THE LUTHER SERMON AT EXETER-HALL

By / Jun 22

THE LUTHER SERMON AT EXETER-HALL.

“For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” — Galatians v. 6.

PAUL makes a clean sweep of that trust in the externals of religion which is the common temptation of all time. Circumcision was a great thing with the Jew, and oftentimes he trusted in it; but Paul declares that it availeth nothing. There might be others who were glad that they were not Jews, but Paul declares that their uncircumcision availeth no more than its opposite. Certain matters connected with godliness are external, and yet they are useful in their places: especially is that the case with baptism and the Lord’s supper, the assembling of ourselves together, the reading of the word, and public prayer and praise. These things are proper and profitable; but none of them must be made in any measure or degree the ground of our hope of salvation; for this text sweeps them all away, and plainly describes them as availing nothing if they are made to be the foundations of our trust.

     In Luther’s day superstitious confidence in external observances had overlaid faith in the gospel; ceremonies had multiplied excessively under the authority of the Pope, masses were said for souls in purgatory, and men were actually selling indulgences for sin in the light of day. When God raised up Martin Luther, who was born four centuries ago, he bore emphatic testimony against salvation by outward forms and by the power of priestcraft, affirming that salvation is by faith alone, and that the whole church of God is a company of priests, every believer being a priest unto God. If Luther had not affirmed it, the doctrine would have been just as true, for the distinction between clergy and laity has no excuse in Scripture, which calls the saints, “God’s kleros”— God’s clergy, or heritage. Again we read, “Ye are a royal priesthood.” Every man that believes in the Lord Jesus Christ is anointed to exercise the Christian priesthood, and therefore he need not put his trust in another, seeing the supposed priest is no more than any other man. Each man must be accountable for himself before God. Each one must read and search the Scriptures for himself, and must believe for himself, and when saved, he must offer up himself as a living sacrifice unto God by Jesus Christ, who is the only High Priest of our profession. So much for the negative side of the text, which is full of warning to this Ritualistic age.

     The chief testimony of our great Reformer was to the justification of a sinner in the sight of God by faith in Jesus Christ, and by that alone. He could fitly have taken this for his motto, “In Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” He was in the Augustinian monastery at Wittenberg troubled and perturbed in mind; and he read there, in an old Latin Bible, this text, — “The just shall live by faith.” It was a new idea to him, and by its means spiritual light entered his soul in some degree; but such were the prejudices of his up-bringing, and such the darkness of his surroundings, that he still hoped to find salvation by outward performances. He therefore fasted long, till he was found swooning from hunger. He was exceedingly zealous for salvation by works. At last he made a pilgrimage to Rome, hoping to find there everything that was holy and helpful: he was disappointed in his search, but yet found more than he looked for. On the pretended staircase of Pilate, while in the act of climbing it upon his knees, the Wittenberg text again sounded in his ear like a thunder-clap: “The just shall live by faith.” Up he started and descended those stairs, never to grovel upon them again. The chain was broken, the soul was free. Luther had found the light; and henceforth it became his life’s business to flash that light upon the nations, crying evermore, " The just shall live by faith.” The best commemoration which I can make of this man is to preach the doctrine which he held so dear, and you who are not saved can best assist me by believing the doctrine, and proving its truth in your own cases. May the Holy Ghost cause it to be so in hundreds of instances.   

     I. First, let us inquire WHAT IS THIS FAITH? We are always talking about it; but what is it? Whenever I try to explain it, I am afraid lest I should confuse rather than expound. There is a story told concerning John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Good Thomas Scott, the Commentator, wrote notes to it: he thought the “Pilgrim’s Progress” a difficult book, and he would make it clear. A pious cottager in his parish had the book, and she was reading it when her minister called. He said to her, “Oh, I see, you are reading Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ Do you understand it?” She answered innocently enough, “Oh, yes, sir, I understand Mr. Bunyan very well, and I hope that one day I shall be able to understand your explanations.” I am afraid lest you should say when I have done, “I understand what faith is, as I find it in the Bible, and one day, perhaps, I may be able to understand the preacher’s explanation of it.” Warned by this, I will speak as plainly as I can.

     And first, it is to be remembered that faith is not a mere creed holding. It is very proper to say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,” and so forth; but you may repeat all that and be no “believer” in the Scriptural sense of that term. Though the creed be true, it may not be true to you; it would have been the same to you if the opposite had been true, for you put the truth away like a paper in a pigeon-hole, and it has no effect upon you. “A very proper doctrine,” you say, “a very proper doctrine,” and so you put it to sleep. It does not influence your heart, nor affect your life. Do not imagine that the professing an orthodox creed is the same thing as faith in Christ. A truthful creed is desirable for many reasons; but if it be a dead, inoperative thing, it cannot bring salvation. Faith is belief of the truth; but it is more.

     Again, faith is not the mere belief that there is a God, though that we must have, for we cannot come to God except we “believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” We are to believe in God — that he is good, blessed, true, right, and therefore to be trusted, confided in, and praised. Whatever he may do, whatever he may say, God is not to be suspected, but believed in. You know what it is to believe in a man, do you not? to believe in a man so that you follow him, and confide in him, and accept his advice? In that same way faith believes in God— not only believes that he is, but finds rest in his character, his Son, his promise, his covenant, his word, and everything about him. Faith livingly and lovingly trusts in her God about everything. Especially must we believe in what God has revealed in Scripture — that it is verily and indeed a sure and infallible testimony to be received without question. We accept the Father’s witness concerning Jesus, and take heed thereto “as unto a light that shineth in a dark place.”   

     Faith has specially to believe in him who is the sum and substance of all this revelation, even Jesus Christ, who became God in human flesh that he might redeem our fallen nature from all the evils of sin, and raise it to eternal felicity. We believe in Christ, on Christ, and upon Christ; accepting him because of the record which God has given to us concerning his Son, that he is the propitiation for our sins. We accept God’s unspeakable gift, and receive Jesus as our all in all.

     If I wanted to describe saving faith in one word, I should say that it is trust. It is so believing God and so believing in Christ that we trust ourselves and our eternal destinies in the hands of a reconciled God. As creatures we look up to the great Father of spirits; as sinners we trust for the pardon of our sins to the atonement of Jesus Christ; as being weak and feeble we trust to the power of the Holy Spirit to make us holy and to keep us so; we venture our eternal interests in the vessel of free grace, content to sink or swim with it. We rely upon God in Christ. The word employed to set forth faith in the Scriptures sometimes signifies to lean. We lean with all our weight upon our God, in Jesus Christ. We hang upon Christ as a vessel hangs upon the nail. “Recumbency” was a term by which the old Puritans used to describe faith— a lying, or leaning upon, something out of ourselves. Guilty as I am, I believe God’s word, that “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin:” trusting to that blood I know that I am cleansed from all sin. God sets forth Christ to be a propitiation; we believe that he is a propitiation, and we take him to be our propitiation; by that appropriation our sin is covered and we are free. Faith is the grasping, the appropriating, the receiving into one’s self, of the Lord Jesus Christ. I sometimes illustrate it by that passage of Paul where he says, “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth.” When a morsel is in your mouth, if you desire to possess it so as never to lose it, what is the best thing to do? Swallow it. Let it go down into the inward parts. Now the word that we preach is, according to the Apostle, “in thy mouth”; suffer it then to go down into thy heart, and thou shalt find it true that “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” This is the faith which saves the soul.

     II. In the second place we will consider, WHY FAITH IS SELECTED AS THE WAY OF SALVATION?

     I would remind you that if we could not answer this question it would not matter; for since the Lord has appointed believing as the way of grace it is not ours to challenge his choice. Beggars must not be choosers: let us trust, if so the Lord ordains.

     But we can answer this question in a measure. First, it is clear that no other way is possible. It is not possible for us to be saved by our own merits, for we have broken the law already, and future obedience, being already due, cannot make up for past defects.

“Could my tears for ever flow,

   Could my zeal no respite know, 

 All for sin could not atone:

   Thou must save, and thou alone.”

The road of good works is blocked up by our past sins, and it is sure to be further blocked up by future sins: we ought therefore to rejoice that God has commended to us the open road of faith.

     God has chosen the way of faith that salvation might be by grace, if we had to do anything in order to save ourselves, we should be sure to impute a measure of virtue to our own doings, or feelings, or prayers, or almsgivings, and we should thus detract from the pure grace of God.  But salvation comes from God as a pure favour— an act of undeserved generosity and benevolence, and the Lord will, therefore, only put it into the hand of faith, since faith arrogates nothing to herself. Faith, in fact, disowns all idea of merit, and the Lord of grace therefore elects to place the treasure of his love in the hand of faith.

     Again, it is of faith that there may be no boasting; for if our salvation be of our doings or feelings, we are sure to boast; but, if it be of faith, we cannot glory in self. “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.”  Faith is humble, and ascribes all praise to God. Faith is truthful, and confesses her obligation to the sovereign grace of God.

     I bless the Lord that he has chosen this way of faith, because it is so suitable for poor sinners. Some among us to-night would never have been saved if salvation had only been prepared for the good and righteous.  I stood before my God guilty and self-condemned. No youth ever had a keener sense of guilt than I had. When I was convinced of sin I saw my thoughts and desires to be vile in the sight of God, and I became vile in my own eyes also. I was driven to despair; and I know that I could never have been cheered by any plan of salvation except that which is of faith. The covenant of works by reason of our weakness affords us no suitable way of hope at any time, but under certain circumstances we see this very vividly. Suppose that you were in the last article of death, what good works could you do? Yonder dying thief found it a happy thing that by faith he could trust the Crucified One, and before set of sun could be with him in Paradise. Faith is a way suitable for sinners, and especially for sinners who are soon to die; in some sense we are all in that condition, and some of us peradventure are especially so; for what man among us knows that he will see to-morrow’s dawn?

     I bless God again that the way of salvation is by faith, because it is a way open to the most unlearned. What fine theology we get now-a-days— deep thinking they call it. The men go down so deep into their subjects, and so stir the mud at the bottom, that you cannot see them and they cannot see themselves. I apprehend that teachers of a certain school do not themselves know what they are talking about. Now, if salvation were only to be learned by reading through huge folios, what would become of multitudes of poor souls in Bow, and Bethnal Green, and Seven Dials? If the gospel had consisted of a mass of learning, how could the unlearned be saved? But now we can go to each one of them and say, “Jesus died.”

“There is life in a look at the Crucified One;

 There is life at this moment for thee.”

However little you may know, you know that you have sinned; know, then, that Jesus has come to put away sin, and that whosoever believeth in him is immediately forgiven, and enters into life eternal. This brief and blessed gospel is suitable to all cases, from princes to peasants, and we wonder not that faith was selected as the way of salvation.

     III. But now, thirdly, I want to say a good deal to-night upon another question, How DOES FAITH OPERATE? For according to our text, it is “Faith which worketh by love.” It is a living, labouring, loving faith which alone saves the soul. I cannot tell you what hard things I have heard about this doctrine of salvation by faith. They say that it is immoral. I have heard immoral men say so, and surely they ought to know. They say that it will lead to sin; and those who say so would, I should think, be rather pleased with it for that reason if they believed their own statement. I have never heard a holy man charge faith with leading him into sin. I know no man that follows after God and lives near to him who is under fear that faith in God will tempt him to transgress. The fact is, faith does nothing of the kind; its action is most distinctly the reverse. Like the prudent wife in the Proverbs, faith will do a man good and no harm all the days of his life.

     First, it touches the mainspring of our nature by creating love within the soul. What is wanted now for the degraded classes in London? Sanitary regulations? Certainly, if they are not allowed to be a dead letter for the want of some one to carry them out. New houses? By all manner of means: the more the better. Lower rents? Assuredly, for no one has a right to get an excessive rent for unhealthy accommodation. Higher wages? Certainly, we could all of us do with a little more. Many other things are wanted. While yonder gin-palaces remain at the corners of the streets you will not make much headway in uplifting the masses; and I suppose the drink-shops will always flourish while the taste for drink remains. Suppose the licensed poison-shops were shut up, would that suffice? I think not. There are men and women in London, and thousands of them, who, if they were put into the cleanest houses, and were a mile off a gin-shop, would still drink and still turn their houses into piggeries. What is wanted? Oh, if you could make Christians of them! Suppose they could be born again. Suppose they could be made to love the things which they now hate, and hate the things which they now love. New hearts and right spirits are the need of London’s outcasts. How can these be produced? In the hand of God the Holy Ghost, this is exactly what faith works in the heart. Here is a watch. “It wants cleaning.” Yes, clean it. “It does not go now. It wants a new glass.” Well, put in a new glass. “It does not go any the more. It wants new hands.” Get new hands by all means. Still it does not go. What is the matter with it? The maker says that it needs a mainspring. There’s the seat of the evil: nothing can be right till that is rectified. Set all other matters going, but do not forget that the mainspring is the chief part of the business. Faith supplies the soul with a powerful spring of action. It says to the man, “Thou art forgiven through the blood of Christ who died for thee: how dost thou feel towards him ? ” The man replies, “I love the Lord for redeeming me.” Loving Jesus, the man has now within his soul the seed of every good. He will become a holier and a better being; for he has begun to love, and love is the mother of holiness. Is any service in the world like the service of love? You have a servant in your house, fawning and obsequious; but if you were to reduce his wages, he would show you the rough side of his tongue and seek another situation. You do not expect any more of him than that, and if you did, you would not get it. How different was an old servant I have heard of, who, when his master Went down in the world, was content with half-pay; and when he was sorrowfully told that he must go, for his master could not afford him clothes, he made his old ones last him, for he would not leave his master in his old age. He would rather have earned bread for his old master than have left him. He was an attached servant worth his weight in gold: there are few such servants now-a-days, for there are not many such masters. This kind of service cannot be purchased; but its price is above rubies. When the Lord leads us to believe in Jesus, we become henceforth his loving servants, and serve him not for reward, but out of gratitude. It is no longer -with us so much work and so much pay; we do not fear the threat of hell for disobedience, nor do we look to heaven as won by works. No, no; our salvation is a free gift. It is furnished for us through infinite love and supreme compassion, and therefore we return our heart’s warmest affection. Our heart clings to that dear side which was opened for us. We feel a tender love to those dear pierced feet; we could kiss them every day. Those blessed hands of the Crucified! If they do but touch us, we are strengthened, honoured, comforted. Jesus is altogether lovely to us, our bosom’s lord. Faith, instead of being a poor, paltry thing, as some imagine, is the grandest cause of love, and so of obedience and holiness.

     Know, again, that faith puts us into a new relation. We are bound by nature to be the servants of God; but faith whispers in our ear, Say ‘Our Father,’ ” and when the heart has received the Spirit of adoption, the aspect of service is entirely changed: mercenary service is succeeded by loving obedience, and our spirit is altered. To become an heir of God, a joint-heir with Jesus, is to elevate work into delight, labour into fellowship with God. The law is no fetter to a child of God: it is his delight.

     Faith removes from the soul that form of selfishness which aforetime seemed necessary. So you hope to be saved by what you do, do you? May I ask you, friend, whom you are serving in all this? I will tell you. You are serving yourself. All that you do is to win happiness for yourself. How, then, are you serving God? You are living a selfish life, though it be tinged with the colour of spirituality. What is done by you in the matter of religion has no object but that you may be saved, and go to heaven. Your most zealous work is all for self. Suppose I say to you, “I know that I am saved: I know that Jesus has put. away my sin: I know that he will not permit me to perish — why, then there is room in my case for the service of the Lord because of what he has done for me. Now I have not myself to save I have Christ to serve. Gratitude is the motive of the gospel, and under its power unselfish virtue is possible, but not upon the ground of legal service. Pure virtue, it seems to me, is a sheer impossibility till a man is saved, because it always must partake till then of the low and grovelling view of benefiting himself by what he is doing. When once the great transaction is done, and you are saved, then you are lifted up into a nobler sphere, and you say,

“Then why, O blessèd Jcsu Christ,

Should I not love thee well?

Not for the hope of winning heaven,

Nor of escaping hell;

“Not with the hope of gaining aught,

Not seeking a reward:

 But as thyself hast lovèd me,

O ever-loving Lord,

“So would I love thee, dearest Lord,

And in thy praise will sing;

Solely because thou art my God,

 And my Eternal King.”

Hence faith inspires us with a higher motive than the law can suggest.

     Faith soon creates love to man; for, if the Lord Jesus has saved you,, my brother, you will speedily desire that others may be saved also. You have tasted of this honey, and the sweetness upon your own tongue constrains you to invite others to the feast. He who has been brought into the liberty of free grace would set free every captive sinner if he could.

     When well worked out, faith means harmony with God. It creates an agreement with the divine will, so that whatever pleases God pleases us. If the Lord should set the believer on a dunghill with Job, he would still bless his name. Faith agrees with the divine precept which it desires to obey, with the divine doctrine which it desires to know and publish yea, whatsoever is of God faith saith, “It is the Lord, let him command,, teach, or do what seemeth him good.”

     I have shown you that faith is not the trifling principle which its deprecators describe as “Only believe.” Oh, that they knew what it is only to believe. It is the setting free of the mind from fetters. It is the dawn of heaven’s own day. It is a lifelong struggle, this “Only believe.” It is “the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”

     Brethren, I believe that a humble, persevering faith in God is one of the highest forms of adoration that ever reaches the throne of God. Though cherubim and seraphim salute the Lord with their “Holy, holv, holy”; though the whole host of shining ones surround the throne with perpetual hallelujahs, there is no more hearty reverence given to God thereby than when a poor sinner, black as night, cries believingly, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” To believe in the pardon of sin is a wonderful adoration of the mercy and power of God. To believe in a constant providence is a sweet way of worshipping God in his power and goodness. When a poor labourer in his cottage, needing bread for his children, kneels down and cries, “Lord, it is written, ‘Thy bread shall be given thee, and thy water shall be sure,’ I believe thy word, and therefore I look to thee in my necessity,” he renders a homage to the truth and faithfulness of God such as Gabriel could not give, for he never knew the pinch of hunger. To believe that God will keep us to the end and raise us to his glory is more honouring to God than all the hymns of the glorified. From us dying sons of earth, when we confide in his promise, there arises up to heaven incense of a sweet smell, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

     To my mind there is also this about faith— that it has a marvellous power over God. Do you ask me to retract that expression? Let it stand. I will explain it. Faith overcomes the Highest upon his throne. Faith in an inferior can hold a superior fast. Some years ago I was walking in the garden one evening, and I saw a stray dog about whom I had received information that he was in the habit of visiting my grounds, and that he did not in the least assist the gardener, and therefore his attentions were not desired. As I walked along one Saturday evening meditating upon my sermon, I saw this dog busily doing mischief. I threw my stick at him, and told him to go home. But what do you think he did? Instead of grinding his teeth at me, or hurrying off with a howl, he looked at me very pleasantly, took up my stick in his mouth and brought it to me, and then, wagging his tail, he laid the stick at my feet. The tears were in my eyes: the dog had beaten me. I said, “Good dog! Good dog; you may come here when you like after that.” Why had the dog conquered me? Because he had confidence in me, and would not believe that I could mean him any hurt. To turn to grander things: the Lord himself cannot resist humble confidence. Do you not see how a sinner brings, as it were, the rod of justice to the Lord, and cries, “If thou smite me, I deserve it; but I submit to thee.” The great God cannot spurn a trustful heart. It is impossible. He were not God if he could cast the soul away that implicitly relies on him. This is the power of faith, then, and I marvel not that the Lord should have chosen it, for believing is a thing most pleasing to God. O that you would all trust him! God lifts his sword against you— run into his arms. He threatens you— grasp his promise. He pursues you— fly to his dear Son. Trust at the foot of the cross in his full atonement, and you must be saved.

     IV. Now, I am going to finish in a way suitable to this Luther memorial. You have heard a great deal about Luther’s preaching salvation by faith alone. Now, LET US TURN TO LUTHER'S LIFE, and see what Luther himself meant by it. What kind of faith did Luther himself exhibit by which he was justified?

     First, in Luther’s case, faith led him to an open avowal of what he believed. Luther did not mean to go up to heaven by the back stairs, as many young men hope to do. You wish to be Christians on the sly, so as to escape the offence of the cross. Luther did not refuse to confess Christ and take up his cross and follow him. He knew that he who with his heart believeth, must also with his mouth make confession, and he did so right nobly. He began teaching and preaching the truth which had enlightened his own soul. One of his sermons displeased Duke George of Saxony; but as it saved a lady of high rank Luther did not fret. He was not the man to conceal truth because it was dangerous to avow it. Tetzel came with his precious indulgences, and his releases for souls in purgatory. Thousands of good Catholics were indignant; but no one would bell the cat. Luther called Tetzel “servant of Pope and of the devil,” and declared, “As he came among us practising on the credulity of the people, I could not refrain from protesting against it, and opposing his odious career.” Without mincing words, or attempting to speak politely, Luther went at him fearless of consequences. He believed in the blessings of grace “without money and without price,” and he did not conceal his convictions. He nailed his theses to the church door where all might read them. When astronomers require a new constellation in the heavens let it be “the hammer and nails.” O you who make no profession, let this man’s outspoken faith rebuke you!

     His dauntless valour for truth caused him to be greatly hated in his own day with a ferocity which has not yet died out. Luther is still the best hated man in certain quarters. Witness the vile tracts which have been produced during the last fortnight, to the disgrace of the press which they defile. I can say no worse nor better of them than that they are worthy of the cause in whose interest they are issued. Mention the name of Luther and the bond-slaves of Rome gnash their teeth. This intense ill-feeling proves Luther’s power. Young men, I do not know what your ambition may be; but I hope you do not wish to be in – this world mere chips in the porridge, giving forth no flavour whatever. My ambition does not run in that line. I know that if I have no intense haters, I can have no intense lovers; and I am prepared to have both. When right-hearted men see honest love of truth in a man, they cry, “He is our brother. Let him be our champion.” When the wrong-hearted reply, “Down with him!” we thank them for the unconscious homage which they thus pay to decision of character. No child of God should court the world’s approbation. Certainly Luther did not. He pleased God, and that was enough for him.

     His faith was of this kind also— that it moved him to a hearty reverence for what he believed to be Holy Scripture. I am sorry that he was not always wise in his judgment of what the Bible contains; but yet to him Scripture was the last court of appeal. If any had convinced Luther of error out of that book, he would gladly have retracted; but that was not their plan, they simply said, “He is a heretic; condemn him or make him retract.” To this he never yielded for an instant. Alas, in this age numbers of men are setting up to be their own inspired writers. I have been told that every man who is his own lawyer has a fool for his client; and I am inclined to think that, when any man sets up to be his own Saviour and his own revelation, much the same thing occurs. That conceited idea is in the air at this present: every man is excogitating his own Bible. Not so Luther. He loved the sacred book! He fought by its help. It was his battle-axe and his weapon of war. A text of Scripture fired his soul; but the words of tradition he rejected. He would not yield to Melancthon, or Zwingle, or Calvin, or whoever it might be, however learned or pious; he took his own personal faith to the Scripture, and according to his light he followed the word of the Lord. May many a Luther be in this place!

     The next thing I note was the intense activity of his faith. Luther did not believe in God doing his own work, so as to lie by in idleness himself. Not a bit of it. A disciple once said to Mahomet, “I am going to turn my camel loose, and trust in providence.” “No,” said Mahomet, “ trust in providence, but tie up your camel carefully.” This resembled Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan precept, “Trust in God, but keep your powder dry.” Luther believed above most men in keeping his powder dry. How he worked! By pen, by mouth, by hand; he was energetic almost beyond belief. He seemed a many-handed man. He did works which would have taxed the strength of hundreds of smaller men. He worked as if everything depended upon his own activity, and then he fell back in holy trust upon God as though he had done nothing. This is the kind of faith which saves a man both in this life and in that which is to come.

     Again, Luther's faith abounded in prayer. What supplications they were! Those who heard them tell us of his tears, his wrestlings, his holy arguments. He would go into his closet heavy at heart, and remain there an hour or two, and then come forth singing, “I have conquered, I have conquered.” “Ah,” said he one day, “I have so much to do today that I cannot get through it with less than three hours’ prayer.” I thought he was going to say, “I cannot afford to give even a quarter of an hour to prayer;” but he increased his prayer as he increased his labour. This is the faith that saves— a faith that lays hold on God and prevails with him in private supplication.

     His was a faith that delivered him entirely from the fear of man. Duke George is going to stop him. “Is he?” said Luther. “If it were to rain Duke Georges I would go.” He is exhorted not to go to Worms, for he will be in danger. If there were as many devils in Worms as there were tiles on the house-tops he would be there. And he was there, as you all know, playing the man for the gospel and for his God. He committed himself to no man, but kept his faith in God pure and -unmingled. Popes, emperors, doctors, electors were all as nothing to Luther when they stood against the Lord. Be it so with us also.

     His was a faith that made him risk all for the truth. There seemed no hope of his ever coming back from Worms alive. He was pretty sure to be burned like John Huss; and the wonder is that he escaped. His very daring brought him safety from peril. He expressed his regret that the crown of marytrdom would, in all probability, be missed by him; but the faith which is prepared to die for Jesus was within him. He who in such a case saves his life shall lose it, but he that loses his life for Christ’s sake shall find it unto life eternal.

     This was the faith that made Luther a man among men, and saved him from priestly affectations. I do not know whether you admire what is thought to be very superior religion: it is a thing of beauty, but not of use; it ought always to be kept in a glass case; it is made up for drawing-rooms and religious meetings, but would be out of place in a shop or on a farm. Now, Luther’s religion was with him at home, at the table as well as in the pulpit. His religion was part and parcel of his common life, and that life was free, open, bold, and unrestrained. It is easy to find fault with him from the superfine standpoint, for he lived in an honest unguardedness. My admiration kindles as I think of the hearty openness of the man. I do not wonder that even ungodly Germans revere him, for he is all a German, and all a man. When lie speaks he does not take his words out of his mouth to look at them, and to ask Melancthon whether they will do; but he hits hard, and he has spoken a dozen sentences before he has thought whether they are polished or not. Indeed, he is utterly indifferent to criticism, and speaks what he thinks and feels. He is at his ease, for he feels at home: is lie not everywhere in his great Father’s house? Has he not a pure and simple intent to speak the truth and do the right?

     I like Luther with a wife and children. I like to see him with his family and a Christmas-tree, making music with little Johnny Luther on his knee. I love to hear him sing a little hymn with the children, and tell his pretty boy about the horses in heaven. with golden bridles and silver saddles. Faith had not taken away his manhood, but sanctified it to noblest uses. Luther did not live and move as if he were a mere cleric, but as a brother to our common humanity. After all, brethren, you must know that the greatest divines have to eat bread and butter like other people. They shut their eyes before they sleep, and they open them in the morning, just like other folks. This is matter of fact, though some stilted gentleman might like us to doubt it. They feel ' and think like other men. Why should they seem as if they did not? Is it not a good thing to eat and drink to the glory of God, and show people that common things can be sanctified by the word of God and prayer? What if we do not wear canonicals, and so on? The best canonicals in the world are thorough devotion to the Lord’s work; and if a man lives aright, he makes every garment a vestment, every meal a sacrament, and every house a temple. All our hours are canonical, all our days holy days, every breath is incense, every pulse music for the Most High.

     They tell us that Luther ignored good works. It is true he would not allow good works to be spoken of as the means of salvation; but of those who professed faith in Jesus he demanded holy lives. Luther abounded in 'prayer and charity. What an almsgiver Luther was! I fear he did not at all times duly regard the principles of the Charity Organization Society. As he goes along, if there are beggars he empties his pockets for them. Two hundred crowns have just come in, and, though he has a family about him, he cries, “Two hundred crowns! God is giving me my portion in this life.” “Here,” says he to a poor brother minister, “take half. And where are the poor? Fetch them in. I must be rid of this!” I am afraid that his Catherine was forced at times to shake her head at him; for, in truth, he was not always the most economical husband that might be. In almsgiving he was second to none, and in all the duties of life he rose far beyond the level of his age. Like all other men he had his faults; but as his enemies harp on that string, and go far beyond the truth, I need not dwell upon his failings. I wish that the detractors of Luther were half as good as he. All the glory of his grand career be unto the Lord alone.

     Lastly, Luther’s faith was a faith that helped him under struggles that are seldom spoken of. I suppose that never man had greater soul conflict than Luther. He was a man of heights and depths. Sometimes he went up to heaven and he sang his hallelujahs; and then he went down again into the abyss with his “misereres.” I am afraid that, great, vigorous man that he was, he had a bad liver. He was grievously afflicted in body in ways which I need not mention; and he was sometimes laid aside for months together, being so racked and tortured that he longed to die. His pains were extreme, and we wonder how he endured them so well. But ever between the attacks of illness Luther was up again preaching the word of God. Those desperate struggles with the devil would have crushed him but for his faith. The devil seems to have been constantly assailing him, and he was constantly assailing the devil. In that tremendous duel he fell back upon his Lord, and, trusting in Omnipotence, he put Satan to rout.

     Young men, I pray that a Luther may spring up from your ranks. How gladly would the faithful welcome him! I, who am more a follower of Calvin than of Luther, and much more a follower of Jesus than of either of them, would be charmed to see another Luther upon this earth. God bless you, brethren, for Christ’s sake. Amen.



Renewing Strength

By / Jun 22

Renewing Strength

 

“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”— Isaiah xl. 31.

 

HUMAN strength is of many kinds, but in any form it will spend itself in due time. God can lend to men immense physical force; but though a man had the strength of a lion and an ox combined, he would one day fail. The force of flesh must fade like the grass to which it is likened. Samson sometimes becomes exhausted, and he is like to die of thirst, though he has slain a thousand men; yea more, he must ultimately die and his mighty thews and tremendous muscles must yield to the worm and return to the dust of death. Since even granite and iron yield to constant wear and tear, assuredly man’s frail body cannot long be a thing of strength.

“Our days a transient period run,
And change with every circling sun;
And while to lengthen’d years we trust,
Before the moth we sink to dust.”

     Mental strength is a noble possession, but it also fails its owner, for at best it is a finite power. The wisest of men by-and-by feel the infirmities of age creeping upon them, and frequently present the sad spectacle of second childhood. Death pays no regard to science or eloquence. The fool dies, and as surely dies the senator, the philosopher, the divine. When you take up the skull of a sage, you find no weight of wisdom there, nor trace of all the curious, movements of a potent brain. Knowledge, genius, imagination, prophetic fire, all depart; even before death they often fail. Baffled by mysteries, balked by prejudice, blinded by pride, the man of great understanding may yet be driven to his wit’s end.

     So far as even spiritual strength is of the man, himself, so far as you can conceive of it apart from the immediate operation of the Holy Ghost, it also cannot be depended on. The most devout may grow lukewarm, the strongest believer may doubt, the most sanctified may backslide; it is a heavenly strength, but so far as it is transfused into our humanity and becomes a part of ourselves, it also may wax weak, though, blessed be God, it can never utterly die.

     Every form of human strength must of necessity spend itself, for the world of which it forms a part decays, and by-and-by, like a worn-out vesture, the heavens and the earth shall be rolled up and put away. Some signs of age the creatures show already, but the time will come when their strength shall utterly fail. The reason is that all strength apart from God is derived strength, and is consequently measurable; yea, apart from God it is not strength at all, and consequently must come to an end. The river runs on and the brook fails not, because they come from fountains that are not affected by drought; but cisterns are dried and reservoirs fail, because they have no springing well at the bottom of them; and if the pipes which supply them cease to flow, they are soon left dry as a threshing-floor. Pools which are not self-supplied are always liable to be exhausted as the water is drained from them. Let every man know therefore that whatever his strength may be, of body, mind, or spirit, if it be his own it will fail him one day. Let him see to it therefore that he does not trust it; especially that he does not trust it with eternal hazards or rest upon it for his soul’s safety, for which it never can be equal. It will be a horrible thing to be leaning and to find your staff fail you when you are on the edge of a measureless precipice. It will be terrible to be building and to find your foundation washed from under you, and all your handiwork carried away by the flood! Yet so it must be if we are depending upon anything that comes of ourselves. Our own righteousness, our own thoughts, our own religiousness, our own prayers, resolves, attainments, achievements,— everything that is of ourselves must sooner or later prove themselves to be but human , and over all things human it is best to write, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Mingled with all things human there are portions of that all-dissolving acid which fall upon man’s nature when infinite justice said, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

     On the other hand, what a contrast there is as to divine strength! That never fails. It seems almost a superfluity to say as much as that: it abides in joyous fulness, never in the least diminished. With God there are no years to make him decline with age, no labours to tax his powers. With God our lives are but as the swing of the pendulum. A thousand years in his sight are passed away as a watch in the night. Millions of ages are nothing to him. He was God when as yet this sun, and moon, and all these stars slept in his thought like unborn forests in an acorn cup; and he will be God when all this brief creation shall melt back to nothing as a moment’s foam dissolves into the wave that bore it and is lost for aye. God changes not in any degree whatever: the fountain of his almightiness still overflows. He made this world; no doubt he has made thousands more; and has still an undiminished power to create. All the worlds that we can see revolving in yonder sky are perhaps as a single chamber in the mansion-house of creation: they occupy an insignificant corner behind the door, compared to other and vaster worlds that he has made. But the glorious Lord is just as ready to make more: he is still the same for ever and for ever. In your dire necessity you may draw largely upon him, but you cannot exhaust him. You may bring your boundless wants and have them all supplied, but you shall no more diminish his all-sufficiency than when an infant dips his cup into the sea and leaves the sea brimming over upon ten thousand leagues of shore. Oh, the glory of the strength of God! I cannot speak of it. I will not contrast it with the strength of man. It would be to contrast everything with nothing, and infinity with non-existence.

     What then? These two things seem very far away— man with his faintness, his strength gradually drying up: God with his eternity and inexhaustible omnipotence. If we can bring these two together, if by an act of faith you that are human can be linked with the divine, what a wondrous thing will happen! Then the sacred words of the text will be fulfilled and your strength will be renewed. Apt as it is to dry up, it will be renovated, freshened, filled up, increased, established. From the eternal deep beneath that lieth under— that deep of which Moses said that “coucheth beneath”— from that measureless fountain shall you draw strength which all eternity will not exhaust. You are weakness itself, but if you are united to the divine strength you shall be infinitely strong. The cipher is nothing, but with a unit before it it becomes ten. A man is nothing, but with God in him he makes hell tremble.

     Now that is just my text, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” If they are apart from God their strength will die out; but when they are linked to God, and wait upon God for everything, casting their nothingness upon his omnipotence, then shall they find their strength renewed. With God in him though the man were dead yet shall he live. Job says, “My bow was renewed in my hand.” Grass cut down shall grow again when heaven’s dew shall quicken it. The brook that was ready to dry up shall flow again when heaven remembers it and unseals its treasures. The skies that burned like brass shall be cooled with clouds again when the Lord thinks upon them. When the heart drinks life from the heart of God, and man is at one with his Maker, then all is well.

“From God, the overflowing spring,
Our souls shall drink a fresh supply;
While those who trust their native strength
Shalt melt away and droop and die.”

     I have now to speak from my text, first, upon how a true church may be described. “They that wait upon the Lord.” Secondly, upon what such a church needs: to renew its strength; and, thirdly, how such a church may renew its strength, and that is by waiting upon the Lord. That which serves as a description of true believers serves also as a direction to true believers: They that wait upon the Lord are the men who may most hopefully be encouraged still to wait upon the Lord that their strength may be renewed.

     I. First, then, here WE SEE HOW A TRUE CHURCH MAY BE DESCRIBED; “They that wait upon the Lord.”

     A church such as a church ought to be, consists of men who depend upon the Lord alone, for waiting signifies dependence. Their hope is in God. They rest in God’s righteousness as their righteousness, and they receive the great sacrifice provided by God to be their atonement and their acceptance. No man is really a Christian who finds his hope and confidence within himself; he must be looking out of himself to God in Christ Jesus. It is absolutely essential that it should be so. He that is God’s beloved is a believer in God; that is to say, a truster in God, a waiter upon God. His one sole confidence is in God his Saviour. This being so with each individual, the whole church can sing,

“Our spirits look to God alone,
Our rock and refuge is his throne;
In all our fears, in all our straits
Our soul on his salvation waits.”

If Christians are what they ought to be, they depend upon God alone in their church capacity. God’s word is their only creed: they do not add to it anything whatever— no, not a sentence, a gloss, or a thought. They have greatly erred who look upon anything as the authoritative standard of faith but God’s own word. I hear you say, “Do you not respect the Thirty-nine Articles?” However much or little I may respect them, it makes no difference to the fact that the church of God is not bound to any faith but that which God himself has revealed. “But the Westminster Assembly’s Confession?” It must be treated in the same manner. That summary of doctrine is very admirable; but human creeds, as such, have nothing on earth to do with me. The point I have to do with is this, What does God say? What does his Word say? Within the covers of the Bible you find all theology. Nothing outside of this Book is binding on a Christian man as doctrine in the least degree whatever. The Bible and the Bible alone is the religion of Christians. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” This word has life within it which rules in the souls of the Lord's elect. Blessed be the Spirit of God who dictated it; we yield implicit faith to all that he has revealed, and to nothing else. A true church of God will say, “We wait upon the Lord for teaching; this word of the Lord is to us our infallible source of doctrine, and that alone.” Those who wait upon the Lord for their creed shall never need to give up their faith for something better, but they shall renew their strength.

