, there must be much praying; everything in God’s house is to be done with prayer. Give me a praying people, and I shall have a powerful people. The word of the King is that which gives power to our prayers. I have been requested to preach, in certain places, and I have replied that I could not go. In a little time I have received a letter to remind me that two years before I promised to go. This altered the case: I had no choice. I must go, whether I could or not, for my word was pledged to it. So if you can go to the Lord with his pledged word, and say, “Lord, thou hast said it: thou must do it,” he will be true to his word to you, for there is power in the word of a King.

     There is power in accepting that word, in getting it into you, or receiving it. You never keep the truth till you have received this word of a King into your spiritual being, and absorbed it into your spiritual nature. Oh, that you might every one of you eat the word, live on it, and make it your daily food!

     And then, there is power in the practising of it. Where there is life through the King’s word, it will be a strong life. The sinner’s life is a feeble life; but an obedient life, an earnest Christian life, is a life of strength. Even those who hate it and abhor it cannot help feeling that there is a strange influence about it which they cannot explain, and they must respect it.

     You will see its power in this place; I know you will see it, for you are resolved in God’s strength that it shall be so. You will see its power to fill the place. There is nothing so attractive as the gospel of Christ. If you were to give a man the Tabernacle at Newington, and say to him, “There, you may lecture on geology, astronomy, or anything you like, twice on the Sunday, and every night in the week as well, if you please, and see if you can keep up a full congregation,” he would fail. The people would not come for any length of time; and yet without any great oratory we preach the gospel again and again, and the people come: they cannot help it. They hear nothing new; it is always the same thing over again, and yet it is never monotonous; there is always a glorious freshness about the gospel. That one silver bell of the gospel has more melody in it than can be drawn from all the bells in all the steeples in the world. There is more sweetness in that one name Jesus than in all the harps of angels, let alone the music of men. When Jesus Christ’s deity is denied in any chapel, it soon becomes a howling wilderness. If Christ, the son of God, is gone, all is gone. A certain minister preached Universalism, or the doctrine that everybody would be saved in the end, and after a time his chapel became empty. His neighbour, who preached that those who did not believe would be lost for ever, had his house full. One day the Universalist met his neighbour, and asked him, “How is it that the people come to you when you preach that unbelievers will be sent to hell, and they do not come to me though I tell them that in the end they will all be in heaven?” The other replied, “They suspect that what I tell them is true, and that what you tell them is false.” Where gentlemen of this order have been preaching, people have sense enough to come to the conclusion that if what they say is false it is not wise to hear them, and if what they say is true there is no need to hear them. Certain gentlemen are proving to the world that there is no need of themselves, for if men are not lost what need is there of a preacher to tell them how they can be saved? He that crieth peace and safety, if he be a watchman, might as well hold his tongue. If the watchman woke you up in the middle of the night crying out, “All’s well! A fine starlight night!” you would be very much inclined to exclaim, “Why on earth do you go about disturbing people when there is nothing the matter? Go home and get to bed with you!” And thus these smooth-speaking gentlemen are finding out that they are not wanted, and people are ready to say of them, “Let them go home to bed, and there let them abide.” But on the other hand, if you preach Jesus Christ, and even the terrible things of his word, there will be a fall house, for conscience bids men hear.

     When you preach the gospel, souls will be saved. To secure that end you must stick to the gospel, for that is the one means ordained by God for the conversion of sinners. The other day a gospel minister spoke to a woman who had attended certain revival services, in which there was much shouting of “Come to Jesus,” but nothing about Jesus. She said, “I heard you preach this afternoon, and if what you preached is true, then I am a lost woman. I have been converted ten times already.” Ah me! what is the use of such poor work as this? We must teach the King’s word if our work is to be blessed to the salvation of souls. We must plough with the law, and let the people know what sin means, and what repentance means; then we may hopefully sow them with the gospel. Some time ago we were told that there was no need of repentance, and that repentance only meant a change of mind: but what a tremendous change of mind true repentance does mean! Never speak lightly of repentance.

     Then, too, the preaching of the truth, and the whole truth, will bring a power of union among you, so that you who love the Lord will be heartily united. When Christian people quarrel, it is generally because they do not get sufficient spiritual food. Dogs fight when there are no bones, and church-members fall out when there is no spiritual food. We must give them plenty of gospel; for the gospel has the power of sweetening the temper, and making us put up with one another.

     Preach the King’s word, for it will give you power in private prayer, power in the Sunday-school, power in the prayer-meeting, power in everything that you do; because you will live upon the King’s own word, and his word is meat to the soul. The prophet said, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.” If you try this meat you will all find it is nourishing to you also. The Lord bless you, and grant that it may be so. Amen.



The Orphan’s Father

By / Jun 22

The Orphan's Father

 

“For in thee the fatherless findeth mercy.”— Hosea xiv. 3.

 

THE Lord God of Israel, the one only living and true God, has this for a special mark of his character, that in him the fatherless findeth mercy. “A Father of the fatherless, and a Judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.” False gods of the heathen are usually notable for their supposed power or cunning, or even for their wickedness, falsehood, lustfulness, and cruelty; but our God, who made the heavens, is the Thrice Holy One. He is the holy God, and he is also full of love. Indeed, it is not only his name, and his character, but his very nature, for “God is love.” Among the acts which exhibit his love is this— that he executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed, and specially takes under his wing the defenceless ones, such as the widow and the fatherless.

     This is very notable if you look into the subject in connection with holy Scripture. We see this soon after the giving of the law. We have the law in the twentieth chapter of Exodus; and in the twenty-second chapter of the same book, close upon the heels of the law, you have God’s word concerning the fatherless. Listen to Jehovah’s words: they are strong and forceful; there is a thunder about their sound. “Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in anywise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” These are the words of that Jehovah who spoke the ten commands on Sinai. See how very near to the heart of our God lies the cause of the widow and the fatherless.

     The Lord gave the law a second time in the book of Deuteronomy. If you turn to the tenth chapter of that book, at the seventeenth verse, you will find such a statute as this,— “For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: he doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.” Those are two strong and striking proofs of the fact that the cause of the fatherless lies near to the heart of God.

     Laws were made on their behalf, and among the rest was the institution of tithes. I have read some amazing statements upon the divine right of tithes. It seems to be established in the minds of some that if God gave the tithes to Levi he must, therefore, have given them to Episcopalian ministers: an inference which I fail to see. I should just as soon draw the inference that he had given them to Baptist ministers; certainly it would be no more illogical. The idea of our being priests, or Levites, in order to get compulsory tithes, would be too abhorrent to be entertained for a moment. But while I have often seen the divine right of tithes stated and argued, I have never heard it urged that the tithes should go to those for whom God set them apart under the legal dispensation. Now, if you will turn to Scripture, you will find that the tithe of all the produce of the land was to be given to the Levite and to the stranger, and to the widow and the fatherless; and whenever tithe comes to be properly distributed, if there be any divine right in it at all, it will most certainly be given to the widow and the fatherless. We should agree to its being given in part to the Levite when he turns up, but as we do not know who the Levite is at present, we may keep his portion in abeyance till he appears. But the widow and the fatherless are still here among us, and the poor shall never cease out of the land; and as the institution of the tithe was as much for them as it was for the tribe of Levi, let them have their share. The tribe of Levi had certain rights, because, while the other tribes had each one a portion, that tribe had no inheritance, and therefore took out its share in having a part of the tithe, and certain cities to dwell in. Read Deuteronomy xiv. 29— “And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.” I do not know that Episcopalian clergymen have given up their earthly inheritances any more than Nonconformist ministers, and I cannot therefore see that they have the Levite’s claim; but I see clearly the right of the widow and the fatherless, and I pray that the day may come when they will get their share of what is undoubtedly theirs, if it is anybody’s at all.

     Another ordinance was made about the widow and the fatherless— that when the people gathered in the harvest, if they omitted a sheaf of corn, they were never to go back for it, but were to leave it for the widow and the fatherless. “When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands.” In gathering in the corn the field was not raked, but all that fell was left to the widow and the fatherless. It was expressly commanded that when they gathered the grapes they were never to gather a second time, but were to leave the bunches to be ripened for the widow and the fatherless. “When thou beatest thine olive-tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.” Nobody was forgotten in the divine rule when Jehovah was King in Israel; but especial mention was continually being made of these two classes— the widow and the fatherless and the poor strangers that happened to be within Israel’s gates. “Thou shalt be kind to the stranger,” said the Lord, “because thou wast a stranger in the land of Egypt, and thou knowest the heart of a stranger.” I call your special attention to this, and beg you to look through Scripture, and see how again and again God calls upon his people to take care of the widow and the fatherless. Job, that upright man whom God accepted, disclaimed for himself the charge that he had ever forgotten the widow and the fatherless; and you know how, under the New Testament, it is written, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

     It is established, then, that God, even the God of Israel, is one in whom the fatherless findeth mercy: let us take care of them too. “Be ye imitators of God as dear children,” and select as the objects of your charity those whom God specially cares for.

     This, however, is not my subject at this time. I wish you to become yourselves objects of the divine charity by coming to God as orphans, and putting yourselves under his protection, that you, like the fatherless, may find mercy at his hands. If we ourselves are sad at heart, troubled in spirit, full of needs, full of wants and trials, let us be encouraged to come to God, because in him the fatherless findeth mercy.

     First, here is encouragement; secondly, here is encouragement as to what to do; and, thirdly, here is encouragement as to what to expect.

     I. First, here is ENCOURAGEMENT. Here is encouragement, though such as none spy out but needy ones. You notice that the people who said, “In thee the fatherless findeth mercy,” are the people who had fallen by their iniquity, and who were bidden to return unto the Lord, saying “Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously.” They were a people who renounced all self-confidence, and cried out, “Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods.” They were a people with whom God’s Holy Spirit had so dealt that they were stripped of their pride, and made conscious of their guilt. Then it was that they spied out this precious fact, that in God the fatherless findeth mercy. A tear in the eye is a fine thing to clear it. He that never saw his sin has never seen the mercy of God. David never sang of the lovingkindness and tender mercies of God so well as in that fifty-first Psalm, when he mourned his great sin. A broken-hearted sinner has a sort of instinct for finding out the tender points in God’s character. The ungodly man who is self-satisfied, and has never been made to know the truth about his condition, often likens God to an austere man, reaping where he has not sown, and gathering where he has not strawed ; but once let the man know his guilt and mourn it, and then he looks with all his eyes to God to spy out mercy in him ; and he is the man who delights to learn that God is merciful to the fatherless. This becomes a fountain of hope to him.

     Have I here any sin-stricken sinner? Are you desponding and despairing? Did you come here feeling that there could be no mercy for you? Catch at this word. “In thee the fatherless findeth mercy.” He is a merciful God; he is tender, kind, considerate. He evidently looks after the helpless and hopeless. He is the patron of those whom others desert. Widows without friends, the fatherless without protectors— these are the care of God. May you not hope that he will care for you? May you not in the depth of your sin and brokenness of heart come to him and say, “O Lord, I hear thou art the Friend of the friendless, be a Friend to me”? It looks like a candle put in the window of your Father’s house to guide you home through the darkness. May God help you to see it; but I know that you will not care to see it if there is not a tear in your eye, for none but the needy perceive this gracious truth.

     This encouragement is, moreover, one which is a strong inducement to cast away all other confidences. If God be the Friend of the fatherless, he may be a Friend to me: would it not be well for me to trust him, and leave off trusting those other things that I have relied upon? You see how the text runs, “Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses.” These were their great trust and confidence, and then they go on to say— neither will we worship false gods, for we can see that the true God is kind, kind to the fatherless ones, and therefore we may come and trust him. When a man gets some little hope, then he says to himself, “I will even venture to look to the Lord.” When the prodigal son in the far-off country had spent all his living, what was it that brought him back? Why, it was this thought,— “How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare!” this made him resolve to go home again. I know what the devil will do: he will tell you that there is no mercy for you. He is an old liar. There is abundant mercy for the greatest sinner. What does the devil know about it? He never sought mercy, and he has never had any, and never will have any, for he will never seek it; but for you, poor soul, there is bread enough and to spare in your Father’s house; and why do you perish with hunger? Why not arise and go unto your Father? If God be the Father of the fatherless, this should induce us to hasten to him, and rest in him. “May I trust in Jesus Christ?” says one. “May I?” Of course you may; it is your sin if you do not, and, indeed, the chief and most ruinous of sins. Many of you are trusting in your sacraments and your priests, or in your good works and your prayers, or your own feelings, because you think that you may not trust Christ. But you may! for he who takes the fatherless under his blessed wing invites you to come to him. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” If he had ever repulsed one, he might repulse you. But since the fatherless find mercy in him, and all that come to him find mercy in him, come along with you, and trust in the merciful One at once.

     Furthermore, there is much encouragement in my text, because it gives us a clear look into the heart of God. I always like to see how a man treats children. You learn a great deal about a man when you see that. Some men abhor children, and almost wish that they could exterminate them. As to the fatherless children they say, “Let them go to the workhouse: we cannot be troubled with them.” The gentle-hearted one never sees a little child in want without feeling the utmost pity. I feel more sorry for a suffering child than even for a man or a woman. Adults have a measure of a power to help themselves; but if there be poverty in the house, the little one may pine away, but it cannot get relief. Little boys and girls have suffered much in this great city when their parents’ home has been desolated by poverty, frequently caused by drink and other sins. Who knows the sufferings of the little ones when father dies? I confess it touches my heart that little children should suffer as they do. When men are wicked, one is almost thankful that there should be poverty following their sin to whip them out of it; but these lambs, what have they done? Any tender heart feels this. Is not this a wonderful text which lets us gaze into the heart of God while we read, “In thee the fatherless findeth mercy”? Great God, the seraphim adore thee. Angels, day without night, in serried ranks stand waiting to do thy bidding. Thy voice is the thunder, and the glance of thine eye is the lightning. At thy bidding kings die, dynasties decay, and empires are blotted out, and yet thou carest for little children and widows. It is very beautiful to me. I feel as if I could trust him all the better for that, and come with my daily burden and daily cares— ay, and my sins too, and feel sure that he will not refuse me. This is the Father of Jesus, I am sure of it. Oh, how like the Son is to the Father, for if the Father is thus the children’s Patron, what think ye of the Son, and of his likeness to his Father, when he said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Does not this encourage you to come, as you see the heart of God laid bare in the blessed statement of the text, “In thee the fatherless findeth mercy”?

     There is this encouragement too, that our cases are like those of the widow and the fatherless. The orphan has no father, no helper, no means of sustenance. And you, my hearer, are in that state, without God. If there be no God, you have no father. If you have no God to trust to, you have no protector, and you are undone. There is no light for you if God be not your light, no hope for you if Christ be not your hope. Do you feel that? Well, then, you are an orphan; you are a fatherless one. Come along, for Jesus has said, “I will not leave you orphans. I will come unto you.” Come to him, and look up into the face of the orphan’s Father, and say, I plead that word of thine, “In thee the fatherless findeth mercy.” Lord, let me find mercy, for my case runs parallel with theirs.

     If there is a heart here that wants encouraging, it will spell out my meaning. But if you do not need it, and some of you do not, for you are fine fellows, full of your own righteousness, then I have nothing to say to you but this, “The whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

     II. Secondly, for every poor, needy sinner here is ENCOURAGEMENT AS TO WHAT TO DO.

     First, if you want to find salvation to-night, take the text as a sort of spiritual guide-book, and plead your need. Do not say anything about your merits: the less said about them the better. Your position is like that of the Irish servant, who said, when asked for his character, that the gentleman at his last place told him he would do better without his character than with it. You are just in that case, only that you will be asked for your character, and the best thing you can do is to say, “My character is as bad as it can be”; and then plead for mercy. “Lord,” it says in the text, “in thee the fatherless findeth mercy. It does not say that they are good and holy, but simply that they are fatherless. It does not say that they find reward, but that they find mercy. Lord, that is all I have to say to thee. I am in need:— I am in awful need; and because I am such a sinner, it makes my need all the worse, for that is where my need lies; I need righteousness; I need a new heart; I need a right spirit. I need a total change. I need everything, for I have nothing but sin and misery. O Lord, I only urge that as thou dost help the fatherless, simply and only because they are needy, I pray thee save me irrespective of my character, for my need is great.”

     The next lesson for you is this; be sure to take a hold of this text by the handle, and ask for mercy. “In thee the fatherless findeth,”— what? Findeth mercy. Mercy is the handle of the text. When you go to God, ask for mercy, not for justice. A mother once went to the Emperor Napoleon to ask for mercy for her son. He had committed some breach of the French law; and the emperor replied, “Madam, this is the second time the boy has offended; justice requires that he should die.” She answered, “Sire, I did not come to ask for justice. I beg for mercy.” He answered, “He does not deserve mercy.” “Sire,” said she, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it. I ask for mercy.” When she put it in that way, the emperor replied, “Well, then, I will have mercy.” My unsaved hearer, you deserve to be in hell tonight. It is of the Lord’s mercy that you are not consumed. Do not dream of asking for justice, for justice will be your ruin; but get a hold of this word, “Lord, I ask for mercy,” and if something whispers, “Why, you have been a hardened sinner,” say, “Lord, it is true; but Lord, I ask for mercy.” “But you have been a backslider.” Reply, “Lord, that I have; but I ask for mercy on that account.” “But you have resisted and rejected grace.” “Lord, that is true; but I shall want all the more mercy because of that.” “But there is nothing in you to argue for forgiveness.” Say, “Lord, I know there is not, and that is why I ask for mercy. I put it wholly on that ground. Display thy mercy in me, I beseech thee.” That is the way to plead. Mind you keep to it. That is the straight way. You will get heaven so, for you will get Christ so, since his mercy endureth for ever. “In thee the fatherless findeth mercy.”

     Learn another lesson, you that want to get peace with God at once, and I hope that some of you do. Cast your sin, trial, and sorrow upon God. The text says, “In thee the fatherless findeth mercy;” so the business of the fatherless ones is to come to God, and just look to him for mercy; and that is your business. Do not, I charge you, look to anybody else but the living God to help you. It is a snare, and a horrible one, for people to trust to priests; and I will say, in addition to that, to trust to ministers, to trust to any man whatever. I have known persons when they have heard an address and have been impressed, to say, “Oh, I shall find Christ in the enquiry-room!” That enquiry-room may be a snare to you if you talk thus. You want to speak to the man who preached to you, do you? Do not speak to him; go to Jesus direct. “But I wish to see that good man who spoke to me the other day.” Very well, so you may by-and-by, but mind you do not put that good man or that good woman in the place of Christ. The text says, “In thee the fatherless findeth mercy,” and it is in Christ, and in him alone, that mercy is to be found. Go directly and distinctly to Jesus, and, by the help of his Spirit, you can do that while sitting in the pew. God is everywhere. Let your spirit be conscious that God is present, and now let your heart speak to him. To him confess your sin: do not pour that rubbish into the ear of mortal man. To God lay bare your heart, and to him alone: it is not a fit sight for any human being. Tell the Lord Jesus all your wants and woes, and he will help you, for in the Son of God is the help of the sons of men. Oh, that I knew how to speak these things, but they will surely go home to those who are in spiritual need! You that are not in need, you that are good, you that are self-righteous, will see nothing in the text for you. No, and there was not meant to be, for the Lord has a people that he will draw unto himself, and these people are known by this— that they are weary of themselves.

     God’s chosen people exercise the natural art of the weak, namely, clinging. They are made to feel their poverty and their need, and then when they hear of the fulness of Christ they haste to lay hold on him. Have you never noticed how the plants that God has made weak are all endowed with a natural faculty for clinging? One of the first things that the vine does is to put forth its tendrils for something to cling to. The hop, the woodbine, the sweet pea, they have all a little hook ready to lay hold on a support. Now, if God is about to bless you at this hour, you have a little tendril that is being put out to find something to lay hold of, and as the gardener carefully puts his stick for the sweet pea, or as the farmer puts his pole for the hop, I have tried to set my text in your way. I would set the blessed Lord before you, and say, In him the fatherless findeth mercy, cling to him; cling to him. It is your life to do it. Cling firmly! The limpet by the sea-shore can do little, but it can cling, and so it does cling, and very firmly too. That is the one thing you can do, poor sinner, and I pray the Holy Spirit to lead you to do it at once. God help you at this moment to cling to Christ, and if you do, you are saved, yes, saved at once. In him the fatherless findeth mercy. Cling to him, and you shall find mercy too.

     III. Now, lastly, here is ENCOURAGEMENT AS TO WHAT TO EXPECT OF GOD. “In thee the fatherless findeth mercy.”

     What do the fatherless expect of us when we stand in God’s place to them, and take them into our Orphanage, and try to be as a father to them? What do they expect of us? Well, I do not know that the younger ones have intellect enough to know all they expect, but they expect everything. They expect all that they want, and though they do not quite know what they do want, they leave it to us. They believe that all will be found that they require. I like a poor Christian who does not know all he wants; but yet knows that his God will supply all his needs. He trusts Jesus for all. He trusts his heavenly Father as a child: he does not know what he may require to-day, and require in the unknown future, but then his heavenly Father knows, and he leaves it all to him. As our orphan boys grow older, however, they begin to have a perception of their wants, and they trust that they shall have everything provided which their own fathers would have provided for them, and more, perhaps. So is it with m when we come to the great Father. We say: all that I would provide for my children, if I had everything, and could give them all that wisdom could desire, my God will provide for me, for he will be a Father to me. If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, much more shall he, who has taken you into his family, though you once were fatherless, give all good things to you. You shall have food and raiment, and sufficient for this life. You shall have protection, guidance, instruction, and tender affection. You shall have a touch or two of the rod every now and then, and that is among your choice mercies; but you shall also have all the cherishing of his sweet love; and by-and-by, when you are fit for it, he will take you home from school, and you shall see his face, and you shall live for ever in his house above, where the many mansions be. Oh, if you come and put yourselves by a simple faith into the blessed custody and keeping of God, he will admit you into his Salvation Orphanage, and he will take care of you, and you shall find him a better Father than you will be to your own children— a better Father than the best of fathers could ever be to the best beloved of sons. “I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” I will not say more, but I should like to leave John’s choice sentence as my last word. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!” Blessed be thy name, O Lord, that we also have been led of thy Spirit to prove that in thee the fatherless findeth mercy!



The Bird Escaped from the Snare

By / Jun 22

The Bird Escaped from the Snare

 

“Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped.”— Psalm cxxiv. 7.

 

 

THIS text describes a soul-matter. The Psalmist is not speaking of a temporal deliverance, although even in that sense an escape from death would be a theme worthy of his sweetest song. He says, “Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers,” thus denoting a spiritual rescue. The man’s soul is the soul of the man; and though some give all their attention to the body, their folly is great. It is as though a man should spend all his substance upon his house, and have no bread for himself to eat. Do I speak to any who never think about their souls? Do you really believe that you will die like dogs and horses? I cannot believe that you have such brutal views of yourself. Believe me, you have within you an immortal spirit, which will outlive the sun. If you have hitherto been careless of your nobler part, may God’s Spirit teach you wisdom. I pray that you may so think of your soul that our text may become deeply interesting to you, so that you may join in its song of deliverance.

     I have called the text a song; does it not read like one? “Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped.” It is a canticle of certainty. It does not say, “We hope that we have escaped, and we trust that the snare is broken but “The snare is broken, and we are escaped.” “Ifs” and “buts” make no music. Poetry flees when peradventures enter. Certainties are melodies. We hear people speak of “dead certainties,” but the Christian rejoices in living certainties, and is wretched till they are his own. Rise then, my beloved, above the fogs and mists which cover the marshes of carnal questioning; climb the mountains of full assurance, and stand there with your foreheads bathed in sunlight, breathing that serene atmosphere which is untainted by a cloud of doubt.

     The text reads like a song, not only because of its certainty, but also because of its joy. It has the wing and the throat of a lark; see how it rises from the net to God,— “Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare the fowlers.” Anon it takes another rise,— “The snare is broken.” And it mounts yet again with still greater joy,— “And we are escaped.” The words melt away into the music of heaven as the spirit perfectly escapes from the snares of earth.

     The metaphor used in the text is simple, but yet beautiful and instructive. Pardon me if I make as much of it as I am able to do.

     First, we have here the bird; secondly, the snare; thirdly, the capture; and fourthly, the escape: we may then add a lesson from it all.

     I. First, we have here the soul compared to A BIRD. It is a little bird too — a sparrow, or one of the sparrow kind. “Our soul is escaped as a little bird”— not as a great bird that could break the net and free itself by its own force. A little bird fitly represents our soul when we are lowly in heart. In our unregenerate condition we think ourselves eaglets at the very least, but we are not great creatures after all. We talk of great men: we are all little in God’s sight. “Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him?” Sparrows were very cheap in our Lord’s day because of their littleness; in the market you could buy two for a farthing, and five for two farthings, so that they threw an odd bird in when you bought at such a wholesale rate as two farthings’ worth. Sparrows were inconsiderable things, “yet not one of them falleth to the ground without your Father.” If he cares for sparrows, be sure he cares for souls, and when you think least of yourself, yet believe that the Lord regards you.

     Again, our soul is like a little bird because it is so ignorant. Birds know little about snares, yet they know so much that “surely in vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird.” Even this slender wisdom is more than men display, for they fly into the net when it is spread in their sight; ay, into the selfsame net out of which, in God’s providence, they have just been permitted to escape. Man naturally is the essence of folly; and he is desperately set on destroying himself. He must “see life,” he says, and therefore he haunts the gates of death. He reckons the fowler to be his friend, and dreams that he spreads his nets for purposes of friendly hospitality. He does not know that the fowler is hunting for his life, and will destroy him if he can. So foolish are we and ignorant, we are as birds ready for the lure, till the Lord teaches us wisdom; and even then we need hourly keeping, or we are entrapped by the destroyer.