     Faithful to her Lord in doctrine, a true church also waits upon the Lord for grace, and has faith in the doctrines of grace as the testimony with which she is to work. What am I to teach to my people if I am a Christian minister? If a church is rightly constituted, it says to the pastor, “Teach you what God has taught. Preach Christ crucified. Preach not your own thoughts, nor notions of your own inventing, but what is revealed of God— preach you that, for it shall be the power of God unto salvation.” I am always sorry when, in order to promote a revival, false doctrine is preached. I will preach no false doctrine if I know it— no, not to save the world. Of this I am assured that, if the truth will not save a man, a lie will not. If the bare unaltered truth of God will not break a man’s heart, then it certainly will not break it when it is rounded and toned down and made to look pretty so as to suit the prevailing taste. No, a church that waits upon the Lord uses only the doctrine of Scripture as its battle-axe and weapons of war.

     A church that is waiting upon the Lord always knows where its strength lies, namely, in its God. What is the power with which men are to be converted? Eloquence, say some. The church of God says, “Not so. Not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord.” I solemnly believe that so much of human oratory as there is in a sermon, so much there is of the weakness of the flesh; for all the power must be of God working with the truth, through the Holy Ghost. Therefore we should use great plainness of speech and never speak for the sake of the language, but always for the sake of the truth we have to say, that God may bless it to the hearts of men. No man in this world was ever converted except by the Holy Spirit, and never will any man be truly converted by any other power. Bang your drum, brother, and blow your brass instrument if you like but neither cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, nor any other kind of music, will ever save a soul. Deck your altar, out as prettily as you like, and burn your most fragrant incense, but no soul ever finds heaven by the light of candles nor by the scent of censers. The gospel has salvation in it when the Holy Spirit works by it, but no other doctrine can save. The Spirit of the Lord alone must bless the truth, and he will bless the truth alone. This is the church’s sole power with souls. Now, you Christian people that are trying to do good and glorify God, I pray you wait upon the Lord, and resolve that you will only go to God’s work armed with God’s truth and backed up by God’s Spirit. Many in these days think that we want a great deal besides the Spirit of God, but they are in error. They think that the world is not to be converted and men saved in the old-fashioned way of preaching the Word of God with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; but let me assure you that it is to be converted in that way and in no other. Human agriculture is capable of daily improvement, but as the plans of the great Husbandman are perfect from the first, you may be sure that there will be no change in them. You may go through the world ranting and raving, or you may go arguing and discussing, but you cannot touch a dead heart to make it alive either by excitement or by philosophy. You cannot breathe into the nostrils of a dead soul the life eternal, though your winds should blow hot with fanaticism, or chill with rationalism. Spiritual life can only come in God’s way, and it is God’s way by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. From the gospel pulpit believing preachers work more miracles than your learned men will ever believe. God’s word will not return unto him void; but man’s word is void when it goes forth, and void it remains to the end of the chapter. The magicians and their enchantments cannot compare with the rod of Moses. One word of the Lord is stronger than all the rage of hell or the enmity of the world. We mean, whatever others do, to keep to “waiting upon the Lord,” going to work in the Lord’s way, and depending upon the Lord’s power and upon that alone.  

     But waiting upon God means something more than dependence upon God; so I go a step farther: if we depend upon God our expectation is from him. We wait upon God as the birds in the nest wait upon the parent bird, expecting from her their food. Before she comes you hear their cries, and when she comes if you look into the nest you will see nothing but so many gaping mouths, all waiting, expecting to be filled by the mother-bird. Now, that is just what a church of God ought to be— a company of wide-opened mouths waiting to be filled by the Lord alone. “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it,” says the Lord. Do you not think that some churches, and some Christians, with very small expectations, have scarcely learned to open their mouths at all? If the Lord were to convert a soul now and then, they would be pleased and express a grateful surprise; but do they expect to hear of hundreds added to the church at a time, or of thousands in a year brought to Christ? No, they think this may be done in some extraordinary instances in very large places, but they do not expect it in their gatherings. Oh, friends, let us expect more of God, and we shall receive more. Does he not always come up to our expectations? Does he not amaze us with the blessings of his goodness? Is he not able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or even think? I find it such a blessing to have expecting people about me, for they make a flourishing church. Some brethren here at this time are men of great expectations, for even now while I am preaching they are planning whereabouts they will be in the aisle to talk with folk going out; they reckon that some will be converted by the word, and they are on the look-out to pick them up. These brethren are grieved and surprised if after a service they do not meet with one or two enquirers or convicted sinners, that they may join with them in tearful prayer. They are believers in the power of the gospel, and they act accordingly. When I fire the gun they are on the alert to pick up the birds, for they believe in the killing power of the Word. They could not be content with ineffectual preaching: they expect that the Word will be fruitful, and so they bring their basket to put the fruit in. Oh, if a church would but wait upon God in this sense of expecting great things from him, it should have them; for he will never allow his people to complain that he has been a wilderness to them. He will never raise their hopes to dash them to the ground. Is there any man alive who has believed in the Lord too largely, and expected too confidingly? Brother ministers, let us begin to expect more: not from our ministry because it is powerful, for it is nothing of the kind by itself; but from God’s ministry through us, for if he speak by us why should not men yield to his voice though they will not yield to ours? If he be with us, can he not make us hammers that shall break the rocks in pieces? Can he not use even us to be as a fire to melt the iron hearts of men? So then a true church depends upon God and expects from God, and in this sense answers to the description— “They that wait upon the Lord.”  

     To make up waiting, I think there is a third thing, and that is patience— to hold out, and wait the Lord’s time and will. The three together— dependence, expectation, patience— make up waiting upon the Lord. This “patience” is to the uttermost desirable in a thousand matters, that we may endure affliction, persevere in holiness, continue in hope, and abide in our integrity. Patience is the long life of virtue, and sets on its head the crown of experience. It is no child’s play to continue to suffer affliction with joyful ness, and to remain for years perfectly acquiescent in the will of the Lord, let that will be what it may. It needs the eyes of faith to see God in the dark, to believe in his love when he is angry, and to rest in his promise when it tarries long. That little word WAIT is a word fit for a father in Christ, and cometh not out of the mouth of a babe in grace. Let us ask for grace to pronounce it aright.

“Wait, my soul, upon the Lord,
To his gracious promise flee,
Laying hold upon his word,
‘As thy day, thy strength shall be.’”

     Some of my dear brethren in Christ are ardent followers of Christ, but they do not seem to have learned the meaning of that word “patience.” They are working for Christ, and they are depending upon the Lord, and they are looking for results; but when they do not quite see them immediately, straightway they are offended and depressed. They are in such a hurry that they seem half inclined to cry “Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” I daresay that you were much the same when you were children: you wanted everything there and then, and waiting was dismal work to you. We are all impatient as long as we are imperfect. It is the mark of the child that he is in a violent hurry where men are steady. Perhaps our father gave us some seed, and we hastened to sow it. We put in a little mustard and cress one morning, and then we thought that we would eat it for tea, but as we saw no sign of green we went and turned over the earth to see if the seed was sprouting. We were greatly surprised to find that it had not grown up green and ready to cut: we did not understand that the husbandman waiteth. We had a little apple tree, and we put it in the ground. The planting of that tree was a grand affair, and we reckoned upon many puddings being made out of the apples gathered from it next year. We were sadly surprised to see that the apples did not come. Yes, that is the spirit of children: their name is Passion, and not Patience; they live in the present hour, and have no power to extend themselves into days to come. The Lord sometimes sends ns speedy results to our labours; it happens at times that the moment we speak conversions are wrought; but at other times it is not so— the truth works slowly and surely, and effects all the more precious results. We must wait for seed to grow, and for fruit to ripen. If we really wait upon the Lord we shall just keep on, resolved to abide in duty, determined to remain in prayer, undaunted in confidence, unmoved in expectation. We shall not fly into a passion with the Lord, and refuse to believe him any more, neither shall we run off to novelties, and fall into the fads and crazes of the day, to try this and to try that, because God’s own way is a failure; but we shall say, I have done what God bade me. I have done it in dependence upon his Spirit, and I believe that good will come of it; and therefore I shall wait and watch. I shall be found moving when God moves; or sitting still when the Lord tarries; but I am sure that he will not fail the soul that waits upon him; all will be well; the blessing will come. What a sweet thing is the calm leisure of faith!— “He that believeth shall not make haste.” Fret and worry, hurry and haste, are all slain by the hand of faith. God has plenty of time: nay, he fills eternity; and therefore he can bear with man’s waywardness with much longsuffering. You and I are in feverish haste, but when we get to be linked with God we also can wait, even as God waiteth to be gracious, and hath patient compassion upon men.

     That is a description of what a Christian ought to be, “waiting upon the Lord:” depending upon God, expecting from God, and patiently tarrying for God, till he shall give the desired blessing.

     II. But now, secondly, we see WHAT THE LORD’S WAITING PEOPLE NEED. They need to renew their strength. Even those saints that wait upon God for everything, may grow faint, and require reviving.

     And that is, first, because they are human. As long as you and I are mortal we shall be mutable; as the world is full of changes, so are we. Some friends never seem to be either high or low in their feelings: their life has neither hills nor valleys in it, but is comparable to an unbroken plain: they traverse a perpetual level. It is not so with others of us: we are all Alps and Andes. These favoured pilgrims march steadily and evenly through the world, always at one pitch and pace; but others of us who mount up into the heavens in burning zeal and holy joy. go low, very low down, into the depths, till our soul sinketh because of sorrow. The best and bravest of the saints are poor creatures. Elijah on the top of Carmel, when he has brought fire from heaven, cries, “Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” Hear him, as he pleads with God, and unlocks the treasury of the rain. See him gird up his loins, and run before the chariot of Ahab. There is a man for you! If ever hero- worship might be tolerated, it is in the case of “this my lord Elijah.” Look not too closely at the champion, for within twenty-four hours he is afraid of Jezebel; and soon he is whining, “O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” Do you blame him? Do you fail to understand so sad a stoop from so great a height. Take heed of censuring a man so greatly approved of God as to be spared the pains of death. If you do as well as Elijah did, perhaps you may hear some nobodies blaming you in your hour of exhaustion; but as for me I cannot censure him, nor can any man that has ever enjoyed the heavenly delirium of high-strung zeal in the Master’s service, and having been borne ‘aloft on eagle’s wings, at last falls upon the earth in absolute exhaustion. After high excitement there will come reaction. Creatures whose home is on the earth cannot always live upon the wing: they must feel faint at times; and hence the necessity of this blessed promise, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” They will rise again: from their deepest depressions they will leap into supreme elevations: they shall dwell on the heights, they shall soar above the clouds. The very depths to which they dive are prophetic of the heights to which they will climb again. The Lord has said, “I will bring again from the depths of the sea.”

     They need renewing, also, because in addition to being human they are imperfect. The sin that dwells in us drags us down. However high we have ascended when we have walked in the light, still we have needed that the blood of Christ should cleanse us from all sin. Our natural corruption, and the imperfection and infirmity of our flesh are about us still, and these bring us down at times till we say with David, “I am this day weak, though anointed king. What a blessing it is that failing, flagging, fainting, falling spirits, by waiting upon the Lord, shall renew their strength! Even those who actually fall shall be recovered. “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.” Though our sands run very low, God shall fill the glass again, and the believing man shall again rejoice in the Lord, and have confidence in the God of his salvation. Because we are human and imperfect, we cannot always be at our best: the sky is not always clear; the sea is not always at flood; the year is not always at summer; the sun is not always in the zenith; the moon is not always at her full; the tree is not always adorned with fruit; the vineyard does not always flow with wine; roses do not always blush, nor lilies always bloom. Creatures have their rises and their falls, and to us also there must be times when we need to renew our strength; and we shall renew it, for here the promise comes, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”

     Brethren, I will suppose that I am addressing some who have become weak and failing. You must renew your strength. It must be renewed, for otherwise it will decline still further, and this would be painful, dangerous, and dishonouring. The Lord would not have us utterly fail, nor fall prone upon the ground in the heavenly race; therefore, to those who have no might, he increaseth strength.

     We must renew our strength, for it is for our honour, comfort, and safety. It is not to a Christian’s credit that he should be weak. The glory of a man is his strength, and especially is his spiritual strength his honour. It is not for your comfort to be weak. When a man is feeble, he becomes a burden to himself; his sadness makes him stoop; he is feeble-minded, and ready to halt. “A wounded spirit who can bear?” It is not for your usefulness that you should be weak. What can you do for others when you yourself can hardly stand? It is not for your safety that you should be weak; for you will be liable to many attacks, and open to many injuries from sin, and extremely likely to be overcome by temptation. Blessed is that man who is “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” To him the joy of the Lord is his strength. The Lord Jehovah is his strength and his song; he also has become his salvation.

     It is for God’s glory, and for our own usefulness, that we should be strong; and if we fall into decline and weakness, pray do not let us stop there. Let us try to escape from a spiritual consumption. If I address believers, who lament that the whole church with which they are connected is getting weak, I charge them not to sillier it to be so with themselves. Brothers, shun a spiritual wasting away. A pining sickness is an awful disease for a church to die of. Do not linger in such a state. Up with you, and cry mightily unto the Lord, and you shall yet be restored; for it is written, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”

     At this time I should be very glad if this dear church, over which the Holy Ghost has made me an overseer, would have its strength renewed. Our ministry wants renewal that it may be fuller of power and grace. How weak it is if God be even a little withdrawn! Our Sunday school work requires constant renewal. Everything around us needs to be renewed, and revived, and refreshed; and just at this time I wish that it might be laid on the hearts of the members of the church to pray that we might renew our strength. Your minister grows old; not very old in natural age, it is true, but thirty years of continuous labour in preaching to so vast a congregation has taken much more out of his strength than almost any other form of service would have done; and therefore ho needs to be invigorated again— physically, mentally, and spiritually. Many of you are in a like condition, and need that your strength be renewed like the eagle’s. This can be done for us all by that great Master, in whose hand the residue of the Spirit abides. He can lay his hand on us, and say, “Be strong, Fear not.” He can strengthen us to a degree of force far beyond our previous experience. The members of the church, and the officers of the church all desire, I know, that they mortal we shall be mutable; as the world is full of changes, so are we. Some friends never seem to be either high or low in their feelings: their life has neither hills nor valleys in it, but is comparable to an unbroken plain: they traverse a perpetual level. It is not so with others of us: we are all Alps and Andes. These favoured pilgrims march steadily and evenly through the world, always at one pitch and pace; but others of us who mount up into the heavens in burning zeal and holy joy, go low, very low down, into the depths, till our soul sinketh because of sorrow. The best and bravest of the saints are poor creatures. Elijah on the top of Carmel, when he has brought fire from heaven, cries, “Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” Hear him, as he pleads with God, and unlocks the treasury of the rain. See him gird up his loins, and run before the chariot of Ahab. There is a man for you! If ever hero- worship might be tolerated, it is in the case of “this my lord Elijah.” Look not too closely at the champion, for within twenty-four hours he is afraid of Jezebel; and soon he is whining, “O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” Do you blame him? Do you fail to understand so sad a stoop from so great a height. Take heed of censuring a man so greatly approved of God as to be spared the pains of death. If you do as well as Elijah did, perhaps you may hear some nobodies blaming you in your hour of exhaustion; but as for me I cannot censure him, nor can any man that has ever enjoyed the heavenly delirium of high-strung zeal in the Master’s service, and having been borne ‘aloft on eagle’s wings, at last falls upon the earth in absolute exhaustion. After high excitement there will come reaction. Creatures whose home is on the earth cannot always live upon the wing: they must feel faint at times; and hence the necessity of this blessed promise, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” They will rise again: from their deepest depressions they will leap into supreme elevations: they shall dwell on the heights, they shall soar above the clouds. The very depths to which they dive are prophetic of the heights to which they will climb again. The Lord has said, “I will bring again from the depths of the sea.”

     They need renewing, also, because in addition to being human they are imperfect. The sin that dwells in us drags us down. However high we have ascended when we have walked in the light, still we have needed that the blood of Christ should cleanse us from all sin. Our natural corruption, and the imperfection and infirmity of our flesh are about us still, and these bring ns down at times till we say with David, “I am this day weak, though anointed king. What a blessing it is that failing, flagging, fainting, falling spirits, by waiting upon the Lord, shall renew their strength! Even those who actually fall shall be recovered. “Though lie fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.” Though our sands run very low, God shall fill the glass again, and the believing man shall again rejoice in the Lord, and have confidence in the God of his salvation. Because we are human and imperfect, we cannot always be at our best: the sky is not always clear; the sea is not always at flood; the year is not always at summer; the sun is not always in the zenith; the moon is not always at her full; the tree is not always adorned with fruit; the vineyard does not always flow with wine; roses do not always blush, nor lilies always bloom. Creatures have their rises and their falls, and to us also there must be times when we need to renew our strength; and we shall renew it, for here the promise comes, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”

     Brethren, I will suppose that I am addressing some who have become weak and failing. You must renew your strength. It must be renewed, for otherwise it will decline still further, and this would be painful, dangerous, and dishonouring. The Lord would not have us utterly fail, nor fall prone upon the ground in the heavenly race; therefore, to those who have no might, he increaseth strength.

     We must renew our strength, for it is for our honour, comfort, and safety. It is not to a Christian’s credit that he should be weak. The glory of a man is his strength, and especially is his spiritual strength his honour. It is not for your comfort to be weak. When a man is feeble, he becomes a burden to himself; his sadness makes him stoop; he is feeble-minded, and ready to halt. “A wounded spirit who can bear?” It is not for your usefulness that you should be weak. What can you do for others when you yourself can hardly stand? It is not for your safety that you should be weak; for you will be liable to many attacks, and open to many injuries from sin, and extremely likely to be overcome by temptation. Blessed is that man who is “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” To him the joy of the Lord is his strength. The Lord Jehovah is his strength and his song; he also has become his salvation.

     It is for God’s glory, and for our own usefulness, that we should be strong; and if we fall into decline and weakness, pray do not let us stop there. Let us try to escape from a spiritual consumption. If I address believers, who lament that the whole church with which they are connected is getting weak, I charge them not to sillier it to be so with themselves. Brothers, shun a spiritual wasting away. A pining sickness is an awful disease for a church to die of. Do not linger in such a state. Up with you, and cry mightily unto the Lord, and you shall yet be restored; for it is written, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”

     At this time I should be very glad if this dear church, over which the Holy Ghost has made me an overseer, would have its strength renewed. Our ministry wants renewal that it may be fuller of power and grace. How weak it is if God be even a little withdrawn! Our Sunday school work requires constant renewal. Everything around us needs to be renewed, and revived, and refreshed; and just at this time I wish that it might be laid on the hearts of the members of the church to pray that we might renew our strength. Your minister grows old; not Very old in natural age, it is true, but thirty years of continuous labour in preaching to so vast a congregation has taken much more out of his strength than almost any other form of service would have done; and therefore he needs to be invigorated again— physically, mentally, and spiritually. Many of you are in a like condition, and need that your strength be renewed like the eagle’s. This can be done for us all by that great Master, in whose hand the residue of the Spirit abides. He can lay his hand on us, and say, “Be strong, Fear not.” He can strengthen us to a degree of force far beyond our previous experience. The members of the church, and the officers of the church all desire, I know, that they should renew their strength just now: it is well that such a desire is on them. May this desire for renewal become an insatiable craving with those of you who live near to God, and have power in prayer; then through your importunate intercessions the Lord may make good his promise, that this waiting congregation may renew its strength. After thirty years unflagging prosperity we are as weak as ever apart from God, and need constant renewal of strength. I see many reasons why it is imperative that we should have it at this present time. Join, I pray you, in fervent prayer for it.

     It is promised, and therefore, if we do not have it, it is our own fault. God’s promises are our precepts. What he promises to give, it is our duty to seek; and if he promises that we shall renew our strength, why not let us have the promise fulfilled to our faith? I wish that it might come to pass that my dear brethren and sisters in Christ here— men and women who are working for him, and are a little weary and faint— may be encouraged, cheered, refreshed, and led to say, “From this very time we will serve our Lord with all our youthful vigour, and with a great deal more. We will labour in the service of the Lord our God with all our might, not slackening our right hand nor withholding the fulness of our strength, but giving our all to God.” O blessed Spirit, rouse thy children to renewed consecration, renewed zeal, renewed delight in holy service, renewed hope of victory!

     III. So I close with the third point, which is this HOW ARE WE TO RENEW OUR STRENGTH? If we are God’s people we must renew our strength by continually waiting upon God.

     When a man wants his bodily strength renewed his purpose may be effected by eating a good meal. He has grown empty through hunger, and there is nothing in him; he must be filled up with substantial nourishment, and then the human engine will generate fresh force. Oh, ye who are weak in spirit, come and feed upon Christ! They that wait upon the Lord in that way, by feeding upon the body and blood of Christ, shall find him to be meat indeed, and drink indeed, and so they shall renew their strength.

     Sometimes a man may renew his strength by taking a little rest. He has grown weak through stern labour and long fatigue, and he must be quiet, and repose till he recovers. Oh, ye weary, heavy-laden, where is there rest for you except in the Christ of God? Oh, come to God, and rest in him, and wait patiently for him! Then shall your peace be as a river, and then shall your strength be restored right speedily.

     We have known strength to be restored by a bath. A weary one has plunged himself into the cool flood, and he has risen quite another man. Oh, for a baptism into the Spirit of God! Oh, to plunge into the Godhead’s deepest sea— to throw one’s self into the might and majesty of God; to swim in love, upborne by grace!

     We have known men’s strength renewed by breathing their native air. They have risen out of a hot and fœtid atmosphere into the cool breeze of the mountain side, and the bracing breeze has made them strong again. Oh, to have the breath of the Spirit blowing upon us once again! By him we were born, by him we were quickened, by him we have been revived from former faintness, and it is by breathing his divine life that we shall be filled with life again. Oh, that at this moment we might each one feel the power of the Lord entering into us!  

     In a word, if a church wants reviving, if saints individually want reviving, they must wait upon God— first in prayer. Oh, what a blessing a day’s prayer might be! If you cannot get as much as that, how much renewing may be gained in an hour’s prayer! When Archbishop Leighton used to go into his room, his servant said that he would remain there for two or three hours, having locked the door, and having nothing with him but his Bible and a candle. Ay, then he came out to speak those gracious words which still linger in his works like the echoes of music. His Bible and candle were the only earthly illumination that he needed, for prayer brought him light divine. Get with God, brother; be much with God. I am sure that we, none of us, are enough alone with God; but in prayer, laying hold upon the invisible, we shall win strength for service.

     Add to that a re-dedication of ourselves to the Lord who bought us. This often helps us to renew our strength. Go over again that blessed covenant which has made you one of the covenanted ones with God. You gave yourself years ago wholly up to your Lord, and you sometimes sing—

“High heaven that heard that solemn vow,
That vow renewed shall daily hear.”

Let this day hear the renewal of it: let your covenant be solemnly rehearsed. Consecrate yourself anew to God.

     Then afresh realize your entire dependence upon God. Put yourself into the Lord’s hands absolutely. Be like the sere leaf that is carried by the breath of the tempest. When you have submitted yourself completely, and trusted entirely, setting both your strength and your weakness on one side, and giving yourself up for God to use you, oh, then you shall renew your strength.

     Then go forward to renewed action. In renewing your strength, ask the Lord that you may undertake fresh work, and that this work may be done to a nobler tune— that you may have more expectancy, more confidence, more faith, more God-reliance. What things are done by men in common life with self-reliance! But with God-reliance we work impossibilities, and miracles fly from us like sparks from the anvil of a smith. When a man learns to work with God’s strength and with that alone, he can do all things. So would I stir my brothers up one by one, and then as a body, to work for God with renewed energy.

     I have almost done. I know that there are some here to whom this appears to have very slight reference. Yet if you are an unconverted man, my dear friend, after all, this is a lesson for you; for the pith of it all is that if ever you are to be saved you must get away from yourself into God, and your confidence must be in Christ the Son of God and not in your own strength. One of my greatest delights is to see how our people die. I have never for years visited the dying-bed of a single member of this church in which I have seen a shade of doubt, or the least suspicion as to their triumphant entrance into the kingdom. I have been somewhat astonished to find it always so. I just now sat by the bedside of one of our brethren who is melting away with consumption: and it was sad to see his wife lying by his side almost equally ill; but when I spoke with him who was so soon to be with God, he said, “As for my faith, dear sir, it never wavers in the least degree. I have my times of depression of spirit, but I take no notice of that. You have told us not to look to feelings, but simply to trust in the infallible Word of a faithful God. Fifteen years ago, sir,” said he, “one Thursday night I dropped into the Tabernacle to hear you preach, and, blessed be the day, I looked to Christ and found salvation. I have had plenty of ups and downs, but Jesus has never left me nor forsaken me, and I am not going to think that he will do so now. His word stands fast for ever. My strength is in my God.” He added, “I am not resting upon man in any degree or measure, but wholly upon the faithful promise of God, and the precious blood of Christ.” I wished that I could get into his place, and not come here to-night, but just slip off to heaven as he is doing. It makes one sure of the gospel when you see men dying so. It nerves me to come and tell it out again to men and women. The gospel which I preach to you is good to live upon, and good to die upon. If you will but trust my Lord you shall find it a blessed thing to depart out of this world, and be for ever with the Lord. Death shall lose every air of dread: every ghastly gloom shall be taken from it. It shall be but undressing to go to bed, that you may wake up in the morning in royal robes as a courtier of the King of kings. Only you must have done with yourself, and commit yourself to Christ. Say to-day in life what you will want to say when you come to die— “Father, into thy hand I commit my spirit.” That is a gospel-prayer. If you are waiting upon the Lord in the sense of complete reliance upon the merit of Jesus, you shall in dying renew your strength, and leap out of your frail body into the presence and glory of God. In due time also you shall re-assume your body, but it shall be made like unto Christ’s glorious body, and in its resurrection you shall emphatically renew your strength. Blessed be his name that he has taught many of us to wait upon the Lord! May he teach you all to do so, for Christ’s sake. Amen.



On Humbling Ourselves Before God

By / Jun 22

On Humbling Ourelves Before God

 

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” — 1 Peter v. 6.

 

PRIDE is so natural to fallen man that it springs up in his heart like weeds in a watered garden, or rushes by a flowing brook. It is an all-pervading sin, and smothers all things like dust in the roads, or flour in the mill. Its every touch is evil as the breath of the cholera-fiend, or the blast of the simoom. Pride is as hard to get rid of as charlock from the furrows, or the American blight from the apple-trees. If killed it revives, if buried it bursts the tomb. You may hunt down this fox, and think you have destroyed it, and lo! your very exultation is pride. None have more pride than those who dream that they have none. You may labour against vainglory till you conceive that you are humble, and the fond conceit of your humility will prove to be pride in full bloom. It apes humility full well, and is then most truly pride. Pride is a sin with a thousand lives; it seems impossible to kill it, it flourishes on that which should be its poison, glorying in its shame. It is a sin with a thousand shapes; by perpetual change it escapes capture. It seems impossible to hold it; the vapoury imp slips from you, only to appear in another form and mock your fruitless pursuit. To die to pride and self one would need to die himself.

     Pride was man’s first sin, and it will be his last. In the first sin that man ever committed there was certainly a large admixture of pride, for he imagined that he knew better than his Maker, and even dreamed that his Maker feared that man might grow too great. It has been questioned whether pride was not the sin by which the angels fell when they lost their first estate: I will not go into any controversy upon that subject; but there was certainly pride in the sin of Satan and pride in the sin of Adam. This is the torch which kindled hell and set the world on fire.

     Pride is a ringleader and captain among iniquities: it attaineth unto the first three of Satan’s champions. It is a daring and God-defying sin, arraigning divine justice, as Cain did; challenging Jehovah to combat, as Pharaoh did; or making self into God, as Nebuchadnezzar did. It would murder God if it could, that it might fill his throne. While it is first to come, and first in horrible supremacy, it is also last to go. As Paul said, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” I think I might say that the last enemy but one is pride, for even at our death-bed pride will be found in attendance. In his last moments John Knox had a sharp conflict with self-righteousness though he had preached against it with all his might, and knew, with a clearness seldom given to men, that salvation is of the Lord alone. Even within an hour of glory he had to make a stand against that vile thing, the pride of the human heart. Many others of the Lord’s valiant ones have been sorely assailed by the same crafty foe, which shoots with feathered flatteries shafts of destruction. In the most quiet minds the deadly calm of self-conceit may be found. Our hearts are deceitful above all things, and in nothing less to be trusted than in this matter of pride. Even while we breathe out our souls unto God it will attempt to puff us up; — yes, it will puff up poor dying worms! Brothers and sisters, for certain, you and I are in danger of pride; possibly we are even now victims of it: let us be on our guard, for it may be ruining us without our knowledge even as the moth in secret eats up the garment, or as unseen rust cankers the hidden treasure.

     Let pride lodge where it may, it does its entertainer great mischief, for it bars out the favour of God, “God resisteth the proud.” It must be sent adrift ere God can visit us with favour, for no grace comes to the proud, “but he giveth grace unto the humble.” Humility is the grace that attracts more grace. As money makes money, so humility increases humility, and with it every other spiritual gift. If you would have much grace have much humility. God hath assistance for the humble, but resistance for the proud. You know how he fought Pharaoh. What blows he struck at the haughty monarch! He would have him down from the pinnacle of defiance one way or another, and make him learn in bitterness the answer to his own insolent question, “Who is the Lord?” Remember how Nebuchadnezzar had to eat grass like an ox because he spake with haughty tongue. Wherever God sees pride lifting itself on high, he resolves to level it with the dust. He draws his bow, he fits his arrow to the string, and pride is the target that he shoots at. The more pride enters into the Christian’s heart the less grace will enter there, and the more opposition from God will come there; for pride is never so hateful to God as when he sees it in his own people. If you see disease in a stranger you are very sorry, but if you discover its symptoms in your own child your grief is much more deep. A viper is loathsome anywhere; but how it would make you start if you saw the head of one of those creatures peeping out from the bosom of a beloved friend! So pride is detestable anywhere, but it is worst in those whom the Lord loves best. If God sees pride in a David he will smite him till he ceases from his high thoughts; or if it be in a Hezekiah he will abase him; and be you sure that if the Lord sees pride in you he will smite you; ay, smite you again and again till you wait humbly at his feet.

     All this I have given by way of preface, but I think it is also an argument which may run before the words of the text, and strengthen them, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God.”

     I shall handle the text, not at any great length, but for practical purposes in three or four ways. May the Holy Spirit bless the discourse.

     I. First, our text is evidently intended to bear upon us IN OUR CHURCH LIFE.

     We will use it in that respect. Observe that Peter has been speaking to the elders, and telling them how they should behave themselves in the flock over which they are set as overseers. Then he speaks to the younger members, and he says, “Submit yourselves unto the elder.” He says to all church-members, “All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility”; and it is in the same context that lie writes, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God.” I am, as a member of a church, not to seek honour to myself, but I am to walk humbly. I am not to make it in any respect the object of my Christian life to be esteemed among my fellow-Christians so as to have influence over them, and to take the lead among them. I am to have far humbler motives than that. I am to think very little of myself, and to think so much of others that I admire all that I see of God’s grace in them, and am glad to learn from them as 'well as to help them in their progress to heaven. Each one of us should think little of himself and highly of his brethren. I cannot say that all of us as Christians are clothed with humility as we should be. I am afraid that, from the preacher down to the most obscure member, we may, everyone of us, listen with awe to the injunction, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,” and confess that we fall short of this command. Yet I may honestly add that in this church I have seen more submissiveness, and deference to others, and less of ambitious self-esteem than anywhere else in the world. I have spoken nothing less than bare justice when I have said this.. Let all the world know that as a pastor I can in this point praise the people of my charge beyond any that I have ever heard of. I am not apt to judge too favourably; I speak as I have seen, and this is my honest testimony. We owe our union and prosperity under God to the readiness of most of the brethren to do anything and everything for Christ, without considering ourselves.

     Now, true humility in our church relationship will show itself in our being willing to undertake the very lowest offices for Christ. Some cannot do little things: they must be ordained to great offices, or they will sulk in indolence. Genuine humility makes a man think it a great honour to be a doorkeeper in the house of God, or to be allowed to speak a word to a little child about Jesus, or even to wash the saints’ feet. I am sure, brethren, that those who are not willing to fulfil the lesser offices will never be used by Christ to mind the greater duties. Humility is a qualification for greatness. Do you know how to be little? You are learning to be great. Can you submit? You are learning to rule. My symbolic sketch of a perfected Christian would be a king keeping the door, or a prince feeding lambs, or, better still, the Master washing his disciples’ feet.

     The next point of humility is, that we are conscious of our own incompetence to do anything aright. He who can do all things without Christ will end in doing nothing. The man who can preach without divine aid cannot preach at all. The woman who can teach a Bible-class cannot teach a Bible-class. Human ability without the grace of God is only puffed-up inability. Those of you who, apart from supernatural help, feel quite sufficient for any kind of holy service are miserably deluded. Self-sufficiency is inefficiency. The fulness of self is a double emptiness. He that has no sense of his weakness has a weakness in his sense. I believe, brethren and sisters, that any man whom God uses for a great purpose will be so emptied out that he will wonder that ever God uses him in the least degree; and he will be ready to hide his head, and long to get out of public notice, because he will feel himself to be utterly unworthy of the favour which God manifests towards him. I do not believe that God ever fills a cup which was not empty; or that he ever fills a man’s mouth with his word while that man has his mouth full of his own words. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God: if you desire that the Holy Spirit should bless you, be purged from your own spirit. The way to rise into God is to sink in your own self: as our Lord Jesus descended into the depths, that he might rise above all things and fill all things, so we, in our imitation of him, must descend to the uttermost that we may rise to the highest.

     This humility will show itself, next, in this— that we shall be willing to be ignored of men. There is a craving in the heart of many to have what they do written upon tablets, and set up in the market-places. I once heard a professing Christian complain bitterly that he had been ignored. He had been a Sunday-school teacher for years, and yet he had never been publicly mentioned by anyone. Did he make that a complaint? He might far rather have rejoiced in his quietude. The fierce light of public notoriety is not much valued by those upon whom it falls. I wish some people would ignore me— at least, all next week, so much at least as not to call to see me, or write me a letter, or name me in the papers. I would be happy as all the birds in the air to be ignored, if I might be let alone, and allowed peacefully to work for God with his sweet smile to cheer me in my loneliness. Oh, to be a little ant, allowed to labour on at God’s bidding, receiving nothing of men but the high privilege of being let alone! A saintly soul was wont to pray, “Grant me, O Lord, that I may pass unnoticed through the world!” It seems to me to be one of the highest delights of life for people to permit you to work for God without being interrupted by their praises or censures. When I have seen a certain great artist at work, I have only peeped at him from a corner, and have kept out of his sunshine: I am quite sure he did not want me to express my valueless opinion about his glorious creations. To have people for ever talking about you, for you, and against you is one of the wearinesses of mortal life; and yet some people sigh for the fuss that others would be glad to be rid of. Yes, so it is. It is but a little thing that certain friends have done, but they would like much made of it: their slender alms must be published at the corners of the streets, their prosy speech must be reported in all papers. Oh, brothers, do not let us care about its being known that we have done our part. Let it be done as to God, and in God’s sight; and then, as to what our fellow-mortals shall say, let us have scant concern; for, if we live on human praise, we shall grow not only proud, but vain, which, if it be not more wicked, is certainly more silly. Serve God, and do not wish to have a trumpet blown before you. Never cry with Jehu, “Come, see my zeal for the Lord of hosts.” Go on serving God year after year, though you be altogether unknown, feeling it quite sufficient that you have by the grace of God served your generation and honoured your Redeemer. This would be a great attainment in our church life if we could reach to it.

     Brethren, we want humility, all of us, in our church life, in the sense of never being rough, haughty, arrogant, hard, domineering, lordly; or, on the other hand, factious, unruly, quarrelsome, and unreasonable. We should endeavour to think very carefully of those who are poorest, for fear we should hurt their feelings; and very noticeably of those who are obscure, lest we should seem to despise them. It is ours never to take offence, and to be most cautious never to cause it even by inadvertence. He that is set as a leader in the church of God, let him be the person that is most ready to bear blame, and least ready to give offence: let him say, “You may think what you please of me, but I shall lay myself out to do you good, and to be your servant for Christ’s sake.” The lower you can stoop the greater is your honour. In the eye of wisdom no piece of furniture in the house of God has greater dignity than the doormat. If you are willing to let others wipe their feet on you, then shall Christ Jesus take pleasure in you, for you are a partaker of his lowly mind. Even for your own sake it will be wise to occupy a humble place, for in the vales the streams of peace are flowing. The mountains are the playground of the storm, but in the quiet villages the dove finds her shelter. If you would escape from ill-will, and live peaceably with all men, practise the maxims of an influential man, who, when asked after the Revolution how he managed to escape the executioner’s axe, replied, “I made myself of no reputation, and kept silence.”

     I am speaking to a number of young men who have begun to speak for Jesus Christ in the church: let me earnestly entreat them to take great notice of my text, —” Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.” Recollect that you cannot do any good except “the mighty hand of God” be with you; therefore be humble, and look to that hand for all success. Feel it to be a wonderful thing that the mighty hand of God should ever use you; therefore lie very low in that hand, and beneath that hand, for thus you may claim the promise that he will exalt you in due time. If you are willing to look after a few poor people in a village, and to do your duty thoroughly well among a lowly company, you shall have a larger sphere ere long. If you are satisfied, young brother, to stand in the corner of the street and talk about Jesus Christ to a few rough folk, you shall find hundreds of hearers by-and-by. If you are willing to be nothing, God will make something of you. The way to the top of the ladder is to begin at the lowest round. In fact, in the church of God, the way up is to go down; but he that is ambitious to be at the top will find himself before long at the bottom. “He that exalteth himself shall be abased; but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Suffer, my younger brethren, this word of exhortation.