     Our soul is often like a little bird because it is so eager and venturesome. How birds will trust themselves in winter around traps of the simplest kind if but a few crumbs are used as bait! Alas, men are equally foolhardy: they see others perish, yet they follow their ways. Many sip of the intoxicating cup, yet declare they will never be drunkards; they pilfer littles, and yet despise a thief; they indulge in wanton words, but vow to be chaste as snow; they go into questionable places of amusement, and hope to remain pure. Oh, silly birds! I mean silly souls! Thus the fowler fills his bags. Young people associate with ungodly persons, and say, “We are not so weak-minded as to be led away by them”; thus displaying a weak mind by that boastful speech. Youths tell us that to read sceptical books, and impure novels, and to hear lewd song’s and spicy language will do them no harm. Believe no such flattering falsehoods, or you will rue the day. “You don’t catch old birds with chaff,” says the simpleton; and he hops into the net. “Younger birds must not come here,” says he; “it is dangerous for them, but I am safe enough.” Yet old birds’ necks are wrung as well as those of young birds; and experienced men are as foolish as the juveniles. When a man says, “It is no temptation to me,” it may be true, for soot will not blacken a sweep. Little birds, beware: the fowler promises pleasure, but the end thereof is death.

     The little bird, also, when once taken in the net, is a good comparison with the soul captured by sin, for it is defenceless. What can it do? A mouse might eat the ropes and set free the lion, but no mouse will liberate the sparrow. He will have a short flutter, and we shall hear no more of him. When a man is birdlimed by a vice, the more he flutters the faster he is held by it. What is more defenceless than a soul in the net of sin? What little power men seem to have against their habits! They boast that they can stop anywhere— but, alas, they stop nowhere. “Oh, I have only to come to a determination.” Yes, “only to come to a determination”; but to that determination you will not come. When men become entangled in the meshes of sin, their power to escape is gone: Jeremiah asks— “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” Such is the entanglement of habit, the slavery of lust.

     While they are thus defenceless, we must notice, too, how alarmed they often are. The bird is no sooner in the net than he is frightened. Poor thing, how gladly would he escape if he could! Souls are not always so. They will be taken in Satan’s snares, and yet say that they are happy. Custom in sin kills conscience of sin. “A short life and a merry one,” say they, as if there could be any true merriment anywhere except in the great Father’s house, where they begin to be merry, as if they had never been merry before. Many souls have enough of conscience, and of enlightenment by the word, to alarm them when they find themselves entangled in sin; and then they beat about, and hurt themselves, but, alas! notwithstanding all their efforts, unless a stronger hand than theirs shall break the net, they will perish by the fowler’s hand.

     Our souls, once more, are like to birds because they are the objects of snares. If the Pharisees would compass sea and land to make one proselyte, certainly Satan will compass all the universe to ruin a single soul, for he delights in destroying the souls of men. Nor is it Satan only, for all the world seems to have taken to this fowling; and men who would not lift a finger to save their fellows will go far to ruin them. Oh, little birds, there is no place on earth safe for you till Jesus covers you with his protecting wing!

     II. Secondly, we will now speak of THE SNARE. The text speaks twice of the snare.

     It is wonderful what a variety of snares there are for birds. The tombs of Egypt exhibit the art of bird-catching, and show us decoys, traps, nets, and so forth. Such arts are still practised by fowlers. The main point about the snare is that it is concealed. So, when the archfowler comes after the souls of men, he will not usually spread his net in their sight. Some silly birds can be taken in that way, but the most of souls need that the temptation should be veiled. Always suspect that in a temptation to sin there is more than you can see. Never say that it is a little thing; for great evil lurks in a little fault. Death and destruction hide under apparently small offences. Oh, if we could see everything as God sees it, then we poor silly souls might be in far less danger! But, alas, Satan covers the hook with a tempting bait, and we are taken.

     Snares and traps are usually attractive. The poor bird sees seeds which he is fond of, and he goes for them, little judging that he is to give his life in exchange for brief enjoyment. So is it with Satan. He tempts us with pleasures, with the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life: we taste the sweet, and are pierced with the smart. Did we perceive the intent of the great enemy of souls we should fly from sin. You know the old sentence, “Fear the Greeks, even when they bring gifts”: even so fear a temptation to sin, even should it offer you all the kingdoms of this world. May God keep us from the attractions which conceal the snare!

     But Satan’s snares, like the fowler’s, are sadly effectual. Look at the quantities of small birds that will be found for sale in the markets: fowlers must be exceedingly skilful to catch all these. If we could walk through Satan’s market, what a multitude of souls should we see in his hands! Multitudes upon multitudes are the victims of their own passions, victims of that hellish art which makes evil appear to be good. God save us from being taken in these most deadly snares!

     What are these snares? I cannot mention them all, for they are legion. Snares tuck our bed, and snares attend our beard. Snares are in the street, and snares are in the field. Snares are on the table, snares are in our daily walk. But the chief among them are temptations to sin. The Evil One endeavours to lead us into a false way, which will be congenial to our taste. We have each a peculiar weakness, and he knows how to adapt himself to it. He has been a student of human nature for so long a time that he knows more about man than man knows about himself, and he, therefore, chooses that bait which is most likely to attract us. Oh that we may have grace to keep clear of pleasurable sin! The rabbis said to the Nazarite who was not to drink wine or strong drink, “O Nazarite, go about, go about; and do not pass through a vineyard.” So, child of God, it will be well for you to go about, and not enter into temptation. Your Master bids you pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Against temptation we are to watch and pray as well as against the sin that is likely to come of it.

     Another snare is erroneous doctrine. There is plenty of that abroad at this time. Be warned. You can have doctrine high, and doctrine low; doctrine broad, and doctrine narrow. You can have it how you like, for nowadays every man makes his own gospel, and sits in judgment upon the Word of God. Dearly beloved, hold fast the truth, and be not decoyed by error. If any come with a new gospel, turn away your ear from their deceptive teaching; for false doctrine is the poison of asps, and the venom of hell lieth therein.

     Even Christian people are in danger from another snare, namely, deceitful action. The tempter whispers, “You need not do evil, but there are different ways of judging right and wrong, and it is best to go by the custom of the trade,” Satan puts things very prettily when he means to ruin us. You have somebody else’s money entrusted to you. Of course, you would not steal it: but you can use it for a little, and then replace it. It is true, if it should be lost, people will call you a thief; but then you are not going to lose it: you are going to double it by your cleverness. That is the snare. At other times the temptation is in this form,— “Be sure to buy the thing if you would like it, though you have no money with which to pay for it.” You would not steal. No, no; there is another way of doing it. Buy it, and do not pay for it. This is one of the snares with which Satan seduces men, till they are ruined. Ah, me, that men should be so soon moved from their integrity! Oh, child of God, be upright in everything! However well you may gloss a matter over, and however much others may excuse it, yet if a certain act would be wrong in the sight of God, you must not think of it.

     I have noticed another snare. Satan tries to get Christian people to ape the experience of others. A certain good man is often melancholy. “Ah,” says Satan, “that is how you ought to be: you ought to be bowed down with holy sorrow.” I remember right well when I was a youth hearing a preacher say that it was dangerous to be sure of our salvation; and he preached up the duty, and beauty, and sweetness of being everlastingly in doubt as to your condition. A few people would gather around such a preacher, and sit and have a little comfortable misery all to themselves, and think that they were worshipping God. Now, that is a snare to a Christian, because he has a right to be glad, and “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” May we be kept out of that snare! On the other hand, anxious people see Christians who are advanced in grace and full of faith, while they themselves are much cast down; then the Evil One whispers, “You are not like those good men: you are no Christian.” Brother, you cannot have another man’s experience any more than you can wear another man’s face. Certain lovely ferns grow best in the shade, and never flourish in the sun; while many flowers cannot have too much sunlight. Do not wish to be like this man or that man, but pray God to make you like Jesus Christ, and to let your experience glorify his blessed name; otherwise the desire to copy others will be a snare to you.

     Thus I might go on mentioning snares. They are some of them gross and carnal; but for the spiritual there are snares so neat and pretty that they are apt to be taken in them before they are aware. According to Pliny, the nets in which the Egyptians took little birds were frequently so fine that one person could carry a net large enough to encompass a whole wood. Surely, it must have been a small wood, and even then it is a remarkable statement for so reliable a writer to have made. We may here see an illustration of the delicacy of those temptations with which Satan surrounds the nobler order of minds. Strong as iron, yet filmy as gauze, are the snares for spiritual men. Why, Satan can encompass a whole church with one of those nets, and you scarcely know that it is there; and yet the minds within its meshes are quite unable to mount up and sing unto their Lord, as once they did, for they are within an invisible net.

     III. We cannot further dwell on the subject of the snare, but we must turn to consider THE CAPTURE. Birds are taken in nets, and souls are taken by temptations to sin, and by errors of doctrine, and by a thousand other methods. Dear friends, it is a dreadful thing for the poor little bird when it is taken, especially when it is so anxious to escape that it beats itself, and hurts itself in its efforts to get free. How came it to be taken?

     It may have been taken through hunger. Half-starved, it dashed into peril for necessary food. Many true men are in such straits and difficulties that they are sadly liable to be brought into the net thereby. Dear brethren, pray God to deliver you from poverty and from great riches, for there are perilous snares about each of those positions. May you be neither exalted nor depressed, but preserved in the middle path of experience. If you are extremely needy, you may be tempted to do wrong to provide for your wife and family; I pray that you may never yield to the temptation, but trust in God, and he will deliver you without your putting forth your hand unto iniquity.

     Other birds are taken merely by their appetite. They are not excessively hungry, but they enjoy certain choice seeds, and the fowler knows it; and he scatters such around the trap. Ease of body, indulgence of taste, the joy of being admired, the sweets of power and position, all these and many more have been the fowler’s baits. Hundreds have all that heart ought to wish for, but they must needs be rich, and therefore fall into a thousand snares which they might have avoided. Men are snared by eating and by drinking, by fine raiment and by vainglorious display. Snares lie thickly around the appetites of the body and the longings of the mind.

     Some persons are entrapped by fear. Birds have rushed into the net for fear of danger; many persons have become great offenders against God through lack of moral courage. They are afraid of the laughter of fools. They cannot bear the sarcasm of the so-called wise; and so they suppress truth, and join in sin to escape scorn. God give us a holy bravery wherewith to defy every man’s opinion when we know that we are obeying the Lord.

     Some little birds are lost by love of company. The fowler has a decoybird which sings sweetly or coquettes pleasantly, and the other birds must needs follow it. In the church of God we lose many members by ungodly marriages. The worldling pipes his pretty note, and the tender heart is taken by it. The fair enthusiast says, “I shall convert him;” but it is very, very seldom that this happens; it is usually the other way. This is a snare of Satan in which many are taken.

     Thus you see how souls are captured. Perhaps I am speaking to one here who has flown into the net. You do not know what to do, friend; for you are quite helpless to break your bonds. You went in very eagerly, and, oh, how eagerly you would get out again if you could! But you cannot escape. Your own helplessness is now apparent as it never was before. One thing, however, you can do: you can cry to One who is stronger than you. You can pray the Lord to pluck your feet out of the net; and he is able to do it, for all things are possible with him.

     IV. Just a word or two upon THE ESCAPE. This is a very blessed text, although the sermon has been gloomy so far; for now we shall see the fowler disappointed, and the captive let loose.

     I wish that everybody here could repeat the utterance, and cry, Our soul is escaped. We were in the net, but our soul has escaped. The snare is broken; it has no power over us any longer; we are free from its grasp, we have escaped. Up, up, we soar, away from the fowler and his nets. Glory be to God, we have escaped.

“As when the fowler’s snare is broke,
The bird escapes on cheerful wings;
My soul, set free from Satan’s yoke,
With joy bursts forth, and mounts, and sings.”

     This escape is due to God alone. As the bird could not get out of the snare, so the soul cannot escape from temptation; but God can bring it out, and he works the rescue. Hear this, ye that are slaves to drunkenness: God can deliver you. You that have fallen into licentiousness: hear it,— God can deliver you. Whatever the sin that has birdlimed you, that gracious hand which once was nailed to the cross can set you free. Up, up, up, ye that pine on the borders of despair! Jesus can deliver you. He that made the world out of nothing can make a joyful Christian even out of you. He can turn your mourning into dancing, and your despair into confidence.

     This escape is achieved by power. That word “broken” has force in it. “The snare is broken,”— the meshes torn with a strong hand, the steel trap dashed in pieces. It matters not what danger you are in, there is power enough in God to fetch you out of it. I thought once that God could never save me. I supposed that he would bless my brother and my sisters, but that he would leave me; yet he did save me, blessed be his name! And you, too, he is able to deliver. “Oh, but I am the odd man,” cries one. Then there are two of us; and if God has saved one odd man he can surely save another; and why should he not save you despite all your eccentricity? “But I do not think that he will save me.” What are your thoughts worth? He can save even you. Only trust him, though you be in the net, and out of that net you shall be fetched, for he leaves no soul to perish that puts its trust in him.

     Observe that the escape was complete: “the snare is broken, and we are escaped.” As long as a little bird has the tiniest bit of cotton tied to its leg, and that is fastened anywhere, the bird has not escaped. And as long as you have one evil habit— one wrong thing that you really love— you have not clean escaped. You must be altogether separated from your sins. No man can be married to Christ till he is divorced from sin. Our deliverance must be entire, or it is not true. Who can give us this but the Lord Jesus Christ by his blessed Spirit? Trust him to set you free, and no net shall hold you.

     I would again put the question, “How many of us can say, We have escaped?” Let us sing unto the Lord, if we can; and let those who cannot say that they are free, continue to plead earnestly with God that he would deliver them.

     V. I would close with THE LESSON which this subject ought to teach us. A word or two only.

     It ought to teach us, first, to sing, for if a bird gets out of the net, does it not sing? How glad it seems to be when once it flies away! Oh, you that have been delivered from sin and Satan, sing unto the Lord! Praise and bless his name. Be as happy as possible. Be something more than full of happiness. How can that be? Why, be so full of it that it overflows and cheers others. Let us communicate our joy as far as ever we can, for we are escaped. We are escaped, and we will praise the blessed God who broke the snare.

     Next, let us trust, for if the Lord has saved us from the dreadful snare of sin and Satan, he will save us from everything else. It is sad to me that any should trust the Lord with their souls, and yet they cannot trust him for their daily bread, or for help in their daily trials. This must not be. If the Lord has given our soul so great an escape, depend upon it he will take care of our bodies. He that gave us Jesus will give us food and raiment, and let us be therewith content.

     Lastly, let us watch. If we have fallen into the snare once, let us keep our eyes open not to go there again. May the Holy Spirit prevent any child of God from turning aside even for a moment from the straight way. “Let them not turn again to folly,” is one of God’s own cautions to his people. He has brought you up out of the horrible pit; do not play near the edge of it. He has set your feet on a rock; what have you to do with the miry clay? Get away from the slippery ground, and on the rock let your goings be established.

     I would say again to you netted ones— you that are really caught in the trap, and held fast: oh, that the Lord would come at once, and set you free! I think he will, yea, I am sure that he will if you cry to him to do so. I have heard of a sailor who had been in prison, that after his release, he had money in his pocket, and going over London-bridge, he saw a man selling birds— thrushes, larks, and so on. “What do you want for that lot?” said Jack. I forget how much it was, but Jack found the money; and as soon as the birds were his he opened the door, and let them all fly away. The man called out “Whatever did you buy those birds for, and then let them out?” “Oh,” said the sailor, “if you had been in prison as I have been you would be sure to set everything free you could get a hold of.” You and I ought to display the same kind of feeling towards all poor bondaged souls. I am sure that the Lord Jesus Christ is more tender-hearted than we are; and therefore he will certainly come and set free all prisoners who beg him to open their cage doors. He is the great Emancipator; show him your bonds, and beg for liberty, and he will grant it you.



The Use of the Bow

By / Jun 22

The Use of the Bow 

 

“And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son: (Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher.)”— 2 Samuel i. 17, 18.

 

THE translators have acted very properly in inserting the words, “the use of,” for that is what the passage means; but if you read it without those words the sense is still the same,— “he bade them teach the children of Judah the bow,” that is to say, how to use the bow.

     In modern times, critics have said that by the expression “the bow” is meant the song which David composed; and to sustain their notion— they quote from the Koran of Mahomet, in which they tell us that there is a certain chapter called “the Cow,” and therefore David called his song “the bow,” as if so late an instance of oriental usage was at all to the point. I aver that there is nothing whatever in Scripture to justify the statement that the words “the bow,” can be applied to David’s lament. No doubt some of the Psalms have titles given to them; but there is never an instance of a psalm being quoted by its title. It is quoted by its number, never by its name. I accept the passage as our learned translators understood it:— David bade them teach the children of Judah the bow. If any enquire, “What then is the connection? Why should David teach the people the use of the bow because Saul and Jonathan were slain? Why is the military order concerning the use of a certain instrument of war inserted here, when the passage is full of lamentation?” I answer— most fitly, as I shall have to show you. It was the best memorial of that skilful archer Jonathan, and of the other princes who had fallen by the arrows of the Philistines, that from the disastrous day of their slaughter David caused his own tribe over which he had chief power to be trained in the use of that special weapon of war.

     I. But now to our work. From my text I want to gather a few useful lessons. And the first is this: ACTIVITY IS A VALUABLE SOLACE FOR SORROW. The people were very grieved; for Saul and Jonathan, the king and the crown prince, were slain. David indulges their grief: he writes them a plaintive song which the daughters of Israel may sing. But to take off their minds from their distress he at the same time issues the order to teach the children of Judah the use of the bow, for activity is an effectual remedy in the time of sorrow. Certainly the opposite of it would tend towards blank despair. Are any of you in great grief? Have you suffered a supreme loss? Do not be tempted to brood over your affliction, and to think that you ought to be excused from further service. Do not shut yourself up alone to ruminate upon the great ill that has befallen you, so as to nurse your wrath against God: this can do you no good whatever. Rather imitate David, who, when his child was sick, fasted and prayed; but when it was dead, went into the house and ate bread, for he said, “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”

     I beseech you do not fall under the temptation of Satan to cease from your daily activity, and especially from any holy service in which you are engaged for Christ. It may be that your sorrow is not a bereavement, but disappointment in your work. You have not won those souls that you looked to win, and some that you thought were converted have gone back; and now Satan tempts you to do no more,— never to cast the net again, for you have toiled all night and taken nothing,— never to sow again, for you have wasted your seed by the highway, and birds have devoured it. This is a suggestion of the evil one. It will lead you into deeper anguish. I would say to thee, O mourner, get thee up from the couch of ease! Shake thyself from the dust, O virgin daughter of Zion! Sit not down upon the dunghill in thy grief, but bestir thyself, lest thou sink into blacker woe, and thy bitterness become as wormwood and gall.

     While inaction will lead into blank despair, I am certain that work distracts the mind from the sad point upon which it is apt to thrust itself. Nothing is more healthy than to have work to do. I have seen persons of leisure give way most terribly in the case of the loss of children; while I have known labouring people, who, I believe, have been as sensitive in heart, who have kept up bravely. Under God, I have attributed the difference to the fact that the poor woman must go to earn her daily bread, or must get about her domestic duties whatever happens, and the poor man must do his daily task, or else the family will be in need; thus toil has proved to be a blessed necessity by withdrawing the mind from the sorrow which would have engrossed it. You have heard of Alexander Cruden. Perhaps you do not know that he was crossed in love, and met with certain other trials which drove him nearly mad; and yet Alexander Cruden did not become insane, for he engaged upon the immense work of forming a concordance of sacred Scripture, which concordance has become the great instrument by which we search the word of God. This work kept him from becoming altogether insane. If I had to prescribe to “a mind diseased,” I would say, “Enter upon good work, and keep at it.” Dear friends, if you are in trouble, and Satan tempts you to get alone, and to cease from the work of the Lord, resist the injurious suggestion. God the Holy Spirit is most likely to comfort you, and to apply the precious promises of his word to your soul, if you pursue your Master’s work with all your heart. Attend to his business, and he will attend to your business. Tell poor sinners about his wounds, and he will bind up yours. Forget your cross in his. Forget your griefs in the griefs of the sons of men who are perishing for lack of knowledge; and you shall find the readiest way to consolation.

     A valuable solace for sorrow is activity, especially, I think, in reference to new work. It will help you much if a new trouble suggests to you new service. Old work does not always take off the mind from its vexations, for we are apt to do it mechanically, and as a matter of routine; but something altogether fresh will aid us sweetly to forget our trial. Oh, to strike out some new path! To invent new honours for Jesus, new enterprises for his kingdom, new attractions for his gospel— this will help to charm away our griefs. With many, the doing of any kind of service for Christ will be quite a novelty. I grieve to say it. These people are desponding. I am not so grieved at that, because if any man will not work, neither shall he eat; and if a Christian will not serve his Master, he shall not feast with the King’s worthies. Oh, how much of joy many of you miss by not doing more for the poor, more for the ignorant, more for Christ! The poet Rogers tells us— and he throws the story into poetry which I forget— of a rich man in Venice who was the subject of despair, and became such a hypochondriac that he went down to the canal to drown himself; but on the way he was met by a poor little boy who tugged at his skirts, and begged for bread. When the rich man called him an impostor, the boy besought him to come home with him, and see his father and mother who were dying of starvation. He went up into the room, and found the family literally perishing for lack of food. He laid out the money which he had in his pocket in making them all glad with a hearty meal, and then said to himself that there was something worth living for after all. He had found a novel enjoyment, which gave a fresh motive for living. I would like to ask you who have suffered a great trouble whether the Lord may not be pressing you by this means into a new path of delight, directing you to a fresh method of glorifying God and doing good to your fellow-men. I will sing you a song if you will, as sorrowful as David’s lament; but I would rather teach you the use of the bow. I believe that I shall minister better to your comfort if I enlist you as soldiers in Christ’s army, and teach you to use his weapons, than if I should console you with the most plaintive minstrelsy of sadness.

     Do I speak to any here present who endure great earthly afflictions, but know nothing of spiritual things? Is it not the case that God often brings his wandering children to himself by distresses? The way in which you are to be comforted, dear friends, is not by going into the world again, and seeking further pleasures there. If God means to bless you, he may allow you to become so hungry that you may wish to fill your belly with the husks. You have spent your living riotously, and now you are ready to despair. Round by that dark corner of despair may be the way to your Father’s house. To expel your present temporal grief you need a spiritual grief concerning sin. If you learn of Jesus at this hour to repent of sin, and to put your trust in him, your soul will be roused to say, “I will arise, and go unto my Father,” and then you will lose your hunger, and forget the swine-trough. Where? Why, amidst the music and dancing of your Father’s house, and in the joy of hearing him say, “Let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

     Yes, David was right. The way to raise the people out of their despondency was to teach them the use of the bow; their own arrows would slay their griefs: and the way to get you mourning ones out of your sorrow is to teach you those holy activities which lead a soul to trust in Christ, and to find salvation at his feet.

     That is the first lesson which, I think, the text most sweetly teaches.

     II. A second lesson is that AN ADMIRABLE USE OF DISASTER IS TO LEARN ITS LESSONS. What was the disaster? Saul and Jonathan had been shot by archers. The Philistines were evidently strong in the use of the bow; but Saul’s army was short of archers, and so they were not able to smite the Philistines at a distance. Before they came to close quarters, where Israel might have been a match for Philistia, the arrows of the Philistines had reached their king. Had they known how to use the bow, they might have been conquerors; and therefore David hastens to teach the men of Judah the use of the bow.

     Beloved friends, I will suppose that you have met with failures: I refer to disasters peculiar to yourselves. What shall you do? Sit down and fret and trouble yourselves, and give up in despair? God forbid. As the men of Judah learnt the use of the bow through their being beaten by the bow, so do you gather wisdom from that which has befallen you. Have you been made to fly before your adversary? Then find out where your weakness is. Search and see. Is it a sin indulged? Is it some point where you ought to have been guarded, but where you have been unwatchful? Is it weakness in prayer? Is it neglect of the word of God? Is it indifference to divine truth? Is it coldness of heart? Or what is it? If you have been defeated, there is a cause for it. If you have been cast down and brought low, say unto God, “Show me wherefore thou contendest with me.” Has the Lord a controversy with you? Be not content till you have got to the bottom of it, and found out the root that bears this gall and wormwood. Is not this the way of wisdom? May it not happen that the cause of the disaster is that God is not with you? What if nothing prospers with you? What if it is vain for you to rise up early, and sit up late, and eat the bread of carefulness, since the hand of God is against you? What if you are to have no pleasure in the things that once gave you satisfaction, because God has set you as a target for his arrows, and in wrath is shooting at you? It may be so. Or you may not be one of his children at all as yet, and he may be tossing you to and fro like a ball, that you may never find rest until you humbly come and cry to Christ, and seek mercy at his hands. Look and see whether it be so. It is of no use to worry about the disaster; search out the cause of it. Strive to learn the lesson which it is meant to teach you. Is there any secret sin with you?

     Perhaps by looking at the defeat you may learn the way to victory. David judged that if they were defeated by the bow they might yet win by the bow. It is right to learn from our adversaries. There is something to be learnt from Satan. If he goes about, let us be diligent; if he seeks whom he may devour, let us seek whom we may save; and if he watches carefully to find out our weak points, let us watch those whom we would bless to find out how we may best reach their hearts. Many a man has grown rich through poverty, healthy through sickness, and holy by being made conscious of sin. When he has been struck down, then has he cried out to God, and God has lifted him up. Woe to that man who will not “hear the rod, and him that hath appointed it.”

     I pray that you may diligently learn the lesson which every disaster would teach. May not a misfortune which happens to a church and to Christian people be to them a call to action— to general action? Saul had a little standing army, and did not drill all the nation for war; but David says, “I will teach all my own tribe the use of the bow.” Now, whenever a church begins to get low, dull, stupid— and many churches go in that direction— when everybody seems to be asleep, and the minister’s sermon is a kind of sanctified snore, and all the worship is steeped in slumber, why, what is to be done? Then is the time to teach the children of Judah the use of the bow, and to wake them all up to holy enterprise. Say to them, “You must not allow a few to be doing the work of Christ, but all must do it. You must all be taught the use of the bow.” It was the glory of the Moravians that all their members were missionaries; and such ought to be the glory of every church: every man, woman, and child in the church should take part in the battle for Jesus. This, by God’s grace, is the cure for spiritual decline: teach the people the use of the bow.

     Let us learn lessons from defeat. Let us learn from the sin which has cast us down to cry unto God, the mighty One, to hold us up. If we are at this time under some great failure in life, let us learn greater care: if we have been permitted to err, let us learn to watch. Do not sullenly confess, “I have done wrong”; but repent of it, and ask God for grace that you may be upheld in future, like Peter, who was stronger after his fall than before it, and was set to strengthen his brethren. What is done cannot be undone, but we may so learn from it by God’s teaching that we may never do the like again. May God grant that this may be the case. If it were proper, I could sing to you to-night a song of mourning over the disasters of a soul, or of a church; but I believe that I should not do you half so much good as by stirring you up to learn the use of the bow, that is to say, to rectify your errors, and supply your defects.

     III. Now, thirdly, another lesson. A NOBLE MONUMENT TO A FRIEND IS TO IMITATE HIS EXCELLENCES. How does that come from the text? Why, thus. When Jonathan and David communed together they fixed the meeting by Jonathan’s shooting certain arrows: it is evident that Jonathan was a man who greatly favoured the use of the bow; and though his father did not largely introduce it into the army, yet Jonathan was well skilled therein. “Well then,” says David, “in memory of Jonathan, instead of piling up a great monument, we will teach the children of Judah the use of the bow.” Come, brethren, let this be your memorial to your dear father,— if he was a child of God, be like him. If you want to keep in memory your beloved mother, exhibit in yourselves the virtues that shone in her. That sweet child of yours has gone to heaven, and can never be forgotten, and her likeness hangs over the mantelpiece. I mean that dear little child who sang of Jesus when she died: if you want to remember her beyond all forgetfulness, then love her Saviour, and go where little Jane has gone. No memorial is more fib than imitation: be yourself the monument by exhibiting within yourself all that was good in the dear departed one.

     How specially true is this in connection with our divine Lord! I see the Romanist continually putting up crosses by the roadside, and sometimes on these there are hideous representations of a person dying by crucifixion, and there are nails, and sponge, and spear, and I know not what. This arises out of a natural desire to perpetuate the memory of the crucified Redeemer; but you will do far better, dear brother, if you are yourself crucified with Christ, and if you exhibit in your own person that divine self-denial, that blessed love, that superlative holiness, which were found in him. Some will build a church, and lavish money upon architecture. I shall not condemn them, for their splendid generosity may savour of the spirit of that woman who broke the alabaster box, and poured the ointment upon the Saviour’s feet; but I would suggest that to build up within one’s self, by the power of God’s Spirit, the Christ-like character is a better memorial than the best piece of architecture that can ever be put together. What if you should employ the greatest of statuaries, and he, with cunning hand, should mould the marble till it emulated life? Would not the monument mainly keep in mind the artist, and rather make men think of the costliness of the work than of anything else? Whereas, if you become yourself, not in marble, but in living flesh, the image of Christ, then men will take knowledge of you that you have been with Jesus, and have learnt of him, and this will keep him best in memory. If we do what Christ would have done under our circumstances, we shall be exhibiting a far better memorial of him than wealth can possibly purchase. When David taught these people the use of the bow, every time they stringed an arrow they might remember Jonathan; and whenever a regiment of archers went through the streets to the butts they brought Jonathan before the public mind. David instituted this form of royal artillery on purpose that Jonathan might be kept in mind. And you, dear friends, every time you go forth to do the service of God, obediently and zealously, as Jesus did it, you put men in mind of Jesus, and they say, “God has set these men in the world to be witnesses for Christ, to keep his name alive in the earth. These men are a blessing because Jesus himself has blessed them.” I would thus stir you all up to endeavour all the days of your life so to live and serve God that the name of Jesus Christ shall be kept alive in this nation, and throughout the world.

     IV. Lastly, and but for a moment, I think that the form which this military order took, to teach the children of Judah the use of the bow, may be allegorically applied to-night to you, dear friends. IT IS A GREAT ADVANTAGE TO BELIEVERS TO LEARN THE USE OF THE BOW SPIRITUALLY. First, there is the low of prayer. Its use has not gone out of date; but I wish that all of us knew how to shoot the arrows of the Lord’s deliverance much better than we do. Holy men of old would pick out an arrow, and when they had chosen it they knew how to use ft. They knew what they wanted, and they prayed for it. They fitted their arrow on the string: that is to say, they took God's promise, the promise that answered to their desire, and fitting the one to the other, they took straight aim at heaven, and watched the flight of the arrowy petition. They knew to whom they were praying, as well as what they were praying for, and why they expected to be heard; and so they drew the bow of prayer with all their might. When the man of God went up to the top of Carmel, and there took his bow and drew it, there was no fear of his missing the mark; or if, perchance, the arrow had not force enough, he would pull the bow a second time, and a third time, and a fourth time, and a seventh time, till at last the arrow struck the mark. He would not come down from his watch-tower till he knew that the arrow of his prayer was lodged in heaven. In all times of tribulation what is wanted is that the children of Judah should know the use of the bow of prayer.

     When we heard of those fearful assassinations in Ireland, the news reached the bulk of us on the Sabbath-day, and men of God went to their loop-holes of retreat, and shot up to heaven prayers for poor Ireland. It was the best thing that could be done. I have more faith in prayer than in police and prisons. In any time of national need the men that save a nation are the men of prayer. What, not the wise statesmen? Certainly, wise statesmen; but who makes them wise? God has power over all minds, and, in answer to the prayer from this pulpit, he can visit yonder mind in St. Stephen’s. From a humble cottage in the western highlands there may go up to God a cry that shall come down upon the Prime Minister, and direct his thoughts. Remember what Queen Mary used to say when she wanted to bring popery back to Scotland. She said that she was more afraid of John Knox’s prayers than of all the armies that the Scottish lords could get together. She was right for once. When men overlook prayer they overlook the greatest factor in human affairs. The mystic rod of God is in the hand of many a Moses still among us— a rod which brings victory to Israel, and defeat o Amalek. The strength of the church lies not in the oratory of the pulpit, but in the oratory of the closet. That church of God that shall do most for the world is the church that shall do most with God. He can rule men for God who is ruled by God for men: he that giveth up his soul to God that God may write his will upon his life is the mighty man. The man who has had the will of God wrought in him by the Holy Ghost, and can work it out into fervent prayer, is the man who, though princes and potentates know it not, sits nearer to the helm of affairs than they can reach. I could write you a plaintive hymn about the woes of Ireland, and about the sins of men and the evils of the times; but I had far rather teach you the use of the bow of prayer; for then, if you could send your longings up to the Lord, full many a blessing would come upon the land, and the adversaries of the Lord would be discomforted, and peaceful and happy days would dawn.

     Perhaps I speak to some here who do not know anything about praying. I dare say that the brother is here who listened to a sermon on Peckham Rye, which was rather a wild one, I am afraid. In that discourse the preacher said to all his congregation that if they would go home and ask God for anything the Lord would give it to them. I cannot endorse so wild a statement. However, this man thought that the preacher having said it, it was true, and having never prayed before in all his life, he put the question to the test of a certain event; and that certain event fell out as he desired. Then he began to tremble, for he judged that assuredly there is a God. Now, I do not say to you, dear hearers, that whatsoever all of you shall ask in prayer you shall receive. I would not say that to you ungodly ones. But I do say that if you will ask for mercy and salvation and eternal life, and anything that is promised to believing sinners, you shall have it. I wish you would try the experiment, for you would find that the Lord never breaks a promise. If you read a promise made to a sinner, it is made to you: go and plead it, and the Lord will grant it. I will be surety for him that he will keep his word. Trust him and try, and thus learn the use of the bow.

     God bless you for Christ’s sake. Amen.



The Horrible East Winds!

By / Jun 22

The Horrible East Winds! 

 

“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”— Colossians iii. 15.

 

I DO not know-how it is, but during the last two or three days I have been called to sympathize with an amount of sorrow such as I have seldom met with before in so short a space of time. One messenger of misery has followed on the heels of another, each one with heavy tidings. Nor is that all; for I have also been perplexed with a large amount of sinning, quarrelling, and fault-finding. People are murmuring, grumbling, fretting, and fighting on all sides. So much has this tried me that I feel little fitted to act as comforter, for I need comfort myself. I have endeavoured to cheer others till I have drunk of their cup of sorrow, and put my own mouth out of taste: I have tried to make peace for others till I am half afraid of losing my own; I have answered the people’s grumblings till I am tempted to have a growl or two on ray own account. Perhaps I may relieve my own mind by the sermon which I hope to deliver.

     I said to one whom I greatly esteem, “I do not know how it is, but everybody seems out of sorts with everybody else just now.” His wise answer was, THE WIND IS IN THE EAST. This fact accounts fora great deal, for

“When the wind is in the east,
’Tis neither good for man nor beast.”

This is that ill wind which seems to blow no man any good. Some humanities feel the east wind terribly: it sets their teeth on edge, and they feel that they must bite the first person they meet. I am glad to find some sort of excuse for ray fellow-Christians, and if I can find it nowhere but in the east wind, I will make the best I can of it; but I earnestly hope that the wind may soon blow from another quarter, and not come from the east again till we have had a little respite, and laid in a new stock of patience. If a cutting wind causes despondency, vexation, discontent, and bad temper, may soft gales visit ns frequently, and bring us healing in their wings. As fair weather will not last for ever, it will be well to prepare ourselves to breast the blast. It will never do for us to have a religion which can be killed by the wind: we must be made of better stuff than that. Yet this wind is blamed, and I wish therefore that it would take itself off. If I could find a snug corner where the cruel east wind was never felt, I should feel inclined to promote an emigration movement for certain persons whom I will not mention: as for myself, I am afraid that it would not suit me to be altogether screened from the wind, for trials are necessary to one who is called to this ministry. Troubles and east winds will come to the servants of God, and they are sent to do us good; for perhaps, if we could get our backs against a protecting wall, and sit for ever in the sunshine, with no east wind to interfere with us, we should go to sleep; or waking, we might come to love this world so well as to be loath to leave it. It would be a horrible thing for any one of us if the south wind should softly breathe upon our cheek, and whisper gently in our ear of long continued joy to be found on earth; for then we should be tempted to sit down and say, “Soul, take thine ease. Thou hast at last found a place free from the trials of time; therefore eat, drink, and be merry, and let the future world care for itself.”

     When I turn over in my mind the events of the last few days I do not suppose that there is more discord or discontent in the world just now than at any other time; but it happens that a number of black lines have all found their centre in my person, and my thoughts have had to travel out in all those directions; all which is trying enough, but all the more so when the wind is in the east. It is a coincidence, but the like has happened before. I have had to unravel many tangled skeins in my time, out of love to others: I did not get the threads into a ravel, but people are very fond of bringing me their snarls to disentangle, and when I have a hope of succeeding I try my best. Gladly would I be a peace-maker, but it is much easier to make a snarl than to put it straight again, especially in the east wind. I have tried to set things right, and meanwhile I have asked myself, “Is there not a remedy for these mischiefs?” I feel assured there is such a remedy. Family discomfort, husbands and wives that cannot agree, domestic difficulties, brothers and sisters that fall out, church troubles, members that are not treated kindly by others (not generally the kindest sort of people themselves, I notice), difficulties in business, difficulties in preaching— the world teems with these things when the wind is in the east. We meet with many people who cannot earn enough wages, others who do not believe they were ever well treated since they were born; others, again, who are highly deserving people, but have never yet been appreciated as they should be; and these all come out in crowds when the wind is in the east. Good men become rabid for something new, find fault with old friends, invite debate, and quarrel about nothing; and this happens most often when the wind is in the east.

     When this kind of spirit gets among Christian people it is very sad; but surely there must be a remedy for it. Many nostrums are proposed, many quacks are ready to prescribe this and that form of remedy for troubles and discords, but the results of the east wind are not to be removed in that way: a higher power is needed. I have heard of pills for the earthquake, and medicine for the comet; but I have no such patent physic for the east wind. All I have to tell you is borrowed from an old Book, in which the wisest prescriptions are to be found, prescriptions so excellent that, if they were followed, the inhabitant would no more say, “I am sick.”

     This windy night I shall take you to the great Physician of souls, Jehovah-Rophi— the Lord who heals us, who is able to cure all our diseases and to give permanent relief from all evil, so that our spirits shall be at rest. I believe that we have a prescription in this verse which, if it be well attended to, will deliver you out of all troubles, make you sing all your lives long, and help you to travel from earth to heaven, and be all the while as happy as the birds in the air. Here it is— “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”

     If we dissect our text we shall find in it four pieces of advice.

     I. First, POSSESS THE PEACE OF GOD— “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts.” It cannot rule in your hearts if you have never felt its power; therefore, make certain that you are truly reconciled to God by Jesus Christ. Many persons have peace, but, alas, it is false peace! They have the peace of a soft, gentle, timorous, time-serving character— a mean sort of peace, which, if it hurts no one else, often ruins its possessor. Some have the peace of ignorance, the peace of stupidity, the peace of utter indifference, false peace. These are the followers of those false prophets who cried, “peace, peace,” where there was no peace. Woe to the man whose peace of mind is like the deadly smoothness of the current just as it nears the cataract! Many are at ease in a condition which might make a wise man’s hair turn grey in a night. They were never emptied from vessel to vessel, and therefore they are settled upon their lees; but they shall be poured out to their utter confusion. They think right well of themselves, but already the axe of judgment is lifted against them.

     The peace that we need to possess is the peace of God, which means, I think, first, peace with, God. Oh, what a blessed thing it is to feel that the great cause of quarrel between our fallen spirit and the great Spirit is that taken away,— that we are reconciled to God by the death of his Son,— that sin, the great divider, has been cast into the depths of the sea, and that there is established between us and God a happy fellowship! I hope many of you are at this hour enjoying such peace. If you have it, rejoice in it. If ye, then, be at peace with God, do not perpetually act as if that peace were questionable and doubtful. Do not sigh and cry as if the matter trembled in the balance. If we believe in Jesus Christ, “being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Oh! the joy of knowing that “as far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us,” and that therefore they can never return from so immense a distance yea, never return at all, for the Lord Jesus Christ has cast them into the— depths of the sea, and if they be searched for they shall not be found; yea, they shall not be, saith the Lord. Blessed is that man who hath peace with God through the atoning blood!   

     Growing out of this there comes, next, a peace with God with regard to all his providences, which can only come through a complete and entire submission to the divine will; for some there are who are not at peace with God, even about a certain providers that afflicted them years ago. They remain quarrelling with God about the decease of a beloved wife, or child, or mother, and they cannot forgive God for having taken a flower out of his own garden. If they were wise they would not thus rebel, but find in their loving Saviour a recompense for all their losses. Was not that fine of Andromache, when she remembered that she had lost all her relatives except her husband, and, gazing on him with delight, she said

“While my Hector still survives, I see
My father, mother, brethren, all in thee”?

Cannot a believer say the same of the Lord Jesus? Far be it from us to raise a question about what the providence of God has already done! It must be right. The point is to keep on submitting to that providence in what is now transpiring. If for the present the will of the Lord should send me poverty, obscurity, pain, weariness, reproach, I must be at peace with God about it all. If the Lord says to me, “Go across the sea, and leave all your friends,” I must not delay. If he says, “Preach unwelcome truth, which will make you e n e m i e s I must not hesitate. If he says, “Keep the house with rheumatism,” I must not come out of doors. If the Lord says, “Lie on thy back and cough,” it is not for me to quarrel with him, and say it ought not so to be. If he denies us that which we think would make us not only more happy but more useful, it is of no use for us to kick against the pricks. The divine appointment will certainly be fulfilled, and the misery to us will be in struggling against the yoke, in endeavouring to have it otherwise than divine love and infinite wisdom have determined it should be. If thou canst not change thy place, change thy mind, till thy mind shall take to thy place, and thou shalt love it. Why, there have been men so helped of God to conquer self that they have hugged their crosses. I think it is Rutherford who somewhere says that he was half afraid lest he should begin to love his cross better than Christ. That is a fear which will seldom need to cross our minds; but, oh, we ought to be perfectly satisfied, perfectly content with that which pleases God! “If this be the Lord’s will it is my will such a saying comes from a happy heart; but if God has one will and we have another, it is clear that the peace of God does not yet rule our hearts. Though forgiven, and though the grand cause of quarrel is gone, yet we are raising minor points of difference, and these gender strife. It is like a great lawsuit that has been decided on all the grand features of the case, and yet here is the plaintiff picking little points, and raising little questions, and getting up fresh litigation. The point with us is to say, “It is all given up. Whatsoever thou wiliest, Lord, I will; or at least 1 wish to will. I ask for grace that I may will it, because thou wiliest it.” This voluntary submission to our Father’s appointment is the peace of God.

     This peace of God is, also, peace such as God commends— such as God approves of. That, you know, is first, perfect peace with himself, and then with all men— certainly with his people, but also with all mankind. “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” Take heed that ye do not offend; and if you are offended by others, do not offend in return, but accept the offence in patience; forgive it and forget it. Forbear, and, when you have done so, forbear, and, when you have done so again, forbear, and, when you have forborne seven times, still forbear. I will not repeat the advice seventy times seven, though if I did, I should not go beyond the measure of forbearance and of forgiveness which the Lord Jesus would have us display. Be so at peace with God that you feel perfectly at peace with your fellow-men. Whenever I have suffered a grievous wrong, it has been a satisfaction to me to feel that, if my Lord Jesus Christ made atonement for my offences and my wrongs, I can look at his atonement as an atonement for the wrong done to me as well as to God, for he satisfied all parties in that quarrel. Gladly do I say, “Surely, this poor soul may well be forgiven by me, for thou hast died as the sinners’ Substitute.” In comparison with my own offences against God I may well look upon this man’s offence as less than nothing. What if men should do the worst they can do to us? What is it? What if they slay us? It is but a small loss to a Christian to die. Therefore let us harbour no malice, but feel, “No; we have entered into the truce of God, and we are the friends of every man that breathes.” For my own part, I have a crusade against the devil and all evil; but the truce of God is upon me with regard to all my fellow-men, and henceforth that peace which was proclaimed at Bethlehem by the angels shall stand for me— “Peace on earth: good will toward men.” This is a sweet part of the peace of God; cultivate it carefully.

     But this peace is called the peace of God because it is peace which God works in the soul I think I hear you exclaim, “To have such a peace as that— a perfect consciousness of full forgiveness, complete acquiescence in the will of God, perfect forgiveness towards all mankind, and an intense desire to live in perfect peace with all, both saints and sinners— how can I get such a peace within me?” Ah, indeed, how can you? It is impossible to unrenewed human nature. Man by nature is worse than any one wild beast, for he is a menagerie. There is lion in him, and there is serpent in him; there is tiger in him, and there is wolf in him; there is dog in him, and there is devil in him. He is half beast and half devil through the fall. I do not caricature him; his body allies him to the beast, and sin makes him a child of Satan. Mr. Whitefield used so to describe fallen nature, and he was pretty near the mark. How shall this wild beast be taught to love? Shall the lion eat straw like an ox? It never will till it leaves off being a lion. It cannot do so; it has not fit teeth for eating straw, nor a fit stomach for digesting grass. It cannot live on straw, like an ox, till God changes it, and gives it an ox-like nature. So it is with us: we need a new nature before we can possess this peace with God. But how is that to be done? Shall the Ethiopian change his skin? No; he cannot do that; and if he could, it would not equal the miracle which we require. Our default is not skin deep only, it is much more than that. Changing skins is difficult, but changing hearts is impossible except to God. Shall the leopard get rid of his spots? Well, that is difficult; but still the task of taking spots out of leopards would be small compared with the miracle of taking evil out of the very core of our wild-beast-like heart, and putting into it the peace of God that makes us love. God only can do it. God’s own mighty Spirit must put forth that same energy with which he will raise the dead out of their graves at the resurrection; for nothing short of creation and resurrection power is able to transmute this beastly, devilish heart of ours into a heart in which the peace of God shall reign supreme. Well is it called the peace of God.

     My dear hearer, do you know this peace? If so, you will understand that, because of its excellence, it is called the peace of God. It is a Hebraism: for among the Hebrews they called certain mountains that were higher than others the hills of God; and certain gigantic trees, such as the cedars of Lebanon, were the trees of God that were full of sap. So the peace that is greater than every other peace is called the peace of God— it means the holiest, deepest peace. It is “perfect peace”— peace that nothing disturbs: deep peace— “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding”: solemn peace at which you almost stand in awe— a hush within the soul in which there is heard nothing of discord or of fear, but a stillness reigns like that which was maintained in the Holy of Holies, within the veil, where seraphim were silent above the mercy-seat. “The peace of God” signifies the peace that never ends, everlasting peace; the peace that will live with us throughout the whole of our mortal sojourn till we come into the land of the immortal.

“There shall I bathe my weary soul
In seas of heavenly rest,
And not a wave of trouble roll
Across my peaceful breast.”

“The peace of God.” Oh, I have known it! You, too, my brethren, must have known it when the Lord himself has dwelt within your hearts, and kept all adversaries far away. You have then known days of heaven upon the earth. It has left nothing to wish for except the perpetuation of itself, for you have been satisfied with favour and full of the goodness of the Lord, filled with all the fulness of God, anchored fast, settled, grounded, established.

“My heart is resting, O my God!
I will give thanks and sing.
My heart is at the secret source
Of every precious thing.”
That is the peace of God.

     Win it, dear friends, and wear it. By God’s good Spirit enter into this serene haven. Best in the Lord, and be happy in him, for he is our peace! When the Lord and Giver of peace once comes to tarry in your heart let him rest there; and charge all about you, by the roes and by the hinds of the field, that they stir not up nor awake your love until he please.

     II. But now the second piece of advice that grows out of the text let us consider. If you possess this peace of God, let it occupy the throne: LET THE PEACE OF GOD RULE IN YOUR HEARTS.

     In order to there being any peace in the heart, or anywhere else, there must be a ruler. Those people who are for putting down all kings and principalities and powers may bid farewell to peace. Anybody who is inclined to anarchy should read Carlyle’s “French Revolution” through with care, and ask himself whether the worst king is not, after all, a deal better than the despotism of the mob, the carnival of misrule, wherein every man doth that which is right in his own eyes, and all eyes love darkness rather than light. Let loose the reins of government, let everybody be equal to everybody else, and a little bigger than everybody else as well, and yon will soon see what confusion ensues. See how it is in a house! I hear that there was great deliberation over those census papers in many families to know who was the head of the household; but I am quite clear that it was not a happy household where that question took long to answer; for the husband is the head of the wife, and where he is not so, everything is out of order, monstrous, outrageous. Where the head is not the head, the hand is not the hand, the eye is not the eye, the heart is not the heart; and nothing is itself at all. All is what it should not be, and all is misery. You must have a governing faculty somewhere; and, within your own soul, if nothing governs, I tell you boldly the devil governs. That man who does not control himself is controlled by the devil, for he must have a master somewhere. We cannot have two masters, but it is quite as certain that we must have one. One power or another will master you. Shall it be your Creator, or his enemy? your Saviour, or your destroyer?

     It is a blessed gift of grace if a man is enabled by the Holy Spirit to say,— “The peace of God shall rule in my heart.” Paul advised this: “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts”: if it is in your hearts at all, it must rule, for it has power to put down all rebellion. You know, when we have a government and a magistracy with power at their back, if a riot arises, we appeal to the lawful power to come and protect us, and put down the uproar. So in our hearts, if we have a master principle, and that master principle is the peace of God, we may warrantably pray, “O Lord, put down this riot. I am tossed to and fro in my heart about my circumstances: I do not like them, and I quarrel with God about them. Come, peace of God; come, and put down my murmuring. Come and calm my wicked, discontented spirit.” Or do I feel some discord in my spirit towards one whom I ought to love? I must cry, “Come, peace of God. Come, and arrest this bad temper of mine. Handcuff it. Take it off to prison. Give it hard labour and short commons; bring it down till it is no longer able to rebel as it does. Come, peace of God, and help me in the struggles of my daily life, that I may not break out into anger, and wrath, and malice, and all uncharitableness. Come, peace of God, put forth thy mighty power over my soul.” This is the great remedy for the discord within and the discords without: the grand cure for all distempers of the east wind, and all besides.