     II. And now, secondly, I will use the text in quite another way— in reference to OUR BEHAVIOUR IN OUR AFFLICTIONS. Here let every tried believer listen to the counsel of the Holy Ghost.

     Certain of us are never long together without affliction and trial: like salamanders, we live in the flame, passing from fire to fire. As by a succession of shafts we descend into the heart of the earth, going down from woe to woe; we had need learn the way of these dark places. Frequently our heavenly Father’s design in sending trial to his children is to make and keep them humble; let us remember this, and learn a lesson of wisdom. The advice of Peter is that we should humble ourselves. Many people have been often humbled, and yet they have not become humble. There is a great difference between the two things. If God withdraws his grace and allows a Christian man to fall into sin, that fall humbles him in the esteem of all good men; and yet he may not be humble. He may never have a true sense of how evil his action has been; he may still persevere in his lofty spirit, and be far from humility. When this is the case the haughty spirit may expect a downfall. The rod will make blue wounds when pride abates not at gentler blows. The most hopeful way of avoiding the humbling affliction is to humble yourself. Be humble that you may not be humbled. Put yourself into a humble attitude, and draw near to God in a lowly spirit, and so he will cease from his chiding.

     And do this, first, by noticing whether you have been guilty of any special sin of pride. You are suffering: let the rod point out to you wherein you have erred through pride. I believe that David was afflicted in his children because he had been proud of his children, and had indulged them. When there is a breakage in the house, it is generally the idol that is broken. Usually our sins lie at the roots of our sorrows. If we will repent of the sin, the Lord will remove the sorrow. Have you been tried in your worldly possessions? Were you ever puffed up by them? Is your health failing? Did you never glory in your bodily strength? Are you deceived? Were you never boastful of your own wisdom? Are you mourning over a failure in character? Did you not once dream that you were past temptation? Look into your affliction till you see, as in a glass, what was the thing you were proud of, and then take the idol down from its pedestal, humble yourself before God, and henceforth worship him alone.

     In your affliction humble yourself by confessing that you deserve all that you are suffering. Is it poverty? — then, dear child of God, own that you deserve poverty because of your love of the world. Is it physical pain? Then own how every erring member deserves to smart. It is a great thing to have wrung out of us the confession that our chastisement is less than our deservings, and that the Lord is not dealing with us after our sins, nor rewarding us according to our iniquities. Is there a bereavement in the house? Then, I pray you, acknowledge that if God were to visit you, as he did Job, and take all your children away at a stroke, yet still you deserve it at his hands. Confess that the chastening hand is not dealing too severely with you. Humble yourself, and then you will not quarrel with your grief.

     But, more than that, humble yourself so as to submit entirely to God's will. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you in this act of self-humiliation while you meekly kiss the rod. Bow yourself before the mighty hand of God, ready to receive yet harder blows if God so pleases; for when your will entirely yields to the will of God, it is highly probable that either the affliction will be removed, or else the sting of it will be taken away. Down, brother, down in the dust as low as ever you can get. God is evidently dealing with you as with a son; and a son’s wisdom lies in cheerful submission to parental discipline. When a child is under his father’s chastening hand, it will not help him to kick, and quarrel, and say ill words: his best hope lies in submitting absolutely to his father’s good pleasure. When that is done the chastisement will soon end. Humble yourself therefore under the mighty hand of God. Yield up your will so as to have no suit-in-law against the Lord, no difference as to his goodness, not even if the evil you dread should actually come, and come in the worst form. Submit to the Lord’s will as the rush bends to the wind, or as the wax yields to the seal. Pray against the calamity which moves you to fear, but let your petition always end with “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Ask that you may not be obliged to drink the bitter draught, but do not upset the cup, nor push it away. There let it stand, while you for the moment supplicate for its removal; and when there comes no answer to your prayer, then take it up meekly, put it to your lips resolutely, and drink right on, even as your Master drank his cup and drained it to the dregs. This needs the help of the Holy Spirit, and truly he waits to help us: he delights to aid us in such holy acts of submission. Nothing is better for us in our time of tribulation than to bow ourselves in lowliest obeisance before the hand of God.

     Dear friend, what can be the use of striving against the hand of the Lord? It is a mighty hand: we cannot resist it, even if we are wicked enough to attempt rebellion. If affliction is to come it will come, and come with all the greater sharpness because we refuse to yield. If God appoints a trial, we cannot escape it. What can be the use of our striving against divine decrees? It will only make our sorrow the more severe. When the ox kicks out against the goad the iron enters the deeper into its flesh; but when the bullock hastens on its way, sensitive to the least touch, the driver scarcely urges it again. The tender, sensitive horse scarcely receives a stroke from the whip; he feels it too much: but the mule that will not move is struck again and again for his obstinacy. So will it be with us. We can make rods for ourselves by wilfulness. Oh foolish fingers, which prepare prickles for our own pillows! Humble yourself, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, and by-and-by, brother, you shall be exalted to consolation and prosperity. Your affliction shall bring forth the comfortable fruits of righteousness. You shall come out of the furnace purified and refined. You shall have more knowledge, more grace, more zeal, more of every excellence, as the result of sanctified trial; but all this must come by obedient resignation. A rebellious heart comes out of affliction worse rather than better. Submit, and you shall be so exalted by your affliction that you shall bless God for it, and feel that you would not have missed the trouble for ten thousand pounds if you could have done so. Heavy tribulation shall bring with it unspeakable preferment. You shall be exalted to a higher degree in the peerage of Christianity by battling with adversities. Therefore, I pray you, humble yourselves under the hand of God.

     III. Thirdly, I am going to use the text in another way. IN OUR DAILY DEALINGS WITH GOD, whether in affliction or not, let us humble ourselves under his hand, for so only can we hope to be exalted.

     It is a blessed thing whenever you come to God to come wondering that you are allowed to come, wondering that you have been led to come; marvelling at divine election, that the Lord should ever have chosen you to come; wondering at divine redemption, astonished that such a price should have been paid that you might be brought nigh to God. It is well to draw near to God weighed down with gratitude that ever the Holy Spirit should have deigned to work effectual calling upon yon. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of divine grace, which has brought you into the family of love, and constantly say, “Why me, Lord? Why me?” A grateful walk is a gracious walk, and there is no gratitude where there is no humility. Never trace the difference between yourself and others to your own free-will, nor to any betterness of your natural disposition, but entirely to the mercy and grace of God, which have been freely bestowed on you. Let grace be magnified by your grateful heart!

     When you are doing this be very humble before God, because you have not made more improvement of the grace that he has given you. You are chosen, but you are not as choice as you ought to be; you are redeemed, but you are not so much your Lord’s as you ought to be you are called, but you are still too deaf to the divine call; you are blessed, enriched, instructed, adopted, comforted, with heaven before you and everything prepared on the road thither; but what a poor return have you made! Always feel thus humbled in reference to your God and his grace. When you are doing most, and God is using you most, always feel that if you had been fit for it he might have done much more by you— that if you had been meet to be used he might have used you far more extensively. Thus you will always see cause for humility even when you discern abounding reason for gratitude. Walk always so with God that when you stand on the highest point you still feel, “I might have been higher but for my own fault. I have not, because I have not asked, or because I have asked amiss. I have not become as rich as I might have been in spiritual things, because I have not been as diligent in my Lord’s business, or as fervent in spirit, or as abundant in serving God as I ought to have been.

     Next, humble yourself, dear brother, under the hand of God by feeling your own want of knowledge whenever you come to God. Do not think that you understand all divinity. There is only one body of divinity, and that is Christ himself; and who knoweth him to the full? When even his love, which is the plainest point about him, passeth knowledge, who shall know Christ in all his fulness? Come before God to be instructed in the knowledge of your God and Saviour. Do not think that you understand providence, for I am sure that none of us do. We sometimes think that we could manage things a great deal better than they are managed. Many farmers would not have appointed that heavy shower for this afternoon, and yet that downpour was essential to the general well-being of the universal kingdom. I cannot tell why, but it was so. Everything that comes by God’s appointment is a cog in the wheel of providence, and if that cog were gone, the machinery would be out of order. The Lord does all things wisely: only a vile pride will suspect otherwise. Consider, O man, that you do not know: God only knows. Little children sometimes think they are wise, but they know nothing: wisdom is with their father, not with them. Let us be content to humble ourselves under the hand of God as poor know-nothings, satisfied that he knows what is best for us. This humility is the vestibule of knowledge, the corner-stone of true philosophy. Commence with a confession of ignorance, or you will never be taught of the Lord. It cannot be hard to confess this when the mighty hand of the Lord is seen and felt.

     One point concerning which I should like everyone of us to humble ourselves under the hand of God is about our little enjoyment of divine things. The elder brother in the parable said, “Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.” So have I known certain sincere Christian men fall into a horribly legal state of mind. They have always been very regular in their living, constant in their religious observances, and persevering in their prayers, and yet they have never had much joy: but they see a poor soul, just saved from sin, full of delight, and they envy him, and cry out, “Why is a fuss made over such a sinner, when I have been all these years a Christian, and my brethren have never made any rejoicing over me? There is no music and dancing about me! Thou never gavest me a kid that I might make merry with my friends.” I do not know how we could make a fuss over some of the elder brothers: they would not bear it, they would be angry, and enquire, in hard and surly tones, what these things meant. Music and dancing are things too trivial for their solid souls. They stand outside and grumble, and we cannot warm them into a revival spirit. They are freezing outside the door of our happy home. Must they always stand there? How divinely sweet was the father’s answer to that naughty elder brother! He said to him, “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” That is to say, “You live in my house. You are with me as my own dear son. Everything I have is yours by heirship. Your brother had his portion, and he spent it, but all that remains to me is yours.” Hence his short commons had been of his own appointing. If he had not made merry with his friends it was his own fault. Is it not much the same with us if we have been dull and melancholy; I mean those of us who are believers? Are not all things ours? Come, let us humble ourselves under the hand of God, because we have not made merry with our friends. You growling Christians— if you growl it is because you will growl; there is nothing to murmur at. You who never have a happy day, who never have any of the fervours and enthusiasms of young beginners: whose fault is that? It is your own. You might have anything in the Father’s house. You have a right to rare music and dancing, for you are ever with God, and all that he has is yours. It is meet that we should make merry and be glad; and if we are dull at the business of holy merry-making, let us humble ourselves under the hand of God because of our despondencies and mistrusts. O my soul, if thy ceilings are painted with black instead oi vermilion, blame thyself alone, and not thy God.

     I am sure, dear friends, if any of us will go over our daily lives we all find plenty of reasons for humbling ourselves under the hand of God. It is really dreadful how a man can serve God nobly and do great things and yet in a certain matter he may fail sadly. A grand old prophet is that Jonah, going through the streets of Nineveh, and bravely delivering the Lord’s warning. Whoever did the like? “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown” is the word which he hurls into the face of princes. Grand man! One, yet a conqueror of myriads! Yes! But look at him a day or two after! Call that a grand man, sitting there crying because the cucumber that grew up over his head is withered! fretting because a worm has devoured a gourd! He is angry, and he says that he does well to be angry about a bower of melon-leaves. Dear me, that a man can be so great in noble things and so little in a trifling matter! How many have like cause to be humble before God! Observe that good man: he bore the loss of his property with holy resignation, but he lost his temper because a button was gone from his linen. Such a thing has often happened. Do I put it so that you smile at it? It would be better to weep over it. As you think about yourselves, my brethren, recollect the causes that you have to be humble under the hand of God because of the gross weakness by which you have shown the natural depravity of your heart, and the faultiness of your nature apart from the strengthening Spirit of God.

     Humble yourselves therefore under the hand of God as creatures under the hand of the Creator. We are the clay, and thou our potter, O Lord: it becomes us to be lowly. Humble yourselves under the hand of God as criminals under the hand of their judge. Cry, “Against' thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” Humble yourselves under the hand of God— as chastened children under a father’s rod — for he chastens us for our profit, and right well do we deserve each smarting blow. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, lastly, as servants under their Lord’s word. Ask no questions about your Master’s command, but go and do it; and when he rebukes you for shortcomings answer not again, but accept the reproof with bowed head and tearful eye, acknowledging that his rebuke is well deserved. Humble yourselves thus, dear brethren, in your daily lives, and God will exalt you in due time.

     IV. I finish by using my text with all the earnestness my soul can feel in reference to the unconverted part of this audience IN OUR SEEKING FORGIVENESS AS SINNERS. Oh, tender Spirit of God, help me now.

     The text was originally meant for the ungodly, but it may fitly be applied to them. If you would find grace in God’s sight and live, dear unconverted hearers, you must humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God. So you want to saved, do you? The way of salvation is, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” “But,” you say, “I cannot understand it.” Yet it is very simple; no hidden meaning lies in the words: you are simply bidden to trust Jesus. If, however, you feel as if you could not do that, let me urge you to go to God in secret and own the sin of this unbelief; for a great sin it is. Humble yourself. Do not try to make out that you are good. That will be fatal, for it will be a falsehood which will shut the gate of grace. Confess that you are guilty. When a man is clearly and manifestly guilty, it is of no use his standing before the judge and begining to urge his own merit: his best course is to cast himself upon the mercy of the court. It is your only course, dear soul, the only one that can avail you. Know that you have transgressed, and feel that it is so. Sit down and think over the many ways in which you have done wrong, or foiled to do right. Pray God to break you down with deep penitence. It is no waste of time to dig out foundations when you build a house, and it is no superfluity to labour after a deep sense of sin.

     When your sin is confessed, then acknowledge that if justice were carried out towards you, apart from undeserved grace, you would be sent to hell. Do not cavil at that fact. Do not entertain sceptical questions as to whether there is a punishment for sin, and as to what it will be; but own that, whatever it is, you deserve it. Do not fence with God or quarrel with Scripture; but as his word declares that the wicked shall be cast into hell with all the nations that forget God, own that you deserve to be so dealt with; for you do deserve it. When this is acknowledged you are on the road to mercy. You have almost obtained mercy when you have fully submitted to justice. You have in a measure received grace when you are brought to own your sin and the justice of its penalty.

     Then, next, accept God’s mercy in his own way. Do not be so vain as to dictate to God how you ought to be saved. Be willing to be saved by free grace through the blood of Jesus Christ; for that is God’s way. Be willing to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ, for that also is God’s way. If your unbelief begins to ask, “How can it be,and why should it be?” cease from such questions. Humble yourself and say, “God says it is so, and therefore it must be so;” if God says, “Believe, and be saved,” I will believe and be saved; and if he says, “Trust Christ, and live,” I will trust Christ and live. If a man had forfeited his life, but should be told by the court that he shall have pardon freely given to him if he will freely accept it— he would be a fool if he began to enquire, “But is this according to law? Is this according to precedent? What may be the effect of this pardon?” and so on. These enquiries are for the court, not for the prisoner. My dear man, you do not want to hang yourself, do you? Yet some men argue against their own souls, and labour to find out reasons why they should not be saved. If this perverse ingenuity could but be taught right reason, and men would strive to find out why they should at once yield themselves to God’s way of salvation, they might enter into comfort and rest much sooner. O cavilling sinner, let thy artful doubts and reasonings be nailed with Jesus to the tree. Be a little child, and come and believe in the salvation which is revealed in Jesus Christ. Trust Christ to save you, and he will do it, as he has saved so many of us, to the praise of the glory of his grace.

     “Ah,” say you, “I have done this, but I cannot get peace.” Then, dear friend, sink lower down! sink lower down! Did I hear you say, “Alas, Sir, I want to get comfort.” Cease from that. Do not ask for comfort; ask for forgiveness, and that blessing may come through your greater discomfort. Sink lower down! Sink lower down! There is a point at which God will surely accept you, and that point is lower down. “Oh,” you say, “I think I have a due sense of sin.” That will not do. I want you to feel that you have not a due sense of sin, and come to Jesus just so. “Oh, but I do think that I have been brokenhearted.” I should like to see you lower than that, till you cry, “I am afraid I never knew what it is to be brokenhearted.” I want you to sink so low that you cannot say anything good of yourself; nay, nor see an atom of goodness in yourself. When you look inside your heart and can see nothing but that which would condemn you; when you look at your life and see everything there that deserves wrath; then you are on the road to hope. Come before God a criminal, in the prison dress, with the rope about your neck. You will be saved, then. When you confess that you have nothing of your own but sin— when you acknowledge that you deserve to die, and to be cast away for ever — God in infinite pity will let you live through faith in Christ Jesus. Many years ago a certain prince visited the Spanish galleys, where a large number of convicts were confined, chained to their oars to toil on without relief; — I think nearly all of them condemned to a life sentence. Being a great prince, the King of Spain told him that he might in honour of his visit set free anyone of the galley-slaves he chose. He went down among them to choose his man. He said to one, “Man, how did you come here?” He replied that false witnesses swore away his character. “Ah!” said the prince and passed on. He went to the next, who stated that he had done something that was wrong, certainly, but not very much, and that he never ought to have been condemned. “Ah!” said the prince, and again passed on. He went the round, and found that they were all good fellows— all convicted by mistake. At last he came to one who said, “You ask me why I came here. I am ashamed to say that I richly deserve it. I am guilty, I cannot for a moment say that I am not: and if I die at this oar, I thoroughly deserve the punishment. In fact, I think it a mercy that my life is spared me.” The prince stopped and said, “It is a pity that such a bad fellow as you should be placed amongst such a number of innocent people. I will set you free.” You smile at that; but let me make you smile again. My Lord Jesus Christ has come here at this time to set 'somebody free. He has come here at this time to pardon somebody’s sins. You that have no sins shall have no pardon. You good people shall die in your sins. But, oh, you guilty ones, who humble yourselves under the hand of God, my Master thinks that it is a pity that you should be among these self-righteous people. So come right away, and trust your Saviour, and obtain life eternal through his precious blood; and to him shall be glory for ever and ever. Amen.



Certain Singular Subjects

By / Jun 22

CERTAIN SINGULAR SUBJECTS.

 

“And I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau: and I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it; but Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.” — Joshua xxiv. 4.

 

THIS passage, though audibly uttered by the mouth of Joshua, is to be regarded as the immediate voice of God. Joshua said unto all the people, “Thus saith Jehovah, God of Israel.” Jehovah reminded the tribes, and their elders and judges, of all that he had done, and of all that he had been to them; and from this he challenged their allegiance, requiring that they should henceforth be loyal unto their great Benefactor. Addressing them himself, his argument became all the more impressive. I reverence all Scripture more than tongue can tell, but yet I venerate most of all those portions of the word which are God’s own voice, — the thought of Deity interpreted into human speech by Deity itself. The passage now before us, though it reads like a piece of ordinary history, such as might have been composed by a common scribe, has about it a vastness of meaning such as can alone be found in the language of the infinite God. When God inspires David, or Isaiah, or Paul, he teaches us most graciously; but when he condescends to speak himself, how shall we sufficiently reverence the word? We have here, not so much a letter dictated by God, as the actual autograph of the great Father. My text is written with the linger of God. A glory blazes along the lines: the letters are all illuminated: the words glow like the sapphire work of heaven’s pavement. Our text has a world of meaning in it. It may, as we notice its plain words and prosaic statements, seem to be a mere common box, but it is in very deed an ark of precious perfumed wood, overlaid with pure gold, and filled with gems and jewels rich and rare. May the Holy Spirit give us eyes wherewith to perceive the treasures which lie before us in these words— “I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau: and I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it; but Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.”

     I. The first thing that I discern here is

HISTORY AND THE HAND OF GOD IN IT.

See: “I gave;” and then again, “I gave.” It is not merely that Esau and Jacob were born of Isaac and Rebekah, but the Lord says, “I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau.” How plainly doth this declare that the hand of God is in human history! At first sight history seems a great tangle, a snarl, a confusion; but on looking at it more closely we perceive that it is only in appearance a maze, but in fact a marvellous piece of arrangement, exhibiting perfect precision and never-failing accuracy. Our carnal reason sees the wrong side of the carpet, and it appears to be without design or order; but there is another side to history, and looked at from that standpoint it reveals a pattern wonderful for beauty, displaying wisdom and goodness unparalleled. The histories of nations are, from the human side, little more than a narration of the crimes of kings and the follies of their people; and yet, viewed from another quarter, they are the record of the dealings of God with men, — the story of love’s labour to reclaim the lost. Look at Calvary’s sacrifice as it rises above all other events; even as this morning I saw the hills and the tops of tall trees standing out above the morning mist. What a sight it is! The cross towering over the ages. Looking down on their sins and sorrows. Calvary— what is it? What but the climax of human iniquity, where man became not so much a regicide, though he slew his King, as a Deicide, for to the utmost of his power he slew his God! On the cross human enmity of God reached its most dread extremity. With wicked hands men crucified and slew the Son of God. Yet it is equally true that on Calvary we see more of the goodness, grace, mercy, justice, and longsuffering of God than anywhere else. The cross is at once our crime and our salvation; an exhibition of man’s foulest sin and of God’s richest grace. Calvary is of all spots the blackest and the brightest; the place where hell displayed its most deadly power, and yet the very gate of heaven. Thus is all human history, according to its measure and proportion, a bitter sweet. Where man’s mischief and misery abound, there do God’s goodness and grace much more abound.

     We, see the hand of God in history very strikingly in the raising up of remarkable men at certain special periods. It is true, as the Lord says, “I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau”; children are the gift of God. This is true not only of Isaac but of all mortal men. God gave to a worthy couple, George Washington; to another pair, John Howard: and to a third, George Whitefield. Each of these, in his own special way was a divine gift to men. Children are born with differing talents, and varied capacities, but all about them which will make them blessings is the gift of God. I shall not tarry to mention great men whose names mark epochs in history from which men date an increase of light and happiness: but let no man think of these friends and leaders of mankind without admitting the hand of God in their birth, training, disposition, and ability. The greatest blessing which God ever gave to man was the man Christ Jesus; and, under him, the next best blessings are men. You remember the passage, “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. And he gave some apostles,” and so forth. Ascension gifts are sure to be worthy of the occasion, and therefore eminently precious, and lo! these are all men. Within a man; poor, lowly, humble, and even sinful though that man may be in himself, there may lie concealed an almost infinite blessing from the Most High; even as within an acorn sleeps a forest, or within a flint lies light for a nation’s watchfires. When the negro slave had borne long years of bondage, and hope of deliverance seemed far away, it was God that gave an Abraham Lincoln, who led the nation onward till “Emancipation” flamed upon its banners. Long before, when England, free in every corner of it, yet held slaves in its colonies, it was God that gave Wilberforce, and raised him up to plead in Parliament the rights of men, till the command went forth—

“Thus saith Britannia, empress of the sea, —
Thy chains are broken; Africa, be free!’”

In all such acts of righteousness the coming forth of the man at the hour must be attributed to God’s own hand. The men themselves may not know wherefore they have come to power: of them it might often be said as the Lord said of Cyrus, “I girded thee, though thou hast not known me.” The mighty ones that contend for wrong, and bind the chains, and forge the fetters of the oppressed, do not know the champions who are predestined to overturn them, but God knows, and that is enough. Tyrants have always just cause to be afraid, for every birth may produce a deliverer. Somewhere in a hovel there may sleep in a rude cradle the boy who shall shake the throne of evil. As yet it has always happened in due season that Pharaoh has been confronted by Moses, and the princes of Midian by Gideon. For every Sisera there is a Jael; and for every Goliath a David. The upas tree may increase its deadly shadow, but an axe is sharpening for the felling of it. Evil is a a gourd, and though a man be but a worm, yet he shall destroy that gourd. God is working still in the fashioning— oh, with what mystery! — of his own instruments. In his book are written the members of men who are yet to be, who are now being fashioned in secret by the hand of God; these shall by-and-by appear, and shall lead on the race to a further unloosing of its bonds. I rejoice in the possibilities which lie in birth. As to the One great Seed of the woman we look for our greatest deliverance, so do we in a lower sense look to her seed for the overthrow of many of the doings of the serpent race. That curse which made her in sorrow bring forth children contains enclosed within itself, like a bud in its sheath, the promise of untold benediction. Often at a birth might an age rejoice and sing, “Unto us a child is born: unto us a son is given.” Let parents think of this, and dedicate their offspring with many a prayer to the Lord whose gift they are. Let old men think of this, and cry to God to raise up true men to fill the places which they themselves can no longer occupy. Lo! children are a heritage of the Lord. When our sons are a seed that the Lord has blest, blessed is the man that hath his quiver full of them.

     Let us bless and praise the Lord, as we look back in history upon God’s manifest interference with the course of events by the singular births of men whom he has used to effect his own divine purposes. Nobody denies that the hand of God is in the coming of men for the hour when the hour calls for the men.

     So also is the hand of God distinctly to be seen in all great events. If Esau captures Mount Seir, then the setting up of the Edomite dominion, bad as it may have been, is from another point of view a matter in which God’s purpose and design are to be noted, for he says— “I gave Esau mount Seir.” Brethren, I believe— and I hope the truth is not too strong for you— that not a tiny bird pecks up a worm from the ground without your Father. A plant does not sprout in the corner behind the wall, and shoot up its flower, and seed, and ripen and decay, apart from the Lord of hosts; much less does an empire rise, flourish, or decline without divine co-operation. When the sere leaf falls from the sycamore in the autumn time, a providence guides the leaf to its place upon the sod; and when the worm uplifts itself to draw that leaf into the tunnel which it has made, the hand of the Lord directs the burial. In everything that happens, be it small or great, the Lord is present; and his will is done. It is so in all the plottings and manœuvrings of kings and princes and senates, in the stirs of public opinion, in the marchings of armies, and in all that transpires among mortal men. Though the iniquity of man is seen abundantly, yet the overruling power of God is never absent. The world is not left to itself, given over to the lord of misrule; but in all events the hand of God may be perceived by all who care to perceive it. I reckon war to be a huge crime on man’s side, but, when battalions have marched against battalions, the destiny of empires, and possibly of the whole race of man, has turned upon the health of a commander, the clearness of his eye, or the quickness of his messenger: yea, the turning aside of a bullet, or the fall of a horse, or the breaking of an axle, has become the pivot of history, the turning point of ages; and there at the centre the Lord has been surely ready. Essential points have been secured beyond all question; perhaps it is more nearly right to say that every turn of the history has been essential, and that the whole of it has been in the hands of the Highest. It is singular how God is seen, both in dangers and preservations, in connection with crises of history. Wellington at Waterloo sat on his horse, Copenhagen, all day long. A friend of mine, well known to most of you, said to him, “I suppose your horse must have been very weary.” “No,” said the duke, “he was so fresh that when I got off from him he threw his heels into the air, and almost struck my temples. I was not in greater danger all through the battle than at that moment.” God had preserved the hero all that live-long day, and we little know what had been the result if a chance slug or ball had carried him off, and yet you see when the red mouth of war was growing silent the Iron Duke was still in jeopardy. Had he been suddenly cut off our island might have become an insignificant province of a vast Napoleonic empire; but he was immortal till his work was done. Above the awful din of war I hear the voice of God: even out of such an evil, which makes earth for the while like hell, the good Lord of all produces good. Masters of armies reckon their hosts, but the Lord of hosts they forget. They plan and scheme— these masters of men, to whom their people are as so much food for powder— but a higher plan overrides their planning. There is a King of kings, and Lord of lords, and he is no silent spectator of what is done, but stretches out his hand to deliver the nations from the power of evil, so that still by his great power the world moves onward to something better. We think of this poor world with great sadness, when we see all the crime and sin which defile it, and yet we join with Galileo in saying, “It does move though!” Truth makes progress: the right is winning. If we do not see an improvement to-day, or to-morrow, yet take any twenty years, and you will see that the world is moving! — moving on to that grand day when the song shall ascend, Hallelujah, Hallelujah: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth! As the Lord’s hand was in Esau’s possession of Mount Seir, so is it in the settlement of every tribe and people, and it is to be seen by all observant eyes in all the great epochs of the history of man.

     Yet please to notice that whenever we say this— and I say it pretty plainly— we never excuse the sin and folly of man. We speak of predestination and foreknowledge, because we find these truths in Scripture; and they seem to us to be facts in the very nature of things. God knows all that happens; else were he no God, or a poor, blind deity; and if he knows that a certain fact will happen, then it is a fixed and settled thing, depend on that. Nothing happens other than God foreknew would happen, and therefore it is fixed. If I laid aside predestination, yet foreknowledge would be quite enough for me. Something or other is certain to happen, and God knows what that something or other is, and therefore it is fixed; not by blind fate, but still fixed. Yet this fixedness is perfectly consistent with the free agency and responsibilty of man. Man thinks, and resolves, and acts as freely, and as much of his own accord, as if there were no foreknowledge and no God. In the book of the unrevealed everything is written; but the mystic roll is laid up in the archives of heaven, and no man knoweth what is written therein. Down below everything happens according to that book: not a stroke of it is in error, not a mistake is found in a single line, the event happens as it was foreknown: but, still, if there were no such book, man would not be more absolutely free than he is now. I can join heartily with the advocate of free agency when he talks of man’s voluntariness in his acts of sin, his wilful choice of evil, his rejection of Christ and of his grace. No man can too thoroughly believe in the wilful guilt of the wicked: at any rate, I will go all lengths in such a belief. I couple with what is called Calvinistic doctrine the other doctrine of free agency and responsibility, which seems to me to be equally true; and if this be judged to be an inconsistency the remark does not stagger me, for I see no inconsistency, and do not believe that any exists. My God is not a mere omnipotent being, who can rule dead materialism, and compel insensible atoms to do his will; but he can rule free agents, leaving them absolutely free, and yet effecting all his purposes with them. God’s eternal purposes are accomplished, and yet men remain responsible free agents both in their beginning and in their ending. Do you say that you do not understand how this can be? Neither do I, but I believe it. There are ten thousand other things in nature and history which are too high for me to understand their “how” and “why,” and yet I see them; can I not also make sure of some matters which I do not see? It is not for me to profess to comprehend the nature or the ways of the Infinite: if we could comprehend the Lord, he would not be the infinite God. It is because he is beyond me— infinitely beyond such a poor creature as I am— that I all the more reverently adore him. His nature and his acts are alike veiled in mystery, but alike to be had in reverence.

     Have you never heard of the insect philosophers: they were midges so small that a man needed a microscope to see them; but they were very great philosophers for all that, and they set about to describe an elephant? One of them hung upon the gigantic creature’s ear, and surveyed a small portion of its area, and his theory was that an elephant was a living wall, almost perpendicular: another stood upright somewhere on the creature’s back, and he averred that the creature was a vast plain; while a third, who was perched upon a hair of the animal, propounded the idea that it was a tall shaft. These midge-philosophers had not eyes large enough to take in a whole elephant, and so each one judged from the tiny morsel of hide which came under his own narrow range of observation. Yet these ephemera were nearer the mark with the elephant than our wise men are with the universe, concerning which their first principles, and theories, and hypotheses have usually been a museum of follies. Yet if philosophers understood the universe, that understanding would not bring their carnal minds within measurable distance of the infinite God. None but the Spirit of God can reveal God to any man, and the man himself must receive a new and spiritual life before he can know what the Spirit teaches. Who, then, among the worldly-wise may dream of understanding God, when even the spiritual rather embrace him by love than grasp him by understanding? Let us, therefore, believe what we find to be in God’s word, and what we are taught by his Spirit, though it should be far above our heads. Let us not delay to believe until we can reconcile. Do you not know that in theology— all the false part of theology— the part on which the sects stand and fight each other— consists of suspension-bridges made of cobwebs, which are intended to bridge the distance between two awful truths which look as if they were divided from each other. The great rocky truths are in effect accepted by both parties, but the battle waxes hot concerning these cobweb-bridges which were never worth a tithe of the ingenuity which has been wasted upon them. I hold it true that God is in history, and in everything; and I read the newspaper that I may see how my heavenly Father governs the world: and this I believe though I most clearly see that men sin wilfully, and wickedly, and voluntarily, and that they are guilty free agents in all their wrong-doing. These thoughts come to me when I remember the character of Esau, and yet read the Lord’s words, “I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it.”

     To us, dear friends, the hand of God is very visible in our own case. Look at the hand of God that gave to you and to me such parents as we have: I mean those of us who have the great delight of having descended from Christian men and women. Had we anything to do with that? And yet the greatest part of a man’s future depends upon the parents of whom he is born. No person can deny that our parentage is beyond our own power, and yet to a large extent it colours the whole future of life. Is not the hand of God in it? Why shall one be born of a long succession of drunkards and of thieves, and have within himself an insatiable passion born with him to imitate them; while another inherits a sound constitution from his parents, and, though he has no tendency to the grace of God, yet he has a tendency to morality, and naturally developes self-restraint and gentle manners? Do we not see the hand of God in the parents that he gave us? I cannot be so blind as to deny my own obligations: I shall for ever bless God that I was given to a godly couple whose delight it was to lead me in the ways of God.

     And do we not see the hand of God, again, in our children? Many of us do. Oh! how some of us bless and praise God that ever such sons fell to our lot: we never think of them without delight, for they are living in the service of the Lord Jesus, spending and being spent in the divine Master’s service. Look at your children as the gifts of God, and if they are not yet all that you could desire, yet still believe that God has given them to you, even as he says, “I gave Isaac Jacob and Esau.” You, dear friends in Christ, united in holy wedlock, may look upon your children as not unclean, but holy, in the sense intended by the apostle when he speaks of the unbelieving wife as sanctified by the believing husband, and adds, “else were your children unclean, but now are they holy.” They are not to be viewed as the unhappy fruit of an unhallowed union, but as gifts of God, to be brought up for him, and trained in his fear. They come not as the result of uncleanness, but as gifts from the Lord, to whom marriage is an honourable estate. It were a sad thing if the sight of my child made me blush for shame; but it is a joy to look upon him as, like Samuel, asked of God, and given of God. Bring these gifts of God to God, and say, “Here, Lord, are the children which thou hast given me. Save them of thy grace, since in love thou hast given them to me. These dear ones are favours from thyself blessings upon which I set great store: O Lord, let thy name be named on them, and let thy grace be glorified in them.”

     Observe, further, that the Lord’s hand is in all the prosperity which he gives to any. He says, “I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it.” It is by God’s allotment that temporal things fall as they do: even the ungodly have their portion in this life by divine grant. It were “vain to rise up early, and to sit up late, and to eat the bread of carefulness,” if the Lord did not build the house and prosper the labour. It is he that giveth thee power to get wealth. Our daily bread comes from the granary of Providence. The store most ample, or the measure most scant, must alike be traced to the one all-bountiful hand.

     And, once more, Gods hand is to be seen in the place in which we live. If Esau lives in mount Seir, it is because God appoints him to be there; and if Israel goes down to Egypt, it is for the selfsame reason. If you and I remove from one place to another, it is sweet to see the cloud moving before us, and to know that the Lord directs our way. “The steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord.” But I need not instance cases. The hand of the Lord has been with some of us for good from our cradle even until now; and we believe that he who has led us so far will lead us still, until we arrive at the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

     II. Secondly, we have another lesson to learn from our text, and that is upon

BIRTH AND ITS DISAPPOINTMENTS.

“I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau,” twin children born of godly parents. In that birth there was joy, but sorrow came by it as well as joy. What joy there was in Isaac’s house that day, for we read that it had been a matter of prayer in the family! See Genesis xxv. 21. It had been a grief to Isaac that, married at forty years of age, he had lived twenty years in married life without a child, although he had the promise of a seed. Lo! on a day it happened that Esau and Jacob were born. There was joy; yea, double joy, because two sons had come to build up their fathers house. Ah, had they known it, there was grave cause for mingled emotion in that double birth! We read that forty years after Esau married, and he took unto himself two Canaanite wives, “which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.” Yes, we may fondly promise ourselves that children born of godly parents will be an unalloyed comfort to them; and yet it may not be so. Children are certain cares, and doubtful comforts. They may bring to their parents such sorrow that they may be inclined to think the barren happier than the fruitful. Hence it is well for us to leave our hopes of posterity with Cod; and if we reckon that in a childless house we have missed a great joy, we ought also to reckon that we have missed a mint of trouble by the same fact. Your children are not born in grace, but they are the children of nature; and that being the case, you may have to see in one of them— God grant it may be in no more! — an Esau, yes, a profane person, who will sell his birthright, and become an enemy of the people of Cod. Esau was born of admirable parents, and so an Esau may be found to your boundless grief in your own family. It has been so aforetime with others, and it may be so with you: the lion’s whelp has been found in the sheep’s fold, the vulture has been hatched in the dove’s nest. There was great hope, certainly, of both boys born in Isaac’s house; for we look that godly parents should train up their children in the way that they should go, so that when they are old they may not depart from it: hence both Esau and Jacob were most hopefully started. But Esau was not trainable. He was a wild man, and took his own way, and became a follower of rough sports, “a cunning hunter, a man of the field,” and soon he became profane, as often happens to those whose chief pursuits are sporting. Ah, me! Ah, me! How often the brightest hopes have been blasted, and those who appeared to be floating on the current which flows towards heaven have been drifted back and lost on the forlorn shores of unbelief.