     Yield yourself to the umpireship of the blessed peace of God, for I find that the Greek word has that force,— “Let the peace of God umpire in your hearts.” You know the umpire in the Greek games decided how the runners should run, how the wrestlers should wrestle, and he ruled a contest to be, or not to be, according to the law of the festival. He said, perhaps, that such and such a blow in the fight was a foul blow, and if he said so, there was no questioning him: it was decided. He stood at the winning-point when the runners came in, and he declared a certain swift-footed racer to be the winner. No man ever questioned the dictate of the umpire. His voice ended all debate. He was the man who decided in the games, and whose verdict was never to be disputed. Now, the peace of God is to do the same in our hearts. We ought to be resolved to judge all things by the peace of God. “What ought I to do in this case? Must I humble myself? I do not like it, but how ought I to act? Shall I yield?” Pride says, “Never! No, no. Play the man. Never give in.” But what does the peace of God say? It says, “Yield: submit.” Christ says, “I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.” Christ decides that it will be good to be a sufferer rather than a revenger. We ought to have the peace of God ruling in our hearts so as to let it decide our course, and lead us to do that which is consistent with our own peace with God. I do not know how you find it, but I know that I cannot afford to be angry. It takes so much that is valuable out of me. I am sure it does. It does a man an immense mischief physically; to some men it is a dangerous thing to get excited, it even endangers their lives. But, spiritually, I believe that to get into a state of enmity towards anybody is one of the most grievous diseases which can befall a Christian. In such a case you cannot pray as you did; you cannot read some passages of Scripture as you did; you cannot look the Well-beloved in the face, and say, “I am acting in a way that pleases thee.” It is, therefore, a very serious thing for a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ to break his own peace— serious to himself as well as to those that are round about him. I pray you, therefore, dear friends, let the peace of God decide for you in all trials of temper, and endurings of wrong, and questions which lead to debate and separation. Set peace in the chariot, and let it hold the reins; for anger will, like Phaeton of old, set the world on fire. Oh, Peace of God, rule thou me!

     Pray God that the power of this peace may be constantly upon you. If you lose your peace with God you lose your power to judge under difficulties; you lose your power of self-control under provocations, you lose the best sovereign that ever held a sceptre. I believe that if a man is walking with God in the light, and enjoying full fellowship with heaven, he may go down into any meeting, however turbulent— into any society, however discordant the elements may be— and yet he will be wise to answer, wise to be silent, wise to do, or wise not to do; for the peace of God will keep him calm and quiet. Once let the mind be thoroughly disturbed and unhinged before the Lord, and you are weak as another man, and you say that which you will have to unsay, and you do that which you would wish to wipe out with your tears. When rest of soul is gone, hard things are spoken and hard things are done, which would not consort with communion with the tender Lord. Let the peace of God always rule, or otherwise you will not always be safe. Especially let the peace of God rule your affections. Be satisfied that you love God, and that your heart cleaves to God, and does not follow after any other. Be at peace with God as to your heart, and, when that is so, and the affections are dominated by conscious love to God, it is then that you fight the battles of life with comfort to yourself, and with honour to the name of him to whom you belong.

     III. Very briefly, I want, in the third place, to say, STRENGTHEN YOURSELF, dear friend, BY GOD’S SPIRIT, WITH ARGUMENTS, in order that you may let the peace of God rule in your hearts, and may be kept from any breach of that heavenly peace.

     Remember, you can only yourself be happy in heart and healthy in spirit as long as you keep the peace of God. You are sure to become wretched and unhappy, you are sure to stumble here and there into faults, if that peace of God be gone. As you would be in the best possible trim for walking with God in joy while here below, look to your peace. This is no mean argument; try to feel the force of it.

     And, next, only thus can the church of God prosper. I am grieved when I receive members from other churches, who come because they say that they are weary of the incessant bickerings and jealousies which have disturbed their rest. I am sure that there can be no blessing where there is no peace. A house divided against itself cannot stand. A church disputing is a church committing suicide. Many and many a church has come to its death by bleeding inwardly through strife; otherwise it might have defied the whole world, and hell itself. It is generally the little churches that squabble most: if they cannot excel in anything else, they certainly claim the first rank in quarrelling. A few Christian people get together to serve God, and the devil comes in at once and sets them by the ears: they are good men and true, but Satan bewitches them so that they dispute about nothing at all. Whenever I have to settle a dispute, I always like to have some big, bad thing in it. This I can point out, and we soon agree to set the matter right. When I cannot with microscopes on my eyes find out what it is all about, I find that brothers and sisters are hardest to be reconciled. It is easier to shoot an owl than a gnat. Little differences rankle like tiny thorns, and you cannot get them out of the flesh. Oh, that the Spirit of God would come upon the churches, and turn them into masses of fire; then they would not fall to pieces through intestine strife! When souls are being won, when the gospel is being enjoyed, when Christ is being glorified, when the church is marching on, conquering and to conquer through the divine power that is in her, then is there peace within her borders, and her citizens are filled with the finest of the wheat. But once let the life of God run low, and let the Spirit of God depart, then peace departs too. Oh, may God save this church and save all the churches from missing this blessed peace! Let the peace of God rule in your heart, dear brother, dear sister, for the church’s sake.

     Remember, next, that God cannot be glorified unless there is the peace of God in our hearts. My dear friend, if you are always troubled, and fretting, and anxious, I do not see how you can glorify God to any large extent. Seek more faith, more trust, more confidence, more calm of mind, and you will personally glorify God. I am sure a Christian man who always finds fault with everybody is of little service to the cause and kingdom of our Lord. He who, wherever he goes, acts like a carrion crow, that soars aloft with no other design than finding out where a carcase may be, that he may light upon it,— he, I say, is not a man after God’s own heart, neither will he advance the Lord’s work among men. When you love your fellow Christians so that their faults are covered by your charity, and you rather admire their excellences than publish their infirmities, then it is that God is glorified by you. A happy, peaceful people of whom men can say, “See how these Christians love one another”— these shine as lights in the world, and the darkness feels their power.

     The passage from which our text is taken offers us other reasons. It says this— “To the which also ye are called.” You were called to the peace of God. My dear brother, if you are not a peaceful man you have not inherited your true calling. When the Lord called you out from the world, he called you to be a peace-maker. He called you on purpose that the Spirit of peace might be shed abroad in your heart, and that afterwards you might carry that peace with you into your own family and amongst all your neighbours, and spread it everywhere. The Lord Jesus never called a man to be a maker of strife. If a Christian woman, as she calls herself, goes from house to house with tittle-tattle, she was not called by God to do so: of that I am certain. A man goes into his pulpit, and preaches a personal sermon on purpose to empty out his own spleen. God did not call him to that, for God loves not firebrands. The man may have been sent as a messenger from other regions, but certainly not as an ambassador from heaven, when he preaches gall and wormwood. Some seem, wherever they go, to make mischief as speedily as possible: their mission is contention, whereunto they certainly were not called of God. You who are the true heirs of heaven are called to peace; seek peace, and pursue it. Wherever you go, labour earnestly to make peace. If you see two boys fighting, make them leave off. If you see two girls in a bad temper, try to make them happy with one another. If you see two people disagree in business, do not back one of them up, and cry, “Go to law with him,” but plead for peace and mutual concession. “Blessed are the peace-makers.” Whatever you may be in a household, whether father or child, husband or wife, master or servant, son-in-law or mother-in-law, let your soul be seasoned and savoured with that blessed word, “Peace.” There is always a war party in England: I fear the Jingo is no foreigner, but the genuine offspring of the British bull-dog. An unconverted Britisher is all for blood, and fire, and glory; and as the unconverted are the majority among us we remain a fighting nation. Fighting— how we delight in it! Down with the Afghans, down with the Zulus! The Boers— destroy them! We cannot get our fill of glory and honour unless we get knee deep in blood. The policy of peace is voted dishonourable, and so we go from land to land till there is hardly a nation which has not been stained with blood by British hands. How fiercely these English talk: but it is not Christian talk. May the Lord teach us the language of peace. Be you at peace, “whereunto also you were called.”

     And then, notice next, “Called in one body.” There must, therefore, be peace among Christians, because we are called in one body to peace. What would you think of my hand, if it should say, “I will have no peace with the eye. That prying eye looked sharply at me the other day and spied out a spot; I will put it out”? We shall not enjoy much prosperity if the members of the body thus disagree. Suppose my foot should say, “I am not going to carry that heavy body about. See what I have to suffer through it at times.” Suppose my knee should say, “I will not have it. I have been tortured quite enough with rheumatism; I will no longer carry that heavy fabric.” What will become of me if the members of my body thus fall to quarrelling? And what is to become of the glory of Christ if his members live in contention? What is the Head to do if the members who make up his one mystical body have nothing to do but to be striving one against the other? Oh, no. If you have any differences, end them to-night, I pray you, if you can, even though the east wind is so piercing. If you have unwittingly done anything that grieves others, try to remedy it. Or if others have grieved you, end the matter by sweet and swift forgiveness. Let it be all ended with the east wind. We are called in one body; therefore let us dwell in hearty peace; and may God the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of peace, bring us into the peace of God, and keep us there, for thereunto also we are called in one body.

     IV. The last point upon which I shall speak is this— to keep yourselves right, OCCUPY YOUR MINDS HEALTHILY. How?” say you. The text says, “Be ye thankful.” That is the way to keep up our peace with God. “Be thankful.” Do not complain, but bless his name for everything. Do not quarrel with him, but be thankful. Say, “Shall we receive good at the hands of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil? The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, and blessed be the name of the Lord.” That is the way to be at peace with him— to be thankful at all times. Bless God for your mercies and for your miseries; bless him for your gains and for your losses; bless him for your enjoyments and pleasures, and also for your aches and pains. Bless him for every hard thing that comes from him, for there is as much love in the hard as in the soft; and God is as kind when he uses the rod as when he gives a kiss. “Be ye thankful!” Bless him from morning to night, and all through the night watches. What a mercy to be out of the hospital! What a mercy to have the use of one’s limbs and reasoning powers! What a mercy to be out of prison! What a mercy to be out of hell! “He hath not dealt with us after our sins.” Be thankful.

     Last Sunday morning when I read this chapter in the great congregation I tried to ring it out as loudly as ever I could; and I would like to ring it out as with a whole peal of bells now. Set them all ringing a marriage-peal, if you like,— “Be ye thankful! Be ye thankful! Be ye thankful!” Up, ye murmuring! Up, ye discontented! “Be ye thankful.” Rouse yourselves, ye sullen ones! You that think you have a heavier load to carry than is meet, and say, like Cain, “My burden is greater than I can bear”— “Be ye thankful!” All of you, young and old, “Be ye thankful.” That is the way to keep up your peace with God, and your peace with your fellow-men.

     Well, but it does not mean only, “Be thankful to God,” but be ye thankful to your fellow-men. Too many receive all kinds of Christian kindness as a matter of course. They look upon the spontaneous kindness of their brethren as a sort of right. Now, that the poor should be helped by Christian generosity is certainly according to Scripture; but this is an obligation not of debt but of grace. Whatever is done in almsgiving and charity should be gratefully and heartily received. It is an unholy spirit which scarcely has the courtesy to say “thank you.” Towards one another we ought to have a thankful spirit. How thankful the child ought to be to his mother and his father! What a happy home we should have if children recognised the deep debt of obligation that is really due to those who have nursed them and cared for them so long! How obliged, I think, the husband ought to be to his wife for all her tender kindnesses— those hundred unseen ministries of love! How grateful, I think, the wife should be to her husband, for all his labours and anxieties! She receives a thousand things from him which make life comfortable. If we live in mutual gratitude, feeling that we are, each one of us, indebted to all others, how merrily will the household wheels go round, and what families of love we shall all gather around us! I, of all the people in the world, am most in debt to everybody; and I feel it deeply and truly. There is hardly a person that I look upon from this pulpit but I owe something to his or her Christian love. Everybody has been kind to me, and I am not unmindful of it. When I have lain upon my bed sick and ill, I have marvelled at the kindness of you all. I wonder why you treat me so lovingly. In all holy work, whether it be College, or Orphanage, you have been my ready helpers, and you are still. I cannot help saying, “God bless you.” Surely the wind is changing a point or two: we shall find it blowing from another quarter when we leave this Tabernacle. I feel intense gratitude in my soul towards the dear brethren who surround me, and the sisters that work with me for Christ. You have often made me happy and cheered my spirit by the kind and generous way in which you have worked with me for the Lord, bearing with all my infirmities; and I believe that it is because I feel thankful that I feel peaceful, and so remain the centre of your unity. I am not inclined to quarrel with anybody: I would sooner run a mile than I would fight for half a minute. There is nobody in the world that I would like to contend with: my heart is full of good wishes to all men. It has been a sort of rule with me to measure a man before I fight him: if he is bigger than I am I know he will beat me, and so I decline battle; and if he is smaller, and I can easily beat him, it would be cruel and cowardly to do so. Nobody in the world is worth contending against as to our temporal interests. Even necessary law is troublesome and vexatious. Be ye thankful, then; and if, with thankfulness to God and thankfulness to those around you, you can fill up the day, oh, how happy will the days be! In the family and in the business God will be glorified; the church will be sweetened and welded together: we shall see better times, and shall no longer grumble at the east wind.

     May God bless you!



Without Carelessness

By / Jun 22

Without Carelessness

 

“I would have you without carefulness.”— 1 Corinthians vii. 32.

 

AT the time when Paul wrote these words he was giving judgment as to whether it was expedient for Christians in those days to marry. The question was whether they were likely to be better Christians married or unmarried. This was a question of much delicacy, and Paul answered it with remarkable discretion and fidelity; and in so doing he laid down a great general principle, which is of much more value to the church to-day than Paul’s private opinion about the matter of marriage or non-marriage. Paul tells us that concerning virgins he had no commandment of the Lord, but gave his judgment as one that had obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful: he did not speak in this case as under divine inspiration, but as an experienced and consecrated man giving his judgment for the good of others, and for the benefit of the great work so dear to him. In that capacity Paul’s words are by no means to be despised. I had far rather follow the uninspired advice of Paul than that of any other man. In mental clearness none ever excelled that consecrated man. But he spoke under inspiration beyond all question when he gave this as his reason for desiring that they would remain unmarried— “I would have you without carefulness,” or as the Revised Version reads it, “I would have you to be free from cares.” This is the mind of the Holy Ghost as well as the mind of the apostle Paul. This is a text, not for Paul’s time alone, but for our time, and for all time.

     The general principle in our text I will endeavour to open up before you. We who have believed are the servants of Christ, and are no longer at our own disposal. We are not our own, for we are bought with a price. If you look back in the chapter, at the twenty-third verse, you find a statement to that effect. Hence our business in life is to serve him who has redeemed us. This one occupation should entirely absorb and engross us. Everything, therefore, which helps us to serve the Lord Jesus better is a good thing; but everything which hampers and hinders us in the main business of our life, though it may be good enough for others, is bad for us. The chief work of the Christian is to glorify God, and to this chief work everything must be subordinated. If a thing be lawful to me, and yet, while lawful, it hinders me in the service of God, it is not expedient; and therefore I am to renounce it. No man ever succeeds in anything who does not give himself wholly to it: it matters not what it is, concentration is essential to perfection in any pursuit. He who would be eminent in any one direction must forego a great many other things which are perfectly allowable; these he must renounce for the sake of his one object. He will not succeed unless he sacrifices all other things to the one chief thing. So must it be with the Christian. The rule of his life is to be, “This I will not do, this I will not enjoy, this I will not allow to myself, because I could not serve God so well with it; and my business is to keep myself in the best possible form for doing my Master’s work.” We are to labour as much as ever we can for our Lord, and all other result of life must be to us as chaff to the wheat.

     It is with us, Paul tells us, as with a soldier. A soldier is a man who must not open shop, or become a banker or a farmer. He must not think of settling quietly in the town where for a while he is billeted. Why not? The reason is clear: even if there be no war occurrent at the time, yet no man that warreth entangleth himself with the things of this life if he would please him who has called him to be a soldier. Soldiering requires the man to be altogether a soldier, and it cannot afford to let him be a tradesman or a farmer: he must not hamper himself with that which would hold him to the spot, and prevent his hastening to the field. The nation needs that its army be ready for any and every emergency, so that when the trumpet blows the regiment marches, the troop-ship steams across the sea, and the foe is confronted promptly. It is necessary that the soldier keep himself in marching condition, and the less luggage he has to carry the better. So it is with the Christian: he is to aim at a condition best adapted for his holy warfare. He is not to be satisfied when he has said to himself, “Is this right, or is this wrong?” He is to go further, I hope that many of us have long passed beyond that stage, for we have a judgment and discernment which tell us at once what is right and what is wrong; but we now ask a still higher question,— “Will this help me to glorify God, or will it not?” This is the enquiry of the higher life, and a godly man is careful in the answering of it. The best thing is bad if it hinders our vocation. Though the garment were made of silk, bespangled with jewels, and bedight with golden thread, yet must we as racers lay it aside if it would entangle us in our running. Though the burden were a bag of pearls, and every pearl were a king s ransom, yet if we are to run— and none can win but those that run— we must leave that bag of pearls in another’s keeping, for our business is with the crown before us, and we must lay aside every weight, and the vesture of sin which does so easily entangle us, that we may run with patience the race that is set before us.

     At this time the apostle says to us— I would have you without carefulness as to earthly things; and this because he would have us full of carefulness as to heavenly things. He wants us to be free from cares, that all our thought, anxiety, meditation, suggestiveness, inventiveness, burden-bearing may go towards the service of our divine Lord. We have only a certain measure of mind, and he wants all of it for the Lord Jesus, that we may walk worthy of our high calling. But towards other things he says, “I would have you without carefulness.”

     How are we to be without carefulness? This must be the work of the Holy Ghost, for he is the Comforter, and the helper of our infirmities; but as far as we are to work with him the question needs a careful reply. How are we to be without carefulness?

     I. I answer: we may hopefully attempt this in the power of God, first, BY AVOIDING THOSE STATES WHICH INVOLVE CAREFULNESS. Mark well, it is not given to many to select their place in life. More or less it may be committed to us to turn to the right or to the left on certain occasions, but men and women are thrown into certain conditions in which it may be their duty to abide in their calling, though it may surround them with special difficulties. That calling maybe one which ordinarily involves a vast amount of care and anxious thought, and yet they cannot get out of it. They ought not to leap the hedge which the Lord has placed along their way, for if they do they may fall into a ditch on the other side, and mire their garments, and so make matters worse. By crying to God for help, and trusting in his sure word, they will be able to bear the burden which God has put upon them, and it is their wisdom so to do. Yet there are points in which we are allowed a choice about the state in which we would place ourselves, and here our text comes in as a rule of action.

     Paul, in the case before us, is talking about the marriage of Christians, and he bids Christians, in the first place, not to marry; for, says he, “I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.”

     Now, observe the condition of affairs which led Paul to give this advice. Times of great persecution were present. Christians were continually being dragged into court, or set before the lions in the amphitheatre, or shut up in prison, or put to cruel deaths: in such circumstances few would desire to have families about them. The Christian man who had no wife or child could flee in a moment if it was right to flee; or when he stood before the bar of Nero he had not to think within himself, “If I die, I leave a wife and fatherless children.” When the single man put on his hat he housed all his family, and thus he could move this way or that way to preach the gospel, or to escape from persecution, and his moving was no great affair such as would be involved in transporting a family from land to land. Paul wished the church to be like an army which is not encumbered with baggage: the circumstances of the time demanded that they should be unencumbered, like troops upon forced marches. Paul himself carried all his property done up in a little bit of canvas, and it consisted of half a dozen needles and a reel of thread, with which he made tents wherever he went. He was thus without carefulness. In those hard and desperate times it was the best possible thing that a man could do, or a woman either, to remain single: they were thus in the best condition for flight, or suffering, or service, or death. It was not a time in which they could settle down, and engage in trade or agriculture; and he therefore gives as a recommendation that they had better not then be married. If we get into such times again we will give the same advice, but we are not certain that we should speak thus to-day, as a general rule. The circumstances are decidedly different, and we are to follow the great principle rather than the particular instance. I have known brethren who I am sure had a great deal more care before they were married than ever they had afterwards. Poor things that they were, they wanted somebody to look after them. I have known cases in which women have had great care and burden in their single state, and have found rest in the house of a husband; and it has been upon the whole the best for them in the truest sense: they served God better, and were freer from carefulness in the married estate. That is the rule to judge by. But numbers of you never judge at all in this way. Many men and women rush into marriage when they know that it must involve them in all sorts of care and trouble, and deprive them of the possibility of doing anything in the Master’s service. It is not for me to offer advice, for it is useless. I am often asked for advice, but I generally find that people have made up their minds long before they come to their minister, and only want him to sanction what they have already settled; and therefore I very seldom give any counsel. Still, I shall lay down the general principle, which every Christian man and woman must accept— “I would have you to be free from cares.” You are to put this to the front, that you are not your own, you are bought with a price; and about this matter of marriage, as well as everything else, you are to consult the will of your Lord and Master, and you are to put this as the question, “Shall I glorify God better married or unmarried? May I hope that I shall not so greatly increase my carefulness as to distract myself from serving my Lord? There is something to be said on each side, but may I hope that the balance may be struck so that I shall really be the better servant of Christ in the marriage state? If so, I may enter upon it; but if not, I am not to gratify myself at my Saviour’s expense. I may not marry if I should then cease to be as good a servant of Christ as I am now.” None of you are too good servants of Christ: I have never met with any that were. We cannot afford to lose anything which we have already, for we are not even now all that we ought to be. No, we must give ourselves whole-heartedly to Christ, and remember the admonition of the text, “I would have you without carefulness.”

     We have got over that somewhat difficult part of our road which is concerned with marriage. We come to another which is very plain, but needs to be spoken of; namely, the matter of increased worldly business. Some forget this advice of the apostle altogether, regarding it as a check upon enterprise; such persons take up a number of businesses, and consequently increase their cares indefinitely. Now, if you can serve God better by having a dozen shops, have a dozen; but I have known persons whom God blessed in one shop, and they lost the blessing when they must needs open two or three. In a moderate business they obtained a livelihood and all that they could want, and they were able to get out to the house of God, and to have spare hours for the service of God in the Sunday-school, and in preaching, or other forms of Christian service: thus they were in an enviable position for usefulness, and ought to have been pillars in the house of the Lord. But they were not content with a state so favoured. Nothing would do for them but they must have shop number two— three— four, and then, of course, they were too busy to go out on week-evenings, to lectures, classes, or prayer meetings. When invited to take their part in the Lord’s work, they replied,— “You see, I cannot get out ; you must excuse me, I am so tied.” Just so. Of course you must look after business now that you are so immersed in it, but how came you to get into such a state of bondage that you cannot get out to the worship or service of God? Is not your excessive toil your own fault? If you have brought yourself into such a condition that you cannot give to God his due, is it an excuse for your not being able to do it? The disability is entirely of your own creation, how can it excuse you? If this were the time, I could mention persons who were members of this church whose departure from the way of righteousness was owing to a grasping spirit; and that grasping spirit has in certain cases led to a foolish rush after riches, which has ended in poverty and discredit. They had as much as they could have managed, but they wanted more, and more, and more; and to get more they ventured upon ways and methods which were questionable. By-and-by the means of grace were neglected because they must attend to business. Very soon, for the same reason, they could not get up on a Sunday morning: they were so tired; they did not get the shop shut till twelve, and then there was clearing up till half-past one, and they could not get out on a Sunday morning. Worse than that, after a while they just looked over the ledger a little on Sunday afternoon. Soon the very vitals of godliness were gone, and not long after that, the name to live went also; for the power of godliness had entirely departed from them. “I would have you without carefulness,” and therefore to the most enterprising brother I would say,— Brother, do not fill your pocket at the expense of your soul. Do what is best for the best part of yourself; and that best part of yourself is the soul which deals with God and eternity. God can prosper you and make you exceedingly happy with a more manageable business, and he can make you miserable if you wilfully increase your cares. The Lord Jesus said, “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Therefore, as I would have you without carefulness, look well, my dear friend, before you launch out into that new affair, or take that off-hand farm, or enter upon that speculative operation. Do not wade into risks so deep that you will be drowned in anxiety. Remember how Napoleon tried to do too much, and did it, and did for himself. Men of large capacity may rule an empire, and yet serve the Lord admirably, but the most of us had better be satisfied with a smaller sphere. At any rate, let us not heap up such a load of our own that we shall not be able to bear the burden which our Master would have us carry for his love’s sake. Do not look so cross, good friend, or I shall think that my advice is more needful to you than it is pleasing. The day may come when this warning will be better understood by you than at this moment.

     Some Christian men need to have a touch on the elbow about public engagements. For my part, I believe that everything which concerns a man concerns a Christian, and that God never wished his servants to leave the government of this realm to all the place-hunters and unprincipled self-seekers who look for a seat in Parliament. Christian men ought to see to it that right is promoted and justice done. To abandon law-making to the worst of men would be infamous. So with everything which concerns the public weal: I believe that we are to turn the scale for truth and righteousness, and are not to let the devil have his way, and give jobbery and oppression the run of all the parishes in England. But there is a limit to a man’s acceptance of public office, and let that limit be watched carefully by all the Lord’s children. Let the rule be; first our God, and then our fellow-men. What if I be a patriot, yet first of all the New Jerusalem is the place of my citizenship. I am a pilgrim and a stranger; and even though I seek the good of these aliens among whom I dwell I must still keep my eye upon my own native country, towards which I am speeding. A man must not be doing twenty things in public life, and neglecting the calls of the Lord Christ. If he does this he will have care upon care, and will weary and trouble himself with things of no profit, and he will not care for the things of God as he should. Brethren, “I would have you without carefulness:” ye are the servants of God; do not make yourselves the slaves of men.

     Here I wish to say another word to some whose occupations prevent their attendance at the house of God. I am not going to censure or judge any, but I will say this: whenever I hear of a young man who has a situation with a moderate salary, who is able to get out to worship, and has the whole Sabbath-day to himself, so that he can help in the Sundayschool, and perhaps in some week-evening engagements, if I hear that he is offered twice as much money in a place where he must be shut out from worship and service, I hope he will look long before he makes the bargain. If part of the Sabbath must go, and all week-night privileges must go, I would in most cases say, “My brother, forego the temporal advantage for the sake of the spiritual.” There may be exceptions to rules, and I lay down nothing as a hard-and-fast rule, but still let this be the general guide in such matters,— “I would have you without carefulness.” If it be so that he who has less has less care, let me have less. He who has a moderate income, with small responsibility, is a richer man than he who has twice as much, with twice as much responsibility, and only half as much opportunity of serving his God. For you, Christians, the best place you can have is where you can do most for Jesus; and the worst place you can have is where you are denied Christian privileges. No amount of salary can make up to you the disadvantage of being kept from the assemblies of the saints, or can make up to your soul the loss sustained by excessive labour in the house of bondage. “I would have you without carefulness.”

     This bears very hard upon all those forms of speculation of which some men are so fond. A man says, “I believe that I can get rich in a hurry by a certain venture.” Do not touch it. You will have no end of care, and it may bring absolute poverty upon you. You have heard of the man who hasted to be rich, and was not innocent. I am afraid that few are long innocent who haste to be rich. They clutch at everything on a sudden, and they are apt to include in that clutch a few things which do not belong to them. What devouring care must prey upon those whose trade is as risky as a throw of the dice? When business is mere gambling it ceases to be legitimate. Let speculators take heed of those dangers which necessarily attend all games of chance. I believe that every form of gambling, though it may take a business shape, tends more or less to harden the heart. As for the naked form of play, which risks upon the roll of a ball, it is murder to all the finer feelings of the heart. Nobody but gamblers could have cast the dice, all blood bespattered, at the foot of the cross of our Redeemer. Gambling brings men into a state of heart worse than almost any other form of sin. When a man is willing to risk his all practically on the mere toss of a halfpenny whether goods shall go up or down, he is usually a bad man, and if he is not he will be so before long; for that kind of thing does serious mischief to the tenderest tissues of the heart. If any Christian man attempts it, what a state of mind will he soon know! Can he pray? Can he meditate? Can he commune with the Lord Jesus? Can he be without carefulness? Where can be his trust? Where his faith in God? When he has practically committed his fortunes to the devil, how can he confide in his God? Gambling and prayer can never go together, except in the case of the reprobate: I suppose they are profane enough to unite the two, but therein they blaspheme heaven most detestably. Brethren, abstain from those things which inevitably create undue excitement, anxiety, and suspense. I speak as unto wise men; judge ye what I say: I would have you without carefulness, and therefore I would have you avoid those states which involve it.

     II. Secondly, BY KEEPING AWAY FROM THOSE OBJECTS OF PURSUIT WHICH WOULD NATURALLY FOSTER IT, I would have you without carefulness.

     When a man makes the gaining of riches the first thing in life he cannot be without carefulness. Where his treasure is, there will his heart be also. There is the carefulness to get, the carefulness to hold, the carefulness to place out at interest, the carefulness to collect dues, and so forth. Ay, and this may be the case even with poor people, who may be as full of greedy care as the millionaire. Thrift is commendable; but covetousness is detestable. Men not only lay by for a rainy day, which is well; but they make saving the main object of their lean and hungry lives, and God’s glory and man’s needs are alike forgotten. Now, if you live for anything but God— especially if you live to hoard up, with the determination that somehow or other you will be immensely rich, you must be full of carefulness: it cannot be helped.

     Suppose that you are of a nobler spirit, and you live with the view of gaining honour among men: you will with equal certainty be full of cares. I hope you will not say, “I must be honoured. I must have my neighbours think well of me; and I will make a slave, or a fool, or a hypocrite of myself to please them.” This resolve is detestable, and if you go into that line you will not be without carefulness, I can tell you; and with all your carefulness you will never succeed. To please everybody is as impossible as to make ice and bake bread at the same moment in one oven. Give up the wretched attempt. Be a man, and be not a mere man-pleaser. How blessedly easy I feel in my work for God! But I owe that ease to the fact that I have no one to please but my Lord. When I preach, the last thing that ever occurs to me is to ask myself whether any of you will like it or not. It is no wish of mine to give offence; but it has never occurred to me to think whether you will be offended or not. I do not think you would respect me if I made my preaching an occasion for seeking to please you. If it pleases God it will please you, if you are right; and if you are wrong, and it does not please you, well, it never ought to please you. This enables a preacher to give all his mind to his subject; the opposite feeling would distract him, and make him live the life of a toad under a harrow. Go into life in just that kind of spirit. Do everything to please your fellow-man if it will do him real good. Never be ungenerous, nor unkind, nor uncourteous; but never live to please the world. No slave is so slavish as the wretch who draws his breath from other people’s nostrils, and can only live if he be approved by his neighbours. Scorn such servitude. I would have you without carefulness, and you cannot be without carefulness if you seek to please men.

     Many persons are so ambitious to be very respectable that they never will be without carefulness: they have a pound coming in but they spend a guinea to be respectable, and so they cannot be without carefulness. I charge you do not care about being what is known in the world as “respectable.” Be Christians, whether people respect you or not. That littleness which stamps out everything that is good or brave, in order to put a man into the fashion, is to be the object of our supreme contempt. Do the right. Serve God. Live for heaven. Care little about man’s esteem. Abhor the pride of life. Live above the world, or you will be eaten up with carefulness: it cannot be helped.

     Some persons have a favourite object in life— not God, but an earthly thing; and these cannot be without carefulness. Dear mother, love your children by all manner of means, but if that little one has become an idol, I am sure you cannot be without carefulness. I have known mothers kill their children because they did not want them to die. That is to say, they never let the wind blow on them, they kept them in a bandbox, screened the blessed air of heaven from them, and so brought them up that they became weak and sickly, thanks to their mothers’ indulgent care. Lots of children have suffered a martyrdom from too much nursing, and excessive carefulness has created cause for care. If it is not a child, if it is anything else that becomes the pet and hobby of life, you will soon find that you have plenty of care about it: a horse, a dog, a flower, a painting, may entangle men and women in nets of care. I have seen it, and lamented it. The more objects you set your heart upon, the more thorns there are to tear your peace of mind into shreds. I know people who dread every puff of wind, and every shower of rain, because a yacht might be tossed about, or a garden-party spoiled: such trifles may sensible people be troubled about. “What are we to do, then?” says one. Why, live to God; live to God wholly. Put every thing else into its true place. Children, business, every favourite be pursuit— leave them in the hands of God, for until, you do this you will be cankered with carefulness of one kind or another, and be incapacitated this you will for the joyful service of the Lord your God.

     Thus have I given you two helpful rules: first, avoid the states which involve carefulness, and secondly, avoid the pursuits which involve carefulness. May the Spirit of God help you to carry them out.

     III. But now, thirdly, and better still, I would have you without carefulness BY EXERCISING A CHILDLIKE FAITH IN THE EVER-BLESSED GOD.

     He sends you troubles and trials, but be without carefulness, first, by never trying to anticipate them. Never meet them half-way. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Oh, the strength it gives a man when he learns to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”! It would be a poor prayer if a man should cry, “Lord, give me a guarantee of my bread for six months.” No, no; the Lord never taught us to ask for that: that forestalling of the demands of the future finds no petition written for it. Our Lord would have us cultivate the feeling that whatever the necessity of the day, whatever the requirement of the day, whatever the trial of the day, we shall take it to God as it comes, and he will there and then meet the case. Commit your way unto the Lord, and then be without carefulness.

     I will now tell you something better still. If you can manage to live by the five minutes, that is better than living by the day. I am not tonight, at twenty minutes past eight o’clock, allowed to fret myself about what is likely to happen at ten. I have grace at this time for the present moment, but not for ten o’clock; why, therefore, should I hurry towards a trouble for which I am not yet prepared? Leave ten o’clock worries till ten o’clock comes. The hour that brings the trial will bring the strength. The hour that tests you will find God ready at your hand to help you. Live by the day: ay, live by the hour.

     The next thing is, if you would be without carefulness, be guile content with the Lord’s will. Suppose you do not prosper in business as you would like, be content not to do so. Do your best, and leave your prospering in the hands of God. Suppose that after consulting a physician you find that your complaint is not removed; duly follow all right and wise prescriptions and directions, and then leave your health with God. With regard to those you love, when you have prayed for their restoration, and they are not restored, then say still, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” If you cannot suit your purse to your wishes, bring your wishes to your purse. Higher still, if God does not give you all your desires, do the other thing— submit all your desires to God. When your desires and God’s decrees agree all will be well. Whether God gives you your wish or you give up your wish will make no notable difference. You will be equally happy so long as your will is God’s will, and God’s will is your will. And I believe— and I speak experimentally— that, when you are racked with pain, if God teaches you to submit— and it is often a hard lesson—you can suffer in every limb, and yet sing in your inmost soul. This is the way to live without carefulness,— first, not to meet trouble before it comes; and, next, when it does come, to be content, saying, “It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good.”

     The next thing is to be quite sure about the love of God. He cannot make a mistake, and he cannot fail his people. If the worst thing, as it seems to us, should happen, it must be the right thing, because God has sent it. Be sure also that when our needs come, God’s supplies will come too. The Lord is bound by his own promise to provide for all the real necessities of those who trust in him. Oh, that we did thoroughly know God, and did fully believe in him! Then would our peace be as a river, and our joy like that of birds when the sun is rising. Then should we sing—

“I have no cares, O blessed Lord,
For all my cares are thine;
I live in triumph, too, for thou
Hast made thy triumphs mine.”

     Another sweet thing would help us to be without care, and that is, fully to believe in the power of prayer, and in the fact that God does actually answer it. God will grant his children’s desires, and answer their prayers. We constantly meet with instances in which God does most manifestly come to the help of those that walk before him aright. I personally met this week with a notable case. A dear sister is left a widow, with three children. She wonders what she shall do for the morning’s bread. There is none in the house. She bethinks herself that she formerly kept shop, and that she has a few goods left, a little stained and soiled, but still saleable at a price. She goes into her room, and prays God in her agony of soul to direct her to a customer. To her delight a person asks her whether she kept shop once, in such and such a road. Yes, she is the individual. Such goods as she used to buy at the shop this person cannot get anywhere else, and she much needs them. Could she tell her where she could get the like? Yes, these are the very goods that she had hoped to sell, and though a little soiled and stained the enquirer is glad to have them. The very person who wants them has come to buy them before she has crossed the threshold to seek a customer, and she is amazed at the goodness of the Lord. This honest woman is told that it was a mere coincidence: she says that she knows nothing about coincidences, but she blesses the Lord that her wants were supplied for the time, and she means to trust him for the future. I did not attempt to alter her resolution to rely in future upon God in time of trouble: on the contrary, I cheered her in it, for I would have her without carefulness. When my grandfather was a young man, before my days, he had a great family and a small income. He had a cow that he kept for his children, and he went to fetch it up from the meadow, and when it was near the house it was taken with “the staggers,” and died. My grandmother said, “There, James, what shall we do now through the winter without the cow?” He replied, “My dear, God has provided for us, and he always will, though I do not know h o w a n d with a heavy heart he went to pray and lay his trouble before the Lord. I have heard the dear old man tell how that morning brought a post-letter, with ninepence to pay; and grandmother said, “Troubles never come alone. Here is ninepence to pay for this letter. Shall we take it in?” But when she did take it in, it brought twenty pounds from a society in London, to which the good man had never applied. He could not make out how they knew of him at all; but the Lord knew, and led them to send the money on the day of his greatest need. These stories are a few out of many that are in my wallet, instances which I have gathered in my pilgrimage: I have seen enough, in my own lifetime, to fill a volume concerning the goodness of the Lord in answer to his children’s prayers. When you are as sure that God answers prayer as I am sure of it then you will realize the meaning of the text, “I would have you without carefulness.”

     Some people of my acquaintance are full of carefulness. I know a maiden lady now who possesses what many poor people would think to be wealth. She has a fixed, regular, and ample income, but she will not spend it because she must first save a certain sum. At first her ambition was to have enough in hand to bury her. Why, she has enough already to bury twenty of her; but she keeps on nipping and screwing still, and whenever you meet her she talks of how little she eats, and how dear everything is. She might live in plenty, and have something for the cause of God; but instead of that she has always an awful story about her expenses. I believe that if she were made into Empress of China she would be afraid that there would not be enough tea grown in China for her to drink. She is of such a spirit that she is a burden to herself, and a plague to all who are about her. When you once give way to grumbling and grasping, then you are careful, and careful, and careful, till you become good-for-nothing in the service of God. Do, I pray you, brothers and sisters, try to get rid of this disease, for your fretful carefulness will make you a misery to yourself and to your friends; it will destroy your power to do good; and it will cut off your communion with God; for, if you do not trust God, God will not walk with you. I do not care to have a man of my acquaintance who does not believe in me. I cannot bear him if he is always mistrusting me. And so it is with God: he will not commune with you or smile upon you, if you will not trust him; but if you will leave everything with him, and believe that your heavenly Father knows best, you shall have many a kind word from his lips, and you shall find what a good, gracious, loving Father he is. Why, you and I ought to be as happy as the birds of the air, and as merry as crickets on the hearth; for what a God we have, who will take care of us both in this life and in the life to come! All things are ours— the gifts of God— the purchase of a Saviour’s love. Even our troubles are the best troubles in the world. Our cross is a heavy one; but it is the best cross for us. Each man has the cross which best befits him. You could not carry mine, and I could not carry yours half so well as my own. Despite your peculiar trials, you are a happy and a favoured man, and God has dealt infinitely better with you than you ever deserved or could have expected. Praise him, then, and bless his name. Get out of the fidgets, brother, if you can. Get out of the worries, my dear sister. You are a good, dear housewife; and your husband says if he could get a little of the Mary into you, and a little of the Martha out of you, you would be a perfect wife. Is not this a practical suggestion? Let us see whether we cannot, each one, be improved by trying to be without carefulness.

     Let us each one give all our thought and care to this one object— How can I please God? How can I avoid sin? How can I be holy? How can I win sinners to Christ? How can I comfort my fellow-Christians? How, in a word, can I live as Christ would have lived? You never find Jesus worrying. If he weeps, it is for the souls of men; if he suffers, it is to redeem men from going down to the pit; and if he dies of a broken heart, it is a broken heart about the sins of others. As for himself, what a delicious carelessness of holy confidence there was about him! He went on board ship, and he knew that a storm would come, a storm that would try the poor little boat, but he lay down and slept. The disciples are all in a worry. They cry “Master, we perish I” And where was their Master? Asleep! You have often thought of the sleep of the Saviour, and almost deemed him negligent. Now, think of the grand confidence of the Saviour in being able to sleep in a storm. If his disciples had been asleep too it would have been the best thing they could have done, for they could not manage the winds or the waves. If they had possessed the moral dignity which ennobled their Lord, and had been able to go down into the hinder part of the ship and to go to sleep with him, they would have woke up in the morning in a calm. The best thing you, my dear brothers and sisters, can do in a great trouble may be to remember that text, “So he giveth his beloved sleep.” Pray over your difficulty, and then go to sleep, and wake up and find it all over, for the Lord has wrought a great deliverance for you. I knew one well who was always in trouble about how he should die. Dear good man, he refused to be comforted, but was often troubled about the horrors of the departing hour; until one night he went to bed, and shut his eyes on earth, and opened them in glory. He never knew that he was away from earth till he knew that he was in heaven, for he died in his sleep; and so it turned out that he had been worrying himself about nothing. Leave everything with God. If I can trust my soul with him, I am sure I can trust my body with him: if I can trust my eternal condition with him, cannot I trust him with a matter of a five pound note? What, rest on Christ for glory, and not rest on Christ for bread! Come, come; the Lord get you out of that low, unbelieving state. I am nearly at a close, and so I press upon you my text. Like Paul, “I would have you without carefulness.” May you be so through the power of the gracious God who taught the apostle Peter to say in the Spirit, “Casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you.” Amen.



The Value and Rank of the Believer

By / Jun 22

THE VALUE AND RANK OF THE BELIEVER.

 

“Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.” — Isaiah xliii. 4.

 

ONE of the worst mistakes we could make would be to judge our condition before God by our outward circumstances. Know ye not that the ungodly have their portion in this life? They increase in riches: their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than heart can wish. They are not in trouble like other men, “neither are they plagued like other men,” therefore pride compasses them about as a chain; violence coverth them as a garment. Poor creatures, they have no joy in the world to come, and therefore God permits them to have as much joy as they are capable of in this world. They stand upon slippery steeps, and fiery billows rage below. How are they cast down as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors. Envy them not, and never dream that they are beloved of God because, like the beast which is fattened for the slaughter, their manger is full of corn, and their rack is overflowing with fodder.

     As for the people of God, they are often in great trials. David said of himself, “All the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning,” — as if his heavenly Father whipped him as soon as he was up, and kept him under the rod all day long. Such chastisements are not unusual in the family of grace. Many of God’s best servants are rich in faith, but extremely poor in pocket; strong in the Lord, but sadly weak in body; beloved of heaven, but abhorred of the men of the world. Many of those whom the Lord loves most endure sharp affliction, even as the most precious metal is likely to see the most of the fire. Is it not written, “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten”? “What son is there whom his father chasteneth not?” The Lord scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. Therefore, never judge yourselves by outward circumstances, for these are not the balances of the sanctuary, and cannot help you to a just conclusion as to your state before God. Everything may seem to go against you, and yet all things may be working together for your good. Jacob was no good judge of his own matters when he cried “All these things are against me”; he needed Egypt and a sight of Joseph to teach him the reason of the Lord’s dealings. Everything maybe prospering with you openly, and yet you may only be as the victim which is covered with garlands when it is being led to be slain at the altar. Everything may be grieving you and yet securing your best prosperity. Our Heavenly Father has, I think, given us the words of the text and the context by way of comfort in reference to his outward dispensations. If God has a favoured people whom he has chosen, upon whom his distinguishing grace has lighted to make them great and honourable, you would suppose that the second verse of this chapter would run thus: — “Thou shalt not go through the waters, for I will be with thee to keep thee out of them; neither shalt thou pass through the rivers, for I have bridged them on thy behalf. Thou shalt never go through the fire, and therefore thou shalt not be burned; neither shall there be any fear that the flame shall kindle upon thee, for it shall not come near thee.” There is no such word of promise; it would be contrary to the whole tenor of the covenant, which ever speaks of a rod, and of the chosen passing under it. On the contrary, it is here supposed and taken for granted that we shall have to pass through fire and through water to get to heaven; and it is put thus— “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned”; and then it comes in, in the language of our text, that although the chosen are bound to go through fire and through water yet they are precious in God’s sight. Oh true believer, rest in perfect peace! Although you have to pass through unnumbered afflictions yet are you honourable and safe, for the Lord will make any sacrifice that he may secure your safety. He will give all mankind for you, for the word is in the singular, “I will give man for thee”; and he will give all things, yea whole nations of men, for you, sooner than you shall perish, so determined is he that you shall be saved.

     Come, then, dear tried people of God, — come to the text, and see whether you can find comfort in it. I know you will not be disappointed if the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, shall apply it with power to your souls.

     I. First, THE LORD COUNTS HIS PEOPLE TO BE PRECIOUS.

     The text was spoken of a nation whom he had chosen; but what is true of a nation is true of each individual in that nation: at least, what is true of Israel is true of every Israelite. If God has loved his church he has loved every member of that church; and if his church is precious in his sight, so is each individual believer. Is not that a blessed word, “Thou wast precious in my sight”? In your own sight you appear to be unworthy, insignificant, and undeserving, but yet you are precious in the sight of the Lord. I know that when the Lord gives us a soul-humbling experience we are made to feel as if we were worthless worms, good-for-nothing, incapable, ungrateful, undeserving, ill-deserving, hell-deserving. “God be merciful to me a sinner,” is often the cry of the most sanctified child of God. Ay, and the nearer he gets to the likeness of Christ the more he mourns over his deficiencies, till he is like David who had spoken all through the hundred and nineteenth Psalm of his love to God’s word and his delight in it, and yet concluded the psalm by saying, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments,” as if that were the conclusion of the whole matter, and the utmost to which he had attained. Only the ignorant and self-exalted will talk of their own goodness: saints mourn because they perceive sin remaining in them. The divine assurance of our text comes in as a blessed counterpoise to our lowly sense of our own worthlessness: the Lord himself bears witness, “Thou art precious in my sight.”

     A child of God is often far other than precious in the sight of others. Men of God are often as broken pitchers in the sight of men, only fit to be thrown away. If they become earnest, people say that they are almost out of their minds through religion. If they are quiet, their critics remark that they are moping and melancholy. Nothing you can do will altogether please men of the world; they are sure to pick holes in your coat one way or another: it is the way of them. We are not precious in their sight, for they value glitter, and pomp, and riches, and the things which perish in the using. They can do without Christians, so they think. Albeit that the people of God are the very salt of the earth and the light of the world, yet they are utterly despised and rejected. “The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!” Ah, well; but, child of God, thou art precious in God’s sight, and that is infinitely more than being precious to princes. You live in a little room alone, and few know you, and those who do know you do not think much of you; but the Lord says, “Thou art precious in my sight.” Poor old Mary, who has been bed-ridden for years, fears that her friends think her a burden, but let her be comforted, for her best Friend says, “Thou art precious in my sight.” John, the carter, with his large family, small wages, and shabby clothes, yet fears the Lord and walks with him, and no man may despise him, for to the Lord he is worth more than his weight in gold, and his Redeemer says “Thou wast precious in my sight.” A humble working man has come to worship with the Lord’s people, all unknown to fame; he has only one talent which he tries to use, and he is often downcast because he can do so little for his Master, yet the Lord says, “Thou art precious in my sight.” And is it not better to be precious in the sight of God than it would be to be precious in the sight of kings and queens and the great ones of the earth? May you not be well content, like your Redeemer, to be unknown and despised, if the Lord doth but say, “Thou wast precious in my sight”?

     Do you know, sometimes, these words of our Lord quite take me aback. It is so wonderful that I should be precious to the all-glorious Jehovah. I remember being startled once when that word in Solomon’s Song came with power to my soul— “Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.” It shone so brightly on my soul that it seemed to give a sunstroke to my faith, and I almost whispered, “I cannot believe it.” Yet it is even so. We know how lovers will exaggerate and use hyperboles in their expressions, but the Lord our God speaketh not after the fashion of foolish men; he is seriously in earnest in all that he saith. But still I was set a-wondering. Could it be that Jesus could speak thus in his infinite love to me? I needed to remember the power of the washing in his blood, and the power of his cleansing Spirit, and the power of his justifying righteousness, before I could understand how he could say such a word to me. Do you not feel a bit staggered as you bear this word, “Thou wast precious in my sight”? Does not unbelief prompt you to say, “Lord, that love-word is meant for somebody else. It cannot mean me.” And yet, if thou believest that Jesus is the Christ, thou art born of God, and it is to thee that this text is spoken, “Thou wast precious in my sight.”

     How can this be? I think the text explains it. Read the first verse. “But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel.” It is clear that we are precious to God because we are his creation. The first creation was marred upon the wheel by sin; it became a thing without honour, and came under the curse. But he that believes in Jesus has been created anew by the work of the Holy Ghost. God has in a very special sense created him. He has gone beyond mere creation: having first created the clay, he has formed it. We are not half made or ill made in regeneration; we are formed as well as created. The Lord who has given us spiritual existence is daily giving us fashion and completeness. Having first given us life, he has tutored that life. Having planted the tree, he has pruned it. He has created us and formed us, and in both he has worked according to the counsel of his own will. In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth, but afterwards the first chapter of Genesis tells us how God fitted up the heavens and the earth, to be man’s abode, forming what he had before created. The earth, though long before created, was “without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” In the moment of regeneration we are like that new-created world, but as by the Lord’s power the world was brought into light and order, so by divine grace the work of sanctification goes on stage by stage, till Christ is formed in us and we are formed in his image. Now, because the Lord has done a great work upon us equal to a creation and a formation, therefore we are precious in his sight. How a man will love a garden when he has laid it out himself! How he will admire the fruit that comes from trees which he planted with his own hand years ago, and to which he has attended himself! When we see our work in anything it has great value in our eyes. Work is a great creator of preciousness. You know how a little piece of metal, which intrinsically may be scarcely of any worth, can have such work put into it that from half a farthing it can rise in worth to hundreds of pounds. Skilled, artistic work makes the commonest material to be as precious as a gem. Think, then, of what the Lord has wrought upon us. We who seemed to be intrinsically so worthless have the workmanship of God upon us; for “He that has wrought us to the selfsame thing is God”; and by that workmanship, that creation, that formation he has made us to be very precious things. From an old horseshoe the artificer may make a lock of rarest workmanship and thus hath the Lord done with us. Though we were like the common pebbles that lay in Jordan’s brook, the Lord has of those stones raised up children unto Abraham. Though we were but as the dross that is cast out at the pit’s mouth, to be left there as worthless, yet the Lord has taken us up and transformed us into silver and gold, that we may make a crown for himself, world without end. Hath he not said “This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise”? Oh, but this is sweetly clear and sure: the creative work of God upon us has made us to be precious in his sight.

     But what next does he say? “I have formed thee: I have redeemed thee.” I wish I could sit down in that chair and let somebody else talk of this divinest subject. Here is the reason why we are precious in the sight of the Lord, — it is because we have been bought with precious blood. Can we contemplate the sufferings and the death of Christ for us without feeling that whatever he intended to accomplish by such sufferings and death must be an object most precious in his sight, an object that he will certainly achieve? Some seem to fancy that Christ either had no purpose at all in his death, or else that he played at haphazard, redeeming all men, or no men, as the chance might happen to turn out. They say that he was a substitute for all men, and yet it is clear that many of them are lost— lost, though redeemed with his precious blood. I am loath to repeat the statement, though to them it does not appear to be profane. I know this— that I would not willingly give my life on a speculation. I must be well convinced that a grand result will certainly follow, or I will not even risk my life if I can help it; and I cannot conceive the infinitely wise God, our Saviour, as laying down his life for any purpose but that which will most certainly be accomplished. What he bought he will have. What he purchased he will receive. If a thing be bought with your money, it becomes precious to you; and though it may be a bad bargain, yet if it cost you dear you do not intend to lose it. You value it too much to throw away that which has cost you so dear. And Christ has not thrown his blood away, or wasted it, or spilt it on the ground for nought. He shall see of the travail of his soul.