     It is a great advantage to you, my dear young friend, to have been born into a Christian family; but I charge you, do not trust in it as though it were in itself a guarantee of salvation. Isaac, the beloved of Cod, has Esau for a son. Mind you that. David had to sorrow over Absalom, and Hezekiah over Manasseh. You may be the Esau of your family. Is it so? May God grant that such a dreadful portion may not be chosen by you! Remember, that your brother who has lived with you, slept with you, and grown with you side by side, may be gracious, and you may remain ungodly. Is it so now? Oh, that the Holy Spirit may come and work upon you till you and your brother are one in Christ, like James and John, Peter and Andrew. Father, do you find a division in your house? Then pray to God, even as Abraham prayed for Ishmael, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before thee!” Pray for your wayward boy. And, oh, you that are in the family, and have through divine mercy become a Jacob and not an Esau, ascribe it all to sovereign grace, and give God the praise; but forget not your brother! While he lives have hope of him, and see what you can do that he also may rejoice in the Lord. But, all! if we could read the future when we look at our little children, we should rejoice with trembling; and as we cannot read the future, it is fit that we should pray with earnestness. We have prayer often at dying beds; why have we not more prayer in the chamber of birth? Surely, when an immortal spirit starts upon its endless career, it is well for us to cry to God and ask others to join with us in the loving, earnest prayer that the Holy Spirit may cause the newly-born to be born again as soon as they are able to know Jesus and believe in him. There stands the fact: in birth there is joy tempered with godly fear, hope mingled with sacred anxiety, and high advantage which may yet most sadly end in deepened responsibility and increased sin.

     III. Thirdly, and very briefly, we have next to view

WORLDLINGS AND THEIR POSSESSIONS.

“I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it.” That is to say, Esau, as compared with Jacob, appeared to have the best of it, for he had “mount Seir, to possess it”; but poor Jacob had not a foot of land that he could call his own except the family sepulchre at Machpelah, wherein afterwards he slept the sleep of the righteous.

     Why does God so often give possessions to ungodly men? Why do they flourish? Why do they have their portion in this life? Is it not, first, because Gael thinks little of these things, and therefore gives them to those of whom he thinks little? “Why,” said Luther, in his day, “the whole Turkish empire is but a basket of husks that God gives to the hogs, and therefore he hands it over to the unbelievers.” So, often, wealth and riches are but so much wash, which the great Husbandman gives to the swine on his estate. Something infinitely better is reserved for the Lord’s own family. The rich blessing of true grace he reserves for his children and heirs. It shows how little God thinks of kingdoms, and empires, and great riches, for he leaves these full often to the worst of men. How few saints have ever worn crown or coronet! A holy man once said that the kings who have gone to heaven might almost be counted on your fingers. Sec what small account the Lord makes of the world’s best store.

     Do you wish that ungodly men should have less? For my part, I am reconciled to their present prosperity, for it is all they ever will have. Poor souls, let them have as much of it as they may here; they have nothing hereafter. Besides, they have no God; and having no God, it would take a great many fortunes to make a godless man’s portion worth a straw. If the graceless could gain all worlds, what use would they be to them when they come to die? Their own souls lost, and no comfort in Christ, and no joy in the Spirit, what have they gained after all? Let the worldlings have the husks. Let none of us ever cry, “I fain would fill my belly with the husks that the swine do eat.” Let those have the treasures of this present evil world who have nothing else. Never quarrel with the Lord for saying, “I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it.”

     Besides, these comforts may lead them to reflect upon God’s bounty to them; and at any rate they ought to move them to repentance. It is my earnest hope that many an ungodly man, whom God has highly favoured in the things of this life, may be influenced by the Spirit of God to say, “Why should I continue to rebel against God who has been so kind to me? He has prospered me, and taken care of me. Why should I not turn to him, and become his servant?” At any rate, gratitude for mercies received should produce repentance for sin committed. Worldly goods have no necessary connection with ungodliness. There is no infection in harvest stores, nor iniquity in the wealth which comes of commerce. In themselves gold and silver are harmless metals. There have been men who have enjoyed the abundance of this world, and yet have inherited the world to come. Not many great men after the flesh are chosen; but there is a great difference between “not many” and “not any.” Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, and the women who ministered unto Christ of their substance, had a fair measure of the comforts of this life, and used them for their Lord. It was not Solomon’s wealth that brought him down so low: his unrestrained passions were his ruin, else might he have held all his treasures and held his God too. Pray, therefore, that the rich may be brought to Christ. Why should not that fish be taken which hath the silver shekel in its mouth? Why may not Matthew, the publican, be called from the receipt of custom? Is there not yet another Zaccheus to be renewed by grace? May not their indebtedness to God be used as a plea with the wealthy to give themselves to him who has already given them so much? It was no fault in Jonah that he felt pleasure under the shade of his gourd; the fault lay in making a god of that gourd. There is no evil in having goods; but there is great evil in making those goods our chief good. Yet, brethren, so it is that the men of this world usually have the most of it; I do not say the best of it. It is, and always will be, a mystery as long as the world stands, that the wicked often flourish and the righteous suffer. Read the Book of Job; read the thirty-seventh Psalm; read the seventy-third Psalm; and see how holy men and wise men have been perplexed and troubled by the method of the divine providence. To see wickedness on a throne and righteousness in a dungeon, pride enshrined in honour, and holiness rolled in the kennel, is a serious trial of our confidence in God, and yet there are weighty reasons why it should be so for awhile. Not without wisdom doth the Lord say, “I gave to Esau mount Seir, to possess it.”

     IV. Now, comes the fourth point, and a great mystery too. Here are

THE CHOSEN OF GOD AND THEIR TRIALS.

“I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it; but Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.” That is their portion. They must go down into Egypt because of famine, and they must suffer there under a tyrant’s iron rod, so that they may become familiar with the drudgery of slaves. They must be strangers in a strange land, and be sorely bruised beneath the foot of the oppressor. The escutcheon of their nation was to be “a smoking furnace and a burning lamp.” Moses saw Israel as well as God when he beheld a bush burning with fire but not consumed. Is not this a strange thing? To him whom God loves best he allots the hardest condition. Esau’s sons are dukes, but Jacob’s seed are drudges: Esau reigns, but Israel serves; Esau set his nest on high, but Israel crouched by the reeds of the river. The worlding would read the Scripture as if it said, “As many as I love, I caress and pamper”: but the Lord speaketh not so: his word is, “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten.” “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth,” — that is a very hard word— “scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” To carnal reason this seems strange; faith alone can explain it.

     But Israel and his children went down into Egypt, first, for their preservation. So God brings his people into trial often to preserve them from the world and its evil influences, from themselves and their natural pride, from Satan and his puffings up. By sorrow and adversity the children of God are driven to their knees, brought near to their great Father, and kept in fellowship with him. Sanctified afflictions are spiritual promotions. The salt and bitterness of sorrow often preserves men from the gall and bitterness of sin.

     They went down into Egypt, next, for their improvement; for the family of Jacob was in a mournful condition, and by no means fit to be used of the Lord. The story of Jacob’s family is a strangely sad one; perhaps Scripture does not contain a more mournful page. The evil influence of polygamy is clearly seen, blended with the errors of Laban’s house, and envenomed by the foul example of the Canaanites among whom they sojourned. It was time that they should shift their quarters: they were neither getting good nor doing good. It looked as if the patriarch would found an ignorant, quarrelsome, vicious race; and so they were sent down into Egypt that trouble might teach them better manners. God often thrusts his people into adversity that he may improve them, arouse them, instruct them, and ennoble them. See to it, brethren, that the Lord’s design be fulfilled in you to the full. May the fire and the file, the crucible and the flame, work in you a clearance of dross and rust, and make you pure and bright.

     They also went down into Egypt for their education. The chosen seed needed teaching; they were getting to be rustic, not to say barbarous, in their manners; acquirements and. knowledge were scant among them. They must go down into the seat of ancient learning to acquire arts and sciences, and civilization. In Egypt a race, which else had been a mob, must be consolidated into a nation; a band of wilful men must be trained to discipline and obedience. The Lord said, “Out of Egypt have I called my son,” because Egypt was his school of learning, his drill-ground of discipline. We are ignorant, rebellious, and wilful till the Lord trains us. “Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept thy word.” The Lord teaches us on the black-board of adversity, and we are often rapped over the knuckles by the stern master. It is wonderful what we learn when we are taken among the thorns. I hardly think that I have learned anything except in affliction; at least, this I know— I owe more to the hammer, and the anvil, and the file, and the furnace than I do to all the green meads and flowing brooks and singing birds that I have ever seen or heard. I fear that I have learned little beyond that which has been whipped into me; and though I am not fonder of the rod than you are, I confess that such sweet fruit grows on the bitter bough of trial that I would fear to be long without it. Far rather would I weep with the Lord’s chosen than laugh with the reprobate. By unhallowed mirth fools grow more foolish, but by sanctified trials wise men become yet wiser. For future usefulness it is well that we bear present sorrow, and like Jacob go down into Egypt.

     And they went down to Egypt, again, that God might display his great power in them. I would not care to be Esau on Mount Seir when I see Pharaoh’s hosts drowned, and Israel marching through the depths of the sea, and when I hear the song of the Israelitish maidens, and the shouts of the men, “Sing ye to Jehovah, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea,” It is worth while to go down into Egypt to come out of it with a high hand and an outstretched arm. Oh, the glory of the Lord in his redeemed. Oh, the lofty destiny of the tried people of God! Oh, the sublimity of their lives even now! There is God in them: there is God about them. He leads the van, and brings up the rear. They are as signs and wonders in their generations. He has blessed them: yea, and they shall be blessed. Little boots it that Esau has Mount Seir for a possession: Israel has her God. No foot of land perhaps you call your own; you do not know where your next suit of clothes will come from, and God has kept you on short commons, and multiplied your straits and needs: never mind — yours is the lot of the chosen; for “Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.” That is where the story ends, according to my text; but you know the story does not end there after all; for out of Jacob and his children came the Star, the Sceptre, and the Throne. The Godhead took up the seed of Israel; and now to-day he that sprang of Jacob’s loins, according to the flesh, sits on the highest throne of God, and reigns supreme. The Shiloh has come, and it matters nothing what Egypt brought of sorrow unto Jacob’s seed, seeing that out of them at the last came the King and Saviour of men. If Jesus be ours, the rest is a small affair. Give me Christ, and I ask nothing else. Having faith in Jesus, I can leave all things else with the great Disposer of events. Christ and a crust; the promise and a parish coat; grace and an almshouse! Cannot a saint be more than content with these?

     So have I set before you the varying lots of God’s own people and of the wicked. I hope that you are ready to say that you would rather suffer affliction with the people of God than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. God help you to make that wise choice, and to make it at once. May his Spirit lead you to take the Lord Jesus to be your all in all. Amen.



The Marvellous Magnet

By / Jun 22

THE MARVELLOUS MAGNET.

 

“I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.”— John xii. 32, 33.

 

JESUS is the spokesman here. He tells of his own death by crucifixion, and of the result which will follow. It appears, then, that our Lord’s power to draw all men to himself lies mainly in his death. By being lifted up from the earth upon the cross he was made to die, and so also was he made to draw all men unto himself. There is an attractive power about our Lord’s person, and about his life, and about his teaching; but, still, the main attractive force lies in his death upon the cross. Most certainly this is rare and strange; for when a great religious leader dies, a large measure of his personal power is gone. The charm of the man’s manner, the impressiveness of his personal conviction, the lofty tone of his daily enthusiasm— these are immense helps to a cause while they are with us: to lose them is a fearful drawback such as makes it perilous for a religious leader to die. Men may remember a leader’s life for a time after his death: they will do so most emphatically if he has been eminently good. We say of the righteous, — “Even in their ashes live their wonted fires.” From many a tomb there rises a silent voice more eloquent than the choicest speech: “He being dead yet speaketh.” But there is a measure and bound to the influence of a mere memory. How often is it the case that, after a little while, the leader having gone, the feebler folk gradually drop away, the hypocritical openly desert, the lukewarm wander, and so the cause dies out. The man’s successors desert his principles, or maintain them with but little life and energy, and, therefore, what was once a hopeful effort expires like a dying taper. For a man’s work to prosper it is not desirable that he should die. Is it not strange that what is so often fatal to the influence of other men is a gain to our Lord Jesus Christ; for it is by his death that he possesses his most powerful influence over the sons of men? Because Jesus died, he is this day the mightiest ruler of human minds, the great centre to which all hearts are being drawn.

     Remember, too, that our Lord Jesus Christ died by a most shameful death. We have come to use the cross as an ornament, and by some it is regarded as an object of reverence; but the cross, to speak very plainly, was to the ancients what the gibbet is to us— an odious instrument of death for felons — exactly that, and no more. The death of the cross was one never allotted to a Roman citizen except for certain heinous crimes. It was regarded as the death-penalty of a slave. It was not only painful, it was disgraceful and ignominious; and to say that a man was crucified was, in our Lord’s time, exactly tantamount to saying in our speech to-day that he was hanged. It means just that; and you must accept the death of the cross with all the shame that can be connected with the gibbet and the tree of death, or else you will not understand what it meant to Jesus and his disciples. Now, surely, if a man is hanged there is an end to his influence among men. When I was looking through all the Bible commentaries in the English language, I found one with a title-page attributing it to Dr. Coke; but on further examination I perceived that it was the commentary of Dr. Dodd, who was executed for forgery. After he had been hanged, of course the publishers could not sell a commentary under his name, and so they engaged another learned doctor to take it under his wing. The man was hanged, and therefore people would not read his book, and you are not at all surprised that it should be so. But herein is a wonderful thing. The Lord Jesus has lost no influence by having been hanged upon the tree; nay, rather it is because of his shameful death that he is able to draw all men unto himself. His glory rises from his humiliation; his adorable conquest from his ignominious death. When he “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,” shame cast no shame upon his cause, but gilded it with glory. Christ’s death of weakness threw no weakness into Christianity; say rather that it is the right arm of her power. By the sign of suffering unto death the church has conquered, and will conquer still. By a love which is strong as death she has always been victorious, and must for ever remain so. When she has not been ashamed to put the cross in the forefront, she has never had to be ashamed; for God has been with her, and Jesus has drawn all men to himself. The crucified Christ has irresistible attractions: when HE stoops into the utmost suffering and scorn even the brutal must relent: a living Saviour men may love, but a crucified Saviour they must love. If they perceive that he loved them, and gave himself for them, their hearts are stolen away: the city of Mansoul is captured before the siege begins, when the Prince Emanuel uncovers the beauties of his dying love before the eyes of the rebellious ones.

     Let us never be ashamed, dear friends, to preach Christ crucified— the Son of God lifted up to die among the condemned. Let those of us who teach in the Sunday-school, or preach at the street corner, or in any other manner try to set forth the gospel, always keep a dying Christ to the front. Christ without the cross is no Christ at all. Never forget that he is the eternal God, but bind with that truth the fact that he was nailed to a Roman gibbet. It is on the tree he triumphed over Satan, and it is by the cross that he must triumph over the world. “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.”

     The great truth of the text I have stated to you; let me enlarge thereon.

     I. I shall try to speak first upon the ATTRACTIVE FORCE WHICH LIES IN A CRUCIFIED SAVIOUR.

     You will observe that it is briefly summed up in these words: himself to himself. “I will draw all men unto me.” It is not written that Christ will draw all men to the visible church, for the universal profession of our holy faith is slow enough in coming. Certainly the Lord Jesus Christ will not lend himself out to draw men to your sect or to mine. He will draw ever towards truth and righteousness, but not to dead forms or meaningless distinctions; nor to the memories of former wrongs or party victories. If the Lord should draw men to the Cathedral or the Tabernacle, the Abbey or the Chapel, it would be of little service to them unless in each case they found himself. The main thing that is wanted is that they be drawn to himself, and none can draw them to himself but himself. Himself drawing them to himself — this is the soul of the text.

     I dare say that you have heard the oft-recounted story of the missionaries among the Greenlanders. Our Moravian brethren, full of fire and zeal and self-denial, went right away among the ignorant folk of Greenland, as those people then were, longing to convert them. Using large prudence, they thought, “These people are so benighted that it cannot be of any use to preach Jesus Christ to them at first. They do not even know that there is a God, so let us begin by teaching them the nature of the Deity, showing them right and wrong, proving to them the need of atonement for sin, and setting before them the rewards of the righteous and the penalties of the wicked.” This was judged to be most fit preparatory work. Watch for the result! They went on for years, but had no converts. What was there in all that fine preparatory teaching that could convert anybody? Jesus was being locked out of the Greenlanders’ hearts by those who wanted him to enter. But one day one of the missionaries happened to read to a poor Greenlander the story of Jesus bleeding on the cross, and how God had sent his Son to die, “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life;” and the Greenlander said, “Would you read me that again? What wonderful words! Did the Son of God die for us poor Greenlanders that we may live?” The missionary answered that it was even so; and, clapping his hands, the simple native cried, “Why did you not tell us that before?” Ah, just so! Why not tell them this at once, and leave it to clear its own path? That is the point to begin with. Let us start with the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” To my mind that is the point to begin with and the point to go on with; yes, that is the truth to conclude with, if there can ever be any conclusion to the grand old story of the incarnate God who loved his enemies, and gave himself to die in their stead, that they might live through him. The gospel is Jesus drawing sinners to himself that they might live through him. Dear hearers, do you know what this means? I know that many of you do, and you are happy; for in this knowledge there is life. Would to God that all knew this power of love in Christ— knew it so as to be drawn by almighty love to return that love with all their heart, and soul, and strength. The best thing that can happen to any one of us is to feel Christ drawing him to Christ, and to find himself sweetly yielding to the gentle drawing of the Saviour’s love.

     The text says that Jesus Christ will draw all men unto himself. Now, all men who hear of Jesus Christ at all are drawn, but they do not all yield. Some of them pull back, and the most awful thing that ever happens to a man is when he pulls back till Jesus lets him go. What a fall is that, when the drawing power is taken away, and the man falls backward into a destruction which he himself has chosen, having refused eternal life, and resisted the Saviour’s power! Unhappy is the wretch who strives against his own salvation. Every man that hears the gospel feels some measure of its drawing power. I appeal to any one of you who has been accustomed to hear it. Does not Jesus sometimes tug hard at your conscience-strings, and, though you have pulled back, yet has he not drawn and drawn again? I remember how he drew me as a child, and, though I drew back from him, yet did he never let me go till he drew me over the border line. Some of you must well remember how you were drawn by a mother’s gentle words— by a teacher’s earnest pleadings— by a father’s admonitions — by a sister’s tears— by a pastor’s entreaties. Permit your memories to aid me. Bring up before your mind’s eye the many dear ones who have broken their hearts to win you for Jesus. Yes, you have been drawn.

     I suppose that all of you have felt a measure of that drawing. Why, it is not merely those that hear the gospel, but whole nations have been drawn, in other respects, by the all-pervading influence of Jesus and his love. At this instant the influence of Christianity is being felt in every corner of the earth to an extent which it is not easy to exaggerate. If I had an orator’s power, I would picture my Saviour casting golden chains of love over all nations, wherever the missionary goes preaching his name. The Lord is taming the nations as a man by degrees subdues wild beasts. Jesus is gradually drawing the heathen to himself. He has had a long tug at India. That dead weight still lies in the furrow. But it must come: it must yield. All those that watch it see that if there is any cause that does make progress in India it is the cause of Christ. The East appears never to move, but if there be any move it is Christward. Jesus is drawing China slowly. Japan is being drawn as in a net. Where the testimony of Christ has been borne the idols begin to shake, and their priests confess that a change is coming. Every century sees a marked advance in the world’s condition; and we shall progress at a quicker rate yet when the church wakes up to a sense of her responsibility, and the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the church to turn us all into missionaries, causing us all in some way or other to preach the gospel of Christ. Jesus is drawing, drawing, drawing. When God meant to scatter the individuals of our race they would not be scattered: they built a tower to be the centre of union, and only by their tongues being so changed that they could not understand one another could their resolve to remain in one company be defeated. But now, behold, the whole earth has the race of men to cover it: the sons of Adam dwell in every region, and it is the Fathers will to gather together in one the redeemed of the Lord. Therefore he has set in their midst the great Shiloh, of whom it was prophesied of old, “To him shall the gathering of the people be.” The roaming races do not answer to the Father’s call; they do not want to come to the elder Brother’s rule; but they will have to come, for he must reign. Gentile and Jew, African and European— they shall all meet at the cross, the common centre of our entire manhood; for Christ is lifted up, and he is drawing all men unto him.

     But all men are not saved. No, for when drawn they do not come. Yet Christ crucified is drawing some men of all kinds and sorts to eternal life. When Jesus died on the cross it was not for my lord and lady only; nor was it for the working-man alone; it was for all sorts of people.

“While grace is offered to the prince,
The poor may take their share.
No mortal has a just pretence
To perish in despair.”

He that is best taught and instructed has often been drawn to Jesus by the Lord’s overpowering charms. Some of the most learned of men have been delighted to come to Christ. But the most illiterate and rude have equally been drawn by Jesus, and it has been their joy to come. I love to hear of the gospel being preached to the poorest of the poor; and so preached that it reaches those who never were reached by it before. God speed every effort by which Jesus is set before the fallen and degraded; so long as it is the gospel, and not mere rant, we wish God-speed to the most irregular of witnesses: our fears begin only when Jesus is no longer in the van. We greatly need to have the gospel preached in the West of London, and so preached that our great ones may receive it, and find life through Jesus Christ. May such a movement soon take place. How I should like to hear of a converted duke telling out the gospel, or a reclaimed knight of the garter proclaiming mercy for the chief of sinners! Why not? And, blessed be God, the Saviour, lifted up, draws all sorts of men to himself— some of every kind; not the Jew alone, as at the first, but the Gentile too.

“None are excluded hence but those
Who do themselves exclude.
Welcome the learned and polite,
The ignorant and rude.”

There is no exclusion of any class or creature from the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me”; and the history of the church proves how true this is: the muster-roll of the converted includes princes and paupers, peers and potmen.

     But what is this force that attracts men to the crucified Saviour? They do come: there is no doubt about it. Look ye, sirs; there is nothing in the world that men will hear so gladly as the gospel. How many years have I stood in this place to preach to a congregation precisely similar to the present! The crowds have been here as regularly as the hours, Sunday after Sunday, morning and evening, year after year. Suppose that I had been appointed to preach upon a scientific subject; could I have gained or held such audiences? I should have been spun out a long while ago if I had been bound to draw upon myself for my matter. If I bad preached any other than the doctrine of Christ crucified, I should years ago have scattered my audience to the winds of heaven. But the old theme is always new, always fresh, always attractive. Preach Jesus Christ. That is the recipe for catching men’s ears and laying hold upon men’s hearts. The name of Jesus is to man’s heart the most mighty of charms: man’s ear waits for it as the morning hour waits for the sun. or as the parched earth waits for the shower. Ring out the name of Jesus; it is the sweetest carol ever sung. Ring it out without fear or stint, for it is always welcome as the flowers in May: men will never tire of it till the flowers arc satiated with sunlight, and the grass grows weary of the dew. The music of that blessed silver bell rings out o’er hill and dale as sweetly as when, on the first Christmas-night, the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” There is about Calvary and its infinite stoop of divine love a power that never dies out, and never will while the world stands. What is it? Whence this universal attractiveness?

     Well, first, it is the force of love; for Jesus Christ is incarnate love. In him you see one who divested himself of all his glory, that he might save the guilty— who came down upon earth, not seeking wealth and fame, but simply seeking to do good by saving men— who, having laid aside his honour and his glory, at last laid aside his life, and all for love; for love which met a sad return; for love which has, however, saved its objects with a great salvation. One of the school-men says that, whenever we know that another person loves us, we cannot help giving back a measure of love in return; and I believe that the statement is true. Certainly, such love as the love of Christ, when it is told out simply, and men can understand it, is certain to excite an interest, to win a degree of attention, and so to lead up to better things. Full often this love proves its power over observers by transforming them from enemies into friends; and, though they at first despised the Redeemer, his love compels them, at length, to believe and to adore. If l were asked the secret of the attractive power of the crucified Saviour, I should answer that it is invincible love. The only crime that ever could be laid to Jesus’ charge was that of which the poet sings— “found guilty of excess of love” — loving beyond all reason, and beyond all bound— loving as none ever loved before; so that if all the rivers of human love did run together they could not fill such another ocean of love as was in the heart of Jesus the Saviour. This it is— this unique, unrivalled love — which draws men to Jesus. The pierced heart of Christ is a loadstone to draw all other hearts.

     No doubt there is also this about the crucified Saviour— that he draws men by the wonderful rest which his death provides for men. The most earnest Christian man must sometimes have his doubts as to whether all is right with him. The more sincere a man is the more does he tremble lest he should deceive himself. You, good brother, have your personal anxieties; certainly I have mine. But when I turn my eyes to Jesus upon the cross, and view the thorn-crown, and the sacred head, and the eyes that were red with weeping, and the hands nailed fast to the wood, and the feet dripping with gore; and when I remember that this shameful death was endured for love of me, l am so quiet and so happy in my spirit that I cannot tell how peacefully my life-floods flow. God must forgive my grievous fault, for my Redeemer has so grievously answered for it. When I see Jesus die I perceive that henceforth divine justice is on the sinner’s side. How can the Lord God punish the same offence twice— first the Substitute and then the men for whom that Substitute has bled? Christ has bled as substitute for every man that believes in him, — therefore is every believer safe. Oh, brethren, when you are troubled, rest with us, by looking to Calvary: and if the first glance docs not quiet you, look, and look, and look again, for every grief will die where Jesus died. Not to Bethlehem, where the stars of Christmas burn, do we look for our greatest comfort, but to that place where the sun was darkened at mid-day, and the face of eternal love was veiled. Because the Lord of life and glory was dying in iremis, suffering the most deadly pain for our sakes, therefore his wounds distilled the richest balm that ever healed a sinner’s wound. Men know this. Reading their Bibles, they soon find it out. There is no comfort for them against the anger of God, and against their guilty consciences, until they see Christ in their stead, suffering for them. The conscience sees with unspeakable delight the victim provided; she gladly lays her hand on Jesus’ head, and sees her sin transferred to him, and punished in him, and thus it findeth rest, like the rest of God. In the expiatory death of Jesus the law is vindicated, and God is “just, and yet the justifier of him that believeth.” Dear friends, believe me, Jesus bestows the peerless pearl of perfect rest on every heart that comes to him. He fills the soul so that it has no more longings. You know the horseshoe magnet, and you have seen how rapidly it picks up pieces of iron. Have you ever put a piece of iron right across the two ends of the magnet? You will then have noticed that it ceases to attract anything else. The magnetic circuit is completed, and the magnet rests perfectly quiet, refusing to go beyond its own circle of pure content. When my soul is filled with Jesus he completes the circuit of my soul’s passions and longings. He is all my salvation and all my desire. Have you found it so? Has not your soul come to an absolutely perfect rest when it has gotten to Christ? When he himself has drawn you to himself, have you not entered into rest? Because men perceive that such a rest is to be had therefore they come to Christ. He himself uses this as an argument why they should come: remember his cheering words, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This is part of the attractive force which dwells in a crucified Saviour.

     Then I am sure that there is a great attraction about Christ, when we see the change which he works in men. Have you known a drunkard become a Christian, or a thief become upright? Have you seen a harlot made chaste? Have you marked any of the modern miracles which are always going on around us in the form of conversions? If you have taken pleasure in these signs and wonders, I know that you have said, “Lord, I, too, will come to thee to be converted.” The sight of his power to elevate and sanctify has attracted you to Jesus, and you have fallen at his feet. There is no true, deep, tender, living conversion except through the cross; and therefore those that are taught of God do love to come to Christ, that sin may be conquered in them, that the heart of stone may be taken away, that the heart of flesh may be given, and that they may walk the happy way of holiness, according to the example of their adorable Master.

     I could continue thus to show what this attractive force is; but, lest I should weary you, I will only say that it lies much in his sufferings themselves. Is it not a strange thing that suffering attracts? Yea, more: lowly suffering conquers; she sitteth as a queen upon her throne, and reigneth by the royalty of her resignation. The ship of the church has ploughed its way through seas of blood; with the blood-red cross at the masthead she has pushed on even in the night, throwing the crimson spray about her. She has never paused because of persecution, affliction, or death: these are the rough winds which fill her sails. No progress is surer than that which comes of holy suffering. The enemies of the church have taken her disciples and burned them; but their deaths yielded a sweet savour of life. It is questionable if a man's influence can be better promoted than by sending him aloft in a chariot of fire. What made us a Protestant nation for so many years? I do not say that we are Protestant now; but what made us enthusiastically Antipapal for so many years? The stakes of Smithfield did it. Men and women stood and saw the martyrs burned; and as they saw them die, they said, “These men are right, and the cause for which they burn is true”; and into the very heart of England martyrdom cast up a way for the Lord Jesus, and he entered there and then info Old England’s secret soul. What the martyrs did in their measure, by their bitter death-pangs, is being done on a divine scale by the sufferings of the chief of all martyrs and head of all witnesses. By the agonies of Jesus men’s affections are moved and their hearts enthralled.

     Are any of you unconverted, and do you wish to be converted? I cannot suggest a better exercise than to read over the story of the death of Christ, as it is told by the four Evangelists. When you have read it once, read it again; and as you read it say, “Lord, I must have a sadly hard heart, or else this would move me to tears. I pray thee, change my heart.” Then read the story again; for sure at last it will touch you. God the Holy Spirit blessing you, it will move you, and you will be among the “all men” that shall be drawn to Jesus by his own personal force.

     So much, then, about what this force is.

     II. Very briefly, my second head is to be— HOW IS THIS FORCE EXERCISED?

     This force is exercised through the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of God who puts power into the truth about Christ; and then men feel that truth, and come to Christ and live. But our blessed Lord and Master uses instruments. The force of Christ’s love is sometimes shown to men by those who already love him. One Christian makes many. One believer leads others to faith. To come back to my metaphor of a magnet: you have sometimes seen a battery attached to a coil; and then, if you take a nail and put it on the coil, the nail has become a strong magnet. You notice that the nail turns into a magnet; for you take another nail, and you put it on the end of it and it holds the second nail fast. Now number two is turned into a magnet. Try it. Put a third nail upon it. See, it is held fast! Number three has become a magnet. Try the next nail: it holds on to it like grim death; and now number four has become a magnet. Bring another nail within the influence. Number five has become a magnet. And so it continues. On and on and on the magnetism goes, from one nail to another. But now just go to your battery, and detach one of your wires, and the nails drop off directly, for the coil has ceased to be a magnet, and the nails have ceased to be magnets too. All the magnetism comes from the first place from which it started, and when it ceases at the fountain-head there is an end of it altogether. Indeed, Jesus Christ is the great attractive magnet, and all must begin and end with him. When Jesus lays hold upon us we get hold of a brother, and ere long he turns into a magnet also; thus from one to another the mystic influence proceeds; but the whole of the force abides in Jesus. More and more the kingdom grows, “ever mighty to prevail;” but all the growing and the prevailing come out of him. So it is that Jesus works— first by himself, and then by all who are in him. May the Lord make us all magnets for himself. Jesus says, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me,” but he leaves room in his figure for the co-working of all grateful hearts.

     Jesus draws men gradually. Some are brought to Christ in a moment; but many are drawn by slow degrees. The sun in some parts of the world rises above the horizon in a single instant; but in our own country, at this season of the year, it is beautiful to watch the dawn, from the first grey light to the actual break of day. Is it dark, or is it light? Well, it is not quite dark: it is darkness visible. By-and-by there is light. No sun is up as yet, but yet the light increases till the East begins to glow, and the West reflects the radiance: then, by-and-by, up rises the great king of day. So does the Lord bring many to himself by gentle degrees. They cannot tell when they were converted, but they are converted, for they have come to Christ. Rest assured that he will not send you back. Do not say, “I am not converted, for I do not know the moment of the great change.” I knew an old lady once who did not know her birthday; but I never told her that she was not born because of that, for there she was. And if you do not know when you were made a Christian, yet, if you are a Christian, it little matters how. If you are really born of God, the date of your new birth is interesting to curiosity but not important to piety. Salvation is often accomplished by a lengthened process. I have heard that when they wanted to bridge a great chasm they shot across the river an arrow or a' bullet which drew with it a tiny thread. That was all the communication from bank to bank, and the rolling torrent was far below. Despise not the day of small things! The insignificant beginning was prophetic of grand results. By means of that little thread they drew across a piece of twine; and, when they had safely grasped it on the other side, they bound a small rope to the end of the twine, and they drew the rope across, and then to that rope they tied a cable, and they drew the cable across; and now over that chasm there strides an iron bridge, along which the steam-horse rattles with his mighty load. So does Jesus unite us to himself; he may employ at first an insignificant thread of thought; then a sense of pleasant interest; then some deeper feeling; then a crushing emotion; then a faint faith; then stronger faith; then stronger yet; until, at last, we come to be firmly bound to Christ. Oh, be thankful if you have only a thread of communication between you and Jesus, for it will lead to more. Something more hopeful will be drawn across the gulf before long: at least, I hunger to see it. Christ’s attractions are often very gradually revealed, and their victorious energy is not felt all at once.

     Moreover, the cords of our Lord’s drawings are very secret. You see the swallows twittering round our roofs, hawking in the air, shooting up into the clouds, or flashing by our ear. It is summer, and they are paying us their annual visit. They will be with you for a time, and on a sudden you will see them getting together about the gable of an old house, holding agitated congregations, and evidently discussing matters of importance. The Lord of birds is gently drawing every swallow in England down towards the African coast, and they will all go, without exception, as the secret summons reaches the flying host. They know but little of the way, but their flight is not therefore delayed or its course left to uncertainty. Over thousands of miles of sea and land they pursue their course until they come to their resting-place. And then, next spring, the same power that drew them southward will draw them all northward again; and hither they will come, and we shall hear their joyous twitter, and say to ourselves, “Summer is coming, for here are the swallows again.” By a secret power of that order does Jesus draw home the strangers and the foreigners whom his grace has chosen: they say to one another, “Come, and let us go up to the house of the Lord: let us seek the face of the Saviour.” The mystic attractions of the power of Christ are secretly drawing many who knew him not; and now they ask their way to Zion with their faces thitherward. Look how the sun draws along the planets. He hastens on in his mighty career in space— I know not whither, but drawing with him all the worlds which compose the solar system: all these silently attend his majestic marches. Such is Christ, the great central sun; all his people follow, for he draws. Stand by the seashore and notice what the moon can do. You do not even see her, for it is high noon; but here comes a wave, and then another, and then another, and the tide rises a little higher to-day than it did yesterday. What is it that causes this pulse of life, these heart-throbs of the deep? The moon’s attractive power is drawing up the waters from the sea. Even so our glorious Christ, in ways unknown to us, draws the hearts of men by his mighty Spirit wherever he pleases. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.”

     Fail not to observe how gently he does it! The classic heathen adored a goddess whom they represented as riding in a chariot drawn by doves. Surely the tenderest mode of impulse— power without force, motion born of emotion! Certain of us were wafted to Jesus by some such zephyr. We could not but yield; the softness and tenderness of every touch of Jesus affected us infinitely more than force could possibly have done. Hearts are tender things, and are not to be forced open with crowbars: the doors of the heart open gently to him that holds the key; and who is that but he who made the heart, and bought it with his precious blood? The gentleness is equal to the power when Jesus draws men to himself!

     But, oh, how effectually! I thought, as I mused upon my text, that I saw a great whirlpool like the maelstrom in the north of Norway. I thought I saw an enormous whirlpool so huge that all the souls of men, like ships of diverse forms, were being drawn towards it. With strained sight I gazed upon this monstrous death! Woe to those who are sucked in by that dreadful whirlpool, for there is no escape; the abyss has no bottom, destruction is sure to all who are caught in the tremendous down-rush! Even ships far out at sea on other tacks, though they escape this maelstrom, are hindered in their course by it; for this one monstrous devourer labours to absorb all, and leaves no bay, nor harbour, nor foreign main unaffected by its perpetual draught. As I was thinking of this giant evil, and wondering how I could navigate my own barque so as to avoid this mouth of hell, I saw a hand that had the mark of a nail upon its palm, and lo, it held a mighty magnet which attracted every vessel with a force greater than any born of sea or storm. This magnet attracted many ships so that they flew to it at once, and were gently drawn towards their desired haven in the very teeth of the maelstrom. I saw other vessels in which the mariners hoisted sail to try to escape the influence of this magnet, and even put out their oars to strive to get away; and some of them did so escape. Alas, they floated farther and farther into the maelstrom’s destructive power, to be sucked down to their perdition. These were so besotted that they laboured against mercy, and resolved to be destroyed: we are glad that all are not left to act so madly.

     You must have seen an instance of drawing very often down in the river. A grand vessel is bound for the Indies; but how can it be taken down to the Nore? It is difficult to move the heavy craft. There it must lie. But here comes a steam-tug. The large vessel hands a rope on board the tug: and now the steam is up. Tug, tug, tug; the paddle-wheels revolve, and the big ship begins to follow the lead; it is no longer motionless, it will soon be walking the waters as a thing of life. A pleasant sight— the tug draws it gently out to sea, and then leaves it to pursue its distant voyage. Just so may Jesus draw you away from sinful pleasures and from self-righteousness.

     III. I shall conclude by drawing one or two lessons. Then I have done. WHAT DOES ALL THIS IMPLY? “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.”

     Weil, it means this first— that men, by nature, are a long way off from Christ. You were not born converted. Of that I am sure. Nor were you born a Christian either; and, though they took you to the font, and said that they made you a “member of Christ, a child of Cod, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven,” there was not a word of truth in it, fur you were such a child of God that you loved sin, and such a member of Christ that you knew nothing of him, and such an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven that, unless God saves you, you will never get there. I may say of Christians who are made in that way, “Eyes have they, but they see not; mouths have they, but they speak not, neither speak they through their throats;” and I fear that I must add, “They that make them are like unto them: so is every one that trusteth in them.” It is a poor Christianity that is created by such monstrous folly. “Ye must be born again,” and ye must be born again of the Spirit of God, or ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Man is a long way off from Christ, and Christ must draw him. Friend, ask him to draw you.

     I gather another lesson— that men will not come to Christ unless he draws them. Sometimes, when I am trying to prepare a sermon to preach, I say to myself, “Why must I take all this trouble?” If men were in their senses they would run to Christ without calling. Why must we put this business so temptingly? Why must we plead? Why must we be so earnest? Because men do not want to come, not even to their own Saviour. They do not wish to have their sins forgiven. They do not wish to be renewed in heart; and they never will come— no, not one mother’s son of them— unless he that sent Christ to them shall draw them to Christ. A work of grace in the heart is absolutely necessary before the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus will be accepted by any one of us. Jesus said, “Ye will not come to me that ye might have life.” What our Lord said is true to this hour; man has not improved an atom.

     But, then, learn another lesson. If there is any man here that Christ is drawing, he need not say, “May I come?” Of course you may, if you feel drawn to come. Are you coming? Come, and welcome. Christ never yet turned away a soul that came to him— not one. “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” If he is drawing you, run, for you have Scriptural warrant for so doing. “Draw us: we will run after thee.” If to-night you feel any kind of tugging at your heartstrings, do not stay a moment. Come along with you. When God draws then is your time to move. What do the sailors say? “There’s a breeze, Jack. Ay, ay, boys. Up with the anchor. Now for every stitch of canvas. We can make headway now.” Do you feel any kind of breeze? Is the breath of the Holy Spirit moving upon you in any degree? Do you feel inclined to say, “I will go to Jesus”? Then, fly away with you, like a full-sailed ship before a fair wind; and by God’s help may you soon make the port of everlasting salvation.

     Let us finish up by saying that, if Christ has said that he will draw, then he will draw to-night. The attractions of the Lord Jesus are continual: he draws, and he will always draw. He is drawing now. Do not pull back, lest his drawing should cease, and you should perish; but rather let your heart sing—

“He drew me, and I followed on,
Charmed to confess the force divine.”

Oh! Spirit of God, draw men to Jesus. This is the way of salvation: trust Christ, and you are saved. Bely wholly upon what Christ is, and what he has done; and you are saved. In that very act there is a change effected within you which will show itself for ever in your character; for he that believes in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is born again. The faith which looks to Jesus and the life which lives upon Jesus come together. I cannot tell you which is first— the new birth, or faith. Can you tell me which spoke of a wheel moves first? No. And these are spokes of one and the same wheel. “He that believeth in him hath everlasting life.” Oh! believe him. Trust him. Lay hold upon him. Accept him, and go your way; and the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

     Amen. So let it be!



The Cast-Off Girdle

By / Jun 22

THE CAST-OFF GIRDLE.

 

“Thus saith the Lord unto me, Go and get thee a linen girdle, and put it upon thy loins, and put it not in water. So I got a girdle, according to the word of the Lord, and put it on my loins. And the word of the Lord came unto me the second time, saying, Take the girdle that thou hast got, which is upon thy loins, and arise, go to Euphrates, and hide it there in a hole of the rock. So I went, and hid it by Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me. And it came to pass after many days, that the Lord said unto me, Arise, go to Euphrates, and take the girdle from thence, which I commanded thee to hide there. Then I went to Euphrates, and digged, and took the girdle from the place where I had hid it: and, behold, the girdle was marred, it was profitable for nothing. Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Thus saith the Lord, After this manner will I mar the pride of Judah, and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing. For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah, saith the Lord; that they might be unto me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory: but they would not hear.” — Jeremiah xiii. 1— 11.

 

GOD’S servants, in the olden time, were very anxious to be understood when they spoke. They were not content because the people listened to them, or because they were to their hearers as “a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument.” They reckoned the people’s approval of their style to be proof of its failure. Had it wounded their hearts it would not have gratified their tastes. They wanted the truth to go home to men, so that they could no longer discuss modes of speech, or methods of action, but would be compelled to remember the message, and feel its force. They reckoned that they had done nothing unless they riveted attention, excited thought, and impressed the heart. Oh that all preachers were as solemnly in earnest in all their addresses as Jeremiah was: we might then hope to see more true conversions, and less of the flimsy religion of the day!

     The people of Israel and Judah were so sunk in thoughtlessness that it was absolutely necessary to do something more than speak. Prophet after prophet had spoken, “but they would not hear.” Even though Jeremiah, the most plaintive of all the prophets, spoke in such melting tones that it must have been difficult to turn away from him with indifference, yet they remained so hardened that God described them, as “this evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart.” Though the prophet wept, and entreated, and persuaded, yet they regarded him not; but turned on their heel and went each one his own way, to his merchandise, to his idolatry, to his adultery, or to his oppression. Therefore the Lord bade his servants add to their speech certain symbols which the people would see with their eyes, which would be talked about as strange things, and so would excite attention and command consideration. Perhaps by this means the Lord would extort from some of them a deeper thought, and bring them penitently to their knees. It is better for preachers to do odd things than for men to be lost. If plain talk fails we may even use emblems and signs, for we cannot let the careless ones perish without another attempt to get at them. Oh that by any means we might save some!

     In many instances the prophets were bidden to do singular things, and among the rest was this: Jeremiah must take a linen girdle and put it about his loins, and wear it there till the people had noticed what he wore, and how long he wore it. This girdle was not to be washed; this was to be a matter observed of all observers, for it was a part of the similitude. Then he must make a journey to the distant river Euphrates, and take off his girdle and bury it there. When the people saw' him without a girdle they would make remarks and ask what he had done with it; and he would reply that he had buried it by the river of Babylon. Many would count him mad for having walked so far to get rid of a girdle: two hundred and fifty miles was certainly a great journey for such a purpose. Surely he might have buried it nearer home, if he must needs bury it at all. There was the Jordan: he might have gone to its bank, and digged a hole, and hidden away the garment there, if he thought it well to do so. There would be a good deal of talk about Jeremiah’s eccentric conduct, and the more thoughtful would endeavour to spell out his meaning for they would feel sure that he meant much by it. Anon, the prophet goes a second time to the Euphrates, and they say one to another— The prophet is a fool: the spiritual man is mad. See what a trick he is playing. Nearly a thousand miles the man will have walked in order to hide a girdle, and to dig it up again. What next will he do? Whereas plain words might not have been noticed, this little piece of acting commanded the attention and excited the curiosity of the people. Blame us not if we sometimes dramatize the truth: we must win men’s hearts, and to do so we dare even run the risk of being called theatrical. Jeremiah might have been ridiculed as an actor: but he would not have fretted much under the charge if he saw that he had succeeded in teaching the people the truth which God would have them learn. When our young folks cannot learn by books, we try the kinder-garten method, and we will sooner teach them by toys than leave them ignorant: even so was it with the old prophets; they would use emblems rather than leave the people in the dark.

     The record of this singular transaction has come to us, and we know that, as a part of Holy Scripture, it is full of instruction, Thousands of years will not make it so antique as to be valueless. The word of the Lord never becomes old so as to lose its vigour; it is still as strong for all divine purposes as when first of all Jehovah spoke it. This Bible is the oldest of instructors, and yet it wears the dew of its youth: like the sea, it is ancient as the ages, but time has written no furrow on its brow. It is always venerable, yet ever novel; eternal, yet always fresh. Even the symbol of Jeremiah, which was so strikingly adapted to his age and time, is quite as well suited to this present year of grace. May the Holy Spirit give us all instruction thereby.

     I. And, first, in our text we have AN HONOURABLE EMBLEM of Israel and Judah: we may say, in these days, an emblem of the church of God. I say it is an honourable emblem; I hardly know of one which is more so except when the church is called a crown of glory, and a royal diadem, or better still, the Bride, the Lamb’s wife. The people were compared to a linen girdle with which the prophet in the type girt himself, but which God explains to be his girdle, for “as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah, saith the Lord.”

     Notice first, then, that God had taken this people to be hound to himself: he had taken them to be as near to him as the girdle is to the Oriental when he binds it about his loins. The eastern merchant or worker does not go out without his girdle: it is an essential part of his dress, keeping all the rest together: and so the Lord declares that he had taken his people and had bound them about himself to be near unto him, and fastened about him, so that he would not go forth without them. Often he speaks of them as “a people near unto him.” Had they acted as they should have done, so as to be not only the natural but the spiritual seed of Israel, they would have enjoyed what every true believer may enjoy, namely cleaving unto God as a girdle cleaves unto a man; for the Lord’s own sanctified ones are bound unto God by God himself, so as never to be torn away from him. I invite you, beloved of the Lord, to consider your choice privilege in thus being, as it were, girt about the loins of God. It is a wonderful metaphor. In infinite condescension the Lord has put it so: the believer’s place is near his God, in intimate, continuous, open fellowship. What can be more intimately associated with a man’s most vital parts than his girdle? What can be nearer to the life of God than his living people? The traveller in the East takes care that his girdle shall not go unfastened: he girds himself securely ere he commences his work or starts upon his walk; and God has bound his people round about him so that they shall never be removed from him. “I in them,” saith Christ, even as a man is in his girdle. “Who shall separate us?” saith Paul. Who shall ungird us from the heart and soul of our loving God? “They shall be mine, saith the Lord.” They are his, and ever shall be his; neither shall any tear them away from him, for by covenant and by promise are they bound up with the life of God.

     Yet remember that there are many who, like the Jewish people, bear the name of Israel, but they are not the true Israel. They are bound about God nominally, as it were, but yet they are not spiritually united to him; and concerning such this parable tells us much that is worthy of solemn consideration. May the Holy Ghost warn all professors by this instructive image. If we are indeed what we profess to be, then we shall cleave to God for ever, as it is written, “I will put my fear in their hearts, and they shall not depart from me.” Our faith will encompass Christ our Lord; our love will embrace him: our patience will surround him: our hope will encircle him world without end. In all our service we shall endeavour to cleave fast to God. If anything comes between us and God it will be our sorrow, a trouble not to be endured. Nothing shall seduce the faithful from their hold upon God; for he who bound them about himself will allow no enemy to unloose his girdle. Whatever the world may do by way of bribe, or by way of threatening, we shall hold fast to him, and shall not let him go, and that for this reason — that unchanging love and infinite wisdom have bound us too fast for us to be ungirt again. Because the Lord’s own love has bound us to himself, therefore we bind ourselves to him by steadfast covenant.

“Loved of our God, for him again
With love intense we burn:
Chosen of him ere time began,
We choose him in return.”

And, as nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, so nothing shall separate our love from God whom we love in Christ Jesus our Lord. What a privilege this— that the Lord should cause us to cleave unto him, to be unto him for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory.” Pardon me if I speak feebly, my heart loses utterance in contemplating the gracious imagery here set before us.

     But Jeremiah’s girdle was a linen one: it was the girdle peculiar to the priests, for such was the prophet; he was “the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth.” Thus the type represents chosen men as bound to God in connection with sacrifice. The people of the Lord are the very girdle of the Most High in this sense, that if there is priestly work to do, he puts us about him, and makes us to be the instruments of this hallowed service. For us our blessed Lord girt himself with a linen girdle, for us he even now is girt about the paps with a golden girdle; and now for him we also become priests and kings unto God and his continued priestly work among men is done by us. I mean, not by ministers alone, but by all the inheritance of God; by all the blood-washed ones, by all the regenerate ones; for ye are “a royal priesthood, a peculiar people.” God hath made his people to be “a nation of priests,” and it is ours to offer sacrifice to God continually, the sacrifice of prayer and thanksgiving. We know of no order of priests save the whole body of the faithful, who present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. That is why a linen girdle was specified rather than any other. We are bound to the Most High for solemn priesthood to minister among the sons of men in holy things. The Lord Jesus is now blessing the sons of men as Aaron blessed the people, and we are the girdle with which he girds himself in the act of benediction by the gospel.

     The girdle also is used by God always in connection with work. When eastern men are about to work in real earnest they gird up their loins. Our garments in this country are close-fitting and convenient, but the Oriental’s robes would always be in his way whenever he had work to do, if he did not tightly strap them around him. Whenever we read of earnest work to be done we read of this girdle: so when God comes to do work among the sons of men we always hear of this girdle, which girdle we are, or may be, if we are unto God what we ought to be. When the Lord worketh righteousness in the earth it is by means of his chosen ones. When he publishes salvation, and makes known his grace, his saints are around him. When sinners are to be saved it is by his people. When error is to be denounced, it is by our lips that he chooses to speak. When his saints are to be comforted, it is by those who have been comforted by his Holy Spirit, and who therefore tell out the consolations which they have themselves enjoyed. The girdle of the Lord’s work-day robes is his people. He saith, “Gather my people unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” When he comes, not to judgment, for that is his strange work; but for mercy and salvation, then he comes girt about with his redeemed. Blessed are they whose happy lot it is to be connected with God in his sacred acts, and in all his glorious work of salvation.

     I cannot explain my deep emotion, but my heart would utter weighty words, if it could talk without my lips; for I am awe-stricken at the bare idea of our being used as the girdle of the divine strength, cleaving unto God as a girdle cleaveth unto the loins of a man. How blessed a thing it is to be bound to God, bound for hallowed service; being set apart for the Master’s most personal and honourable use. Blessed are you who were once worthless and useless, but are now made so precious in his sight that you are bound around him for his use in the highest exercises of his grace among the sons of men.

     Moreover, the girdle was intended for ornament. It does not appear that it was bound about the priest’s loins under his garments, for if so it would not have been seen, and would not have been an instructive symbol: this girdle must be seen, since it was meant to be a type of a people who were to be unto God “for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory.” Is not this wonderful beyond all wonder, that God should make his people his glory? Yet so it is, for true believers become an ornament unto God, adorning the doctrine of God their Saviour in all things. Is it not written, “Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God”? Like as when a man puts on his jewels, or a prince puts on his royal attire, so does God regard his elect “as the stones of a crown,” and to prove his value of them he arrays himself with his people as with a girdle.

     Can it be so, that God is glorified in his saints? Is it so, that Christ himself is admired in them that believe as well as by them that believe? Do we, after all, illustrate the magnificence of God, and show to principalities and powers in the heavenly places what God can do? Yes, it is so. You can easily perceive what true glory God has in us if we be sincere. Is it not to his honour that we who were disobedient and obstinate and hard-hearted should by his love be subdued to the obedience of the faith? Does not this show his glory— that we creatures, possessed of the very dangerous possession of a free will, nevertheless, without violating that will, are led to obey his commands with pleasure and delight? Is it nut to the praise of his grace that we who are, under some aspects, the meanest of his creatures, seeing that we have been guilty of such gross sin, are nevertheless set next to himself, and made to be his dear children? Next to God, the Redeemer, comes man, the redeemed. Yea, God and man are united— wondrously united in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. What can more grandly set forth the adorable love and goodness of Jehovah! What great things God has done for us already in having taken us up out of the horrible pit and out of the miry clay! Let this stand as his beautiful girdle— that he passeth by transgression, iniquity, and sin. Let this be his divine adornment— that he is the Lord God, merciful and gracious. Hallelujah! But how much greater things he will yet do for us! I know that he has taken us from the dunghill, but then it follows, “and hath set us among princes, even the princes of his people.” We are not always sitting among princes yet, but we shall be elevated to the throne ere long. Our spirits, rid of this clay, shall rise up among spiritual dignities and powers, not second to the most exalted of them, and then shall an astonished universe behold the mercy of the Lord. Yet once more; when the blast of the archangel shall have aroused the sleeping dead, even these poor material bodies, made like unto Christ’s glorious body, shall share the glory of the Son of man. Truly “it doth not yet-appear what we shall be”; for there are great things yet for men; and the race of men to whom God has had a special favour shall yet be highly exalted, and have dominion over all the works of his hands, and he shall put all things under his feet. In all this the exceeding riches of divine grace shall be resplendent, and thus man shall be as a jewelled girdle unto the Lord of hosts.

     Oh, majesty of love! infinity of grace! Here seraphs may admire and adore. My brethren, beloved in the Lord, muse much upon this figure of a girdle. Silently meditate upon it; and try to understand it. We are the girdle that God causes to cleave unto his loins, and that no mere poverty-stricken girdle of a beggar, but the girdle of a royal priest, worn by him in sacrifice and labour, and regarded as his ornament and glory. Oh the splendour of Jehovah’s love to his people!

     II. But now, alas! we have to turn our eyes sorrowfully away from this surpassing glory. These people who might have been the glorious girdle of God displayed in their own persons A FATAL OMISSION. Did you notice it? Thus saith the Lord unto Jeremiah, “Go and get thee a linen girdle, and put it upon thy loins, and put it not in water.” Ah, me! there is the mischief: the unwashed girdle is the type of an unholy people who have never received the great cleansing. God is pure and holy, and he will wear cleansed garments, but of this garment it is said, “Put it not in water.” The priests of Jehovah were continually washing, but of this girdle we read, “Put it not in water.”

     Now, when a man seems to be bound to God, and to be used of God, if he has never undergone the great cleansing, he will sooner or later come to a terrible end. “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me,” is a very solemn word from the Lord Jesus himself. Oh, my brothers and sisters, I invite you to meditate upon this for a moment I No nearness to God can save you if you have never been washed by the Lord Jesus. No official connection can bless you if you have never been washed in his most precious blood. No matter though you may seem to be an ornament of the church, and all men may think so, and even good men may bless God for you, if you have never been washed you are not Christ’s. If Jesus Christ, your Lord and Master, has never enabled you to say, “We have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” then, the great cleansing having been omitted, you will be shut out of the marriage supper of the Lamb. Oh the terror of that sentence, — “Put it not in water.” Surely, this is what Satan desires; his malice cannot exceed the wish that we may never be cleansed from our iniquities! How accursed are those of whom Solomon saith, “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.” If that one, first, perfect washing has never exercised its purifying influence upon you, my brother, it is all in vain for you to bear the vessels of the Lord, and to be thought to be great and to be eminent in his house, for you must be put away. On the spot let each one of us pray, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” God loves purity, and will not keep unholy men in nearness to himself. Here is the alternative for all professors, — you must be washed in the blood of Christ, or be laid aside; which shall it be?

     The prophet was bidden not to put it in water, which shows that there was not only an absence of the first washing, but there was no daily cleansing. Take heed, beloved, that you omit not those afterwashings which must follow the washing in the blood of the Lamb. When our blessed Lord took a towel and a basin, and went to wash the disciples’ feet, he did not perform a superfluous action; Peter was misguided when he said “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” It is necessary that we be washed every day. Even “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” We are constantly defiling our feet by marching through this dusty world, and every night we need to be washed. There is sin within us as well as sin without us; and even if we do not leave our chamber, but have to lie upon a sick-bed all day long, impatience is quite enough to defile our feet, and we greatly need to be cleansed. The first grand washing is never repeated: that great bath does its work so effectually that the putting away of guilt is perfected once for all and for ever. When our Lord bowed his head and gave up the ghost he offered an effectual atonement by which all the guilt of his redeemed was eternally put away. “This man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”; and he that hath that one washing “needeth not except to wash his feet.” But the footbath is always necessary. Stains of pilgrimage, stains of service, stains of grief, stains of pleasure, stains of our holy things, these must still be put away. What with pride, or doubt, or ill-desire, or imagination, or anger, or forgetfulness, or error, we are always being defiled, and always need to be put in water, and to undergo that washing in water by the word of which the apostle speaks.

     If, dear friends, you and I live without washing, we live in a way that renders us unfit for divine service. And have you not found it so? I know this, that if you suffer a sin to lie on your conscience, you cannot serve God aright while it is there. If you have transgressed as a child, and you do not run and put your head into your Father's bosom and cry, “Father, I have sinned!” you cannot do God’s work. The external part of it you may perform, though there will often be a great weakness even there; but as for the spiritual and vital part, it will be sadly deficient. If you try to write the epistle of life with an unwashen hand it will tremble, and every line you write will be in the shaky handwriting of paralysis. “He that has clean hands shall wax stronger and stronger,” but the foul hand shall wax weaker and weaker. There must be this washing or there cannot be abundant working. If you do not know yourself to be “accepted in the Beloved,” if you do not know yourself to be clean every whit, you will not be happy with God, and when you are not happy with him, your mind will be taken off from work for him to work for yourself. You will be thinking about your own imperfection rather than his perfection: the sin of any single day, though it will not destroy you, will grieve you. A stone in your shoe, though almost invisible, will spoil a day’s journey. It is not a great rock to grind you to powder; it is only a little stone, but your foot will blister before you have walked many miles. Ah me, how great the pain of a single unconfessed sin! The best thing you can do is to put off your shoe at once, and remove the stone before you again put down your foot. So it is with every little sin: if it is only a thought, if it is only a look the wrong way, go to your Father and get rid of it. Do not live a day out of fellowship with God, nay, nor an hour under the Lord’s frown. You know how it is with your dear child when he has done wrong: he does not expect that you will turn him out of doors and say, “You shall not be my child,” but he does expect you to be grieved with him! Children are believers in the “final perseverance” of parental love; they expect always to be your children; but if you are a wise father, they do not feel happy when they have done wrong. You have not perhaps found out their disobedience; but the kiss at night is not half as warm as usual, for they are afraid that father will soon know of their fault and will be angry. When God deals with us as a father who has seen his child’s naughtiness, there is no peace or rest in our spirit. Even chastisement, however, is better borne than a sense of having offended. If you gave your naughty child a good whipping at once, it would comfort him, for your displeasure would be over; but as long as you do not chastise him, but only say, “No, my child, I cannot have dealings with you while you act so; I have no word of love for you, for you are so wicked,”— then the dear child will be sorely troubled until your anger is over; he will be ready to break his little heart until you forgive him, and comfort him, saying “I shall put the matter away this time, for I see you are sorry, and I hope you will not behave so badly any more.” Brethren, this holy, filial fear of the Lord is not servitude under the law; it is not trying to be saved by what we do; it is the discipline of the Father’s house, and that is what we attend to when we ask for daily washing.

     There was a fatal flaw about this girdle; it had never been washed, and it is a fatal thing if you and I can go from day today without being cleansed by our blessed Lord. Oh Lord, purge me by thy continual pardon! Cleanse me this day from every spot, for thy sweet mercy’s sake.

     But observe, once again, that the more this girdle was used the more it gathered great and growing defilement. It was a prophet that wore it, but even with such wear the unwashed girdle began to be spotted and stained; and as he might not put it into water, the oftener the prophet went out to his daily work, — the more the girdle was used, — the more service it performed, the more worn and dirty it became. It will be just the same with us if no water is applied, and there is no application of the cleansing blood of Christ. Without the atonement, the more we do the more we shall sin. Our very prayers will turn into sin, our godly things will gender evil. We shall be preaching, and when we preach we shall preach our condemnation. We shall gather our class about us, and talk to them of good things, and all the while there will be in our consciences the thought that we are not acting as we talk, or living as we tell them to live, and we shall be growing blacker and more defiled from hour to hour. Oh, Lord, deliver us from this! Save us from being made worse by that which should make us better. Save us from turning even our service into sin, our prayers into abominations, and our psalms into mockery. Let us be thy true people, and therefore let us be washed that we may be clean, that thou mayest gird thyself with us.

     III. Very soon that fatal flaw in the case here mentioned led in the third place to A SOLEMN JUDGMENT. It was a solemn judgment upon the girdle, looking at it as a type of the people of Israel.

     First, the girdle, after Jeremiah had made his long walk in it, was taken off from him and put away. It is an awful thing when God takes off the man that has once appeared to be on him, and lays him aside, as he did Saul when he finally gave him up and took the kingdom from him. Ay, and it is a solemn thing, also, when the Lord takes off the man that has been really bound to him, and for a time lays him aside and says, “I cannot use you: I cannot wear you as mine: I cannot work with you. You can be no ornament to me: you are defiled.” He puts away the spoiled girdle: in other words, he works no longer with the backsliding professor. This is a terrible thing to happen to any man. I would rather suffer every sickness in the list of human diseases than that God should put me aside as a vessel in which he has no pleasure, and say to me, “I cannot wear you as my girdle, nor own you as mine before men.” That would be a dreadful thing. Is there one here who has come into that condition? Has the Lord left you to your backsliding? Learn the lesson of my text! What you want, my friend, is to be cleansed in the double stream which John of old saw flowing from the Redeemer’s riven side. You want spiritual cleansing before the Lord can put you on again, and use you again, and be one with you again; and before you can be again unto him a praise and a glory. While you are unclean you are dishonouring him, and he must set you aside.

     After that girdle was laid aside, the next thing for it was hiding and burying. It was placed in a hole of the rock by the river of the captivity, and left there. Many a hypocrite has been served in that way. God has said to his servants, “Put him out of the church; he is defiled;” and there has been nothing heard of him any more. He may have been offended at being put aside, and have gone into the world altogether; and though he once seemed to be as the very girdle of God, yet he has rotted and decayed into corruption and open transgression; for the raw material of hypocrisy soon decays, and turns into loathesomeness. The worst things are frequently the rot of the best things; and so the worst characters grow out of those who apparently were once the best.

     Thus, then, this girdle is put right away, hidden, and left. God will have nothing to do with it. He has put it aside. And now the girdle spoils. It was put, I dare say, where the damp and the wet acted upon it; and so when, in about seventy days, Jeremiah came back to the spot, there was nothing' but an old rag instead of what had once been a pure white linen girdle. He says, “Behold the girdle was marred; it was profitable for nothing.” So, if God were to leave any of us, the best men and the best women among us would soon become nothing but marred girdles, instead of being as fair white linen. Alas, for certain goodly professors that did appear to be very fine once, what rotten old rags they come to be when they are put into the hole and left to themselves. We have seen it. They have only been fit at last to be put upon the dust-heap with useless things. They have fallen into such a horrible condition of mind that they can do evil without check of conscience: they have forgotten how to blush. The same persons who did run well (what did hinder them?) are now found, not only sleeping in the harbours of sloth, but rioting in chambers of wantonness. The glorious girdle of God, as the man seemed to be, becomes a mass of rottenness. What does the text say? Let me read the words, for I should not like to say them of myself, — “Behold, the girdle was marred, it was profitable for nothing”; and again in the tenth verse— “Which is good for nothing.” So may men become who have not been washed: so will they become unless God, in his infinite mercy, gives them speedily expiation through his Son, renewing by his Spirit.

     I desire to profit you all, and so I want to notice how true this is of the real children of God. I could speak this even weeping. There are certain real children of God whom God greatly honoured at one time, so that they were as his girdle; but they became proud, and were soon defiled with other sins besides, and so the Lord has put them away, and has laid them aside from his service. They are still his, but he has put them under discipline, and as a part of that discipline he has cashiered them from his public service. They were once everywhere in the Lord’s battles, and now they are nowhere. He knows where he has put them, and there they will remain till their pride is quite gone. When the Lord has effected this purpose his wandering servant will come back with an altered tale, and you shall hear him as he laments himself and cries, — “I do not feel fit to be in God’s church. I have walked in such a way that if I were cast off altogether it would be my just deserts. Oh that I may be forgiven.” The deep repentance of returning wanderers makes you feel that they are the children of God though they have dishonoured him, and you welcome their return, saying, “Come with us, and enjoy the means of grace.” Alas, they answer—

“The saints are comforted, we know,
Within the house of prayer;
We often go where others go,
And find no comfort there.”

One man sighs, “I have my Sunday-school class, and I teach it, but I do not feel tenderly for the children as I once did. There is no power about me. I am a branch of the tree that appears to have no sap in it. I bear no fruit. Alas,” he cries, “I do not enjoy private prayer, and when I pray, and pour out my soul before God, I do not obtain a comfortable answer. I am as one that is forgotten.” Is it at all wonderful that God frowns when we disobey? The Lord will not hear those who decline to hear him. If we are deaf to his commands he will be deaf to our prayers. You have become defiled, for you have not watched your steps, and now the Lord cannot be in communion with you. You have not been careful, and so the girdle has become foul with public spots and private foulnesses: and the Lord says, “I cannot use that man; I cannot be in fellowship with him. If I should it would ruin him.” If God were to be kind and tender to his children when they are living in sin, it would encourage them in evil, and they would go from bad to worse. If a believer grieves God, he must be grieved himself. The heavenly Father takes down the rod, and though it is more pain to him than it is to us, he will not spare us for our crying. Just because he loves us he will lay on his strokes thick and heavy, one after the other, perhaps in sharp affliction, but very often in a continuous and growing loss of all that made us happy and useful. Alas! alas! the girdle is marred: the Lord hath hid it out of his sight!

     Oh, what a mercy it is that the Lord can take that girdle and wash it, and make it as good as new, and even better than at the first! He can give back to the man his old joy with an added experience which will make him humble and tender; he can restore his former usefulness, and even increase it by teaching him to deal gently with others that err, and by enabling him to prize and value the mercy of God. Did you ever get into a corner and sing that verse, “Love I much? I’ve more forgiven. I’m a miracle of grace”? Those sweet lines have often charmed my inmost heart. I have wanted to love my Lord infinitely. I have wished that I could love him as much as seven million hearts put together could love him. I would love him as much as the whole universe could love him. I would I had his Father’s love to him, for what do I not owe to him for all his wonderful mercy to me? And do you not feel the same? Are not you, also, great debtors to sovereign grace? If you do not at any time kindle with love and gratitude, I am afraid that you are put in the hole with the girdle, and that you are rotting away. Sad case for you!

     Certain of God’s people are marvellously high-minded: they cannot sit anywhere but in the big arm-chair, or at the head of the table. They cannot mingle with any of us common Christians at all, because they are perfect, and we are a long way from making any claim to such a degree of excellence. Some of the hymns that we are glad to sing are not good enough for them, for they cry, “We hate hymns of this style. They are so below our experience.” These are the dons and grandees of the Court of Arrogance. When I see fine professors coming in with the seven league boots on, I am always afraid that they are not God’s children at all, because I have never read of any true saints who said much in praise of themselves, and I have read of so many gracious persons whose tone and temper were the very reverse of this lofty boasting. I have seen God’s poor little child like Moses in a basket on the Nile, with crocodiles all round ready to devour him, and when I have looked at him, I have always noticed that which the Holy Spirit took pains to record, — “Behold, the babe wept.” This was the real Moses: those crystal drops are the tokens of a goodly child. The tears of God’s babes are wonderfully precious, and they have great power with him. The dragons of Nilus cannot devour a weeping Moses. “When I am weak, then am I strong.” When you are so weak that you cannot do much more than cry, you coin diamonds with both your eyes. The sweetest prayers God ever hears are the groans and sighs of those who have no hope in anything but his love. There is music in our moaning to his kind and tender ears. He can restore you, even though you be as the marred girdle; and when he once puts you on again, you will cleave to his loins more closely than ever, praying that he will bind you fast about him.

     But the worst part of it— and this I finish with— is that this relates undoubtedly to many mere professors whom God takes off from himself, laying them aside, and leaving them to perish. And what is his reason for so doing? He tells us this in the text: he says that this evil people refused to receive God’s words. Dear friends, never grow tired of God’s word: never let any book supplant the Bible. Love every part of Scripture, and take heed to every word that God has spoken. Let it all be a divine word to you; for if not, when you begin to pick and choose about God’s word, and do not like this, and do not like that, you will soon become like a marred girdle— for the base-hearted professor is detected by his not loving the Father’s words.

     Next to that, we are told that they walked in the imagination of their heart. That is a sure sign of the hypocrite or the false professor. He makes his religion out of himself, as a spider spins a web out of his own bowels: what sort of theology it is you can imagine now that you know its origin. This base professor grows his theology on his own back as the snail produces her shell: he is everything to himself— his own Saviour, his own teacher, his own guide. He knows so much, that if the world would only sit at his feet, it would become a wonderfully learned world in a very short time, so great a Rabbi is he. When a man is so puffed up that his own imagination is his inspiration, and his obstinacy holds him fast in his own opinion, then he has become as the girdle which was taken from the prophet’s loins, and put into a hole to rot away.

     Upon all this there followed actual transgression, — “They walked after other gods to serve them and to worship them.” This happens also to the base professor. He keeps up the name of a Christian for a little while, and seems to be as God’s girdle; but by-and-by he falls to worshipping gold, or drink, or lust. Bacchus, or Venus, becomes his deity. He turns aside from the infinitely glorious God, and so he falls from one degradation to another till he hardly knows himself. He becomes as a rotten girdle “which profiteth nothing:” neither God nor man are benefited by him.

     The Lord save you, dear friends, from being found insincere in the day when he searches the heart. May he also save us from tailing to be washed in the most precious blood. Is not this a fit subject for immediate and continuous prayer? See ye to it.

     The Lord bless you for his name’s sake. Amen.



Blessed Promises for Dying Outcasts

By / Dec 2

Blessed Promises for Dying Outcasts

 

“For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord; because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom, no man seeketh after.”— Jeremiah xxx. 17.

 

THE promises of this verse will be exceedingly sweet to those who feel their personal need of them; but those who boast that they are neither sick nor wounded will take no interest in this comfortable word. Those who are charmed with themselves will see no charm in the beloved Physician. I have heard of certain hungry travellers, who were lost in the wilderness, and came upon a bag which they longingly hoped might yield them a seasonable supply of food. They were near to death’s door by starvation, and eagerly opened the bag, but, alas! it contained nothing but pearls, which they poured out contemptuously upon the desert sand as things of no use to them. Even so, when a man is hungering and thirsting after the things of this life, and all his thoughts are taken up with carnal appetites, carnal sorrows, and carnal joys, he will reject as worthless the priceless promises of God, for he considers that they are of no immediate use to him. Let his hunger be of another sort, let his heart hanker after unsearchable riches, let his soul pine for eternal love, then are his views of things entirely changed, and to buy the pearl of great price he would gladly sell all that he has. Oh, you that are sick at heart, here is a word for you from the God of all grace: Jehovah Rophi himself says, “I will restore health unto thee.” Oh, you that have felt the shafts of God pierce your inmost souls, here is a word from him who healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds: “I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord.” Here is music for your ear, honey for your mouth, comfort for your heart. But if you feel you have no sickness and no wound, no weakness and no spiritual need, then the words of sacred consolation will pass over your ear as a meaningless sound, having no voice for you. Neither shall we wonder at this, for the whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick: healthy men care not to hear of medicines and remedies, for they feel no need of them. This thins my audience, but improves it; for, while it drives away the conceited, it draws the needy to a more careful listening.

     Our text describes a serious plight, mentions a special interference, and records a singular reason for that interference. When we have spoken upon each of these, we shall close by giving you a suitable advice. May the Spirit of God bless the discourse.

     I. First, then, taken in connection with the verses which precede it, our text describes a class of men and women who are in A SERIOUS PLIGHT.

     These people suffer under two evils. First, they are sick through sin: for they need to have their health restored; and, secondly, they are wounded for their sin by the chastisements of the Lord, so that there is necessity for their wound to be healed. They are afflicted with the distemper of evil, and also by dismal disquietude of conscience. They have broken God’s commandments, and now their own bones are broken. They have grieved their God, and their God is grieving them.

     Let us carefully look at the first part of their sad condition: they are side with sin, and that disease is one which, according to the fifth and sixth verses, brings great pain and trouble into men’s minds when they come to their senses, and know their condition before God. At first, iniquity numbs the conscience, and its tendency is to sear it as with a hot iron. It may be compared to a stroke of paralysis, which, when it falls upon a man’s body, takes away from him all pain, and makes him as one dead in the parts which it affects. Sin paralyzes the consciences of the ungodly. At first they do not know it to be an exceeding great evil; they trifle with it; it is a basilisk, whose very look is poisonous, and yet they sport with it as though it were a bird. It is a deadly disease, causing the soul to be full of leprosy, and yet men will exhibit the marks of it as though they were the spots of God’s children. But after a while, when the conscience is awakened by judgments, or aroused by God’s word, then this disease ceases to stupefy, and becomes the source of intolerable pain. Read these words: “For thus saith the Lord; We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask ye now, and see whether a man doth travail with child? wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness?” The fiercest form of bodily pain is here selected as the type of the anguish caused by strong conviction of sin. Believe me, there can be nothing in the world so terrible as to feel sin without feeling pardon; to know yourself to be guilty, and not to know how to get the guilt removed. Conviction without faith is an earthly hell. Brethren, you have many of you felt it, and you know that death itself, if there were no hereafter, would be preferable to life under the pressure of guilt. “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?” Sin is a disease of the spirit, which embitters the central fountain and wellspring of our life, till gall and wormwood flavour all things. Sin felt and known is a terrible kill-joy: as the Simoom of the desert smites the caravan with death, and as the Sirocco withers every herb of the field, so does a sense of sin dry up peace, blast hope, and utterly kill delight. If those who hear me are oppressed with the disorder of sin, they will rejoice greatly as they dwell upon the words of our text, “I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds.”