     Come back to a view of yourself. Have you believed in Jesus? Then you know by that mark that he has redeemed you from among men. Do you believe in Jesus? Then you are of his sheep. Christ laid down his life for his sheep. Do you believe? Then you belong to his church of which we read, “Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it.” You see the specialty of his redemption as coming to those of you who believe in him, therein you have the key of our text.

     Now you can understand why you are precious: redemption makes you so. “I bought that woman,” says Christ. “Amidst my pangs and groans and death I saw her— saw her through the tears that filled my eyes. I also saw that man: my prescient love beheld him in his sin, and beheld him as redeemed therefrom when I bore his sin in my own body on the tree.” Oh! blessed thought! We must be precious to him who has not only created us, but has laid down his life for us, “the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” The agony and blood-sweat cause me to understand my Lord’s saying, “Thou wast precious in my sight.” In any case the Spirit of God in our text assures us that such is the fact; we are precious unto God, — the jewels of his crown, the apple of his eye, the portion of his possession.

     Another blessing of grace is mentioned in the chapter, and that is that God has called us. “I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.” There is a work of grace called effectual calling, by which the Spirit of God calls out the redeemed from among men. They lie with the rest of the fallen mass, knowing nothing about what Christ has done for them, ignorant, indifferent, insensible. But free grace calls them out from the mass of the dead. Many calls are given to them in the gospel— to them amongst others— to all men indeed, for the call is to all the sons of men; but they regard not the invitation. Even the elect refuse the voice of the Lord till God in sovereign grace puts power into the word, and then it comes as a personal call; as it is written, “I have called thee by thy name.” Then the summons of love comes effectually, and they are made willing in the day of the Lord’s power. Being effectually called, they spontaneously answer, “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” Jesus knows when he called you; do you remember it? Some of us remember it as distinctly as ever the two sons of Zebedee recollected when Jesus called them as they were fishing, and promised to make them fishers of men. The day is as distinct to us now as it must have been to Matthew when he sat at the receipt of custom, and Jesus said unto him, “Follow me.” We have been called, as surely called, as the child Samuel when he was upon his bed, for our spiritual ears have heard the voice of God, and our hearts have answered “Here am I; for thou didst call me.” Yes, beloved, we know our calling, and it is well for us to be fully assured that therefore we are precious in the sight of the Lord; effectual calling has made us so. He drew us, and we followed on. He called us, and we answered to the call. Therefore are we dear to the Father to whom we have returned; dear to Jesus by whom we have been reconciled; and dear to the Holy Ghost who has led us into this grace.

     We have been ever since kept by his rich grace and preserved, and this also has endeared us to the Lord. Those to whom we have shown great favour are sure to be dear to us. We love those to whom we have acted lovingly. The Lord has daily called us from one stage of grace to another. “Friend, come up higher,” is a word that we hear from time to time, and we expect to hear it soon for the last time when he shall bid us rise from earth to heaven. Then will he say, “Friend, come up higher, and we shall sit down in the highest room.” He is ever calling, and by his grace enabling us to answer to the call; and therefore we are precious in his sight.

     But I do not care so much to think over the reasons as wish to get you to grip the truth, each one of you on his own account. Perhaps you are down-trodden and despised; oppressed and depressed, your spirit sinking within you; if so, rejoice that you are precious unto God. You are no bodies: so the world says, and so you think; but, for all that, the Lord declares that you are precious in his sight.

     Now, will you try to think that many and many a poor soul that as yet knows not Christ is as precious in his sight as you are? They are his sheep, though not yet the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.

“Oh! come, let us go and find them,
In the paths of death they roam.”

Let us go and hunt up the lost jewels which belong to Jesus. All the treasures hid in a field have not yet been found. God has a chosen people in the back slums, in the lowest haunts of vice; let us go forth and seek them. “I have much people in this city,” said he to Paul; and I believe that he has much people hidden away in the holes and corners of London. If poor fallen men and women are precious in his sight, though they may be the offscouring of the streets, though they may be thieves and drunkards, let us never despise them. Let us never say, “Oh, I cannot be associated with such!” “Precious in my sight,” says Jesus, as he points to them. “Precious in my sight,” as he points to the poor fallen woman. “Precious in my sight,” as he mourns over the blasphemer. Go after the degraded haunter of the street, and never rest until you have the happiness of bringing her to him who bought you and bought her with his most precious blood.

     Brethren, do you not think that if you are precious in Christ’s sight, then everything that has to do with him ought to be precious to you? Oh, how you should value Christ! Is he not your all in all? Everything that is connected with him ought to become dear to you. Some of his people are very disagreeable people, and we cannot feel much joy in their company, but we must love them still. Remember what Augustine said: he declared that he loved every man that had “aliquid Christi”— anything of Christ— about him. “Precious in my sight,” says Christ of this brother and that; let them, then, be precious to you; and be it your joy to cheer them and succour them for Jesus Christ’s sake.

     Do think once more. If you are precious in God’s sight do not despise yourself so as to fall into the follies and vanities which please other men. The ungodly may do as they please, but here is a charming check for you: Jesus says of you, — “Precious in my sight.” Then, Lord, I cannot go into amusements which some others so much delight in; for if thou hast said, “Precious in my sight,” I cannot be found among the giddy throng. If there be a sin that once was sweet to me, and I find it to be sweet to many of my friends, I will abstain from it with all my heart, and try to get them to do so also, since thou hast taught me that I am precious in thy sight. Nobility has its obligations. We do not dream of seeing princes of the blood running in the streets and playing with the children of the gutter. No, something better is expected of them. If you are precious in God’s sight, let the obligations of discriminating grace lie upon you; maintain a holy separation from the world. Heirs of heaven, behave as such. Children of the eternal King, remember the dignity of your condition, and so walk that you live not inconsistently with what the Lord has done for you.

     That is our first point. In the Lord’s esteem his people are precious.

     II. Now, secondly, they being precious he adds another epithet. “Since thou wast precious in my sight, THOU HAST BEEN HONOURABLE.”

     Is not that another blessed word? Alas! how many of God’s people were the reverse of honourable before they knew the Lord. Many a dishonourable thing they thought, and said, and did, and it is the dishonourable life that makes the dishonourable man. They are honourable now, but possibly they were children of shame at their birth. Perhaps they lived in sins that are not to be mentioned lest the cheek of modesty should crimson; and yet they are honourable now. Perhaps they went so deep in sin that the laws of their country convicted them of crime; and yet— wonder of grace! — as soon as ever they are precious in God’s sight they are honourable. All the past is blotted out; it shall be remembered against them no more for ever. They take their rank among the honourables. I do not know that I should care to be called “right honourable” among men; for there are too many right hononrables whom we could not honour, patrons of the race-course, the betting-ring, and the prize-fight. The name is a falsehood when applied to debauched men whose only worth lies in their money. But an “honourable” that God calls honourable is honourable indeed. Although, previously, that poor soul may have been everything that was dishonourable, Jesus says, “I have blotted out thy sins like a cloud, and like a thick cloud thy iniquities”; and that free pardon puts him among the hononrables. Those who trust the Lord Jesus are honourable, “for unto yon that believe he is honour.” The meanest child of God that lives is honourable, for he belongs to a right worshipful family. An angel thinks it an honour to wait upon him, bearing him up in his hands lest he dash his foot against a stone. “Honourable!” Why, all nature honours the elect of God! The saints of God are the centre of all providential arrangements. Next to God, for the church all things exist, for so the Lord has put it, “He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel;” and “all things work together for good to them that love God.” The stones of the field shall be in league with them, and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with them. The Lord gives a charge to all the powers of nature that they be on the side of the man who is on the side of God. Honourable! Why, we are the most conspicuous objects of the divine forethought from all eternity— the most esteemed subjects of the guardian care of heaven in all time, and we shall be the most eminent objects of divine love throughout a whole eternity when the Lord shall make known, through the church, to wondering angels and principalities, the manifold wisdom of God. “Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable.”

     Now let a poor child of God tell out how he believes that he is honourable.

     First, dear brethren, we are honourable by birth. Some are proud because they have been born of fathers who have been made baronets, or elevated to the peerage in years gone by; thus by birth they are honourable: that is the way people talk, and it must be so among men as long as there are classes and ranks. Descended from the King of kings, each saint has a lineage before which the pedigrees of princes grow stale and mean. He that is “begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,”— he that is born of the Spirit of God, —he into whom God has infused his own nature— he is honourable by birth, in a sense which none can dispute. Not by blood, but by the new birth which comes from the Spirit of God, every child of God is made both precious and honourable.

     Next, we become honourable by our possessions; for men pay honour to those who become millionaires and are immensely rich. Alas, the gains may have been dishonourably made, and then the honour that comes of wealth is a stench in the nostrils of good men and angels. But, brethren, our wealth that we get by our new birth is such that we are richer than the wealthiest of worldlings, and must in consequence be honoured. Paul saith, “All things are yours, — whether things present, or things to come, or life, or death; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” What an estate is that which belongs to every heir of heaven, for we are “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;” and thus we become indeed honourable.

     Yes, and the child of God becomes honourable in rank. To be a child of God is to occupy a rank surpassing all human dignity. A child of God is a “prince of the blood imperial,” I was about to say; but, better still than that, he is a prince of the divine line: he is a child of God. No dignity can excel this. One who is a child of God has a rank which he could not wish to change though all the empires in the world should lie at his feet to tempt him with their glories.

     Beloved, we then become ennobled by our relationship. When a person is related to some great man he has a degree of honour reflected upon him. It may be by marriage that the relationship is made, but it is all the same. Honour comes with honourable connections. Since, then, we are related to God by the spiritual birth, and united to Christ by the spiritual marriage, we are partakers of the honour of God our Saviour. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when Jesus shall appear we shall be like him. Jesus is “the first-born among many brethren;” and we as the younger brethren are all honourable.

     We are honourable by calling, for he “hath made us kings and priests unto our God;” and these among men are the most noteworthy of all callings. None more honourable than priests and kings of God’s own making. By divine grace we have become honourable by character, for the Lord has sanctified his people and made them to love that which is good and right, and to forsake that which is evil. By his grace the fruits of the flesh they shall no longer bear, but the fruits of the Spirit shall be in them and abound; and so, being honourable according to God’s calling, they shall become honourable by a conversation agreeing therewith. Theirs is an honourable life: they live for an honourable purpose: they are quickened by an honourable spirit: they are wending their way through an honourable destiny on earth to glory and honour and immortality and life eternal. Therefore may they rejoice that God has made them honourable.

     The lesson to be learned from it is, do not let any child of God be bashful, shamefaced, and cowardly in the presence of men of the world. It becomes us to be lowly and meek with all humbleness of mind, but not with any kind of meanness, so that we would flatter the great, or cringe before the powerful. We are greater than they, for they know not the Lord, and he is greatest who knows best the Great One. Why should we fear their threatenings? Who are we that we should be afraid of a man that must die? Who are we? We ought to feel ourselves to be too honourable to fear the son of man who is crushed before the moth. “Princes did sit and speak against me,” said David; “yet I declined not from thy statutes.” Who are princes? If they speak against God’s children, they speak against those who are more honourable than they. They revile their superiors, compared with whom they are but mimic monarchs. Do not therefore go about with the bearing of a menial, but with the air of a king. I would like to walk as Abraham did among men. He was every inch a king: the sons of Heth could do no other than respect the princely patriarch. Poor Jacob is often beggarly with his bargains and his tricks; he cuts a sorry figure as compared with his majestic grandsire, the hither of the faithful. Abraham so trusts his God that he is the independent man everywhere: he lends, but he does not borrow; he is the head, and not the tail. When he stands before the king of Sodom how more than royal his bearing! The king would give him the spoils which were, indeed, justly his according to the laws of war, but he replies, “I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich.” The child of God is too honourable to take what other people would take, if thereby he would stain his dignity. He may often feel it unbecoming his dignity to do that which is lawful; he may therefore choose a more excellent way. Lions will not be found stealing little bits of meat like cats, or feeding on carrion like dogs. It is not for eagles to hawk for flies; and it is not for children of God to stoop below the glorious level of their new birth. “Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable.” Oh, you right honourables, take care to act honourably. My brethren, we do not wish to be called “reverend” any one of us; but God has called us honourable, and it would be a fairer title by far for us to wear. Reverence, surely, we can never claim; that belongs but to one. But if he calls us “honourable,” I venture at least to call you “right honourable.” O you right honourables, always live as right honourables. Do not let us hear of you that you spoke in a pet, for that is to act like a spoiled child. One of God’s honourables in a passion, uttering burning words! This will never do. One of God's children doubting God, afraid to trust his heavenly Father, and trying by little tricks of trade to get on, instead of being honest! Is this a conversation such as becometh the household of faith? Is not this the reverse of what becomes us? There is one that cannot forgive his brother: is that seemly? He will not speak to his friend because of some small offence; is that honourable? Some that profess to be God’s children seem to think it a poor business to be a Christian? Brethren, think not so. Have a high idea of what a Christian ought to be; and then pray the Spirit of God to raise you. up to it. If you have been called a king in the eternal covenant I pray that you may be anointed to your office with a horn of oil by the divine Spirit, that about you there may be regal qualities such as beseem a king, and a sacrificial life such as befits a priest, for God has indeed made you to be a king and a priest unto him.

     III. Be of good cheer, then, as you pass on to the third point. “Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, AND I HAVE LOVED THEE.”

     Ever since the Lord has manifested himself to you he has loved you manifestly; he has not only told you of his love in the secret of your soul, but he has publicly acted love to you. I desire you to get that truth fully into your mind. Ever since the time of your conversion — ay, and long before that— ever since he loved you, he has acted in love to you. “Oh, but I have been very ill, frequently bound to my couch, and my bed has been as painful to me as though it were of red-hot iron.” Yes, yes, but he has loved you, and put you to that pain, to glorify himself and to benefit you by preparing you to receive more of his love, and to manifest more of it to others. “Since thou wast precious in my sight, I have loved thee.” Is there not a well of delight in that assurance? “Oh, but I have been in the dark as to my Lord. I have not walked in the light of his countenance, and he has hidden himself from me. I have had many questions in my conscience as to my condition before him.” Just so, because he loved you he would not let you be happy unless you were in a right state before him, and he has put you in the dark because you were not fit to be in the light. He loved you, and he saw you to be a naughty child, and therefore he resolved that you must be put in the corner. The Father could not smile, for to be smiled on by God when we are indulging in sin would be a curse to us, and not a blessing. Our Father loves us too much to let us be at ease in sin. Will you try to remember that the Lord has loved you and kept on loving you all these years, and he has never thought an unloving thought towards you; nor has he done an unloving action towards you in any shape or way. He has looked out for wise ways in which to exhibit his love to you, and he has done the very best for you. He has loved you infinitely; his whole heart has been set upon you. The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth to show himself strong on the behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards him. God loves you as much as if there were not another saint for him to love. Can you believe that? God puts the centre of his love in Christ, and if there be any other centre of his love you are in it, because God is a circle whose centre is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere, and you and I and each one of us may thus be the actual centre of the love of God in Christ Jesus. Although there are ten thousand times ten thousand of my brethren for God to love, he does not mean to love me any the less. If I have so many to love I must cut my heart in pieces,, but his great heart is so capacious that he gives the whole of it to you and the whole of it to me. Even as the Father loved the Son, so does he love his people. Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Continue ye in my love.” He is loving you now. The great Father is looking down upon you with infinite delight and boundless affection at this instant. Cheer up, then! Cheer up! Let nothing distress you. Did I hear you complaining that you are all alone? Are your father and mother dead? Perhaps years ago. The friends that you have been living with have been taken away, and you are friendless and alone. Some of us who have got to middle life, or past it, see our dear old friends going to heaven in flocks. We sometimes wonder what we shall do for friends when we grow old ourselves, if we are spared; but that is a sweet word, “When thy father and thy mother forsake thee, then the Lord will take thee up.” “Even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.” Is God thus loving us? Then it is enough. Let us fall back upon that love and say, “Thy love, my Lord, is all I can desire.”

     Well, now, if God loves us so, shall we not love him? Awake, O heart that sleeps! Awake, awake, and give back to God all the love of which thou art capable. And shall we not love poor sinners for Christ’s sake? Shall we not try to love them to the Saviour? The greatest converting power in the world next to the Holy Spirit is the power of human love. Men are never saved by scolding, and an angry preacher is not likely to bring many to a loving Saviour. We must love sinners so much that they must be saved, or we will break our hearts. When we get to that, God will make us to be instruments in his hands of gathering in his chosen. Let us turn into flames of love. Oh, to be transmuted! Someone said, “What is Basil?” and then he dreamed that he saw a pillar of light and heard a voice saying, “This is Basil.” Oh that we might be, in character, like burning and shining lights, and may our light and fire be love to God and love to men. Surely he that has made us precious in his sight, and made us honourable, and loved us so, deserves that for his sake we should go out and seek his lost precious ones and bring in the dishonourable, that they may be honourable. If it be written “I have loved thee,” let us feel the force of heavenly love, and serve the Lord with gladness.

     Now, poor souls, you that have had no share in all this text: you may have a share in it. Is there anyone here who is empty? Christ has come on purpose to fill him. Is there a soul here that is hungry after God and salvation? Then it is written, “He hath filled the hungry with good things, but the rich he hath sent empty away.” Sinners are scarce articles. “Why,” say you, “they are common as blackberries.” Yes, those that will say they are sinners, but those who truly feel that they are sinners are very scarce. A sinner is a sacred thing; the Holy Ghost has made him so. He that really knows his sinnership is redeemed by Christ, he is the man that Christ came to save. He is the man to whom infinite blessings belong. He is the man who may lift up his heart unto God and rest in Jesus. Ye blind eyes, Christ came to open you. Ye prisoners, Christ came to set you free. Ye good-for-nothings, ye ungodly ones, ye sinful, ye that have no good thing in yourselves, but lie despairing at the gates of hell, “unto you is the word of this salvation sent.” Christ has come to save such as you are. For proud Pharisees Christ has nothing: he came “not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” He came not to fill the full: they want it not; nor to heal the healthy: they need it not. But he comes to save you that have no good thing about you— that have no good feelings within you. You that have no broken hearts, he comes to give you broken hearts. You that have no faith, he comes to give you faith. You that have no repentance, he comes to give you repentance.

“True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh—
Without money,
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.”

And oh, what a surprise it will be for you to hear his Spirit saying to to you by-and-by, “Because I loved thee before the world was— because I had chosen thee— because I had determined to save thee, because thou wast precious in my sight, therefore thou art honourable, and I have loved thee. Come and rejoice in me.”

     God help you so to do, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.



Praying and Pleading

By / Jun 22

PRAYING AND PLEADING.

 

“O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do thou it for thy name’s sake: for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against thee. O the hope of Israel, the saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night? Why shouldest thou be as a man astonied, as a mighty man that cannot save? yet thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name; leave us not.” — Jeremiah xiv. 7, 8, 9.

 

THIS passionate appeal for mercy was forced from the people by extreme misery. There was a famine in the land until men fell in the streets of the city exhausted with hunger. Drought had long prevailed, and dearth of water was terribly felt. Meanwhile invasion kept them in perpetual fear, so that the prophet lamented, “If I go forth into the field, then behold the slain with the sword! and if I enter into the city, then behold them that are sick with famine!” Such judgment had God inflicted on a guilty nation for her sin. No springs were bubbling up from the earth, and no rain dropped down from heaven. This dire privation had produced universal distress. “Judah mourneth, and the gates thereof languish; they are black unto the ground; and the cry of Jerusalem is gone up.” As the calamity, like a river of lava, burned its dreadful way, an eye witness, in his heart’s anguish, describes a few common scenes which forcefully tell the tale of utter desolation. Princes and peasants are seized with a like consternation: the prophet paints them both with their heads covered in token of a common grief. Here in the city the children are coming back from the place of pools and fountains with empty pitchers, for they find not a drop of water in the pits. Out yonder in the fields the ground is chapped and cleft by the scorching sun in the absence of dew or rain. The plough is of no use in that parched soil. Husbandmen are sitting down ashamed, confounded, utterly dejected: it is vain for them to lift the hand of labour. Down in the valleys the dumb cattle express their feeling with throes of anguish — the hind calves and forsakes her young; and up on the mountain heights the wild asses prove their share in the universal distress. Those creatures which are most apt to scent water from afar, and to hasten to it to drink, are unable to discover a cooling brook, though they snuff up the wind like dragons. What a dreadful thing for a country to be placed as it were at the oven’s mouth, and to become so completely burned up, that even the wild beasts can discover no pasture, and their eyes fail because there is no grass.

     Nothing could help the people. Grim death stared them in the face. None of their idol gods could cause rain, and without it they must all perish. Under such circumstances prayer to God was the last and only resource. Driven to their wits’ end they now began to be wise. The prophet has expressed in admirable words the penitent confessions and the earnest supplications of those who were ready to perish. Our text is a most appropriate model of humble petitioning. I can easily imagine that all the Jews of the land were willing enough to adopt this form of prayer at such an extremity, and to follow it with a fervent “Amen.” But, alas for them, the feet which had loved to wander were not willing to return; and the hearts which had cast off their allegiance to the Lord were not reconciled to his law of righteousness. The Lord felt compelled to say of them “I will destroy my people, since they return not from their ways.” Theirs was prayer in terror, not prayer in penitence. How many there are who pray after a fashion in times of dire distress! When the plague was raging, the cross was marked on many a door which else had never known that token. When the cholera rages they go to church. When poverty invades their homes, and they are sore pinched, they cry, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” When they are brought to death’s door, they entreat, “Send for some minister to come and pray at our side.” What a wretched business is this— that we should only be disposed to think of God when we are in our utmost need! Dare we treat the Lord as if he were only to be called upon in our emergencies? How can we expect that God will accept prayers that are only forced out of us by selfish fears? It is not uncharitable to suspect that too often such prayers are either hypocritical or superstitious, and far different from the contrite cries which are music in the ears of the Most High.

     What a mercy it is that God does hear real prayer, even if it be presented to him only because we are in distress. “Call upon me,” saith the Lord, “in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” When the prodigal went home to his father, his father did not say, “You have only come home because you have a hungry belly. You seek a meal among my hired servants because you could not fill yourself with the husks wherewith the swine are fed.” No, not. so. Every word was welcome, every look was love. He “giveth liberally, and upbraideth not.” He does not fling into the teeth of a sincere penitent any reproach concerning the past. There is no scowl on the heavenly Father’s face, no scolding words are uttered by his lips. Nay; but he opens wide his arms of love, and clasps his lost one to his heart. The Lord of mercy bids the poor and needy come to him and welcome, though he may have been a rake and a profligate.

     What a dreadful state, then, must those men be in to whose prayers the God of all grace has resolved to shut his ears. Thank God, my dear hearers, that you are still on praying ground and pleading terms with him. How terrible the case of any who have passed the frontier of hope. The case described in this chapter did not admit of pity or pardon. No chastisement could condone crimes which had been so repeated and gloried in. The Lord himself bade Jeremiah not to pray for these people. If you read the sequel you will find that God declared that though Moses and Samuel stood before him, though the mightiest of intercessors and the best and most honoured of saints were to join in supplication, yet he would not hear them, for his mind was made up to ease him of his adversaries. Their hour of doom was come, the scaffold was ready, the executioner was at hand. Take heed, ye that trifle with mercy, lest God should put by the silver sceptre and draw the sword out of its sheath. Take heed, ye that scorn the mercy-seat, lest it turn into a burning throne of wrath, and you “perish from the way while his wrath is kindled but a little.”

     That is not the condition of things with us at this time, blessed be his name; and so I may invite you to notice the text as a model prayer; an excellent example to God’s own people who are in a wandering slate; and afterwards I shall use it as an instructive example for sinners conscious of their sin, who would fain come to God and find mercy.

     I. First, then, I speak to the church of God at large wherever it has backslidden, and to each believer in particular WHO MAY HAVE DEPARTED FROM THE LIVING GOD IN ANY MEASURE OR DEGREE.

     Would you take with you words and turn unto the Lord? You cannot have better words than those now before you. I will read them again. “O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do thou it for thy name’s sake: for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against thee. O the hope of Israel, the saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night? Why shouldest thou be as a man astonied, as a mighty man that cannot save? yet thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name; leave us not.” Begin by pleading guilty. It is hard to bring men to this, yet there is no forgiveness apart from it. “O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do thou it for thy name’s sake, for our backslidings are many. We have sinned against thee.” The sin-stricken soul has no defence, nor even an excuse, to offer on its own behalf. The penitent cries, — Guilty; ay, guilty; for there is no denying it. Our iniquities testify against us. If there were no witnesses of our sin, our sins themselves bear witness against us. Oh that every child of God felt this if he has in the least gone aside from the paths of holiness! It is not only that thou seest us, O our God; or that our brother Christians may have seen our faults, or even that some scoffers in the world have spied them out, and may be all too ready to bear witness against us; but our sins themselves have gone before us to the judgment-seat, and testify against us. When the facts are in clear evidence what plea can avail? No witnesses can more effectually secure condemnation. Look at the lives of many professors. Yea, let us look at our own lives. Is there not enough of fault, enough of folly, enough of failure, for our own lives themselves, without any accusation from without, to witness against us? If I had to stand before God to-night to plead, upon the matter of my own righteousness, I could do nothing but lie in the dust and hide my face for very shame; and it must be more or less the same with every believer who knows his own heart and life, and sees it in the light of God’s countenance. There is no denying the charge: we are prone to wander. Therefore, O my brother, come with me: take the sinner’s place; be abashed as an erring child; and come before the great Father and say, “Our iniquities testify against us.”