     This disease, moreover, is not only exceedingly painful when the conscience is smarting, but it is altogether incurable, so far as any human skill is concerned. We are told in the twelfth verse, “Thus saith the Lord, Thy bruise is incurable, and thy wound is grievous.” It would be much easier to heal a man’s body of leprosy than to heal a man’s soul of sin. It is a disease which takes such fast hold upon the nature, and so entirely impregnates the mind with a deadly virus, that it abides in the very essence of manhood, and can only be removed by a miracle. It is far more possible for the Ethiopian to change his skin, or the leopard his spots, than for a man who is accustomed to do evil to learn to do well; especially to love to do well, and find a pleasure in it. If this were a matter of custom, or practice only, it might be fought with and overcome, but inasmuch as it is a matter of nature, and the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint with it, no human power can possibly effect a cure. Some have wept over sin, but tears are a poor lotion for a disease which penetrates to the core of the heart. Others have shut themselves up alone, and retired as hermits to escape from evil by solitude; but they have found no secret place which evil could not enter. Whither shall we flee from the presence of sin? When it has once laid hold upon our nature, if we take the wings of the morning, and fly to the uttermost parts of the sea, our depravity will still be with us. If we cover ourselves with multiplied midnights, sin will only be the more completely in its element. Where can we fly, and what can we do, to escape from this terrible force, this ever-present mischief? This poison has penetrated all our nature, so that we must confess:—

“It lies not in a single part,
But through my frame is spread;
A burning fever in my heart,
A palsy in my head.”

Neither body, soul, nor spirit is free from its taint. At all hours it is our curse and plague over all places it casts its defiling influence; in all duties it injures and hinders us. To those who know this there is a music unto sweeter than marriage-bells in these words.”— “I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds.” The incurable shall be cured; the insatiable malady shall be stayed.

     Further on we are told that this disease is one for which there is neither surgeon nor medicine up:— “There is none to plead thy cause, that thou mayst be bound up: thou hast no healing medicines. Why criest thou for thine affliction? thy sorrow is incurable for the multitude of thine iniquity: because thy sins were increased, I have done these things unto thee.” What a disease this must be for which there is no physician, since the direst forms of human disease have found each one its specialist, who has at least attempted to perform a cure; but here is a sickness for which there is no physician. Bad men do not pretend to heal the disease of sin; they do not even consider it to be a disease, and they care not to make men holy. Good men are very far from thinking that they can conquer sin in others, for they cannot even overcome it in themselves, and therefore they never set up to be physicians in such a case as this. No human hand can bind up this wound: no earthly skill can touch this deeply-seated complaint: it is past all mortal surgery. Yea, and the prophet adds, “There is no healing medicine”: none has ever been known. The question is often asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” The answer to that question is, No, there is no balm in Gilead; there never was. Balms for soul-mischiefs do not grow in the fields of Gilead, nay, nor on Carmel and Sharon. Physicians of sin-sick souls are not to be found beneath the skies: the other question proves it, “Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” If there were balms and physicians for her disease she would have been healed long ago; but neither salve nor surgeon can be found among the sons of men. Search through all the lore of the ancients, and you shall discover no remedy for sin: examine all the inventions of the moderns, and you shall light upon no physic for the love of evil. Nothing can touch it save one thing, and that is not of earth. The Lord from heaven, upon the cross, did bleed a balm that can cure this wound, and by his death he was the death of this disease; but apart from him no one can bind up our wounds, or mollify them with ointment. He is the one and only good Samaritan for the spiritually bruised: he alone hath wine and oil suitable for our wounds. Are my hearers brought to feel this? Are there any here who have not yet found out God’s way of salvation, but still are well aware that they have none of their own? I am thankful you are brought so far; may you not be long before you go much further, and find the Lord Jesus able to heal you of every disease. You are for ever lost unless you go to him, for your sickness is unto death, your wound is breeding corruption, and none can give you health for your sickness, or healing for your wound, but the Lord Jesus, who is able to save unto the uttermost.

“When wounded sore the stricken soul,
Lies bleeding and unbound,
One only hand, a pierced hand,
Can salve the sinners wound.”

     This disease is exceeding dangerous, because it insinuates itself into the heart, and takes up its abode there. If apparently it be for a time driven out, it returns when we least expect it. Like the tree which is cut down, it will sprout again; at the scent of water it will bud. It annoys us in every way; it hinders our aspirations, for how to perform that which we would, we find not; it robs us of comfort, and makes us groan, being burdened; it enters into our holiest things, chills our prayers, freezes our praise, and hampers our usefulness. It is evil, only evil, and that continually. How gracious is it on God’s part, to pity a creature infected with this vile distemper! How good of him to regard our iniquity rather as a sickness to be healed than as a crime to be punished!

     I told you of a double mischief in this plight, and the second mischief is that this person has been wounded for his sin. His wounds are of no common sort, for we are told in the fourteenth verse that God himself has wounded him. The Lord says, “I have wounded thee with the wound of an enemy, with the chastisement of a cruel one, for the multitude of thine iniquity; because thy sins were increased.” God in infinite mercy determines to make the sinner see and feel the evil consequences of his sin; and in doing this he makes deep wounds, such as an enemy would give who felt no pity, but only wished to cause pain. The Lord knows that in this work slightness is of no avail, and therefore he strikes home, and cuts deep. He does not play with consciences, but his chastisement is so severe that men think him cruel. There is such a thing as cruel kindness, and the opposite to it is a loving cruelty, a gracious severity. When the Lord brings sin to remembrance, and makes the soul to see what an evil it has committed in transgressing against God, then the wound bleeds, and the heart breaks. You could not tell the blows of our greatest Friend from those of our worst enemy if you only judged by present feeling. Under the Lord’s hand the soul is well-nigh driven to despair. Vain hopes are dashed in pieces like potsherds, false lights are quenched in gloom, and joys are ground to powder. It is in love that the Lord thus judges us, and chastens us that we should not be condemned with the world. The smart is sharp, but salutary. The Lord wounds that he may heal, he kills that he may make alive. His storms wreck us upon the rock of salvation, and his tempests drive us into the fair havens of lowly faith. Happy are the men who are thus made unhappy; but this for the present they know not, and therefore they need the promise, “I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord.”

     The blows are not only on the conscience, but when God is in earnest to make men flee from their sins, he will smite them anywhere and everywhere. He takes away the delight of their eyes with a stroke; the child, the husband, the wife, or the friend is laid low; for the Lord will fill our houses with mourning sooner than leave us in carnal security. He takes away the silver and the gold, for he will make us beggars sooner than leave us to worship the idols of the world. The oil vat is burst, and the barn is burned; for he will not permit us to bury our souls in earthly things. He brings the body into sickness, and the mind into distress; health departs, and the robust worker is stretched upon a sick bed; he groans and moans under the hand of God. God is in all this smiting most cruelly, according to the short-sighted judgment of men; but in very truth he is tender and gracious, and is working out the eternal good of the sufferers. Like as the surgeon uses a sharp knife, and cuts far down into the flesh when he would eradicate some deadly ulcer, even so does the Lord in true severity wound the heart until he gets at the roots of our self-love.

     Surely, a man is in a wretched plight when he is diseased with sin, and then bruised by divine chastisement, but, it may be, he adds to this wounds inflicted by himself, for falls into sin are falls that break the bones. Many a man will have to go limping to his grave because of his transgressions. Doubtless David did so: he never recovered what he lost when he sinned with Bathsheba. Much pain comes of broken bones, especially when you have broken them yourself, through your own folly. When you cannot trace an affliction to second causes, nor look upon it as an affliction from God, but when you hear conscience whisper, “Thou hast procured this unto thyself,” then the wormwood is mixed with gall, and the suffering knows no solace. If thou be poor because thou hast squandered thy substance; if thou be sick because thou hast indulged thine appetites or passions, who can say thee a word of cheer? If thou hast lost godly friends whom thou didst once despise, if thou art by sore sickness prevented from going up to the house of the Lord, which was formerly a weariness to thee, is there not a special sharpness in thy grief?

     Now, put these three things together— bones broken through thine own sin, God dealing with thee in the way of chastisement, and sin felt in the conscience like a grievous disease; and I think I said not too much when I described the soul as in a serious plight. God help the man who is in such a case, for none else can. The comfort is that the Lord Jesus does help such, for so his gracious promise runs, “I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds.” May the Holy Spirit bless this first head to many of you!

     II. Our second consideration fitly falls under the title of A SPECIAL INTERFERENCE. The poor creature is in desperate dolour; but the God of pitying love comes in, and I beg you to notice the result. This interference is, first of all, divine. “I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds.” The infinite Jehovah alone can speak with that grand Ego, and say, “I will,” and again, “I will.” No human physician who was worthy of the name would speak thus. He would humbly say, “I will attempt to give you health; I will endeavour to heal your wounds;” but the Lord speaks with the positiveness of omnipotence, for he has the power to make good his words. All others fail; but the Lord will do it. Thou canst not heal thyself; but the Lord will heal thee. And who is this great “I” that speaks so exceeding boldly? It is none other than he that made the heavens and the earth, and sustaineth all things by the power of his hand; it is the “I AM,” the everlasting Jehovah, whose word has boundless power in it. He appears in the moment of man’s extremity, and when there is no helper, his own arm brings salvation. Blessed be the Lord who forgiveth all our iniquities, who healeth all our diseases.

     Note, that since this interference is divine it is effectual. The Lord effectually heals all those on whom he lays his hand. How could it be otherwise? What can baffle the Lord? Can anything perplex infinite wisdom? Is anything difficult to almighty power? “If it be marvellous in thine eyes, should it also be marvellous in mine eyes? saith the Lord of hosts.” He speaks, and it is done; he commands, and it stands fast. When therefore God says, “I will restore health unto thee,” health will visit the wretch who lies pining at death’s door. When he says, “I will heal thee of thy wounds,” the deep cuts and gashes are closed up at once. Glory be to the name of the Beloved Physician! Poor, troubled heart, where are you this morning? Do you say, “Nobody can cure me?” Thou sayest truly if thou wilt make one exception, and that exception is thy God. I tell thee he can heal thee now, so that the bones which he has broken shall rejoice. He can take away this disease of yours, and give you back wholeness as though your flesh were the flesh of a little child, and you shall be clean; only have faith in him. He that made you can make you anew. Do you believe this?

     Observe that this interposition performs a work which is most complete, for it meets the two-fold mischief. “I will restore health unto thee:”— That is a great matter. When a man grows healthy he can bear a wound or two without being too much overburdened; but God does nothing by halves, for having restored health he then adds “I will heal thee of thy wounds.” He will heal both disease and wound. There is no condition into which the heart can sink but what the Lord is equal to the raising of it from the depths. If thou art in the borders of Hades, and on the verge of hell, yet as long as thou hast not passed the iron gates of death thy salvation is possible with God, ay, simple and sure with God if thou wilt but trust in his wellbeloved Son. What a mercy it is that the Redeemer does not half save us, and leave us to finish the work! He does not commence and do a part of the cure, and then say, “I must leave nature to work out the rest.” No; the cure is absolutely complete: “I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds.” Oh, sick and wounded one, go just as thou art, and throw thyself at Jesus’ feet, and say unto him, “Keep thy promise, Lord: I am come with thy word in my mouth and in my heart; be as good as thine own declaration, and restore health to me, and heal me of my wounds.”

     Notice, too, how sovereignly free this promise is. It does not say, “I will restore health unto thee if.” No, there is no “if;” and there is no mention of a fee. Here is healing for nothing. Jesus comes to give us health without money and without price, without pence or penance, without labour or merit. I admire, for my part, the splendid, unconditional character of this promise made by Jehovah to his covenant people. Its tenor is, “I will.” There is no sort of condition or demand. “Perhaps” is banished: “peradventure” is not so much as hinted at. Come, poor guilty soul, thou who hast no claim on God, come and plead the divine, “I will.” Thou canst not have a better hand-hold of the covenant angel in wrestling with him. God’s promise is an unconquerable plea: to use it well will put thee among the invincibles. Come then, I pray thee, and just say, “Lord, it is so written in thy word; therefore, write it, I pray thee, on the page of my experience.”

     Notice that, although it be thus free and unconditional, yet it is now a matter of covenant certainty, for God has made the promise, and he cannot turn from it. To every guilty sinner, conscious of his guilt, who will come and confess it before God, this promise is made to-day, “I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds.” To you, dear fellow-sinners, as much as unto Judah and Israel of old, is this promise sent: if you will bring your sorrow and your sin before the eye of the all-merciful Father, and plead the precious blood of Christ. No sick one shall be shut out from this hospital of love. If, like Job, the sinner is covered with sores from head to foot; and if he only feels at home when he sits on a dunghill, and begins to scrape himself with a potsherd, yet the Lord says, “I will heal thee.” If thy sin has made thee loathsome to thyself, till thou criest out with one of old, “My wounds stink and are corrupt,” still is the Lord Jesus able to save thee; nay, he promises to save thee. Grasp thou the promise by the hand of faith, and thou shalt be made whole. All manner of sin and of iniquity shall be forgiven unto men; ay, and all tendencies to sin, and all taint of iniquity, shall be removed from men if they will trust the power and promise of the faithful Lord. Sinner, his touch can make thee clean at once. Trust thou that hand, I say, and the miracle shall be wrought.

     III. But now I come to a third point, which is this— A SINGULAR REASON. “I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord; because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after” God never finds a reason for mercy in the sinner’s supposed goodness. He looked upon this sick one, and he could not find a redeeming feature of beauty by which the blessing might be won; therefore, he did not look at the sinner at all, except to pity him. Is it not a singular thing that the Lord will sooner find a reason for mercy in the lying mouths of the wicked than he will attempt to find it in the supposed righteousness of those who count themselves righteous? He says not “Because you were holy,” or “Because you had good desires;” but “Because they called thee an outcast.” Who were they? Why, the jeerers, and mockers, and blasphemers: the Lord actually transforms the venom of asps, which was under the tongues of the malicious, into a reason for his mercy. This clearly shows how God hates the very notion of man’s merit; but it also shows that he will find a reason for mercy somewhere. They called poor Zion, when God seemed to have given her up, “an outcast they said, “Nobody goes to Jerusalem now: there was a temple there once, but it is a wretched heap now: princes dwelt there once, but now the inhabitants of Jerusalem are a set of beggars; no man cares to mix with them; they are the world’s castaways.” This roused the Lord’s pity. “Oh,” he said, “has it come to this? Have they dared to call my beloved ‘an outcast,’ and say that no man seeketh after her? Then I will seek her, and heal her, and restore her, for I cannot endure such tauntings.” Now, if there is a poor sinner in the world, upon whom other sinners, who are just as bad in their heart, begin to vent their scorn, and say, “She is an outcast;” then the God of mercy seems to say, “Who are you that you should talk like this? You are as vile yourselves, and yet you dare to look down upon this poor, selected one, as if she were so much worse than you. Therefore, I will save that despised one, and will have mercy upon the rejected.” God’s tastes and man’s differ very much. Whom man despises God delights in; and whom man delights in God despises. It often happens that when a transgressor has been put out of the synagogue Jesus finds him directly. When certain offenders happen to transgress in a particular way, which particular way is scouted and denounced by the bulk of ungodly people, then like so many hounds they unite to hunt the wretched being to death, but the Lord Jehovah interposes to save; as if he would say, “Why do you this, ye hypocrites? Wherefore do ye denounce those whose sins are no viler than your own?” I believe the Lord Jesus often stands as he did with the woman taken in adultery, and cries, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Still he convicts men in their consciences, and still in sweetness of mercy turns to the poor, condemned one, and says, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” Where are you, poor hunted sinner? You are somewhere or other in the crowd, I know. They told you yesterday that they would never associate with you any more. You do not deny your wickedness: still, it is not for your fellow-sinners to be hard with you, for they are not your judges. By faith take this promise to thyself: “I will restore health unto thee, because they called thee an outcast.” Thou mayest get a good deal out of it if thou hast but faith to do so. Now that the world has cast thee out, the church shall take thee in: now that the devil seems tired of thee, Christ shall begin with thee: now that the door is shut against thee by those who once delighted in thee, Christ’s door is open to receive thee. “Because they called thee an outcast” he calls thee to approach him.

     But this is not the full meaning of the text. I think it means that God’s jealousy is aroused against those who despise his people, and speak ill of them. Whatever Zion might be, it was still the palace of God: however guilty Jerusalem might have become, it was still the holy city, the dwelling-place of the great King. The Lord, for a while, when he was very angry with Jerusalem, on account of its great iniquity, gave it over to the destroyer, and it was laid waste and burned with fire; but when he heard the heathen everywhere saying, “As for those people, they are outcasts, and as for that city, no man seeks after it then the Lord said to himself, “But they are my people, and I will not have them called outcasts ; and this is my city, and I will not have it said that no man seeks after it. Her name shall be called Hephzibah, and her land Beulah, for the Lord delighteth in her.” His love burned like fire, and kindled into a flame of jealousy, and he said, “I will restore health to her, and shut the mouths of her adversaries.” It is one thing for a father to chasten his boy; but if, when he is out in the streets, a stranger begins to kick him, his father declares that it shall not be. He arouses himself to defend his child, the same child that just now he smote so heavily. A man might complain of his wife if she had vexed him, but I suppose the quickest way to put him in good temper with her would be for somebody else to find fault with her. “What business is that of yours?” says he; “I will not have my wife abused: no man shall speak against her in my presence.” That is a fair parallel to the case of our God. He will chasten his people in measure, but the moment that their enemies call them outcasts he turns his anger another way and releases his people. Oh, how blessedly does good come out of evil! How graciously he causes the wrath of man to praise him. He restores health to Zion, and heals her wounds because she is called an outcast.

     I always have great hope for the entire Church of Christ when the ungodly begin to rail and revile. They say, “Christianity has lost its power; the Church is an old effete institution; no people of culture and intelligence keep to the old book and the old faith. The religion of Jesus is a by-word and a proverb among learned men.” Therefore, I am confident that God will return to his Church, and magnify his truth. As surely as he lives he will give us bright days and glorious days, because they call his true Church an outcast, whom no man seeketh after. I like to read in man’s black book, for man’s revilings will lead to the speedier fulfilment of God’s glorious promises.

“Let Zion’s foes be fill’d with shame;
Her sons are bless’d of God;
Though scoffers now despise their name,
The Lord shall break their rod.
“Oh, would our God to Zion turn,
God with salvation clad;
Then Judah’s harps should music learn,
And Israel be glad.”

Appropriate the text personally any of you who have been made to feel that you are outcasts. One said to me the other day, talking of her sin, and of her repentance, “Yet, sir, I am an outcast.” That word pierced my heart like a dagger. I said, “Yes, but the Church of Christ was made on purpose to be a home for outcasts: here is a new household for you, new brothers and sisters for you, a new future for you; for now you are one of the solitary ones whom the Lord will set in families.”

     Some of us were never called outcasts by other people, but we thought ourselves such. I once felt like Cain, as if God had set a mark upon me never to bless me; like an outlaw, condemned, and cast away; but when I reached that point the Lord’s mercy revealed itself to me. He seemed to say, “Because thou hast called thyself an outcast, therefore will I restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds.”

     I should like to say a word that would be comforting to poor hearts that are greatly down-trodden. I do not feel able to preach at all, for I am weak and weary; but I always find when I am weak the Lord says somewhat by me which is just the thing wanted by some poor devil-hunted soul that cannot find rest. I think the Lord puts the trumpet out of order on purpose to draw from it a different note from what it gives when it is in proper condition,— a note that may precisely suit some weary ear that could not hearken to any other sound. May the Holy Spirit cause it to be so now.

     IV. I am going to finish in the fourth place, by giving A LITTLE SUITABLE ADVICE. I will suppose that I have those before me who have felt their disease and their wound, and have been healed by the God of mercy. I would recommend them to attend to certain matters. The first thing is, take care that you live very near your Physician. I notice that patients come up from the country when they are suffering with serious complaints, and they take lodgings near a medical man who is in high esteem for such cases as theirs. They leave the comforts of home, and let their business go, because life is precious, and they need a helper close at hand. No one blames them for this; in fact we count them wise; let us learn wisdom from their example. Now, the Lord has healed your wound, and restored health to you, therefore abide in him; never leave him, nor live far away from him, for this old disease of yours may break out on a sudden, and it will be well to have the Healer close at hand. It will be best to entertain him constantly beneath your roof, and within your heart; for his presence is the wellspring of health to the soul. Abide perpetually with Christ, and then the sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night: dwelling in the secret place of the Most High, there shall no evil befall you, neither shall any plague come nigh your dwelling. This disease of sin may cause eruptions when we least expect it; when we suppose that the evil leaven will work no more it may suddenly gather force, and the whole body of our nature will be in a ferment with iniquity. The danger is near, abide therefore near your security. Live with him who renews your youth like the eagle’s, and restores your soul.

     I recommend you often to put yourself under his searching examination. Go to this great Physician, and ask him to look into your hidden parts, to search you, and try you, and see what wicked way may be in you, that he may lead you in the way everlasting. A man may have a deadly disease upon him and scarcely be aware of it, because no skilled person has looked upon him, and observed his symptoms; and in spiritual things this is a common mischief, to which multitudes fall a prey. Invite, therefore, the eyes of the Lord Jesus, for in our most honest searches we miss much, and we are naturally prejudiced in our own favour, so that we are pretty sure to give a verdict on our own side; and this may lead to final and fatal self-delusion. If we intrust the search to him whose eyes are as a flame of fire we shall not be deceived.

     I recommend you from personal experience to consult with this Doctor every day. It is a wise thing before you go downstairs into the world’s tainted atmosphere to take a draught of his Elexir Vitos. in the form of renewed faith in him. I am sure at night it is an admirable thing to purge the soul of all the perilous stuff which has accumulated through the day by full confession and renewed confidence.

     Lay bare your case before him; conceal nothing; beg of him to deal with you according to his knowledge of your case. Make a clean breast that Christ may make a sure cure. Conceal no symptom however threatening, but tell him all the truth. He cannot be deceived; do not attempt it, but unbosom every secret thing before his all-surveying gaze. Entreat him to search both thoughts and affections, designs and motives. The ill may gather in secret places unless his discerning eye shall detect the growing danger, and prevent it by immediate action.

     Then I should very strongly recommend you always to obey the prescriptions of the great Healer. “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” Do not follow apart of his orders, and neglect the rest. The Lord Jesus must be received as a whole, or not at all. Say not “This is nonessential;” for such a speech is flat rebellion. I do not believe in any words of our Lord being non-essential. They may not be essential to our salvation, but every word of Christ is essential to our spiritual health; neither can we disregard the least of his precepts without suffering loss through our disobedience. Be very careful that you follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth; no other kind of walking is safe in such a world as this. Do what he bids you, as he bids you, and it shall be well with you.

     Take care also to exercise great confidence in this Physician. Rely upon him without stint or question. Your cure is working wondrously when you trust in Jesus heartily. Never doubt the Saviour’s power to make you perfectly whole. Our Lord never can be baffled; though all diseases should meet in one person he would overcome them all. Stick to this with unyielding assurance. Let not the devil force you to doubt the boundless power of your Lord. When our Lord Jesus set up to be a Saviour, he understood the work upon which he entered. His is no ’prenticed hand. He has never had a failure yet. Never did a soul trust him for salvation and remain unsaved; and you shall not be the first to defeat his skill. Trust him with all your heart. There is no cause to doubt. Distrust is what you have to fear; faith is your strength.

     When you are healed, as I trust you are already, speak well of your Benefactor. Make a point of going round to your neighbours, if you find them sick, and telling them how you have been healed; thus will you make to your Lord a name of honour and renown. Tell out among all men what the Lord has done for you. I know you can tell them that story though you are no orator. When you were restored from sickness the other day, you were quite able to inform your friends as to that new medicine which acted like a charm, and you found a tongue to speak well of your doctor; and I am sure you have ability enough to declare the wonderful works of the Lord in your case. “Oh, but I could not embellish the tale!” Do not attempt to embellish it; for that would only spoil it. Tell the story as simply as possible. I think it is of Mr. Cecil that I have read the following incident. A friend came from some distance to inform him of a medicine which was to relieve him of his disorder. This friend told him all about it, and having done so, entered into conversation upon the current matters of the day. The result was that Mr. Cecil was greatly interested in the talk, and when his friend was gone, he quite forgot every ingredient of the wonderful medicine. Beware of allowing the many things to drive the one thing needful out of your friend’s mind. When we preach fine sermons our hearers say, “That was prettily put. They do not so much notice what we taught as how we taught it; and this is a great evil. Even so if you go and talk about your salvation to your neighbour, and narrate it eloquently, she will say, “Mrs. So-and-so has been here, and told me about her conversion in such beautiful language; I do not know that I ever heard such elegant sentences; it was most delightful to hear her.” What did she say? “I do not know what she said, but it was very beautiful.” Thus many a sermon or Sunday-school address is overlaid and buried under its own robes. Pity that those we seek to bless should be more taken up with our pretty words than with our adorable Master. I hope I have not this morning fallen into the evil which I lament. Lest I should have done so in any measure I would make my text my banner, and display it again. The Lord has said, “I will restore health unto thee, and heal thee of thy wounds.” I believed that word when I was sick and wounded, and “the Lord was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord.”



Mourners, Inquirers, Covenanters

By / Nov 25

MOURNERS, INQUIRERS, COVENANTERS.

 

“In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the LORD their God. They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the LORD in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.” — Jeremiah 1. 4, 5,

 

THE previous part of this chapter declares the overthrow of Israel’s cruel oppressor: “Babylon is taken, Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces.” The Assyrian and Babylonian power had been the great tyrant of the ages, and the Lord had employed it for the chastening of his people, until at last Israel and Judah had been carried away captive to the banks of the Euphrates, and the land of their fathers knew them no more. This was the mournful song of the exiles, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” What a turn would come! In the day when God would reckon with Babylon, and punish the haughty people for their cruelties and oppressions, then should Israel and Judah come to their own again. “In those days, and in that time,” there would be hope for the down-trodden: the Lord would keep his appointments of grace to the hour, and at the time determined Israel should be free. “Surely the least of the flock would draw out the enemy,” and escape from his power. God doth devise means for bringing back his banished ones, and among those ways we usually see the overthrow of their conquerors. When, therefore, the Lord deals with Babylon in a way of vengeance it is that he may deliver his own people. See how the two things are joined together in the eighteenth and nineteenth verses, — “Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land, as I have punished the king of Assyria. And I will bring Israel again to his habitation, and he shall feed on Carmel and Bashan, and his soul shall be satisfied upon mount Ephraim and Gilead.” When Pharaoh is drowned, Israel is saved; when Sihon and Og are slain, the Lord’s mercy to his people is seen to endure for ever. The destruction of Amalek is the salvation of Jacob, and the overthrow of Babylon is the restoration of Jerusalem. It was a very wonderful thing that a nation so crushed and scattered as the Jews were should come back from captivity: it was a very marvellous instance of divine power and faithfulness, as it is written — “For Israel hath not been forsaken, nor Judah of his God, of the Lord of hosts; though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel.”

     I will not talk much with you concerning the Chaldeans and the Jews, but I would speak concerning ourselves. We, too, by nature are in banishment, far off from our God and the abode of his glory. We are not what we ought to have been, for the Lord did not make us to be sinners, but to be his happy and obedient creatures: our present lost estate is not our true state, we are banished through coming under the power of our great adversary; sin has carried us into captivity, we are in the far country, away from the great Father’s house. It is a great blessing when the times come, and they have come, when there is an opportunity and an invitation to return. To-day the power of the adversary is broken, and we may flee out of the Babylon of sin. A greater than Cyrus has opened the two-leaved gates, and broken the bars of iron in sunder, and proclaimed liberty to the captives. We may now return to our God and freely enjoy the holy and happy associations, which belong to the City of our God.

     At such times, when the Lord is leading men to seek his face, questions arise, anxieties abound, and difficulties multiply. The lost tribes could not come back from Babylon by merely thinking of it the way was long and dangerous, the paths were unknown and difficult, and they who came back to Zion found the journey to be no promenade of pleasure or parade of pomp. It is so with the Lord’s banished when he gives them a heart and a will to return to him; they are not, therefore, restored to the Father’s house at once: they may have to persevere through months of weary pilgrimage before they come to their desired abode. As I have said, returning times are anxious times; men wander thoughtlessly, but they do not return without grave thought and serious consideration. I earnestly desire to be the means in the hand of God of answering questions, removing fears, and clearing the way for those who have begun to seek the Lord. They mourn, and I would fain comfort them; they ask the way, and I would gladly direct them; they long to join themselves unto the Lord, and I would help them. Last Sabbath morning was given to the fathers of the church, let this be given to the beginners in the divine life. May the Holy Spirit give us thoughts and words which may lead the seeker into the way of peace.

     Every one who is really seeking the Lord desires to be sure that he is seeking aright; he is not willing to take anything for granted, since his soul is of too much value to be left at hazard. He does not even believe in his own judgment of himself, but when he thinks his face is towards Zion, he still asks the way. He inquires, “Are my feelings like those of the truly penitent? Am I believing as those do who are justified by faith? Am I seeking the Lord in a manner which will be pleasing to him?” They have so long been as lost sheep, going from mountain to hill, that they have forgotten their resting places, therefore in their confusion they are afraid of going wrong again, and so they inquire with eager anxiety. Perhaps we may show them from this Scripture how others sought and how others found, and this may be a guide and a comfort to them; for albeit there are differences of operation, and all do not come to Christ with equal terrors, or with equal joys, yet there is a likeness in all the pilgrims to the holy city. “As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man;” the experience of God’s people in its root principles is evermore the same. All coming sinners endure like griefs, and pass through similar struggles: the same desires, the same fears, the same hopes, and by-and-by the same realizations are to be found in all those who seek unto the Lord their God.

     Looking carefully at the text, we perceive that those who came back to Zion by God’s gracious leadership, were first mourners; secondly, inquirers; and thirdly, covenanters, for they ended by joining themselves unto the Lord in a perpetual covenant.

     I. To begin at the beginning, the Lord’s restored ones during the processes of grace were first of all MOURNERS: “In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the Lord their God.” Oh, my hearer, after all your sins I will not believe that you are truly coming to God if there is not about you a great sorrow for sin and a lamenting after the Lord. Some seekers are made to drink of this bitter cup very deeply; the wine of astonishment is long kept to their lips; their sense of sin is terrible, even to anguish and agony. I know that there are others who do not taste this bitterness to the same degree; but it is in their cup, for all that, only the sweet love of Christ is revealed to them so soon and so fully that the healthful wormwood of penitence is veiled beneath the exceeding sweetness of gracious pardon. The clear shining in their case so soon follows the rain that they scarcely know that there has been a shower of grief. Surely, in their case the bitterness is passed; yet is it truly there, only the other ingredient of intense delight in God’s mercy swallows up all its sharpness. Oh, friends, you cannot imagine the Jews returning from captivity without bewailing the sins which drove them into the place of their exile. How could they be restored to God if they did not lament their former wicked estrangement? Shall the Lord press to his bosom an impenitent transgressor? How can there be peace to an offender so long as his offences are not repented of? While the heart feels no compunction concerning its wanderings, no mourning over its guilt, no grief at having grieved the Lord, there can be no acceptance with God. There must be a shower in the day of mercy: not always a long driving rain causing a flood, but the soft drops must fall in every case. There must be tenderness toward God if we expect reconciliation with God. The heart must cry, “How could I have sinned against so good a Lord! How could I have stood out against his love! How could I have refused my Saviour and his abounding grace! My God forgive me!” These confessions, if truly made, cannot be spoken without sighs and sorrows; the multitudes of our sins cannot be thought of without a moving of the soul and a measure of heart-break. Is it not written. “They shall look on him whom they have pierced, and shall mourn for him, and be in bitterness as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn”? A look at Christ gives life, and it also produces the tokens of that life, among which we find godly sorrow, which worketh repentance not to be repented of. Even a sense of pardon does not exclude this holy mourning: on the contrary, it increases it. The more certain we are that we are forgiven, the more do we loathe the sin which caused the Saviour to bleed and die. The more sure we are of the divine favour, the more intensely do we regret the fact of our having been enemies to the infinitely gracious God. Of all the ransomed it is written, “They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them.”

     Observe that this mourning in the case of Israel and Judah was so strong that it mastered other feelings. Between Judah and Israel there was an old feud. They were brethren, and it ought not to have been so; but they had become bitter adversaries of each other. Yet now that they return unto the Lord, we read, “The children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together.” O happy union in a common search for God! One of the first results of holy sorrow for sin is to cast out of our heart all forms of enmity and strife with our fellowmen. When we are reconciled to God we are reconciled to men. I have seen those who had been fired with mutual hatred loving each other when they have been alike under the power of the Spirit of God, and bowed down with contrition. I am sure if you were to go forward as a sincere inquirer to ask the way to heaven, if you met your worst enemy at the door, and he said to you, “I am seeking mercy of God for my transgressions,” you would grasp each other’s hands and weep together. If a man, professing to be a penitent, drew back at the sight of another who also came penitently to Christ, and said, “I can have nothing to do with him,” I should unhesitatingly declare him to be a hypocrite; or even if he were sincere, I should have to tell him that to a certainty the Lord could not and would not accept his repentance or grant him peace. If thou wilt not forgive thy brother, how shall God forgive thee? Durst thou pray, “Forgive us our trespasses,” if thou canst not forgive thy brother his trespasses? A penitent sense of our own provocations of God will prevent our being provoked with men. As Aaron’s rod swallowed up all other rods, so a sincere sorrow for sin will remove all readiness to take offence against our fellow-sinners. In the secret chambers of their, souls the truly penitent say, “Everything that I have against any man is gone now, for I remember nothing but that I have offended against my God. If the Lord will forgive my wrong, everything I have had to bear from others shall be as the small dust of the balance, not worthy to be considered or thought of in the day of infinite grace.”

     I am trying so to preach that I may help you who are seeking the Lord to discover whether you are coming aright. This shall be one simple test to you— you cannot be coming home to your Father unless there is some degree of mourning for sin, some smiting upon the breast, some bemoaning of yourself because of your iniquities; and again, for certain, you cannot be coming to the Lord aright unless there is a blotting out altogether from your heart of every offence that every man may have committed against you in past times. Judah and Israel, when the Lord has mercy on them, forget their enmity, and recognize the brotherhood which they ought never to have forgotten. If I am speaking to any who are seeking the Lord, but seem to make small progress to the light, I entreat them to inquire whether sins of enmity and wrath may not be lying at the door and blocking the way of grace. Hasten to forgive freely, fully, heartily, and then pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.” A family disagreement may seem to be a little thing, but it may be holding many in the deadly bonds of the evil one. Be reconciled to thy brother, or thou canst not be reconciled to thy God.

     Keeping close to the text, we notice again that the exiles on their return were mourning while marching. Observe the words— “going and weeping.” We might have thought, perhaps, that when they began to go to their God, so much light would break in upon them that they would cease to weep: but no, it is “going and weeping.” A true heart that is coming to God takes the road by Weeping-Cross: it feels its sin, its guilt, its undesert, and it therefore mourns. The closet is sought out and prayer is offered; but in the supplication there is a dove’s note, a moaning as of one sorrowing for love. When the prayer is over, there is a dissatisfaction with the prayer, a smiting on the breast, as much as to say, “I pray but coldly compared with the way in which I ought to pray. I look not to Christ as I ought, but look half askance,. I fear, at something else besides the cross.” An honestly believing soul is fearful lest it should be mistaken in its faith. A truly praying heart is jealous of its own prayer, lest it should ask amiss. Probably no prayer is more sincere than that which is followed by deep regret that it is not more fervent: in the fact that the pleader is dissatisfied with his cry lies a proof that the Lord is satisfied with it. Our humility is the water-mark which proves our prayer to be genuine. If we think well of our prayers, and imagine that we have almost a right to be heard, we shall make a fruitless visit to the mercy-seat. We may not claim of God as a matter of justice those boons which are pure gifts of mercy. The Lord had no respect unto Cain and his sacrifice, because there was no reference to sin, no type of atonement, no confession of guilt in that which he presented. Publicans confessing sin are justified rather than self-satisfied Pharisees. When a sense of sin leads to prayer, the prayer itself appears to be another cause for repentance, because of the sin which mingles with it. He who feels a humbling sorrow while he seeks his God is coming aright. Now the seeker opens his Bible, and sits down to read the promise, and as he reads he thinks what great mercy there is in it; but he adds, “Alas! how evil has been my life, since I have grieved the Lord of love.” Then the tears flow like the water which gushed from the smitten rock; for as the believer sees that pardon is real and that it is meant for him he is all the more melted down with penitential sorrow. This is his song: —

“Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart, Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart; Dissolved by thy goodness, I fall to the ground, And weep to the praise of the mercy I’ve found.”

Having grasped the promise, and having looked to Christ and seen himself forgiven, the sincere soul continues to draw nearer and nearer to his God, and yet all the while he is filled with self-accusations and humblings on account of sin. While he cries, “Blessed be the God of my salvation, who has delivered me from my iniquities;” he also mourns within himself, exclaiming, “Alas! that I should have so transgressed and grieved his Holy Spirit! I am ashamed at having rejected such wondrous love!” Thus “Going and mourning” depicts a gracious blending of activity and repentance.

     Turning the text round, we read not only of “going and weeping,” but also of weeping and going. The holy grief here intended does not lead to sitting still, for it is added “they shall go.” That word “weeping” is sandwiched in between two goings— “going and weeping; they shall go and seek the Lord.” To sit down and say, “I will sorrow for my sin, but never seek a Saviour,” is an impenitent pretence of repentance, a barren sorrow which brings forth no cleansing of the life, and no diligent search after the Lord. Such a sorrow is the first dropping of that dread shower of remorse which will fall upon the soul for ever. Remorse is the never-dying worm and the fire unquenchable. No doubt all that are now lost lament that they have brought themselves into such a ruin, but that lamentation is no evidence of reconciliation with God; many have a kind of repentance for having brought themselves into a condemmed condition; but this is not genuine repentance if it stands alone. When the prodigal cries, “I will arise and go to my Father,” then a work of grace is certainly begun, but not till then. It is not enough to say, “I perish with hunger”; but when there follows upon it, “I will arise, and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned,” then we have reached the true turning point— salvation has come to our house. True mourning for sin leads the sinner to the cross. When thou talkest about repentance, if thy repentance be with thy back to the cross, away with thy repentance. If thou art trusting to thy tears, and sorrows, and griefs, and not trusting to the blood of Jesus Christ, thou art trusting in a vain show. Vanity of vanities: thy tears shall scald thee, if thou trustest in them, and thy groans shall be the echoes of thy death-sentence if thou reliest on them. That repentance in which a guilty man dares to fix his confidence shall be swept away as a thing that lacks the salt which would make it acceptable with God. The way to repent is with your eye upon the sacrifice, viewing the flowing of the sin-atoning blood, marking every precious drop, gazing into the Redeemer’s wounds, and believing in the love which in death opened up its depths unsearchable. All the while we must be saying, “My God, my God, I groan within myself that such a sacrifice should have been required by my atrocious transgressions against thee.” This is the holy mixture which is needed — going and weeping, but still going and seeking the Lord.

     We must not pass over that last word, “They shall go and seek the Lord their God.” This, dear hearer, shall be a guide to you as to whether your present state of feeling is leading you aright. What is it you are seeking? “I am seeking,” says one, “I am seeking peace.” May you soon obtain it, and may it be real peace; but I am not sure of you. “I am seeking,” says another, “the pardon of sin.” Again, I pray that you may find it; but I am not sure of you. If another shall reply, “I am seeking the Lord; for I desire above all things to have him for a friend, though to him I have been an enemy”; then I have good hope of him. I rejoice over the heart which is crying, “I want to see my Father’s face, and hear him say, ‘I have blotted out thy sins;’ I want to dwell with God, to serve him, to obey him, to grow like him. There has been a quarrel between him and me, and other lords have had dominion over me, but now I desire that he shall be my Lord and King, and myself his loyal humble servant, and his beloved child. I hunger and thirst after God!” You see, brethren and sisters, we require a great many things in order to be saved, and yet one thing is needful. I would represent it in this form: — Here is a little child, picked up from the gutter, diseased and filthy, unclad, unfed; and if you ask me to make out a catalogue of what the child wants you must give me a sheet of foolscap paper to write it all down, and then I fear I shall leave out many things. I will tell you in one word what that poor infant requires — it wants its mother. If it gets its mother it has all it needs. So to tell what a poor sinner wants might be a long task; but when you say that he wants his heavenly Father you have said it all. This was what the prodigal needed, was it not? He needed his Father, and when he came to his Father all his necessities were supplied. Oh, souls, you are seeking aright if you are seeking your God. Nothing short of this will suffice. This may greatly aid you to judge whether you are in the right way or no.

     So you see, first of all, the returning exiles were mourners.

     II. Secondly, these mourners became INQUIRERS. We read in the second verse of our text, “They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward.” They knew something, that is clear, for they turned their faces in the right direction; but having been born and nurtured in Babylon the road to Jerusalem had never been trodden by them, the route was strange and new. They knew within a little the quarter in which Zion lay, and they looked that way; but they did not know all about the road: how should they? The saving point about them was that they were not ashamed to confess their ignorance. Minds that the Lord has touched are never boastful of their wisdom. There are many persons in the world who would be converted if they could but consent to be taught by God’s word and Spirit; but they are such wise people, they know too much to enter the school of grace. Jesus tells such, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” A sense of ignorance is the doorstep of wisdom. He shall never know who is not willing to confess that he does not know. These exiles did confess their ignorance; they knew a little, but they felt that they had much more to learn before they could stand in the temple of God in happy fellowship with him.

     It is clear from their asking their way that these inquirers were teachable. They not only yielded to be instructed, but they were eager to be taught; and therefore they asked for information. It is a hopeful sign when children ask questions; if we can get them to desire knowledge, the desire will be more valuable than the knowledge itself. The way nowadays is to cram the memory; but if our youths could be brought to hunger for knowledge, and to ask questions, their minds would be much more effectually benefited. It is a great mercy for a poor seeking sinner to have a teachable spirit, so as to pray, “Lord Jesus, write thy gospel upon my heart. Here it is, ready to be written on. Only tell me what thou wouldst have me to do. I make no reservation — I am willing, by thy help, to do it; or if there be nothing to be done but to sit at thy feet, tell me that, and I will do this as thy grace enables me.” This teachable spirit is a great benefit to any man: it is in fact a precious fruit of the Spirit. “They shall ask the way to Zion:” they shall therefore be conscious of ignorance, and they shall be willing to be taught; these are good characteristics, such as God accepts.

     More than this, they will be anxious although they are right: “they shall ask the way to Zion, with their faces thitherward”— they are travelling in the right direction, and yet they ask the way. They have looked westward from Babylon, towards Jerusalem: they have taken up the westward position, which in their case had a hopeful meaning in it. They are setting out for the land of Canaan as their first father did when he left Chaldea; and as they have no map of the road they ask for the way which leads from banishment to the city of their God. They are right, for their faces are Zionward, and one proof of it is that they are anxious to keep right, or to be set right. You who are certain that you are right are very liable to be wrong, but those who make every inquiry of the word of God, of the servants of God, and of their fellow travellers are in all probability pursuing the right road. He that has never raised a question about his condition before God had better raise it at once. The fullest assurance of faith we can ever attain will never excuse us from the duty of self-examination. When a man is most surely prospering in business, it will be wise for him to keep his accounts with care; if he does not attend to the state of his affairs we shall suspect that his prosperity is a pleasing delusion which he dares not disturb. He who is most sure that he is right before God is most willing to look within; and he that will not search his own heart, but takes it for granted he is safe, may take my word for it that he is in a perilous condition. It is a strange thing that when men set their faces in the right way, they become careful and serious, and deeply concerned, for they feel that their eternal destiny is not a thing to trifle with.

     At the same time, note concerning those that are coming to the Lord and his people, that they are questioning, but they are still resolved. They ask their way to Zion, but they have set their faces like flints in that direction. They ask how they can be right with God, not as a matter of curiosity, but because they mean to be at peace with him: by God’s grace nothing shall turn them aside from their God and his temple, and hence their anxiety to be surely right. They do not raise questions by way of quibbling that they may have an excuse for sitting still, but they question because they are in downright earnest. True penitents will have Christ or die. Therefore with solemn resolve, lest perchance they should be misled, they ask their way, determined to walk therein.

     Though they ask the way, we may remark further that they know whither they are going. They ask their way to Zion. They wish to know how they can become fellow-citizens with the people of God, how they can behold the great sacrifice, how they can eat the true passover, how they can be accepted worshippers of Jehovah, and how they can enjoy fellowship with him: they ask their way with understanding, for they know what their heart is seeking. They ask their way, not to somewhere or other, but to Zion; not to some imaginary blissful shore that may be or may not be, but they seek God’s own dwelling-place, God’s own palace, God’s own sacrifice. They ask boldly too, for they are not ashamed to be found inquiring; and when they are informed, their faces are already that way, and therefore they have nothing to do but to go straight on. May God grant us myriads of such inquirers! Observe the right order: first they sought the Lord, and then they asked their way to Zion. First God, and then God’s people; first the Master of the house, and then the house of the Master; first that you may become his child, secondly that you may be put among the children. We pray the Holy Spirit to teach you this order well: first give yourself to the Lord, and afterwards to us by the word of God.

     III. Now we come to the last matter: these inquirers become COVENANTERS, for they said one to another, “Come and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.” Oh, that word “covenant”! I can never pronounce it without joy in my heart. It is to me a mine of comfort, a mint of delight, a mass of joy. Time was when theology was full of covenant truth; nowadays these grand old doctrines are laid aside by our wise men as too commonplace for their enlightened minds. I do not believe that some modern preachers could say “covenant”; they could not frame to pronounce it aright. The doctrine of the “covenant” is a kind of Shibboleth by which we may know the man of God from the false prophet. Let the people of God take no delight in the man who does not delight in the covenant of grace. I rejoice in those old Scotch books about the covenant: covenant truth was so inwrought into the Scotch heart that Scottish peasants as well as divines talked about it perpetually. You remember the good old cottager’s grace over her porridge. I cannot repeat it in pure Doric, but it ran like this: — “Lord, I thank thee for the porridge, I thank thee for an appetite for the porridge, but I thank thee most of all that I have a covenant right to the porridge.” Only think of that, a covenant right to the porridge. Does not the promise say, “Thy bread shall be given thee and thy waters shall be sure?” God has given to his children a covenant right to be fed in this life with daily bread, else we might not pray for it. In the day in which the Lord put us into the covenant by personal experience, he said, “No good thing will I withhold from them that walk uprightly,” and consequently he promised the porridge, and any other provision which he judged to be “food convenient for us.” If we are in poverty it sweetens everything if we can feel that our food and raiment must come to us, for the Lord has covenanted to supply all our needs. We pray the Lord, “Give us this day our daily bread.” How came it to be ours? Why, because it was guaranteed us in the covenant: covenant provision has made it ours, and therefore we may ask for it as ours. Have I any right to ask God for what is not mine in Christ Jesus? As sinners we sue for mercy and crave for the sake of grace; but when we come to be children, we can also appeal to other attributes, and especiallv to faithfulness, which is a great covenant security. We can now say, “My Father, since I am thy child I am an heir of God, joint-heir with Jesus Christ; therefore give me of the fulness which thou hast treasured up in him on my behalf.” The upper springs are ours, and the nether springs shall not be withheld.

“He who hath made my heaven secure
Will here all good provide.
Since Christ is rich, can I be poor?
What can I want beside?”

     Returning to the text, from which I have diverged a little: these inquirers become covenanters, for we read that they seek to be joined unto the Lord — “Come and let us join ourselves to the Lord." The mischief of our fallen state arose from our trying to be distinct and independent of our God. The younger son said, “Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.” See, he has received his share in ready-money and off he goes to the far country. What does he do when he penitently returns? Why he joins himself to his Father. Nothing in the house is his, he has had his portion of goods long ago; but he lives at home because he is one with his Father, and cannot be shut out from the house of his Father. He is in communion with his Father, and so he is a partaker of all his Father’s goods. O that word, “joint-heirs”! What security and sweetness dwell in it. It is a grand thing to be an heir of God, but it makes it so much surer to be “joint-heirs with Christ.” We have such fellowship with Jesus, that we share all that Jesus has: our title to all good things lies in Jesus, and in our being one with him. “Come and let us join ourselves to the Lord.” Now, dear hearts, are you willing to be one with Christ, and so to be one with the Father? Is not this the one thing you long for, that you may be so at peace with God through Jesus Christ that you may be joined with him? You are a right-hearted seeker, in fact, you have found the Lord already, or else you would not find it in your heart to use such an expression as seeking to be joined unto the Lord.

     Next, notice for how long a time this covenant is to be made— “Let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant.” In our English army of late they have enlisted “short time” men. A good brother came to join the church last week who is in the Reserve, and I said to him, “You are not coming to unite with us for two sixes, the first six with the colours and the other six as a reserve man, — you have come, I hope, to fight under the colours as long as life lasts.” “Ay, sir,” he said, “I give myself up to the Lord for ever.” No salvation is possible except that which saves the soul for ever. It must be an everlasting salvation or no salvation. And yet some professors try to be off and on with God: they are wonderfully good on the Sabbath; but they slip their regimentals off on Sunday night, and there is no accounting for them during the week. I do not know where these double-faced people are to be found on a Monday night, but I fear they are up to no good. These chameleons change their colour according to the light they are in. Their religion is a sort of play-acting, a kind of masquerade. Beware of a religion which you can put on and off. In the Capitol at Rome I saw one of the Roman Emperors, and I remembered well his majesty’s brutal countenance; soon after I saw the gentleman looking very different; I should not have recognized his imperial highness at all if it had not been for the name: the fact is, they had put another wig on him. Oddly enough, certain of those statues are so carved that a series of stone headdresses can be put upon them; and this makes a mighty difference in their appearance. I am afraid that to some professors their religion is a wig, which so wonderfully changes them when they put it on or take it off, that you would not think they were the same people. A real man of God has his religion interwoven into the warp and woof of his being; he could not be other than he is whatever his circumstances might be. Said one, “I hate such a man; he shall not come to my house; for I hear he is never ten minutes in a room but he begins to talk about religion.” Such a man the world may hate; but such a man the Lord loves. Oh, that our godliness may be as our eyes, our mouth, our countenance, our heart, our life, never to be parted with, but for ever essential to ourselves. May we now join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant! The covenant of life requires a life-long covenant. We do not take grace upon a terminable lease; it is an entailed inheritance, an immortal, eternal possession.

     Note, further, that this joining to God these covenanters intended to carry out in a most solemn way; “let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual”— agreement? or promise? No. “Covenant” is the word. It is a profitable thing for the soul to covenant with God. Dr. Doddridge gives a form of personal covenant in his “Rise and Progress,” and I have been told that some persons have written it out and even signed it with their blood. I believe that such a formal transaction may lead a soul into bondage. This covenanting is not to be performed quite so literally, but that it should be done really I do believe. That a man should give himself to the Lord in set and solemn form at some time in his life I believe to be a great help to his after perseverance; and if he will renew his covenant every now and then it may greatly help to his keeping it. In the ordinance of baptism we have the best visible setting forth of that covenant. Circumcision set forth the taking away of the filth of the flesh; but baptism sets forth the death and burial of the flesh itself; we see in it the emblem of our death and burial with our Lord. The believer thereby says, “Now I am come to an end of my old life, for I am dead and buried,” and he becomes henceforth as one who has risen with Christ, to walk in newness of life. By that solemn act the believer has covenanted that Christ shall be his life, and that his old self, being dead and buried, shall no more rule and reign. I have known some believers, and I think they did wisely, take a part of a day for the special object of giving themselves anew to the Lord. They have said, “Lord, I do this day, as a poor sinner, solemnly put my trust in thy word, and in thy Son, and in his atoning sacrifice; and, doing this, I feel that I am not my own, for I am bought with a price; and I now ask for grace that from this day forward I may be wholly thine. Not only I, but my wife, and my children, and my substance, and all that I have I give to thee, my Lord, admitting that nothing which I have was ever mine, but always thine. I pray that thou wilt be my God for ever and ever, and be my guide even unto death, and that after death thou wilt receive me to glory.” Such a covenant as this will bear to be looked back upon and repeated. You can gladly say—

“High heaven that heard my solemn vow,
That vow renewed shall daily hear,
Till in life’s latest hour I bow,
And bless in death a bond so dear.”

You are coming to the Lord rightly, my dear friend, if you are yielding body, soul, and spirit unto him to be his for ever. There is no fear about your safety when you join yourself unto the Lord by a perpetual covenant.

     One word more remains to be spoken: those who came mourning and inquiring, when they became covenanters felt that they had a nature very apt to forgetfulness of good things, and so a part of what they desired in their covenanting with God was “a perpetual covenant that shall not he forgotten.” God will never forget, yet may you pray, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” The fear is lest you should forget. What is your view of that possibility? Would it not be terrible? Think it over, and say, “If I should ever forget the Lord Jesus, if I should ever forget my obligations for his great salvation, and for the good hope of eternal life which he has given me, it would be infamous! God grant I may die sooner than deny my Lord!” Whither could we go for comfort if we had forgotten our God? What would remain for us but everlasting despair? Let us therefore pray the Lord that it may be a perpetual covenant, that shall never, never, not even for an hour be forgotten. Ask the Lord to write this covenant upon the fleshy tablets of your heart, that it may be there for ever. O Zion, if I forget thee let my right hand forget her cunning! Sooner than I should forget thee, O my God, suffer me speedily to die! Let me not live to become so false, so wicked, as under stress of infirmity or temptation, even for a moment to turn aside from thee! Beloved brother, take hold on Christ this morning with a renewed grip, and say, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee: suffer me not to forsake thee. Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe. I would be thine living, thine dying, and thine for ever and ever.” Thus desiring and pleading, all will be well with you. May the God of the everlasting covenant bless you. Amen.



Fathers in Christ

By / Nov 18

FATHERS IN CHRIST.

 

“I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning.” . . . . “I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning.”— 1 John ii. 13, 14.

 

OBSERVE the difference in the two verses: John first says, “I write,” and then, “I have written." When in two former discourses I preached upon the beloved apostle’s address to the young men and the children, I gave you as full an interpretation of this difference as I could command, and I need not now repeat it. Certain additional thoughts occur to me, which I will give you, that the matter may be still clearer. The apostle John says, “I write,” and by-and-by, “I have written this shows, I think, the importance of his subject If he has already written upon it, he must think it to be a very necessary and valuable truth if he writes upon it yet again. A man does not discourse repeatedly upon the same subject if he be a man full of matter, as this inspired writer was, unless he feels that it is of necessity that he return again and again to his subject till he has impressed it upon the minds of his audience. Hence the apostle is not ashamed to say in effect, — “I write this, though you need not remind me that I have written it before, for I feel it to be wise so long as I am in this tabernacle to put you in remembrance of what I have said unto you.” Nails which are important to a structure must be driven in with diligence. Foundation stones should be laid with scrupulous care; and truth, which is fundamental, should be repeated by the teacher till the disciple has learned it beyond all fear of ever forgetting it.

     This form of speech also reveals the unchanging conviction of the writer, who, having written once, is glad to write the same things again. This shows a mind made up and decided, from which proceeds consistent testimony. In these fickle times certain of our public teachers must feel unable to say of any one subject, “I write,” and “I have written;” for before the ink is dry they have need to blot out what they have put upon paper, and to write an amended version of their religious ideas. Scarcely for a month at a stretch do these loose thinkers abide in one stay: they are such wandering stars that no chart could ever mark their position for three weeks together. They might say, “I write, but bless you, dear people, I do not know what I wrote six months ago. Very probably my former opinion is not now true, for all things are flowing on, and my head is swimming with the rest. I am a man of progress; for ever learning, and never coming to the knowledge of the truth. Blot out what I wrote a year ago, and read with care what I write today.” To which we reply, — Dear sir, we cannot take much notice of what you write now, because in all probability in another week or two you will retract it all, or improve it from off the face of the earth. Neither shall we pay much attention to you then, for you will probably be on the move as soon as ever you have said your say. We decline to learn what we shall have to unlearn. We will wait in our present knowledge until you have reached something certain for yourself. Perhaps in twenty years’ time, when you have pitched your gipsy tent, it may be worth our while to hear where it is; but we do not commit ourselves even to that promise: for as the progress you are now making is into deeper darkness, you will probably end in sevenfold night.

     I rejoice, dear friends, in the fixity of the Christian’s faith: I know nothing of improvements and growths in the gospel of the Lord Jesus, which is summed up in these words, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” I believe that God the Holy Ghost has given us in the Scriptures a perfect and entire revelation which is to be received by all Christians without addition or diminution. I do not believe that apostles, martyrs, confessors, and teachers have been living for these nineteen hundred years upon falsehoods: I prefer the faith of saints in glory to the day-dreams of those whipper-snappers who now-a-days claim to lead us by their “thought.” Our mind is that of David when he said, “I hate vain thoughts.” Well saith the Scripture, “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man that they are vanity.” If it be a question of thinking we can think as well as they can, and our thoughts about the modern theology are full of sorrowful contempt. Peradventure the doctrine is new, though even this we doubt; but if it be new it is not true, for truth must necessarily be as old as the everlasting hills. We observe that the word “meditation” is now seldom used, and “thought” is the modern idol. Just so: we meditate on revealed truth; but this notion of thought sets aside truth, and sets up mere fancy. We refuse to be of this vagrant party of thinkers; we are of the settled race of believers. We can say— What we have written, we still write; what we have preached, we still preach: for inasmuch as we have preached that which is revealed in Holy Scripture, to that truth we stand and shall stand, God helping us. If we live a thousand years, at the close of life we shall have nothing more nor less to say than the fixed, immutable, eternal truth of God. We hope to understand the truth better, but we shall never discover better truth.

     “I write,” and “I have written,” also indicate the abiding need of men: they require the same teaching from time to time. I suppose that John alludes to his Gospel when he says, “I have written,” and now, a little later, he writes his Epistle, and says “I write”— giving in each case the same teaching. Men’s natures are still the same, men’s spiritual conflicts and dangers are still the same, and hence the same truth is suitable, not only from day to day, but from century to century. There is but one food for soul hunger, and but one help in spiritual danger. The true teacher evermore comes to men with the same truth, because men continue to have the same dangers, necessities, sorrows, and hopes. The fathers who needed that John should write to them previously, still needed that he should write to them the selfsame thing. Though they may have grown more fatherly, they have not outgrown apostolic teaching. The former truth is good for our latter days. Many years ago, when some of us were mere boys, we listened to the gospel of Jesus, and our heart leaped as we embraced it; it was the life and joy of our spirit; and now to-day, after having advanced far in the divine life, if we hear one of those simple sermons that first brought us to Christ, concerning the precious blood of Jesus and child-like faith in him, it suits us quite as well as in those early days. I have noticed with regard to well-grown Christian people, that when I have given a purely evangelical discourse, meant only for sinners, and not at all designed for the edifying and comforting of full-aged saints, they have sucked it in with as much delight as if they were themselves newly converted. After all, though you and I are not now fed upon milk, yet a draught of milk is still most refreshing. Though we can now digest the solid meat of the kingdom, yet the children’s bread has lost none of its relish in our esteem. The elementary truths are still sweet to our hearts; ay, sweeter than ever they were. Though we have advanced to the higher courses of the edifice of holy knowledge, yet we never cease to look with intense delight upon those foundation-truths which concern our Lord Jesus. We cleave with full purpose of heart to him of whom the Lord God has said, “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation.” Jesus remains to us “elect, precious,” and we know it will be so with us till life’s latest hour.

     From this text I am to preach principally to the fathers, and as the church has not many fathers I may be supposed to have a slender audience; but yet this is hardly so, since I hope and trust that the area of the sermon’s influence will include young men; for you, my brethren, aspire to reach the front rank, and to be numbered among the fathers. Even to you who are little children, the text has its word of instruction; for you will be glad to hear what the fathers know, since you hope ere long to know the same. The life of God is so much the same in all stages that the word which is profitable to fathers has a use for babes, and that which is spoken to little children has a voice in it for young men. May God the Holy Ghost bless this word to the hearts of all his people!

     Concerning the fathers, I am going to inquire three things this morning. First, who are they? — “You fathers.” Secondly, what is their peculiar characteristic? — “Ye have known him that is from the beginning.” And, thirdly, what is the message to them? — “I have written unto you, fathers.” What is it that John has written to fathers in the church of God?

     I. First, WHO ARE THE FATHERS?

     We usually associate that idea somewhat with age; but we must take care that we do not make a mistake here, because age in grace, albeit that it may run parallel with age in nature in many cases, does not always do so. In the church of God there are children who are seventy years old. Yes, little children displaying all the infirmities of declining years. It is not a pleasant sight to see grey-headed babes, yet I must confess I have seen such, and I have even been glad that I could dare to go the length of hoping that they were babes in Christ. One would not like to say of a man of eighty that he had scarcely cut his wisdom-teeth, and yet there are such; scarcely out of the nurse’s arms at sixty years of age, needing just as much care and comfort as sucklings at the breast. On the other hand, there are fathers in the church of God, wise, stable, instructed, who are comparatively young men. The Lord can cause his people to grow rapidly, and far outstrip their years. David as a lad was more of a father in God than Eli in his old age. Growth in grace is not a time growth. In eternal matters years count for little. The Lord gives subtlety to the simple, to the young men knowledge and discretion. Solomon was wise while yet young; in some respects wiser than when he was old. Some youths have been like Joseph, men with God before they were men among men. Joseph, we are told in our translation, was more loved by Jacob than any of his brethren, “because he was the son of his old age”; this can hardly be a correct rendering, for Benjamin, who was born sixteen years; later, was far more entitled to be so called. Another interpretation, which seems to me more correct, signifies that he was a son of the Eiders, and implies that while he was a child he was an associate of elderly persons, and was himself so thoughtful, serious, and well-instructed as to be an elderly child, a child-man, full of unusual wisdom and prudence. Josephs are still sent into the church now and then, and the Lord greatly blesses his people by their means. Oh, for more of them! From their early youth they have a discernment of God’s word, and a quickness of apprehension wonderful to notice. More than that, I have even observed a depth of experience within a very short time granted to certain young believers, so that though they were but youths in age they were fathers in piety. Nevertheless, as a usual thing, it is to be expected that advancement in grace should be accompanied with advancement in years, and it is so often so that we are wont to call those who are fit to look after the souls of others “the elders of the church,” not necessarily because they are old men, but because they are instructed in the things of God. These are the fathers, then, men who have aged in grace, have come to the full development of their spiritual manhood, and have been confirmed in that development by the test of time and trials. Believers when they have in the course of years shown themselves able both to labour and to suffer, are fitly ranked among fathers. Why do we call the early writers the fathers of the church? Not, I think, because we owe more to their teaching than to those of a later period, but because they were the first men, the pioneers, the vanguard, and so the fathers of the church. The first and earliest members of a church will become fathers in due time if they continue in the faith, grounded and settled: their years of persevering holiness entitle them to respect. Paul mentions with honour certain persons, saying, “Who also were in Christ before me.” There is an honour in having been a soldier of Christ for along time. It was no small praise of his disciples when Jesus said of them, “Ye have been with me from the beginning.” With the idea of fathers we so far associate that of age that we hope and expect that believers who have been in Christ long have well learned their lesson, and have come to a fulness of growth in the things of God. Judge ye, Christian brethren, whether ye can rank yourselves among the fathers; and if ye are not able to do so, yet press onward towards it. I make bold to say that in this church there is a larger proportion of this class of Christians than I have ever seen elsewhere, and for this I thank God with all my heart, for they are of the utmost service to our host.

     “Fathers,” again, are persons of maturity, men who are not raw and green; not fresh recruits, unaccustomed to march or fight, but old legionaries who have used their swords on others, and are themselves scarred with wounds received in conflict. These men know what they know, for they have thought over the gospel, studied it, considered it, and- having so considered it have embraced it with full intensity of conviction. Usually we mean by “fathers” men who have become developed in grace, mature in character, decided in conviction, clear in statement, and accurate in judgment. These can discern between things that differ, and are not deceived by the philosophies which allure the ignorant. They know the voice of the Shepherd, and a stranger will they not follow. The younger folk may be bewitched so that they do not obey the truth; but these are not fascinated by error. New converts in their difficulties resort to these fathers for doubts which bewilder the beginner are simplicity itself to those who are taught of the Lord. These are the watchmen on the walls who detect where insidious doubt is creeping in, where deadly error under the guise of truth is slily undermining the faith of the church: to that end the Lord has instructed them and given them to have their senses exercised to discern between good and evil. Among them are men who have understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do. If you are such fathers, dear brethren, I rejoice in you: if you are not such as yet, aspire to this eminence, and pray the Lord that you may not be long before you arrive at the ripeness and sweetness which belong to mellow Christians who are prepared for the great ingathering.

     “Fathers,” again, are men of stability and strength. If burglars are planning to attack a house they care little about the children, and make small account of the boys; but if fatherly men are about, the thieves are not eager for an encounter. Even thus the arch-deceiver has hope of injuring the church by deceiving the little children and the young men; but the stalwart men of God, who walk in the midst of the household, looked up to by everybody, are not so readily blown to and fro. As the Spartans pointed to their citizens as the real walls of Sparta, so do we point to these substantial men, as under God the brazen walls and bulwarks of the church. Men who are well taught, confirmed, experienced, and trained by the Spirit of God are pillars in the house of our God. It may be said of each of them, “He keepeth himself so that the evil one toucheth him not.” These are men-at-arms, who know how to wear the armour which God has provided, and to use the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. These are men of strong faith and firm convictions, men of decision and courage, men of prudent action, in no hurry through fear, and under no excitement through false hope. These are not men that retract, or shuffle, or evade; but witnesses who are faithful and true, imparting confidence to the feebler sort by their calm defiance of the foe. Oh, that all Christians would grow into such solid saints. Many light, frothy, chaffy minds come into the church, and give us untold trouble to keep them right, and infinitely more trouble because they will not be kept right. Oh, for more men of such a sort that if the whole world went wrong they would still abide by the right; men who cannot be carried away by superstition, let it adorn itself with all the beauties of art; men who cannot be borne down by Scepticism either, let it flaunt all the pomp of its pretended culture and wisdom. These fathers know and are sure, and have learned to be on their own accounts determined and unyielding; for they will not stir beyond “It is written,” nor tempt eternal ruin by building upon the shifting quicksands of the hour. At this moment there is large need for a phalanx of invincibles. Be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.

     But there is something more than this in Christian fatherhood. The fathers of the church are men of heart, who naturally care for the souls of others. It is upon the father that the weight of the household falls: he goes forth in the morning to his daily labour, and he returns at night with the fruit of his toil for the support of the household. It is not for himself that he lives, but for that dear family which is gathered about him. He is not wholly comprised within his own personal self, for he lives in all the house: he lives especially in his children. Their suffering or their want would be his suffering and his want. His heart has grown larger than when he was a child or a young man; for now his heart beats in all that household, of which he is the life. It is a grand thing when Christian men and Christian women come to this, that they are not perpetually thinking of their own salvation, and of their own souls being fed under the ministry, but they care most of all for those who are weak and feeble in the church. During a service their thoughts go out for those assembled. They are anxious as to how that stranger may be impressed by the sermon; how yonder anxious spirit may be comforted, how a backsliding brother may be restored, how one who is growing somewhat chill may be revived. This paternal care betokens a true father in the church. May the Lord multiply among us those who feel it to be their life-work to feed the flock of Christ.

     Having this care upon him the father comes to be tender; he partakes somewhat of the tenderness of a mother, and thus is called a nursing-father. A true father, such as fathers should be, has a tender love for all the little ones. He would not hurt them; nothing would be more painful to him than to grieve them; on the contrary, he studies to give them pleasure, and lays himself out for their good. It is a great blessing to the church when the leading spirits are loving; not rough and uncouth, domineering or hectoring, but gentle and Christlike. Oh, my brothers, who take the lead, let us bear and forbear, and put up with a thousand trying things from our Master s children whom he has committed to our care. Let us make ourselves the servants of all. Is not the father the labourer for the children? Does he not lay up for them? Is not his superiority best seen by his doing more for the family than anybody else? This is how Christians grow great, by making themselves greatly useful to others. If you are the slave of all, willing to do anything so that you can but help them, and make them happy and holy, this is to be a father in the church of God. Sympathetic care and hearty tenderness are gifts of the Holy Spirit, and will bring you a happiness which will richly compensate you for your pains.

     Not yet have I quite reached the full meaning of a father; for the father is the author, under God, of the being of his children; and happy is a church that has many in it who are spiritual parents in Zion, through having brought sinners to Christ. Happy are the men by whose words, and acts, and spirit, and prayers, and tears, men have been begotten unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. What an honour it is to be such a father! Some of us have been filled with this joy till it has well-nigh broken our hearts even to think of it; for the Lord has fulfilled to us the promise which he made to Abraham when he bade him lift up his eyes to the stars, and said, “So shall thy seed be.” This cannot fall to the lot of all; but in the church of God every man should pray that he may not be barren or unfruitful. May we all be soulwinners; not the minister alone, not the Sunday-school teachers alone; but each one without exception! Why should not each saint bring some one to the Lord Jesus? At least, by our united prayers and godly living, by our united testimony and fidelity, let us labour for the increase of Messiah’s kingdom. I hardly think we can put any one among the fathers until he has won some heart for Jesus.

     Thus have I described the fathers. They are never very numerous — they are never so numerous as they ought to be. Paul saith, “Yet have ye not many fathers;” but wherever they are, they are the strength of the church. I have seen in the army a number of veterans marching in front, an ornament and an honour to the whole company. Your short-service men come and go, but these tried men stick to the colours, and are the backbone of the regiment. If a tough bit of fighting has to be done, you must rely upon such as these. Like Napoleon’s Old Guard, they cannot be shaken or driven back; the smell of powder does not alarm them, nor yet the whistling of the shot, nor the roar of the artillery: they have seen such things before. They can also bide their time and wait, which is a great thing in a soldier ; and when at last they are bidden to charge, they leap like lions on their prey, and the enemy is driven before them. Such men we have in the church of God, and such we need; men that are not flattered by opposition, nor made to lose their heads by excitement. They believe in God, and if others doubt, they are not infected by their folly. They know; they are certain; they have put their feet down, and will not move from their persuasion. When the time comes for action, they are ready for it; and throw their whole weight so heartily into the war that every charge tells. God send us regiments more of these in this evil day and preserve to us such as we have!

     II. Secondly. WHAT IS THE PROMINENT CHARACTERISTIC OF A FATHER IN CHRIST? Read the text. “I write unto you, fathers because ye have known him that is from the beginning.” He repeats the expression without alteration.

     Observe here the concentration of their knowledge. Twice he says, “Ye have known him that is from the beginning.” Now, a babe in grace knows twenty things: a young man in Christ knows ten things; but a father in Christ knows one thing, and that one thing he knows thoroughly. It is very natural for us at first to divide our little stream into many rivulets; but as we grow grey in grace we pour it all into one channel, and then it runs with a force efficient for our life-work. I trust I know many doctrines, many precepts and many teachings; but more and more my knowledge gathers about my Lord, even as the bees swarm around their queen. May it come to this with us all, — “I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” May all our knowledge be focused as with a burning-glass upon this one point. May the adorable person of him that was from the beginning fill the entire horizon of our thought. Oh, to have one heart, one eye, for our one Lord, and for him alone.

     Note, next, the peculiarity of their knowledge as to its object: they know “him that was from the beginning.” Do not the babes in Christ know the Lord Jesus? Yes, they do; but they do not know him in his full character. They know him as having forgiven their sins, and that is much, but it is not all. Yonder is the blessed Christ, and I, a poor sinner, look to him just as he comes to me, and I am lightened, and become one of his little children. Yes, and as I grow and become a young man, I approach nearer to Jesus, and get another view of him; for I overcome the Wicked One even as he did, and thus I stand side by side with him in the conflict. But if I come to be a father I enter into fellowship with the great Father himself; for it is union with God the Father that makes a man a father in God. Then do we, as it were, not only look toward Jesus as coming to save, but we look on Christ from the Father’s point of view. The sinner sees Jesus coming to him, but the Father sees Jesus as sent from him. When we grow in grace we, in our measure, see Jesus from God’s point of view; that is to say, we see him as “him that was from the beginning,” and in due time was manifested to take away sin. “These are ancient things,” says one. Just so; but fathers are also ancient men, and the deep things of God are suitable to them. Believers see Christ in a fashion similar to their own. I scarcely need allude to that which I have often mentioned to you, that every man in the Old Testament who saw the Lord saw him in a character like his own. Abraham, the pilgrim, saw Christ as a pilgrim. Jacob, the struggler, saw the covenant angel wrestling with him through the night. Moses, the representative of a people tried as by fire and yet continuing, saw the Lord as a burning bush. Joshua, the valiant warrior, saw the captain of the Lord’s host as a man with a sword drawn in his hand. The three holy children saw the Son of God in the burning, fiery, furnace, even as they were themselves. When you become a father in Christ you see Christ from the Father’s point of view; not as newly come to save, but as “from the beginning” the Saviour of men.

     The father in grace rejoices to behold the Lord Jesus as God: he beholds the glory of his adorable person as for ever with the Father or ever the earth was. He knows that without him was not anything made that was made, and therefore beholds him as fashioning everything upon the anvil of his power. He knows that “His goings forth were of old, from everlasting,” and he delights to see him planning the salvation of his chosen in the beginning. A glorious sight it is. The grown believer meditates upon the covenant, — the settlements of grace in the old eternity. Poor babes in Christ are frequently stumbled by the mysterious truth of God— high doctrine they call it: but when a man grows to be a father he loves covenant truth, and feeds on it. It is one mark of advanced grace that the sublime truths which concern eternity are increasingly valued. In gracious maturity the Christian sees the blessed persons of the Divine Trinity entering into a compact for the salvation of men, and he sees the Son of God himself from the beginning acting as the representative of his elect, and taking upon himself to answer on their behalf to the Father. He sees the Eternal Son there and then becoming the sponsor and the surety for his chosen, engaging to pay their debt and make recompense to the injured justice of God on account of their sins. He sees that covenant even from of old ordered in all things and sure in the hand of him that was from the beginning.