     While there is no denying it, let us admit that there is no excusing it, “for our backslidings are many.” If we could have excused ourselves for our first faults by offering a degree of extenuation for the fickleness of our youth, yet what are we to say of the transgressions of our riper years? If you, my brethren, could say, “Lord, when we began to be believers we were ignorant and feeble, and we were readily carried away by temptation,” you cannot make that apology now when years have given you stability, experience has brought you knowledge, and the favour and protection of God have ripened your character, or should have done so. “Our backslidings are many.” I feel as if I could not preach about this, for it touches my heart, and makes me feel ready to weep. Much rather should I like everyone to say to himself, “What have I done? What have I left undone? How far have I declined from the ways of the Lord?” Turn over the records of your life, brother Christian. What have you done for Christ? What have you done for the truth, for the souls of men, for the spread of your Redeemer’s kingdom? Alas, may you not so have lived as even to have disparaged the truth, and done injury to the cause which is so dear to you? “Our backslidings are many.” We cannot count them; their number is as great as their guilt. It is well for us to feel that extenuation and apology and excuse are out of the question. There is no use in our making any pretence to self-justification. We are compelled to plead— Guilty. Guilty with gross aggravations. Guilty again and again. “Our backslidings are many.” Guilty, though we were under bonds to have lived in a very different fashion.

     Ay, and not only is it past denying and past excusing, but also it is past computing. We cannot measure how great have been our transgressions, as that next sentence may well imply: “We have sinned against thee” It looks, at first sight, as if that were the smaller sentence of the three; but let me read it again, and throw the emphasis where it ought to be; and then you will see that it is the heaviest clause in the indictment. “We have sinned against thee” That is what David always lays the emphasis upon when he makes his confession, — “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” This is the prodigal’s confession: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee.” Oh, brothers and sisters, to have sinned against our Father and his infinite love, against our Saviour and his precious blood, against the Holy Ghost and all his gentle strivings and his sweet comfortings and blessed teachings— this is to have sinned with a vengeance. What shall we say of ourselves? Do not such sins strike us dumb? Sins against the law and against the gospel; sins against light and sins against knowledge; sins in our holy things; sins on our knees; sins in our hearts; sins— where are they not? Sins high as the clouds, broad as the earth, immense as the sea. Who shall fathom the great ocean of our iniquity? It is wise for us, therefore, to stand at the bar of God and humbly confess that “Our iniquities testify against us: backslidings are many, for we have sinned against thee.”

     Next to this plea of guilty, we find that the culprits do most vehemently appeal to God for mercy. Please observe carefully how they order their cause before him; and with what arguments, as Job hath it, they fill their mouths.

     No reasons whatever could they fetch from themselves. They dare not plead before God that if he will have mercy upon them they will do better; for their many backslidings render such a promise hopeless. Brothers, are you not sick of promising that you will from this time forward amend your lives? I hardly think that we are convinced of our sinfulness if we flatter ourselves that we shall do better in the future. Canst thou again trust that broken bone which has let thee fall so many times? Canst thou again trust that tongue of thine when already thou hast been unable to rule it? Canst thou trust that flaming member which has been ready to set on fire the course of nature? What, trust thy heart again? Go, confide in the wind or the treacherous sea; but trust not thy treacherous resolution. “If I could only have my life over again,” says one, “I should do better.” My brother, I should not like to have my life over again for fear I should do worse; and worse I should do, unless I had more grace. Ah, brothers, it never does to say to God, “Lord, forgive the backslidings of the past, for I shall do better by-and-by.” Suppose you do. There is no merit in that; but it is a wild supposition; for you will do nothing of the kind. “Ay, but,” you say, “I am now more resolved than I was. I am older and wiser now, and I feel quite safe because my resolution is so strong.” This is fine talk for one who is no better than a reed shaken of the wind. How preposterous is such boasting! Your strong resolution! Plow strong is the wax before the fire? How strong is the tow in the midst of the flame? Your resolution, however, seems to yourself to be firm as adamant; alas, it is only seeming. Peter’s resolution was strong when he said, “Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee;” yet the look and laugh of a silly maid at the palace door opened his mouth with floods of blasphemy— that mouth which Peter thought would overflow with brave confessions of his Master. We know not what spirit we are of. We are worse than we think we are. When young folks tell me how terribly wicked they are, and therefore they are afraid that they cannot be saved, I sometimes reply, “Yes, but you are much worse than you think you are.” They look so astonished, for they hoped to be comforted, and lo, they are plunged into a deeper ditch. Probably they cry out that they feel themselves to be more weak and foolish than any other people alive. I tell them that most likely they are near the truth, but that they are much worse than they fancy they are; for, in fact, they are utterly undone, and there is no good thing in them. They look bewildered; and then I tell them that the Lord Jesus came to save the weak and worthless, and that he looks after the lost and ruined ones. We lay the axe to the tree of self that men may fly to the tree of life. There must be no reliance upon arguments based upon our own excellence; we must beg for grace and plead for mercy, for upon no other terms but those of grace can the Lord treat with us.

     Child of God, it is well for you in prayer before the Lord to get rid of every sort of excuse, apology, or palliation. Let your self-impeachment stand in the forefront of your petition— “O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do thou it for thy name’s sake; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against thee.”

     But still there is a plea; for they make a plea out of God's name. From the badness of the rebellious subjects to the goodness of the righteous Sovereign is a rapid but reasonable transition. A weighty motive is suggested that may dispose God to be merciful; but that motive is drawn exclusively from himself: — “Though our iniquities testify against us, do thou it for thy name’s sake.” Oh the majesty of the name of the Lord! The fame thereof is wonderful throughout all generations. Thou hast a name, O God, for pardoning iniquity. So David said, “For thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity, for it is great.” Come, then, desponding brothers. Here is a prayer which will avail for us when the night is darkest, and not a star is to be seen. “Do thou it for thy name’s sake,” — because it will glorify thy name to save us; because there is something about thy name which encourages our soul to hope. “Do thou it for thy name’s sake.” The distracted nation is drawn into closer fellowship as the story of the past suggests a plea for her present distress.

     Nor is this all: the covenant of grace promises a glorious future, and this promise is pleaded as the Lord is called “the hope of Israel” It is well to draw upon the bank of hope as well as upon the bank of experience. When thy cup is full of sorrow, and thy face is covered with shame, and not a ray of light falls on thy dreary path, remember that there is a history full of grace behind us, and a prophecy full of glory before us; and it is all wrapped up in the name of him who is the hope of every contrite heart. But take good heed that your hope is not a vague hope. See to it that you believe in God firmly, and that you lay hold upon an actual promise of his word or some statute of his kingdom very tightly; for then you may hope to your heart’s content. Though you cannot see the way of deliverance, you can feel that the Lord holds you by the hand. Now plead with him, “Lord, thou art my only hope. Thou knowest that I have no hope anywhere else. I am clean driven to despair except thou look upon me in thy grace.” This is good pleading. Everyone has a hope somewhere. To the miserable there remains no other medicine. Deprived of this the sufferer would grow desperate, and his melancholy would drive him to the verge of madness; but there is a hope of some kind in every man’s bosom. Now, if you can truly say, “One thing I know, my hope is alone in thee, my God,” you may plead that. You may argue thus, — “Lord, do save me for thy name’s sake, that I may never be ashamed of my hope. Thou hast never left a poor soul to use thee as its anchor, and then to find that anchor drag and leave the vessel to drift upon a lee-shore. Be true, then, to this thy name, and rescue me, and blot out my transgressions, seeing I put my trust in thee.” Beloved, a hope so grounded shall never fail you.

     The church of God pleads the name of God under another title, “The Saviour thereof in time of trouble.” God has saved his people. In the roll of fame his name is written as a great Deliverer. The annals of Israel were full of anniversaries. By feasts and fasts they were taught to remember dire emergencies and delightful escapes. The mighty deeds of the Lord whereof their fathers had told them are celebrated in psalms and songs: and their charm is this, that his mercy endureth for ever. Here again is a lesson in the art of prayer. He has been a Saviour, therefore plead with him. “Lord, I have no right to salvation, but, still, thou art a Saviour. Thou hast been accustomed to save thy people in time of trouble; save me. Fulfil thy gracious office. Lord, save, or I perish. It will glorify thee to save me. Why is thy name thus revealed but to guarantee the grace that is wrapped up in it? Saviour is an empty name if thou dost not save.” Is not this fine pleading? O Laodicea, thou that art neither cold nor hot, dost thou mourn thy lukewarmness? Then awake to some such plea as this, — “O hope of Israel, O Saviour thereof in time of trouble, for thy name’s sake deal graciously and restoringly with me.”

     Then, next, she does not mention the name, but it is implied in the words. She says, “Why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land?”— one who is merely travelling through the country and takes little interest in its trouble because he is not a citizen, — one who merely puts up for a night in the house, and therefore does not enter into the cares and trials of the family. She does as good as call him master, lord of the house, and his ownership is pleaded in the suit. Jesus, thou art head of the family. Thou art the Lord, the husband. Wilt thou act as if thou wert a mere lodger or a stranger? Tell him that your house is his, — that the church is his, — that he is the head of it; and plead with him that he will not lay aside his position, or neglect that condescending responsibility which he voluntarily took upon himself when he became the head of his church, and undertook on her behalf to be her Redeemer. Plead with him thus, for his name’s sake, and you will win a gracious reply.

     Then the argument ventures a little farther, and the plea is this, “Thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name.” God’s presence with his church and his connection with it becomes a plea. Have I not thus pleaded sometimes for this church when I have thought over its sins and its wanderings? I have said: — And yet, Lord, thou art in the midst of us. We do have thy presence at thy table and in the prayer-meeting. Thou art with this people right blessedly, and we are called by thy name; and if thou shalt leave us, the ungodly world will say, “In that edifice was once assembled a church of God, but it has become deserted. There in former times a gospel ministry flourished, but it has failed.” If ever it should be so said, thy name will be dishonoured.

     See how Israel pleads in the text: — “Why shouldest thou be as a man astonied?” That is, like a man confounded, who does not know what to do, — who is distracted and amazed. She says, “Lord, if thou dost not help us now, the men of the world will say, their God could not help them. They were brought into such a condition at last that their faith was of no use to them, and their God could not deliver them. Why shouldest thou be as a mighty man that cannot save? a champion defeated in all his efforts? Nay; but thou hast given us a banner, a sacred standard that must not suffer defeat; let it be displayed because of the truth, and do thou give us victory.”

     Some of you who are trying to serve God have floated into shallow waters lately, and you are in great trouble. Now, if you can somehow implicate God in what you are doing you will greatly strengthen your cause. Are you his servant, acting in his name, and entangled with difficulties that arise out of conscientiously following his command and trusting in his promise? then you may say to him, “Lord, what will the Egyptians say? What will the Philistines say? Will they not say that at last it is proved that faith is a delusion, that the promise is a snare, and that there is either no God, or else that he is a God who cannot aid, or will not hear prayer and help his servants?” I delight to get upon this track. It refreshes me to feel that I have no help but in God, but that his promise binds him to succour me. When I am quite out of my own depth I feel that I must swim; for if the Lord’s power does not buoy me up, I shall sink to destruction. How can he suffer one to be destroyed whose trust is in him? If this faith be a lie, it will be exposed by my failure; and if this God is not the living God, and docs not hear prayer, the adversaries of the Lord will laugh. Ah, then you may plead with him, “Do it for thy name’s sake.” Though our iniquities have been many, — though we have not served thee as we ought to do,— though we have backslidden often, yet, Lord, do not punish thyself on account of us. Do not put thy name to dishonour because of our folly. Do not put thy gospel to the rout because we are so unbelieving; but do, for thine own honour’s sake, now interpose and deliver thy servants in this their time of need.

     II. Having thus tried to put before you, though very feebly, the good ground on which your feet may stand while you are wrestling with God, I want for a very few minutes to speak with THOSE POOR TROUBLED HEARTS THAT DO NOT YET KNOW THE LORD, or fear that they do not.

     To my text as a whole they have no title; but from the matter of it we may draw some valuable suggestions for their use. Are there not among us many, who though strangers to the fellowship of the saints, are distressed in soul and desirous to find peace with God? Are there not many who would fain obtain salvation from the God of grace? You say, “I want peace.” Then, I pray you, take heed that you do not put up with a false peace, or calm your conscience with anything less than true reconciliation with God. Better be always restless than find rest in a delusion. Begin and continue in the way of truth, for this will endure to the end, while all that is false will burst like a bubble.

     Begin first by confessing your guilt. Come, my dear hearer, there can be no benefit in trying to conceal anything, therefore acknowledge your transgression. God can see it all; but there will be great benefit in your seeing it and confessing it before him. Do not try to patch up a righteousness of your own. Jesus Christ is never sweet to any but to sinners. You have to prove that you are a sinner, not a saint; for Jesus gave himself for our sins, not for our merits. Remember, when Christ comes to fill us, the first thing we need to know is our own emptiness. Do not, therefore, go upon the tack of trying to make any kind of defence; but acknowledge your sins, and say, “My iniquities testily against me.” Some of you could not make out a plea of righteousness if you were to try: your life-long actions would confound you if you attempted it. When people come in here who never heard the gospel before, they are often brought speedily to receive Christ because, when God blesses the word to such, it is not difficult to convince them of sin. They are so plainly guilty that they do not dream of disguising it. They never attempt to mend their old clothes, for they are too far gone, and only fit for the dunghill. They would only make greater rents by patching up such old and rotten materials. Come, oh ye poor ragged sinners, in all your rended garments, in all your loathsomeness and sin, and say each one, “Lord, I own that my transgressions testify against me; it is not the first time that I have been anxious, or the first time that I have promised better things, but I have been a deceiver until now. My backslidings are many. I am an old sinner, and a hardened sinner. I have sinned against convictions, sinned against a tender conscience, sinned against the restraints of thy Spirit. If I did seem to leave my evil ways the dog has returned to its vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” Ah, my hearer, you are a bad fellow; and I want you to own that you are. I want you to stand in the dock like a felon and plead, “Guilty,” but be sure you do not add, “Only there are extenuating circumstances.” There are no such circumstances in your case. You are thoroughly unworthy, and deserve to be sent to hell. If you had died in your sins twenty years ago, and had been condemned without mercy, your wickedness would have abundantly vindicated the sentence of the Judge. Do you kick against that? I hope not: it will be your wisdom to admit your terrible desert of punishment. I beseech you, put your confession into words, and state truthfully what you have done. The sense of your wickedness will grow more keen when you recall your follies.

     Remember, too, the forms in which you have sinned against God. You have violated the laws which regulate your life. You have set at naught those counsels which make for your physical health and your moral welfare. It is bad enough to have sinned against a mother’s tears and a father’s prayers. It is bad enough to have sinned against your own body, and to have disregarded your wife and your children. That is sad enough and horrible enough. Many have gone deep enough in that direction to crimson their cheeks with shame. But you have despised the God that made you; you have dishonoured your Creator. You have lived to gratify your own lusts; you have delighted in defying his laws. “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib;” alas, dumb driven cattle have been more dutiful than you. The Lord raised you up from fever, he sheltered you in storm, he rescued you from shipwreck, he has delivered you many times from going down into the pit by sudden death, yet have you been unmindful of him and unthankful to him. You have doated on the idols that provoked him. Feel this! Own this! Mourn this! Come before the Lord in penitent contrition. But mind you are sincere. Think not that the language of a litany will avail you if you falsely say, “Lord, have mercy upon us miserable sinners,” when you are not miserable, and do not believe that you are sinners at all. Rather may God the Holy Ghost work such deep conviction in your spirit that the language of my text may seem too feeble for you: may you be compelled to cry out, “O God, no speech can tell the depth of my guilt. Forgive me, for thy mercy sake.”

     Shall I leave you there sitting down in abject despair? Doubtless in such depths we learn that salvation is of the Lord. Be sure of this— no excuse can exonerate you. Apologies drawn from your constitution or your circumstances will only aggravate your crimes. Your only ground for hope must be based on his grace. Call now upon his name. “For thy name’s sake.” You big sinner say, “Lord, if thou wilt save me, it will be a great instance of thy power.” “Well,” said one the other day, “it is of no use your trying to convert me. If I ever shall be converted it will need God himself to do it, for I am such a tough fellow.” Yes, yes, and the Lord delights to let men see what he can do: he proves that he is omnipotent in the moral world as well as in the physical world, and as able to subdue freewill as to stay the raging of the wild winds that sweep the sea. He is Lord, and besides him there is none else; when he speaks the word of power, he can turn the lion into a lamb, the raven to a dove. Oh, plead with him to glorify his power; say, “Lord, it will show thy power if thou wilt save one like me. If thou wilt cast a legion of devils out of me, I shall be a standing wonder wherever I go. To men and angels I shall be a convincing proof of the regenerating power of the Almighty: therefore save me, for thy name’s sake.” If the Lord were to forgive a dozen ordinary sinners it would not so much display his mercy among men as in saving one unusually vile transgressor. Plead this. There may be somebody listening to this discourse whom this word exactly suits. I feel as if the Holy Spirit were prompting me to utter these words for your use, — “Lord, all the sin in the world seems to have run into me as into a common cesspool; but, O Lord, if thou canst cleanse my heart, it will be a wonder of mercy indeed, and thy name shall be glorified. I am the man who ought to be damned above all men: I deserve to be the centre of the target, at which all thy arrows ought to be levelled; but oh, if thou wilt forgive me, it will make all hell quiver with astonishment. That God should save such an one as I will make heaven ring with joy, that such an one should be delivered from going down into the pit because God hath found a ransom.” Here you may remember that all God’s name is comprehended in Jesus Christ. This master-key unlocks every door. If you will cry, “Lord, save me for Jesus’s sake, that men may see what Jesus can do by the cleansing power of his blood, by the strength of his hand, and by the love of his heart,” you will have pleaded the name of the Lord. This argument hath matchless force. The dying thief! — look what glory he has brought to Christ all through the centuries. The Apostle Paul, changed, renewed! — what honour he has brought to Christ ever since he was saved! Be this then your prayer, “O Lord, honour thyself, honour thy Son, honour thy Spirit by saving me. Bless me for thy name’s sake.” Cannot you join me in this prayer? O Holy Spirit, enlighten men as to their lost condition till they feel that there is no other way of pleading, and no other name to plead. Is it not the desire of the Father that Jesus should see of the travail of his soul in the salvation of the chief of sinners? The Lord give you a grip of that plea. It is sure to prevail. “For thy name’s sake.” You may thus plead the name of the Father, “My Father, glorify thy fatherly heart by welcoming thy prodigal child with a kiss of reconciliation, and saying, ‘Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him.’” You may next use it with the Holy Ghost and say, — “O divine Spirit, glorify thy power over human hearts, by cleansing and regenerating even me, that men may see thy new creation, and wonder at it as thou dost work it in me.”

     A great point is to be able to lay hold upon a promise, a promise in the Book. I recollect when seeking the Lord the sweetness of that saying to my heart— “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” I found liberty when I could plead that. I said, “Lord, as far as I know what it means, I do call upon thy name. I have no other name to call upon, and thou hast said that whosoever doth call upon thy name shall be saved. Now, for thy word’s sake, do not draw back. I know thou canst not lie. Fulfil thy promise even to me.” Brethren, we cannot say to a man when we have made him a promise, “I promised to do this for you, but you are such a bad fellow.” That would be no excuse for our breaking our promise. You must honour your promise even if you feel ashamed of the person to whom it was made. The Lord in mercy having made a promise never quotes our character as a reason why he should break it. He knew all about you when he made the promise, and so he is not surprised. He knows more about you now than you know about yourself. He knows that you are a thousand times worse than you think you are. He has a much deeper sense of your guilt than you have. Still, for all that, he is ready to pardon. Plead his promise with him and he will stand to his word.

     Do any of you doubt the possibility of your obtaining mercy of the Lord, because of the depths of your iniquity, or the ruinous consequences it has already wrought? Believe me, you are victims of a delusion of Satan. The Lord God merciful and gracious passes by iniquity, transgression, and sin. There are some parts of the book of Jeremiah that I should not like to read to you. I can hardly think that they were meant to be read in public, they are intended rather for our private meditations. There is, however, one picture of infamy which I will merely hint at, though it has often excited my profound astonishment. It runs something like this, “They say if a man put away his wife, and she go from him and be another man’s and play the harlot, shall he take her to himself again? Shall not that land be greatly polluted? Yet return unto me, saith the Lord.” Do you see the drift of this striking illustration? Here is a woman kindly treated in every way who wilfully leaves her husband. She has not been led astray by a profligate, but she has wantonly left her husband of her own wicked self. She has defiled her name and her honour, and to crown her infamy then she has even left her paramour, and she has gone on the streets and become utterly vile. Shall her first husband take her back again after her multiplied and manifest impurities? Would it not pollute the land? Everybody will say, “Why, this is an offence against morality. She has dishonoured herself, she has dishonoured her husband, she has dishonoured her country.” “Yet,” says God, “return unto me.” Is not this beyond the manner of man? So does the mercy of the Lord transcend even the statutes of the law which he gave to Israel. You will see the force of this more clearly if you compare the third chapter of Jeremiah with the twenty-fourth chapter of Deuteronomy. The parable is startling. God is represented as dealing with an idolatrous nation as it would be an abomination before his own eyes for any man to deal with an unchaste wife. Such delight hath Jehovah in mercy that he dispenses it at the risk of public odium. He knew that the self-righteous would cavil, and that even elder brothers would be angry, but he dared all that. Henceforth let there be no demur on your part. “Yet return again unto me, saith the Lord” If there be any obloquy it must rest on his name whose holiness cannot be sullied. The elders in our Saviour’s day who sat in Moses’s seat thought it an open scandal that he received publicans and harlots. I am not surprised that when he gave welcome to such fallen ones they were glad to come: but I am beyond measure astonished at those of you who put aside the only gospel that can do you good. Why argue against your own interests instead of accepting the Lord’s open invitation? Every evangelist who preaches pardon and peace by the blood of the Lamb braves the ethics of the age: the new teaching is that people must reap the consequences of their actions; there is no hope of ever undoing anything that a man does, and therefore there can be no gospel to the guilty. Yes, I know that this is what the reign of law seems to demand; but, for all that, the Lord would sooner that men should accuse him of weakening the principles of morality than refuse a poor sinner who comes to him for mercy in Christ Jesus. I know that, if we receive certain persons into the church, the mere moralists cry out “How can they associate with such people?” Yet, come along, come along, ye chief of sinners. The vilest are welcome to Christ. You that are worse than the worst— you who have leaped over the hedge, and have got upon the wild commons of outrageous sin, may come to Jesus. Do you sing—

“Depths of mercy, can there be
Mercy still reserved for me?”

It is reserved for you. You are the person for whom it is reserved. This deep consciousness of sin, this guilt of yours which you feel and own, points you out as the one to whom I am to say, Return unto the Lord, for he will have mercy upon you; he will blot out your transgressions; he will change your nature; he will turn you from a sinner to a saint, and glorify his name in you. God grant that you may each and all prove the exceeding riches of his grace, for his dear name’s sake. Amen.



My Solace in My Affliction

By / Jun 22

MY SOLACE IN MY AFFLICTION.

 

“For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. They continue this day according to thine ordinances: for all are thy servants. Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction.” — Psalm cxix. 89— 92.

 

EVEN in those psalms which are not associated with any particular chapter of history we can often trace out the trail of the writer’s experience, and track his soul through its wanderings. His reflections then become vivid with intense reality. The meditation now before us is evidently prompted by some event deeply carved on the writer’s memory. “Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction.” We know nothing of the time or circumstance when the heart was terrified, when the nerves were shaken, when the weakness of nature asserted itself: the veil is wisely drawn over the sharp pains or sullen griefs that bowed the sufferer down, and we are simply solaced with a song celebrating his deliverance out of all his troubles and fears. Possibly his affliction was long; but certainly it reached a crisis so perilous that his life then trembled in the balance. He was then ripe for destruction, ready to have perished. Moreover, it is noteworthy that whatever his trial may have been, whether it was a sickness or a disaster, or any other manner of adversity, he refers to it as his own, and he calls it “mine affliction.” It would ill become us, therefore, to pry into the cause or fashion of his grief, or to ask any further question. Quite likely I may be addressing some dear child of God who is vexed with an affliction so personal and so peculiar that he feels it to be “his own,” and would deem it an intrusion for another to intermeddle: let us not intrude, for we should only increase the grief by our enquiries. “Mine affliction” is an expression that bears a marked emphasis, and has a tone entirely its own. I do not know whether I am more struck with its pathos or its reticence. At the sound of such words a stranger might well be touched with pity; but a friend, however sympathizing, would shrink from prying into the secrets of a heart that so delicately conceals its own bitterness.

     The one and only thing that the Psalmist was eager to tell us was the prescription that soothed his pains and sustained his spirits. On mature reflection he is confident that he would have perished under that affliction if it had not been for certain comfortable and delightful reflections concerning God’s word. You and I may at any time be exposed to a like mental or spiritual depression, through one or other of those manifold sorrows which enter so largely into Christian life. There are plenty of miry places on the way to heaven; and so it will be our wisdom diligently to enquire how this good man passed through them. I like to hear how any godly man has been comforted, for it comforts me. I take a deep interest in the simple tale of any humble prisoner whose bonds the Lord has loosed; and I feel it a choice pleasure to chime in with songs of thanksgiving which warble from the lips of grateful suppliants whose cries the Lord has heard.

     Observe that the Psalmist appeals to certain facts which he remembered. “For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations. Thou hast established the earth and it abideth,” etc. And then he refers to certain delights which he experienced in reviewing these facts: “Unless thy law had been my delights, I should have perished in mine affliction.”

     I. Here, then, we have strong consolation IN CERTAIN FACTS WHICH HE REMEMBERED. Fly ye to the mountains when the enemy invades the land. Hide in the strongholds of your God.