     There is one point that the father in Christ delights to think upon, namely, that the coming of Christ into the world was not an expedient adopted after an unavoidable and unforeseen disaster in order to retrieve the honour of God; but he understands that the whole scheme of events was planned in the purpose of divine wisdom for the glorifying of Christ, so that from the beginning it was part of Jehovah's plan that Jesus should take upon himself human nature, and should manifest in that nature all the attributes of the Father. It was the original plan that the incarnate God should reveal infinite grace and boundless love by laying down his life for sinners, “the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” The Only-begotten Son is not introduced into the divine economy as an afterthought; but the whole arrangement is shaped with an eye to him who was before all things, and for whom all things were created. It pleased the Father that he should lift up creation by uniting the creature and the Creator in one person; and that he should ennoble our nature, which is a combination of the spiritual and the material, by assuming a body, and bearing that body to the throne of God. O matchless plan, by which the redeemed are ennobled, and God himself is glorified! Oh, fathers, if you have ever seen this, I know that you will say: “The preacher does not half describe it.” No, he does not: he wishes that he could; but neither time nor ability are present with him. Still, I delight in the everlasting glories of the Lord Jesus, who was from the beginning. Greatly dear to my own heart are the “chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills.” I believe in my Lord Jesus Christ as second to none, but as the King and Lord from the beginning, who, though he was despised and rejected of men, yet still is God over all blessed for ever, and will be so for ever and ever. Though “the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing,” Jehovah has set his Son as King upon his holy hill of Zion, and God’s decree shall stand. He that is Alpha shall be Omega: he that is from the beginning shall be to the end King of kings and Lord of lords. My heart cries, “Hallelujah.” Oh, ye fathers, cry “Hallelujah” with me!

     Yes, but I want to notice again, that this 'knowledge is in itself special: the knowledge itself is remarkable as well as the object of the knowledge. “Ye have known him.” A dear servant of Christ on this platform the other evening sat beside me: he belonged to quite another part of the church of Christ, but he said to me of such and such a person, “You know, dear brother, he is one that knows the Lord; he is not merely a Christian, but he knows our Lord: you and I know what that means, do we not?” I could only look at him with a deep look of loving appreciation. Yes, we do know the Lord as a living, bright reality, a daily friend, councillor, and companion. True fathers in grace meditate upon Christ; they feed upon Scripture, press the juice of it, and inwardly enjoy the flavour of it. People say they have a sweet tooth. It is a good thing to have a sweet tooth for the Lord Jesus Christ. They not only know the Lord by much meditation upon him, but they know him by actual intercourse: they walk with him, they talk with him. Such saints are more with Christ than with any one else; to no one do they tell so much as they have told to him; and no one has ever told them so much as Jesus tells them; for “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant.” Ask them, “Who is your nearest friend?” and they will reply, “The Well-beloved is my next of kin, my dearest companion.” They know the Lord by intercourse, and they have come to know him now by having an intense sympathy with him. They feel as Jesus does about matters, and so they know him; his tender pity for sinners stirs their hearts, not in the same degree, but yet in like manner according to their measure. They often feel as if they could die for sinners. One of these fathers said, “I could wish myself accursed from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” They look upon matters not from man’s standpoint, but from Christ’s point of view, and hence they understand much of the Lord’s ways which aforetime were dark to them. He who very deeply sympathizes with a man knows him well. Learning by faith to sit still and believingly wait the event, these fathers calmly expect that all things will work together for good to them; and hence they understand the unbroken serenity of the heart of Jesus, and know him in his joys as well as in his sorrows. Such saints know what it is to weep over the city with Jesus, and to rejoice over returning sinners with the good Shepherd; yea, they know what it is to sit down with him on his throne expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. They are calm with Jesus, for they have drunk in the meaning of the text, “He must reign.” Yes: he must reign; he must reign; till all his enemies shall be under his feet. This knowing him that is from the beginning is the chief characteristic of the father in Christ.

     III. Thirdly, dear friends, WHAT IS THE MESSAGE TO THE FATHERS? I would indicate that message very briefly, by referring you to the context. John has been saying to you, dear fathers, and indeed to all of us who are in Christ, that we should love one another. If you are truly fathers you cannot help loving all the family: the fatherly instinct is love, and fathers in Christ should be brimful of it. Little ones should be induced by our loving spirit to come around us, feeling that it nobody else loves them we do, if nobody else cares for them we do. I have known a father in Christ to whom a convert would speak much more readily than he would to his own earthly father or mother. I suppose they see an invitation in the faces of these fathers. I do not quite know how they find it out, but somehow converts feel that such an one is a man whom they could address, or a woman whom they could talk with. These fathers and mothers in Israel are full of love, and their speech betrays the fact. I know some men who are like great harbours for ships: a soul tossed with tempest makes for them as for a harbour. Breaking hearts say, “Oh, that I could tell him my trouble, and get his prayers.” May you and I be just such persons, and may the Holy Spirit use us for the good of our fellows.

     The next message immediately succeeds the text: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” Oh, dear fathers, you must not love the world, for it passeth away, and this is specially true of you. If any Christian man might love the world, and I hope none will do so, certainly the fathers may not. You know so much of Christ that you may well despise the world; and you are so soon going home that you ought to set little store by these fleeting things. You have all the marks of what they call declining years— I call them ascending years: you will soon be gone from the world and its changing vanities, therefore do not set your love on earthly treasures. Hold wealth with a loose hand, be ready to depart, for depart you soon will. Before the morning watch you may be gone to your Father’s house on high. “Love not the world.”

     Another duty of fathers is also mentioned here. While they are not to love the world they must take care that they do not fall victims to any of the lusts of this present evil world, such as the lust of the flesh. Can fathers ever fall that way? Ah me; we have to speak very solemnly and admit that the most advanced saint still needs to be warned against the lust of the flesh, the indulgence of appetites which so readily lead men to sin. Then there is the lust of the eye. David fell into that when he repined because of the prosperity of the wicked, and was obliged to confess, “So foolish was I, and ignorant.” He looked at the prosperous wicked till he began to fret himself about them. That lust of the eye, in desiring more for yourself and envying those that have more— never let it happen to a father. And the pride of life— that thirsting to be thought respectable, that emulation of others, that struggling after honour and such like— this must not be in a father. You are men, and must put away childish things. My dear and honoured brethren, fall not a prey to vanities: these toys are for the children of the world, not for you who are so near to the glory of the Lord. You are grown ripe in grace, and will soon enter heaven, live accordingly. Let all earthly things lie like babies’ baubles beneath your feet, while you rise to the manhood of your soul.

     The next exhortation to the fathers is that they should watch, for, says the apostle, “Ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists.” Oh, valiant fathers, keep ye watch and ward. I marvel much that members of churches agree to the choice of ministers who are not sound in the faith, nay, who do not seem to have any faith at all. How comes this about? We used to have in our Baptist churches substantial men who would as soon have brooked Satan at their own table as an unsound preacher in the pulpit. There used to be a company in the north of Scotland called “The Men.” Why, if heresy had been preached before them, they would have been as provoked as Janet Geddes when she threw her cutty stool at the head of the preacher. They would not have endured these modern heresies as the present effeminate generation is enduring them. Let the new theologians have liberty to preach what they like on their own ground, but not in our pulpits. Alas! the leading members in many churches are Christians without backbones, molluscous, spongy; snails I would call them, only they have not the consistency of a snail’s shell. They are ready to swallow any mortal thing if the preacher seems clever and eloquent. Cleverness and eloquence— away with them for ever! If it is not the truth of God, the more cleverly and eloquently it is preached the more damnable it is. We must have the truth and nothing but the truth, and I charge the fathers in Christ all over England and America to see to this. Get ye to your watch-tower and guard the flock, lest the sheep be destroyed while they are asleep.

     Lastly, it is the duty of the fathers to prepare for the coming of the Lord. How beautifully it is put in the twenty-eighth verse, “Abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and nob be ashamed before him at his coming.” It is addressed to you all, for you are all little children, but it is specially incumbent upon those of you who are fathers. Arouse all your faculties! Watch for the coming of the Lord, and keep your loins well girded. Jesus may come to day; this Sabbath may be the last Sabbath of this dispensation: yet he may not come for ten thousand years for aught I know; therefore weary not if you wait through a long night. Say not that he delayeth his coming, for he will return at the day appointed. Only let us hold fast that which we have received, and stand waiting for the midnight cry, He will come, he will not tarry; therefore go ye forth to meet him.

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,
Jesus signals still:
Wave the answer back to heaven,
By thy grace we will.”

Amen.



A Luther Sermon at the Tabernacle

By / Nov 11

A LUTHER SERMON AT THE TABERNACLE

“But the just shall live by his faith.”— Habakkuk ii. 4.

THIS text is three times employed by the apostle Paul as an argument. Read Romans i. 17, Galatians iii. 11, and Hebrews x. 38: in each of these cases it runs, “The just shall live by faith.” This is the old original text to which the apostle referred when he said, “As it is written, The just shall live by faith.” We are not wrong in making the inspiration of the Old Testament to be as important as that of the New; for the truth of the gospel must stand or fall with that of the prophets of the old dispensation. The Bible is one and indivisible, and you cannot question the first Testament and retain the New. Habakkuk must be inspired, or Paul writes nonsense.

     Yesterday, four hundred years ago, there came into this wicked world the son of a miner, or refiner of metals, who was to do no little towards undermining the Papacy and refining the church. The name of that babe was Martin Luther: a hero and a saint. Blessed was that day above all the days of the century which it honoured, for it bestowed a blessing on all succeeding ages, through “the monk that shook the world.” His brave spirit overturned the tyranny of error which had so long held nations in bondage. All human history since then has been more or less affected by the birth of that marvellous boy. He was not an absolutely perfect man, we neither endorse all that he said nor admire all that he did; but he was a man upon whose like men’s eyes shall seldom rest, a mighty judge in Israel, a kingly servant of the Lord. We ought oftener to pray to God to send us men— men of God, men of power. We should pray that, according to the Lord’s infinite goodness, his ascension gifts may be continued and multiplied for the perfecting of his church; for when he ascended up on high he led captivity captive, and received gifts for men, and “he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” He continues to bestow these choice gifts according to the church’s necessity, and he would scatter them more plentifully, mayhap, if our prayers more earnestly ascended to the Lord of the harvest to thrust forth labourers into his harvest. Even as we believe in the crucified Saviour for our personal salvation, we ought to believe in the ascended Saviour for the perpetual enriching of the church with confessors and evangelists who shall declare the truth of God.   

     I wish to take my little share in commemorating Luther’s birthday, and I think I can do no better than use the key of truth by which Luther unlocked the dungeons of the human mind, and set bondaged hearts at liberty. That golden key lies in the truth briefly contained in the text before us— “The just shall live by his faith.”

     Are you not a little surprised to find such a clear gospel passage in Habakkuk; to discover in that ancient prophet an explicit statement which Paul can use as a ready argument against the opponents of justification by faith? It shows that the cardinal doctrine of the gospel is no new-fangled notion; assuredly it is not a novel dogma invented by Luther, nor even a truth which was first taught by Paul. This fact has been established in all ages, and, therefore, here we find it among the ancient things, a lamp to cheer the darkness which hung over Israel before the coming of the Lord.

     This also proves that there has been no change as to the gospel. The gospel of Habakkuk is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. A clearer light was cast upon the truth by the giving of the Holy Ghost, but the way of salvation has in all ages been one and the same. No man has ever been saved by his good works. The way by which the just have lived has always been the way of faith. There has not been the slightest advance upon this truth; it is established and settled, evermore the same, like the God who uttered it. At all times, and everywhere, the gospel is and must for ever be the same. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” We read of “the gospel” as of one; but never of two or three gospels, as of many. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but Christ’s word shall never pass away.

     Noteworthy also is it, not only that this truth should be so old, and should continue so unchanged, but that it should possess such vitality. This one sentence, “The just shall live by his faith,” produced the Reformation. Out of this one line, as from the opening of one of the Apocalyptic seals, came forth all that sounding of gospel trumpets, and all that singing of gospel songs, which made in the world a sound like the noise of many waters. This one seed, forgotten and hidden away in the dark mediaeval times, was brought forth, dropped into the human heart, made by the Spirit of God to grow, and in the end to produce great results. This handful of corn on the top of the mountains so multiplied that the fruit thereof did shake like Lebanon, and they of the city flourished like grass of the earth. The least bit of truth, thrown anywhere, will live! Certain plants are so full of vitality, that if you only take a fragment of a leaf and place it on the soil, the leaf will take root and grow. It is utterly impossible that such vegetation should become extinct; and so it is with the truth of God— it is living and incorruptible, and therefore there is no destroying it. As long as one Bible remains, the religion of free grace will live; nay, if they could burn all printed Scriptures, as long as there remained a child who remembered a single text of the word, the truth would rise again. Even in the ashes of truth the fire is still living, and when the breath of the Lord bloweth upon it, the flame will burst forth gloriously. Because of this, let us be comforted in this day of blasphemy and of rebuke,— comforted because though “the grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”

     Let us now examine this text, which was the means of enlightening the heart of Luther, as I shall tell you by-and-by.

     I. I shall in the outset make a brief observation upon it: A MAN WHO HAS FAITH IN GOD is JUST. “The just shall live by his faith the man who possesses faith in God is a just man: his faith is his life as a just man.

     He is “just” in the gospel sense, namely, that having the faith which God prescribes as the way of salvation, lie is by his faith justified in the sight of God. In the Old Testament (Gen. xv. 6) we are told concerning Abraham that “he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” This is the universal plan of justification. Faith lays hold upon the righteousness of God, by accepting God’s plan of justifying sinners through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and thus she makes the sinner just. Faith accepts and appropriates for itself the whole system of divine righteousness which is unfolded in the person and work of the Lord Jesus. Faith rejoices to see him coming into the world in our nature, and in that nature obeying the law in every jot and tittle, though not himself under that law until he chose to put himself thereon our behalf; faith is further pleased when she sees the Lord, who had come under the law, offering up himself as a perfect atonement, and making a complete vindication of divine justice by his sufferings and death. Faith lays hold upon the person, life, and death of the Lord Jesus as her sole hope, and in the righteousness of Christ she arrays herself. She cries, “The chastisement of my peace was upon him, and by his stripes I am healed.” How, the man who believes in God’s method of making men righteous through the righteousness of Jesus, and accepts Jesus and leans upon him, is a just man. He who makes the life and death of God’s great propitiation to be his sole reliance and confidence is justified in the sight of God, and is written down among the just by the Lord himself. His faith is imputed to him for righteousness, because his faith grasps the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. “All that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” This is the testimony of the inspired word, and who shall gainsay it?

     But the believer is also just in another sense, which the outside world better appreciates, though it is not more valuable than the former. The man who believes in God becomes by that faith moved to everything that is right, and good, and true. His faith in God rectifies his mind, and makes him just. In judgment, in desire, in aspiration, in heart, he is just. His sin has been forgiven him freely, and now, in the hour of temptation, he cries, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” He believes in the blood-shedding which God has provided for the cleansing of sin, and, being washed therein, he cannot choose to defile himself again. The love of Christ constraineth him to seek after that which is true, and right, and good, and loving, and honourable in the sight of God. Having received by faith the privilege of adoption, he strives to live as a child of God. Having obtained by faith a new life, he walks in newness of life. “Immortal principles forbid the child of God to sin. If any man live in sin and love it, he has not the faith of God’s elect; for true faith purifies the soul. The faith which is wrought in us by the Holy Ghost is the greatest sin-killer under heaven. By the grace of God it affects the inmost heart, changes the desires and the affections, and makes the man a new creature in Christ Jesus. If there be on earth any who can truly be called just, they are those who are made so by faith in God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Indeed, no other men are “just” save those to whom the holy God gives the title, and of these the text says that they live by faith. Faith trusts God, and therefore loves him, and therefore obeys him, and therefore grows like him. It is the root of holiness, the spring of righteousness, the life of the just.

     II. Upon that observation, which is vital to the text, I dwell no longer, but advance to another which is the converse of it, namely, that A MAN WHO IS JUST HAS FAITH IN GOD. Else, let me say, he were not just; for God deserves faith, and he who robs him of it is not just. God is so true that to doubt him is an injustice: he is so faithful that to distrust him is to wrong him— and he who does the Lord such an injustice is not a just man. A just man must first be just with the greatest of all beings. It would be idle for him to be just to his fellow creatures only; if he did a wilful injustice to God, I say he would be unworthy of the name of just. Faith is what the Lord justly deserves to receive from his creatures: it is his due that we believe in what he says, and specially in reference to the gospel. When the great love of God in Christ Jesus is set forth plainly it will be believed by the pure in heart. If the great love of Christ in dying for us is fully understood it must be believed by every honest mind. To doubt the witness of God concerning his Son is to do the sorest injustice to infinite love. He that believeth not has rejected God’s witness to the gift unspeakable and put from him that which deserves man’s adoring gratitude, since it alone can satisfy the justice of God, and give peace to the conscience of man. A truly just man must, in order to the completeness of his justness, believe in God, and in all that he has revealed.

     Some dream that this matter of justness only concerns the outer life, and does not touch man’s belief. I say not so; righteousness concerns the inner parts of a man, the central region of his manhood; and truly just men desire to be made clean in the secret parts, and in the hidden parts they would know wisdom. Is it not so? We hear it continually asserted that the understanding and the belief constitute a province exempt from the jurisdiction of God. Is it indeed true that I may believe what I like without being accountable to God for my belief? No, my brethren; no single part of our manhood is beyond the range of the divine law. Our whole capacity as men lies under the sovereignty of him that created us, and we are as much bound to believe aright as we are bound to act aright; in fact, our actions and our thinkings are so intertwisted and entangled that there is no dividing the one from the other. To say that the rightness of the outward life sufficeth is to go clean contrary to the whole tenor of the word of God. I am as much bound to serve God with my mind as with my heart. I am as much bound to believe what God reveals as I am to do what God enjoins. Errors of judgment are as truly sins as errors of life. It is a part of our allegiance to our great Sovereign and Lord that we do yield up our understanding, our thought, and our belief to his supreme control. No man is right until he is a right believer. A just man must be just towards God by believing in God, and trusting him in all that he is, and says, and does.

     I see not also, my dear friends, what reason there is for a man to be just towards his fellow-men when he has given up his belief in God. If it comes to a pinch, and a man can deliver himself by a piece of dishonesty, why should he not be dishonest if there be no higher law than that which his fellow-men have made, no judgment-seat, no Judge, and no hereafter? A few weeks ago a man deliberately killed his employer, who had offended him, and as he gave himself up to the police, he said that he was not in the least degree afraid nor ashamed of what he had done. He admitted the murder, and owned that he knew the consequences very well; he expected to suffer about half-a-minute’s pain upon the gallows, and then there would be an end of him, and he was quite prepared for that. He spoke and acted in consistency with his belief or his non-belief; and truly there is no form of crime but what becomes logical and legitimate if you take away from man faith in God and the hereafter. That gone, break up your commonwealth; there is nothing to hold humanity together; for without a God the moral government of the universe has ceased, and anarchy is the natural state of things. If there be no God, and no judgment to come, let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die. If necessary, let us thieve, lie, and kill. Why not? if there be no law, no judgment, and no punishment for sin. I forget— nothing can be sinful; for if there be no lawgiver, there is no law; and if there be no law, then there can be no transgression. To what a chaos must all things come if faith in God be renounced. Where will the just be found when faith is banished? The logically just man is a believer in some measure or other; and he that is worthy to be called “just” in the scriptural sense, is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is made of God unto us righteousness.

     III. But now I come to the point upon which I mean to dwell. Thirdly, BY THIS FAITH THE JUST MAN SHALL LIVE.

     This is at the outset a narrow statement; it cuts off many pretended ways of living by saying, “The just shall live by faith. “This sentence savours of the strait gate which standeth at the head of the way— the narrow way which leadeth into life eternal. At one blow this ends all claims of righteousness apart from one mode of life. The best men in the world can only live by faith, there is no other way of being just in the sight of God. We cannot live in righteousness by self. If we are going to trust to ourselves, or anything that cometh of ourselves, we are dead while we so trust; we have not known the life of God according to the teaching of Holy Writ. You must come right out from confidence in everything that you are or hope to be. You must tear off the leprous garment of legal righteousness, and part with self in any and every form. Self-reliance as to the things of religion will be found to be self-destruction; you must rest in God as he is revealed in his Son Jesus Christ, and there alone. The just shall live by faith; but those who look to the works of the law are under the curse, and cannot live before God. The same is also true of those who endeavour to live by sense or feeling. They judge God by what they see: if he is bountiful to them in providence, he is a good God; if they are poor, they have nothing good to say of him, for they measure him by what they feel, and taste, and see. If God works steadily to a purpose, and they can see his purpose, they commend his wisdom; but when they either cannot see the purpose, or cannot understand the way by which the Lord is working unto it, straightway they judge him to be unwise. Living by sense turns out to be a senseless mode of life, bringing death to all comfort and hope.

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace,”

for only by such trust can a just man live.

     The text also cuts off all idea of living by mere intellect. Too many say, “I am my own guide, I shall make doctrines for myself, and I shall shift them and shape them according to my own devices.” Such a way is death to the spirit. To be abreast of the times is to be an enemy to God. The way of life is to believe what God has taught, especially to believe in him whom God has set forth to be a propitiation for sin; for that is making God to be everything and ourselves nothing. Resting on an infallible revelation, and trusting in an omnipotent Redeemer, we have rest and peace; but on the other unsettled principle we become wandering stars, for whom is appointed the blackness of darkness for ever. By faith the soul can live, in all other ways we have a name to live and are dead.

     The same is equally true of fancy. We often meet with a fanciful religion in which people trust to impulses, to dreams, to noises, and mystic things which they imagine they have seen: fiddle-faddle all of it, and yet they are quite wrapt up in it. I pray that you may cast out this chaffy stuff, there is no food for the spirit in it. The life of my soul lies not in what I think, or what I fancy, or what I imagine, or what I enjoy of fine feeling, but only in that which faith apprehends to be the word of God. We live before God by trusting a promise, depending on a person, accepting a sacrifice, wearing a righteousness, and surrending ourselves up to God— Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Implicit trust in Jesus, our Lord, is the way of life, and every other way leads down to death. It is a narrowing statement, let those who call it intolerance say what they please; it will be true when they have execrated it as much as it is now.

     But, secondly, this is a very broad statement Much is comprehended in the saying— “the just shall live by his faith.” It does not say what part of his life hangs on his believing, or what phase of his life best proves his believing: it comprehends the beginning, continuance, increase, and perfecting of spiritual life as being all by faith. Observe that the text means that the moment a man believes he begins to live in the sight of God: he trusts his God, he accepts God’s revelation of himself, he confides, reposes, leans upon his Saviour, and that moment he becomes a spiritually living man, quickened with spiritual life by God the Holy Ghost. All his existence before that belief was but a form of death: when he comes to trust in God he enters upon eternal life, and is born from above. Yes, but that is not all, nor half; for if that man is to continue living before God, if he is to hold on his way in holiness, his perseverance must be the result of continued faith. The faith which saves is not one single act done and ended on a certain day: it is an act continued and persevered in throughout the entire life of man. The just not only commences to live by his faith, but he continues to live by his faith: he does not begin in the spirit and end in the flesh, nor go so far by grace, and the rest of the way by the works of the law. “The just shall live by faith,” says the text in the Hebrews, “but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” Faith is essential all along; every day and all the day, in all things. Our natural life begins by breathing, and it must be continued by breathing: what the breath is to the body, that is faith to the soul.

     Brethren, if we are to make advance and increase in the divine life, it must still be in the same way. Our root is faith, and only through the root comes growth. Progress in grace comes not of carnal wisdom, or legal effort, or unbelief; nay, the flesh bringeth no growth unto the spiritual life, and efforts made in unbelief rather dwarf the inner life than cause it to grow. We become no stronger by mortifications, mournings, workings, or strivings, if these are apart from simple faith in God’s grace; for by this one sole channel can nourishment come into the life of our spirit. The same door by which life came in at the first is that by which life continues to enter. If any man saith to me, “I once lived by believing in Christ; but I have now become spiritual and sanctified, and therefore I have no longer any need to look as a sinner to the blood and righteousness of Christ:” I tell that man that he has need to learn the first principles of the faith. I warn him that he has drawn back from the faith; for he who is justified by the law, or in any other way beside the righteousness of Christ, has fallen from grace, and left the only ground upon which a soul can be accepted with God. Ay, up to heaven’s gate there is no staff for us to lean upon but faith in the ever-blessed Saviour and his divine atonement. Between this place and glory we shall never be able to live by merits, or live by fancies, or live by intellect; we shall still have to be as children taught of God, as Israel in the desert depending wholly on the great Invisible One. Ours it is for ever to look out of self, and to look above all things that are seen; for “the just shall live by his faith.” It is a very broad sentence, a circle which encompasses the whole of our life which is worthy of the name. If there be any virtue, if there be any praise, if there be aught that is lovely or of good repute, we must receive it, exhibit it, and perfect it by the exercise of faith. Life in the Father’s house, life in the church, life in private, life in the world, must all be in the power of faith if we are righteous men. That which is without faith is without life; dead works cannot gratify the living God; without faith it is impossible to please God.

     I beg you to notice, in the third place, what a very unqualified statement it is. “The just shall live by his faith.” Then, if a man have but a little faith, he shall live; and if he be greatly just, he shall still live by faith. Many a just man has come no further than striving after holiness, but he is justified by his faith: his faith is trembling and struggling, and his frequent prayer is, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief yet his faith has made him a just man. Sometimes he is afraid that he has no faith at all; and when he has deep depression of spirits, it is as much as he can do to keep his head above water; but even then his faith justifies him. He is like a barque upon a stormy sea: sometimes he is lifted up to heaven by flashing waves of mercy, and anon he sinks into the abyss among billows of affliction. What, then, is he a dead man? I answer, Does that man truly believe God? Does he accept the record concerning the Son of God? Can he truly say, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” and with such faith as he has does he cling alone to Christ and to none beside? Then that man shall live, he shall live by his faith. If the littleness of our faith could destroy us how few would be numbered with the living? “When the Son of man cometh, shall he And faith on the earth?” Only here and there, and now and then, a Luther appears who really does believe with all his heart. The most of us are not so big as Luther’s little finger: we have not so much faith in our whole souls as he had in one hair of his head: but yet even that little faith makes us live. I do not say that little faith will give us the strong, and vigorous, and lionlike life which Luther had; but we shall live. The statement makes no distinction between this and that degree of faith, but lays it down still as an unquestionable truth, “the just shall live by faith.” Blessed be God, then, I shall live, for I do believe in the Lord Jesus as my Saviour and my all. Do you not also believe in him?

     Ay, and is it not singular that this unqualified statement should not mention any other grace, as helping to make up the ground on which a just men lives? “The just shall live by his faith but has he not love, has he not zeal, has he not patience, has he not hope, has he not humility, has he not holiness? Oh, yes, he has all these, and he lives in them, but he does not live by them, because none of these so intimately connects him with Christ as does his faith. I will venture to use a very homely figure, because it is the best I can think of. Here is a little child, a suckling. It has many necessary members, such as its eyes, its ears, its legs, its arms, its heart, and so forth, and all these are necessary to it; but the one organ by which the tiny babe lives is its mouth, by which it sucks from its mother all its nourishment. Our faith is that mouth by which we suck in fresh life from the promise of the ever-blessed God. Thus faith is that which we live by. Other graces are needful, but faith is the life of them all. We do not undervalue love, or patience, or penitence, or humility, any more than we depreciate the eyes or the feet of the babe. Still, the means of the life of the spiritual man is that mouth by which he receives divine food from the truth revealed by the Holy Ghost in sacred Scripture. Other graces produce results from that which faith receives, but faith is the Receiver-General for the whole isle of man.

     This, dear friends, to proceed a little further, is a very suggestive statement,— “The just shall live by his faith;” because it wears so many meanings. First, the righteous man is even to exist by his faith, that is to say, the lowest form of grace in a righteous character is dependent upon faith. But, brother, I hope you will not be so foolish as to say, “If I am but a living child of God, it is all I want:” no, we wish not only to have life, but to have it more abundantly. See yonder man rescued from drowning; he is yet alive, but the only evidence of it is the fact that a mirror is somewhat bedewed by his breath: you would not be content to be alive for years in that poor fashion, would you? You ought to be grateful if you are spiritually alive even in that feeble way; but still we do not want to remain in a swooning state, we wish to be active and vigorous. Yet even for that lowest life you must have faith. For the feeblest kind of spiritual existence that can be called life at all, faith is needful. The just who barely live, who are feeble in mind, who are scarcely saved, are nevertheless delivered by faith. Without faith there is no heavenly life whatever.

     Take the word “life” in a better sense, and the same will apply; “The just shall live by his faith.” We sometimes meet with very poor persons who say to us in a pitiful tone, “Our wages are dreadfully scant.” We say to them, “Do you really live upon so small a sum?” They answer, “Well, Sir, you can hardly call it living; but we exist somehow.” None of us would wish to live in that style if we could help it. We mean, then, by “life,” some measure of enjoyment, happiness, and satisfaction. The just, when they have comfort, and joy, and peace, have them by faith. Thank God, peace of heart is our normal state, because faith is an abiding grace. We sing for joy of heart and rejoice in the Lord, and blessed be the Lord this is no novelty to us; but we have known this bliss, and still know it by faith alone. The moment faith comes in the music strikes up: if it were gone the owls would hoot. Luther can sing a psalm in spite of the devil; but he could not have done so if he had not been a man of faith. He could defy emperors, and kings, and popes, and bishops while he took firm hold upon the strength of God, but only then. Faith is the life of life, and makes life worth living. It puts joy into the soul to believe in the great Father and his everlasting love, and in the efficacious atonement of the Son, and in the indwelling of the Spirit, in resurrection, and eternal glory: without these we were of all men most miserable. To believe these glorious truths is to live— “The just shall live by his faith.”

     Life also means strength. We say of a certain man, What life he has in him: he is full of life, he seems all alive. Yes, the just obtain energy, force, vivacity, vigour, power, might, life— by faith. Faith bestows on believers a royal majesty. The more they can believe, the more mighty they become. This is the head that wears a crown; this is the hand that wields a sceptre; this is the foot whose royal tread doth shake the nations; faith in God links us with the King, the Lord God Omnipotent.

     By faith the just live on when others die. They are not overcome by prevalent sin, or fashionable heresy, or cruel persecution, or fierce affliction: nothing can kill spiritual life while faith abides— “The just shall live by faith.” Continuance and perseverance come this way. The righteous man when he is put back a while is not baffled; and when he is wounded by enemies, he is not slain. Where another man is drowned, he swims; where another man is trampled under foot, he rises and shouts victoriously,— “Rejoice not over me, O mine enemy. If I fall, yet shall I rise again!” In the fiery furnace of affliction he walks unharmed through faith. Ay, and when his turn comes to die, and, with many tears bis brethren carry his ashes to the tomb, “he being dead yet speaketh.” The blood of righteous Abel cried from the ground to the Lord, and it is still crying adown the ages, even to this hour. Luther’s voice through four hundred years still sounds in the ears of men, and quickens our pulses like the beat of drum in martial music: he lives, he lives because he was a man of faith.

     I would sum up and illustrate this teaching by mentioning certain incidents of Luther’s life. Upon the great Reformer gospel light broke by slow degrees. It was in the monastery that, in turning over the old Bible that was chained to a pillar, he came upon this passage— “The just shall live by his faith.” This heavenly sentence stuck to him; but he hardly understood all its bearings. He could not, however, find peace in his religious profession and monastic habit. Knowing no better, he persevered in penances so many, and mortifications so arduous, that sometimes he was found fainting through exhaustion. He brought himself to death’s door. He must make a journey to Rome, for in Rome there is a fresh church for every day, and you may be sure to win the pardon of sins and all sorts of benedictions in these holy shrines. He dreamed of entering a city of holiness; but he found it to be a haunt of hypocrites and a den of iniquity. To his horror he heard men say that if there was a hell Rome was built on the top of it, for it was the nearest approach to it that could be found in this world; but still he believed in its Pope and he went on with his penances, seeking rest, but finding none. One day he was climbing upon his knees the Sancta Scala which still stands in Rome. I have stood amazed at the bottom of this staircase to see poor creatures go up and down on their knees in the belief that it is the very staircase that our Lord descended when he left Pilate’s house, and certain steps are said to be marked with drops of blood; these the poor souls kiss most devoutly. Well, Luther was crawling up these steps one day when that same text which he had met with before in the monastery, sounded like a clap of thunder in his ears, “The just shall live by his faith.” He rose from his prostration, and went down the steps never to grovel upon them again. At that time the Lord wrought him a full deliverance from superstition, and he saw that not by priests, nor priestcraft, nor penances, nor by anything that he could do, was he to live, but that he must live by his faith. Our text of this morning had set the monk at liberty, and set his soul on fire.

     No sooner did he believe this than he began to live in the sense of being active. A gentleman, named Tetzel, was going about all over Germany selling the forgiveness of sins for so much ready cash. No matter what your offence, as soon as your money touched the bottom of the box your sins were gone. Luther heard of this, grew indignant, and exclaimed, “I will make a hole in his drum,” which assuredly he did, and in several other drums. The nailing up of his theses on the church door was a sure way of silencing the indulgence music. Luther proclaimed pardon of sin by faith in Christ without money and without price, and the Pope’s indulgences were soon objects of derision. Luther lived by his faith, and therefore he who otherwise might have been quiet, denounced error as furiously as a lion roars upon his prey. The faith that was in him filled him with intense life, and he plunged into war with the enemy. After a while they summoned him to Augsburg, and to Augsburg he went, though his friends advised him not to go. They summoned him, as a heretic, to answer for himself at the Diet of Worms, and everybody bade him stay away, for he would be sure to be burned; but he felt it necessary that the testimony should be borne, and so in a wagon he went from village to village and town to town, preaching as he went, the poor people coming out to shake hands with the man who was standing up for Christ and the gospel at the risk of his life. You remember how he stood before that august assembly, and though he knew as far as human power went that his defence would cost him his life, for he would, probably, be committed to the flames like John Huss, yet he played the man for the Lord his God. That day in the German Diet Luther did a work for which ten thousand times ten thousand mothers’ children have blessed his name, and blessed yet more the name of the Lord his God.

     To put him out of harm’s way for a while a prudent friend took him prisoner, and kept him out of the strife in the castle of Wartburg. There he had a good time of it, resting, studying, translating, making music, and preparing himself for the future which was to be so eventful. He did all that a man can do who is outside of the fray; but “the just shall live by his faith,” and Luther could not be buried alive in ease, he must be getting on with his life-work. He sends word to his friends that he who was coming would soon be with them, and on a sudden he appeared at Wittenberg. The prince meant to have kept him in retirement somewhat longer, but Luther must live; and when the Elector feared that he could not protect him, Luther wrote him, “I come under far higher protection than yours; nay, I hold that I am more likely to protect your Grace than your Grace to protect me. He who has the strongest faith is the best Protector.” Luther had learned to be independent of all men, for he cast himself upon his God. He had all the world against him, and yet he lived right merrily: if the Pope excommunicated him he burned the bull; if the Emperor threatened him he rejoiced, because he remembered the word of the Lord, “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh.” When they said to him, “Where will you find shelter if the Elector does not protect you?” he answered, “Under the broad shield of God.”

     Luther could not be still; he must speak, and write and thunder; and oh! with what confidence he spoke! Doubts about God and Scripture he abhorred. Melancthon says he was not dogmatical; I rather differ from Melancthon there, and reckon Luther to be the chief of dogmatists. He called Melancthon the “soft treader,” and I wonder what we should have done if Luther had been Melancthon, and had trodden softly, too. The times needed a firmly assured leader, and faith made Luther all that for years, notwithstanding his many sorrows and infirmities. He was a Titan, a giant, a man of splendid mental calibre and strong physique; but yet his main life and force lay in his faith. He suffered much in exercises of the mind and through diseases of body, and these might well have occasioned a display of weakness; but that weakness did not appear; for when he believed, he was as sure of what he believed as of his own existence, and hence he was strong. If every angel in heaven had passed before him and each one had assured him of the truth of God, he would not have thanked them for their testimony, for he believed God without the witness of either angels or men: he thought the word of divine testimony to be more sure than aught that seraphim could say.

     This man was forced to live by his faith, for he was a man of stormy soul, and only faith could speak peace to him. Those stirring excitements of his brought on him afterwards fearful depressions of spirit, and then he needed faith in God. If you read a spiritual life of him you will find that it was hard work sometimes for him to keep his soul alive. Being a man of like passions with us, and full of imperfections, he was at times as desponding and despairing as the weakest among us; and the swelling grief within him threatened to burst his mighty heart. But both he and John Calvin frequently sighed for the rest of heaven, for they loved not the strife in which they dwelt, but would have been glad peacefully to feed the flock of God on earth, and then to enter into rest. These men dwelt with God in holy boldness of believing prayer, or they could not have lived at all.

     Luther’s faith laid hold upon the cross of our Lord, and would not be stirred from it. He believed m the forgiveness of sins, and could not afford to doubt it. He cast anchor upon Holy Scripture, and rejected all the inventions of clerics and all the traditions of the fathers. He was assured of the truth of the gospel, and never doubted but what it would prevail though earth and hell were leagued against it. When he came to die his old enemy assailed him fiercely, but when they asked him if he held the same faith his “Yes” was positive enough. They needed not to have asked him, they might have been sure of that. And now to-day the truth proclaimed by Luther continues to be preached, and will be till our Lord himself shall come. Then the holy city shall need no candle, neither light of the sun, because the Lord himself shall be the light of his people; but till then we must shine with gospel light to our utmost. Brethren, let us stand to it that as Luther lived by faith even so will we; and may God the Holy Ghost work in us more of that faith. Amen and Amen.