     1. Our first comfort is the eternal existence of God, which is implied in the continuance of his faithfulness and power. “The Lord liveth” is the plea of souls harassed and haunted by foes without and fears within. Observe, I pray you, that there is nothing casual or accidental in the tone of the Psalmist’s meditation, as if some stray thought had darted a ray of light into the mind of one who was dreary and downcast. His joy is not like a flower that blooms in the desert, or a bird that chirps merrily amidst the frost of winter; but he has abundant and even overflowing cause for joy. His confidence runs on the grand old classic lines which inspiration has hallowed. When Moses was appalled by the frailty of man he uttered his majestic ode to the eternity of God. “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations.” So here, the eternal existence of God is the first fact to which the afflicted saint clings. According to the most eminent scholars the opening sentence should be read— “For ever thou art, O Lord; thy word is settled in heaven.” The second verse, as you may notice, is divided into two sentences, and the poetic parallelism requires a like arrangement in this verse, if the poetic rule is carried out. But this would not form two strophes unless we read the first four words as a distinct sentence — “For ever, O Lord, thou art.” Whether this revision be warranted or not does not matter; for, as I have already said, the fact is implied in the wording of the authorized version. God is. He is for ever the same; and his years are throughout all generations. This is a very simple truth; who but a madman or a fool ever doubted it? If there be a God he must be self-existent and eternal; but it is from simplest things that sweetest consequences flow. Bread is simple enough; you do not require some eminent chief of the kitchen to teach you the art of making bread; but see what multitudes of people are fed upon that simple article of food. And so the simplest truth is the most precious, for it sustains many more than that daintier form of truth which may be only suitable for men of strong minds or of great experience in the things of God.

     In the song of Moses— that song which is linked with the song of the Lamb— we have an apostrophe that language could hardly surpass: “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods (or mighty ones)? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” To what lofty heights of expression did the holy prophets often rise in proclaiming the grandeur of the Lord’s being, the magnitude of his works, the sovereignty of his will, and the faithfulness of his promises to his people! And yet the wealth of imagery that Isaiah or Ezekiel could call up, or the melting tones that Jeremiah could utter, can but faintly display the excellence of him that filleth all in all. They rehearse his praise to whom alone all worship is due, in words that swell and sound forth like the music of the spheres; or they assail the heathenish idolatry which offered its incense to graven images, or they expose the heartless treachery that withheld homage from the true God, or they denounce the unbelief which limited the Holy One of Israel, by distrusting his words. In any of these cases, if we lend them our ears, they succeed in elevating our hearts from the grovelling thoughts of our fleeting life to the infinite perfection of Jehovah’s essential deity, of whom (to accommodate the idea of his everlasting existence to our tiny computations) we are told “that one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” My brethren, we are compassed about with God on every side. In him we live, and move, and have our being. His self-existent might is our never-failing mercy. Observe, I pray you, that this simple truth is the most sublime fact which the mind of a rational creature can aspire to lay hold of. God lives— lives as God. Get a grip of this vital reality, and it will send a glow of health through every faculty of your soul. “Believe in the Lord your God; so shall ye be established: believe his prophets; so shall ye prosper.” But unless God is in all your thoughts you cannot be a godly man.

     Nothing happens to the Lord at haphazard. What can threaten his existence, thwart his purpose, weaken his power, dim the clearness of his eye, diminish the tenderness of his heart, or distract the wisdom of his judgment? “Thou art the same, and of thy years there is no end.” Then recollect, child of God, you are a sheep that can never lose its shepherd. You are a child that can never lose its father. “I will not leave you orphans,” said Jesus; and therein he did but reveal the Eternal Father’s heart. In direst straits we have still a Father in heaven. When a widow who had long been inconsolable sat moaning for the loss of her husband, her little child plucked her by her gown, and said, “Mother, is God dead?” That question served to rebuke the mother’s fretfulness, and to remind her that she was not without a Guardian and Friend. “Thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name.” It opened up to her a well of refreshment, which, like Hagar in the wilderness, she had not before been able to see. Listen, child of God: thou canst lose thy goods, but thou canst not lose thy God. Like Jonah, thou canst see thy gourd withered; but thy God remains. Thou mayest lose thy land, but not thy Lord; thy savings, but not thy Saviour. Even if it came to the worst, and thou wert left awhile as one forsaken of God himself, yet still thou wouldest not lose him; for, like the Lord Jesus on the cross, thou wouldst still call him, “My God, my God.” “The Lord is my portion,” saith my soul— a portion that never can be alienated, upon which there is the entail of an irreversible decree— that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us, might have strong consolation. He lives; he reigns. This God is our God, and he shall be our guide even unto death.

     Yes: it is a simple fact that God is: but it is a fact that may often recur to us with singular freshness. I met an eminent servant of God one day in the street, a man whose name, were I to mention it, you would all honour. He was in rather a gloomy and desponding mood that morning, and in the course of our conversation he told me that he believed the powers of evil in this country would get the upper hand, that Christianity would be almost stamped out, he feared, partly by Romanism, and partly by infidelity, and that in all probability I should live to see the streets of London run with blood, while anarchy would riot as it did in the first French Revolution. He went on at such a rate that I felt bound to remonstrate with him. So I told him that I was not easily scared by such evil prognostications, for I was persuaded that God was not dead. This is our firm rock of hope: the reins of government are in the hands of the living God, and the devil cannot frustrate his decrees, nor can events baffle his will. When Herod and Pontius Pilate, and the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together against the holy child Jesus whom the Lord had anointed, how little could they effect! They had it all their own way; or, at least, they thought they had. How much did they really accomplish with their wilful counsels and their wicked hands? Hear it distinctly. They (these emissaries of Satan) did whatsoever God’s hand and God’s counsel determined before to be done. And thus it always will be. The adversaries of the Lord are exceedingly fierce; but you and I who believe in God can afford to smile at their folly. If it must be so, let the powers of darkness have all the vantage ground they seek, and they will reap all the greater defeat. “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh. The Lord shall have them in derision. Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” The church, they tell us, is in danger. That depends upon whose church it is; but if it is the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. Let us in this, then, be joyous and confident. If Luther could sing when the battle had but just begun— while yet the demon of the seven hills had temporal sway; why should you and I be hanging our harps on the willows now that the fight has made the dragon bleed? Come, let us sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously. The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. And as for these Amalekites that meet us on the road, and would arrest our progress, let us, like Jehoshaphat, appoint singers unto the Lord to go before our army and meet them with hallelujahs. Let us sing, — Arise, O God, and make thine enemies to flee before thee like chaff I before the wind: yea, let them be as the fat of rams burnt upon the altar; for thou, Lord, art king, and thou shalt reign for ever and ever. This is a flowing well of comfort.

     2. Closely allied to the fact of God’s eternal being is this other fact of the immutability of his word. “Thy word is settled in heaven.” The truth of the proposition will occur to you as simple and obvious. “Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” His word is settled in heaven and issued from heaven, the seat of his government, and it cannot be altered on earth, this distant colony of his empire. We refer to God’s word, therefore, in grievous difficulties with great confidence, because we know that every statement it contains is reliable. God’s word can never change. It is established. Some persons have no settled residence; they are always moving to and fro, and restless, finding no anchorage; but God’s word is not fixed on earth where things are ever on the move, but it is settled in heaven amongst the infinites and eternities that change not. “For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven.” The design and purpose of God are fixed, not fickle. He knows what he intends. You and I often begin with a design from which we are bound to deviate as we see something that would be better, or as we see that our better thing is not attainable, and we are obliged to be content with something inferior. But in God’s case there can be no defect of judgment which would require amendment, and there can be no defect of power which would drive him from his first determination. God has a plan, depend upon it: it were an insult to the supreme intellect if we supposed that he worked at random, without plan or method. To some of us it is a truth which we never doubt, that God has one boundless purpose which embraces all things, both things which he permits and things which he ordains. Without for a moment denying the freedom of the human will, we still believe that the supreme wisdom foresees also the curious twistings of the human will, and overrules all for his own ends. God knows and numbers all the inclinations and devices of men, and his plan in its mighty sweep takes them all into account. From that plan he never swerves. What he has resolved to do he will do. The settled purpose of his heart shall stand for ever sure. Of what avail could the opposition of angels or of men be when Omnipotence asserts its supremacy? As you walk down your garden on an autumn morning the spiders have spun their webs across the path, but you scarcely know it, for as you move along the threads vanish before you. So is it with every scheme, however skilfully contrived, that would arrest the fulfilment of the Divine purpose. The will of God must be done. Without the semblance of effort he moulds all events into his chosen form. In the sphere of mind as well as in that of matter his dominion is absolute. One man cannot immediately operate on the will of another man so as to change its course, although intermediately he may propound reasons which, by their effect on the understanding, may completely alter the inclination of his fellow-creature; but this is a trite proverb— “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” God can bend the thoughts of men as easily as we can lay on the pipes, and turn the water into any cistern we choose.

     His purpose is settled for ever in heaven; so, too, are his covenant and his plan. Brothers, I could imagine God changing his mode of procedure, but I could not imagine his changing his covenant. He has entered into covenant with Christ on our behalf; the sacrifice that makes it valid has been slain, and now the covenant is ordered in all things and sure. Every jot and tittle of it is signed and sealed and ratified by the death and the resurrection of our glorious Surety and blessed Representative. From that covenant God will never turn aside. The covenant of works we broke, but God kept it, for he did what he said he would do. The covenant of grace we cannot break, for it is made with another on our behalf, who has already fulfilled it, so that the covenant of grace stands now towards the saints without an “if,” or “but,” or “peradventure,” and consists simply in unconditional promises of “I will,” and “you shall.” Read that covenant for yourselves and see. Whether you choose to take the copy of it in Ezekiel, or the copy of it presented by the apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews, there it stands; a covenant without conditions, enduring for ever, never to be changed. Oh, how I rejoice in the sure mercies of David! “This is as the waters of Noah unto me,” saith the Lord; “for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I will not be wroth with thee, or rebuke thee.” Now, blessed be his name, the covenant is settled in heaven.

     Then there is another matter which is settled, namely, God’s promise and the power to carry it out. I spoke of the promise being settled, because it is virtually a constituent element of the covenant; but now I mean that gospel promise which has been proclaimed to the sons of men. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved”— that shall stand good throughout all generations. “He that believeth in him hath everlasting life”— that shall always be true. “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,”— that shall never alter till the day of doom. God will not reverse the thing that hath gone forth out of his lips. It was proclaimed by Christ himself; it was testified by his apostles; it was ratified by the descent of the Holy Ghost. The promises of the gospel are settled in heaven; therefore the preaching of the gospel is full of power among the sons of men. Go and preach it, dear brethren. Go and tell it, dear sisters. Never be afraid that you will make a mistake if you proclaim free grace and dying love. God has not spoken in secret in a dark place of the earth. The salvation of souls shall be the evidence of the efficacy of the gospel till every blood-bought one is brought by its power to Jesus’s feet. There is no change in the charge that is committed to our keeping: “Thy word is settled in heaven.”

     Moreover, the doctrine of the gospel as well as the promise of the gospel is settled in heaven. I do not know where I shall drift if I once leave the old channel to wind about among sand-banks. Certain of my brethren delight to sail down a river which has neither buoys nor fixed lights, but plenty of ever-shifting sands; they do not steer according to any chart, but according to their own heaving of the lead from time to time, and very heavy lead it is to heave too. They say that they are thinking out their doctrines. I would be greatly sorry to have to think out the road to heaven without the guiding star of heaven’s grace or the map of the word. Not gospel-preachers but gospel-makers these men aspire to be, and their message comes forth, not as the gospel of the grace of God, but as the gospel of the imagination of men; a gospel concocted in their own kitchen, not taught them by the Holy Spirit. It is the reverse of being “settled in heaven,” it is not even settled in the mind of its inventor. I pity the hearers as well as the preachers of a precarious gospel. That which I preached to you in the beginning of my ministry I shall preach to you, by God’s grace, till this tongue shall be silent in the grave. I know the doctrines better, but I know no better doctrines. There are certain things indelibly impressed on my mind, of a surety fixed, definite, true, and beyond doubt. As to ideas that are dubious, concerning which we need to be diffident; — I leave my brethren to discuss them. Sentiments fluctuate so constantly in this nineteenth century that I suppose we shall soon require to have barometers to show us the variations of doctrine as well as the prospects of the weather. We shall have to consult quarterly reviews, to see what style of religious thought is predominant, and then we shall have to accommodate our sermons to the dictum of the last wise man who has chosen to make a special fool of himself. As for myself, I shall continue to be unfashionable, and abide where I am. “Sticking in the mud,” says somebody. “Standing on the Rock,” say I. Nay, if you will— grown to the Rock— immovable, not to be turned aside. If this gospel be a lie, I grieve that I ever preached it, and I will never preach it again. If it be true, truth is not a thing of almanacs and quarterlies. If true in the year “two” it is as true in the year “eighteen hundred and eighty-two;” and if it is not true today, it never was and never will be true; for truth does not come and go, and be and cease to be. Fall ye back, O simple hearts, upon this blessed fact— that God’s word is “settled in heaven.” It cannot be settled at Oxford, or settled at Cambridge, or at any other university; but it is settled in heaven. Go to heaven’s book, and read heaven’s word under the teaching of heaven’s own Spirit, and you shall go from strength to strength in the knowledge, not of what may be true, but of what is true, having the revelation of God to conform it — an authority from which there can be no appeal.

     3. The third thing is the faithfulness of the fulfilment of that word. “For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations.” Those men who have trusted God’s word in any generation have always found it true. In apostolic times, or further back than that, in David’s age, in the era of Moses, in the time of Abraham, in the days of Noah, in the life of Abel, whoever has trusted in God has found that he has heard prayer, that he has been the rewarder of all them that diligently seek him. The covenant, as I have already said, does not change, and the truth does not change, and though the generations greatly differ in the judgment of men, I greatly question whether God thinks them different. One generation is as like another as successive waves of the sea. We think we grow much wiser; but it is not a very strong proof that we are wiser because we think we are so. I very much question all this fiddle-faddle about the progress of the nineteenth century. True, we rush over the country by steam instead of travelling by broad-wheeled waggons, and we get smashed up all the more readily. We now go all round the world to buy a bit of bread; we used to grow it in our own fields, and it was just as good then as it is now that it comes from far. There were good people then; there are good people now. I will not decry whatever progress has been made in machinery and the arts, and so on; I thank God for it all; but about the improvement in ourselves— that is the point. I imagine that we bear a striking resemblance to our fathers. When I read the story of the children of Israel in the wilderness I think I see their sins and their follies, their murmurs and complaints repeated in our own lives. But whether or not the race has changed, there has been no change in God’s dealings with the race. Whenever a believer has rested in him he has fulfilled Iris word to that believer to the letter. This has always been the rule of the kingdom— “According to thy faith, so be it unto thee.” Were I to enlarge upon all the vicissitudes through which God’s servants have passed, we should have to come to the one conclusion, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” That is so to-day as it was thousands of years ago. O beloved, this is the mercy— that God is faithful still. When I used to hear my grandsire tell of the faithfulness of God to him, my young heart was encouraged to trust in God. When I have heard my father tell of the faithfulness of God to him, I have been strengthened in my confidence in my father’s God. But I can tell the same tale myself, and perhaps I can record more instances than they of God’s goodness to those that put their trust in him. It will be the same with our children and with our children’s children. O tried brother, the Lord will be faithful to you as he has been to me. The Lord will not fail you. Therefore be not discouraged. As your days, so shall your strength be. Underneath you are the everlasting arms. You shall conquer, however hot the fight may become. Only stay yourself upon the Lord and wait patiently for him. Fret not thyself in anywise to do evil, for thou shalt be delivered, and God shall be glorified in thee.

     4. But I must pass on to the next fact worth considering, and that is the perpetuity of the word in nature. To this the Psalmist alludes in the following words: “Thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. They continue this day according to thine ordinances, for all are thy servants.” By the word of God were the heavens made, and it is by his word that all things consist. We talk of the force of gravitation, and the laws of nature; but in very deed the one force in nature is that God spake. The word of the Lord is the power by which all things hold together and remain in their places.

     Look at the earth. We talk of the pillars of it— the columns upon which it leans; but what does it rest upon? Our modern science does not weaken the point of the text, it rather strengthens it. The earth rests upon nothing. There it is floating in space; and yet it has never drifted from its place or turned aside from its proper orbit. There are little quiverings within its own bosom; but it does not rush away from the place where God ordained it to be. It continues its course around the sun with immutable fidelity. This world is rather larger than you are, and requires more power to keep it in its place than is requisite to keep you in your place; yet there it is: shall not the Lord hold up his servant and keep him from wandering? All the machinery in the world could not turn the globe on its axis or move it in its orbit. I suppose that no angelic force would be adequate to bring about such results as God accomplishes simply by his will. He establishes the world and it abideth. Let us be confident then. Whenever God means to break his word and change his ordinances we may expect to find this earth go steaming into the sun, or else it will rush far off into space, nobody knows where. But while it keeps its place, what have you and I to worry about? Is it not the sign that the Lord will keep us also? Has he kept the stars which are the major? Shall he not much more keep us who are the minor? What are we but small specks, grains of dust, things scarcely to be seen, and yet we talk about the great power of God that we shall need to keep us in our place: let us cease from doubt as we see this huge world kept like a sapphire in its golden setting by the hand divine.

     Nor, brethren, is it this world alone, vast though it may seem to us, yet a little planet amidst the larger spheres; the Lord upholds all worlds comprehended in one vast system. “They continue this day according to thine ordinances.” Every star maintains its place. “One sun by day, by night ten thousand shine;” yet these constellations, and all other creations of God’s hand, observe each one the ordinance of heaven. God does not swerve from his own statutes, nor does he suffer the shining hosts to break their ranks. They may not rush about in wild confusion, they are the sentinels of heaven. He calls them all by name, as he musters and marshals their serried ranks. Are they not all his servants, waiting at his feet as maidens attend their mistress? They all do his bidding. Ought not this to cheer our hearts and inspire us with courage? If the heavenly bodies— as we are wont to call those inanimate creatures of the Most High— are upheld by his power and disposed of by his wisdom, why should we discredit the Omnipotence which preserves our souls, or the Omniscience which orders our steps? If yon unpillared arch stands without buttress, cannot my faith rest on the promise, though no means of support are visible?

     Those mighty orbs to which we have been referring are under law, and subject to the divine statutes, alike in respect to the motions they perform and to the influence they produce. All the creatures obey their Maker except man. There is no rebellion to our knowledge anywhere in the universe except among fallen angels and fickle mortals like ourselves. What, then, am I troubled about? Opposing forces cannot injure me. If God wills, he can send a squadron of angels to help me. He can bid the stars in their courses fight for me if it be needful. All are his servants. The perpetuity of the laws of nature is a proof of the continuance of the word of God. Strengthen your confidence as to things not seen by the steadfastness of the things that are seen.

“His very word of grace is strong
As that which built the skies;
The voice that rolls the stars along
Speaks all the promises.”

     5. There is one other fact which I will only touch upon: the perpetuity of the word in experience. “Unless,” said the Psalmist, “thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction.” We know by experience what he means. The trouble is a thing of the past, but the trembling is still present to our memory. We were mercifully delivered when we might have been utterly destroyed. My brethren  that same word which has made the earth to keep its place has hitherto been sufficient to make you keep your place. Some of you have passed through deep waters, and yet you have not been drowned. I have a sympathy with young people when they are doubting, because they have not seen the mighty works of which their fathers have told them; but if you have been sustained for forty years in the wilderness you ought to know the faithfulness of God, and I am ashamed of you when you get disheartened, and discourage your brethren. Most of all, I am ashamed of myself whenever I fall into despondency. Admiral Drake had been round the world. He had survived all sorts of storms and battles. One day, when coming up the Thames, he was caught in such an ugly wind that he was likely to be wrecked, and the admiral cried, “No, no, I have been round the world, and I do not intend to be drowned in a ditch.” I want you to be animated by a like courage, for the Lord will not leave you. Surely he who has preserved you in all your previous distresses will not desert you in your present adversities. If you had not taken delight in God’s word you would long ago have perished in your affliction; look back upon the past, then, and see that Gpd has been sufficient for you up till now. What reason have you for the suspicion that he will not befriend you even to the end?

     II. Having thus drawn your attention to the facts that the Psalmist recounts, I pass on, in the second place, to speak of THE DELIGHTS WHICH HE EXPERIENCED IN THE TIME OF HIS TROUBLE.

     “Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward,” said one of Job’s comforters: though I fear he got little enough of comfort out of that sage reflection. Those troubles, however, that are common to men are full often the occasion of uncommon anguish to persons of sensitive nature. Some men and women receive a shock from which they never recover; they gradually droop and languish, health and happiness alike failing them. It is in such seasons of acute distress, when this world has no palliative to offer, that God’s word can minister infinite delights to soothe the distractions and heal the sorrows of the heart. These psalms— most of them written by David, and the rest written by disciples of the David school— compass almost every conceivable form of adversity that our poor suffering humanity is exposed to. And there is another thing which I am sure you will find it sweet to muse upon; it is this, — in all cases the sigh was turned into a song before it was admitted into the sacred calendar. This is a law of the kingdom of heaven over which I linger with unspeakable delight. In fact, I can take a survey of your troubles, as well as of my own, with much composure when I perceive that they are all capable of being turned into joy.

     Our sympathies are stirred continually by the bereavements one and another of us are called to suffer. The ties of kindred and friendship are being broken all around. Each day has its obituary. This goes on from generation to generation. But the sharp pang of losing those we love is in no wise lightened by the fact that it is so general. Some of us to-day live in dread; others have drawn down the blinds. He is gone on whom you leaned for succour. She has been snatched from your side of whom you could say that none upon earth excelled her. Your nurslings, the flowers that bloomed around your hearth, have faded. I hear your desolate moan; but there is music not far off. All creatures are shadows; yet there is substance. At length you turn to these Scriptures, and as you read, “The Lord liveth; and blessed be my Rock; and exalted be the God of the rock of my salvation,” your soul revives. You quit the treacherous sea and reach the solid rock, when you repeat the words, “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations.” Alas, dear mourner, your thoughts have wandered, like the dove from out the ark, o’er the watery waste; but now again Noah’s hand encloses you. There you have calm and peaceful rest. Here is the pillow on which your aching head can lie at ease: “Thou art the same; of thy years there is no end.” Such delights can sustain a sinking soul.

     David was himself ofttimes in such a condition that everything seemed shifting and inconstant. Nothing about him was fixed. Those whom he had most trusted seemed to be his worst enemies. His fortunes changed. He was driven from the home of his father and from the palace of the king, to wander in the wilderness and lodge in caves of the earth, and he himself became distrustful at times of his own destiny, for his heart was heavy, whereas once he had been the gladdest of the sons of men. Oh then, this was his delight— he fell back upon the eternal settlements. “Thy word is settled,” said he. “I have no settlement. I have to go off to Gath to try and find a shelter there, but every place seems to cast me out. The men of Keilah will deliver me up. I am hunted and harried by Saul. Nothing is settled to me; but O, my God, thy word is settled.” Now peace comes like a river to his spirit. His delights are in the word, and his heart is full of holy glee.

     So, too, sometimes he felt that his own faith failed him, and that is a desperate failure. When your vision is obscured, and you walk in darkness, you are sorely molested by doubts and haunted with fears. You can believe nothing, you can hardly grip at anything that others believe in: this is terrible. Your own frailty, your own unfaithfulness to God, your own waywardness, your own fickleness disquiet you with feverish dreams, and waste every particle of your strength. Then what a grand comfort it is to stand upon the divine faithfulness, — “Thy faithfulness, O God, is unto all generations. Thou hast not changed.” Oh, do try, dear troubled ones, and may God the Holy Spirit help you in the trying, to get a hold of this delightful truth; and while you mourn your own unfaithfulness, do rejoice in the faithfulness of God and the immutability of his covenant. David’s Bible was of much smaller compass than ours; but there was one passage in it which I dare say he often read and deeply pondered. It was that which tells us how, when Abraham was lonely and desponding, “The Lord brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them.” How often have those ordinances of heaven sent beams of light into the heart of the spiritual mariner while he has been heaving to and fro on the troubled sea of life. So did David look right up to the deep serene of heaven and rest in God, the stable and abiding.

     Last of all, when none were his servants and all helpers failed him — when he was alone and none would do him homage, he found comfort in this thought— that all are God’s servants, that all the powers of nature wait upon the princes of the blood royal, and do homage to the children of the King of kings. You are not poor; your father is rich. You are not deserted; God is with you. You are not without helpers; the angels are bidden to keep watch and ward about you. Oh, that I could touch the mourner’s downcast eyes and let him see the mountain full of horses of fire and chariots of fire round about Elisha. Oh, that I could touch the heart of some of God’s desponding servants, and make them see how God is working for them even now, and how surely they shall be helped. Perhaps you remember the story of a conversation between the burgomaster in Hamburg and holy Mr. Oncken when he first began to preach. The burgomaster said to him, “Do you see that little finger, sir? While I can move that little finger, I will put the Baptists down.” Mr. Oncken said, “With all respect to your little finger, Mr. Burgomaster, I would ask you another question. Do you see that great arm?” “No, I do not see it.” “Just so,” said Mr. Oncken, “but I do; and while that great arm moves, you cannot put us down, and if it comes to a conflict between your little finger and that great arm, I know how it will end.” It was my great joy to see the burgomaster sitting in the Baptist chapel at Hamburg, among the audience that listened to my sermon at the opening of the new chapel. The little finger had willingly given up its opposition, and the great arm was made bare among us. Trust ye in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Jehovah there is everlasting strength. God bring us all to that, both saint and sinner, for Christ’s sake. Amen.